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Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
SJR: 0.504 SNIP: 0.671 CiteScore™: 1.65

ISSN Print: 1072-8325
ISSN Online: 1940-431X

Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering

DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.v11.i1.10
pages 1-26

"FAILING GIRLS": UNDERSTANDING CONNECTIONS AMONG IDENTITY NEGOTIATION, PERSONAL RELEVANCE, AND ENGAGEMENT IN SCIENCE LEARNING FROM UNDERACHIEVING GIRLS

Jessica J. Thompson
University of Washington, College of Education, Box 353600, Seattle, WA, 98195
Mark Windschitl
University of Washington, College of Education, Box 353600, Seattle, WA, 98195

ABSTRACT

Contemporary critiques of science education have noted that girls often fail to engage in science learning because the activities lack relevance for them, and they cannot "see themselves" in the work of science. Despite the empirical support for these claims, theory around the important connections between relevance, emerging self-identity, and engagement for girls remains underdeveloped. This qualitative, exploratory investigation examines engagement in science learning among five underachieving high school girls. Data sources include in-depth interviews, classroom observations, and teacher surveys. The girls were asked to describe engagement within three learning contexts: science class, a favorite class, and an extracurricular activity. From the girls' voices emerge three themes reflecting the centrality of self: "who I am," "who I am becoming," and "the importance of relationships." It is important that these themes of self and of identity negotiation are integrated with the ways these girls find learning personally relevant. One pattern of extracurricular engagement and two patterns of science engagement (integrated and situational) are described. This study attempts to expand the dialogue around the relationships between identity, relevance, and engagement among underachieving girls and suggests ways in which curriculum can be grounded in students' lives and developing identities.