Perceived gender differences in STEM learning in the middle school

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Women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) university coursework, reflecting long-standing gender issues that have existed in core middle-school STEM subject areas. Using data from a survey and written responses, we report on findings following the introduction of engineering education in middle school classes across three schools (grade level 7, n=122). The engineering experiences fused science, technology and mathematics concepts. The survey revealed higher percentages for girls than boys in 13 of the 24 items; however there were six items with a 20% difference in their perceptions about learning in STEM. For instance, despite girls recording that they have been provided equal or more opportunities than boys in STEM, they believed they do not do as well as boys (80% boys, 48% girls) or want to seek a career in STEM (39% boys, 17% girls). The written responses revealed gender differences across a number of themes in the students’ responses, including resources, group work, the nature and type of learning experiences, content knowledge, and teachers’ instructional style. Exposing students to STEM education facilitates an awareness of their learning and may assist girls to consider studying STEM subjects or STEM careers.