"Engaging in Science Practices in Classrooms Predicts Increases in Undergraduates' STEM Motivation, Identity, and Achievement"
Our short-term longitudinal study explored undergraduate students' experiences with performing authentic science practices in the classroom in relation to their science achievement and course grades. In addition, classroom experiences (felt recognition as a scientist and perceived classroom climate) and changes over a 10-week academic term in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) identity and motivation were tested as mediators. The sample comprised 1,079 undergraduate students from introductory biology classrooms (65.4% women, 37.6% Asian, 30.2% White, 25.1% Latinx). Using structural equation modeling (SEM), our hypothesized model was confirmed while controlling for class size and GPA. Performing science practices (e.g., hypothesizing or explaining results) positively predicted students' felt recognition as a scientist; and felt recognition positively predicted perceived classroom climate. In turn, felt recognition and classroom climate predicted increases over time in students' STEM motivation (expectancy-value beliefs), STEM identity, and STEM career aspirations. Finally, these factors predicted students' course grade. Both recognition as a scientist and positive classroom climate were more strongly related to outcomes among underrepresented minority (URM) students. Findings have implications for why large-format courses that emphasize opportunities for students to learn science practices are related to positive STEM outcomes, as well as why they may prove especially helpful for URM students. Practical implications include the importance of recognition as a scientist from professors, teaching assistants, and classmates in addition to curriculum that engages students in the authentic practices of science.