How Interactions Between Teachers and Other Students Impact Girls’ Identity as Scientists

Roxanne Hughes, director of the Center for Integrating Research and Learning at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University, has overseen dozens of science camps over the years, including numerous sessions of the successful SciGirls Summer Camp. In a new study led by Dr. Hughes, researchers found that nuanced interactions between teachers and campers as well as among the girls themselves impacted how girls viewed themselves as coders.

Researchers wanted to study the coding camp because computer science is the only STEM field where the representation of women has actually declined since 1990. The researchers looked at when and how the girls were recognized for their coding successes during the camp, and how teachers and peers responded when the girls demonstrated coding skills.

Positive praise often resulted in a girl pursuing more challenging activities, for example, strengthening her coding identity. Exactly how teachers praised the campers played a role in how that recognition impacted the girls. Being praised in front of other girls, for example, had more impact than a discreet pat on the back. More public praise prompted peer recognition, which further boosted a girl’s coding identity.

The type of behavior recognized by teachers also appeared to have different effects. A girl praised for demonstrating a skill might feel more like a coder than one lauded for her persistence, for example. Lack of encouragement was also observed: One girl who sought attention for her coding prowess went unacknowledged, while another who was assisting her peers received lots of recognition, responses that seem to play into gender stereotypes, Hughes said. Even in a camp explicitly designed to bolster girls in the sciences, prevailing stereotypes can undermine best intentions, Hughes noted.

Dr. Hughes holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in secondary education from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. She earned a Ph.D. in educational policy at Florida State University.

The full study, “The Role of Recognition in Disciplinary Identity for Girls,” was published on the website of the Journal of Research on Science Teaching. It my be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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