Hudson, P, English, LD & Dawes, L 2012, 'Catapulting into STEM education: female students’ interactions within a middle school engineering project', Proceedings of the 2nd International STEM in Education Conference, Beijing, China, 24-27 November, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China.
Despite efforts to motivate students to engage in Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, women are still underrepresented in these areas in the workforce and higher education. Targeting females at high school or earlier may be a key towards engaging them in STEM. In this paper we report on the research question: How do middle school females interact for learning about engineering education? This ethnographic study, part of a three-year longitudinal research project, investigated Year 8 female students’ learning about engineering concepts associated with designing, constructing, testing, and evaluating a catapult. Through a series of lead-up lessons and the four lesson catapult challenge (total of 18 x 45-minute lessons over 9 weeks), data from two girls within a focus group showed that the students needed to: (1) receive clarification on engineering terms to facilitate more fluent discourse, (2) question and debate conceptual understandings without peers being judgemental, and (3) have multiple opportunities for engaging with materials towards designing, constructing and explaining key concepts learnt. Implications for teachers undertaking STEM education are evident, including outlining expectations for clarifying STEM terms, outlining to students about interacting non-judgementally, and providing multiple opportunities for interacting within engineering education.