With ongoing efforts to increase the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, integrated approaches to teaching STEM are increasingly being implemented in elementary and middle school classrooms. Despite a variety of conceptions of integrated STEM, researchers agree that small group activities and teamwork play a central role in STEM learning. However, little is known about how young girls participate in the small group portions of integrated STEM curricular units. In three distinct but related studies, this dissertation addresses the gap in the literature to better understand the small group interactions that take place in integrated STEM activities. First, a single embedded case study was used to explore the participation of four fifth-grade students in the small group activities of an integrated STEM unit focused on electromagnetism. This study revealed patterns of student participation within the mixed-gender group that varied based on the student gender and whether the activity was science-focused or engineering-focused. These findings informed the research questions explored in the next two studies. Second, a multiple embedded case study design was used to examine group gender composition related to student participation in small group, integrated STEM activities related to the properties of light. Three groups of sixth-grade students (all-girl, all-boy, and mixed-gender) were included in the analysis. Findings highlight differences in the activity systems of the small groups, with students focusing on different objectives for completing STEM activities, utilizing different tools as they sought to reach their objectives, and dividing labor differently across the three groups. Like the first study, this study also suggested that students, and girls in particular, are less prepared to navigate open-ended engineering activities. Third, a multiple embedded case study was conducted to explore sixth-graders’ participation in an engineering design challenge in further detail. In particular, the study considered differences in the engineering practices middle school girls and boys display during an engineering design challenge and whether group gender composition was related to student participation. Together, these studies provide insight into small group interactions during integrated STEM activities and have implications for instructional strategies, professional development, and curriculum development. These implications include the need to facilitate equitable student participation in small group STEM activities, support students in open-ended STEM activities, and design STEM curricula with students’ needs in mind.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2019. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Gillian Roehrig. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 205 pages.
Student Participation in Small Group, Integrated STEM Activities: An Investigation of Gender Differences.
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