Project Profile

Engaging Adolescents through Collaboration on Simulated STEM Career Scenarios and Mathematics Activities


Employment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and attainment in STEM education need to reflect better the diversity of US population demographics. This disparity is especially concerning given projected shortfalls in skilled workers for jobs in STEM fields. This project will lead to the creation of virtual simulations of peer collaboration in STEM fields, designed for use by adolescents. Practice with these simulations will help adolescents build collaborative skills and career interest in STEM fields, especially those that use mathematics and require strong teamwork.  By creating an innovative simulation to support mathematics collaborative skills development and STEM career identities, and grounding its use in informal learning environments that capitalize on youths’ cultural assets, this project will increase the likelihood that students historically underrepresented in STEM careers will persist in the STEM career pipeline. The project’s work will result in three simulation modules, program materials supporting their use in informal learning environments, and initial research evidence about their implementation and impacts. The simulations will feature authentic performance settings of STEM career scenarios with opportunities for repeated application of mathematical knowledge and collaborative skills. Simulation players will interact with virtual partners, receiving feedback to improve performance and emphasize the value of mathematics and collaboration in STEM careers. Adapted from an artificial intelligence platform used in healthcare training, the simulations’ virtual partners and their dialog will be based on recordings of mathematics collaboration in secondary school classrooms. Simulation content and supports will be informed by staff from strategic partners, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center (MPSC) and LatinxEd, that provide STEM-focused programming to African American, Latinx, and future first-generation college students. Six African American and Latinx STEM Career Partners will ground the simulations in authentic mathematics and collaborative industry practices that appeal to student users. A total of 96 African American and Latinx adolescents, and adolescents who are potential first-generation college students will serve as play-testers. An additional 80 participants enrolled in the strategic partners’ programs will engage in field-testing: playing each of three simulations, generating user data, and completing a transfer task of collaborative skills in mathematics and self-report surveys about their STEM career interests and aspirations.  Field-test data will be analyzed using multi-level models for nested data and repeated measures. Qualitative data collection will include observations of play and field testing, and interviews with program staff and industry consultants. Thematic analysis will inform curricular supports and improve implementation utility and feasibility. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.



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Principal Investigator(s)


Award Number
2048985, 2048993
Project Duration
2021 - 2024
Horizon Research Inc, Chapel Hill, NC
University of North Carolina at Chapel, NC
Project Work State
Project Status