This planning grant addresses the issue of students losing interest in STEM during the ages of 8-12 years. The PIs propose that STEM content provided through electronic media will be more readily accepted by youth because it is on their "home turf." IMX.org will be a new, highly engaging, online destination for tweens and kids at large. It is designed to leverage the Web 2.0 and tweens' fascination with media and popular culture, and to demonstrate the connections between the real world, everyday life, and STEM. The project will test a preliminary design with a focus group of 8-12 year-olds, convene a panel of experts and Advisory Board, and create a beta Web site to conduct formative research.
Beginning with conception in early 2008, the IMX team envisioned a model that would help move shifting and negative attitudes toward STEM in a different direction by leveraging the appeal of media and visibly demonstrating real-world connections to STEM. NSF supported this early concept with a planning grant in July 2010 to develop a beta site. IMX was intended to be a transformative project with these intended impacts: To inspire and motivate young learners, particularly 8- to 12-year-olds, and help them recognize that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are full of creativity and wonder and offer powerful ways to look at the world. To leverage innovative technology to motivate this target audience to become "active" participants in STEM. To help children identify themselves as young scientists, engineers, mathematicians, technologists, and explorers. To establish a new digital destination of exciting and relevant STEM content and grow a networked community that will build upon itself. To provide a resource that is widely disseminated to children and also readily accessible to educators and the world at large. The objectives for the 2010 Planning Grant were to: Create preliminary designs for a prototype Website (IMX.me) for purposes of research and testing only; Establish an Advisory Board to inform project development and future planning; Conduct formative research; and Continue to monitor trends in digital media and technology, and explore possible partners or collaborators for the future. All of the above was completed by December 2011. The prototype site was developed solely for purposes of research and testing, thus contains a limited set of live features, i.e., no live "chats" (only graphical indicators or icons) nor online communications. Features include: Videos The IMX home page features an assortment of compelling viral video clips, chosen for their general appeal as well as potential connections to STEM concepts. The page has nine clickable video links, with the intention that IMX would launch with fifty video clips, but as an ever-changing, organic community, new videos would be premiered on a regular basis. The Big Questions The Wingsuit video was chosen to be representative of the IMX experience, in which each clip would be followed by a short animation in which our IMX host ponders some STEM-related questions, and entices the viewer to consider his or her own. Inquiry Modules Each question leads to one of six INQUIRY MODULES, greeting users in these re-occurring and recognizable formats: click-through comics, interactive graphics, science demonstrations or activities, mini-games, career-related profiles, and the IMX Lab. The IMX Lab Xplorers are encouraged to begin and continue their adventures at MY IMX, where they can add virtual partners to their team of scientists; work collaboratively as they embark on scientific inquiries; tap into expert advice; and help their colleagues explore their investigations. IMX Webisodes The IMX home page also featured visuals of a planned series of live-action Webisodes. In the planning grant phase, we tested two original concepts, Beyond Biodome and Survivors. Both had high appeal, and we believe this format will be particularly appealing to girls and also entice Xplorers to return to the site regularly. The IMX Advisory Board formed in 2011 is a group of highly-respected, industry experts. Each member has agreed to remain on the panel for this proposal and future development of the project. Formative research was completed in December 2011. Below are key findings, conclusions and implications from the report released by MediaKidz Research & Consulting on January 5, 2012: The appeal of IMX.me was quite strong. IMXâ€™s appeal held constant across boys and girls, different age groups, and children who had more or less positive attitudes toward science. The childrenâ€™s favorite part of IMX was the Lab. Almost all of the children wanted to sign up for a page of their own. Consistent with IMXâ€™s inquiry-based approach of using compelling videos to spark childrenâ€™s curiosity, almost all of the children were curious about (with) questions of their own after watching the videos. Taken together, the present data show that IMX has the potential to be highly appealing to both boys and girls across its target age range, including kids who may not ordinarily be attracted to science in and of itself. The Wingsuit and Jello videos were both very appealing, as were the two Webisode concepts. All in all, then, the results of this study show that the planning grant helped get IMX off to a strong start as an appealing Web site with the potential to stimulate childrenâ€™s curiosity about science. Tightening up the connection between the questions and activities, and finding ways to balance communication with safety, will only serve to make IMX even stronger.