Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies


College of Education

First Advisor

Christine Lotter


Despite a steady improvement in overall graduation rates since the 1960s, many students in the United States continue to leave school without a diploma (Balfanz, Bridgeland, Moore, & Fox, 2010). In an effort to educate children who present increased risks for dropping out of school, alternative schools are mandated by all states. Typically, high-risk youth who attend these types of programs have been exposed to negative social and environmental risk factors throughout their lives stemming from problems associated with poverty, family adversity, inadequate parental monitoring, and/or physical and emotional trauma (Guerin & Denti, 1999; Mclntyre, 1993; Waldie & Spreen, 1993). Due to the negative social and environmental risk factors, at-risk students present challenges to teachers regarding instruction. Teachers need to incorporate effective instructional strategies which will motivate students to learn science and improve students’ attitudes toward science.

This mixed-methods study examined the perceptions of four alternative education science teachers and their students. Teachers’ beliefs about students learning were examined to determine how their beliefs affected their pedagogy. Students’ perception of the science classroom was investigated in relation to teachers’ instructional style. Teachers’ instructional styles were analyzed to determine how their pedagogy affected students’ motivation to learn science and attitudes toward science.

Key factors which led to motivation and improved attitudes of at-risk science students were caring teacher-student relationships, relevancy of the learning, and the incorporation of inquiry based activities. Results show the need for reformed based instruction at the pre-service levels to prepare future educators to effectively teach all students, including the at-risk population. Findings from this research may encourage principals to provide professional development for teachers focused on caring teacher-student relationships, relevancy of learning, and incorporation of inquiry based activities.