Poster Title

Opportunity and Access to Informal STEM Learning Environments

Grade Level at Time of Presentation

Junior

Major

STEM Education/Mathematics

2nd Grade Level at Time of Presentation

Junior

2nd Student Major

Elementary Education

Institution

University of Kentucky

KY House District #

75

KY Senate District #

13

Department

College of STEM Education

Abstract

Informal STEM learning experiences can provide context for and extend students’ learning in formal STEM learning environments (Roberts et al., 2018). Not restricted by constraints faced by formal school settings (Myers et al., 2013), informal learning environments allow for real-world modeling examples (Martin, 2004; Meredith, 2010) and help students better understand concepts (Popovic & Lederman, 2015). Moreover, participation in informal learning environments has been shown to increase students interest in STEM (Mohr-Schroeder et al., 2014; Baran et al., 2016). Given the need to spark students’ interest in STEM and to address limitations many students experience in formal mathematics instruction, we used a situated learning perspective to answer the following research question: how does participation in an informal STEM learning environment influence middle school students’ perceptions of STEM? Using naturalistic inquiry and a situated learning lens, we analyzed 254 unique student interview transcripts collected from informal STEM learning experiences at three different universities in the United States. Two primary themes emerged from the data. The informal learning environment (a) provided students with creative problem solving opportunities and (b) allowed for the exploration of applications of STEM, particularly in robotics. Using authentic STEM activities allowed students to engage in the process of science and mathematics and develop an appreciation for authentic applications of STEM content.

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Opportunity and Access to Informal STEM Learning Environments

Informal STEM learning experiences can provide context for and extend students’ learning in formal STEM learning environments (Roberts et al., 2018). Not restricted by constraints faced by formal school settings (Myers et al., 2013), informal learning environments allow for real-world modeling examples (Martin, 2004; Meredith, 2010) and help students better understand concepts (Popovic & Lederman, 2015). Moreover, participation in informal learning environments has been shown to increase students interest in STEM (Mohr-Schroeder et al., 2014; Baran et al., 2016). Given the need to spark students’ interest in STEM and to address limitations many students experience in formal mathematics instruction, we used a situated learning perspective to answer the following research question: how does participation in an informal STEM learning environment influence middle school students’ perceptions of STEM? Using naturalistic inquiry and a situated learning lens, we analyzed 254 unique student interview transcripts collected from informal STEM learning experiences at three different universities in the United States. Two primary themes emerged from the data. The informal learning environment (a) provided students with creative problem solving opportunities and (b) allowed for the exploration of applications of STEM, particularly in robotics. Using authentic STEM activities allowed students to engage in the process of science and mathematics and develop an appreciation for authentic applications of STEM content.