Beyond einstein and explosions: Understanding 6th grade girls’ and boys’ perceptions of physics, school science, and stem careers

Emily A. Dare, Gillian H. Roehrig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This study examines the perceptions of 6th grade middle school girls and boys regarding physics and science, physics and science in school, and STEM careers to better understand how reforms in science education may increase girls’ interest and future participation in STEM careers. This interpretive multi-case study was situated within classrooms where girl-friendly and integrated STEM strategies were utilized, and leveraged social cognitive career theory as a lens in analysis. Focus group interviews with twenty-eight students indicate few differences in girls’ and boys’ perceptions related to physics, school science, and career interests. Unsurprisingly, students find hands-on experiences to be a central component to science learning and struggle with perceptions of scientists beyond stereotypes. However, this study reveals that girls may have a more accurate understanding of what scientists do, understanding that their work impacts others and is not limited to a traditional laboratory space. Findings additionally indicate that contextualizing science learning and meaningful group work were vital to girls’ interests in science class, which are tied to their career interests. Implications for practice include the importance of contextualizing science learning, the necessity of modeling cooperative teamwork, and the need to make explicit connections to STEM careers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-577
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
Volume26
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1238140. The findings, conclusions, and opinions herein represent the views of the au-thors and do not necessarily represent the views of personnel affiliated with the National Science Foundation.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by Begell House, Inc. www.begellhouse.com.

Keywords

  • Career interests
  • Gender
  • Middle school
  • Qualitative
  • STEM education

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