Research in Science Education

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 1979–2007 | Cite as

The Single Sex Debate for Girls in Science: a Comparison Between Two Informal Science Programs on Middle School Students’ STEM Identity Formation

  • Roxanne M. HughesEmail author
  • Brandon Nzekwe
  • Kristen J. Molyneaux


Currently, there are policy debates regarding the efficacy and legality of single sex formal and informal education programs. This issue is particularly poignant in science education due to the historical marginalization of women in these fields. This marginalization has resulted in women being positioned as a stigmatized group within many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields. Research points to adolescence as the age where this sense of marginalization begins to develop. As a result, policy responses have utilized various frameworks such as: increased access for women, changing pedagogy to address women’s learning styles, changing the language and culture of science to prevent marginalization of stigmatized groups, and finally exploring the role that individual identity plays in the marginalization of women. This study adds to the policy debate as it applies to single sex education by comparing middle school participants’ STEM identity formation during two informal science learning environments (an all girls’ STEM camp and a co-educational STEM camp). Additionally, this study focuses on the influence of camp activities within two informal science education programs: particularly the provision of role models and authentic STEM research activities, as means to improve STEM identity and make these fields relevant to the lives of middle school students. The results indicate that both camps improved girls’ STEM identities. These findings suggest that the single sex environment is not as important to STEM identity as the pedagogy used within the program.


Single sex programs Informal education STEM education Perception of scientists 



This study was funded in part by the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research through DMR 0654118


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roxanne M. Hughes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Brandon Nzekwe
    • 1
  • Kristen J. Molyneaux
    • 2
  1. 1.Center for Integrating Research & LearningNational High Magnetic Field LaboratoryTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Firelight FoundationSanta CruzUSA

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