A PROGRAM EVALUATION OF A STEM SUMMER PROGRAM FOR MIDDLE GRADE STUDENTS AND THE INFLUENCE ON ATTITUDES TOWARD STEM AND STEM CAREERS
Aul, Adrienne Elizabeth
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Background: Informal learning environments that focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) provide students the opportunity to delve into hands-on problem-solving approaches in STEM disciplines, exploring in-depth areas and spending time not often available in classrooms throughout the academic year. Research shows that students’ interest in STEM as a career is determined by the time they are in eighth grade. Thus, programs have emerged to provide students an opportunity to cultivate an interest in STEM at a young age. Attending a STEM summer program is one such way to cultivate interest. Purpose: This program evaluation investigated how participation in a weeklong STEM summer program influenced sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students’ interest in STEM disciplines and in STEM careers. The program, named Investigations in Mathematics and Science (iMAS) Academy, was led by university faculty members and sponsored by a STEM Research and Learning Center at a university in East Texas. The study addressed the following questions: 1) To what extent does participating in iMAS Academy influence sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students’ attitude toward STEM disciplines?, and 2) To what extent does participating in iMAS Academy influence sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students’ interest in STEM careers? Methods: This evaluation used a Likert scale survey with additional open-response items to capture participants’ interest in STEM disciplines and STEM careers before and after attending iMAS Academy. Fifty-nine students entering grades six, seven, and eight, from 22 public and private elementary and middle schools and four homeschooled participants attended iMAS Academy. The inquiry-based modules presented during iMAS Academy exposed students to chemistry, computer science, engineering-physics, and geology topics. Quantitative data was analyzed through the StatXact software, using chi-square analysis for aggregated categorical data and McNemar’s Test for individual student response trends. Qualitative data was used to enhance the quantitative findings. Results: These analyses revealed that students’ attitudes and interest in STEM and STEM careers did not change enough from the pre-surveys to the post-surveys to be statistically significant. However, qualitative data showed 10% of students changed their future career choice to a STEM career at the end of iMAS Academy, and overall, after participation in iMAS Academy students were more interested in STEM fields and STEM careers.