Impact of digitally mediated scientist-classroom partnerships with middle school girls
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Women are underrepresented in science and engineering fields. To address this disparity, I connected my middle school life science students at an all-girls school with female science professionals using Skype. A virtual field trip (VFT) augmented the digitally mediated experience. Research questions addressed the impact of Skype conversations on student perceptions of scientists, student attitudes towards science careers, student content knowledge, and teacher preparation and attitudes. The scientist-classroom partnership consisted of a series of three Skype sessions with the same female science professional over the course of one unit on a human body system. Students were divided into two groups with treatment occurring with alternating units to control for content. Perceptions, attitudes, and content knowledge was measured before and after using the draw-a-scientist test (DAST), a modified version of the Test of Science Related Attitudes (TOSRA), content tests, interviews, student formative assessment responses, and teacher journal entries. Data showed improvement in both student perceptions of scientists and attitudes toward science careers. While increased content knowledge was not correlated with the intervention, I argue that the scientist-classroom partnerships increased the relevance of the content thereby improving student perceptions and attitudes. Impact on teacher planning and preparation was minimal compared with the value of the student and teacher experience interacting with science professionals. Unexpected outcomes include novel opportunities for teacher professional development and networking and the possibility of connecting other groups underrepresented in science careers with positive role models in science. Further studies should examine the importance of student pre-Skype planning and research and the feasibility of decreasing the student-scientist ratio.