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Broadening Access to STEM Learning through Out-of-School Learning Environments

Abstract

"For nearly thirty years, researchers and policymakers been working to understand and develop strategies and policies to address the persistent underrepresentation of women and girls, youth from low socioeconomic status (SES) communities, and those from particular racial/ethnic minority backgrounds (Hispanic, African-American, and Native American) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies and in key STEM career fields. The majority of this work has been focused on improving K-20 classroom dynamics and higher education recruitment and retention strategies (Lee, 2010, 2011; Hill, Corbett, & St. Rose, 2009; Byars-Winston, A., Estrada, Y., Howard, C., Davis, D., & Zalapa, J., 2010). Outcomes of this research include identification of evidence-based instructional strategies for improving academic outcomes as well as consideration of environmental and structural challenges contributing to these gaps. Interestingly, the findings of these studies point to pedagogical practices long considered canon in out-of-school (OST) learning environments, including hands-on learning experiences, inquiry-based pedagogy, and contextualized content (Dierking, 2007; Lee, 2011; Hill, et al, 2009; National Research Council, 2009). In fact, over the same thirty years, there have been a number of successful efforts by OST providers to engage youth from these underrepresented demographics in STEM learning, many of which produced significant positive results not only in the STEM achievement of participating youth, but in their overall academic success (Grack Nelson & Ostgaard, 2011, Fadigan & Hammrich, 2004; Center for Aquatic Sciences, n.d.; Techbridge, n.d.). Additionally, OST STEM programs have developed rigorous recruitment and retention strategies for their programs, relying on deep relationship building with youth, parents, schools, and other community partners (Coalition for Science After School, 2014; Sneider & Burke, 2010; Intercultural Center for Research in Education, 2005). This paper will explore evidence-based strategies developed in OST STEM programs for successfully engaging youth from underrepresented demographics in STEM learning."

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