Scholarly article on topic 'Enhancing Students’ Interests in Science and Technology Related Careers Through a Specially Designed Optional Course'

Enhancing Students’ Interests in Science and Technology Related Careers Through a Specially Designed Optional Course Academic research paper on "Materials engineering"

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Abstract of research paper on Materials engineering, author of scientific article — Toomas Vaino, Katrin Vaino, Miia Rannikmäe

Abstract It is generally recognised that science and technology education should play a more important role in developing students’ awareness of, and positive attitudes towards, careers in science and technology. In order to address this call, an optional course was designed and taught in one Estonian gymnasium for 11th grade students (N=62). The aim of the course was also to develop students’ science knowledge through integrating different science disciplines with each other and with technology, engage students in issues related to the impact of science and technology on everyday life and develop students’ ability to make responsible decisions related to these issues. Four learning modules developed by different partners within the framework of the EU FP7 project ESTABLISH were adapted and taught within the optional course. 11th grade students’ interests in science and technology related careers were measured by means of a pre and post questionnaire. In addition, four students (two boys and two girls) were interviewed after the course for validation of the questionnaire. It was concluded that as a result of the course, students’ raised their interests toward careers related to science and technology. This change was statistically significant for both, boys and girls, but being more expressed by girls. Moreover, the learning units helped to broaden students’ understanding about the diverse field of technology and how science and technology are interrelated. Based on the current study, the design of the learning units would be consolidated by the study team.

Academic research paper on topic "Enhancing Students’ Interests in Science and Technology Related Careers Through a Specially Designed Optional Course"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 177 (2015) 331 - 335

Global Conference on Contemporary Issues in Education, GLOBE-EDU 2014, 12-14 July 2014,

Las Vegas, USA

Enhancing Students' Interests in Science and Technology Related Careers Through A Specially Designed Optional Course

Toomas Vainoa*, Katrin Vainoa, Miia Rannikmaea

aUniversity of Tartu, Vanemuise 46, Tartu 51014, Estonia

Abstract

It is generally recognised that science and technology education should play a more important role in developing students' awareness of, and positive attitudes towards, careers in science and technology. In order to address this call, an optional course was designed and taught in one Estonian gymnasium for 11th grade students (N=62). The aim of the course was also to develop students' science knowledge through integrating different science disciplines with each other and with technology, engage students in issues related to the impact of science and technology on everyday life and develop students' ability t o make responsible decisions related to these issues. Four learning modules developed by different partners within the framework of the EU FP7 project ESTABLISH were adapted and taught within the optional course. 11th grade students' interests in science and technology related careers were measured by means of a pre and post questionnaire. In addition, four students (two boys and two girls) were interviewed after the course for validation of the questionnaire. It was concluded that as a result of the course, students' raised their interests toward careers related to science and technology. This change was statistically significant for both, boys and girls, but being more expressed by girls. Moreover, the learning units helped to broaden students' understanding about the diverse field of technology and how science and technology are interrelated. Based on the current study, the design of the learning units would be consolidated by the study team.

© 2015TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevier Ltd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of GLOBE-EDU 2014.

Keywords: ESTABLISH modules; students' interests; careers related to science and technology; STS approach

1. Introduction

Globalization and the wider and meaningful use of technology are changing the way we think, learn and work.

* Toomas Vaino. Tel.: +372 53483054. E-mail address: toomas.vaino@ut.ee

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of GLOBE-EDU 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.02.352

Students need to be prepared for a problem-oriented and technology-rich world so much so that success in the labor market lies in „being able to collaborate, communicate, share, and use information to solve complex problems, in being able to adapt and innovate in response to new demands and changing circumstances, in being able to marshal and expand the power of technology to create new knowledge and expand human capacity and productivity" (Binkley, et al., 2010).

These skills, necessary for all people, are extremely important for engineers and scientists. At the same time, according to an European Commission report Science Education Now: A Renewed Pedagogy for the Future of Europe (EC, 2007), research carried out by Teppo and Rannikmae (2008) and national PISA reports (Henno, 2010), there is a serious decrease in young people's interest in science and technology (S&T) related studies and careers. Although many studies have shown that girls are as capable in science studies as boys (VanLeuvan, 2004; OECD, 2011; Henno, 2010), girls tend to underestimate their own science competence and tend to believe that S&T areas are not relevant to their future career goals (Henno, 2010; Kimmel, Miller, & Eccles, 2012) compared with boys. Therefore, as Milgram (2011) has pointed out, the absence of women from S&T careers is a missed opportunity for those fields.

In order to address students' lack of interest in S&T studies and careers, context-based, or science-technology-society-based (STS) approaches have been advocated for a number of years (Aikenhead, 2005; Bennett, Lubben, & Hogarth, 2007; Holbrook & Rannimae, 2010; Eurydice, 2011). These approaches help young people appreciate how science and technology relates to their lives, highlighting important societal issues such as ethical or environmental concerns, and develop students' critical thinking skills and social responsibility taught in a student-centred manner (Aikenhead, 2005; Gilbert, 2006; Holbrook & Rannimae, 2010). During the last decade, the STS movement has been developed further and in Europe several EU projects, like PARSEL, ESTABLISH, PROFILES have focused on these earlier mentioned issues (Holbrook, Rannikmae, & Kask, 2008; www.establish-project.eu; www.profiles-project.eu). In Estonia, a special optional course "Science -Technology - Society" has been launched based on the philosophy of 'education through science' and its operationalisational model (Holbrook & Rannikmae, 2010; Estonian Government, 2011).

In the current case study, the problem of increasing high school students' low interest in science and technology-related studies was addressed through using learning modules, developed by the partner universities of the EU FP7 project ESTABLISH and adapted for use in Estonian schools so as to meet the goals of the optional course. An industry and technology-related context and well presented interdisciplinary science content form a unique base for using ESTABLISH modules for introducing science and technology-related careers to students. The following research question was posed:

Is there any change in students' interests in science and technology - related careers through the implementation of the optional course?

2. Methods

2.1. Sample

The participants of this study were 11th grade students (N=62), divided into four groups and taught by two science teachers from one and the same school. This high school (in Estonian gymnasium) was typical of many schools throughout Estonia. The extent of the teachers' teaching career was, respectively, 24 and 22 years.

2.2. Design and implementation of the course

The four modules, developed by the partner universities of the EU FP7 project ESTABLISH and adapted by the research team for the purposes of the current approach, were taught within the science-society-technology optional course in the same school. This course was designated as a compulsory optional course for these 11th grade students.

The modules chosen by the research team were as follows:

• Medical imaging

• Greenhouses on Mars?!

• Chitosan - fat magnet?

• Why to make home-made cosmetics?

Four aspects were emphasised in the modules:

• The intention that introduced problems have importance in society more generally, as well as being relevant to students' lives so as to further motivate them to learn science content in depth.

• Science content is embedded in and related to technological applications.

• Within every module, science and/or technology related careers are introduced.

• Inquiry learning and learning through technological design play an integral role in every module.

A short overview about the module „Why to make home-made cosmetics?" is given as an example:

1. At the beginning of the module, through small video excerpts, students are introduced to ways cosmetic products are made on an industrial scale, as well as how cosmetics can be self-made at home. Students are subsequently asked (a) to put forward as many questions and ideas regarding the topic as they can and (b) to think about pros and cons of both industrial and self-made products. The cosmetics industry is projected to students as providing a diverse image about industry, taking away an image of heavy, dirty, noisy and manpower demanding processes and promoting industry as clean, involving scientists and designers, including ICT design elements, and requires attention to marketing.

2. The next stage takes students into inquiry-based science learning, where they are invited to design their own cosmetic cream. Students through an inquiry approach, test familiar mixtures (utilising necessary background knowledge about the main principles of solubility), how the structure of matter is related to the properties of matter, and the main principles of making an emulsion cream; plus the role of different components (oil, water, emulsifier, preservatives, etc) in a product. After testing the products (simple lotions with identifiable well known, familiar components) on their skin, they are guided to recognise that their skins differ, thus also learning about the structure of skin, and how different ingredients act on and in the skin. They are guided to acknowledge the professional demands of staff in beauty salons, which demand science knowledge and an understanding of why the ingredients of lotions need to be published on product covers.

3. To design their own product, students are guided to carry out an internet search or/conduct, at home, a literature review. Students design their own cosmetic cream and conduct an experiment to make their product. After making the cream, students are asked to work out the criteria and tests to identify the quality of the product. At this stage, students work as an industrial team, sharing tasks and the different types of inquiry activities acknowledging that one of them is acting as a leader.

4. The next step is to design a commercial advertisement for the product in the format of a booklet, video excerpt, or a poster. This is followed by all groups introducing their commercial to the whole class, leading to a whole class discussion and peer assessment by the groups. In this stage, students are introduced to careers in the marketing and publicity sectors - these also demanding science knowledge and inquiry skills.

5. The unit is finalised by individual assignment in which every students is asked to find information about one profession related to the cosmetics industry (cosmetic formulator, process engineer, etc.).

During the module, students implement and develop their creative thinking skills, and apply their gained science knowledge to the designing process. Moreover, making an emulsion cream from simple ingredients on their own and starting to market the product, provides students with a good possibility to develop their entrepreneurship skills and initiatives.

The other three ESTABLISH modules were implemented in a similar fashion to the one described above. All target relevant professions, as well as a number of sub-professions, which may not be so attractive without greater familiarity and provide insights where it is possible to progress into different, new interdisciplinary areas.

2.3. Data gathering and analysis

The students' questionnaire implemented before and after teaching the modules, consisted of two sections: the first section asked students to write down their personal data while the second part asked students to estimate their interests in future careers, using a four point Likert scale. In addition to descriptive statistics, paired samples t-test

was carried out to compare students' career interests before and after teaching the course. After finishing the course, four students (two boys and two girls) were interviewed using a semi-structured question format. The interview questions were looking towards students' ideas about science and technology related careers. The interviews lasted 15-20 minutes. All interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and analyzed.

3. Results and discussion

In the pre- and post questionnaires, students estimated their interest towards different future career fields (Tables 1 and 2). As seen from the table 1, an increased interest in science, and even more in technology, careers was found for both boys and girls. Mean changes for boys were accordingly 0.32 in science and 0.50 in technology and for girls 0.52 in science and 0.62 in technology. The biggest change was found among girls in the areas of technology, which might be influenced by the context of the modules: according to Teppo and Rannikmae (2008), girls are highly interested in beauty and medicine, while the cosmos and mysterious/criminal actions related problems keep interests of both boys and girls high.

Table 1. Students' attitude towards future careers, before and after the course (Nboys=28; Ngiris=34).

Boys Boys Girls before Girls

Statement before after (mean) after

(mean) (mean) (mean)

In the future, I would like to work in science related areas 2.38 2.70* 2.10 2.62*

In the future, I would like to work in medicine 1.75 1.80 2.72 2.75

In the future, I would like to work in social areas (economics, justice, etc) 2.70 2.62 2.60 2.58

In the future, I would like to work in technology (incl. engineering) 3.00 3.50* 1.70 2.32*

In the future, I would like to work in music and art 1.20 1.23 1.40 1.40

*Mean change is statistically significant (p < 0.05), pre-questionnaire scores are subtracted from post questionnaire scores

Table 2 shows that students' attitude towards science and technology-related careers has, in general, increased while there was minimal or no increase in attitudes towards careers in medicine, social areas, music and arts. Music careers and the arts were little, if at all, touched in the modules, whereas at the same time, economics and law have always been among the favourites for students' career choices.

Table 2. Students' attitude towards future career, before and after passing the course (N=62).

Increased No Decreased

Statement attitude change attitude

In the future, I would like to work in science related areas 18 38 4

In the future, I would like to work in medicine 5 22 2

In the future, I would like to work in social areas (economics, justice, etc) 3 25 3

In the future, I would like to work in technology (incl. engineering) 24 30 5

In the future, I would like to work in music and art 3 58 1

Interviews conducted with selected students supported our findings. Below are given selected students' statements derived from the interviews to the question "What did you learn about science and technology related careers?"

...I thought... that one should learn physics in high school to become a physicist, but now I realise that it may not be so straightforward, even those interested in medical studies and what is even more surprising, even music, should do well in physics. (Male student 1)

I am interested in technology and I would like to become an engineer or something, so this was exactly for me... (Male student 2)

I never thought that there are so many different professions related to the cosmetic industry, I thought there are only people behind the conveyor belt... and, furthermore, you can use your imagination as well... (Female student 1)

I have thought about technology as men's world but now by studying cosmetics ... and the radiation module — how physics helps us to save our life, I think technology is, as well, for women... (Female student 2)

As seen from the excerpts, students had quite simplistic understanding related to science and technology careers at the beginning of the study - e.g. physics learning is seen as necessary only for becoming a physicist. Similar tendency was also shown by Lavonen et al. (2008). Even if having an interest in technology studies, students often lack knowledge related to the different sub-areas within the field, as illustrated by male student 2. Still, and it could be considered as a positive effect of the course, students broadened their understanding about science and technology related careers, recognising (Female student 2) that it could be for men as well for women and understanding that creative thinking plays an important role in designing processes (Female student 1).

4. Conclusions

Based on the results, it was concluded that the approach used played a role in increasing students' (both boys and even more of girls) interests towards careers in science and technology. Moreover, the course helped to broaden students' understanding about the diversity of the field of technology and how science and technology are related to each other. It is suggested that while teaching science topics, students should be informed about the professions related to the topic, allowing them opportunities for knowledge-based (vs. accidental or random) choices when graduating from school. Based on the results of the pilot study and lessons learned, it is intended that a more extensive study would be carried out.

Acknowledgements

This research has been supported by EU FP7 project ESTABLISH. References

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