Science Learning +: Partnering for Equitable STEM Pathways for Underrepresented Youth
This 4-year project addresses fundamental equity issues in informal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning. Access to, and opportunities within informal STEM learning (ISL) remain limited for youth from historically underrepresented backgrounds in both the United States and the United Kingdom. However, there is evidence that ISL experiences can expand opportunities for youth learning and development in STEM, for instance, increase positive attitudes towards educational aspirations and future careers/pursuits, improve grades and test scores in school settings, and decrease disciplinary action and dropout rates. Through research and development, this project brings together researchers and practitioners to focus on the experiences, practices and tools that will support equitable youth pathways into STEM. Working across conceptual frameworks and ISL settings (e.g. science centers, community groups, zoos) and universities in four urban contexts in two different nations, the partnership will produce a coherent knowledge base that strengthens and expands research plus practice partnerships, builds capacity towards transformative research and development, and develops new models and tools in support of equitable pathways into STEM at a global level. This project is funded through Science Learning+, which is an international partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Wellcome Trust with the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The goal of this joint funding effort is to make transformational steps toward improving the knowledge base and practices of informal STEM experiences. Within NSF, Science Learning+ is part of the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program that seeks to enhance learning in informal environments and to broaden access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences.
This Equity Pathways project responds to three challenges at the intersections of ISL research and practice in the United States and the United Kingdom: 1) lack of shared understanding of how youth from historically underrepresented backgrounds perceive and experience ISL opportunities across national contexts, and the practices and tools needed to support empowered movement through ISL; 2) limited shared understanding and evidence of core high-leverage practices that support such youth in progressing within and across ISL, and 3) limited understanding of how ISL might be equitable and transformative for such youth seeking to develop their own pathways into STEM. The major goal of this Partnership is for practitioners and researchers, working with youth through design-based implementation research, survey and critical ethnography, to develop new understandings of how and under what conditions they participate in ISL over time and across settings, and how they may connect these experiences towards pathways into STEM. The project will result in: 1) New understandings of ISL pathways that are equitable and transformative for youth from historically underrepresented backgrounds; 2) A set of high leverage practices and tools that support equitable and transformative informal science learning pathways (and the agency youth need to make their way through them); and 3) Strengthened and increased professional capacity to broaden participation among youth from historically underrepresented backgrounds in STEM through informal science learning. The project will be carried out by research + practice partnerships in 4 cities: London & Bristol, UK and Lansing, MI & Portland, OR, US, involving university researchers (University College London, Michigan State University, Oregon State University/Institute for Learning Innovation) practitioners in science museums (@Bristol Science Centre, Brent Lodge Park Animal Centre, Impressions 5, Oregon Museum of Science & Industry) and community-based centers (STEMettes, Knowle West Media Centre, Boys & Girls Clubs of Lansing, and Girls, Inc. of the Pacific Northwest).