Research

This past June (2014), PYW had the chance to put some of our work in front of 36 sixth- graders (18 girls & 18 boys) from School 23 in the RCSD. These kids are exactly whom we’re trying to reach, so this was a great opportunity for us. Our thanks to the kids, teachers and administrators of School 23 for their help and support.

This investigation focused on gravity. We wanted to see if we could help kids get past some misconceptions (e.g., that gravity only pulls DOWN) and develop a clearer understanding of this basic part of their physical world.

What We Did

As part of their regular science lesson, kids were first asked to answer a set of questions that measured their current understanding of gravity. The questions were both very broad (e.g., What is gravity?) and more specifically tied to the video they were going to watch (e.g., Does a tennis ball have gravity?). They were also asked to explain their answers in their own words.

The kids then watched a roughly 9 minute video (Gravity: Parts 1-4) produced by Prove Your World. The gravity video is structured around the Inquiry Approach to science and grounded in the Next Generation Science Standards (2013) based on the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education. The standards are considered the “framework” of science education in the U.S.

After watching the video once, kids answered the same science questions about gravity again and also told us what they thought of the video itself. There was no instruction beyond the video itself.

The Results

Kids were only given credit for understanding a particular point (e.g., gravity pulls sideways) if they could provide a substantially correct explanation for their response (e.g., this is true because gravity pulls in all directions). Copies of the questions and scoring system are available from PYW.

•The kids’ understanding of gravity was noticeably limited at first (17.5% correct) and increased dramatically after watching the video (56.5% correct). This is a 39% increase in correct responses overall after viewing the 9-minute video just once.

• The increase in girls’ understanding was actually slightly greater (41% increase for girls vs. a 37% increase for boys). Girls were also just as confident in their understanding as boys (4.22/5.0 scale for both genders). These results are especially powerful given the ongoing concerns with girls’ performance in STEM education. Girls can do less well and are less confident even when right.

• The kids also liked the video. The average opinions about the video ranged from 3.44-4.39 on a 5-point scale with an average response of 3.95/5.0. This corresponds to the kids feeling “very good” about the experience. Girls are generally even more positive than boys.

results

Questions asked:

1. Does a tennis ball have gravity? Why/Why not?

2. Does a star have gravity? Why/Why not?

3. Do you pull on the earth because of gravity? Why/Why not?

4. Does gravity pull sideways? Why/Why not?

Next Steps

The inquiry approach using puppet characters, age appropriate humor, and real experiments clearly works for both boys AND girls in public school classrooms. We are seeking funding to develop and present additional STEM videos to further validate and expand our approach.