Project Profile

Building Unique Inventions to Launch Discoveries, Engagement and Reasoning in STEM


The Building Unique Inventions to Launch Discoveries, Engagement and Reasoning in STEM (BUILDERS) 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). The BUILDERS project will develop and test an innovative approach to engage high school students from underrepresented groups in STEM and their science teachers in timely and relevant STEM content, discourse and design applications to create technological solutions to address important ecological, agricultural, environmental and human health related issues within their communities. Grounded in a Learning STEM through Making theoretical framework, this endeavor presents a unique opportunity to closely examine the relationship between community-based problem solving and student motivation, awareness, self-efficacy, and career aspirations in STEM within Maker contexts in informal and formal settings. The current Making research has focused almost exclusively on learning in out-of-school time settings. The research conducted by the BUILDERS team will advance knowledge in a domain where such research is currently limited and will investigate the potential outcomes and impacts of a blended model that spans informal (summer, out-of-school time) and formal (academic year, during the school day) learning contexts, thereby extending NSF's investment in research and development in these areas.

The BUILDERS project will expose high school science teachers and students to the Learning STEM through Making theoretical framework and promote STEM learning, interest, and career awareness through Making and collaborative community-based problem solving. Instead of teaching STEM concepts in isolation, the BUILDERS project will use highly interdisciplinary Maker activities to immerse 50 high school students and 8 teachers in its Summer Academy each summer and another 200 students through the teacher participants' science classrooms during the school year, for a potential study population of over 700 high school students and nearly 25 teachers. The research will explore several key questions: (a) Does immersion in a "Learning STEM by Making" experience increase students' competency, motivation, and persistence in STEM? (b) Does increased competency strengthen students' academic self-concept and perceived self-efficacy? (c) Does increased self-efficacy in STEM foster integration of STEM experiences into adolescents' emerging professional identity? (d) Does an emerging professional identity that incorporates STEM lead to students becoming agents that make academic choices to further strengthen their STEM identity? (e) Does teaching STEM concepts in a "Learning STEM by Making" environment affect teachers' own STEM identity and perceived capacity to serve as role models for their students? A mixed methods approach will be used to collect data at baseline and throughout the interventions, using surveys of students, and teacher interviews, writings, journal entries, and observations. Quantitative and qualitative analysis tools such as hierarchical regression models and NVIVO will be used to interpret, analyze, and present the data and findings. Observed patterns and trends will be quantified and reported. An iterative process will be employed that will permit hypotheses to be tested, accepted, rejected, and or revised. Further, an external evaluator will conduct formative and summative evaluations.

The research and design aspects of this work are complemented by the potential to achieve significant broader impacts. The anticipated direct reach of over 700 high school students and teachers from underrepresented groups in STEM in two rural school districts is significant. Hundreds to thousands more will be reached through participant-created You-Tube videos, capstone presentations, prototype displays in a local STEM center, and open access to BUILDERS lessons generated and posted by teacher participants to the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), an online statewide resource for Alabama school districts.


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Principal Investigator(s)


Award Number
1657123, 1657399
Project Duration
2017 - 2022
Oakland University, MI
Tuskegee University, AL
Project Work State
Project Status