Studio STEM: Engaging Middle School Students in Networked Science and Engineering Projects
More than 200 grade 5-8 youth from low-income rural communities in southwestern Virginia participate in design-based science learning in after school and summer camp experiences where digital tools and social media are tightly intertwined.
Studio STEM employs active, inquiry-based learning through engineering design activities to promote conceptual change and problem solving techniques using information and communications technology (ICT). The project aims to engage and encourage rural Appalachian middle grade students to pursue STEM using fundamental concepts in energy conservation and sustainability through an informal design-based studio. This setting allows students to creatively explore and share problems and solutions by documenting their experiences using personal blogs. The project builds on a previously piloted interdisciplinary curriculum, Save the Animals, developed in partnership with the Virginia Middle School Engineering Education initiative and focuses on solving energy-related problems that explore relevant environmental issues affecting animals and humans. For this project, four curriculum modules are presented and grouped in themes by year. Students explore and design around energy transfer in Save the Penguins (energy efficient dwellings), alternative energy generation in Save the Fish (hydroelectric dams) and Save the Bats (wind turbines), and alternative transportation in Save the Seagulls (solar cars). All modules incorporate the 5-E learning cycle (engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate). Student participants interact with selected undergraduate volunteers from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, and industry/community partners. At completion, Studio STEM will have served over 300 students in grades 6-8 and trained over 200 middle school teachers and undergraduate volunteers to implement the design-based curriculum through a series of professional development workshops. External evaluation consists of both formative (using a mixed methods approach) and summative assessment, utilizing online surveys, observations, and focus groups designed specifically for the project.