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Sci Adv. 2017 Aug 9;3(8):e1700046. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700046. eCollection 2017 Aug.

Interest in STEM is contagious for students in biology, chemistry, and physics classes.

Author information

1
Department of Teaching and Learning, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA.
2
STEM Transformation Institute, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA.
3
Department of Physics, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA.
4
School of Teaching and Curriculum Leadership, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74074, USA.
5
School of Engineering Education, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.
6
Department of Physics, Northwestern College, Orange City, IA 51041, USA.
7
Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Architecture, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA.

Abstract

We report on a study of the effect of peers' interest in high school biology, chemistry, and physics classes on students' STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)-related career intentions and course achievement. We define an interest quorum as a science class where students perceive a high level of interest for the subject matter from their classmates. We hypothesized that students who experience such an interest quorum are more likely to choose STEM careers. Using data from a national survey study of students' experiences in high school science, we compared the effect of five levels of peer interest reported in biology, chemistry, and physics courses on students' STEM career intentions. The results support our hypothesis, showing a strong, positive effect of an interest quorum even after controlling for differences between students that pose competing hypotheses such as previous STEM career interest, academic achievement, family support for mathematics and science, and gender. Smaller positive effects of interest quorums were observed for course performance in some cases, with no detrimental effects observed across the study. Last, significant effects persisted even after controlling for differences in teaching quality. This work emphasizes the likely importance of interest quorums for creating classroom environments that increase students' intentions toward STEM careers while enhancing or maintaining course performance.

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