Understanding How Narrative Elements Can Shape Girls' Engagement in Museum-Based Engineering Design Tasks

Friday, September 1, 2017 to Monday, August 31, 2020
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Museum and Science Center Programs, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Families | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
Engineering | General STEM
Access and Inclusion: 
Women and Girls
New York Hall of Science

Makerspaces and engineering design spaces have proliferated in science museums, schools, libraries, and community settings at a rapid pace. However, there is a risk that some of the same inequities that exist in the engineering field are being replicated in these settings. Research has provided evidence of persistent gaps between boys' and girls' levels of interest in engineering as it has been traditionally represented in informal learning environments, particularly in Making and engineering spaces. This Research-In-Service to Practice project intends to address this gap by employing a design-based research approach to examine if and to what extent narrative elements can interest and engage middle school girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and promote equitable, effective engineering design experiences and practices. This work is significant, as it will build upon current research and conceptual understanding of how to design narrative-rich engineering design activities for informal learning spaces, especially for girls, and within museum drop-in experiential learning contexts. It will also contribute to the evidence base regarding how girls approach and choose to persist in solving engineering design problems. The project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

The New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in collaboration with the Amazeum in Bentonville, Arkansas, the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California, the Creativity Labs at Indiana University and a team of advisors will conduct the 30-month, design-based research project in two phases. In the first phase, NYSCI will garner ongoing input from its partners to develop parallel versions of six pairs of engineering design activities, one with narrative elements and one without. These activities will be iteratively tested in NYSCI's Design Lab, a 10,000 square foot exhibition devoted to hands-on exploration of engineering design. Several research questions will be explored, focused primarily on building evidence-based design knowledge, establishing appeal and comprehensibility, and understanding facilitation. Observational and interview data will be garnered from 30 girls aged 7-14 and their family groups for each of the twelve activities developed, totaling 360 girls in the study sample. The results of the research on the paired activities will be iterative and provide insight on how narrative elements can most effectively invite girls into sustained engagement with the core engineering concepts and practices highlighted in each activity. In the second phase, formative and summative evaluation will be conducted to study the impact of the narrative and non-narrative versions of the engineering design activities on participating girls' engagement and persistence, by contrasting the quality of girls' engagement across the two types of activities while they are implemented across three museum sites. Project deliverables include journal articles reporting on project findings; documentation of activities that meet project goals; design guidelines for exhibit and curriculum developers who are interested in using narrative effectively to frame engineering design activities; and practical guidance for facilitators seeking to ensure that they are supporting girls effectively as they explore those activities.

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Team Members

Dorothy BennettDorothy BennettPrincipal Investigator
Katherine McMillanKatherine McMillanCo-Principal Investigator
Susan LetourneauSusan LetourneauCo-Principal Investigator
Peggy MonahanFormer Co-Principal Investigator

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