Episodic memories and the longitudinal impact of high school physics on female students’ physics identity

Jianlan Wang, Zahra Hazari, Cheryl Cass, Robynne Lock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Students enter physics classes with negative attitudes towards physics compared to the other sciences. Female students are more likely to opt out of a second higher-level physics course. Thus, the broad goal of this work is to better understand how to have the most lasting positive impact on female students’ attitudes and motivations towards learning physics after a single physics course in high school. Through longitudinal case studies of six female students using the frameworks of episodic memory and physics identity, we explore the most impactful features of students’ high school physics experiences. The data is drawn from three years of student interviews and one initial student survey. Our results indicate that the students could remember in detail and with longevity their experiences with physics causing high arousal and negative initial valence, such as teachers presenting physics knowledge in a counter-intuitive way. The students can remember the context but not the details of their experiences with physics causing low arousal and non-neutral valence, such as their teacher sharing a story about physics. Experiences that were eventually tied to positive valence had positive impacts on female students’ physics identity maintenance, such as problem solving activities where no one was left behind.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1543-1566
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number13
StatePublished - Sep 2 2018


  • Physics identity
  • episodic memory
  • female students
  • high school physics
  • longitudinal study


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