Research ArticleEDUCATION

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

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Science Advances  09 Aug 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 8, e1700046
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700046

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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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