Female students’ interactions in a middle school engineering project : a case study

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Targeting females at high school or earlier may be a key towards engaging them in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) 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. There was a series of lead-up lessons and four lessons for the catapult challenge (total of 18 x 45-minute lessons) over a nine-week period. Data from two girls within a focus group showed that they 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. There are implications for teachers facilitating STEM education, such as: clarifying STEM terms, articulating how students can interact in non-judgmental ways, and providing multiple opportunities for interacting within engineering education.