Acquainting Metro Atlanta Youth with STEM (AMAYS)
Acquainting Metro Atlanta Youth with STEM (AMAYS) was an NSF, ITEST Strategies project housed at Georgia State University that included the creation, implementation, and evaluation of a unique, technology-rich, informal learning environment for middle school youth. AMAYS participants were largely African American middle school students from 10 schools in the City of Atlanta participating in a free, after-school program for roughly 2600 students called the After-School All-Stars Atlanta (ASAS).
The AMAYS intervention involved working on computer science activities in media centers, computer labs, classrooms, and online. Activities consisted of: a) A guided series of programming steps that led to the creation of pre-designed mobile apps using a block-based interface created at MIT called App Inventor; b) more gently guided problem-based tasks that allowed participants to continue working on, tweak, troubleshoot, or remix existing mobile apps; and c) opportunities for participants to work on their own original ideas for mobile apps. As much as possible, each activity was also designed to connect the app building experiences with relevant, socially, and environmentally responsible themes. Activities were presented to participants in a flexible, modularized fashion, and based on gradual increases of difficulty. Participants could submit completed activities in exchange for new activities of their choice, and for digital badges called experience coins. Activity submission, coin redemption, communication with others, and access to digital resources were all possible within a custom-built web application called AMAYS Online. During AMAYS time, participants interacted with teachers, with AMAYS facilitators, and with undergraduate mentors who were Computer Science students from local HBCUs including Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University.
The project aim was to help broaden the number and diversity of youth who are prepared for, and willing to enter the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), more specifically Information and Communication Technology(ICT) workforce. Our project goal was to create, implement, and evaluate an intervention designed to support underrepresented middle school student engagement in activities that incorporated knowledge, skills, and practices represented in the ICT workforce (e.g., 21st century skills, computational thinking). These activities were also meant to help motivate and build student interest in pursuing STEM/ICT career trajectories.
During the project life cycle, AMAYS was continually being revised and updated based on data-driven lessons from the field that occurred in 3 distinct cycles: 1) Front-end analysis, 2) pilot testing at one school site, and 3) rollout of the intervention at 9 school sites.
In order to assess the effectiveness of AMAYS, researchers used mixed methods for data collection and analysis based on the concept of design research (Barab & Squire, 2004; Reeves, Herrington, & Oliver, 2005). Data sources for AMAYS research and development efforts included a participant profile survey, two surveys measuring perceptions of STEM and STEM careers, A 21stcentury skills perceptions survey, an assessment activity based on Scratch Jr., a computational thinking quiz based on coding with App Inventor, evaluation of participant artifacts (apps), observations, interviews, and participant observer reflections. In addition, an external evaluation of the project was conductedby the Center for Program Evaluation and Development at Georgia College.
Selected outcomes of the AMAYS project included:
The AMAYS team designed developed and tested a curriculum for an urban, after-school program called After-School All-Stars Atlanta, who serve around 2600 students, and who can continue to have access to AMAYS activities, training materials, and the AMAYS Online website.
Over 350 students participated in AMAYS activities across 10 middle school sites.
As part of our research, the AMAYS team designed and developed two assessments of block-based programming skills and computational thinking. We also designed and developed an instrument for self-assessment of 21stcentury skills.
Our team produced multiple peer-reviewed publications and scholarly conference presentations, and our doctoral student assistants for AMAYS completed 4 dissertation proposals based on AMAYS data.
While more data analyses were conducted than are reported here, our research produced the following selected findings:
a) Using a sample of study participants, it was found that those who created more mobile apps during AMAYS (i.e., > 2) were more likely to outperform participants who created fewer apps on an assessment of computational thinking called the CT Quiz. Additionally, participants who completed 2 or more apps that targeted coding skills assessed by the CT quiz, scored significantly higher on the CT quiz than those who completed fewer targeted apps;
b) in some cases, affinity toward STEM careers increased after participation in AMAYS;
c) self-perceptions of 21stcentury abilities started relatively high, but these seemed to decline after participation in AMAYS; and
d) a majority of participants who were asked, reported that they liked what they were doing, they would like to continue with activities similar to the ones in AMAYS, and that they would like to create apps on their own beyond the scope of AMAYS.