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Getting the MOST out of out-of-school STEM experiences

"Professors Barry Fishman and Leslie Rupert Herrenhohl were awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for their work on Getting the most out of out-of-school STEM experiences"

Tuesday, 11/30/2021

Traditional classrooms aren’t the only places students can learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Kids also are exposed to STEM during out-of-school experiences in formal and informal settings, gaining knowledge and mastery of subject matter.

Out-of-school-time (OST) STEM encounters are important pathways to learning, but experiential knowledge isn’t clearly recognized by educational institutions; no grades are given, no transcripts are printed. No formal documentation means that students who have hands-on experience but not the typical credentials might be left behind for future STEM opportunities. This gap can be especially problematic for students from underrepresented groups or underresourced communities.

University of Michigan School of Information researchers have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help democratize STEM learning for all students. The interdisciplinary research effort is co-led by UMSI professor of information Barry Fishman and School of Education professor of educational studies Leslie Rupert Herrenkohl. Fishman also is an Arthur F Thurnau Professor at the School of Education.

“Learning happens everywhere and all the time,” says Fishman. “But when it comes to the college admissions process and job seeking, we give outsize weight to what is learned in school.” The researchers  want to uncover another way to document STEM experiences, beyond traditional school-produced transcripts.

“Our goal is to provide youth with a transcript that they control and can customize to represent their learning across different contexts,” says Fishman. He says the organizations that lead learning experiences will certify a youth’s learning and mastery of STEM skills in OST settings. 

A new transcript could help college admissions officers recognize OST learning as well as a  traditional school transcript, he says. “By expanding the range of ways learners can demonstrate mastery, we expand the range of learners who can participate in higher education and other post-secondary opportunities,” says Fishman.

Fishman notes that the team will need to provide for careful documentation of learning while keeping OST activities fun and unlike being in a classroom. “Assessment of any kind can have the unintended consequence of making OST learning ‘feel like' school,’” he says. “One of the challenges in this work is to design ways of documenting learning that are unobtrusive and foreground what youth, families, and OST providers value most about these activities.”

The team will receive funding for two years for their project “Collaborative Research: Mastery in Out-of-School-Time (MOST): Documenting STEM Learning to Expand Educational Pathways.” They will be collaborating with researchers from the U-M School of Education, along with scholars from School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University and the University of Washington College of Education.

The out-of-school programs involved include the college access program Wolverine Pathways in Southeast Michigan, a consortium called STEAMville in the Chicago area, and one of the oldest social services agencies in Seattle, the Neighborhood House

- Sarah Derouin, UMSI Public Relations Specialist

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2114840. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.