Active Research

Engineering a Community-Family Partnership: Developing a Program Aimed at Making and Design Practices in Home Environments   (NSF DRL 1759259)

Families play a vital role in children’s paths toward STEM careers yet little is known about how this influence works. This project addresses this knowledge gap by developing, implementing, and refining a program for integrating Making and engineering design practices into the home environments of families from under-resourced communities. The researchers hypothesize that an intervention focused on engaging underserved youth and their caregivers about ways to implement Making/engineering design practices in their home will enhance their awareness of and affinity for STEM careers relative to those who do not participate. The project has 3 specific aims. (1) Investigate features of the intervention that best support participation and implementation of Making/engineering design practices in home environments. (2) Investigate changes in each youth’s STEM identity in relation to engaging in Making/engineering design practices with caregivers in their home. (3) Examine shifts in parental: (a) views of engineering, (b) support for their child’s engagement in engineering design practices, and (c) beliefs about engineering as a viable degree/career option for their child.

The project is unique in that it takes a rare process look at how students and families engage in home-based STEM activities. It concurrently assesses families’ readiness to support STEM career awareness and children’s engagement in home-based STEM activities. The target audience is families with children in grades 3-6 enrolled in Title I schools in Bloomington, Indiana and Broome County, New York. Project partners include the Boys and Girls Clubs in these communities who assist with recruitment and with the delivery of the intervention, Family Making Nights. At home, families will document their design activities as they unfold. Stimulated recall with video and semi-structured interviews will help the research team understand families’ thinking about what occurred during the activities. The use of a comparison group allows the team to compare the behaviors and outcomes associated with “trained” and “untrained” family supports. Grounded in social cognitive career theory and research on interest, the project’s focus on identity development has potential to inform theories of social learning. As such, the project will advance the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program’s efforts to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).


Studying the Role of Failure in Design and Making   (NSF DRL 1623452)

While the term ‘failure’ brings to mind negative associations, there is a current focus on failure as a driver of innovation and development in many professional fields. It is also emerging from prior research that for STEM professionals and educators, failure plays an important role in designing and making to increase learning, persistence and other non-cognitive skills such as self-efficacy and independence. By investigating how youth and educators attend to moments of failure, how they interpret what this means, and how they respond, we will be better able to understand the dynamics of each part of the experience. The research team will be working with youth from urban, suburban and rural settings, students from Title I schools or who qualify for free/reduced-price lunches, those from racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as students who are learning English as a second language. These youth are from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM and in making, and research indicates they are more likely to experience negative outcomes when they experience failure.

The intellectual merit of this project centers on establishing a baseline understanding of how failure in making is triggered and experienced by youth, what role educators play in the process, and what can be done to increase persistence and learning, rather than failure being an end-state. The research team will investigate these issues through the use of qualitative and quantitative research methods. In particular, the team will design and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions on increasing the abilities of youth and educators in noticing and responding to failures and increasing positive (e.g., resilience) outcomes. Research sites are selected because they will allow collection of data on youth from a wide range of backgrounds. The research team will also work to test and revise their hypothesized model of the influence of factors on persistence through failures in making.


Role Models in Engineering Education (NSF DRL 1657519)

The Role Models in Engineering Education project (Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach and Indiana University) will improve the impact of engineering outreach programs through research and tool development. Providing role models through outreach is widely practiced and recommended, yet little is known about how elementary students, particularly girls, choose engineering role models. Engineering interest declines as girls enter middle school, making elementary school a potentially critical developmental window for bolstering engineering aspirations. The project will generate and share knowledge of female elementary students’ selection of role models in a university-based engineering outreach program. Specifically, it will increase understanding of the ways in which girls identify and select engineering role models and it will contribute to understanding how role models promote interest in engineering careers by girls. This project will inform best practices in engineering outreach, and help university outreach leaders develop more effective educational interventions for female elementary students. Ultimately, this research aims to increase the number of girls and women studying engineering and working as engineers. Increasing the number of girls and women interested in engineering increases educational and economic equity for women and increases the pool of skilled engineers, thereby improving technology development in the nation. This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students’ motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).

The Role Models in Engineering Education project goals are to advance the understanding of the mechanisms by which female elementary students identify engineering role models and to develop resources to support effective role model-student interactions that can be used by any university-based engineering outreach program. The intervention model draws on the stereotype inoculation model, role model theory, and design-based research practices. Over three years, the project will study 160 elementary students and 96 undergraduate engineering students in an established engineering outreach program, and will focus on positioning the undergraduates as emulable role models by making their engineering identities evident and by building supportive relationships between the undergraduates and the elementary students. The project will utilize in-depth qualitative analysis of the interactions between role models and students, complemented with quantitative tools to evaluate identity and career awareness. This research will inform an iterative process of designing resources and training to prepare role models in engineering and optimize their interactions with elementary students. This project aims to increase understanding of how girls take up engineering role models and to develop effective role model training. By adding to knowledge of engineering role model identification and uptake, this research may help outreach providers spark and sustain more girls’ interest in engineering study and engineering careers.


In this project, our team is creating suites of tools—including surveys, assessments, and observation protocols—that provide educators, researchers and program administrators with information to evaluate maker programs and experiences with youth. We identified a set of five initial targets for evaluation, based on a surveys and interviews with formal and informal maker educators. The targets include: creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, agency/independence, engagement in STEM practices and development of interest and identity in STEM/making. More about this project, including draft versions of our instruments, can be found here: MakEval


MakEngineering Kits (IMLS LG-99-17-0025-17)

In this IMLS-funded project we conducted a pilot study to investigate the circulation of maker kits in school libraries at Title I schools. We sought to better understand how engaging children and their parents/caregivers in engineering design practices in home environments may impact students’ interest in engineering. The project was informed by perspectives from university researchers, school libraries, and a children’s museum. Results of this assessment will be shared broadly with library and museum professionals to inform STEM oriented family learning experiences nationwide. More about this work can be found here: MakEngineering Kits


Older Projects

Assessing Multinational Interest in STEM
Keeping America at the forefront of research and innovation is a common talking point at the highest levels of government (e.g., Obama, 2011). The US is not alone in expressing these goals, which have become a signature of global education and economic reform policies (e.g., Osborne & Dillon, 2008; Tytler et al., 2008; Woolnough et al., 1997). Recent analyses of interview (Maltese & Tai, 2010) and survey (Maltese & Tai, 2011; Tai, Liu, Maltese & Fan, 2006) data indicate that student interest in STEM coursework, informal experiences and career options plays a significant role in STEM persistence, above and beyond achievement and enrollment. While prior findings establish the importance of early development of career interest, how such interests develop and evolve over time, particularly at critical stages (e.g., choosing a major), to influence persistence remains unclear.


Student Interest in Science
Keeping students engaged and interested in the classroom is an essential factor in successful teaching and learning. To educators, the approach seems obvious: get students interested and they are more likely to engage in classroom activities. The fundamental question is how to foster this level of student interest and engagement in content, specifically, science, mathematics, and technology. Currently, we are working on a non-interventional, survey research study designed to track the interest and engagement students have with topics and activities related to science, mathematics, and technology.

A related project is our Assessment of Multinational Interest in STEM. The goal of this project is to investigate the elementary, secondary and tertiary experiences individuals had in STEM in both formal and informal educational settings. We seek to learn from those who continue to pursue STEM as well as those who were once interested but left the pathway toward a STEM degree or career. By collecting data internationally, we can begin to compare the experiences of individuals across a wide range of contexts.


Undergraduate Scientists: Measuring the Outcomes of Research Experiences from multiple perspectives (US-MORE)
Undergraduate research in the sciences is increasingly identified as a critical experience for students. However, the true nature of what occurs in these experiences and how they lead to learning has generally been under-investigated. In this project we will used mixed methods to improve both the breadth and depth of our understanding of how these experiences benefit students and more broadly, science.


Data Interpretation along the Novice – Expert Continuum
The goal of this line of research is to investigate the differences in data analysis skills along a continuum of expertise. While our original project focused on individuals on a spectrum from novice undergraduates to practicing science professionals in the earth science content domain, our current NSF Pathways project focuses on children and caregivers at science museums. Specifically, this research is intended to better understand how people read, interpret and create graphical representations of numerical data.


Learning from the Learner’s Point of View
The goal of this work is to gain a better understanding of learning by studying formal and informal educational experiences from the learners perspective. To do this we are using point of view cameras and video analysis to gauge attention and behavior during various educational activities, including science lectures, lab research and fieldwork.

Making Initiatives