Date Approved


Date Posted


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

College of Technology

Committee Member

John Dugger, Ph.D., Committee Chair

Committee Member

Margo Dichtelmiller, PhD., Graduate Representative

Committee Member

Giri Jogaratnam, PhD.

Committee Member

Phillip Cardon, Ph.D.


Georgetown's Public Policy Institute (2013) reported that the fastest growing occupations and the highest demand for college education and training fields will be in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM), healthcare, and community services. One of the K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs' purposes is to promote critical-thinking skills (Johnson, 1992). This study examined the impact of Project Lead The Way Gateway to Technology (PLTW-GTT) units, a middle school STEM program, on the critical-thinking skills of middle school students. Quasi experimental research methods were utilized to test the impact of the completion of two PLTW-GTT foundation units on students' critical thinking scores as measured by the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST). Participants from the sixth- and seventh-grades of a suburban middle school in a Midwestern state formed two sets of treatment and control groups. Students enrolled in the PLTW Design and Modeling (D&M) (63 participants) and Automation and Robotics (A&R) (27 students) units along with two control groups (28 and 19 respectively) completed the CCTST at the beginning and at the end of the units. The results of the study indicated that completion of the PLTW Design and Modeling (DM) unit had a significant positive influence on participants' critical-thinking skills when compared to the control group. The Automation and Robotics (AR) unit had no significant impact on participants' critical-thinking skills when compared to a corresponding control group. There appeared to be some inconsistencies in the data collection steps which may have affected the AR unit results. Therefore, future studies to test the impact of the AR unit on critical thinking are recommended. An additional finding was that both of the PLTW-GTT foundation units influenced the critical-thinking skills of male and female participants similarly. Selected results may be generalized to schools that possess similar characteristics to those possessed by the sample school. Since the sample used for this study did not include a variety of ethnicities or races, it is recommended that future studies include schools with a larger proportion of ethnic and racial diversity. Finally, there was some evidence that experiences at the sample school may be influencing students to pursue STEM careers. This phenomenon should be investigated in future studies.