Science holds a prominent standing in today’s rapid age of technology growth. It is necessary to find a way to capture the interest of middle school students in science when gender differences in academic self-efficacy begin to appear. Self-efficacy is defined by Albert Bandura as the belief in one’s ability to perform a specific task and is a judgment about one’s ability to organize and execute the courses of action necessary to attain a specific goal related to specific tasks in a given domain. In elementary school, most girls and boys report equal confidence in STEM classes. However, by middle school, the boys begin to show higher self-efficacy in STEM related subjects. And it doesn’t end in high school. In college, male students tend to have more self-efficacy than female students in academic areas relating to STEM classes. Do the boys in Hannah’s, Mina and Sara’s classes have more self-efficacy?
Self-efficacy is formed while decoding information from four primary sources. Mina and Sarah experience mastery of math class and are chosen to participate in the Math Olympics. While practicing for the Math Olympics, Mina observes others on the team through vicarious experience. Hannah, even though she is not on the team, shows support for both Mina and Sarah, offering social encouragement. During the actual Math Olympics, Sarah and Mina will experience emotional physiological effects such as anxiety, mood, and fatigue. If at any time someone starts harassing Sarah about being a geek, it may affect her performance and lower her self-efficacy. And since Mina and Sarah are in middle school, they tend to have lower self-efficacy than boys and it will probably continue to decline through high school.
The self-efficacy of girls in middle school STEM classes begins to decline during those important transition years to a high school STEM curriculum. Throughout elementary school, delivery of the science curriculum is characteristic of language arts, a method that translates science into a reading class. Middle school is the transition to scientific learning, which is delivered through lecture and reading, with laboratory activities in the high school lab classes. Since girls commonly excel in language arts, it is no surprise in middle school, girls have high self-efficacy and achievement in STEM related classes, that decreases towards the end of middle school. This can lead to fewer women entering STEM degree programs or professions after college, which is contradictory to what is desirable.
The self-efficacy of Hannah, Mina and Sarah is vital at the middle school level. Is the American culture responsible for the decline? In the world of disproportioned Barbie and pink princesses that girls play with at an early age, these “girl” toys do not lead girls naturally into STEM. Why don’t we give girls Kinex and Legos while they dance in pink tutus? STEAM is a natural curriculum shift to engage girls into STEM.
Image credit: http://launchyourgenius.com/2014/04/01/self-efficacy-excuses-connection/