Authentic STEM research, practices of science, and interest development in an informal science education program
Two critical challenges in science education are how to engage students in the practices of science and how to develop and sustain interest. The goal of this study was to examine the extent to which high school youth, the majority of whom are members of racial and ethnic groups historically underrepresented in STEM, learn the skills and practices of science and in turn develop interest in conducting scientific research as part of their career pursuits. To accomplish this goal, we applied Hidi and Renninger’s well-tested theoretical framework for studying interest development in the context of a museum-based, informal science education (ISE) program. We used a mixed methods approach, incorporating both survey and interview data, to address three research questions: (1) As youth engage in authentic science research, do they develop perceived competence in mastering the skills and practices of science? (2) Do participants increase, maintain, or decrease interest in science research as a result of this experience? (3) How does participation in scientific practices manifest in non-program contexts?