Coastal Bend College (CBC), Beeville ISD (BISD) and St. Mary’s Academy Charter School (SMACS) purpose a five year Broad Implementation Project to expand two related successful Informal Science and Math pilot projects to 35 rural impoverished school districts served by the four CBC campuses. The Middle School project involved 5th through 8th grade students in hands on activities including scientific experimentation and discovery, robotics, cooking and science and math principles found in the fine and performing arts. The high school project encouraged students to experiment and engage in a variety of career fields to discover the relevant math and science applications. In the high school project, students could earn college credit. Both programs allowed the students the opportunity to work with math and science in a variety of formal and informal settings the students found interesting and challenging.
As a result of the success and the lessons learned from the two pilots, the partners propose a Broad Implementation Project. The ultimate goal of the project is to make the multilayered STEM enrichment program available to each of the 36 school districts in the CBC service area, and to serve a critical mass of students throughout the region. Using the summer program as a living laboratory that students, teachers, paraprofessionals, and families can adapt and take back to their own campuses, the program will act as a model or template for use with existing programs such as the 21st Century After School program to make existing summer and after school programs more science and math friendly. Further a goal of the program is to institutionalize the freshman and sophomore jumpstart program which allows students to obtain college credit in foundational STEM courses that connect to an associate’s degree in their chosen field.
The project is informed by the six strands identified in the National Academy of Sciences Informal Science’s report “Learning Science in Informal Environments: Places, People, and Pursuits.” The intellectual merit of the pilot project has been confirmed by the overall positive feedback and increase in understanding of science expressed by the participants. The BISD program was funded for additional study prior to the state funding cuts and SMACS was described by TEA officials as the “coolest” of the pilots. Research on giftedness and poverty and on Capturing Kids’ Hearts indicates that at-risk students require a more global approach. The summer discovery program provides that frame work. Students obtain math and science concepts in relevant hands-on applications. The project will demonstrate and document a variety of avenues for creating Informal Science Opportunities for rural, at-risk minority children.
SMACS, CBC and BISD propose expanding and combining the pilot projects during year 1 by increasing the number of grades eligible from 5-8 to 4-10, increasing the number of students eligible to participate from 120 to 200 and increasing the program offerings for each grade. In year two, the program will expand to students at the former CBC campuses increasing the students served to 500 per summer for an impact of 2,200 students over the course of 5 years. The programming will serve 36 school districts in the 9,483 mile CBC service area impacting up to 20,000 students and their teachers. Located in rural South Texas, covering 3 congressional districts, the entire CBC Service Area is economically disadvantaged. CBC is a Hispanic Serving Institution. STEM careers are not even considered by the majority of students in the service area. To cultivate a life long commitment to learning, the project introduces students to a student friendly college campuses in a positive manner at an early point in their education. During the program, students will meet caring committed adults from many career paths open to them including Natural Science, Engineering, LVN and RN Nursing and Computer Science.
CBC, BISD and SMACS propose a broad implementation project to help students recognize that math and science play significant roles in everyday activities. An understanding of elementary principles of math and science makes daily activities more satisfying and productive. An additional component of the project is professional development for classroom teachers to assist them in seizing teaching strategies that engage the natural curiosity and interest of children. Informal science and math lessons provide this critical component to instruction.
The program consists of six tracks that allow for an intermix of formal and informal learning opportunities in an interesting manner consistent with the six strands identified in Learning Science in Informal Environments: Places, People and Pursuits:
Strand 1: Experience excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world.
Strand 2: Come to generate, understand, remember, and use concepts, explanations, arguments, models, and facts related to science.
Strand 3: Manipulate, test, explore, predict, question, observe, and make sense of the natural and physical world.
Strand 4: Reflect on science as a way of knowing; on processes, concepts, and institutions of science; and on their own process of learning about phenomena.
Strand 5: Participate in scientific activities and learning practices with others, using scientific language and tools.
Strand 6: Think about themselves as science learners and develop an identity.