Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Lessons Learned from Conducting a K-12 Project to Revitalize Achievement by Using Instrumentation in Science Education

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Lessons Learned from Conducting a K-12 Project to Revitalize Achievement by Using Instrumentation in Science Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

A student's first introduction to engineering and technology is typically through high school science labs. Unfortunately, in many high schools, science labs often make use of antiquated tools that fail to deliver exciting lab content. As a result, many students are turned off by science, fail to excel on standardized science exams, and do not consider engineering as a career option. By using sensors and computerized data acquisition in science labs, project RAISE (Revitalizing Achievement by using Instrumentation in Science Education) sought to enhance students' academic achievement; excite them about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and inspire them to pursue STEM careers. This paper gives an overview of the project along with lessons learned and suggestions for best practices.

Key Words: Best practices, engineering education, high schools, instrumenta- tion, lessons learned, outreach, sen- sors, teacher training.

I. Introduction

American universities have been called upon to recruit, train and gradu- ate large numbers of scientists and engineers in order for the United States to sustain its "innovation economy" (Friedman 2005, CSEP 2006). Over the last 50 years, interest in STEM careers was propelled by the Cold War (Clowse 1981). However, with the end of the Cold War interest in STEM careers waned (CC 2004). This problem is further exacerbated by several unique negative stereotypes of engineering held by American teenagers (NSB 2002). First, en- gineering is held in lower esteem than other professions, such as medicine, law, and business (Hauser and Warren 1996, NAE 2008). Second, society tacitly discourages female students from becoming engineers or scientists (Etzkowitz 1994). Finally, students who excel in math and science are viewed as nerds by their peers.

High school science and math courses have historically been viewed as a "gatekeeper" to higher education. The inherent rigor of science and math, the quality that helps impart the gatekeeper function, also presents great challenges to the U.S. educational system. Notably a shortage of adequately prepared science and math teachers limits the achievement of American K-12 students in STEM disciplines (Rodriguez and Knuth 2000). Unless measures are taken to encourage students' and teachers' interests in math and science, and assist them to learn, many students fall by the wayside and are de facto denied academic and professional achievement opportunities (Ingersol and Perda 2009, Jeffers et al 2004).

Against this backdrop, Project RAISE conducted an array of activities to create an exciting and engaging outreach program that enriched the educa- tional experience of high school students. These activities included: (1) re- cruiting, training, and deploying engineering "Fellows" in five high schools; (2) addressing workforce diversity issues by encouraging inner city students to pursue challenging academic work, meet high achievement standards, and acquire a passion for STEM disciplines; (3) imparting technology literacy to teachers; (4) developing modern sensor-based activities relevant for grades 9-12; (5) mentoring of Fellows by faculty and teachers; (6) conducting an an- nual summer workshop on pedagogy for Fellows; (7) conducting an annual summer technical training workshop for teachers; and (8) conducting project assessment. This paper provides an overview of the project along with lessons learned and suggestions for best practices. A recent paper contains assessment results (Iskander and Kapila 2012).

II. Project Rationale

In the last 50 years, even as the United States has witnessed a tremendous interest and expenditure in school reform, a vast majority of these efforts have been futile. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2010) only 29 percent of fourth graders are proficient in science and an alarmingly low 18 percent of 12th graders are proficient in science. Performance in math also deteriorates as students advance in the K-12 system (Snyder and Dil- low 2010). …

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