Scholarly article on topic 'Making Science Fair: How Can we Achieve Equal Opportunity for All Students in Science?'

Making Science Fair: How Can we Achieve Equal Opportunity for All Students in Science? Academic research paper on "Materials engineering"

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Abstract of research paper on Materials engineering, author of scientific article — Hunkar Korkmaz

Abstract The main purpose of this study was to investigate the factors that might be associated with students’ participation in science fair. In total, 514 science fair participants (age range 9-16) from grades 4-8 completed survey named “Tell Us about Your Science Fair Experience” from three different primary schools in an urban area. The results of this study showed that in all grade levels, boys tended to choose to work in physical sciences and girls in the biological and social sciences. The science books, parents, and television programs were ranked as first three sources for project ideas by the all students. In addition, while the students were ranked “fun”, “learning new things” and “working with my friends” as first three reward items for participating in science fair, those ranked “some strict rules,” “low priority on the school list of achievement and development activities,” “lack of coordination between teacher and students” as first three barrier items to science fair. The results of this study may be used as a means of helping students to select the type of event that suits their interest, goals, and learning style. Finally, factors are discussed that might lead to an early divergence of boys’ and girls’ interest in science within a context that promotes its exploration.

Academic research paper on topic "Making Science Fair: How Can we Achieve Equal Opportunity for All Students in Science?"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 46 (2012) 3078 - 3082

WCES 2012

Making science fair: how can we achieve equal opportunity for all

students in science?

Hunkar Korkmaz

Akdeniz University, Faculty Of Education, Department of Curriculum & Instructon 07058 Antalya/ Turkey

Abstract

The main purpose of this study was to investigate the factors that might be associated with students' participation in science fair. In total, 514 science fair participants (age range 9-16) from grades 4-8 completed survey named "Tell Us about Your Science Fair Experience" from three different primary schools in an urban area. The results of this study showed that in all grade levels, boys tended to choose to work in physical sciences and girls in the biological and social sciences. The science books, parents, and television programs were ranked as first three sources for project ideas by the all students. In addition, while the students were ranked "fun", "learning new things" and "working with my friends" as first three reward items for participating in science fair, those ranked "some strict rules," "low priority on the school list of achievement and development activities," "lack of coordination between teacher and students" as first three barrier items to science fair. The results of this study may be us ed as a means of helping students to select the type of event that suits their interest, goals, and learning style. Finally, factors are discussed that might lead to an early divergence of boys' and girls' interest in science within a context that promotes its exploration.

© 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu Keywords: science fair, equity, gender, science project, primary students

1. Introduction

Equity issues have played a significant role in how science is taught and learned in the classroom. Gender differences in science course enrollments and achievement, particularly in the area of physics; have raised concerns about gender equity in science education (Lawton & Bordens, 1995). In this context, science educators have focused on researching how gender differences may affect academic achievement (Lee & Burkam, 1996), performance in science competitions (Jones, 1991, Greenfield, 1995), and choice of science activities (Block, 1983; Steinkamp & Maehr, 1984).

Research on gender differences in science related activities has focused on middle or high school students; relatively little is known of such differences in younger students. Science fair participation which may involve children as early as kindergarten provides one context through which to examine the development of gender differences in science-related activities (Lawton & Bordens, 1995; Adamson, Foster, Roark, & Reed, 1998). A previous study of science fair projects at the junior and senior high levels found that females are more likely to conduct projects in biological sciences and males in physical sciences (Jones, 1991). Examining participation in science fairs, Greenfield (1995) sought to determine whether the genders differed with respect to: decisions to enter science fairs, project topics (life science, physical science, earth science and mathematics) and project types (research or display). She examined 20 years of participation in the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair and concluded that: 1) females are more likely now than 20 years ago to participate; 2) female representation in the physical sciences has increased over the years; 3) females continue to be less likely than males to engage in physical

1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.06.014

science projects, earth science and mathematics; and 4) females tend to avoid projects based on scientific inquiry and experimental research in favor of those based on library research. In her study of science achievement, Greenfield (1996) concluded that males reported more stereotyped views of science than females.

In addition, many educators encourage participation in science fair as a way for all students without regard to or discrimination based on the gender to further develop science content knowledge, attitudes, process skills, and interest that will lead to a successful career in the future (e.g., Huler,1991; Bruning, Shraw, & Running, 1995; Czerniak & Lumpe, 1996; Bellipanni & Lilly, 1999; Buruce & Buruce, 2000; Abernathy & Vineyard, 2001). Student science projects also meet the educational goals of science as recommended in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers Association (Schneider & Lumpe, 1996) and allow students to apply their knowledge of topics taught in the classroom to real problems (Frankovits, 1990). According to Huler (1991), the students who enter the Westinghouse Talent Search frequently pursue careers in science and become the best in their fields. Grote (1995) found that teachers think that science projects promote students' enthusiasm about science, give students experience in communication skills and the opportunity to interact with other students interested in science, and teach them about the scientific method. Consequently, science fairs help to eliminate or reduce gender discrimination in science (Lawton & Bordens, 1996; Abernathy & Vineyard, 2001).

On the other hand, some of the research has shown that the science fair experience is not as positive for students as proponents of the competitions suggest. Despite what some see as problems with judging, the lack of clarity in the rules, too much teacher control, too much parent control, required participation, and an overemphasis on individual participation, educators continue to perceive science fairs as beneficial to students of all ages (Watson, 2003). Some universities, professional organizations and corporations spend a lot of money, time, and effort sponsoring science fairs, providing professional scientists to mentor students or judge the projects, and awarding prizes and scholarships for the winners (Grote, 1995).Because of this large expenditure of time and resources and lack of evidence concerning the effectiveness of science fairs, it is important to determine the current opinions of students concerning science projects and science fairs. So far, researchers have examined teacher and pre-service teacher perceptions of the value of science fairs for students (Carlisle & Deeter, 1989; Grote, 1995, Bunderson & Bunderson, 1996), the rules and awards structure (Carlisle & Deeter, 1989), gender differences and predictors of students' participation in science fairs (Czerniak & Lumpe, 1996, Adamson et al., 1998, Lawton & Bordens, 1995), rewards for students who participated in science fair (Abernathy & Vineyard, 2001). Although this study was included some subtitles, such as "gender and participation", "gender and science area", "rewards for students", "source of project idea", which was researched in past, it was also researched a new title, "barriers to participate in science fair" through primary students' eyes. The research questions were as following: (1)Do boys and girls have different pattern of participation in the science fair?, (2) Does the area of science that children selected for the projects vary as a function of gender?, (3) Which from sources do students select their project ideas by gender, grade level and science area?, (4) What do students perceive as rewards for participating in science fair by gender, grade level and science area?, and (5) What do students perceive as barriers to participating in science fair by gender, grade level and science area?

2. Method

2.1. Participants

In total, 514 science fair participants (age range 9-16) from grades 4-8 completed surveys from three different primary schools. The schools are located in an urban area but they are from different socio-economic status such as low, middle, and high. School size varies depending on the location between 1000-1500 students. Typically, students were recruited for the fair in their science classes. Within the science fair sample 256 (49.8 percent) and 258 boys (50.2 percent) competed. Rates of participation in the lower (Grades 4-5) and the upper (Grades 6-8) primary were different: 30 % of the participants in grades 4-6 and 70% of the participants in grades 6-8. Descriptive data revealed that students who participated science fair were approaching their second year of competition (M=1.74; SD= .963) and had taken an average of 4.48 -the highest point is 5- science classes (SD= .863).

2.2. Data Collection and Analysis

It was constructed a survey, "Tell Us about Your Science Fair Experience", to learn about the experiences of students who participate in science fair. This survey was included following four sections: (1) Demographic information (2) Source of project idea, (3) Reasons for participating and (4) Barriers to participation. It was developed by using two sources. First, students' responses to questions during the interview phase of the school science fair organization were used to generate items for section 2, and section 4. The second set of sources for section 4 was obtained from previous studies (Abernathy & Vineyard, 2001; Adamson, Foster, Roark, & Reed; 1998; Lawton & Bordens, 1995). The researcher drafted a preliminary version of the instrument, based on students interview and items used in previous research and piloted it in schools have a science fair experience. The pilot test provided the basis for refining the items and developing the final version of the instrument. Ethical permission from students' family and school principals for the study was obtained prior to collect data. First section was included following four items students' age, gender, title of the project, and the number of participation in science fair, last grade point average in science, school name, and grade level. Those items required a fill-in-the blank response. Science area of the projects, this was not placed on students' survey, was coded by researcher using the science fair handbook including students' project team name, photos and grade level and science area of their project submitted to the science fair. Data analysis was conducted using log linear analysis which allows for the testing of interactions amongst two or more predictor variables with categorical data. Second, third and last sections asked students to mark three items that reflected the sources of project idea they used, rewards they received, and barriers they perceived for participating in the science fair. Categorical items marked by students were coded as 1. Unmarked items were coded zero. It was summed student responses to each item across the sample, then ranked items indicating the most frequently selected source of their project ideas, rewards and barriers for participating in the science fair. It was presented data ranks because frequency counts or percentages are difficult to interpret when respondents are encouraged to mark more than one choice. Spearman rank order coefficients (rs) were calculated to determine whether data should be reported by grade level and/or gender or whether data could be aggregated.

3. Results

3.1. Gender and Participation

The first question in this study was "Do boys and girls have different pattern of participation in the science fair?" For the purposes of analysis, grades were arranged into two levels: 4-5 and 6-8. It was found that participation did not vary as a function of student gender [X 2 = 7.16 and .21, not significant]. During by grades, boys (for 4-5 grades (80, 15.5%), for 6-8 grades (177, 14.4%)) and girls (for 4-5 grade (73, 14.2%), for 6-8 grades (185, 35.9%)) were equally likely to participate. With only one minor exception, all the children who entered a group project did with same sex peer. The only 8 students did individual project. At the grades 4-5 level, the number of science fair participants (N=153) decreased markedly compared to the number of participants at the grades 6-8 level (N=362).

3.2. Gender and Area of Science

The second question was whether the area of science that children selected for the projects varied as a function of gender. The students' science fair projects were classified into six categories including the area of the biological and environmental sciences(BAES), physical sciences (PS), chemistry(CHEM), earth and space(EAS), social sciences and arts(SSAA), and engineering and computer science(EACS) by science fair judges. There was little disagreement between judges (K= 0.91). A significant gender difference was found, with girls more likely to work within the area of "biology& environment sciences" and "social sciences & arts" and boys within the area of the "physical sciences" and "earth & space". To compare how boys and girls distributed their selection of projects, a log linear analysis of Area X Gender X Grade contingency table was run. There was no significant three-way interaction between gender, grade and project type. The best model was generated by the interaction of gender - area [G2 (5), the partial likehood ratio X2= 15.51, p<.001], grade did not qualify this interaction. There were more boys (Nfor grades 4-5=33, Nfor grades 6-8=93) than girls (Nfor grades 4-5= 9, Nfor grades 6-8= 27) in physical science area in both grade groups.

There was overall greater participation by girls in biological & environmental sciences ((Nfor grades 4-5=38, Nfor grades 6-8=69), and social science & art projects(NfOT grades 4-5=12, Nfor grades 6-8=34).

3.3. Source of the Project Ideas

The third question was "Which from sources do students select their project ideas by gender, grade level and science area?" "How did students get the ideas for their science project?". Spearman rank order coefficients results show that there was a positive relationship (rs= 0.60, p<.01) between grades 4-5 students and grades 6-8 students who completed in science fair. The students ranked "science books" 1.0, "parents" 3.0, "science fiction films" 7.0, and "popular science magazines" 8.0. Further, "experience and interest" and "television programs" were ranked in almost equal values. While the students at grades 4-5 ranked "teachers" as 2.0, the students at grades 6-8 ranked "friends". The boys and girls reported similar source of ideas for their science projects (rs= 0.80, p<.01). Boys and girls in both grade levels agreed that they selected a topic from "science books." At grades 4-5 level, the boys and girls ranked "teachers" 2.0, "science fiction films" 7.0", "popular science magazine" 8.0. The boys ranked "experience and interest" higher than girls in grades 4-5, but the girls in grades 6-8 ranked higher than boys. The boys and girls at grades 6-8 level ranked "teachers" 6.0, "science fiction films" 7.0, and "popular science magazine" 8.0. The girls in this grade level ranked "parents" 2.0, "experience and interest" 3.0, "friends" 4.0, and "television programs" 5.0. Also, the boys ranked "friends" 2.0, "television programs" 3.0, "parents" 4.0, experience and interest" 5.0. Science books ranked 1.0 as the source of ideas for all science area projects. Parents ranked as the source of ideas for BAES, CHEM, EAS, and SSAA projects higher than PS and EACS projects. Science fiction films and popular science magazines were less likely to be ranked as the source of project ideas in all science areas. Furthermore, science books, parents, and television programs were ranked as first three sources by the all students.

3.4. Rewards for participating by gender, grade level and science area in science fair

The fourth question in this study was "What do students perceive as rewards for participating in science fair?" Spearman rank order coefficients revealed there was a low positive relationship between grades 4-5 students and grades 6-8 students who completed in science fair (rs= 66 ; p< .01). The students ranked "fun" 1.0 as the reason they participate. "Learning new things" 2.0 and "Pleasing my teachers" 9.0 were ranked in both grade groups. All items except three rankings notable differences emerged between groups. Students at grades 6-8 ranked 'forking with friends" as 3.0; however, students at grades 4-5 competing in science fair ranked "competing against other students" as third. "Working with my friends "was ranked 3.0 among grades 6-8 students but students at grades 4-5 ranked the item 6.0. "Increasing my science grade" was lower ranked in both groups. The boys and girls reported different rewards for participating in the science fair (rs= 0.46; p< .01). Although there was a low positive correlation between boys and girls, the analysis may have masked some important gender similarities and differences worth highlighting. Boys and girls in both grade levels agreed that they participated for "fun", "learning new things" and to "working with my friends" but boys in ranked "learning scientific process" 3.0 and girls ranked the item 6.0. Interestingly, "competing against other students" ranked 3.0 among the girls but 12.0 among the boys. The girls ranked the "pleasing" items higher than the boys. "Preparing for my future", "sharing ideas with others", "working with my coach", "getting my name in the newspaper" were ranked in close order. The students who had done projects in all science area agreed that they participated for fun. The students who had done projects in other areas ranked "learning new things" 2.0, while those who had done physics projects ranked "learning the scientific process" and "working with friends" 2.0. For all students, "fun", "learning new things" and "working with my friends" were ranked as first three items for participating in science fair.

3.5. Barriers to Participation in Science Fair

The last question in this study was "What do students perceive as barriers to participating in science fair?" There was not a strong relationship between the barriers students reported from participating in grades 4-5 and grades 6-8 (rs= 34; p< .01). While the students at grades 4-5 ranked "Some strict rules for science fair" 1, "Difficulty finding a

science project idea" 2, and "Lack of science and technology enhanced rooms" 3 as barriers to participating science fair, the students at grades 6-8 ranked "High school entrance exam pressure on students" 1, "Intense course load and class assignments" 2, and "Previous negative experiences or attitudes towards science fairs". The boys and girls reported different barriers for participating in the science fair (rs= 0.55; p< .01). The girls ranked "some strict rules for science fair" as 1.0; however, the boys ranked "difficulty in finding a science project idea" as first. "Low priority on the school list of achievement and development activities" was ranked 2.0 among girls but the boys ranked the item 6.0. Also, girls ranked ""intense course load and class assignments" 3.0 compared to 2.0 for that item among boys. According to science area, the barriers to participating in science fair were ranked differently. I t was illustrated and discussed some critical barriers. The students who had done BAES and PS projects were ranked "intense course load and classroom assignments" as 1.0 while those who had done SSAA and CHEM projects were ranked "some strict rules for science fair" as first. "Difficulty in finding a science project idea" was ranked 1 among participants who had done EACS projects. Also, "lack of coordination between teacher and students" was ranked as first barrier to participate in science fair by the students who had done EAS projects. Further, "lack of science and technology rooms" was ranked 2.0 among students who had done PS and CHEM projects compared to 4.0 (BAES, EAS, and SSAA)-5.0 (EACS). The students who had done CHEM, EAS, and EACS projects ranked "difficulty in finding a science project idea" 3.0.. "Lack of basic scientific knowledge and skills" was ranked 18-20 in all science area projects. For all students, the first three barrier items were as follows: "some strict rules," "low priority on the school list of achievement and development activities," "lack of coordination between teacher and students."

4. Implications

This study presents some useful information for educators who promote, encourage, and may even sometimes coerce students into participating in science fair. Students in this study report their science fair experiences. In brief, by understanding the research on gender differences in science, science educators can begin to offer more equitable responses to females' participation and achievement in science. Young adolescents are forming gender identities and self-esteem during these years-another reason why middle schools need to provide gender-responsive learning environments and experiences. For many decades, educators, perhaps unknowingly, considered reading and literature as female domains and science as male domains. While understanding the need to address gender differences represents a vital first step, making education gender-responsive will require a genuine commitment to provide teaching-learning experiences that reflect females' and males' gender differences.

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