The Study

Research description

In the Netherlands the whole educational structure for the second half of secondary school (high school) has been changed around 2000. In an evaluation of all the changes involved, the preparatory value of the high school education for further study in university has been taken into question. Especially in the scientific field, university teachers seem to evaluate this preparation increasingly as insufficient (Tweede Fase Adviespunt, 2005). My research hopefully can clarify if and how these concerns are founded.

In a large quantitative study, I investigated the work attitude, achievement, pastime, and background parameters of academic freshman students in science related fields of study, not only in their freshman year but also in high school. The information about high school was mainly, but not exclusively focused on their physics lessons. Besides this student perspective, the perspective of the teacher is included by interviewing 29 physics teachers of more than 20 carefully selected high schools throughout the country.

Graduates from pre-academic high school (vwo) have a relatively uniform background, depending on the educational track they have chosen. I have chosen to collect data of 2008 high school graduates in their freshman year at an academic science related course of study in 2008-2009. Two years after this 2008 cohort of students graduated, the nation wide curriculum has been thoroughly changed and I wanted to avoid contamination of the data with effects from possible start up problems. Fortunately, in the school year 2008-2009 the collecting of data has been successful enough so I didn't need to have another try in 2009-2010 (Response of 31%).

In September/October 2008, 90% freshman students of science related university courses in the Netherlands received my initial survey, with questions about
  1. Former and present education;
  2. Socioeconomic Status;
  3. Grade Point Average in Secondary school;
  4. Organization and structure of 5th grade physics lessons – CVP;
  5. Personality of the student;
  6. Personal facts.
These data are supplemented with data provided by the physics teachers of schools the respondents have attended.

Four distinct sub-samples have been analyzed separately: male regular physics students (MR); female regular physics students (FR); male advanced physics students (MA); and female advanced physics students (FA). In May/June 2009 a second survey has been sent to the respondents of the Presurvey (AS-survey), with questions about:
  1. Activities in the past academic year that could possibly influence Academic Success (AS) (including work attitude).
  2. The grades for subjects and projects of the part of the academic year up to date.

These data are to be supplemented by data provided by staff members at the different participating universities.

  • In the academic year of 2009-2010, a year after the survey, I conducted interviews with 29 physics teachers throughout the Netherlands. The schools I visited were selected on account of a large diversity in effectiveness of their physics teaching. The first criterion for selection was that an interviewed teacher should have been involved in teaching at least 9 respondents to the survey. The schools with these numbers of respondents were divided in three groups according to the respondents' mean performance in physics (fegp). In each of these groups, I chose two or three schools with lower mean performance, two or three schools with the mean performance, and two or three schools with higher mean performance than expected from a model predicting physics achievement in high school (Cottaar, 2012). This resulted in 25 schools which I approached for an interview. Eventually, I visited 21 of these selected schools, interviewing one or two teachers involved in teaching the students represented in the sample.

  • Publications

    Journal articles

    Cottaar, A. (2012).Low (linear) effect of the physics teacher on achievement.
    Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49 (4), 465-488.

    Conference papers of reviewed talks:

    Cottaar, A. (2013). 'Whatever you do, you will never get them to work'; pre-academic male students in physics education. + Powerpoint of presentation.
    NARST 2013 Science Education conference. Puerto Rico, USA.

    Cottaar, A. (2012). Learning from mistakes; balancing masculine and feminine strategies in learning science. + Powerpoint of presentation.
    VHTO 2012 Gender and STEM conference. Haarlem, Netherlands.

    Cottaar, A. (2012). Extreem weinig meisjes in de natuurkunde klas. + Powerpoint presentatie.
    ORD 2012 Dutch educational research conference. Wageningen, Netherlands.

    Cottaar, A. (2010). Hoe succesvol zijn de vwo-natuurkunde docenten? + Powerpoint presentatie.
    ORD 2010 Dutch educational research conference. Enschede, Netherlands.

    Reviewed poster presentations

    Cottaar, A. (2010). Differentiating in Physics Classrooms for Success.
    AAPT 2010, Washington D.C. (Zahra Hazari represented me here).

    Cottaar, A. (2009). Influences on the physics exam grades of (Dutch) high school students. or a webpage on this poster.
    ESERA 2009, Istanbul, Turkey.

    In progress

    Optimal relative effort-believe for effective learning of high school physics.

    Balancing masculine daring and feminine effort for optimal learning in higher science education.