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Systemic Intervention: Connecting Formal and Informal Education Experiences for Engaging Female Students in Elementary School in Engineering

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Lessons learned

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1228.1 - 25.1228.11



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Paper Authors


Merredith D. Portsmore Tufts University

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Merredith Portsmore is a Research Assistant Professor in education at Tufts University, as well as the Director of Outreach Programs for Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. Portsmore has the unique honor of being a “Quadruple Jumbo,” having received all her four of her degrees from Tufts (B.A. English, B.S. mechanical engineering, M.A. education, and Ph.D. in engineering education). Her research interests focus on how children engage in constructing solutions to engineering design problems. 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

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Jessica E. S. Swenson Tufts University

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Systemic intervention: Connecting formal and informal education experiences for engaging female students in elementary school in engineering This paper describes a project that is a work in progress on engaging elementaryschool girls in engineering. The comparatively low enrollment of female students incollege engineering programs (NSF 2002) has focused attention on the experience K-12female students have in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.There is evidence from research in science education that female attitudes toward STEMform as early as elementary school grades (Sullins, Hernandez, Fuller, & Tashiro, 1995,Kotte, 1992) suggesting that interventions at the elementary level may be productive inchanging attitudes and interests. The nature of female engagement with science has alsobeen shown to different with females looking for more personal connections (Baker,1996) Leveraging existing research in science education, [NAME BLINDED] wasdesigned as a systemic intervention for engaging 4th and 5th grade girls in engineering.The program works in the formal classroom through classroom teachers andundergraduate engineering mentors as well as through the summer camp opportunities.Eight 4th and 5th grade teachers from urban and urban-rim communities were recruited toparticipate in the program. The teachers participated in professional development duringSummer 2011 around engineering and gender issues in engineering instruction andactivities. The teachers selected a custom set of activities for their classroom, rangingfrom LEGO Robotics to Service Learning projects, that they felt would engage all oftheir students in engineering learning to implement during the 2011/2012 school year.Each teacher will be supported by two undergraduate engineering students to help withimplementing the activities. One undergraduate student in each classroom will be femaleto serve as a mentor and role model for the 4th and 5th grade female students.Capitalizing on the 4th and 5th grade girls formal classroom experience and the connectionmade with the undergraduate engineering students, the 4th and 5th grade female studentswill be invited to participate in a free summer program during Summer 2012. The program hopes to demonstrate the value of looking at the engagement offemales in engineering more systematically. Evaluation data will be collected onstudents’ pre and post attitudes, interest, and conceptions of engineering through surveysand the Draw an Engineer Test. Teachers’ understanding and self-efficacy will also beevaluated in a pre and post assessments. Qualitative data will also be collected in theform of classroom video observations and individual student interviews. This paper willshare quantitative and qualitative results to date as well as best practices of this systemicmodel.

Portsmore, M. D., & Swenson, J. E. S. (2012, June), Systemic Intervention: Connecting Formal and Informal Education Experiences for Engaging Female Students in Elementary School in Engineering Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21985

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