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Pandemic! Influencing Girls' Fear of Failure in a STEM + Computational Thinking Program (Work in Progress)

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Henriette D. Burns Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

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Henriette is a STEM Fellow at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She has worked at Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Labs, Baxter Labs, Tenneco, Monsanto, Frucon Construction, SC Johnson Wax and HP as a design engineer, a manufacturing engineer and a project manager. She holds an engineering degree from Northwestern University, an MBA from University of Oregon, an MiT and a Ph.D. in Math/Science Education from Washington State University. Henriette’s research agenda is unveiling and understanding the identity of non-typical STEM-bound students, especially girls in engineering; through interest and belongingness by promoting empathy-based engineering design in instruction and practice.

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Girls and women remain underrepresented among students and within the workforce of STEM. Minority women still make up a very small percentage of those receiving degrees and jobs in computing fields, with African American women representing only 3% of computing professions. Changing this statistic is even more critical in urban areas that consist of both low-income neighborhoods and employer demand for computer science expertise, such as in this study. STEM + Computational Thinking (STEM+C) is an exploratory study, guided by socio-cultural theory, of approximately fifteen grade four and five minority girls in an after-school program of combined science and computational thinking skills. The lessons follow the engineering design process. Our longitudinal study spans two school years of 60-minute sessions, twice-weekly for ten weeks, with both qualitative (primarily) and quantitative methods. The goal is to inspire, motivate and bolster minority girls STEM+C abilities and perceptions. During initial observations and interviews the girls were hesitant to speak and share. We knew the girls were afraid to walk home alone, elevated by the shootings reported in the daily news. We wondered if fear influenced their cognition and engagement. The team decided to create an intervention to mitigate fear. We adjusted the instructional and data collection methods to better capture student voice, provide more opportunities for real-time discourse and interactive behavior. One major addition was a design process exercise called "Works/Doesn't Work" where students were encouraged to discuss successes and failures in their projects as table groups to the whole class. By this process, the experience of failing in an objective was normalized and students could focus on problem-solving and sharing results. Through this process, the need to "preform" was lessened and students could engage in more creative aspects of the lessons, which was regularly their favorite part of the process. We also provided regular opportunities for the girls to discuss STEM careers with women of color in STEM careers, easing their comfort-level speaking and sharing. Our preliminary survey results, interviews and observations indicate the girls engaged better as the class progressed and changed. These method changes and creation of community appeared to mitigate fear of failure, improving engagement and the understanding of the lessons. The girls were competitive, excited to speak and share. Dramatically, the program was halted by a “life-impacting disaster,” the coVid19 virus. During the months that followed, we designed our solution to the dramatic loss of a situated socio-cultural safe place. We produced weekly lesson videos of the research team science teacher explaining the design process for the lesson, with virtual reviews by a familiar classroom aide, and weekly group discussions with the research team. At first, the girls did not watch the videos, were difficult to reach, and absent for the weekly reviews. When they did come, they turned off their videos and muted their sound. Our study is about how the venue and methodology before, during and after the pandemic, influence engineering design process utilization, science cognition, computational thinking skills, fear of failure, and the girls’ agency.

Burns, H. D. (2021, July), Pandemic! Influencing Girls' Fear of Failure in a STEM + Computational Thinking Program (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37560

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