Exciting Parents and Students about STEM

The Aspire Institute STEM App launches today! 

Girl at computer A recent article from the Intel Foundation outlines the influence that parents play in encouraging their children to pursue a STEM education. It concludes that parents are the most influential person(s) helping their children decide which career to pursue according. 1 For boys, parents were twice as likely as teachers or counselors, and four times as likely as friends to influence them. For girls, parents were three times as likely as teachers and counselors, and 16 times as likely as friends to influence them. Another reason parents are so influential is that, according to a recent MTV study, a majority of kids (58%) view their parents as their “best friend.” 2 Thus, increased parent excitement about and engagement in STEM activities with their children holds the promise of inspiring STEM interest among their children, and perhaps the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technologists.

Yet STEM activities for parents and students are not readily accessible. While there are numerous websites available that provide fun math and science facts and games for elementary age students, the reality is that parents have limited time to search the web for this kind of data to engage their children. More importantly, data on the web does not necessarily structure parent/child engagement. Providing an application that will automatically send snippets of activities to parents allows them to engage with their child in STEM areas in a fun and interactive way.

Thanks to initial funding from the Silvia Earl Award, the Aspire Institute has made great strides in developing a mobile-accessible STEM activity application. The application provides a daily STEM activity to parents either as a text message with a link to the web application or via email which would include the daily STEM activity. Specifically, this funding allowed us to gather 30 STEM activities from a broad range of contributors and pilot the application from April 1 st -May 17 th at a Boston Public School. Since the school is 70% Latino, the application and all the STEM activities will available in both English and Spanish.

To develop content for the application, requests for STEM activity submissions were sent to middle and high school students, teachers, colleges/universities, STEM professionals and relevant non-profit organizations. In response, we received over 60 submissions.  These submissions were carefully reviewed by our content experts, and 30 activities were accepted for the pilot.

Along with the daily STEM activities, we have embedded a number of weekly clues that help to solve a riddle that was posed at the start of the pilot to all parents and students. We plan to survey the parents after the pilot to measure effectiveness of delivery method, change in interest of STEM, and increased collaboration with child around learning.  This pilot will provide important, initial data on how engaging families found the STEM activities, and whether parent-child collaboration increased.

In addition to the pilot rollout, we are collaborating with The Discovery Museums to have an end of pilot “STEM” party for all the students in grades 3, 4, and 5 at the Sarah Greenwood School on May 31 st . Some of the activities that the parents and students did at home will be showcased and expanded upon by The Discovery Museums’ staff. As an incentive, all students who bring all six weekly clues to the party will be entered in a raffle to win iPod shuffles and a grand prize of an iPad. We will also unveil the answer to the riddle!

Getting students, along with their parents, excited about STEM topics will go a long way in a student’s interest in STEM learning and possibly even a career in STEM!

1 STEM Perceptions: Student & Parent Study By Harris Interactive; commissioned by Microsoft (2011)

2 MTV Millennials Study commissioned by Intel (2012)

Barbara Joseph joined Aspire in December 2010 as STEP Project Manager for a NASA-funded grant. Her role is to manage the development and rollout of high-quality online math and science in-service courses to elementary teachers. Prior to joining Aspire, she spent over 20 years of her career in high technology, specifically software localization. She has held various positions from software engineer, director of technical services, vice president of operations and most recently, project/program manager. As an advisor to TenMarks Education, an online supplemental math program, Joseph was involved in consulting on the design and content of the program and website. She received her BA from Boston College majoring in Computer Science and French, and minoring in Math. She also received an Entrepreneurial Management Certificate from Babson College.