According to the American Physical Society, women accounted for only 20% of bachelor's degrees in the fields of physics and engineering in 2010. This low percentage is likely related to young girls' K-12 education experiences, particularly their experiences prior to high school, during which time young women's perceptions of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and STEM careers are formed (Catsambis, 1995; Maltese & Tai, 2011; National Research Council, 2012; Sadler, Sonnert, Hazari, & Tai, 2012; Tai, Liu, Maltese, & Fan, 2006; Scantlebury, 2014; Sikora & Pokropek, 2012). There are no significant gender differences in academic achievement in middle school, yet young women have less positive attitudes towards careers in science than their male peers (Catsambis, 1995; Scantlebury, 2014). This suggests that the low female representation in certain STEM fields is a result of not their abilities, but their perceptions; for fields like physics where negative perceptions persist (Häussler & Hoffman, 2002; Labudde, Herzog, Neuenschander, Violi, & Gerber, 2000), it is clear that middle school is a critical time to intervene. This study examines the perceptions of 6th grade middle school students regarding physics and physics-related careers. A theoretical framework based on the literature of girl-friendly and integrated STEM strategies (Baker & Leary, 1995; Halpern et al., 2007; Häussler & Hoffman, 2000, 2002; Labudde et al., 2000; Moore et al., 2014b; Newbill & Cennamo, 2008; Rosser, 2000; Yanowitz, 2004) guided this work to understand how these instructional strategies may influence student's perceptions of physics for both girls and boys. The overarching goal of this work was to understand similarities and differences between girls' and boys' perceptions about physics and physics-related careers. This convergent parallel mixed-methods study uses a series of student surveys and focus group interviews to identify and understand these similarities and differences. Classroom observations also helped to identify what instructional strategies teachers used that influence student perceptions. Findings from this study indicate very few differences between the perceptions of physics and physics-related careers for 6th grade girls and boys. However, the differences that exist, though subtle, may indicate how K-12 science instruction could more positively influence girls' perceptions. For instance, while girls are just as interested in science class as their male counterparts, they are more motivated when a social context is included; this has implications for how they view physics-related careers. The findings of this study shed light on not only why fewer females pursue careers in physics, but also how K-12 science reform efforts might help to increase these numbers.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2015. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisors: Gillian Roehrig, Siddika Guzey. 1 computer file (PDF); 183 pages.
Understanding Middle School Students' Perceptions of Physics Using Girl-Friendly and Integrated STEM Strategies: A Gender Study.
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