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A Survey Of Middle School Students’ Attitudes Toward Engineers And Scientists

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Engineering in the Middle Grades

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.124.1 - 14.124.12



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Paper Authors


Jed Lyons University of South Carolina

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Jed Lyons is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Faculty Director of the Center for
Teaching Excellence at the University of South Carolina. His passion is developing laboratory
experiments and other hands-on active learning experiences for pre-college, undergraduate and
graduate students.

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Bethany Fralick University of South Carolina

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Bethany Fralick is a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the
University of South Carolina, conducting research on engineering education.

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Jennifer Kearn University of South Carolina

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Jennifer Kearn is a Program Assistant for the Center for Engineering and Computing Education at
the University of South Carolina.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Survey of Middle Schoolers’ Attitudes towards Engineers and Scientists


Do middle school students think they could become engineers, or think that engineering is boring? A set of surveys was used to assess the attitudes of 1010 middle school students about engineering and science. In general, the students perceived that engineers are more likely to do boring things, make peoples’ lives easier, and be good at math. Scientists were perceived as more likely to discover new knowledge, agree on the best way to solve problems, do many kinds of work, be creative, use lots of ways to communicate, and work with their brains. Responses also differed by gender. Female students indicated that scientists are more likely to make a lot of money, work alone, work with their hands, and get to be the boss. In contrast, the male students were more likely to associate these qualities with engineers. Analysis of constructed responses indicates both misconceptions and a lack of conceptions about engineering among the population surveyed.


The broad objective of this research is to contribute to our understanding of middle school students’ attitudes towards engineering and science. Improving student awareness of engineering and science contributes to technological literacy among the general public and also helps students make informed career path decisions. A significant body of literature exists on the attitudes of K-12 students and teachers towards science and scientists. This literature has informed the development of science education outreach programs. However, a comparable body of literature about K-12 student attitudes towards engineering and engineers is not yet fully developed.

Some work has been done in this area. Yasar1 developed a survey to study K-12 teacher perceptions of engineering, primarily to determine their interest in and comfort level for teaching design, engineering and technology in their classrooms. Cunningham2 surveyed teachers to determine their conceptions of what engineers do. Recent research on K-12 student perceptions of engineers has been based upon student drawings3-9. Drawings can be used to infer what a student believes engineers and their work environments look like. However, in the authors’ experiences, student drawings of engineers look a lot like people, and it is difficult to determine a student’s attitude towards the drawn engineer. For example, does the student think she or he could become an engineer, or think that engineering is boring? The study reported in this paper addresses questions such as these. Specifically, a survey was used to assess middle school student attitudes about engineers and engineering. The results are compared to a similar survey assessing student attitudes about scientists and science.

Study Design

To capture student attitudes, two surveys were designed. The first assessed student attitudes towards engineering while the second assessed attitudes towards science. The surveys were

Lyons, J., & Fralick, B., & Kearn, J. (2009, June), A Survey Of Middle School Students’ Attitudes Toward Engineers And Scientists Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5317

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