Project Profile

Creating a Virtual Infrastructure for Engaging Rural Youth in STEM Disciplines through Computer Science


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 developing and studying an educational intervention for rural youth to engage with computer science and math concepts through a popular videogame. This project uses the software environment Minecraft, which has already attracted over 100 million users, as a platform for teaching middle schoolers about math and computing concepts. Curriculum and assessment 'badges' will be developed to motivate and teach youth. Research will study how implementing the curriculum in in-school settings, and in afterschool settings through 4-H, influences youngsters' knowledge of math and programming, their attitudes and inclination to STEM careers, and their standardized test scores.

This project proposes to use LearnToMod for Minecraft to engage rural middle school learners (5th to 8th grades) in programming, spatial reasoning, and problem-solving skills. LearnToMod will be piloted with approximately 80 4-H Extension participants and 80 in-school participants, and then a larger implementation will be launched to involve a total of approximately 1000 students in urban and rural areas through five more iterations of curricular refinement. Outcomes will be examined using case studies, participation logs, teacher and student surveys, the badges and embedded assessments developed by the project, and standardized test data from the Maine Department of Education's State Longitudinal Data System. The project will use multi-level mixture modeling to identify specific school characteristics that are associated with different usage and engagement patterns by both students and teachers. Similar analyses will use school-level variables and characteristics, such as poverty, access to resources, existing STEM programs/activities, etc., as predictors of implementation and change in reported teacher attitudes and behavior, such as incorporation of computer science into STEM areas. These analyses will focus on the cross-level interaction/moderator relationships between behaviors of participating students and teachers and school-level characteristics or demographics (e.g., what types of computer programming activities or skills are associated with the greatest change specifically in low-versus-high income schools?).The partnership consists of education and computer science researchers at the University of Maine, the nonprofit ThoughtSTEM, UMaine Cooperative Extension (4-H), the Network Maine state cyberinfrastructure project and the Maine Department of Education's Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), plus K-12 partners. K-12 partners include the Western Foothills Regional School Unit, Eastern Maine AOS, Bangor School Department, Southern Maine SAD Cumberland and North Yarmouth, and the Maine Virtual Academy. Formal evaluation will be conducted by TERC, an independent research organization.


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Principal Investigator(s)
Co-Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
Project Duration
2016 - 2019
University of Maine, Orono, ME
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Elementary school (K-5)
Middle school (6-8)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Disciplines
Computer Science - programming
Additional Target Participants
STEM Professionals
Students eligible for Free/reduced price lunch
Students with disabilities
American Indian or Alaskan Native