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March 19, 2015
Engaging Families in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Project-Based Learning
FINE Newsletter, Volume VII, Issue 1
Issue Topic: Engaging Families, Schools, and Communities in the Transition to School
Voices From the Field
Iridescent is a science education nonprofit that engages underserved children and families in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) project-based learning. Iridescent helps parents learn how to support their preschool through fifth-grade children in STEM-related activities at home and in the community. Through hands-on exploration, children learn STEM concepts. This knowledge is especially important as young children transition to school, where they are expected to engage in meaningful STEM-related coursework.
IRIDESCENT AT A GLANCE
Engineers trained: 2,500 engineers and scientists from more than 10 universities and several major corporations
Iridescent’s mission is to train professional engineers to develop and teach open-ended projects to children and parents, who can then explore these ideas at home and in the community. Iridescent’s work is guided by the family learning approach to informal science. This approach emphasizes that students learn best when they can explore hands-on, real-world problems with adults and peers in different settings.1 The model has four main components (see Figure 1):
|Figure 1. The four components of Iridescent's model.|
|1. Train Scientists and Engineers
Engineers participate in science communication and curriculum development training to learn how to create open-ended engineering design challenges for children and families. This training has been field-tested for more than seven years and is offered as an elective course approved by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology at some 10 universities.
|2. Produce and Share Videos Online
To inspire learners and make science accessible to everyone, Iridescent produces high-quality videos of open-ended engineering design challenges on its interactive online and mentoring platform, the Curiosity Machine. The Web and mobile application features videos of scientists and engineers explaining STEM concepts, and each video is accompanied by an open-ended design challenge. For example, an aerodynamics engineer might explain the effect of wing shape on a plane’s ability to fly, and then challenge students and families to design a glider that flies for 10 seconds using a range of materials, such as tissue paper, poster board, and straws.
|3. Mentor Online
Virtual mentors are available via the Curiosity Machine to provide one-on-one feedback to students and help them build more effective projects in response to design challenges. Students can earn points and badges when they respond satisfactorily to the mentors and are able to prove their understanding of the concept.
|4. Train Parents and Educators
Iridescent builds parent competencies to promote their children’s STEM learning and to train other parents. Empowering parents to set up and facilitate courses is an important part of Iridescent’s work because it ensures that the program will endure. The program offers two types of training for families:
Iridescent offers a series of five weekly evening family-science course sessions to children in grades Pre-K–5 and their families. Engineers introduce the core concepts of their work and then outline an open-ended engineering design challenge, such as one that invites families to design a “lunar lander” that will safely land a raw egg on the moon (see video below). Walking around the room, engineers offer guidance, help with decision making, prototyping, and troubleshooting. Engineers also help participants analyze and reflect on their work and provide tips for them on how to keep improving their models at home. During the last two sessions, engineers introduce the online Curiosity Machine as a resource to extend learning and building at home.
Design challenges create opportunities for families and children to explore science concepts in creative ways.
An external evaluation of the STEM model has identified learning gains for families and children. Parents increased their involvement in STEM and children gained STEM knowledge, along with persistence and curiosity. Two family engagement findings stand out:
The implementation evaluation of the model, along with external and internal evaluations, has also highlighted the following lessons:
Iridescent gives families opportunities to be leaders in their children's learning.
The next step for Iridescent is to increase its retention of children and families across program years and for communities to continue learning beyond Iridescent’s support. Iridescent will also be improving its Family Science course by helping parents identify concrete goals for a six-month time frame as well as visible and easy ways to track their families’ progress. Iridescent is planning to develop an online curriculum so that parents can access training materials at their own pace and develop easy-to-understand research-based briefs that help parents improve their parenting strategies.
1 Bell, P., Lewenstein, B., Shouse, A.W., & Feder, M.A. (Eds). (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; Dierking, L.D.F., & Falk, J.H. (1994). Family behavior and learning in informal science settings: A review of the research. Science Education, 78(1), 57–72.
2 The term “growth mindset” was coined by Carole Dweck and refers to a belief that success is a function of hard work. A growth mindset has been linked to higher academic achievement in comparison to a fixed mindset, in which individuals believe in innate abilities.
3 Presser, A.L. (2014). The curiosity machine evaluation: Final report, 2014. New York: Education Development Center, Inc., Center for Children and Technology.
4 Herman, R.L. (2012). Letter from the editor-in-chief: The MOOCs are coming. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 12(2), 1–3.
About the Author:
Tara Chklovski is the founder and president of Iridescent. She has an undergraduate degree in physics, a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, and is a part-time faculty member in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Southern California. She has also worked as the principal of a school in India. Her love for science as well as art is reflected in Iridescent’s mission to share the beautiful side of science.
This resource is part of the March FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family engagement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the archives of past issues, please visit www.hfrp.org/FINENewsletter. To subscribe to the FINE Newsletter, please visit our subscription center.