'Be a Scientist!' is a full-scale development project that examines the impact of a scalable, STEM afterschool program which trains engineers to develop and teach inquiry-based Family Science Workshops (FSWs) in underserved communities. This project builds on three years of FSWs which demonstrate improvements in participants' science interest, knowledge, and self-efficacy and tests the model for scale, breadth, and depth. The project partners include the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, the Albert Nerken Engineering Department at the Cooper Union, the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, and the New York Hall of Science. The content emphasis is physics and engineering and includes topics such as aerodynamics, animal locomotion, automotive engineering, biomechanics, computer architecture, optics, sensors, and transformers.
The project targets underserved youth in grades 1-5 in Los Angeles and New York, their parents, and engineering professionals. The design is grounded in motivation theory and is intended to foster participants' intrinsic motivation and self-direction while the comprehensive design takes into account the cultural, social, and intellectual needs of diverse families. The science activities are provided in a series of Family Science Workshops which take place in afterschool programs in eight partner schools in Los Angeles and at the New York Hall of Science in New York City. The FSWs are taught by undergraduate and graduate engineering students with support from practicing engineers who serve as mentors. The primary project deliverable is a five-year longitudinal evaluation designed to assess (1) the impact of intensive training for engineering professionals who deliver family science activities in community settings and (2) families' interest in and understanding of science. Additional project deliverables include a 16-week training program for engineering professionals, 20 physics-based workshops and lesson plans, Family Science Workshops (40 in LA and 5 in NY), a Parent Leadership Program and social networking site, and 5 science training videos. This project will reach nearly one thousand students, parents, and student engineers.
The multi-method evaluation will be conducted by the Center for Children and Technology at the Education Development Center. The evaluation questions are as follows: Are activities such as recruitment, training, and FSWs aligned with the project's goals? What is the impact on families' interest in and understanding of science? What is the impact on engineers' communication skills and perspectives about their work? Is the project scalable and able to produce effective technology tools and develop long-term partnerships with schools? Stage 1 begins with the creation of a logic model by stakeholders and the collection of baseline data on families' STEM experiences and knowledge. Stage 2 includes the collection of formative evaluation data over four years on recruitment, training, co-teaching by informal educators, curriculum development, FSWs, and Parent Leadership Program implementation. Finally, a summative evaluation addresses how well the project met the goals associated with improving families' understanding of science, family involvement, social networking, longitudinal impact, and scalability.
A comprehensive dissemination plan extends the project's broader impacts in the museum, engineering, evaluation, and education professional communities through publications, conference presentations, as well as web 2.0 tools such as blogs, YouTube, an online social networking forum for parents, and websites. 'Be a Scientist!' advances the field through the development and evaluation of a model for sustained STEM learning experiences that helps informal science education organizations broaden participation, foster collaborations between universities and informal science education organizations, increase STEM-based social capital in underserved communities, identify factors that develop sustained interest in STEM, and empower parents to co-invest and sustain a STEM program in their communities.