Exploration of hands-on/minds-on learning in an active STEM outreach program

Aimee Cloutier, Jerry Dwyer, Sonya E. Sherrod

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The importance of encouraging interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in students from underrepresented groups is well recognized. Summer outreach programs are a common means of accomplishing this goal, but balancing program content between information and entertainment can be a challenging issue. Typically, programs include hands-on activities to foster enthusiasm, but these activities do not always promote a deeper understanding of the physical principles involved. Active STEM was a five-day summer program highlighting the mathematics, science, and engineering related to the favorite sports of program participants (middle school males from underrepresented populations in STEM). The objective of Active STEM was to create a fun learning environment that students could enjoy, while still promoting deeper thinking with activities that are both hands-on and minds-on. Program instructors (a mathematics professor, an engineering graduate student, and two sports science graduate students) employed a student-centered classroom approach with program content focusing on the exploration of patterns, engineering principles, and mathematics. A pre-to-post survey was used to measure changes in student interest toward particular areas of STEM. While the participant group was too small for results to be conclusive, an overall increase in interest for STEM topics was documented, particularly in mathematics. Qualitative observations also highlighted the benefits of a classroom atmosphere that emphasized increased instructor-student interaction. These observations also provide insight into the type and amount of activity preferred by students. In general, program participants showed increased engagement in learning when they were allowed substantial time for activity, and they responded best to exploratory problem-solving activities including an engineering design challenge and pattern-based mathematics games. The value of exploratory game playing in the development of mathematical reasoning was clearly observed as well as its role in engaging students from underrepresented groups. It is recommended that future programs of this nature also include a measurement of gains in student critical thinking that result from such game playing.

Original languageEnglish
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 26 2016
Event123rd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2016Jun 29 2016


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