Science Learning +: Broadening Participation in STEM through Transdisciplinary Youth Development Activities

April 1st, 2017 - March 31st, 2022 | PROJECT

Co-led by the University of Washington and Science Gallery Dublin, this project aims to drive and transform the next generation of broadening participation efforts targeting teen-aged youth from communities historically underrepresented in STEM fields. This project investigates how out-of-school time (OST) programs that integrate epistemic practices of the arts, sciences, computer science, and other disciplines, in the context of consequential activities (such as creating radio segments, designing museum exhibitions, or building online games), can more broadly appeal to and engage youth who do not already identify as STEM learners. STEM-related skills and capacities (such as computational thinking, design, data visualizations, and digital storytelling) are key to productive and creative participation in many future civic and workplace activities, and are driving the 30 fastest-growing occupations in the US. But many new jobs will entail a hybrid blend of skills, such as programming and design skills that many students who have disengaged with academic STEM pathways may already have and would be eager to develop further. There is not currently a strong foundation of research-based evidence to guide the design, implementation, and evaluation transdisciplinary programs - in which STEM skills are embedded as tools for meaningful participation - or how such approaches relate to long-term outcomes. Hypothesizing that OST programs which effectively engage youth during their high-leverage teenage years can significantly impact youths' longer-term STEM learning trajectories, this project will involve: 1) Five 3-year studies documenting learning in different technology-rich contexts: Making Afterschool, Media Production, Museum Exhibition Design, Digital Arts Programs, and Pop-Up/Street Science Programs; 2) A 4-year longitudinal study, involving 100 youth from the above programs; 3) The creation of a number of practical measurement tools that can be used to monitor how programs are leveraging the intersections of the arts and sciences to support student engagement and learning; and 4) A Professional Development program conducted at informal science education conferences in the EU and US to engage the informal STEM field with emerging findings. This project is funded through Science Learning+, which is an international partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Wellcome Trust with the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The goal of this joint funding effort is to make transformational steps toward improving the knowledge base and practices of informal STEM experiences to better understand, strengthen, and coordinate STEM engagement and learning. Within NSF, Science Learning+ is part of the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program that seeks to enhance learning in informal environments.

Transdisciplinary, equity-oriented OST programs can provide supportive social contexts in which STEM concepts and practices are taken up as the means for meaningful participation in valued activities, building students' STEM skills in ways that can propel their future academic, career, and lifelong learning choices. This project will build the knowledge base about these emerging 21st century transdisciplinary approaches to broadening participation investigating: 1) The epistemic intersections across a range of disciplines (art, science, computation, design) that operate to broaden appeal and meaningful participation for underrepresented youth; 2) How transdisciplinary activities undertaken in the context of consequential learning (e.g., producing a radio segment, designing an exhibition for the general public) can illuminate the relevance of STEM to young people's lives, concerns, and futures; and 3) How participation in such programs can propel students' longer-term life choices and STEM learning trajectories. The project is a collaboration of the University of Washington, Science Gallery Dublin, Indiana University, Youth Radio in Oakland California, Guerilla Science in New York and London, and the London School of Economics.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

The Main Course Was Mealworms: The Epistemics of Art and Science in Public Engagement
The Trouble with STEAM and Why We Use it Anyway
Purposeful Pursuits: Leveraging the Epistemic Practices of the Arts and Sciences
Boundary spanners and thinking partners: adapting and expanding the research-practice partnership literature for public engagement with science (PES)

Team Members

Philip Bell, Principal Investigator, University of Washington
Elisabeth Soep, Co-Principal Investigator
Kylie Peppler, Co-Principal Investigator
Bronwyn Bevan, Former Principal Investigator, University of Washington
Lynn Scarff, Former Principal Investigator, Trinity College Dublin


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1647150
Funding Amount: $288,292.00

Funding Source: Wellcome Trust
Funding Program: SL+
Award Number: 206202/Z/17/Z
Funding Amount: £684,032


Audience: Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM | Technology
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Afterschool Programs | Community Outreach Programs | Exhibitions | Making and Tinkering Programs | Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Museum and Science Center Programs | Park | Outdoor | Garden Programs | Parks | Outdoor | Garden Exhibits | Public Programs