Reflections on Youth Motivation in STEM Webinar

What role does community, family, and culture play in the motivation to learn? What motivates young people to participate in STEM learning experiences? What do these experiences teach them about STEM educational and career paths?

These are just some of the questions explored by presenters on the STELAR webinar on Youth Motivation. Webinar attendees heard successes, challenges and lessons learned from three ITEST projects that are using distinctive strategies to engage youth in intensive and innovative STEM learning experiences.

Svetlana Darche and Erin Fender presented from the GLOBE California Academy Project (GLOBE CAP) project which embeds the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program into curricula of selected high school-level green energy career academies in California to improve student learning and workforce preparation in science as well as information and communication technology. GLOBE CAP engages students, particularly at-risk students, in research related to climate science and renewable energy technologies, providing professional development and support for academy teachers, connecting scientists and industry to academy classrooms, and linking students to GLOBE's international student community. GLOBE CAP connects STEM content to participants’ personal interests and career goals, and provides supportive learning environments where high expectations are paired with caring adults, supportive peers, and facilitation that nurtures a sense of ‘connectedness’ to the program and other participants in order to achieve ‘meaningful participation.’

David Reider presented next as evaluator of the COMPUGIRLS Scale-Up project. This project utilizes a culturally relevant technology (CRT) program to prepare girls ages 13-18 to enter the STEM workforce. It builds on the successful NSF ITEST-funded COMPUGIRLS project which uses social justice-based multimedia projects to engage young women in activities that increase knowledge, understanding, and awareness of careers in STEM. Participation in the STEM trajectory, particularly for underserved youth, comes in various forms and flavors and the definition of participation may need to be broader than just advanced study of and employment in STEM fields. The primary motivational factors for these young women include asset building (learning and master technology), the opportunity to reflect in safe learning environments (through storytelling), and a sense of connectedness to the program content and other participants. 

Finally Jamie Larsen presented on the SportsLab 2020 project. This project is developing and testing a collaborative game-based interactive environment where students ages 12-18 form a product design team to create a concept model and pitch for a sport product design challenge. Participants, sport researchers, and product experts determine the best pitches with awards for top designs. The project is bringing together pedagogical frameworks from game- and project-based learning together with design challenge curriculum that foster learning and understanding of 21st Century skills and STEM concepts. For the youth participants in SportsLab2020, motivation is once again grounded in their lives and interests and learning opportunities are directly connected to their communities and the real world. The project has just launched and Larsen expects more data and research from it to be available in the coming months.

All three presentations highlighted some common factors that may be key to fostering youth motivation including developing a sense of ‘connectedness’ in participants to the content and other individuals in the program, and to situating learning and problem solving in real world contexts that align with their personal interests and local communities. Many of these important issues are also explored in great depth in the final report of the 2011 ITEST Convening on ‘Advancing Research on Youth Motivation in STEM. The convening brought together an interdisciplinary team of ITEST PIs, evaluators and researchers to articulate emerging research areas of need, research and evaluation methodological challenges, and research to practice challenges and strategies for success. The full convening report is available here.

Contributed by STELAR Program Team