Collaborative Research: Developing STEM self-efficacy and science identities through authentic astrophysics research in online and face-to-face environments (STEM-ID)
Research shows that participation and interest in science starts to drop as youth enter high school. This is also the point when science becomes more complex and there is increased need for content knowledge, mathematics capability, and computer or computational knowledge. Evidence suggests that youth who participate in original scientific research are more likely to enter and maintain a career in science as compared to students who do not have these experiences. We know young people get excited by space science. This project (STEM-ID) is informed by previous work in which high school students were introduced to scientific research and contributed to the search for pulsars. Students were able to develop the required science and math knowledge and computer skills that enabled them to successfully participate. STEM-ID builds on this previous work with two primary goals: the replication of the local program into a distributed program model and an investigation of the degree to which authentic research experiences build strong science identities and research self-efficacies. More specifically the project will support (a) significant geographic expansion to institutions situated in communities with diverse populations allowing substantial inclusion of under-served groups, (b) an online learning and discovery environment that will support the participation of youth throughout the country via online activities, and (c) opportunities for deeper participation in research and advancement within the research community. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program which seeks to advance new approaches to, and understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. STEM-ID will serve 2000 high school youth and 200 high school teachers in afterschool clubs with support from 30 undergraduate and graduate students and 10 college/university faculty. Exploratory educational research will determine the broad mechanisms by which online activities and in-person and online peer-mentor teacher-scientist interactions influence science identity, self-efficacy, motivation, and career intentions, as well as a focused understanding of the mechanisms that influence patterns of participation. Youth will be monitored longitudinally through the first two years of college to provide an understanding of the long-term effects of out-of-class science enrichment programs on STEM career decisions. These studies will build an understanding of the best practices for enhancing STEM persistence in college through engagement in authentic STEM programs before youth get to college. In addition to the benefits of the education research, this program may lead participants to discover dozens of new pulsars. These pulsars will be used for fundamental advances such as for testing of general relativity, constraining neutron star masses, or detecting gravitational waves. The resulting survey will also be sensitive to transient signals such as sporadic pulsars and extragalactic bursts. This project provides a potential model for youth from geographical disparate places to participate in authentic research experiences. For providers, it will offer a model for program delivery with lower costs. Findings will support greater understanding of the mechanisms for participation in STEM. This work is being led by West Virginia University and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Participating sites include California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, El Paso Community College, Howard University, Montana State University, Penn State University, Texas Tech University, University of Vermont, University of Washington, and Vanderbilt University.