Research shows that algebra is a major barrier to student success, enthusiasm and participation in STEM for under-represented students, particularly African-American students in under-resourced high schools. Programs that develop ways to help students master algebra concepts and a belief that they can perform algebra may lead to more students entering engineering careers. This project will provide an online engineering program to support 9th and 10th grade Baltimore City Public Schools students, a predominantly low-income African-American cohort, to develop concrete goals of becoming engineers. The goals of the program are to help students with a growing interest in engineering to maintain that interest throughout high school. The project will also support students aspire to an engineering career. The project will develop in students an appreciation of requisite courses and skills, and increase self-efficacy in mathematics. The project will also develop a replicable model of informal education capable of reinforcing the mathematical foundations that students learn during the school day. Additionally, the project will broaden participation in engineering by being available to students during out-of-school time and by having relaxed entrance criteria compared to existing opportunities in supplemental engineering curricula. The project is a collaboration between the Baltimore City Public Schools, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Northrop Grumman Corporation, and Expanded School-Based Mental Health programs to support students both during and after participation. The project will benefit society by providing skills that will allow high school students to become members of tomorrow's highly trained STEM workforce.

The research will test whether an informal, scaffolded online algebra-for-engineering program increases students' mastery and self-efficacy in mathematics. The research will advance knowledge regarding informal education by applying Social Cognitive Career Theory as a framework for measuring program impact. The theoretical framework will aid in identifying mechanisms through which students with interest in engineering might persist in maintaining this interest through high school via algebra skill mastery and increased self-efficacy. The project will recruit 200 youth from the Baltimore City Public Schools to participate in the project over three years. Qualitative data will be collected to assess how student and school socioeconomic factors impact implementation, student engagement, and outcomes. The research will answer the following questions: 1) What effect does program participation have on math mastery? 2) What direct and indirect effects do program completion and supports have on students' mathematics self-efficacy? 3) What direct and indirect effects do program components have on engineering career goals by the end of the program? 4) What direct and indirect effects does math self-efficacy have on career goals? 5) To what extent are the effects of program participation on engineering career goals mediated by math self-efficacy and engineering interest? 6) How do school factors relate to the implementation of the program? 7) What socioeconomic-related factors relate to the regularity and continuation of student participation in the program? The quantitative methods of data analysis will employ descriptive and multivariate statistical methods. Qualitative data from interviews will be analyzed using an emergent approach and a coding scheme guided by theoretical constructs. Project results will be communicated to scholars and practitioners. The team will also share information through school newsletters and parent communication through Baltimore City Public Schools.

This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Johns Hopkins University
United States
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