Since the inclusion of engineering in the Next Generation Science Standards, P-12 educators have been challenged to find high quality engineering curricula and instructional minutes to meet these expectations. Fortunately, afterschool and camp programs have recently increased their focus on STEM offerings and research suggests that participation in these Out-of-School Time (OST) activities can have positive impacts on school attendance, engagement and affiliation. Because OST programs play an important role in kids’ STEM education, additional research is warranted to better understand how OST activities may influence students’ attitudes toward, and affiliation with, STEM subjects. This paper examines how engaging with engineering in OST settings impacts students’ attitudes toward, and affiliation with, engineering.
The data are drawn from four sites, two in the Northeastern United States and two in the Southwest, that implemented one of two hands-on engineering units in an OST program. Sites were both school-affiliated and non-school-affiliated and served both rural and urban middle-school-aged youth. A total of 53 youth and 4 educators participated in the engineering activities which focused on water resource engineering and remote sensing engineering and were developed through a collaboration with NASA. Each unit consists of eight 60-minute activities. All activities across the four sites were observed by research staff as well as video and audio recorded, with 96 hours of video data collected. Additional data collection consisted of a validated survey designed to measure student interest and attitudes in engineering, online educator surveys, educator interviews, student focus groups, and the collection of student engineering journals.
Quantitative analysis of the student survey data indicate that exposure to engineering activities promotes an engineering identity and a positive attitude toward engineering among participating youth. Qualitative analysis of the video data, surveys, and interviews using event maps and discourse analysis suggests why and how students’ attitudes may change. The video demonstrate that during the engineering activities students have opportunities to engage in authentic engineering practices and habits of mind that help them build their knowledge of and affiliation with engineering. For example, in one activity students evaluate the properties of materials and discuss how those properties may affect the performance of their technology. In another activity, students test their design, collect data and make improvements based on this data. This paper explores these connections and discusses how specific components of the engineering activities facilitate the development of identity and engineering habits of mind. To date, there has been little research that has collected video data to explore how engineering learning and affiliation can occur in Out-of-School Time settings. This study advances the field’s understanding of the affordances of the OST setting by documenting how well-designed engineering challenges and activities can influence youth identity and ways of thinking.
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