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Exploding Stereotypes: Care and Collaboration in the STEM Sciences

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Broadening Participation of Minority Students in and with K-12 Engineering

Tagged Divisions

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering and Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.685.1 - 22.685.11



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Paper Authors


Catherine A Broom University of British Columbia, Okanagan

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Assistant Professor of Education

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Wendy Lynn Klassen University of British Columbia, Okanagan

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Dr. Wendy Klassen has been teaching in the Faculty of Education at UBC, Okanagan for five years and at Okanagan University College for the six years previous to that. She teaches courses in Math Education, Instructional Strategies, Mentoring, and Assessment. The concept of praxis as it deals with pre-service mathematics education is a key focal research area. Others areas of interest and research are mentoring, assessment, problem solving, critical thinking, and gender differences in mathematics.

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Carolyn Labun, Ph.D. University of British Columbia

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Carolyn Labun is a Senior Instructor in the School of Engineer at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia.

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Exploding Stereotypes: Care and Collaboration in the STEM SciencesIn this collaboration, two education professors and an engineering instructor explored whether 1)stereotypes about the engineering profession as non-caring and non-collaborative were held bymale and female upper elementary students; whether 2) male and female students had similar orvarying views, and 3) whether stereotypes (if present) could be broken through engineeringdesign activities that included elements of both care and community in classrooms. This paperwill present the findings of the study which used an interactive, classroom activity to address thethree guiding research questions. Engineering students from the researchers’ universityvolunteered in the classroom activity.Students in elementary and secondary schools often hold stereotypes of STEM sciences: theyview them as male-dominated, individualistic (Smith & Hung, 2008) and uncaring, and believethey marginalize women (Roychoudhury, Tippins & Nichols, 1995). These stereotypes arereinforced by mass media (Steinke, 2005) and by curricula and in class activities that don’tinclude girls’ preferred learning styles (Brotman & Moore, 2008), which centre aroundcollaboration and relationships (Brotman & Moore, 2007). Students hold views that scientists aremen (Shakeshaft, 1995), that males are better at STEM fields (Smith & Hung, 2008) and negativenotions of females in these fields (AAUW, 2010).As girls view STEM fields to not encompass collaboration, connection, and care (Baker andLeary, 1995), a significant number of girls choose not to go into them for careers (NSF, 2009).However, these conceptions are false as the STEM sciences, for example the field ofEngineering, in fact requires collaborative work which is embedded in the ethic of care. Care isunderstood as a necessary component of successful group work and therefore care is essential toeffective engineering design.The researchers conducted their study in two grade 6 classrooms as research evidence suggeststhat students develop their perceptions of various careers at an early age (Hartung, Porfeli, &Vondracek 2005). Students in the two classes were grouped; in the first class the groups weremade up of both genders while in the second class groups were girl-only and boy-only with theattempt to address “stereotype threat”—the underperformance of girls in the STEM sciences dueto their heightened fears of failure associated with stereotypes (Smith & Hung, 2008).The project began with the researchers conducting pre-assessments of students’ conceptions ofseveral professions, including that of engineers.Next, the researchers led the students in an interactive, engineering lesson that embeddedelements of both care and collaboration. This was made explicit to students through the mannerin which the lesson was both presented and modeled. The lesson required each student to have“expert knowledge” in one facet of a design collaboration, using each of the three principledivisions of engineering (civil, mechanical, and electrical) to create features of a global village.University engineering students assisted in order to ensure that the students were able tosuccessfully complete the project, and to model collaboration and care, while posing andanswering relevant questions.The researchers ended the lesson by eliciting from and discussing with the students how bothcollaboration and care are necessary for the engineering profession.The project concluded with a post-assessment that illustrated how students’ conceptions ofstereotypes had changed. We will share the findings of this intriguing study in this paperpresentation, as well as present our recommendations for breaking elementary school students’stereotypes of the engineering profession.

Broom, C. A., & Klassen, W. L., & Ph.D., C. L. (2011, June), Exploding Stereotypes: Care and Collaboration in the STEM Sciences Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17966

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