Engaging girls in STEM: Primary school students, pre-service teachers and engineering students working together using Makerspaces

Year: 2016

Author: Walker, Rebecca, Blackley, Susan, Sheffield, Rachel, Maynard, Nicoleta, Koul, Rekha

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Primary education research has reported that teachers are reluctant to engage in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects (Hackling, Murcia, West, & Anderson, 2014). If STEM subjects are taught, these are usually done separately with minimal to no integration of these learning areas (Blackley & Howell, 2015). In pre-service teacher education courses STEM subjects are usually taught in individual units, although the E for Engineering is generally not addressed. Evidence also suggests that females do not engage in STEM activities in the same numbers as their male counterparts (National Research Council, 2011). As many pre-service primary education teachers are female (Blackley & Sheffield, 2015), this can result in a compounding the issue of authentically integrating STEM in primary school education; resulting in a cycle of poor STEM engagement for students in their class. This project focused on female primary school students (PSS), pre-service teachers (PST) and engineering students (ES) working together by accessing and engaging with a STEM Makerspace. Makerspaces in this project are hands-on, creative activities that aim to inspire students to plan, build and evaluate within a STEM context. The project examined the engagement of the female PSS in STEM projects with mentoring from female PST and ES; the creation of a Makerspace community of practice; and the development of PST STEM learning and teaching practices. The methodology for this project was interpretivist qualitative research, based on an exploratory case study to examine participant engagement with and reflections on Makerspace STEM activities. The project cycled through three iterations of the Reflective Model of Professional Learning (Blackley & Sheffield, 2016), and had two distinct phases: (1) Learning-by-doing: create, make, and refine the STEM Makerspace activities; and (2) Learning-by doing: making in the primary school that saw the implementation of the STEM Makerspace activities at a school site. Data collected included PST and ES responses to a participant reflection inventory prior to phase one; focus group interviews conducted after each phase; reflections on project participation in the virtual STEM Makerspace Facebook forum; PSS completed a survey on their experiences of the activities; and PST and ES documented observations of the PSS during the activities. The results indicated that all participants enjoyed the Makerspace activities; PSS experienced high levels of activity engagement and use of science terminology; PST and ES formed a virtual community of practice; PST described increased knowledge, skills and confidence in STEM learning and teaching.