cil and Institute of Medicine, 2004). We chose to use the three dimensions developed in the recent National Research Council report Engaging Schools (2004): components that relate to (1) the students’ feeling “I can do this”; (2) those that relate to the feeling “I want to do this”; and (3) those that relate to the feeling “I belong and this is an important part of who I am.”
In general, when children answer the question, Can I do this task? in the affirmative, they try harder, persist longer, perform better, and are motivated to select more challenging tasks (Wigfield et al., 2006). There is some evidence that a sense of being competent and efficacious as a science learner does influence learning. In a study of sixth and seventh grade science classrooms, students who reported feeling highly efficacious in science and who had a strong sense of competence in science tended to use deep learning strategies and were more focused on learning (Anderman and Young, 1994). Some researchers have suggested that students’ perceptions of their ability to learn science might interact with the process of conceptual change, so that if they have confidence in their own learning and thinking strategies, they may be more likely to change their own conceptions (Pintrich, Marx, and Boyle, 1993).
Perceptions of ability usually vary from subject to subject and may vary from one context to another (National Research Council, 2004). Students will not exert effort in academic work if they are convinced they lack the capacity to succeed or have no control over outcomes (Atkinson, 1964; Eccles et al., 1983; Skinner, Wellborn, and Connell, 1990; Skinner, Zimmer-Gembeck, and Connell, 1998, cited in National Research Council, 2004). Students who have negative views of their competence and low expectations for success are more anxious in learning contexts and fearful of revealing their ignorance (Abu-Hilal, 2000; Bandalos, Yates, and Thorndike-Christ, 1995; Harter, 1992; Hembree, 1988, cited in National Research Council, 2004). Belief about the degree to which intellectual ability in a domain is fixed or malleable have also emerged as an import component of motivation. Americans tend to have a concept of intelligence or ability as inherited rather than as developed through effort (Chen and Stevenson, 1995; Dweck, 1999; Stevenson and Lee, 1990). A student who believes, for example, that ability in science is fixed and that she has low ability in it has little hope for success and therefore little reason to try.
Gender differences in competence beliefs are reported as early as kindergarten or first grade, especially in such gender role–stereotyped domains as science. For example, boys hold higher competence beliefs than girls for mathematics and sports, even after all relevant differences in skill level are controlled. In contrast, girls have higher competence beliefs than boys for