‘The sun does not have electricity’: using photo elicitation and cultural models to explore secondary students’ perspectives of connecting science with the real world

  • Samar Albalawi

Student thesis: Phd


Recent debates in science education use the term ‘relevance’ frequently and in various ways. However, the meaning and significance of the term continues to be problematic, from the angle of both science education research and also science teaching. Relevance has been investigated in terms of young people’s participation and engagement in science, but the instruments employed have not been particularly effective for learning about young people’s perspectives. Moreover, their perspectives concerning science and their relationship to science has so far received little attention in the academic literature. This thesis focused on exploring secondary school students’ perspectives on connecting science with the real world based on a photograph taken by them via photo-elicitation methods. The research questions were the following: (1) How do secondary school students describe their experiences in seeking the real world out of school? (2) How do students make meaning of their experiences to describe how science is connected and disconnected to the real world? The participants were a group of 16 pupils (13-15 years old) who attended secondary school in England. They were from different backgrounds, attainment level and attitudes toward science. Each participant was provided with a disposable camera and asked to take a series of photographs to demonstrate how they see science connected and disconnected to the real world. Discussions then took place with participants in pairs, based on the photographs that they had each taken. This approach made it possible to attend carefully to the meanings that science had for these young people, without the whole process being dominated by words. These interview data were analysed using NVivo 11 software, alongside the use of photographs to inform and illustrate the analysis. Several themes were generated to reflect what was important to participants. In addition, a case study approach was used to allow more in-depth multi-faceted explorations of complex issues in young people’s perspectives toward science. The results of the study have revealed how differently pupils think about science from each other and from what the educator might think and assume. The study allowed young people the opportunity to position themselves in relation to science both in and out of school, linking to their agency as they showed how, for them, science was connected and disconnected to everyday life. The study suggests ways for teachers and curriculum developers to pay more attention to students’ backgrounds and perceptions, and to design scientific instructional approaches that better meet students’ needs for a meaningful engagement with science. The thesis also provides the science community with a novel way to access young people perceptions in an age-appropriate manner. Applying photography in this way proved to be an appropriate and entertaining way for students to communicate their perspectives. The photo elicitation technique can help the science teacher, curriculum developer and the whole science education community to identify gaps in ways in ways of teaching, also improve and strengthen the relationship between science teacher and student. Further work is necessary to apply these photography techniques better to school routines and to adapt these tools to different context.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Howes (Supervisor) & Robert Buck (Supervisor)


  • science education
  • photo elicitation interview
  • secondary school
  • cultural model

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