STEM Scouts Engages Students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
by Sara LaJeunesse (June 2012)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Imagine millions of American kids logging on to their computers, downloading instructions for building rockets or for creating new hybrid varieties of plants, and sharing their ideas about their projects with other kids from across the country via chat rooms. Now imagine these kids earning merit badges for their efforts in a manner similar to the way Boy and Girl Scouts earn badges.
This is the vision that Kyle Peck, professor of education at Penn State, has for STEM Scouts, a program he and colleagues John Wise, director of instructional design and assessment at Penn State, and Brad Zdenek, director of program design and development at Penn State, are developing to get more kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers.
“America has a STEM problem,” said Peck. “Too few students are choosing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. This may be because students don’t know what STEM professionals do; because peer pressure works against students who happen to like math and science; or because STEM subjects in school are often divorced from real-world contexts.”
According to Peck, STEM Scouts will be a scalable, systemic solution to this problem. “Our goal is for STEM Scouts to identify and attract students of all ages who are interested in STEM disciplines; to engage those students with challenging age-appropriate activities; and to show them how STEM knowledge and skills are used in the real world. We hope that these kids will then be more likely to enter STEM careers or, at the very least, use their educations in science and technology to make better-informed decisions.”
In particular, STEM Scouts will include hundreds of high-interest merit badges and online learning resources created to support the acquisition of the badges, thousands of mentors to help students and to review students’ work, and an online learning community to help students identify, talk to, and collaborate with Scouts with similar interests across the nation. And, so that all interested students may participate, the STEM Scouts team’s goal is for local philanthropic groups, corporations, and/or mentors to sponsor students from economically challenged families and provide the materials they need to complete their selected projects.
The team has created the program’s basic structure and currently is working to design the lessons/badges, to develop interest and support across the academic disciplines at Penn State, and to garner a national consortium that will provide ongoing support in terms of funding and mentors.
Eventually, Peck and his colleagues hope that STEM Scouts will attract millions of kids from around the country.
“The problem is big and the solution must also be big,” he said. “Penn State has what it takes to lead a multi-faceted national project that spans disciplines. I think the result will be amazing—good for kids, for society, and for the planet.”