June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
October 19, 2019
Pre-College Engineering Education Focused on Female Students
Pre-College Engineering Education
Women remain underrepresented in engineering, and early engineering experiences may promote increased interest among girls. Teamwork and communication are key components of engineering, yet little is known about how girls in middle school participate in small group engineering design challenges. Previous research has illuminated gender differences in small group participation in elementary science and undergraduate engineering, but there is a gap in the literature around middle school engineering in formal education. This study addresses the research questions: What differences, if any, are seen in the engineering practices middle school girls and boys display during an engineering design challenge? and How, if at all, is group gender composition related to students’ participation in small group engineering design activities?
This study utilized an embedded case study methodology and was situated within a five-year, NSF-funded research project focused on developing K-12 science teachers’ understanding of the engineering design process. Teams of teachers wrote engineering-focused curricular units and implemented these units in their classrooms. This study examines the small group participation of students experiencing teacher-written, engineering-focused science units. Data were collected throughout unit implementation. Data sources included video and audio of small groups, student work artifacts, implementation field notes, and researcher memos.
To analyze the data, each researcher watched the small group video and took detailed memos about an individual student within each small group to better understand individual patterns of participation. Researchers coded the frequency with which each student displayed performance enactments. The codes included both verbal and nonverbal means of participation, such as directing peers, disagreeing, expressing frustration, initiating activity, and forcefully controlling the activity. Once interrater reliability was established, researchers coded student participation in three-minute segments of the unit. Coding for each segment was binary: 1 indicated the presence of a performance enactment and 0 indicated the performance enactment’s absence.
Findings illustrate varying patterns of participation among girls and boys and across different group gender compositions. Overall, the all-girls group had highly cohesive group dynamics and shared in leadership responsibilities. They were familiar with the more structured aspects of engineering design, such as record keeping and developing initial plans guided by a worksheet. However, they struggled to stay focused and productive in the open-ended design activities. In the all-boys group, students' levels of participation varied widely. A clear group leader took responsibility for the bulk of the design activities, with his peers participating sporadically.
Girls in the mixed-gender group dominated the activities, though boys in the group attempted to become more involved in the less structured engineering activities. Given the boys' past lack of participation in the more structured activities, however, the girls were reluctant to shift any responsibility for the design to the boys. this resulted in conflict and frustration within the mixed-gender group.
Findings suggest that young girls and boys engage in engineering practices to different degrees and that the gender composition of their small group is related to their performance enactments. As engineering becomes increasingly common in pre-college education, students will need additional practice and support engaging in open-ended engineering design challenges equitably. With a need to support girls’ interest in engineering, this work fills a gap in the literature and has implications for curriculum development, instructional strategies, and future research.
Wieselmann, J. R., & Dare, E. A., & Roehrig, G., & Ring-Whalen, E. (2019, June), Participation in Small Group Engineering Design Activities at the Middle School Level: An Investigation of Gender Differences Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33158
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