STEM Researchers receive Google Sponsorship



Now that Lincoln Logs and tinker toys are a thing of the past, researchers are looking into what sparks the interest of a new generation of STEM leaders.

Two School of Education researchers have received a $150,000 sponsorship from Google for their ongoing research on what triggers early interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to an IU press release.

Associate professor of science education Adam Maltese and associate professor of learning sciences Kylie Peppler will be building on their previous research on what makes kids interested in STEM and what factors lead them to continue in the field.

Maltese and Peppler’s initial research involved interviewing three different survey groups: adults working in STEM professions, a national representation of adults and student participants in the Google Science Fair. After interviewing the STEM adult group, they found that STEM interest was introduced at a young age.

“I still think that everyday there are people born who have this interest and have this desire to do that [tinkering] with things,” Maltese said. “So our question is, what is that thing they’re doing now?”

With the technological advances of household items like toothbrushes, razors and alarm clocks, the opportunity to rebuild through trial and error is limited.

Research on what triggers STEM interest is motivated by the Maker Movement, which promotes a DIY style to technology.

This was the inspiration for the White House’s Educate to Innovate initiative in 2009. The initiative promotes STEM interest early on, especially in underrepresented groups like women and minorities. The White House hopes to broaden participation as well as showcase a federal investment in STEM, according to their website.

While politicians believe a technological literate society can provide economic benefits, broader STEM interest may encourage further positive advantages, Maltese said.

“I do not believe that everyone needs to be a scientist or engineer, but I do like to believe that if we had more folks in the country with a little bit better sense of science and engineering that we, as a country, might make better decisions related to energy and the environment,” he said.

The money awarded by Google will fund further surveys and interviews, which will begin in August. In the future, these findings may be used to educate teachers on what hooks kids on STEM, ?Maltese said.

If the research shows students showing different interest within STEM based on their location, gender or age then this can be applied to future teachings. Creating STEM education and activities specific for certain demographics will increase the likelihood of students pursuing STEM.

This, hopefully, will diversify the STEM field, Maltese said.

Maltese and Peppler’s current research finds the majority of adults in STEM professions are middle-aged, middle class white males with higher ?education.

“If we’re able to get more people from different backgrounds, experiences and styles of thinking involved in science, math and engineering, then that really broadens up all the potential innovation that can happen down the line,” Maltese said.

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