Below is the process I followed to best understand:
"How does gender mediate student experience in my project-based engineering classroom?"
Engineering Design is a 10 week course designed to introduce students to the general concepts of engineering. Here I present the material covered in two week blocks.
Essential course Questions:
what problems exist?
How can the design improve?
How can the process become more efficient?
who is the consumer?
how can this be simplified?
*** major assignments hyperlinked ***
Weeks One - Two: OnShape, a cloud-based, cross-platform 3D drawing program, was introduced and students created accounts. Small tasks were assigned such as drawing circles, making things 3-dimensional, and drawing their own cell phone. Week One Journal was assigned, and the purpose/ idea behind self-reflection of journals was introduced. The Puzzle Cube Project was then introduced and students were asked to sketch potential designs on isometric graph paper. Week Two Journal was assigned.
Weeks Three - Four: The Initial Survey was assigned, and students were asked to complete it at home at their own pace. The Puzzle Cube Project remained the main focus, but upon its completion the The Reverse Engineering Project was introduced and students were assigned a partner. Week Three Journal and Week Four Journal were assigned at the end of each week to better understand how students were feeling about their work in class.
Weeks Five - Six: The Reverse Engineering Project was the focus of class as students combined the design process with collaboration and 3D drawing. Students completed the project by presenting to their classmates. Week Five Journal and Week Six Journal were assigned at the end of each of their respective weeks to better understand the development of student collaboration.
Weeks Seven - Eight: Students were required to come into the lab one evening and meet with our lab technician to learn how to safely operate the tools in the wood shop. The Submarine Project was introduced and students were assigned groups. This project required new skills such as: cutting, drilling, measuring by hand, soldering, and working in a larger group. During these two weeks students met with me one-on-one to complete their interview. Week Seven Journal and Week Eight Journal were assigned at the end of each week and questioned the students further on the nature of our classroom and their feelings on it.
Weeks Nine - Ten: The final weeks of the course were dedicated to The VEX Squarebot Project. Students were assigned groups and given the VEX Handbook to instruct them on the construction of a square-bot. This rounded out in a competition amongst the final robotics. Robots were challenged to a drag race, a maze race, and sumo wrestling matches. Week Nine Journal was assigned at the end of Week Nine, and the students were asked to reflect on their work with VEX in a journal format at the end of Week Ten.
Each classroom has a different feel and that is affected by the people within as well as the time of the day, and the space the class is taught in. Here I hope to provide better clarity on this specific class.
Students: While there is no requirement for grade level in this course, there were no freshman students. The 10 students enrolled in the class ranged from sophomores to seniors. The gender makeup of the class was 6 female students and 4 male students.
Class Timing: With a rotating schedule this class met at different times each day. In a 6 day school week we met 4 times. Monday 11:20 - 12:10, Tuesday 9:00-9:50, Thursday 1:10-2:30, and Friday 9:55-10:45. Thursday's longer class period is referred to as a "long block" as later referenced by students.
Physical Environment: This course took place daily in the engineering lab at St. Paul's School. This lab is a large room with high ceilings. It also has a wood shop and a machine shop incorporated within the space. Large workbenches are used as desks for students and all chairs and tables are on wheels. I often played music throughout class while students were working independently.
Data Collection tools
tools used to better understand what was taking place within my classroom from my perspective as well as from the student perspective
*** Documents linked to titles ***
Initial Survey: Hubbard and Power (2003), explain that “baseline data, or information you collect at the beginning of the project to determine the ‘starting point’ of understanding, can play a critical role in your findings later on” (p.62). I waited until Week Three to introduce this survey because I hoped to build up a relationship with my students to allow them to feel they could answer the questions honestly. I hoped that by seeing them in class for a bit and then reading their answers I would work to see my students through multiples lenses.
Weekly Journals: "An important data source for any teacher-researcher is student work. Good teachers develop incredible memories. Just the sight of a reading log or student draft of writing can often jog your memory, recreating the experience of how it was created within the classroom context" (Hubbard & Power, 2003, pg. 59). By asking specific questions about what went well, what the students struggled with, and how they felt during each of these events I was hoping to also encourage a "growth mindset" as coined by Carol Dweck. By encouraging students to follow a reflective practice weekly I hoped that students would continue to grow and recognize their own growth. While I knew that I would witness my students throughout class I hoped to better gauge their personal feelings through their journals, and aim to better understand them in the moment.
Assigned Groups: Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) define "categories of student variance with contributors and implications for learning". The first of the four categories is "biology". The first defined contributor to this category is "gender". They note that some of the implication for learning are as follows: "High ability and disability exist in a whole range of endeavors. Students will learn in different modes. Students will learn on different timetables. Some parameters for learning are somewhat defined, but are malleable with appropriate context and support" (pg. 17). Due to this differentiation I aimed to pair students with a partner of the opposite gender to encourage them to work together and support each other. Similarly, I hoped to minimize the importance and differentiation that gender plays within engineering by continually keeping students in multi-gendered groups. I also hoped that by assigning students groups that students would branch out and work with a greater variety of students in the class.
Video Recordings: "Tape recorders can be a tremendously helpful tool in collecting data: They record the sound and speech exactly and give you, as the teacher-researcher, a chance to hear everything multiple times, recognizing patterns that you might miss if you only heard them once" (Hubbard & Power, 2003, pg.79). Hubbard and Power (2003) also forewarn the potential struggles with videotaping classes: teachers often record too often, data analysis takes extended periods of time, and recording both the audio and visual can take many views (pg. 78). I chose to film during large or noteworthy assignments, and more often during group work so that I could walk away and view more honest data that took place while I was not physically watching. I also recorded on my laptop and turned the brightness all the way down low so that the students could not tell what was happening, or be distracted by the screen.
Photography: "Pictures can help you notice what is going on with fresh eyes and help you focus. Depending on your research, you might document: Who sits where during different times of the day? How do they use their bodies? Whom do they work with?" (Hubbard & Power, 2003, pg. 84). I love photography. Taking pictures is a natural way to capture moments for me, so it only felt right to use this as a method of data collection. I was able to take snapshots of student interaction, moments of joy, and moments of struggle to share with readers and also to use as a mental reminder of a powerful moment.
Interviews: Hubbard and Power (2003) explain, "One important tool for the teacher-researcher is interviewing - asking questions to bring out the information we couldn't learn without getting inside our students' minds.... Good interviews often begin with a kind of skeletal framework and adjustments emerge as the conversations take shape". They similarly urge that interviews with students should be “casual, conversational” and often “improvisational” (p.63). I aimed to have comfortable conversations with my students to pry a bit further into their understandings and experiences. By speaking with them directly I was able to ask them to build upon ideas that I found interesting or intriguing.
Final Survey: "Our advice with surveys...is to view them like..useful snapshots of a moment in time that must be pieced together with other data to get a true picture of what is happening in your classroom" (Hubbard & Power, 2003, pg.65). I also was personally hoping that a final survey would help provide clarification on any growth that may have taken place since the beginning of the term. To see if their responses changed to questions that were similar would help provide context to what I witnessed throughout the term.
influencing factors on data
ways in which my personal life and opinions have potentially affected the data collection including biases and potential sources of error within data collection
Surveys: I asked students to identify their preferred gender at the beginning of their initial and final survey. While I had no previous information that any of my students were anything other than cis-gender, I still worry that this could have unknowingly changed their mindset for answering questions. As we read in Steele's Whistling Vivaldi (2010), students of color achieved lower grades when asked to self-disclose their race before taking an exam. I worry that I could have influenced all of my students to respond differently because they began the surveys by disclosing their gender identity.
Personal Background: As mentioned in The Story of My Question, I was one of the only women in my engineering program in college. I similarly entered the field of engineering that was incredibly male dominated and received criticism often. I know personally the struggles of women in engineering, and I feel strongly about encouraging students to live in a world that does not treat females this way.
"Observer's Perspective": Steele (2010) notes that when researching "The actor dominates our literal and mental visual field, which makes the circumstances to which he is responding less visible to us...the actor sticks out like a sore thumb and the circumstances to which he is responding less visible to us" (pg. 18). It is unclear how biased my observations were of the students. I attempted to mitigate this bias by providing journals that allowed students the opportunity to fill me in on what each student was responding to rather than making assumptions or worrying that I would miss the details.
Transparency of Inquiry Topic: Initially at the beginning of the term I announced to my students that I would be using their work to help me complete my own work: my inquiry project. I was transparent in the assignment, but I initially held back a large portion of my inquiry question. I was worried about how my students would view me if I explained my interest in studying gender within the classroom, so I simply explained that I was studying project-based learning within the classroom. I explained that we would have surveys and journals and that I would use these as resources. At the very end of the term my students recognized my attention to gender when asking interview questions and journal questions, and in response i explained how my question had developed and my interest in the gender roles within the classroom. See below how I believe that this may have played into student responses along with their grade concern.
Role of Student and Teacher: It is of course important to recognize the pressure that students put on themselves to be high achievers - specifically to get good grades. In my role as a teacher-researcher I am also the teacher that provides grades. My students are presumably eager to impress me and therefore gain high marks. In answering my questions, talking about experiences, and discussing the layout of the course it is possible that my students sought to provide answers that would please me rather than always speaking the truth.