Talent development of gifted physics-oriented students in the Finnish general upper secondary school

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


This doctoral thesis investigates intrapersonal and environmental factors that contribute to the development of physics talent of gifted Finnish general upper secondary school students. Four perspectives were adopted: students’ and physics teachers’ mindsets about intelligence and giftedness, students’ self-evaluated multiple intelligences, the development of talent at home, school, and in leisure time, and the actualization of talent in students’ educational and career choices. The thesis consists of four studies (I–IV). It seeks to increase understanding about talent-development-related challenges and strengths prevailing in Finland to support physics-oriented students in transforming their potential into competency. This is important because of the growing need for science expertise in society and from the viewpoint of students’ own lives; gifted students should understand their potential, and they should seek and take on sufficiently challenging tasks in school and in their post-secondary education and careers. Another objective of this thesis is to serve the needs of teacher education in the field of gifted education. Furthermore, the aim is to provide knowledge that can be applied in developing physics instruction and pedagogical approaches that take into account the abilities and needs of gifted students.

The thesis utilizes a mixed methods approach by integrating quantitative and qualitative data and analysis methods. The data for Study I (Nstudents = 164, Nteachers = 131) and Study II (N = 164) were collected via questionnaires, and they were analyzed using statistical methods. Semi-structured interviews were used in gathering the data (N = 24) for Studies III and IV. Study III used the critical incident technique in data collection and analysis, and the data in Study IV were analyzed by employing the inductive content analysis approach.

The results indicate that students’ and physics teachers’ mindsets were more malleable with regard to intelligence than to giftedness (Study I). Regarding giftedness, teachers’ mindsets were more malleable than those of the students. The differences in students’ giftedness-related mindsets were associated with gender and grade level, with the most malleable mindsets prevailing among female and first- and second-year students. In turn, teaching experience was associated with the malleability of the teachers’ intelligence-related mindsets; the least experienced teachers had more malleable mindsets than those with the most experience.

Regarding students' self-evaluated intelligence profiles (Study II), the overall ratings were the highest in environmental, spiritual, and logical-mathematical intelligences, and the lowest in linguistic intelligence. Gender differences were found; male students with similar course grades as female students in physics, mathematics, and English perceived their intelligence as higher in logical-mathematical and spatial domains, whereas female students thought more positively of their intelligence in linguistic and environmental areas.

Several home-, school-, and leisure-time-related factors were identified as supporting talent development (Study III). These include parental physics-specific support, material resources, motivated or gifted peers, certain teacher qualities, specific instruction- and curriculum-based opportunities, and physics-related media and events. The analysis also revealed factors that hindered talent development, such as students’ low interest in participating in physics competitions and an uneven availability of optional science courses in lower secondary schools.

Half of the participants in Study IV had their career choices in fields of the natural sciences and engineering. Overall, interest, an opportunity to combine several interests, a high rate of employment or income, positive role models, a preference for working with people or living material, and a preference for intellectual challenges were among the reasons the students gave for their career decisions. The findings revealed gender differences in students’ career choices as well as misconceptions about working in physics and related fields. Most students also wished for more information about education and careers in such fields.

The findings of this thesis indicate that various steps to support gifted students in developing their talent in physics could and should be taken in Finland. Such steps include being responsive to gifted students’ individual self-perception-, learning-, and career-related needs, and educating teachers to recognize the challenges many gifted students face. Moreover, attention should be paid to gender differences in students’ self-perceptions and career intentions. The thesis also suggests several courses of action that could be adopted in different sectors of the Finnish education system to improve the current situation.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-51-8999-8
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-9000-0
Publication statusPublished - 2023
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Fields of Science

  • 516 Educational sciences

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