The expansion of the successful SciTrek program to more than twice as many local 2nd‐8th grade classroom will provide more data to demonstrate the effectiveness of the program. Furthermore, this will allow the program to address a fundamental question regarding if the program can influence elementary students’ attitudes towards science, which is suggested to cause girls and under represented minorities to leave the STEM field. Expansion of the program to other institutions and distant schools lacking the appropriate resources has broad significance.
The education of K-12 students and their recruitment and retention into STEM and biomedical careers remain a national problem. SciTrek, a successful outreach program run from the University of California at Santa Barbara, takes a unique approach to STEM education. Reaching ~3000 2nd-8th grade students yearly since 2010, SciTrek’s core philosophy is to immerse students in the practice of STEM, meant as a way of doing and a way of thinking. SciTrek students investigate questions prompted by an observation presented to them by a lead (teacher, SciTrek personnel) and four-six university volunteers/mentors, trained in the SciTrek method. This is the start of a journey of discovery where student groups are not passive spectators, but are given full ownership of the project. They formulate “testable questions,” and decide on an experimental plan, implemented over several days. K-12 grade groups present evidence-based claims based on data analysis, fostering student numeracy. Students present posters, discuss their findings, and provide an argument for their conclusions promoting critical thinking and writing skills. SciTrek’s diverse volunteers contribute to development of a “self as scientist” belief in diverse students. In this proposal, we seek to expand SciTrek, both to new schools, as well as partner institutions (Aims 1 and 3) with the overarching goal of altering the attrition of under-represented minorities (URMs) and girls from STEM. Recent research suggests that beyond a lack of understanding of science and engineering practices, attitudes developed in elementary school negatively impact the pipeline of students who choose STEM and biomedical careers. Understanding how these beliefs (interest, identity, possible/plausible self) arise and may be shaped is particularly relevant for retaining URMs and girls. SciTrek works within the current organizational structures to promote NGSS-aligned science pedagogy. Using SciTrek’s multilevel approach of (1) inquiry- based NGSS-aligned science experimentation focused on Science and Engineering Practices (2) four-six university volunteers/mentors in each classroom, and (3) teacher professional development we aim to: a) increase students’ understanding of what scientists do, and how knowledge is created, b) positively affect students’ attitudes towards and interest in science, as well as science identities, and c) maintain students’ interest in STEM careers.