High School STEM Research Program Expands This Fall

High School STEM Research Program Expands This Fall

student research

As a way to give high school students authentic science experiences, the STEM Student Research program supports the development of independent student research courses, clubs and curricula. This fall STEM Student Research will ramp up training for high school teachers and add an innovative mentoring system for student projects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) is launching several initiatives to increase teachers’ ability to facilitate inquiry-based research and to build mentoring opportunities. OSEP’s expansion of STEM Student Research is partially supported by a one-year grant from Motorola Solutions Foundation that will help to fund the following:

  • A new fully online course will reach more teachers who want to develop STEM student research programs. For the past two years, a 10-week in-person course has been well received, and an online version will be convenient for reaching a broader range of teachers across Chicagoland and Illinois.
  • A new online mentor module will help educate and train mentors about STEM research at the high school level. Since high school teachers cannot be experts in every research topic students select, “it’s critical that these students have a mentor in academia or industry,” says OSEP associate director Amy Pratt.
  • Starting this fall, a “mentor matching engine” will match high school researchers to mentors including professors, graduate students and scientists. Similar to an online dating website, the tool will allow students with testable research questions to search among mentors who have entered information about specializations and availability. The mentor matching engine is being developed in partnership with the Research and Development Learning Exchange through Illinois Pathways and the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
  • A new professional learning community for teachers running student research programs will enable teachers to network and share best practices about implementing programs.
  • A spring showcase at Northwestern University will allow students from Chicago Public Schools and Chicago-area schools to present their science projects and enter a competition.

The expansion of the STEM Student Research Program reflects OSEP’s goals of providing quality professional development and giving students access to authentic science experiences. Data shows that when high school students are engaged in STEM research they are more likely to go into a STEM field and more likely to stick with it, according to Pratt.

Many of the teachers who have taken the facilitator course are starting up programs as new clubs, curricula or classes in their schools. Teachers say they benefit from the professional development the STEM Student Research Program provides. For example, course participant Dawn Biewanga of Maine South High School says, “I have a much better sense of the needs of my staff and students in order to launch a program at my school, and it was wonderful to see how other schools are approaching their own programs.”

STEM student research differs at different schools. Formats vary from summer programs to after-school programs to clubs to in-class experiences. Topics vary from fetal alcohol syndrome to genetics to green technologies. However, what remains the same is that student researchers develop their own questions, use scientific methods and present their results.

Interest in independent STEM student research is increasing, according to Pratt. “Kids are demanding it, parents are demanding it, and school districts are demanding it,” she says.

At Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, the Office of STEM Education Partnerships connects classrooms from kindergarten through high school with the cutting-edge resources of the University. As with all OSEP programs, a key goal of the STEM Student Research program is to make the way science is taught in schools more similar to the way science looks in university and industry labs and to create excitement for learning.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/27/17