November 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 7

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Not Your Usual Day at the Mall: A Science Career Fair and an Informal STEM Education Experiment

NSF Acting Director Cora B. Marrett with a group
of students at the ASA booth. Also pictured are
ASA Staff Jean Shin and Margaret Vitullo.

On September 27-28, hundreds of visitors to the Dulles Town Center shopping mall in Northern Virginia learned about sociology, the difference between a census and a sample, how to distinguish independent variables from dependent variables, and the meaning of a p-value in a test of significance. This was all part of the ASA’s booth at the “Change the World: Careers in Science and Engineering” event,  sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the office of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA). 

Working with staff from the “Teaching with Data” project at the University of Michigan, ASA developed an informal STEM education experiment that not only introduced local middle and high school students and other mall-goers to sociology and sociological careers, it also attempted to teach them scientific concepts central to the discipline. After being led through a 15-minute interactive exercise called “Family Structure and Kids’ Health Behaviors,” participants were asked to fill out a “mini-quiz” that included two demographic questions (age, gender) and three substantive questions.  Anyone who participated in the activity and filled out the mini-quiz was then invited to pull a “ticket” from a raffle box for a chance to win one of several iPod Shuffles. Control group data were collected by inviting people in the mall who had not participated in the activity to fill out the mini-quiz. 

By the end of the Career Fair, 472 people had participated in the ASA activity, with 355 in the treatment group and 118 in the control group. Sociologist Cora Marrett, NSF Acting Director and Representative Wolf had both stopped by the booth. Six young people had won a new iPod Shuffle. And, the results of our experiment? The treatment group outscored the control group by 15 points.

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