Parents, Utility Value, and Motivating Adolescents in Mathematics and Science

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

Students are lost from careers in science because students do not take ambitious mathematics and science courses in high school. Using both longitudinal and experimental methods, we test whether increases in parents' understanding of the utility value (usefulness) of high school math and science courses leads them to convey this information to their teen and whether this results in more science and math course taking. The research is based in expectancy-value theory and interest theory and addresses the issue of motivating adolescents in mathematics and science.


This is a field study of family interactions in the home, based on an initial sample of Wisconsin residents, some of whom have moved to other states. School records will also be collected from the more than 100 schools that the youth attend.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is longitudinal and experimental and is designed to generate evidence that is associative/correlational through longitudinal predictions, and causal. The intervention includes a brochure on utility value mailed to parents, and a website on utility value for parents and teens, with the comparison condition being no brochure and no access to the website.

This project collects original data using school records, videography, and survey research including an online self-completion questionnaire.

We will use ANOVA and MANOVA methods to analyze differences between intervention and control groups. We will use multiple regression, SEM, and HLM to analyze longitudinal data.


We conducted a field experiment testing whether a theory-based intervention designed to help parentsconvey the importance of mathematics and science courses totheir teens would lead their teens to take more mathematics andscience courses in high school. The three-part interventionconsisted of two brochures mailed to parents and a website, all highlighting the usefulness of STEM courses. This relatively simple intervention led students whose parents were in the experimental group to take on average nearly one semester more of science and mathematics in the last 2 years of high school, compared with the control group. Parents are an untapped resource for increasing STEM motivation in adolescents, and the results demonstrate that motivational theory can be applied to this important problem.

Publications & Presentations: 

Under review.