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“Because I’m Not Always Constantly Getting Everything Right”: Gender Differences in Engineering Identity Formation in Elementary Students

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Annmarie Elizabeth Hoch Tufts University

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Annmarie Hoch is an undergraduate researcher pursuing her BA in Community Health at Tufts University. She is interested in education, social inequities and public health.

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Karen Miel Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Karen Miel is a PhD student in STEM Education at Tufts University. Karen served as the Director of Research and Innovation at the science center CuriOdyssey and the Education Director of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo after teaching elementary and middle school. Her research focuses on elementary students’ reasoning and decision-making in collaborative engineering design.

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Merredith D. Portsmore Tufts University

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Dr. Merredith Portsmore is the Director for Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach ( Merredith received all four of her degrees from Tufts (B.A. English, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, M.A. Education, PhD in Engineering Education). Her research interests focus on how children engage in designing and constructing solutions to engineering design problems and evaluating students’ design artifacts. Her outreach work focuses on creating resources for K-12 educators to support engineering education in the classroom. She is also the founder of STOMP (, ( and the Teacher Engineering Education Program (

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Rebecca Deborah Swanson Tufts University

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Dr. Swanson is a postdoctoral research associate studying teacher learning in an online graduate-level engineering education program at Tufts University. Prior to joining the CEEO at Tufts, Dr. Swanson worked on research projects studying professional development of formal and informal science educators, learning through citizen science for adults and youth, and pre-service elementary teaching in informal science learning environments. Dr. Swanson received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education from the University of Colorado Boulder, and a BA in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz. Prior to graduate school, she was an elementary science educator for a small children's science center in California.

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Developing a strong engineering identity, or sense of belonging in engineering, is essential to pursuing and persisting in the field. Participating in an engineering outreach program is widely seen as an opportunity for youth to ignite and increase an identity as an engineer. As early as elementary school, youth evaluate their experiences, interests, and successes to make choices about possible futures. Although these early experiences and choices influence future participation in, pursuit of, and persistence in engineering, studies of engineering identity development have concentrated on undergraduate and high school learners. This study examines engineering identity development in elementary school students participating in an engineering education outreach program, expanding understanding of early influences on engineering identity formation. This study asks: How do students’ descriptions of their engineering experiences indicate the influence their experiences have on their engineering identity development?

This study is embedded in an NSF-funded study of a university-led engineering education outreach program. In this program, pairs of university students facilitated weekly hour-long engineering design challenges in elementary classrooms throughout the school year. At the end of the academic year, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 76 fourth- and fifth-grade students who had participated in the outreach program. The interviewers asked students to rate their enjoyment of and skills in engineering within the context of the program. Iterative qualitative coding was used to elicit emergent patterns in students’ responses and examine them in the context of the Godwin et al (2016) engineering identity framework, using the constructs of interest, performance/competence, and recognition. Responses were then analyzed based on participants’ gender to understand and identify potential differences in influences on engineering identity development.

Findings indicate that student talk around interest tended to be more positive, while student talk around performance/competence tended to be more negative, indicating the type of relationships students had with their interest in engineering compared to their perceived skills in doing engineering. However, within the construct of performance/competence, girls used negative language at a higher frequency than boys. Within this construct-based code, there were categories with large variations in positive and negative talk by gender. These gendered patterns provide insight into the differing ways girls and boys interact with engineering and how they start to develop engineering identities.

Hoch, A. E., & Miel, K., & Portsmore, M. D., & Swanson, R. D. (2020, June), “Because I’m Not Always Constantly Getting Everything Right”: Gender Differences in Engineering Identity Formation in Elementary Students Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--33967

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