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[ Contents Vol 5, 1989 ] [ QJER Home ]


The purpose of this section is to summarise information from recently completed research and evaluation studies in Queensland.

Intending contributors should forward a short abstract of their work, together with relevant biographical data, to: The Editor, Queensland Researcher, Research Services, Queensland Department of Education, PO Box 33, North Quay Q 4002.

Title:A Review of the Research Literature on Students' Attitudes to Mathematics
Authors:J. Dungan and G. Thurlow
Institution:Research Services, Division of Curriculum Services, Department of Education, Queensland
Date:January, 1989


What can research tell educators about the attitudes of school students to mathematics? Teachers are often encouraged to ensure that students develop positive attitudes to subjects, and learning in general, as well as acquire knowledge and skills. For example, the new Years 1 to 10 Mathematics Syllabus in Queensland specifically emphasises affective outcomes among its goals, such as the development of persistence and confidence in doing mathematics.

As part of an evaluation of the Queensland Mathematics Syllabus, a review of published research into school students' attitudes to mathematics was carried out. The findings of that review are summarised here.


In defining the scope of the review, the term 'attitudes to mathematics' referred to students' responses which range from general liking, to perceptions of particular aspects of mathematics. Literature on research which related to both primary and secondary students and which was conducted since the late 1960s has been included. Over 30 papers, reports or articles have been reviewed.

The usefulness and importance of mathematics
The research suggests that students regard mathematics as a useful and important subject. Younger students see it as useful for their everyday lives while older students perceive it as important for future employment or higher education.

Students' liking of mathematics
Studies which have asked students to compare mathematics with other subjects revealed conflicting results. Some studies found that students in certain age groups rate mathematics highly compared to other subjects, but other studies found the opposite. It does appear, however, that older students tend to dislike mathematics and often find it difficult. Factors which have been identified as influencing students' liking of mathematics include:


The following general findings are summarised from the studies reviewed. Findings from any one study do not necessarily apply to other settings. Some trends, however, are common from a number of studies conducted in quite different settings.

Factors which influence students' disliking of mathematics include:

The association between attitudes and achievement
Little evidence was found that favourable attitudes lead to higher achievement. Some researchers suspect that a reciprocal relationship exists between the two variables, with achievement and attitudes affecting each other.

The impact of alternative curricula and teaching approaches
There is uncertainty regarding the effect of alternative curriculum and teaching approaches on student attitudes. Studies involving experimental methods of teaching, for example enrichment activities, laboratory work, micro-teaching, and individualised instruction, did not find such methods to improve student attitudes more than traditional methods. Similar conclusions were obtained in a study which compared a 'traditional' and a 'modem' syllabus. These studies have been criticised on the grounds that the instruments to detect changes in attitudes were inappropriate and that more time was needed for the benefits of the methods or the syllabus to be realised. Other studies revealed differences, but for certain groups of students. If alternative curricula or teaching methods are associated with improved student attitudes, it may take some years before the improvements are substantial and then they may occur for only certain groups of students.

The association between teacher attitudes or qualities and student attitudes
Some evidence suggests that teacher attitudes or qualities are associated with attitudes to mathematics in older and more intelligent students. Teacher encouragement was found to influence students' selection of mathematics courses in secondary school.

The effect of age on student attitudes
One of the most consistently reported relationships identified in the research literature is between age or Year level and attitudes. The findings suggest that young students generally have stable, positive attitudes to mathematics, but by the age of 11, their attitudes become less favourable. This trend seems to continue through the early years of secondary school until, about the age of 14, when attitudes again stabilise.

The effect of gender
There were conflicting findings regarding the relationship between student attitudes and gender. One recent study showed that boys and girls had different attitudes to certain topics in mathematics. Although an association between gender and student attitudes probably exists, the influence of gender may be less pronounced than the effect of other variables such as achievement or age.


The major conclusion of the review is support for teaching which: The review tentatively concludes that, subject to certain conditions holding, the Years 1 to 10 Mathematics Syllabus could produce some, but limited, improvement in students' affects. Improvement might be more pronounced for groups of older students after many years of exposure to programs in harmony with the Syllabus.


Limited copies of the report, "A Review of the Research Literature on Students' Attitudes to Mathematics", are available from the authors, Research Services, Department of Education, Queensland, PO Box 33, North Quay, 4002.


Title:A Summary of Results on Process Skills and Science Concepts for Primary Pupils in Queensland
Author:N. Cranston*
*Officers of Research Services and Curriculum Services have made various contributions to the investigation discussed in this report.
Institution:Research Services, Division of Curriculum Services, Department of Education, Queensland
Date:December 1988

An investigation into pupils' learning of science in primary schools was carried out at the end of 1987 by the Research Services Branch of the Queensland Department of Education. The investigation involved Year 5 and Year 7 pupils from almost 90 schools across the State. Pupils completed tests of Science Concepts and Process Skills, and questionnaires on Attitudes and Classroom Practices. Teachers of pupils in the survey provided additional information.


This paper summarises some of the general results of pupils' performances in science concepts and process skills. The results reported include summaries of some of the broad performance data (as mean scores) and comments on variations in the data, as well as performance information across the concept and process skill sub-categories. The paper concludes with some general statements about performance in the areas of concepts and process skills.

The Displays present mean scores for concepts and process skills (and sub-categories of these) for each Year level. In some cases, mean scores are also presented on the basis of pupil gender and school location. The length of the horizontal bar represents the range of scores for about 70 per cent of the population (being one standard deviation on either side of the mean), and gives an indication of the variability of scores. The mean score is represented by the heavy vertical line.
(Displays are examples only from a larger set of possibilities.)


The overall mean scores for pupils across the whole State were analysed according to school, location and pupil gender at each Year level for concepts and process skills. These are summarised in Displays 1 and 2.

The following observations can be made from the data:

Display 1: Concepts and Process Skills Mean Scores: Year 5

Display 1

Display 2: Concepts and Process Skills Mean Scores: Year 7

Display 2


The five sub-categories of science concepts on which performance information is available are life, energy, matter, earth and space. Pupils' mean scores on these sub-categories at each Year level are summarised in Display 3. The following observations can be made from the data: Two additional observations of note which can be drawn from data not displayed here are:
Display 3: Concept Mean Scores In Sub-Categories

Display 3

Process Skills

The four sub-categories of process skills on which performance information is available are collecting data, organising data, generating knowledge and manipulating and interpreting knowledge. (These sub-categories were arrived at by clustering the individual processes. The process of communicating was assumed to be involved in any test of the other processes.) Pupils' mean scores on these sub-categories at each Year level are summarised in Display 4.

The following observations can be made from the data:

A further observation from data not displayed is that at both Year levels, mean scores for boys and girls were similar.

Display 4: Process Skills Mean Scores in Sub-Categories

Display 4


In summary, the following statements about the performance of primary pupils in this science investigation can be made:

Background information on the investigation can be found in the following Queensland Department of Education publications:

  1. An Investigation into Pupils' Learning of Science in Primary Schools: A Progress Report, Cranston, N., 1988.
  2. An Overview of an Investigation into Pupils' Learning of Science in Primary Schools: Research Bulletin, February 1988.

Title:A Summary Report on a Recent Survey of Bicycle Helmet Wearing by Students in Years 1 to 12
Authors:Michael Byrne and Christine Grieve
Institution:Research Services, Division of Curriculum Services, Department of Education, Queensland
Date:December 1988


In 1988, a survey was conducted to gather information regarding bicycle helmet use in students in Years 1 to 12 in Queensland schools. Data were gathered by Year level and gender from a representative sample of 111 Queensland schools attended by approximately 31,000 students. The schools provided information on the number of students riding bicycles to school, whether or not the cyclists wore helmets and whether or not the helmets worn conformed to the approved Australian Standard. Schools were asked a number of questions about various helmet schemes. Space was provided for additional comments on the survey.

A report on the major findings has been prepared by Research Services Branch titled "Survey of Bicycle Helmet use by Students in Queensland State Schools - 1988". This report provides a brief pictorial summary of these findings.


Students riding bicycles to school

Although the majority of students travel to school by modes of transport other than bicycle riding, a sizeable minority of students (24 per cent) do ride bicycles to school. Cyclists are located in each Year level, increasingly so up to Year 8. From Year 9 on the proportion of students riding to school gradually decreases.

Figure: Proportion of Students Riding Bicycles to School Overall

Figure: Proportions of Students Riding Bicycles to School for each Year level

Year LevelStudents Not Riding Bicycles to SchoolBicycle Riders Not Wearing HelmetsBicycle Riders Wearing Approved HelmetsBicycle Riders Wearing Non Approved Helmets
Year 190%6%3%0%
Year 287%8%5%0%
Year 380%12%8%1%
Year 478%14%70%1%
Year 576%16%8%0%
Year 671%21%8%0%
Year 771%23%6%1%
Year 864%33%3%0%
Year 967%31%1%0%
Year 1069%30%1%0%
Year 1176%24%1%0%
Year 1276%23%0%0%


Overall, about one-quarter of students ride bicycles to school. Of these riders, only 20 per cent wear helmets which are, almost without exception, of an approved design. The patterns of bicycle riding and helmet use presented above were very similar for males and females and for schools with student enrolments of 300 or more, and those with enrolments of 300 or less.

Helmet use

A minority of bicycle riders wear helmets. The survey found that in the early years of schooling (Years 1 to 3), almost 40 per cent of cyclists wear helmets, but this proportion falls from Year 4 on, with approximately 20 per cent of students wearing helmets by Year 7. By comparison, only about seven per cent of riders wear helmets in Year 8 and the proportion continues to decline through to Year 12 where less than two per cent of riders wear helmets.

Figure: Proportion of Riders Wearing Helmets

Are helmets of the approved design?

With few exceptions, helmets worn are of the approved design, manufactured according to the appropriate Australian Standard.

Figure: Helmet Schemes in Schools

Helmet schemes in schools

Few schools have had helmets donated or have purchased helmets through a subsidy scheme. Only a small number of schools operated a helmet loan scheme. Overall, about five per cent of schools had a helmet scheme of some form.

Comments from schools about the survey

A number of schools provided comments in relation to bicycle riding and helmet use. The three main areas in which comments were made were: brief descriptions of the various approaches of schools to promoting helmet use; aspects of peer pressure on helmet wearing; and parental attitudes towards helmet wearing.

Figure: The Overall Picture

In Summary

This study indicated that the majority of students in Queensland do not ride bicycles to school. Of those who do ride bicycles, very few wear safety helmets.


Please cite as: QIER (1989). Research reports 5(1). Queensland Researcher, 5(1), 15-28. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr5/research-repts5-1.html

Contents Vol 5, 1989 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 24 Mar 2007. Last revision: 24 Mar 2007.
URL: http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr5/research-repts5-1.html