Increasing Student Interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM): Massachusetts STEM Pipeline Fund Programs Using Promising Practices prepared for the Massachusetts Department Of Higher Education March 201 1 Acknowledgements Increasing Student Interest in STEM The concept for this report evolved from valuable conversations with the former Pipeline Director, David McCauley and from Program Manger, Keith Connors. Information in this report has been compiled from reports and data submitted by Pipeline funded programs over the past five years.
Many stakeholders have been involved with these programs including students, cheers, parents, industry professionals, and others throughout the state. It is their support, the ongoing work of the dedicated professionals leading these programs, and the thoughtful work of their local evaluators that have made this overview possible. Special thanks should be given to the thousands of students and teachers who participated in these programs all over the state and provided their feedback and insights.
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Frequently, a single organization implemented two or three programs with different approaches and objectives and local evaluators conducted tailored evaluations specifically for each program. As a result, each program was considered separately for inclusion in this report. Program profiles: Each program profile is two to three pages long, and begins with an overview of the program’s purpose and design. Following the overview, information on the target population, program length, frequency (I. E. , one-time offering or rise), and program setting (I. . , in-school or out-of-school) is provided. Profiles include descriptions Of the evaluation methods used, and provide summaries of the student interest and other outcome data collected. They conclude with brief commentary on the program’s use of the research- supported promising practices discussed in the Introduction, and a summary of challenges and lessons described in program reports. The profiles are presented in three groups according to whether program outcome data indicated that a “measurable” change in student interest had taken place: (1)
Programs that conducted pre-post assessments where results showed measurable increases in student interest, (2) Programs that conducted pre- post assessments where no measurable change in student interest was identified, and (3) Programs that used post-only or qualitative assessments where no measurable change was identified. Definitions of measurable and other terms are at the end of this section. Brief summaries of each program profiled, and its evaluation results, are provided below.
Programs that Conducted Pre-Post Assessments: Results Showed Measurable Increases in Student Interest BioTech Career Pathways: Norfolk County Agricultural High School partnered with a hospital, college and veterinary school to offer two opportunities for students to be exposed to biotech and other STEM careers. A six-week internship for juniors included observing surgeries, using advanced radiography, performing necropolis and tissue harvesting. Workshops for seniors covered agro-terrorism, homology, laboratory biostatic, Zionism and public health.
Results: High school seniors’ and juniors’ average rating of their level of awareness of, interest in and motivation to pursue STEM related careers was higher after their internship and workshop experiences. DIGITS: Professionals employed in STEM fields visited sixth grade classrooms in order to increase student interest in, and understanding of, STEM careers. These “STEM Ambassadors” lead discussions about the importance of math and science, shared their experience working in STEM, and lead hands-on activities designed to stimulate discussion and challenge stereotypes about STEM careers.
Additional elements included a poster, website and music video. Results: Results of pre-post surveys of students showed a measurable improvement in students’ positive attitudes toward STEM subjects and jobs. The strength of students’ agreement with statements that math, science or technology (each asked separately) was “interesting” or “fun” increased as well as the percentage of students who viewed STEM jobs as fun and exciting.
Engineering is Elementary: Over 200 elementary teachers from four districts were trained in this curriculum, which uses hands-on, inquiry-based experiences to encourage learning in STEM subjects, particularly engineering and technology. It is available from the Boston Museum of Science and is aligned with state education frameworks. Results: A review of raw data indicated there was a positive shift in students’ sense of self-efficacy in math and science. Student responses demonstrated more positive views of becoming an engineer on the post survey.
While only 25% of students initially agreed with the statement “When grow up I want to be an engineer,” 35% agreed with this statement after the program. Got Math? : Elementary and middle school students participated in a series of math after-school instructional activities. Students then visited local businesses where they had the opportunity to apply the math skills learned to a real life situation. Activities were intended to improve students’ skills and attitudes toward math. Results: Pre-post survey results showed a measurable increase in students’ sense of self-efficacy regarding math.
Responses to other questions that asked how much students liked math, enjoyed math puzzles or would like to participate in activities such as math club, did not demonstrate changes. STEM Summer Camps: Middle school students participated in two, five-day long camps: “Sustainability and the Environment” and “Biotechnology and Forensics. ” The camps were designed to engage students in fun, hands-on, intent-based inquiry science that would develop their subject knowledge and awareness of careers in STEM fields.
Results: The percentage of students who stated they viewed science as “fun” rose after participation in each camp, from 45% to 66% after the Sustainability camp and 61 % to 72% after the Forensics camp. Programs that Conducted Pre-Post Assessments: No Measurable Change in Student Interest Identified Engineering the Future by Design: Middle school teachers attended a two-day summer engineering curriculum workshop. They were encouraged to implement the curriculum, which included hands-on activities, with their students the following school year.
Subjects included: Wind Turbines, Bottle Rockets, Structures & Supports, and Hydroponics. Results: Pre-post surveys that were designed to assess students’ preference for STEM or engineering activities over other activities did not show any measurable changes after the program. However, the evaluator reported observing a high level of student participation and interest in the classroom activities. Teacher participants also reported a high level of satisfaction with the curriculum. STEM Fellows and Leaders Project: Teachers received thirty hours of reflections development to increase content knowledge and pedagogical skills.
They then worked in teams to design and implement strategic “Capstone Plans” to increase the numbers and performance of students interested in STEM subjects and careers in their districts. Results: Results of pre-post surveys designed to assess the program’s effect on students’ interest in STEM were inconclusive. According to the local evaluator, students generally indicated positive attitudes and beliefs about STEM subjects prior to the program, which made it difficult to show a positive change in interest.
Teachers who responded to a post-only survey reported an increase in their own sense of self-efficacy and their belief in the importance of promoting and teaching STEM. STEM Rays: Students in fourth through eighth grade participated in after- school science clubs, conducted authentic scientific research throughout the school year. Groups were led by certified teachers who received professional development and monthly guidance from scientists and researchers at local colleges. Results: Pre-post survey results did not indicate any measurable change in students’ interest in pursuing STEM careers.
However, other alliterative information gathered from surveys, observations and interviews with teachers, parents and administrators suggest participation may have increased student interest in STEM. Programs that Used Post-only or Qualitative Assessments: No Measurable Change Identified Berkshire STEM Career Fair: This annual career fair introduced high school students to STEM careers and professionals. Each year, 15 to 25 area business/employer representatives participated as exhibitors, provided displays with information about their companies, and talked with students about potential career opportunities.
Results: Nearly eighty percent (79%) of students who responded to a post-program survey reported the fair helped them realize that the math and science they take in school will affect their future career options. Over one third (35%) indicated they were thinking more about going into a high-tech career than before the fair. More than two thirds reported the career fair made them realize that a STEM career could be interesting. Family Science Programs: Middle school students and their parents participated in hands-on learning activities together.
Activities were led by STEM professionals and were intended to introduce students to STEM arrears. Programs were offered in out-of-school environments with activity topics, timing, and frequency varying greatly. Results: Students surveyed after the program reported that their interest in and understanding of STEM subjects and careers increased as a result of their participation. Parents’ responses to pre-post surveys did not indicate expectations for their child’s science course taking in high school had changed.
Massachusetts Region I Middle and High School Science Fairs: 350 students from western Massachusetts entered projects on science, math or engineering subjects. Students often spent months doing research before they presented their exhibit at the fairs. Top projects could advance to compete at the state, national and international fairs. Results: When high school students responded to a survey conducted after the fair, 41 % indicated that participating in the fair was a “very important” or “important” benefit in “building my confidence in my science abilities. 72% reported that they are planning on majoring in a STEM field in college and 74% indicted they were considering a career in a STEM field. Saturday STEM Academy: Eighth-grade students and their parents articulated in STEM-related activities over four Saturdays. Each day involved a field trip to a different location to participate in hands-on activities and meet STEM professionals. The program was to increase undeserved students’ interest in STEM academics and careers.
Results: Two-thirds of student respondents to a post-program survey agreed they were now more motivated to ‘Study math and science in high school” and “to prepare myself to go to college. ” All students agreed with “Math and Science is important for me to be successful in life” and over 80% of agreed that the subjects of math, science and engineering are important and interesting. STEM (Central) Career Awareness Conferences: These Saturday conferences were designed to provide middle school students with STEM career information and inspire interest in STEM.
Each one included a large group keynote address or panel discussion in which one or more professionals shared how and why they became employed in STEM, and the challenges and rewards they encountered. Students rotated through small-group workshops delivered by STEM professionals who interacted with students and often offered hands-on activities related to their work. Results: According to open- ended questions asked after the program, the majority of students reported their interest in STEM subjects and careers had increased. The percentage of respondents indicating increased interest was not reported. –Results and Recommendations: The thirteen programs profiled in this report highlight that the Pipeline Fund has supported a wide variety of programs across the state, reaching students from elementary through high school. All of the programs profiled in this report employed practices that have been described as promising in research literature. The diverse approaches of the programs, and the resulting variation in evaluation methods and outcome data, made it challenging to make other broad-based statements regarding their effect on student interest in STEM.
Five of the thirteen programs profiled in this report provided data that demonstrated a measurable increase in student interest after program participation. While the remaining programs did not demonstrate a measurable change in student interest, results often suggest that changes in student interest occurred, but were not fully captured by the evaluation methods used. These results mirror similar studies across the country, as others have found it challenging to assess student interest and to make generalized statements about the effect of STEM education programming, particularly in informal settings.
The same variety that makes it difficult to make broad statements about the influence of STEM programming on student interest in Massachusetts may also be the state’s strength. No single program will ever be able to meet the needs of all students when it comes to encouraging student interest in STEM. However, the range of Pipeline programs offered throughout the state made t possible for students of all ages and levels of interest to participate in local programming appropriate to their age, ability and interest level.
Those who implement STEM programs in the future have a range Of programs and evaluation methods to draw upon as potential models. Below are recommendations to strengthen and support implementation and assessment of student STEM interest programs. These recommendations, which come from recent literature, could benefit future Massachusetts programs: 1 . Compile a list of tools to assess STEM programming for future programs to draw upon. This report provides examples of instruments and questions that were used by the programs to assess student interest.
Linking program developers to other existing sources of instruments commonly used in the field could also be helpful. The National Science Foundation and others have supported the creation of such compilations. 2. Standardize a small number of student interest evaluation questions to ask across all programs, even if program designs vary. Massachusetts could encourage the use of identical, age-appropriate questions to be asked of students who participate in STEM programming.