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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Pseudonyms have been used for both camps and any names mentioned for participants.

  2. 2.

    Title I schools refers to a program that is part of the United States Elementary and Secondary Education Act that distributes funding to schools and school districts with at least 40 % of the student population from low income families (family of four earning less than $45,000 annually as defined by the US Census Bureau).

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Acknowledgments

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

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Correspondence to Roxanne M. Hughes.

Appendices

Appendix 1

STEM Interest

  1. 1.

    I look forward to science class in school.

  2. 2.

    I look forward to math class in school.

  3. 3.

    I would rather solve a problem by doing an experiment than be told the answer.

  4. 4.

    More time should be spent on hands-on projects in science or technology activities at school.

  5. 5.

    I would like to (or already do) belong to a science or technology activities club.

  6. 6.

    *Recoded: I get bored when I watch programs on channels like Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Nova, Mythbusters, etc.

  7. 7.

    I like to get science books or science experiments kits as presents.

  8. 8.

    I like learning how things work.

  9. 9.

    *Recoded: Science is too hard when it involves math.

  10. 10.

    *Recoded: Science is a difficult subject.

  11. 11.

    *Recoded: Doing experiments in science class is frustrating.

  12. 12.

    I feel comfortable with using a computer to make graphs and tables.

  13. 13.

    I am interested in learning more about how computers work.

  14. 14.

    I like to learn to use new computer software.

Pre-Cronbach’s alpha = .798

Post-Cronbach’s alpha = .811

Self-concept

  1. 1.

    When I see a new math problem, I can use what I have learned to solve the problem.

  2. 2.

    I can use what I know to design and build something mechanical that works.

  3. 3.

    In lab activities, I can use what I have learned to design a solution.

  4. 4.

    I can effectively lead a team to design and build a hands-on project.

  5. 5.

    I know where I can find the information that I need to solve difficult problems.

  6. 6.

    I can use what I have learned to teach myself how to program a computer game.

  7. 7.

    I can explain math or science to my friends to help them understand.

  8. 8.

    I can get good grades in math.

  9. 9.

    I can get good grades in science.

Pre-Cronbach’s alpha = .638

Post-Cronbach’s alpha = .761

Appendix 2

Teacher Interviews

  1. 1.

    Did you notice any changes in the participants from start to finish? Can you give examples?

  2. 2.

    Did you notice any changes in the participants’ views of science? Can you give examples?

  3. 3.

    Did you notice any changes in the participants’ views of scientists? Can you give examples?

  4. 4.

    Did you notice any changes in the participants’ confidence levels? Can you give examples?

  5. 5.

    What activities do you think had the largest effect on participants? Why?

  6. 6.

    Which activities were your favorites? Why?

  7. 7.

    If you could do everything over, what would you do differently? Why?

Interviews with Campers

  1. 1.

    What is your favorite subject in school? Why?

  2. 2.

    What is your least favorite subject in school? Why?

  3. 3.

    What extracurricular activities do you participate in? Are any of these science or math related?

  4. 4.

    How would you describe your family and friends?

  5. 5.

    What is your earliest memory of science?

  6. 6.

    What was science like in elementary school/middle school/high school?

  7. 7.

    What are your current science and math courses like? What do you enjoy and what do you dislike about these classes?

  8. 8.

    Have your attitudes toward science changed since elementary school?

  9. 9.

    Are any of your friends interested in science or science careers?

  10. 10.

    What would your friends say if you told them that you were interested in a career in science?

  11. 11.

    Do any of your family members work in STEM fields?

  12. 12.

    How do you think most people see scientists and engineers? What do you think most people would picture when they think of a scientist or engineer?

  13. 13.

    How do you picture a scientist or engineer?

  14. 14.

    Do you think there are certain people or certain traits that make people more successful at being a scientist or engineer?

  15. 15.

    What do you think they do on a daily basis?

  16. 16.

    What do you see yourself doing after high school?

  17. 17.

    What career would you like to have? Why?

  18. 18.

    Have you had any experiences that made you think about being a scientist or engineer?

  19. 19.

    Have you had any experiences that made you think that you couldn’t be a scientist or engineer?

  20. 20.

    Why did you choose to attend this camp?

  21. 21.

    If given the chance, would you attend this camp again? Why?

  22. 22.

    Did the camp have any effect on your interest in science?

  23. 23.

    Did you see any of the scientists you worked with as role models?

Appendix 3

Table 7 Interview participants

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Hughes, R.M., Nzekwe, B. & Molyneaux, K.J. The Single Sex Debate for Girls in Science: a Comparison Between Two Informal Science Programs on Middle School Students’ STEM Identity Formation. Res Sci Educ 43, 1979–2007 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-012-9345-7

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Keywords

  • Single sex programs
  • Informal education
  • STEM education
  • Perception of scientists