Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The purpose of the current study is to examine middle school students' attitudes toward math, intent to pursue STEM-related education and occupations, and STEM interest from middle school to high school. The data used in this study are from a larger, on-going National Science Foundation (NSF) grant-funded study that is investigating middle school students' disengagement while using the Assistments system (Baker, Heffernan & San Pedro, 2012), a computer-based math tutoring system. The NSF grant study aims to explore how disengagement with STEM material can aid in the prediction of students' college enrollment as well as how it may interact with other factors affecting students' career choices (San Pedro, Baker, Bowers, Heffernan, 2013). Participants are students from urban and suburban schools in Massachusetts measured first in middle school and again four years later. Measures at Time 1 included: various items related to attitudes toward mathematics, occupations they could see themselves doing as adults, and the Brief Self-Control Scale (Tangney, Baumeister, & Luzio Boone, 2004). Measures at Time 2 included: items requesting the students' current mathematics and science courses and intended majors or occupations following high school graduation. Exploratory factor analysis, multiple regression and logistic regression analyses were used to test the following four hypotheses: I. There will be several distinct factors that emerge to provide information about middle school students' attitudes toward math; II. Students' attitudes toward math will correlate positively and significantly with students' intent to pursue STEM-related careers at Time 1 with a medium effect; III. Middle school attitudes toward mathematics will relate positively and significantly to level of high school mathematics and science courses with a medium effect; IV. Middle school intent to pursue STEM will correlate positively and significantly with high school intent to pursue STEM majors/careers with a medium effect. Results supported a 2-factor model of Attitudes toward Mathematics consisting of Math Self-Concept and Attitudes toward Assistments. Other significant findings include: a positive relationship between students' Attitudes toward Assistments and level of math class taken in high school; a positive relationship between students' Math Self-Concept and Self Control; a positive relationship between Self Control and students' endorsement of STEM careers while in middle school, and discrepancy between male and female students' endorsement of STEM careers as early as middle school. Although many of the study's primary hypotheses were not supported, the present study provides a framework and baseline for several important considerations. Limitations, including those related to the present study's small sample size, and future implications of the present study, which add to career development literature in STEM, are discussed in regard to both research and practice.
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