Engineering remains a field with disproportionately low representation of women and individuals from underrepresented minority (URM) groups. As early as middle school, these groups start losing interest in STEM fields (National Science Foundation, 2004; Driver, 1985). Thus, early interventions that spark interest and encourage pursuit of STEM areas are greatly needed. Biomechanics is a highly relatable, interdisciplinary field with ties to engineering, medicine, and athletics. In a previous study (Francis et al., 2016), we found biomechanics-based activities had potential for teaching biomechanics to 5th-8th grade students with presumably varying interest levels and demographic backgrounds. Our current study investigates the impact of similar biomechanics-based activities on situational and individual interest among K-12 students while considering gender, grade-level, and ethnicity.
We surveyed students attending an engineering outreach event before and after participating in a set of interactive biomechanics activities (up to seven), e.g., measuring jump height with a Microsoft Kinect system, measuring walking characteristics using Wii Balance Boards, measuring muscle activity using surface electrodes, and using a haptic robot to "feel" objects in a virtual reality environment. We designed the survey to measure individual and situational interest in sub-sets of students self-identified by gender, grade level, ethnicity and initial interest in engineering. Pre-participation questions were printed on one side of a piece of paper; post-participation questions were printed on the reverse. An ANOVA test, conducted using R, was used to compare individual and situational interest levels pre- and post- and as functions of demographic factors.
Over two-days, we collected 607 completed surveys (82% of total) from students. 52% were female and 20% were members of an URM group. Before participating in the biomechanics-based activities, we found that boys (t(606) = 5.56, p< 0.05) had higher individual interest in engineering than girls. After participating, the number of boys and girls who indicated they would pursue a career in engineering increased significantly, though the effect size was small (t(606) = 6.06, p< 0.05, d=0.14). Specifically, students who indicated low individual interest accounted for that increase (d=0.22). We also found that boys and girls with high individual interest experienced the same level of situational interest. Boys with low individual interest, however, experienced significantly greater situational interest than girls with low individual interest (t(288) = 2.61, p< 0.05, d=0.22). Our results suggest biomechanics-based activities can engage students at high and low levels of interest in biomechanics and can positively impact their consideration of careers in engineering. We were unable to engage low interest girls more than boys, and ethnicity was not an influential factor—possibly because of the activities chosen and/or the demographics of facilitators.
Our goal is to build an online repository of biomechanics activities that are well-tested, education standards-compliant, and both educational and inspirational to a diverse group of students.
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