An intervention for children to change perceptions of STEM

Here is a a new paper related to the topic of women getting into technical fields (see previous post on my paper about programming).

Grosch, Kerstin, Simone Haeckl, and Martin G. Kocher. “Closing the gender STEM gap-A large-scale randomized-controlled trial in elementary schools.” (2022).

These authors were thinking about the same problem at the same time, unbeknownst to me. In their introduction they write, “We currently know surprisingly little about why women still remain underrepresented in STEM fields and which interventions might work to close the gender STEM gap.”

My conclusion from my paper is that, by college age, subjective attitudes toward tech are very important. This leads to the questions of whether those subjective attitudes are shaped at younger ages. Grosch et al. have run an experiment to target 3rd-graders with a STEM-themed game. I’ll quote their description:

The treatment web application (treatment app) intends to increase interest in STEM directly by increasing knowledge and awareness about STEM professions and indirectly by addressing the underlying behavioral mechanisms that could interfere with the development of interest in STEM. The treatment app presents both fictitious and real STEM professionals, such as engineers and programmers, on fantasy planets. Accompanied by the professionals, the children playfully learn more about various societal challenges, such as threats from climate change and to public health, and how STEM skills can contribute to combating them. The storyline of the app comprises exercises, videos, and texts. The app also informs children about STEM-related content in general. To address the behavioral mechanisms, the app uses tutorials, exercises, and (non-monetary) rewards that teach children a growth mindset and improve their self-confidence and competitive aptitude. Moreover, the app introduces female STEM role models to overcome stereotypical beliefs. To test the app’s effect, we recruited 39 elementary schools in Vienna (an urban area) and Upper Austria (a predominantly rural area).

This is a preview of their results, although I recommend reading their paper to understand how these measurements were made:

Girls’ STEM confidence increases significantly in the treatment group (difference: 0.047 points or 0.28 standard deviations, p = 0.002, Wald test), and the effect for girls is significantly larger than the effect for boys.

Result 2: Children’s competitiveness is positively associated with children’s interest in STEM. We do not find evidence that stereotypical thinking and a growth mindset is associated with STEM interest.

Lastly, my kids play STEM-themed tablet games. PBS Kids has a great suite of games that are free and educational. Unfortunately, I have not tried to treat one kid while giving the other kid a placebo app, so my ability to do causal inference is limited.