In their own words and actions: a case study of STEM interest among rural youth in an informal program
Westbrook, Elaine Marie
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In order to develop science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) knowledge and solutions that address global concerns, there is a need to develop pathways to strengthen STEM interest among rural youth, especially girls. Previous research suggests that informal STEM programs can stimulate participant interest due to the absence of pressures from external assessment (Rogoff, et al, 2016). However, little is known about which instructional methods in an informal STEM program focused on place-conscious programming in a rural community will support the development of youth STEM interest. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of three instructional methods (hands-on, role models, and culminating projects) on STEM interest development for rural youth, ages eight to twelve, in an informal place-conscious STEM program. Data were collected through observations, focus group interviews, and STEM interest surveys. Participants included youth (N=26) in grades 3rd through 5th grades attending two local schools in one rural community. Results indicated STEM interest increased through collaborative work, new knowledge, and action research. Results also showed gender differences in STEM interest development. Girls' STEM interest was heightened through seeing the personal relevance to their community, whereas boys' STEM interest was heightened through actively working together. This study contributes to the empirical literature regarding STEM interest, informal education, and instructional methods for rural youth. Recommendations are made for future studies.