Research Synthesis of Effective Inclusion Practices for Neurodiverse K-12 Learners in Informal STEM Learning Contexts

July 15th, 2021 - June 30th, 2023 | PROJECT

Informal STEM learning environments, programs, and policies can be designed to support and promote neurodiversity through inclusive practices. This project will explore the benefits of informal STEM learning for K-12 neurodiverse learners through a systematic review and meta-analysis of extant literature and research grounded in the theory of social model of ability. This framework is an asset-based approach and aims to promote social, cognitive, and physical inclusion, leading to positive outcomes. Using various quantitative and qualitative methodologies, this project endeavors to collect and synthesize the evidence for supporting and enhancing accessibility and inclusiveness in informal STEM learning for K-12 neurodiverse learners. It will explore key features of informal STEM learning and effective, evidence-based strategies to effectively engage children and youth with neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and dyspraxia, in informal STEM learning environments. The findings of this complex synthesis will provide a timely contribution to deeper understanding of supports for neurodiversity while also highlighting areas that inform further research, shifts in practice, and policy.

The systematic review will occur over a two-year period. It will focus on identifying program elements that promote inclusion of children and youth with neurodevelopmental disabilities in informal STEM learning contexts. Specifically, the review will explore two overarching research questions and several sub-research questions:

  • RQ1. What program elements (teaching and learning variables) in informal STEM learning settings facilitate inclusion of K-12 neurodiverse STEM learners? Sub-RQ1a: What are the overlapping and discrete characteristics of the program elements that facilitate social, cognitive, and physical inclusion?
    • Sub-RQ1b: In what ways do the program elements that facilitate inclusion vary by informal STEM learning setting?
  • RQ2: What program elements (teaching and learning variables) in informal STEM learning settings are correlated with benefits for K-12 neurodiverse STEM learners? Sub-RQ2a: What are the overlapping and discrete characteristics of the program elements that correlate with increased STEM identity, self- efficacy, interest in STEM, or STEM learning?
    • Sub-RQ2b: In what ways do the program elements that correlate with positive results for students vary by informal STEM learning setting? The research synthesis will consider several different types of studies, including research and evaluation; experimental and quasi-experimental designs; quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods; and implementation studies.

The research team will (a) review all analyses and organize findings to illustrate patterns, factors, and relationships, (b) identify key distinctions and nuances derived from the contexts represented in the literature, and (c) revisit and confirm the strength of evidence for making overall assertions of what works, why, and with whom. The findings will be disseminated in practice briefs, journal articles, the AISL resource center, as well as presentations and materials for researchers, practitioners, and informal STEM leaders. Ultimately, this work will result in a comprehensive synthesis of effective informal STEM learning practices for neurodiverse K-12 learners and identify opportunities for further research and development.

This literature review and meta-analysis project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

Project Website(s)

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Project Products

2023 AISL Awardee Mini-Poster: 2115542

Team Members

Ronda Jenson, Principal Investigator, Northern Arizona University
Kelly Roberts, Co-Principal Investigator


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2115542
Funding Amount: $234,796.00


Access and Inclusion: People with Disabilities
Audience: Educators | Teachers | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Informal | Formal Connections | Media and Technology | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | 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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