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Abstract

Research shows that high spatial ability is linked to success and persistence in STEM. Empirical investigations often report a gender gap in favor of male students. The purpose of this research study was to assess changes to 9th grade engineering students’ spatial visualization skills through engagement in a nine-week collaborative 3-D printed prosthetics project embedded within their existing ‘‘Beginning Concepts of Engineering’’ course curriculum. Using concurrent mixed methods, this study examined pre-/post-test scores on the Revised Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotations (Revised PSVT:R) in connection with gender, course grades, and level of involvement in the project. Both male and female students’ spatial visualization skills improved overall through the project. Higher levels of project involvement had a positive correlation with students’ Revised PSVT:R scores, and semester course grades. Female students had lower Revised PSVT:R scores than their male peers before and after the project; however, females experienced statistically significant gains in their post-project Revised PSVT:R scores. The trend of the closing gender gap that is evidenced by the female and male students’ mean scores suggests that a novel collaborative project, which includes hands-on, spatially-rich activities, can help female students catch up on their spatial visualization and mental rotation skills. This impact is increased when students dedicate more time to the project.

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