Date of Conferral







Heather K. Pederson


There is a growing problem with male under-achievement in public education. Boys who are unsuccessful in elementary and middle school are likely to drop out in high school. Engaging at-risk boys could alleviate school dropouts and the resulting consequences. The purpose of this study was to explore at-risk boys' engagement in a middle school model employing collaborative learning, problem-based learning, and technology. The study was framed on the self-determination theory and the idea that competence, autonomy, and relatedness are vital for engagement. A qualitative case study approach was used to explore teachers' views of at-risk boys' engagement. Eleven teachers who implemented the middle school model in a southeastern school district were interviewed individually and then participated in focus group discussions. Interviews and discussion data were coded to identify words and phrases describing engagement and disaffection. Results indicated that collaborative learning was a factor for at-risk boys' disaffection. Problem-based learning and technology use were factors for engagement when implemented with appropriate strategies. These results and the participants' recommendations suggest that individual instruction and coaching during preliminary research are effective supports to put in place before addressing a final project in a problem-based learning project. This study contributed to positive social change in middle school education, benefiting at risk-boys, their families, and communities, by informing current teaching methods and learning environments that are best suited to engage at-risk boys, help them succeed in school, and give them the opportunity to reach their innate potential.