Phelps, M. (2012). The effects of hands-on activities on middle school females’ spatial skills and interest in engineering and technology-based careers. Proceedings of the 2012 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. Washington, DC: American Society for Engineering Education.
- The study’s objective was to examine the impact of participating in technology-based three-dimensional hands-on activities on middle school girls’ interest in becoming an engineer or technologist. The activities took place at a 2006 Society of Women Engineers-sponsored event and included designing and constructing a vehicle and assembling an electrical circuit.
- The author conducted statistical analyses to compare self-reported career interests of girls who participated in the hands-on activities and those who did not, as measured by a program-administered survey.
- The study found that participation in the hands-on activities was positively related to increased interest in becoming an engineer or technologist.
- The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the hands-on activities; other factors are likely to have contributed.
Features of the Intervention
Treatment participants completed two 45-minute hands-on activities: designing and constructing a vehicle in pairs, and individually assembling and operating an electrical circuit. They also participated in other learning activities that are not hands-on. The activities were held at an annual technology event in California in 2006, sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers.
Features of the Study
The study included 72 middle school-age girls and featured a nonexperimental design to measure interest in engineering for those who participated in hands-on activities compared with those who did not, as well as changes in outcomes over time for participants before and after the intervention. The study design included two treatment groups and two control groups, with one of each group completing both pre- and post-tests, and the other groups completing only post-tests. The two treatment groups and first control group included a random sample of participants from the 2006 Society of Women Engineers-sponsored event in California; the second control group (whose members completed both the pre- and post-tests) comprised a convenience sample of Color Guard participants from New York who presumably had limited exposure to technology-based hands-on activities. The author administered surveys both before and after the technology event to one treatment and one control group, asking students to answer the following question: “How interested are you in becoming an engineer or technologist?” Responses used a rating scale that ranged from not interested to very interested.
- The study found that treatment students had higher levels of interest in becoming an engineer or technologist compared with students in the control group.
Considerations for Interpreting the Findings
The author did not control for students’ age, race, or ethnicity in the analyses, thus the study did not demonstrate that the groups were comparable before the intervention. Further, by design, some of the study participants did not take a pre-test, thus the author was unable to control for baseline attitudes for these students.
Causal Evidence Rating
The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not demonstrate that the treatment and comparison groups were comparable before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the technology-based hands-on activities; other factors are likely to have contributed.