A Sleep Education Program to Improve STEM education in Elementary School
Over five hundred urban 4th-5th grade students are engaged through the use of technology in an innovative STEM curriculum with sleep as the lesson conduit to increase skills and interest in STEM and foster critical thinking and communication skills.
This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by engaging young learners in authentic science investigations and linking them to STEM-related professions. The project will address a real-world issue, sleep insufficiency, and its health consequences, as an innovative means to foster interests and engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among elementary school students. Partnering with the Catalina Foothills School District, researchers at the University of Arizona will develop, implement, and evaluate a new STEM education program that includes: a) a novel set of sleep science lessons developed in collaboration with Biological Sciences Curriculum Study; b) project-based learning experiences; and c) out-of-school exposure to STEM professionals and opportunities for students to present findings from their own investigations. The project will also develop a teacher professional development component tailored to the new program, and a strategy for increasing parental involvement in the learning process. Portable devices will enable students to track sleep patterns in their own natural environments, and all data will be routed to a new, online platform, MySleep, which will provide real-time feedback, options for communications with teachers and parents, and data analysis capabilities. Through partnerships with businesses and organizations, a set of supplemental resources will be developed for parents and caregivers, including webinars and interactive presentations. Study of all these project components will provide data about strategies caregivers and teachers can adopt to promote among young students greater understanding of STEM fields, improved proficiency in STEM skills, and greater interest in pursuing STEM education pathways and careers.
This is a three-year design and development study that will employ a quasi-experimental design with a non-equivalent control group in years two and three to examine student and parent outcomes from field tests of newly developed sleep study lessons. Following the initial year of curriculum development, participants in the first cohort of field trials during year 2 will include approximately 220 students across four 4th grade classrooms and four 5th grade classrooms in one elementary school. Another set of 4th and 5th grade classrooms in a school having similar demographics in the same school district will serve as a comparison group. Following curriculum revisions based on findings of the initial field test during year 2, refined sleep study lessons will be implemented in the classrooms of approximately 440 students in the 4th and 5th grades across the same two schools in year 3. Outcomes to be measured include student interests in STEM areas and careers, student proficiency in selected STEM-related skills, and level of parental engagement with their students' STEM learning. Six features of the new set of lessons are hypothesized to increase engagement and motivation of 4th and 5th grade students in STEM-related experiences: (1) content (sleep) that is relevant to everyone's lives (students, teachers, and parents) and essential for healthy day-to-day functioning; (2) inquiry-based sleep science lessons using an evidence-based instructional model; (3) use of interactive educational software and various technologies (personalized) that allow students to actively engage by collecting, analyzing, and interpreting their own data; (4) a teacher professional development paradigm using face-to-face, online, and educative curriculum materials; (5) parental involvement/engagement strategies using a well-developed model of family-school involvement; and (6) out-of-school learning experiences including exposure and interactions with STEM professionals from diverse backgrounds. The outcomes of this project will likely have broad impacts on both classroom practices with young learners and our understanding of how to engage young students in personally relevant studies that inspire them to consider STEM-related careers and the education pathways that lead to those careers. The development of curriculum materials in both English and Spanish will assist teachers in engaging underrepresented and underserved populations in activities of high interest and personal relevance that demonstrate the importance of STEM learning to our society.