Breaking Stereotypes through Culturally Relevant Storytelling: Optimizing Out-of-school Time STEM Experiences for Elementary-Age Girls to Strengthen their STEM Interest Pathways

September 1st, 2021 - August 31st, 2025 | PROJECT

The U.S. urgently needs the perspective and knowledge of females who are Latinx and African American in STEM fields. Providing early STEM interest pathways for these populations that are historically underrepresented in STEM fields is critical to creating gender equity in the STEM workforce. There are profound inequities in STEM fields for women of color that impact their interest and persistence in these fields. This Research in Service to Practice project will build important knowledge about early pathways for reducing these inequities by developing early interest in STEM. Gender stereotypes around who can do STEM are one of the sociocultural barriers that contributes to girls’ loss of interest in STEM. These stereotypes emerge early and steer young women away from STEM studies and pursuits. Exposing girls to role models is an effective strategy for challenging stereotypes of who belongs and succeeds in STEM. This project will explore how an afterschool program that combines narrative and storytelling approaches, STEM role models, and family supports, sparks elementary-age girls’ interest in STEM and fosters their STEM identity. The project targets K-5 students and families from underrepresented groups (e.g., Latinx and African American) living in poverty. The project will evaluate an inquiry-based, afterschool program that serves both elementary school girls and boys and explores if adding storytelling components to the out-of-school time (OST) learning will better support girls’ interest in STEM. The storytelling features include: 1) shared reading of books featuring females in STEM; 2) students’ own narratives that reminisce about their STEM experiences; and 3) video interviews of female parents and community members with STEM careers. A secondary aim of this project is to build capacity of schools and afterschool providers to deliver and sustain afterschool STEM enrichment experiences. Museum-based informal STEM experts will co-teach with afterschool providers to deliver the Children’s Museum Houston (CMH) curriculum called Afterschool Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (A’STEAM). Although A’STEAM has been implemented in over 100 sites and shows promise, to scale-up this and other promising afterschool programs, the team will evaluate how professional development resources and the co-facilitation approach can build afterschool educators' capacity to deliver the most promising approaches.

Researchers at the Children’s Learning Institute (CLI) at UTHealth will partner with Museum-based informal STEM educators at CMH, YES Prep, a high performing charter school serving >95% of underrepresented groups, and other afterschool providers serving mostly underrepresented groups experiencing poverty. Storytelling components that highlight females in STEM will be added to an existing afterschool program (A'STEAM Basic). This derivative program is called A’STEAM Stories. Both instantiations of the afterschool programs (Basic and Stories) include an afterschool educator component (ongoing professional development and coaching), a family component (e.g., home extension activities, in-person, and virtual family learning events), and two age-based groups (K-G2 and G3-G5). Further, the A’STEAM Stories professional development for educators includes training that challenges STEM gender stereotypes and explains how to make science interesting to girls. The 4-year project has four phases. In Phase 1, researchers, CMH, and afterschool educators will adapt the curriculum for scalability and the planned storytelling variation. During Phase 2, the research team will conduct an experimental study to evaluate program impacts on increasing STEM interest and identity and reducing STEM gender stereotypes. To this end, the project’s team will recruit 36 sites and 1200 children across Kindergarten through Grade 5. This experimental phase is designed to produce causal evidence and meet the highest standards for rigorous research. The researchers will randomly assign sites to one of three groups: control, A’STEAM Basic, or A’STEAM Stories. During Phase 3, researchers will follow-up with participating sites to understand if the inclusion of afterschool educators as co-facilitators of the program allowed for sustainability after Museum informal science educator support is withdrawn. In Phase 4, the team will disseminate the afterschool curriculum and conduct two training-of-trainers for local and national afterschool educators. This study uses quantitative and qualitative approaches. Data sources include educator and family surveys, focus groups, and interviews as well as observations of afterschool program instructional quality and analysis of parent-child discourse during a STEM task. Constructs assessed with children include STEM interest, STEM identity, and STEM gender stereotype endorsement as well as standardized measures of vocabulary, science, and math. Findings will increase understanding of how to optimize OST STEM experiences for elementary-age girls and how to strengthen STEM interest for all participants. Further, this project will advance our knowledge of the extent to which scaffolded, co-teaching approaches build capacity of afterschool providers to sustain inquiry-based STEM programs.

This Research in Service to Practice project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to (a) advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; (b) provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; (c) advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and (d) engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments.

Project Website(s)

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Project Products

2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2115579

Team Members

Tricia Zucker, Principal Investigator, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Gloria Yeomans-Maldonado, Co-Principal Investigator
Cheryl McCallum, Co-Principal Investigator, Children's Museum of Houston
Lance Menster, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2115579
Funding Amount: $1,087,864.00


Access and Inclusion: Black | African American Communities | Ethnic | Racial | Hispanic | Latinx Communities | Low Socioeconomic Status | Women and Girls
Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Families | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Art | music | theater | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Afterschool Programs | Museum and Science Center Programs | Public Programs

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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