Nebraska Wearable Technologies (WearTec)
Research studies, commissioned reports, and national and international tests of educational progress in STEM fields show that a large gap exists, in interest and achievement, between underrepresented students and their counterparts. The exclusion of these currently underrepresented students from STEM education and STEM careers will likely impact the Nation's scientific and engineering status in the world, as their diversity of perspectives, which is essential in innovation, is largely absent from the STEM workforce. The Nebraska WearTec project will address this gap by providing high-quality STEM learning activities in both formal and informal learning environments. The project will target at least 900 underrepresented youth in grades 4 through 6 from 30 schools in urban and rural Nebraska. The project will test a teaching and learning model based on a hybrid problem-based learning approach to engineering design. Curriculum modules will focus on engineering design processes that merge electricity, circuitry, and computer programing with fashion (wearable technologies) and aesthetics.
Professional development workshops and activity guides for 90 teachers and out-of-school-time educators will be provided throughout the project. These individuals will oversee student engagement in authentic experiences supported by a collaborative effort involving the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Nebraska Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) program (a federally funded statewide grants program designed to support the establishment of community learning centers serving students attending high-need schools). WearTec will use recommendations from the 2009 National Research Council's comprehensive report on engineering education as the framework for this project. WearTec will employ initial redesign of wearable technologies in formal classroom settings followed by more extensive iterative design in out-of-school-time environments to provide the flexibility and freedom required for immersive extended activities. The activities will include both online and print-based formats that will be designed to transform understanding of instructional methods that foster motivation, interest, and knowledge acquisition to inspire and prepare students to pursue STEM careers; thereby positively impacting the STEM workforce. A quasi-experimental research design will be used to examine differences between knowledge and interest in engineering design of students who participated in the WearTec intervention and a comparison group who did not participate in the intervention. The project will employ instruments specific to measuring engineering design and knowledge as well as STEM student interest and motivation previously tested for validity and reliability in prior studies funded by NSF and the U.S. Department of Education.