The Research Experiences for STEM Students (RE STEM) pilot program is providing research- and inquiry-based ocean science experiences for high school Advanced Placement Biology and Environmental Science (AP STEM) students and their teachers in two rural Eastern Shore, Maryland school districts, as a strategy for engaging students in geoscience education and career pathways. The RE STEM program leverages expertise at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory (UMCES HPL)) to introduce students to the practice of authentic ocean science research and incorporate skills used by ocean research scientists, including problem formulation and solving, mathematics and use of high technology instrumentation. The RE STEM Team, which consists of scientists from UMCES HPL and the AP STEM teachers from the school districts, will hold a summer institute based on resources developed through the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) program to develop the implementation plan for the student research projects and the integration into the AP Biology and Environmental Science classes. During the school year, the RE STEM Team will implement the student research project in the AP STEM courses offered by the two partnering school districts. The program culminates with a student visit to the UMCES HPL research institution so that students can explore the research world first hand. Student responses to the research experiences are being evaluated through pre- and post- surveys and by tracking choices of STEM majors in college. The RE STEM program targets approximately 150 AP STEM students on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore. Additionally, eight AP STEM teachers are gaining experience in research science that is expected to be transferable to their classrooms.
While inquiry-based instruction is gaining ground in the K-12 education arena, teachers and students still poorly understand the process of how authentic scientific research is conducted. The complex mechanisms through which scientists learn about our world are generally not conveyed in our education system. Yet, for students to gain an appreciation and interest in STEM fields, they must understand this learning process and the rigor and excitement associated with research science and teachers must be prepared to offer their students such experiences. The goal of the Research Experiences for STEM Students (RE STEM) pilot program was to develop the geosciences workforce by enhancing student interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through the exposure of research- and inquiry-based ocean science experiences for high school students and their teachers. The objectives of the RE STEM program were to increase studentâ€™s ability to comprehend practices of scientific processes, provide students with real-world research projects that spark interest and develop skills in STEM disciplines, and to provide teachers with the knowledge and tools necessary to implement research-driven activities that become part of their STEM curriculum. The RE STEM program blended expertise from a higher education research facility with expertise from local school districts to develop and implement student research projects for existing STEM courses. These activities introduced students to the practice of authentic ocean science research and incorporated skills used by ocean research scientists, including problem formulation and solving, mathematics and use of high technology instrumentation. The RE STEM pilot program was initiated with a summer institute for nine teachers, which provided them with the knowledge and tools necessary to implement research-driven student activities. In post institute evaluation surveys, participants identified the instituteâ€™s modeling of inquiry and the engagement in similar activities that students will experience as important ways the institute prepared them for implementing student research projects. Participants in the RE STEM Institute also said that they plan to change their instruction by implementing more inquiry-based investigations of several types, and letting go of needing to provide all content to students. During the school year, the seven of the teachers implemented the student research project in the STEM courses offered by the partnering school districts. STEM classes in which the projects were conducted ranged from 9th grade to senior level Advanced Placement Biology and Environmental Science. Teachers chose the content area of their course for project implementation. The topics of the student research projects ranged from enzymatic studies to specific investigations of barrier island ecology. In post program surveys teachers reported that students learned what doing real science is all about and students became more realistic about all that is involved in the conduction of a scientific experiment. This project resulted in students beginning to develop a wide range of new skills. Student pre- and post- program surveys indicated a significant increase in the understanding of how scientists do research and of how to conduct scientific research themselves.