Exploring Middle School Students’ Perceptions of Physics and Physics-Related Careers
Emily Dare, Michigan Tech, firstname.lastname@example.org
According to the American Physical Society, women accounted for only 20% of bachelor’s degrees in the fields of physics and engineering in 2010. This low percentage is likely related to young girls’ K-12 education experiences, particularly their experiences prior to high school, during which time young women’s perceptions of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and STEM careers are formed. This study examined the perceptions of 6th grade middle school students regarding physics and physics-related careers in order to identify potential access points for intervention. A theoretical framework based on the literature of girl-friendly and integrated STEM strategies (Baker & Leary, 1995; Halpern et al., 2007; Häussler & Hoffman, 2000, 2002; Labudde et al., 2000; Moore et al., 2014; Newbill & Cennamo, 2008; Rosser, 2000; Yanowitz, 2004) guided this work to understand how instructional strategies may influence student’s perceptions of physics for both girls and boys. The overarching goal of this work was to understand similarities and differences between girls’ and boys’ perceptions about physics and physics-related careers. This convergent parallel mixed-methods study used a series of student surveys and focus group interviews to identify and understand these similarities and differences.
Findings from this study indicate very few differences between the perceptions of physics and physics-related careers for 6th grade girls and boys. However, the differences that exist, though subtle, may indicate how K-12 science instruction could more positively influence girls’ perceptions. For instance, while girls are just as interested in science class as their male counterparts, they are more motivated when a social context is included; this has implications for how they view physics-related careers. The findings of this study shed light on not only why fewer females pursue careers in physics, but also how K-12 science reform efforts might help to increase these numbers.