Teen Science Cafes: Technology in Response to Floods Caused by Hurricane Harvey
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. The uses of technologies in emergency management and public safety are emerging rapidly, but it could take years for school STEM curricula to catch up with the technologies that are already being deployed in the field. Informal learning environments, such as Teen Science Cafés, provide a compelling venue for youth learning about rapidly-developing STEM fields such as technology. The floods and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey provide a timely learning opportunity for them. This project, in addition to developing new materials for learning about technologies, will provide much-needed baseline research on teens' understanding of technology, technology careers, and emergency preparedness. Leveraging the robust platform of the NSF-funded Teen Science Café, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance will build upon its existing partnership with Science Education Solutions to develop and implement a package of educational activities, tools, and resources for a Teen Science Café that is focused on community flood events and response, using Hurricane Harvey as a model and case study. The materials will focus on advances in sensor technology, data visualization, social media, and other mobile communication apps used to detect, monitor and respond to flooding and natural disasters. The package of materials will be embraced by 20 sites in Maine. The goal is to engage at least 600 youth in themed Cafés focusing on how technology was used to respond to Harvey and is being used to manage and respond to flooding more generally. An important related goal is to conduct baseline research on what teens currently know about the flood-related technologies, as well as what they learn about it from this experience derived from recent floods in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean islands.
A research goal of our work was to collect baseline information on teens’ level of knowledge about the role of technology in responding to a variety of natural disasters. To our knowledge, the field has not developed measures of knowledge of this increasingly important domain. We developed a quick and easy-to-administer 10-item multiple-choice measure, which we presented as a “trivia game” to be done sometime during the 90-minute Café. We did not track pre- to post-café changes in knowledge, because the Cafés emphasized very different pieces of technology as well as different types of natural disasters. Rather, we wished to establish a starting point, so that other researchers who are engaged in ERT efforts with teens have both an instrument and baseline data to use in their work.
A sample of 170 youth completed the questionnaire. The average correct response rate was 4.2 out of 10, only slightly higher than the chance of guessing correctly (3 out of 10). This suggests teens have limited baseline knowledge of Emergency Response Technology and our Cafés therefore served an important purpose given this lack of knowledge. Indeed, for half of the questions at least one incorrect answer was selected more often than the correct answer! Note that there were no statistically significant correlations between age and gender and rates of correct answers.
Three things are clear from our work: 1) Youth need and want to know about the vital roles they can play by learning to use technology in the face of natural disasters; 2) Teens currently know little about the uses of technology in mitigating or responding to disasters; and 3) Teen Science Cafés provide a timely and relatively simple way of sparking interest in this topic. The project showed that it is possible to empower youth to become involved, shape their futures, and care for their communities in the face of disasters. We plan to continue to expand the theme of Emergency Response Technology within the Teen Science Café Network. Reaching teens with proactive messages about their own agency in natural disasters is imperative and attainable through Teen Science Cafés.