Promoting the Physical Sciences among Middle School Urban Youth through Informal Learning Experiences

Promoting the Physical Sciences among Middle School Urban Youth through Informal Learning Experiences

Angela M. Kelly (Stony Brook University, USA)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2809-0.ch010


Numerous reform efforts in STEM education have been targeted towards increasing the number of qualified STEM professionals in the U.S., which necessitates promoting science participation among secondary and post-secondary students. Some novel designs have focused on the middle school years, when students tend to lose interest in science and formulate opinions on science self-identification. This chapter describes the effectiveness of developing informal physical science experiences for middle school students in underserved urban communities. Several cohorts of students have participated in inquiry-based physics and chemistry weekend classes that incorporated authentic applications from the urban setting, field visits to scientists’ laboratories and museums, advanced educational technology tools, and learning complex scientific concepts. Participants reported significant improvements in their attitudes, knowledge, and appreciation of the physical sciences, suggesting that well designed constructivist physical science programs are potentially transformative in improving students’ academic self-efficacy, confidence, and persistence in science, and positional advantage. The potential of early, rigorous experiences with the physical sciences is explored as a means for improving science participation and diversifying the ranks of future scientists.
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There has been much recent concern about the quality and quantity of STEM education in the United States (NAS, 2007). The complex technological challenges facing our nation require diverse solutions that most likely will come from a diverse scientific workforce (American Chemical Society, 2008). Why is a diversified STEM workforce desirable and necessary? The scientific community will benefit from multiple voices and varied perspectives when deciding upon what questions to ask and what solutions are most appropriate for particular contexts. All scientists bring unique life experiences and cultural capital to their work, and equitable participation will ensure that all American interests are represented in the broader global scientific community. In a nation where 45% of all school-aged children are racial minorities (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012), this issue requires immediate and targeted solutions.

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