Breaking the STEM Stereotype: Investigating the Use of Robotics to Change Young Children's Gender Stereotypes About Technology and Engineering
Abstract: Women have made important progress in historically male-dominated
fields, such as law and business over the past two decades. However, when it comes to
technology and engineering, progress is being made at a much slower rate. This dissertation
addresses this gap by working with young children (ages 5-7) and exploring their newly
forming attitudes and stereotypes toward technology and ... read moreengineering toys, educational
robotics kits, and engineering focused careers. The study asked the following research
questions: (1) What are children's initial attitudes and ideas about technology and
engineering in Kindergarten through second grade? (2) Does participation in a seven-week
robotics curriculum (taught once a week using the KIWI robotics kit) have an impact on
children's attitudes and ideas about technology and engineering? (3) After receiving the
same robotics curricular instruction, do boys and girls perform differently on robotics and
programming tasks? A sample of children in Kindergarten through second grade (N=105) from a
public elementary school participated in this research. Robotics instruction was provided
by two teams: one all female and one all male. Children's attitudes were assessed before
and after they participated in the robotics curriculum. Responses were compared to a
Control Group who did not receive the robotics curriculum. Children's mastery of concepts
were also assessed. Results provide preliminary evidence that young children are beginning
to form gender stereotypes about technology and engineering, and that robotics may improve
children's attitudes toward engineering. Girls in the Curriculum Group (but not in the
Control Group) displayed a statistically significant increase in agreement that they would
"enjoy being an engineer" at the posttest (Z=-2.435, p=.015). Additionally, while boys
began with a significantly higher level of agreement that they would enjoy being an
engineer than girls at the pretest, there was no significant difference between boys and
girls after completing the robotics curriculum (U=477.5, p>.05). When taught by an
all-female teaching team, there were no significant differences between boys' and girls'
performance on the Solve-Its programming assessment (p>.05); however, when taught by an
all-male teaching team boys performed significantly better than girls on one advanced
programming task (p<.05). This dissertation highlights the importance of early childhood
interventions to combat newly forming masculine biases about technology and engineering.
Design, research, and theoretical implications are discussed.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2016.
Submitted to the Dept. of Child Development.
Advisor: Marina Umaschi Bers.
Committee: David Henry Feldman, Darryl Williams, and Christine Cunningham.
Keywords: Educational technology, Gender studies, and Early childhood education.read less