of an inquiry-based approach to teaching science in increasing students’ long-term interest in science. In interviews conducted several years after completion of the program, program participants pointed to its hands-on, inquiry-based nature as what they best remembered and most enjoyed (Gibson and Chase, 2002).
A large number of other studies also indicate that participation in out-of-school programs focused on science and mathematics can support more positive attitudes toward science, particularly among girls. For example, several noncomparative studies of Operation SMART, an out-of-school-time program for girls ages 6-18, showed increased levels of confidence and comfort with mathematics and science immediately after the program (Building Science and Engineering Talent, 2004). Operation SMART’s curriculum also consists of hands-on, inquiry-based activities.
Project Exploration, an out-of-school-time program that primarily serves students from groups that are typically underrepresented in the sciences—80 percent low income, 90 percent minority, and 73 percent female—has remarkable statistics on participants’ sustained interest in science: 25 percent of all students and 35 percent of female students major in sciences in college (Archer et al., 2003; Project Exploration, 2006). Project Exploration serves students in the Chicago public schools, and an alliance with the school district appears to be strategic in allowing its services to reach a traditionally underserved population. When compared with the graduation rate of students attending the same schools, Project Exploration alumni graduate from high school at a rate 18 percent higher than their peers. These data suggest a positive result, but the basis for selection into the program is not explained in the evaluation reports, other than the statement that “academic achievement is not a requirement for selection into Project Exploration programs…. [I]t is not known whether the students are exactly representative of their respective schools. Additional data [are] needed to increase confidence in this measure” (Project Exploration, 2006, p. 6).
In a program in which African American middle school girls worked on projects with female engineers, participating girls held more positive attitudes toward science class and science careers after participation in the program (Ferreira, 2001). This study emphasized the importance of female mentors in changing the girls’ attitudes toward science (with the caveat that, to be most successful, mentors must have subject matter expertise as well as pedagogical knowledge of cooperative learning strategies).
Two other studies of summer science programs for girls showed similar positive results. A three-year evaluation of Raising Interest in Science and Engineering, a program aimed at increasing middle school girls’ confidence in mathematics and science and decreasing attrition in secondary-level mathematics and science classes reported that 86 percent of participants planned on pursuing careers in mathematics and science, and 52 percent had changed their career plans after participating in the program (Jarvis, 2002).