Learning Happens Everywhere: Connected STEM Learning in One Community

Friday, 14 February 2014
Columbus CD (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
John H. Falk , Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Learning happens everywhere and anywhere, and while this mantra is gaining traction, little research exists showing precisely how children and youth migrate through a complex local ecology of STEM or science learning opportunities. Ongoing research in a low-income part of Portland, Oregon as part of the Synergies project is shedding light on this issue. Our study seeks to improve a single community’s understanding of how STEM interest develops and how STEM education providers within a community can support that development. We focus on interest rather than other constructs (e.g. attitudes, knowledge, school performance) because research shows that children who have an interest in STEM are significantly more likely to be motivated learners in STEM; they are more likely to seek out challenge and difficulty, use effective learning strategies, and make use of feedback.  In addition, children whose interest in STEM is developed and sustained are highly likely to become adults who pursue STEM interests at home and at work and make STEM-informed decisions. Our target population is middle-school aged youth since this is the age when critical STEM education and even career decisions begin to be made.  Our initial data suggests that critical triggers are: 1) connections between experiences in and out-of-school; 2) guidance by adults (e.g., parents, teachers, coaches, or other significant adults); and 3) peer relationships. The purpose of our 4-year, longitudinal design-based research study is to develop an innovative approach for empowering whole communities to envision and create a better, more effective community-wide STEM education system. To accomplish this we are working with as many key stakeholders in the community as possible – parents, schools, after school providers, informal education institutions like science centers and the zoo, libraries, business and industry partners and community welfare agencies – to build a coordinated approach designed to create data-driven educational strategies to support middle school youth STEM learning.  The premise of the project is that if one more fully understood how and why people, in particular early adolescent children, develop STEM-related interests through the utilization of STEM resources and engagement in STEM activities, it should be possible to create a more synergistic and effective STEM education system; a system that more successfully supports STEM learning for all.  The key feature is defining the “STEM education system” as the learning resources/assets of the entire community.