Date of Award

Summer 7-15-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Education

First Advisor

Valerie K. Otero

Second Advisor

Dan Liston

Third Advisor

Joe Polman

Abstract

Too often, physics students are beset by feelings of failure and isolation rather than experiencing the creative joys of discovery that physics has to offer. This dissertation research was founded on the desire of a teacher to make physics class exciting and motivating to his students. This work explores how various aspects of learning environments interact with student motivation. This work uses qualitative and quantitative methods to explore how students are motivated to engage in physics and how they feel about themselves while engaging in physics. The collection of four studies in this dissertation culminates in a sociocultural perspective on motivation and identity. This perspective uses two extremes of how students experience physics as a lens for understanding motivation: fear and self-preservation versus integrity and self-expression. Rather than viewing motivation as a property of the student, or viewing students as inherently interested or disinterested in physics, the theoretical perspective on motivation and identity helps examine features of the learning environments that determine how students' experience themselves through physics class. This perspective highlights the importance of feeling a sense of belonging in the context of physics and the power that teachers have in shaping students' motivation through the construction of their classroom learning environments. Findings demonstrate how different ways that students experience themselves in physics class impact their performance and interest in physics. This dissertation concludes with a set of design principles that can foster integration and integrity among students in physics learning environments.

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