Advanced Cognitive Abilities of Incoming STEM Students
AuthorLeverington, Michael Ernest
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This project studied cognitive levels of incoming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students entering two foundational introductory courses. The first goal of the study was to seek distinct or identifiable differences in students entering each course that would indicate the stage-like difference in cognitive abilities that Piaget (1959) proposed. The second goal of the study was to identify differences in advanced cognitive ability of students after attending an introductory Calculus course and an introductory Calculus-based Physics course. The study also sought to identify the impact of other demographic or informational conditions such as gender, class level, or the course taken might have on the resulting cognitive differences. No significant division between lower level and higher level cognitive abilities was found that would support organizing students into the two groups. However, a more gradual cognitive change was found in students' cognitive scores over time which contradicts Piaget's theories (1972) but supports others' (Keil, 2006; Kuhn, 2006). In addition, significant cognitive changes were not found in the students as a whole from the beginning of the course until a time ten weeks later, although some significant findings indicated that part of the group experienced an increase in cognitive ability. Beyond this finding, a significant difference was found between the pre-test scores of the students taking the Calculus course for the first time, and the post-test scores of students who were retaking the Calculus course, indicating that longer interaction with the learning might have an effect on cognitive growth, although other variables must be considered. Finally, differences were found between females' post-test scores with respect to males' post-test scores, between the female and male score differences from pre-test to post-test, and when female and male pre- to post- test scores were tested independently. There was no difference found between males and females in the pre-test scores themselves, so there is some evidence that males experienced more cognitive growth over the term than females. The research demonstrates the ability to measure cognitive ability and potentially advanced cognitive ability even if only in a relative way.