EXP: Developing STEM Identities through Participation in Science-Infused Media and Virtual Peer Networks

PIs: June Ahn, Mega Subramaniam, Allison Druin, Kenneth Fleischmann
University of Maryland College Park
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Researchers are seeking to understand the roles that school libraries, school librarians, and virtual peer networks (VPNs) can play in helping middle-school students become interested in STEM, imagine themselves in STEM careers, and see themselves as interested-in-science people. In four different schools, youngsters recruited by science teachers (those especially interested in science), English teachers (those especially interested in story telling and writing), and librarians (those who are especially inquisitive) are participating together in an after-school program to learn how to compose science-related stories and use a variety of media for that purpose. Members of each community support each other in writing and in learning. The software registers their “collaborators” and helps them keep track of the expertise of community members. Design of the socio-technical system (software, story-telling activities, mentors) is informed by the literature on identity formation, identity formation environments, and roles of social networking.

Non-white students are not choosing STEM careers; low-socio-economic-status students have limited access to resources and technology that can help them have imaginations about STEM interests and careers, and many of these same youngsters are also missing role models who could help them envision themselves in STEM careers. This project focuses on development of future scientists through development of after-school programming and an on-line virtual peer network (VPN) aimed toward helping participants think about themselves as science-interested people. Focusing on libraries as a venue for promoting STEM-identity formation and librarians as mentors offers a new and promising model for connecting formal and informal learning opportunities.

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