Career-related instruction promoting students’ career awareness and interest towards science learning

Anssi Salonen *, Sirpa Kärkkäinen and Tuula Keinonen
Philosophical Faculty, School of Applied Educational Science and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland. E-mail:

Received 13th November 2017 , Accepted 20th January 2018

First published on 20th January 2018

The aim of this study was to investigate how career-related instruction implemented in secondary school chemistry education concerning water issues influences students’ career awareness and their interest towards science learning. This case study is part of a larger design-based research study for the EU-MultiCO project, which focuses on promoting students’ scientific career awareness and attractiveness by introducing them to career-based scenarios at the beginning of the instruction unit. The participants in this study were three eighth-grade classes with 46 students in total, and 2 science teachers. Data consisted of observations throughout the intervention and a questionnaire which the students took afterwards. Descriptive statistics taken from the questionnaire were used together with the content analysis of open questions and observation notes. The results reveal that the students acquired knowledge about science, science-related careers and working life skills and that they enjoyed studying chemistry and engaged in learning during the intervention. The students recognized the need for professionals and their responsibilities as well as the importance of water-related issues as global and local problems, but these issues were not personally important or valuable to students. The type of career-related instruction discussed in this paper can give guidelines for how to develop teaching to promote students’ science career awareness, trigger students’ interest and engage them in science learning.


Without promoting students’ interest and engagement towards science topics, studies and careers related to major global, national and local science topics such as problems with clean and safe water (European Environment Agency, 2012; World Health Organization, 2017), we are likely to have a lack of scientists to solve these issues (Bybee and McCrae, 2011). The problem starts with students’ career awareness, or more specifically, the unawareness of the diversity and nature of science-related careers (Maltese and Tai, 2011; Goodrum et al., 2012). Cleaves (2005) found that two factors influence students’ future science-related career choices; the first being a lack of student awareness about science occupations, scientific work and the required skills, and the second, the students’ perception of themselves which underestimates their scientific abilities. Cohen and Patterson (2012) included two more influencing factors: engagement and relevance. However, the expected difficulty of science-related studies is not a reason for students not to choose those studies and later careers (Korpershoek et al., 2012). Furthermore, students with early awareness and personal connections to science-related careers can develop informed decisions about these careers (Osborne and Collins, 2001; Tai et al., 2006; Aspden et al., 2015).

Science education should also focus on the low visibility of many science occupations in everyday life; low visibility may lead to misunderstanding and false expectations of those occupations (Schütte and Köller, 2015). Students’ perceptions of the necessary working life skills in science-related careers have indeed been found to be stereotyped (Salonen et al., 2017). Therefore, students need accurate information about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers and this information needs to be part of science curricula (Andersen and Ward, 2014; Holmegaard et al., 2014)

An effective method for providing career counselling is using advanced technology such as promotional videos (Harris-Bowlsbey and Sampson, 2005) and implementing career-related examples when teaching the core curriculum (Orthner et al., 2013). In addition to career counselling, informing students about STEM occupations and preventing stereotypes, schools can support students’ choices for STEM careers by offering them science lessons that support understanding for all students and focus on everyday context (Korpershoek et al., 2012; Potvin and Hasni, 2014). Moreover, students should be actively involved in the learning process (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008). In the Finnish national core curriculum (Finnish National Board of Education [FNBE], 2014) the aims in chemistry instruction are that students will understand: the role of chemistry in everyday life, society, environment and technology; that chemistry is needed to develop new solutions; and the importance of chemistry in their future working life. Instruction should also support students’ choices on how to use their knowledge and skills appropriately. Based on these aims, chemistry education is context-based and introduces careers in which chemistry knowledge is needed. Other science subjects have similar principles (FNBE, 2014) to enhance the use of STEM careers and everyday context in promoting students’ interest towards studying science and choosing science-related careers.

Students’ possible stereotypes, lack of career awareness, self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations and learning experiences are the key variables influencing their career choices. However, in addition to promoting students’ career awareness, this study evaluates both students’ interest towards science learning and science-related careers, not only their career choices. Therefore, theories related to interest itself, considered together with science educational approaches, are particularly relevant to the current study.

Theoretical background

Interest can be defined as a state in which the individual is engaging or has a predisposition or intention to engage with the content (Hidi and Renninger, 2006). Interest in science has a role in the link between personal value and current science activities, and intentions for engagement in science (Ainley and Ainley, 2011a). Krapp et al. (1992) introduce two types of interest: individual interest and situational interest. Individual interest is a deeper interest developed over time or sometimes referred to as a characteristic of a person, including a person's knowledge and values. Situational interest is something which individuals share in the moment within their environment. It usually only has a short-term effect on knowledge, feelings and values (Schraw and Lehman, 2001).

The Person-Object approach to Interest (POI) (Schiefele et al., 1983; Krapp, 1999) postulates that interest is a relational concept between an individual and the aspects of the environment providing objects of interest. Interest represents this interaction between a person and an object (Krapp, 2002). Such objects can be concrete things, topics, activities, subject-matters or ideas. While in science education the situation and topic are usually related to school science subjects, it seems that students’ interest might be something more detailed (Ainley and Ainley, 2011b). Different types of activity engage interactions between a person and objects: hands-on engagement, cognitive work and having ideas without conscious control (Krapp et al., 1992). Under certain conditions, repeated engagement may stabilize the disposition to re-engage with some of the objects, maintain situational interest and further develop individual interest (Hidi and Renninger, 2006).

Interest differs from other motivational concepts by its content-specificity. Moreover, specific features of interest include cognitive aspects, emotional or feeling characterizations, value components and the intrinsic quality of activities (Krapp, 2002). Krapp introduces two major cognitive aspects. First, developed interest always differs from the earlier stages, especially with the amount of knowledge an individual stores. Secondly, a person needs metacognitive knowledge about the missing knowledge and skills. Moreover, an interested person is eager to learn such new knowledge and skills, building on the knowledge already acquired, being independent and being alert about the problems and topics (Levitt, 2001). Furthermore, moderate prior knowledge, the potential to learn more and gaining new information combined seem to increase interest (Kintsch, 1980; Tobias, 1994; Schraw and Lehman, 2001). In the case of careers, students need more detailed information about science-related careers to relate their prior knowledge, skills and interests (Salonen et al., 2017). However, Ainley and Ainley (2011a) found that the level of knowledge that students have or acquire does not particularly affect their enjoyment of science.

Enjoyment and other emotional and feeling characterizations, even negative ones, can have a role in interest development in science learning (Ainley et al., 2005). In addition, students experiencing enjoyment with the science topic and situation are more likely to engage with the topic and continue to do so (Ainley and Ainley, 2011b). Nevertheless, some students feel that learning chemistry is irrelevant for their everyday life outside of school, their future role in society (Childs et al., 2015) and the environment (Hutchinson, 2000). Cigdemoglu and Geban (2015) found that one way to close this gap is to design chemistry education to include real-world contextual issues involving science and technology discussions with students. Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and its implications have also been found to increase students’ perceived relevance with chemistry and the environment (Burmeister et al., 2012).

In POI, the value component refers to how the person's goals and intentions relate with attitudes, expectations and values (Krapp, 2002). Students will study science subjects if they are needed for their career or future study goals but the importance of science for their everyday life may not be as important (Palmer et al., 2017). In addition, individual interest has major influence over students’ career choices (Aspden et al., 2015). However, students who think that science is not for them still acknowledge the necessity of others choosing those studies and careers (Goodrum et al., 2012). Moreover, information and advice about science-related career options and educational requirements increase the utility value of school science (Andersen and Ward, 2014). Students working as citizen scientists can see that science research and society can benefit from their work and contribution, enhancing the perception of valuing scientific work and engaging learners (Dickinson et al., 2012). Students should be engaged with science-related issues that are likely to be interesting and concerning to them (Jenkins, 1999). In addition, citizen-science instruction in education should be framed in such a way that students are aware of the scientific processes that they are involved in (Brossard et al., 2005).

The intrinsic quality of the activities is the most obvious feature of interest and from the POI perspective, interest-based actions have the quality of intrinsic motivation (Krapp, 2002). There is no difference between what the individual likes and has to do. However, the content and the object of the activity need to be taken into account when exploring interest instead of motivation (Krapp, 2002). To most students and their teachers, chemistry means activities such as inquiries and laboratory tests (Borrows, 2004). These activities are also perceived as an interesting and motivating part of chemistry learning. The work of Hofstein (2004) is a reminder that appropriate laboratory activities are effective in promoting cognitive, metacognitive and practical skills, and attitude and interest towards chemistry. However, this perception of chemistry being remote needs to be changed to show that chemistry is all around us instead. Further, Braund and Reiss (2006) propose that laboratory-based school science teaching needs to be complemented with science activities taking place outside of school.

What is found, considering these criteria, is that students engaging with different interest features including cognitive, emotional, value and intrinsic quality features in science education can perceive the importance of the content, enhancing engagement and interest with the topic and activities, and further science-related studies and careers.

The research question

Through career-related instruction and career-based scenarios, this study seeks to understand the relationships between the presentation of science-related careers to students, their interest in science and their engagement and enjoyment in science learning. Therefore, this study examines how career-related instruction can affect students’ career awareness and their interest towards science topics and science learning.


The context of this case study is the EU project ‘Promoting Youth Scientific Career Awareness and its Attractiveness through Multi-stakeholder Co-operation’ (MultiCO). The MultiCO project aims to promote students’ awareness and interest in science studies and career paths. The overall methodology of the MultiCO project follows the design-based research (DBR) approach (Wang and Hannafin, 2005). This study uses mixed methods, quantitative and qualitative, providing deeper information and understanding related to the impact of career-related instruction on the students’ interest towards science studies and science-related careers in the intervention's context. It is not possible and not the intention to generalise the results of this case study (Cohen et al., 2007).


The participants in this study were three 8th grade science groups, a total of 46 students, aged 14–15 years and their two female science teachers from a secondary school in Eastern Finland. The students had already participated in an intervention with career-related instruction. The teachers are experienced in implementing scenario-based instruction.


The intervention (Table 1) consisted of seven lessons and three phases: a career-based scenario, an inquiry and a discussion panel. Based on a theoretical framework and the requirements of the school's curriculum, the career-based scenario was planned collaboratively with teachers, researchers and other stakeholders. Teachers planned the inquiry and consolidation phases to link the intervention with curriculum topics.
Table 1 Intervention description
Lesson Content and aims of lesson
Lesson 1 (45 min) Scenario stage in the science classroom: the students watched a film about Lake Mertajärvi, which is located near the school. A slideshow presentation continued with further information about the lake. The presentation ended with research questions:
• In what condition is the water in Lake Mertajärvi?
• Is the water quality of Lake Mertajärvi suitable for swimming?
• Examine and find the facts, and make a decision.
Lesson 2 (90 min) Scenario stage at Lake Mertajärvi: the students observed the surroundings of Lake Mertajärvi. The environmental health officer introduced herself, her career path and current work. She also took samples together with the students.
Inquiry stage at Lake Mertajärvi: the students took their own water samples from Lake Mertajärvi and examined the temperature of the air and water and the conductivity and pH at the lake.
Lessons 3–5 (6 × 45 min) Inquiry stage in the science classroom: the students examined their water samples with the following inquiries with step-by-step instructions available:
• A sensory examination: smell, colour, cloudiness
• Oxygen content
• Phosphate and nitrate content
• Iron content
The students’ results were compared with the results analysed by a chemist.
Lesson 6 (45 min) Discussion panel: the students discussed the results of their inquiries. The teachers picked one student from each class as a chairman of the panel to lead the discussion of the following questions:
• In what condition is the water in Lake Mertajärvi?
• What needs to be done to Lake Mertajärvi?
• How can we make better use of the lake and its surroundings for recreation?
Lesson 7 (45 min) Finnish language class: the students wrote an essay about the condition of Lake Mertajärvi and what can, and needs to, be done to it. The students used their gathered results and ideas from the discussion panel to validate their arguments.

Most of the career information was provided during the career-based scenario, particularly during lesson 2 with the professional, and later in the discussion panel. The first part of the scenario stage included information about the lake and the problem. In addition, the students and teachers briefly discussed what had already been done to the lake and who the responsible professionals are. A female environmental health officer was asked to participate in the career-based scenario to promote women in science-related careers. The inquiry worksheets did not include any career information. However, the teachers did remind the students during the inquiry stage about the earlier scenario stage including the career and introduced working life skills.

Data collection

Data was collected during and after the intervention (Table 2). During the intervention, the first author observed the students’ interactions with the career-based scenario, educational material, other students, teachers and other adults. Observations focused on whole classroom, groups of students and individual levels. Researchers used observation sheets with foregoing variables listed to help with gathering the data. The intervention was also video recorded with one camera. The observations acted as the primary data. Video recordings were not analysed and they were used only as optional data to clarify statements and actions e.g. the teachers’ choices of instruction. Notes were taken of discussions between researchers and teachers during the intervention.
Table 2 Data collection methods
Phase Data collection Data analysis Aim of the data
During intervention Observations: whole class, groups of students, individual students, teachers Content analysis, quantitative analysis Students’ interactions with the material, teachers and other adults; students’ engagement and situational interest in science learning; students’ awareness and interest in introduced science topics, working life skills and careers
Notes: discussions between researchers and teachers Content analysis Teachers’ perceptions of using career-based scenarios; teachers’ choices on carrying out career-related instruction
After intervention Questionnaire: students Quantitative analysis, content analysis Students’ interest, motivation, relevance and attitudes towards learning science; students’ awareness and interest in introduced science topics, working life skills and careers

After the intervention, the students answered an intervention evaluation questionnaire including 21 Likert items: 19 items were asked on a 4-point scale, but questions 22 and 23 were on a 3-point scale offering the students a neutral choice. These two questions had a following open-ended question asking about their reasoning. In addition, two open questions were also included: “20. What was best in the unit?” and “21. What was worst in the unit?”. We modified a scenario evaluation questionnaire (Kotkas et al., 2017) to study how the following factors (and corresponding items in the questionnaire) triggered students’ interest during the intervention.

• Knowledge (1–3, 23)

• Module attributes, enjoyment and feelings (12–15, 20–21)

• Vocational value (6, 8–10, 18)

• Personal and social value (4, 5, 7, 11)

• Career awareness (16, 17, 19)

• Interest in topic (22)

Data analysis

Observation data was analysed using content analysis (cf.Elo and Kyngäs, 2008). The analysis included two main phases: the preparation phase and the organizing phase. The preparation phase included transcribing the data and reading it through to make sense of the whole data. In the organization phase, the categories were freely generated and grouped. After using this inductive approach, a deductive approach with an unconstrained analysis matrix based on the interest criteria of Krapp (2002) was used to rearrange the categories. Descriptive statistics from the questionnaire are presented in the results. No statistically significant differences were found between girls and boys using a chi-square test with 2 or 3 degrees of freedom according to the item and p < 0.05. Collapsing the categories for items 1–19 did not increase the significance.

Validity, reliability and ethical considerations

Each data source has strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, in this study observations and notes from teacher discussions complemented the questionnaire data. Observation data reliability was enhanced with analysis triangulation (Patton, 1999); two researchers analysed the data separately, ending up with similar categorization and analysis of the data. Combining different instruments and data collection methods also ensures method triangulation (Patton, 1999). Greene (2015) noted that a combination of methods has a clear advantage over the use of a single method studying student engagement. Schiefele (1999) found that questionnaires usually measure interest that is more personal as the situation is over and it is challenging to remember the feelings an individual had, ending with answers mainly about their individual interest. Even though observations eliminate the problem of retrospection, there is the possibility of observer's bias affecting the results (Minner et al., 2010).

The questionnaire items were translated into Finnish so the students could answer them in their native language. Open-ended question answers were then translated into English and the original questionnaire items in English are used in this study. Translation in both ways was done with care not to lose the meaning of the sentences. The teachers were experienced and the way of teaching was familiar to them. The researchers also worked in close, working cooperation with the teachers. The students were familiar with the researchers and the style of instruction, making it possible for them to be relaxed and participate in a normal way. The number of participants in this study was rather small. Therefore, generalization of the results is difficult or impossible. However, three groups and 46 students in a case study and in the context of the research problem is adequate to draw conclusions about the influence of career-related instruction.

The autonomy of the participant was respected and participation was voluntary, based on consent given by the students themselves. Consent was also asked from students’ parents or guardians, teachers, schools and school administrators. No additional ethical review was needed from the Ethical Council, as the study was part of the school's normal activities. Privacy and data protection was taken into account; the anonymity of the participants was secured by collecting questionnaire data anonymously and no names were marked on observation sheets. The data was then made available only for the use of the research group.


The observations were firstly grouped into 19 categories and then into 5 main categories: students’ working methods and skills; interaction; working life skills, careers and society; emotions, feelings and experiences and interest and engagement (Table 3).
Table 3 Categorization of observations
Category Number of observations
Students’ working methods and skills 60
Reasoning and argumentation 21
Technology and instruments 13
Precision and caution 12
Instructions and time management 8
Notes and observations 6
Interaction 49
Collaboration and teamwork 18
Teacher-student 15
Student-student 11
Leading and guiding 5
Working life skills, careers and society 48
Working life skills 22
Careers 19
Society and public participation 7
Emotions, feelings and experiences 41
Frustration 16
Positive emotions 12
Negative emotions 8
Own experiences and empathy 5
Interest and engagement 32
Interest during inquiries and discussion panel 17
Interest during scenario 15
Engagement 13
Total 243

When comparing individual questionnaire items between girls and boys, girls perceived slightly more that their future career connected with the topic than boys (χ2 = 5.460; df = 2; p = 0.065). In all of the other items the differences between genders were far from significant with p-values ranging from item 13 (χ2 = 5.478; df = 3; p = 0.140) to item 16 (χ2 = 0.763; df = 3; p = 0.858). The results of the intervention evaluation questionnaire are presented in Table 4. Furthermore, we present these findings from the questionnaire with the support of observations.

Table 4 The results of the instruction unit evaluation
Item no. Item (4-point Likert scale) M SD % Agree (N) % Disagree (N)
1 I gained new knowledge about the topic. 3.03 0.49 95 (37) 5 (2)
2 The knowledge I gained from the unit may be useful in the future. 2.54 0.72 56 (22) 44 (17)
3 I can use the knowledge acquired to solve problems in practice. 2.49 0.60 54 (21) 46 (18)
4 The topic is important for me. 2.13 0.62 26 (10) 74 (28)
5 This unit enables me to understand local entrepreneurs and their operations. 2.59 0.50 59 (23) 41 (16)
6 The topic raises my interest in studying science subjects (mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and geography). 2.23 0.78 28 (11) 72 (28)
7 The topic is important for the world. 2.62 0.85 64 (25) 36 (14)
8 My future career may be connected with the topic. 1.85 0.63 13 (5) 87 (34)
9 I predict I will need to perform skills learned in the unit in my future career. 2.03 0.54 15 (6) 85 (33)
10 I predict I will need to perform science-related skills learned in the unit in my future career. 2.15 0.63 28 (11) 72 (28)
11 This unit described science-related problems significant to society. 2.74 0.79 69 (27) 31 (12)
12 It was easy for me to relate with the situation (scenario) described in the beginning of the unit. 2.49 0.56 51 (20) 49 (19)
13 During the unit it was easy to study. 2.87 0.57 87 (34) 13 (5)
14 Working during the unit was pleasant. 2.74 0.55 74 (29) 26 (10)
15 I participated actively during the work. 2.85 0.54 87 (34) 13 (5)
16 I gained knowledge about careers new to me. 2.55 0.76 61 (23) 39 (15)
17 This unit helps me to understand the responsibility of the described careers. 2.67 0.66 67 (26) 33 (13)
18 I became interested in the described careers. 1.87 0.63 13 (3) 87 (20)
19 This unit helps me to understand what skills are needed in the described careers. 2.52 0.59 57 (13) 43 (10)

Item no. Item (3-point Likert scale) M SD % Agree (N) % Neutral (N) % Disagree (N)
22 I find the topic of the unit interesting. 1.86 0.67 16 (6) 54 (20) 30 (11)
23 I want to learn more about the topic. 1.70 0.66 11 (4) 48 (18) 41 (15)

Interest: enjoyment and engagement

The majority of the students perceived that they acquired new knowledge about the intervention's science topic (M = 3.03; SD = 0.49) and considered the gained knowledge more or less valuable for them and useful for future practical problem-solving. However, the topic hardly raised the students’ interest to study science subjects. Discussions between teachers and researchers revealed that during the intervention teachers realized that some of the inquiries and assignments were too complex for the majority of the students to understand and therefore keep up with the phases of the intervention.

The students showed positive and negative emotions during the intervention. Positive emotions were mainly using humour and laughing during the lessons, for example “Get those mega gloves”, “This is so precious water” and “Of course I could drink this water”. Negative emotions were associated with the condition of the lake, for example “Ugh! It smells like dead in here”. The students, especially girls, didn’t show many feelings or express their own experiences throughout the intervention towards the science topics or career introduced. However, they showed some empathy towards the condition of the lake, with phrases such as “Fortunately Lake Saimaa is not in that condition”.

The students perceived that the working and learning methods were pleasant (M = 2.74; SD = 0.55) and that studying was easy (M = 2.87; SD = 0.57) during the intervention. In addition, the majority of the students were actively participating. The observations validate the students’ enjoyment and engagement. The students were mainly positively interested (24/32 of observations related to interest) in the scenario and inquiry stages. In the scenario stage, students showed interest in observing nature outside of the classroom: “Are we going out already?”. During the inquiry stage, students were interested in new equipment and surprising reactions. The students showed indifference or frustration mainly in the inquiry stage, and mostly towards the use of computers and electronic learning material and because of the workload. Only a few of the students were actively participating during the scenario stage in class but most of the students worked actively during the inquiries and perceived the free working style as easy and enjoyable.

The students’ reasons for their neutral or slightly negative interest about the topic (M = 1.86; SD = 0.67) and future interest to learn more about the topic (M = 1.70; SD = 0.66) had some variation. Positive reasoning about the topic included: “It was nice to learn something new about the lake” and “Because I like to do science inquiries and calculations, even though I don’t understand all the time”. Most of the negative reasoning towards interest about the topic had no reason, but if there was a reason, it was similar to “I just did not like it”; “It just was not for me” or “Ugh, such a dirty pond”. The students’ willingness to learn more about the topic was reasoned with positive answers such as: “The topic is important” and “Some details might have been missed”. Negative reasons were linked with the perception of already learning enough or a future career aspiration, for example “I think I learned enough” or “I don’t think my future career needs skills and knowledge like this”.

Careers, skills and society

Students gained knowledge about the introduced careers and they understood the responsibilities and the working life skills required, but their interest towards these particular careers remained low. The teachers tried to involve the careers and working life skills throughout the intervention by emphasizing accuracy, safety and precision and reminding the students about the career-based scenario at the lake and about the results the chemist provided. The students usually did not react to these in any way. For example, the students posed only one question to the environmental health officer during the career-based scenario. This question was about her salary.

The students did not connect their future careers with the topic introduced in the intervention and so they did not see the practical value of the learned skills as most of them perceived that the learned skills were irrelevant to their future career (M = 2.03; SD = 0.54). Science-related skills were valued a little higher in future careers (M = 2.15; SD = 0.63). The observations and discussion panel revealed insights of how the students used their knowledge and skills during the intervention. The most noticeably used working life skills among the students were safety and accuracy: “I put this cork now and close the bottle so if it falls nothing happens.” During the inquiries, students usually wrote the results in their notebooks very precisely. Even though the students reasoned and created their own analyses in cooperation, they did not write them down. At the beginning of the discussion panel, the students were not eager to show any of their results or analyses. When they finally started to list the results, they did not add their own conclusions. Moreover, students who were a little uncertain of their own analyses started immediately to rewrite their conclusions when someone presented conclusions somehow different from their own.

The students recognized the importance and value of the scientific topic to the surrounding society and the world but not for themselves (M = 2.13; SD = 0.62). The questions in the discussion panel guided students to link their work more with society. During the discussion panel, most of the students agreed that the city has to take better care of the lake. One discussion included a comment with collective responsibility: “If the city received the lake as a donation and promised to keep it in good condition and for leisure use, then these promises have not been kept”. Students also understood that their results differed from the public perception of the lake's condition: “Lake Mertajärvi is chemically in better condition than people usually think”. According to the students, teachers can inform the public and policy-makers about the issue, professionals in water treatment can make plans for cleaning the water and its surroundings and animal experts can take care of endangered dragonfly species living at the lake.


This study provided students with a learning experience in which they first encountered a two-stage scenario including a science-related career and a society-related issue, inquiries and a discussion panel related to the introduced water topic.

The results show that in this career-related instruction intervention the most important features of interest for students were cognitive aspects, emotional and feeling characterizations and the intrinsic quality of activities. These features triggered the transaction between the student and the objects: the topic (water), the careers (environmental health officer, chemist) and the inquiry activities (Krapp, 2002). The students acquired new knowledge about the topic, careers and working life skills. Even though the expected difficulty is not a reason to not choose to study science (Korpershoek et al., 2012), the amount of high level knowledge and skills required may have reached the limit of the students’ potential and interest to learn more (Tobias, 1994; Schraw and Lehman, 2001).

The lessons when visiting the lake outside the classroom triggered the students’ interest in science learning. The inquiry part at the lake seemed to carry the students’ interest through the more demanding parts later in the classroom. Positive emotions such as humour dominated the early stages of the scenario and inquiries, especially at the lake. Negative emotions emerged when the inquiries, reasoning and reporting needed more of the students’ attention. Putting too much pressure on reporting the inquiries can kill the enjoyment and intrinsic quality of these activities. These results are worrying as the inquiries are seen as a motivating and interesting part of chemistry education and according to Ainley et al. (2005), both negative and positive emotions have an effect in the development of situational interest. However, these findings support the earlier studies (Hofstein, 2004; Braund and Reiss, 2006) that concluded that inquiry-based teaching should be complemented with activities outside of the classroom, allowing students to see that chemistry is all around.

The value components in this intervention were value for the world and local society, and value for the individual. Students considered the water topic highly relevant for the surrounding society and the world, but this topic was not relevant at a personal level for the majority of the students. Even though most of the students lived near the lake, they could not yet see their role as active citizens, but could see the significance of the problems surrounding them. These results support the study by Cigdemoglu and Geban (2015) that concluded that engaging students with real-world issues can close the gap between students and society. Moreover, the results also align with an earlier study (Childs et al., 2015) that concluded that students feel that chemistry is irrelevant for their lives and they cannot see their role in society. As clean water is actually not an everyday problem in Finland or any other European country, it might not raise students’ interest towards learning about the topic or the careers related to it (Korpershoek et al., 2012).

Career-related instruction implemented in this study introduced students to outside of school and laboratory activities, making school science (chemistry) more relevant and valuable in promoting STEM career awareness (Hofstein, 2004; Cohen and Patterson, 2012). However, students did not relate their future career with the introduced career or scientific topic and therefore, perceived that the acquired knowledge and skills from this topic or from further science studies had little value (Palmer et al., 2017). The students might have had difficulties connecting their future careers with the science topics because they were not aware of the diversity of careers, especially in science (Maltese and Tai, 2011; Goodrum et al., 2012), and had false expectations of science-related careers (Schütte and Köller, 2015; Salonen et al., 2017). However, students see the topic's importance for society and the world, recognizing the need for someone else working with such problems in the future (Goodrum et al., 2012).

The students had an opportunity to plan their teamwork and the teacher gave them a lot of responsibility over their learning. These teacher decisions also align with the national core curriculum of Finland and earlier studies (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008; FNBE, 2014), promoting cooperation and students’ active participation in learning. For some students this might have led to problems in understanding the inquiries and the whole learning process and objectives, leading to a feeling of irrelevance (Hutchinson, 2000; Childs et al., 2015).

During the inquiry phase, students had problems linking the acquired scientific knowledge and results with their own ideas and conclusions. Therefore, the teachers developed the discussion panel questions. These questions including aspects on the future and society could have guided the students’ learning and trigger their interest better than the original research questions in the scenario phase. As the discussion panel proceeded with student–student and student–teacher interactions, the students appreciated and became more aware of relations between their own and others’ arguments and were actively involved (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008). This might have led to students having a deeper understanding of the relationships between science, society and individuals, making chemistry and science-related careers more relevant to themselves and further triggering interest in science learning.

Even though the students were interested during the intervention, it was not able to enhance students’ further interest to learn about the topic. The intervention included positive triggers to interest but it might have included too many difficult phases for the students. This could be a reason for the students enjoying and engaging during the intervention yet not re-engaging with the topic (Krapp, 2002) and promoting further interest towards science studies and careers.

Further research and implications

Further research and interventions are needed to evaluate the results for a more complete understanding of the design and use of career-related instruction as well as in relation to other key variables in career choosing such as self-efficacy, career stereotypes, and learning outcome expectations. The MultiCO-project continues to develop the design process and the evaluation of career-related scenarios and instruction in further design cycles. No significant differences between girls and boys were found in the analysis but the small number of students may have had an effect on the results and further studies with larger cohorts are necessary to test the gender difference more accurately. However, this case study might give interesting and important insights and implications in closing the gender gap in science interest. In addition, this intervention and future research can give educators help and guidelines in connecting science teaching with careers, society and working life skills.


There is always the possibility of misunderstanding and/or loss of nuances during translation. Therefore, any translations were made with great care together with multiple researchers reviewing the translated questionnaire items and answers. The cultural context was also challenging. Finnish students are not that interested in careers in general, much less their own career opportunities at this early age. Moreover, the students’ interest in science-related careers and science learning cannot be defined with one or two case studies. It requires persistent research with different kinds of study and consistent reporting of both successful and unsuccessful results. The small number of participants does not allow for generalization, yet the referred earlier studies validate some of the results. Unfortunately, a controlled comparative study design could not be implemented without changes in crucial factors such as the teachers and learning environment or changing the overall design of the MultiCO project. However, with multiple data sources, precise analysis of the data and careful reporting of the results, this study gives valuable information and offers other researchers and educators the possibility to make conclusions and derive their own applications.


Water and especially clean water in Finland is not an everyday problem for secondary school students. However, local problems with water pollution and ecosystems still occur. Water as a topic and the career-related instruction introduced in this study might give interesting guidelines for the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Citizen Science approaches. This study shows that students realize the local scientific problems but their interest and engagement towards these topics vary, as they do not personally regard them as important or relevant, or link the topic with their lives.

If we can meet the students’ individual interests with introduced science topics and careers the engagement may be more obvious. Finding a topic and a career to meet every student’s interests is impossible. Career-related instruction should concentrate on emphasizing the perceived personal value and relevance of careers for the student. Thus, it can provide links between the usefulness of a topic, science studies, society and personal life.

Professional visitors in lessons are always a challenge and more attention is needed to make the cooperation more functional and promotional regarding science-related careers and working life skills. Moreover, career-related instruction could benefit from using careers, in addition to the scenario phase, throughout the teaching unit. For further opportunities to develop career-related instruction, we need to listen to students’ and teachers’ views. However, unless teachers are enthusiastic about science, they are unlikely to adopt a teaching approach such as the one presented here, as it places higher demands on them relative to regular science teaching. In the future, research on what kind of effect career-related instruction has on situational interest and engagement after the career introduction and during the intervention might give more information about how to use careers, professionals, fieldwork and visits outside school more efficiently in chemistry and science education.

Using career-related instruction has its challenges. However, students’ interest towards chemistry and science learning can be promoted with moderate amounts of acquired knowledge, enjoyment during lessons, linking the career, working life skills and the society together with students’ interests, and combining activities outside of school with inquiries. In addition, introducing students to new science-related careers and working life skills enhances their career awareness and their knowledge about the variety and nature of these careers. This is required if we want students to perceive science studies and science-related careers as interesting and important for them instead of only for others.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts to declare.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 665100.


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