Little Scientists: Identity, Self-Efficacy, and Attitudes Toward Science in a Girls' Science Camp
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Underrepresentation of women and minorities in the science, technology, and engineering (STEM) fields is a perennial concern for researchers and policy-makers. Many causes of this problem have been identified. Less is known about what constitutes effective methods for increasing women’s participation in STEM. This study examines the role that identity formation plays in encouraging girls to pursue STEM education and careers utilizing data from a cohort-based, informal science enrichment program that targets middle-school-aged girls. A Mixed-methods design was employed to examine girls’ science interests, efficacy, attitudes, and identity—referred to as affinities. Quantitative data were collected before and after program participation using science affinity scales. Qualitative data included observations, focus groups, and individual interviews. This study builds on past research conducted on the same program. The study is presented in three components: fidelity of implementation, participant affinities, and science identity theory building. Quantitative and qualitative measures reveal that the program was implemented with high fidelity. Participants had high initial affinities for science as compared to a contrast group. Analysis of qualitative data of science affinities revealed several themes in girls’ attitudes, experiences, and intentions toward science. Emergent themes discussed include girls’ preferences and interests in science, gender and science efficacy, attitudes toward science, and elements of science identities. Archetypes of emergent science identities developed in this study (expert, experimenter, and inventor) inform different ways in which girls engage with and envision science study and careers. Implications for best practice in fostering science engagement and identities in middle-school-aged girls include the importance of hands-on science activities, the need for enthusiastic relatable role models, and an emphasis on deep understanding of scientific principles.