The University of Nebraska system and the Nebraska Department of Education propose a three-year Strategies project framed around enhancing students interest in and capabilities to successfully pursue STEM and STEM careers, especially targeting underrepresented groups that attend 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The goal of Nebraska Wearable Technologies (WearTec) project is to design, develop and test an effective model for teaching engineering design concepts to fourth through sixth-grade youth, using wearable technologies.
The project seeks to provide students with a technology-rich experience that develops content knowledge in engineering design, electricity, circuitry and computer programing, combined with design and aesthetics, representing an innovative, interdisciplinary STEM context. Project components include student-based activities focused on wearable technologies, professional development workshops and activity guides for certified teachers and after-school educators, as well as a youth recognition system based on digital badges. Our research and evaluation plan will document the impact on youth’s knowledge of engineering design and STEM attitudes, with an emphasis on interest in STEM careers. An advisory board will provide feedback on project directions and consistency with best practices.
The project addresses the scarcity of hands-on, minds-on engineering curriculum for youth in fourth through sixth grade, which is critical in encouraging and developing the next generation of scientists and engineers. To advance the field, our project will explore four research questions including:
- To what extent does the curricular model promote student acquisition of engineering design knowledge and skills, positive attitudes and motivation towards STEM?
- Does the model broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM programs and careers?
- Does the use of digital badges increase student attitudes and motivation towards STEM within the context of wearable technologies?
- Can the bridging of formal and informal STEM learning environments promote student learning and interest in STEM?
The research questions are designed to transform our understanding of methods that foster motivation, interest, and capacity in STEM learning and better prepare youth to successfully pursue STEM and STEM careers.
To reach underrepresented youth and females, the WearTec project is partnering with the Nebraska Department of Educations 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants program. In Nebraska the CCLCs served 4,534 students in fourth through ninth grades, 48 percent were female, 57 percent were from an ethnic minority, 72 percent were eligible for free or reduced lunch, 16 percent were English language learners and 18 percent were verified for special education. During the three years of the project, approximately 600 CLC students and 90 educators will be impacted across Nebraska. The project results will be widely disseminated, enabling other PIs to replace and advance this model for STEM engagement.