This NSF S-STEM Grantee poster examines the results of a selective university's summer science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) bridge program on participants' introductory chemistry grades in a quasi-experimental design that compared performance of participants in the bridge program, a control group with similar preparation as bridge program participants, and the remaining students in the class. The outcome of interest was first-semester chemistry exam performance. The researchers also examined performance on exam items that directly tested concepts taught in the summer bridge program.
The bridge program was designed to prepare matriculating students for core STEM coursework through six weeks of intensive instruction in math, physics, and chemistry. Students are selected for participation in the bridge program based on their SAT scores, AP credits, and scores on a faculty-developed diagnostic exam. Control group participants were also students in the natural science and engineering divisions who qualified for the bridge program but who could not participate for various reasons.
The research hypotheses were that 1) bridge program participants would outscore the control group on bridge-taught chemistry exam questions and 2) bridge program participants would also outscore the control group on chemistry questions not taught in the bridge program, due to acquiring a stronger foundation of chemistry overall. The researchers explored but did not hypothesize whether program participants would outperform the rest of the class on either item type.
An analysis of chemistry grades, which consisted of three exams and a final, was conducted. Exam topics were divided roughly evenly between questions covering content taught in the bridge program and content not covered. A t-test showed significant differences between the experimental and control groups on exam questions directly taught in the bridge program, such that bridge participants outscored the control group by a large margin (t(111) = 4.42, p < .001, d = .84), supporting Hypothesis 1. Further, there was no significant difference between the experimental group and the remaining students' scores on these questions (t(1018) = 1.30, p = .20). For the introductory chemistry exam questions that covered content not taught during the program, there was no significant difference between the experimental group and the control group's exam scores (t(111) = 0.79, p = .43), providing no support for Hypothesis 2. Furthermore, a planned contrast showed that both groups lagged the rest of the class's performance on these questions (F(1,1043) = 11.62, p = .001, ηp²= .011).
These findings provide insight into the effectiveness of teaching STEM content in bridge programs. The fact that participants successfully retain and apply the content taught during the summer program is promising, especially given that bridge participants' scores on program-taught content were actually brought to a level equal to the rest of the students in the class (who were theoretically better prepared for college coursework). Further research is needed into how to effectively teach participants the skills to use the bridge program content as a foundation for learning other STEM topics and ultimately successfully graduating as a STEM major.
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