Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Susan McKay

Second Committee Member

Francois Amar

Third Committee Member

Christopher Gerbi


A reformed science curriculum for middle school and high school students was piloted in Maine in 2008-2009 as part of a state initiative to increase student interest and performance in STEM fields. Astrobiology, An Integrated Science Approach, developed by TERC and published by It's About Time Publishers, is a year-long interdisciplinary curriculum designed to engage students in science by offering a series of inquiry-based activities with the theme of how we search for life in the universe. The astrobiology pilot study was conducted by the University of Maine and the Maine Department of Education. It involved ten teachers from eight Maine middle and high schools. Most teachers taught both astrobiology and control classes. Most classes were grades eight and nine, with a few in grades ten through twelve. The total number of students in the study was 274. Students took pretest and posttest science content and science attitude surveys. Teachers also completed a survey at the end, to provide their impressions of the astrobiology curriculum and its implementation. The first set of goals of this thesis was to determine whether the astrobiology curriculum was more or less effective than traditional science courses for Maine students, both in terms of science learning and attitudes about science; and to analyze teacher responses to the curriculum and the accompanying professional development. The second set of goals involved an unexpected result that was found when analyzing the short-answer questions on the content surveys. A large number of students provided responses that were not serious answers to the questions. These types of responses could provide insights about the use of "self-handicapping" - a performance-avoid goal type - in this population of students. Self-handicapping is important to study, because it can indicate problems with students' learning motivations. Using the astrobiology data, this research compared the prevalence of self-handicapping behavior between eighth and ninth grade students and between sexes, and whether self-handicapping behavior was correlated with students' self-efficacy. Statistical analyses revealed no significant differences in content learning between astrobiology and control students. There were also no significant differences in science attitudes between the two groups. Teachers tended to feel either strongly negative or strongly positive about the curriculum and the professional development. The analysis of self-handicapping by grade revealed some interesting trends. On the pretest, ninth grade students exhibited self-handicapping behavior significantly more frequently than eighth grade students. This finding is consistent with recent literature on attitude and goal types in these grades. On the posttest, however, eighth grade students had increased their level of self-handicapping, ninth graders had decreased, and the resulting frequencies were nearly identical. The data also suggest a negative correlation between levels of self-handicapping and students' self-efficacy in this population of students. Although not statistically significant, the apparent trend is compelling and warrants further study.