Longitudinal analysis of cognitive constructs fostered by STEM activities for middle school students Page: 105
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Knowledge Management & E-Learning, 6(2), 103-122
reducing the production of greenhouse gases in local communities, with a particular focus
on standby power. The main goal of the MSOSW project, entering its sixth year at the
time of completion of this manuscript, is to foster STEM content and career interest in
order to prepare middle school students to participate in the science, technology,
engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce of the future.
2. Conceptual rationale/Theoretical framework
2.1. Importance of STEM to society
In the United States as in many nations, efforts are being made to improve science,
technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and make it a national
priority to strengthen the nation's position in discovery and innovation globally (The
White House, 2009). The skills in STEM areas that students acquire in middle school lay
the foundation for a successful career in STEM (Woolley, Strutchens, Gilbert, & Martin,
2010). Most STEM occupations require competencies in science, mathematics and
logical thinking to support effective problem solving. Middle school is a crucial stage in
student development as students prepare for a fast changing future (George, Stevenson,
Thomason, & Beane, 1992). Therefore, it is vital to prepare and develop interest in
middle school students to participate in the future STEM workforce.
In Europe as well as the U.S., an alarming decline in student interest in STEM has
been noted (Rocard et al., 2007). A European Commission panel of experts has indicated
that interest in STEM is directly related to how STEM is taught in schools. According to
many sources, STEM career intervention and enrichment plans should be initiated well
before the high school years (George, Stevenson, Thomason, & Beane, 1992). Middle
school is an appropriate age to develop an interest in science that will persist through
secondary school, into college and beyond into a career. Providing authentic, active
learning experiences contributes to the internalization of learning about science.
Researchers conducted a retrospective study measuring changes in STEM career interest
during the high school years. A regression model analysis for the national sample of more
than 6,000 students indicated that students who begin high school with high STEM career
interest are nine times more likely to report this same interest at the end of high school
(Sadler, Sonnert, Hazari, & Tai, 2012). As education and popular perception of
technology and engineering standards evolve, there is an increased awareness of the need
for STEM literacy within society.
2.2. Engaging students in science
There are several approaches to consider for increasing students' interest in a STEM
career, most of which perhaps require a change in pedagogy and/or philosophy from
traditional classroom instruction. Hands-on science as such is not new for science
education. It has been advocated since the 1960s by science curriculum specialists (Voogt,
1996). However, the implementation in the everyday science class appeared to be
problematic (Roth, 1989). Hands-on science requires learning environments in which the
student assumes an active role, in contrast to more traditional approaches to science
teaching that stress the learning of facts, concepts and theories. The foundation of
problem-based learning (PBL) has been in existence for decades and is rooted in
Dewey's learning by doing and experiencing principle (Dewey, 1938). Dewey argued
that a child's schoolwork should have meaning and be engaging as well as have
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Christensen, Rhonda; Knezek, Gerald; Tyler-Wood, Tandra L. & Gibson, David C. Longitudinal analysis of cognitive constructs fostered by STEM activities for middle school students, article, June 2014; Pokfulam, Hong Kong. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc991030/m1/4/: accessed November 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT College of Information.