Career Exploration Lab: 3D Printing and STEM Engagement for High School Students with Visual Impairments and their Educators
300 high school students with Visual Impairments and 270 sighted students located in 13 states, along with their STEM educators and teachers of the visually impaired, use astronomy and 3D printing to bolster interests in and knowledge of STEM.
This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). For these students with visual impairments (VI), the possibility of a future in astronomy, or any science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field, seems daunting. To help address this, the project will develop and research STEM Career Exploration Labs (CELs) for high school students with VI, using astronomy and 3D printing to bolster their interests in and knowledge of STEM and STEM careers, as well as their STEM skills. Educator Partner Institutes will build teacher expertise in facilitating student learning that will use a mix of 3D printing technologies and tactile- and sound-based astronomy instruction. Well-developed spatial thinking is necessary for understanding numerous astronomical topics, such as celestial motion and lunar phases. Spatial thinking is particularly important for students with VI, who touch their surroundings and/or gather information via sound to form mental images and make sense of the world. Students with VI use auditory and haptic perception with spatial thinking. The project will use hands-on activities including student involvement in assembling and using desktop 3D printers and the use of 3D printed models and sound to teach astronomy. The program will also include interactions with STEM professionals with VI and field trips to local STEM businesses that offer insights into possible STEM careers. The project will serve high school students (ages 14 - 20) with VI, their sighted peers, STEM high school teachers, and teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs). The project, building on pilot work that has already pilot-tested each component, will expand to more geographical regions (12 states total) and include STEM educators, TVIs, and sighted students. 3D models and activities developed by the project will be made freely available via online repositories. The project will research the effects participation in CEL workshop has on high school students with VI. There is little research on how students with VI learn science, and even fewer studies on the impact of technological tools designed for students with VI. The project will investigate: (1) the effect of the project on VI student understanding of scientific concepts and the self-efficacy; (2) how the students participate in the project's inquiry-based STEM work; (3) how the project affects student attitudes towards STEM, STEM careers, and astronomy;(4) assess understanding of spatial thinking skills and astronomy concepts; and (5) identify STEM high school teachers' attitudes towards students with disabilities in STEM classes. The project will use a mixed-methods approach and a pre-test - intervention-post-test design employing qualitative and quantitative measures to determine the effects of the CELs model. Project research will contribute to the empirical research in the field of students with VI and addresses the research to practice gap by focusing on the use of 3D printers and 3D printed models as STEM instructional tools for students with VI. Moreover, there is a need for research on the efficacy of 3D printing as an instructional tool for access to visual content for students with VI, as 3D models have been suggested as superior to tactile graphics. Project methods, 3D models, activities, and research results will be disseminated via a wide variety of means, including peer-reviewed research journals practitioner publications in education (STEM, general, and special); presentations and workshops at various STEM, astronomy, VI, education, 3D printing, persons with disabilities, and related domestic and international conferences; and teacher professional development meetings. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.