The Impact of Model-Eliciting Activities on Attitude Towards STEM Education
This paper explores the possible influence of Model-Eliciting Activities (MEAs) in
changing non-science students’ attitude towards science and mathematics. MEAs
were presented to students enrolled in a core curriculum in an Egyptian private higher
education institution that presents a liberal education programme. A liberal education
programme requires that students have opportunities to take a range of courses in
disparate disciplines yet seeing interconnections among these disciplines. MEAs, as
an instructional strategy, allowed students to grapple with real-life problems and draw
on concepts and skills from various STEM disciplines such as science and
mathematics to solve the presented problems. In carrying out this study, a mixed
method approach was used. Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected.
While developing their models, students worked in groups and were assessed using
rubrics. Samples of groups’ works were collected throughout the process in addition
to a pre/post quantitative survey focusing on their attitude towards science and
mathematics. Focus group interviews were conducted mainly to elicit from students
their learning experiences with MEAs and to gain a deeper understanding of thinking
throughout the process of developing their models. Results obtained, suggest that
female students’ attitude towards mathematics sub-scale on ‘Usability’ was not
statistically significant from their attitude towards science before being introduced to
MEAs. However, after being introduced to MEAs, a statistically significant difference
in females’ attitude towards mathematics and science was obtained. This finding can
be credited to the MEAs inclination towards mathematics and the meaningfulness of
the problem context.
One of the aims of education is to develop students with the knowledge and skills that
help in dealing with real-life problems. Exposing students to situations similar to
those in real-life could help graduates acquire the 21st century skills required for
workplace. One way of helping graduates acquire these skills is the use of MEAs.
MEAs are realistic, complex problems which help students engage in mathematics
and scientific thinking as they solve problems using conceptual tools ‘models’ that
can be used to communicate, make sense of, and resolve realistic situations (Lesh &
Zawajewski, 2007; Lesh & Doerr, 2003). As an instructional strategy, MEAs enable
teachers to have a deeper understanding of students’ mental processes which can
guide subsequent instruction. As a result, the products which students produce are
seen as ‘thought revealing’ and MEAs (the activity students are engaged in) as
‘model-eliciting’ (Ashmann, Zawojewski, & Bowman, 2006).
Purpose of the study:
In this paper, we investigate the influence of MEAs on females’ attitude towards
science and mathematics which were not their majors. This is an on-going study that
exposes non-science students to STEM concepts and skills. For the purpose of this
paper, the following research question was investigated:
1) What are non-science major students’ attitude towards science and mathematics
before experiencing MEAs?
2) What non-science students’ attitude towards science and mathematics after
3) What differences, if any, exist regarding female students’ attitude towards science
and mathematics on both pre- and- post measures?
Context of the study
This paper explores the use of MEAs presented to students in the Egyptian context
through a 14- week course at a private higher education institution in Cairo. The
course focused on presenting STEM concepts and skills using MEAs throughout
course. Examples of the mathematical concepts included were concepts such as mean,
mode, area, volume, standard variation, randomization, trial and error, and
optimization. Moreover, skills such as communication skills, use of computer-based
technology, presentation skills, collaborative skills, problem solving skills, and
metacognitive skills were included. Students while engaged in group-work were
involved in science practices such as asking questions and defining problems,
developing and using models, interpreting data, constructing explanations and
designing solutions, engaging in argument from evidence and obtaining, evaluating,
and communicating information.
Groups were assigned based on students’ interests, as they were asked to list down 10
problems they think are hindering development in Egypt. The instructor then asked
the students to choose the problem they would like to work on for the rest of the
A group of 23 non-science students (12 males and 11 females) were introduced to the
course in Fall 2014. Their educational backgrounds varied from those from attending
Egyptian National education =3, American diploma= 9, IGSE (International General
Certificate of Secondary Education) = 5, IB (International Baccalaureate) = 5 and
German education= 1. Their majors were in non-science areas such as finance,
business, marketing and mass communication.
The study followed the Sequential Explanatory Design that implies collecting and
analysing quantitative and then qualitative data in two consecutive stages within one
study (Creswell, Plano Clark, Gutmann, & Hanson, 2003).
Quantitative data collection and analyses
By reviewing the literature, the Modified Fennema-Sherman Attitude Scales by Diana
Doepken, Ellen Lawsky, and Linda Padwa (2004), which was originally developed to
measure attitudes towards mathematics then modified to measure attitudes towards
science as well, seemed appropriate for this study. The scale consisted of four
subscales where each consisted of positive and negative statements. Participants were
asked to respond to a five-point Likert scale that ranged from strongly agree=5 to
strongly disagree=1 for the positive statements while scores on the negative
statements were reversed. The scale has a high reliability, with a Cronbach-alpha
from 0.942 to 0.777 (Kahveci, 2010).
Qualitative data collection and analyses
Focus groups were formed to collect data on the use of the MEas and the possible
impact that they may have on changing, if any, attitudes towards STEM disicplines.
Students’ responses were recorded, transcribed then analysed using the thematic
analysis by Braun & Clarke (2006). Each student was given a code to ensure
In answering the third research question on whether there exist any differences in
female students’ attitude towards science and mathematics before and after
implementation of the MEA, a t- test was conducted. Prior to implementation, the
results obtained on the t-test did not show any significant difference in female
students’ attitude towards the usability of both subjects with t (-0.98, df = 15), p-value
= 0.34. The post-implementation results indicated statistically significant difference in
female students’ attitude towards usability of mathematics and science t (-2.28, df =
19), p-value = 0.03.
One of the major themes that emerged from the qualitative analyses is ‘useful’ for
solving real-life problems especially with thinking skills. This finding aligns with the
quantitative findings. The following quote is an example:
My chosen major, is Integrated marketing communication. Mathematics hadn't
contributed much to my chosen major, as my major has nothing to do with math. This
course did not teach me mathematic equations, but taught me how to use mathematic
modules and to think in a certain way that will help me solve real life problems.
…honestly I enjoyed the fact that my courses do not require any math or any sort of
The course made me notice that whether we like it or not, we do need math and
almost daily. The course showed that you can have some fun and enjoy your time
while working on math. I think I can tolerate some math now, doesn't mean I'm any
better at it, but I would put some effort in it”. (Student no.4, Female).
From the results obtained, we noted a change in female students’ attitude towards the
usefulness of mathematics and science, especially mathematics since the implemented
MEA was mathematics-biased. It is hypothesized that by presenting students with
MEAs, which allowed them to apply STEM concepts and skills through real world
situations, there is the likelihood that the perception that females do not find
mathematics useful will change as claimed in this study. This findings, is in line with
claims that there are gender differences in attitudes towards STEM fields; females
tend to have more negative attitudes that arise due to stereotypes, anxieties and self-
concept (Shapiro et. al., 2012; Gokhale et. al., 2008).
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