The effects of authentic learning experiences on female students' perceptions of science and confidence in attaining a STEM career
Thompson-Krug, Melissa Elyse
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The purpose of this research project was to determine whether authentic learning experiences improve female students' perceptions of STEM and confidence in attaining a STEM career, to what degree hands-on experiences contribute to perceptions of STEM, which tools do Zoo Academy teachers use to create authentic learning experiences for students, and what strategies teachers currently use to engage female students in STEM. This project was carried out at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska. Local high school juniors and seniors who wish to gain authentic learning experiences may attend high school on zoo grounds in a program called Zoo Academy.Zoo Academy students learn through hands-on activities, shadowing zoo employees, conducting independent studies, and speaking to the community about topics such as conservation. Much of their learning takes place outdoors rather than inside a classroom. Data regarding female students' STEM perceptions and identity was collected through surveys, student and teacher interviews, and the Draw a Scientist test. Analysis of the student interview, student surveys, teacher survey, and Draw a Scientist Test reveals that authentic learning experiences improve female students' perception of science and identity in future STEM careers, hands-on experiences contribute positively to perceptions of STEM, Zoo Academy teachers have a variety of tools at their disposal to create authentic learning experiences for students, and teachers use various strategies to engage both male and female students in STEM. My findings revealed two major takeaways: authentic experiences improve all students' attitude toward learning, regardless of subject; and teaching style has an overwhelmingly strong impact on students' confidence and identity.