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Changing Gender Perceptions in Elementary STEM Education

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Gender Perceptions and Girls in K-12 Engineering and Computer Science

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.271.1 - 24.271.11

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Paper Authors


Emily Ann Marasco University of Calgary

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Emily Marasco is a Ph.D. student at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on cross-disciplinary curriculum development for engineering students as well as for K-12 and community outreach programs.

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Laleh Behjat P.Eng. University of Calgary

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Changing gender perceptions in elementary STEM education The enrollment of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)continues to be a problem across most post-secondary institutions in North America. In 2009,American universities reported 17.9% female enrollment in engineering [1], while Canadianuniversities reported 17.7% in 2010 [2]. While concerns around enrollment encompassnumerous issues, many students, particularly females, lose interest in STEM domains as early asgrades 4/5/6 [3] [4]. In this paper, we demonstrate how student perceptions of gender withinSTEM fields can be changed by integrating STEM classroom content and cross-curricularaspects using creative, engineering design techniques. We designed a series of creative projects that combine mandated science, mathematics,technology, English, social studies, physical education and fine arts courses with basic electricalengineering concepts. These projects were led across five schools by one of the femaleresearchers [5]. Over 350 local grade 5 students participated in the projects. Impressions heldby students towards STEM were measured through quantitative surveys and qualitativeinterviews, both before and after the completion of the projects. A summary of the results isgiven in Table I.Table 1: Comparison of student percentages who responded “agree” or “strongly agree”Survey Question Before AfterMen are less creative than women 75% 26%Math is more difficult for women to learn than men 75% 7%Science is more difficult for women to learn than men 75% 8%Only nerds love math and science 74% 9%Males are more professional than females 75% 12%It is hard for women to become engineers in the workplace 75% 15% Both the qualitative and quantitative data showed that cross-disciplinary activitiesenhance student perception of STEM. Prior to participating in the projects, 75% of studentsagreed or strongly agreed that men are less creative than women, and that math/science are moredifficult for women to learn than men. Following the project series, those percentages fellsignificantly to 26%, 7%, and 8% respectively. All genders improved their opinions of STEMsubject areas, with 74% falling to 9% of students agreeing or strongly agreeing that only nerdslove math and science. Other significant results were seen regarding perception of engineering. Before startingthe projects, 38% self-identified as performing best in math or science, split closely betweenmales and females. While these students were strong in the pre-requisite subjects for moreadvanced STEM courses and later careers, 60% stated that they would not consider engineeringat all, very little, or a little, as a future career. Only 25% of females strong in math and sciencewere interested in engineering, as opposed to 62% of the males. Of the entire sample population,only 6% of students were female, good at math and science, and interested in pursuingengineering. Following the projects, students were asked again about their perceptions towardsengineering. Overall, 74% of students stated that they were now more interested in electricalengineering as a possible career. When ranking a list of potential careers, males and femalesexhibited an equal level of interest in electrical engineering. Females also gained an appreciationfor engineering inventions, with 87% now agreeing or strongly agreeing that engineers designcool things, as opposed to the earlier 69%. By offering students a chance to explore engineering in the context of their othersubjects, both genders changed their perceptions towards the engineering profession. Theseeffects may remain as the students continue through school, and impact their future careerdecisions when they enroll in post-secondary.References:[1] National Science Foundation. (2013). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities inscience and engineering. Online at[2] Engineers Canada. (2013). Women in engineering programs. Online at[3] Arnot, M., Gray, J., James, M., Rudduck, J., & Duveen, G. (1998). Recent research ongender and educational performance. London: OFSTED.[4] Bussière, P., Cartwright, F., & Knighton, T. (2004). The performance of Canada’s youth inMathematics, Reading, Science and problem solving: 2003 first findings for Canadians aged 15.Ottawa: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Council of Ministers of Education,Canada and Statistics Canada.[5] Omitted for blind review. (2013). Omitted for blind review. Proc. of the 2013 AmericanSociety of Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Atlanta, GA.

Marasco, E. A., & Behjat, L. (2014, June), Changing Gender Perceptions in Elementary STEM Education Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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