Gender Stereotypes Persist in Middle School Students Engaged in Technical Activity

Abstract: This paper is authored by Sue Caley Opsal, Dorene Perez, Jim Gibsonand Rose Marie Lynch, faculty members of the Illinois Valley Community College. This is a conference paper for the Education Division's 2011 ASQ Advancing the STEM Agenda in Education, the Workplace and Society Conference.

Middle school students who participated in a hands-on electronics activity in boy/girl pairs this spring exhibited gender-stereotypical traits. The activity was conducted by instructors at Illinois Valley Community College as part of a National Science Foundation-funded project designed to increase interest in engineering technology careers by engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities. In pre activity surveys the girls said they were significantly less comfortable working with tools and building things than the boys. The activity for this study, wiring an LED light or a buzzer, allowed researchers to observe the interactions between the pairs. Interestingly, while most of the students reported that they and their partner shared in the activity equally, observers identified boys dominating in using the tools and assembling the units in the majority of cases. While this study was limited to fewer than 60 students, the results indicate that gender stereotypes do persist and suggest that further research be conducted with hands-on technical activities.

Keywords: STEM - K-12 Outreach - Conference Proceedings - Women and Girls in STEM

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