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Mentoring in informal settings supports youth identity development

January 01, 2016

This Knowledge Base article was written collaboratively with contributions from Karen Knutson and CAISE Admin. This article was migrated from a previous version of the Knowledge Base. The date stamp does not reflect the original publication date.

Overview 

Studies of mentoring and informal science programs have shown that adult mentors can play an important role in facilitating the development of positive identities for youth in ISE by providing youth with opportunities to see themselves as capable of knowing, understanding, and doing science (NRC, 2009). Rhodes and Lowe’s (2008) mentoring model describes mentors as supporting youth in three ways: socio-emotionally, cognitively, and in identity development. Rhodes (2005) theorizes that as youth may view mentors as role models, these influences inform their decision making and perceptions of their future possibilities. Deutsch and Spencer (2009) suggest that the approach mentors take to working with youth is an important factor in the success of mentoring relationships in developing positive youth identities. For example, mentors who understand the values and worldviews of the youth with which they work, can help to foster the negotiation of bicultural identities for youth (Liang & West, 2007). Other research supports the view that mentors may be able to offer youth unique resources by drawing from their culturally similar experiences (Liang & West, 2007).

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

Mentorship in Underrepresented Groups

Though there are few studies of formal mentoring in ISE, current research shows that STEM environments where youth and adult mentors collaborate in the learning process help youth from groups that are historically underrepresented in sciences leverage their everyday experiences and expertises as they participate in STEM activities (c.f. Barron, Martin, Takeuchi, & Fithian, 2009; Brickhouse & Potter, 2001; Brown, 2004; Calabrese Barton, 2003; DeGennaro & Brown, 2009; Gee, 2004). Mentorship through apprenticeship can positively influence how youth conceive of themselves as science-oriented. For example, Stake (2006) found that social encouragement from teachers and parents is an important predictor of youths’ scientific attitudes. These social supports are potentially an important aspect of identity development (Hsu et al., 2009) as they provide a network of resources for youth to see themselves as people who can participate in STEM. Additionally, Barron, Martin, Takeuchi, and Fithian (2009) found that parents can play a variety of roles that support youth learning in science, such as teacher, learning broker, or resource provider. Adults who allow youth to draw on their own discursive patterns, funds of knowledge and their associated identities can help youth breakdown some of the barriers they may feel between their everyday lives and science (Brown, 2004; Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2009).

Cognitive Apprenticeship Model

Through collaboration between adult mentors and youth in a cognitive apprenticeship model, youth can engage in inquiry with guidance (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). In this way, processes are made visible to youth through a variety of authentic contexts that allow students to transfer learning across settings throughout their lives, including informal and formal learning environments. For example, Farland-Smith (2009) found that girls who worked “side by side” with scientists in a community of practice developed and expanded their understandings and positive perceptions of scientists and doing science. This process has the potential to allow youth to deepen their participation in a cultural community (Lave & Wenger, 1991). It has led some researchers examine mentorship programs where students work alongside scientists during a summer camp or internship in a laboratory. These studies suggest that mentorships between scientists and youth with opportunities for critical reflection can lead to deeper levels of understanding of science and scientists’ work (Rahm, 2007), open up youths’ interest in science, and understanding of careers in science (Bell et al., 2003), and can help undo student’s narrow notions of science and scientists’ work (Barab & Hay, 2001; Bleicher, 1996).

Mentorship between Graduate Students and Youth

Bruce, Bruce, Conrad and Huang (1997) proposed yet another form of mentorship, between graduate students and youth in school. Throughout the academic school year, graduate students may either assist a teacher with science projects or offer a science club in the afterschool hours. They argue that graduate students may be even better role models and mentors of youth than scientists given their age yet also on-going presence over time which makes possible the development of relationships between youth and the graduate students that matter. As shown by Richmond and Kurth (1999), the role students play in such mentorship projects are crucial as well. The authors argue that such collaborations make available resources that can then be picked up by youth and mobilised for their identity work in science. Yet, access to the resources is tied in complex ways to the roles youth get to take on in such mentorships and science practices over time. Communities that matter help students move from the periphery to the center in supportive relationships with ongoing feedback and moments for reflection upon their work and role in the community

References 

Barab, S. A., & Hay, K. E. (2001). Doing science at the elbows of experts: Issues related to the science apprenticeship camp. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 70–102.

Barron, B., Martin, C., Takeuchi, L., & Fithian, R. (2009). Parents as learning partners and the development of technological fluency. International Journal of Learning and Media, 1(2), 55-77.  Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/research/ic-000-000-009-663/Parents_as_Learning_Partners

Bell, R. L., Blair, L. M., Crawford, B. A., & Lederman, N. G. (2003). Just do it? Impact of a science apprenticeship program on high school students’ understandings of the nature of science and scientific inquiry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(5), 487-509.

Bleicher, R. E. (1996). High school students learning science in university research laboratories. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33(10), 1115-1133.

Brickhouse, N. W., & Potter, J. T. (2001). Young women’s scientific identity formation in an urban context. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(8), 965-980.

Brown, B. A. (2004). Discursive identity: Assimilation into the culture of science and its implications for minority students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(8), 810-834.

Bruce, B. C., Bruce, S. P., Conrad, R. L., & Huang, H.-J. (1997). University science students as curriculum planners, teachers, and role models in elementary school classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34(1), 69-88.

Calabrese Barton, A. (2003). Teaching science for social justice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Calabrese Barton, A., & Tan, E. (2009). Funds of knowledge and discourses and hybrid space. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(1), 50-73.  Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/research/ic-000-000-009-686/Funds_of_Knowledge_and_Discourses_and_Hybrid_Space

Collins, A., Brown, J. S., & Holm, A. (1991). Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible. American Educator, 6(11), 38-46.

Deutsch, N. L., & Spencer, R. (2009). Capturing the magic: Assessing the quality of youth mentoring relationships. New Directions for Youth Development, (121), 47- 70.

Farland-Smith, D. (2009). Exploring Middle School Girls’ Science Identities: Examining Attitudes and Perceptions of Scientists when Working “Side-by-Side” with Scientists. School Science and Mathematics, 109(7), 415-427.  Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/research/ic-000-000-009-685/Exploring_Middle_School_Girls’_Science_Identities

Gee, J.P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.

Hsu, P.-L., Roth, W.-M., Marshall, A., & Guenette, F. (2009). To be or not to be? Discursive resources for (Dis-)identifying with science-related careers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(10), 1114-1136.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Liang, B. & West, J. (2007). Youth Mentoring: Do race and ethnicity really matter? MENTOR: Research in Action, Issue 9. Retrieved from http://www.mentoring.org/downloads/mentoring_390.pdf

National Research Council. (2009). Learning science in informal environments: people,places, and pursuits. Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments. P. Bell, B. Lewenstein, A.W. Shouse, & M.A. Feder (Eds.). Board on Science Education, Center for Education, Division of Behavior and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.  Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/research/ic-000-000-002-024/LSIE

Rahm, J. (2007). Youths’ and scientists’ authoring and positioning within science and scientists’ work. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 1(3), 517-544.

Rhodes, J. E. (2005). A theoretical model of youth mentoring. In D. L. DuBois & M. A. Karcher (Eds.) Handbook of youth mentoring. (p. 30-43).Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Press.

Rhodes, J.E. & Lowe, S. (2008). Youth mentoring: Improving programs through research- based practice. Youth and Policy, 14, 9-17.

Richmond, G., & Kurth, L. A. (1999). Moving from outside to inside: High school students’ use of apprenticeships as vehicles for entering the culture and practice of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(6), 677-697.

Stake, J. (2006). The critical mediating role of social encouragement for science motivation and confidence among high school girls and boys. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(4), 1017-1045.