Roxanna Reyna-Islas, Program Specialist– 4-H and Youth Development, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Cynthia Black,Instructional Coach/Research Director, Roscoe Collegiate ISD.
Darrell Dromgoole, Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are considered the drivers of innovation in the United States economy (Olson & Riordan ,2012; Palmer & Wood, 2013), and STEM jobs are expected to make up a significant portion of the U.S. workforce (Chen, 2013; Ellis et al., 2016; Olson & Riordan ,2012). The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (Olson & Riordan ,2012) report suggests that academic institutions in the United States will need to increase the number of STEM graduates by one million over the next decade in order to meet the demand.
Historically, economically disadvantaged minorities have been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations (Burke, 2007). To successfully reverse this trend and better prepare economically disadvantaged minorities to engage in STEM, we need long-term intervention that is supported by schools, families, and other entities. Therefore, as Ward and Webster (2011) reported, professionals in youth development organizations, such as Extension through the 4-H and Youth Development Program, need to develop long-term relationships with communities to provide minority economically disadvantage youths with more STEM learning experiences. Advancing the participation of minorities in STEM is one way to help close the STEM gap significantly, as minorities are disproportionately underrepresented in STEM degree attainment and in the STEM workforce (National Science and Technology Council, 2013). Individuals of racial and ethnic minority groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM account for only 13% of the science and engineering workforce (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2015). The proportion of underrepresented minority students who received 4-year college degrees in STEM disciplined in 2011 to 18% which is far below their proportion in the U.S. college-age population which is 36% (National Science Board, 2014) and only 20% of underrepresented minorities who intend to earn a STEM undergraduate degree have done so (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, & Institute of Medicine, 2011; National Research Council & National Academy of Engineering, 2012). In the biological sciences, underrepresented minorities earn a combined 16% of bachelor’s degrees, and this gap between the population demographics and the demographics within STEM fields is widening (National Science Board, 2014).
In 2012, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service partnered with the Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District to provide student directed STEM research projects. The overall goal of this project is to engage youth to increase the number of under-represented students attending and graduating from community colleges and universities. The economic benefits associated with a college degree are clearly evident: on average, college graduates earn approximately $1 million more than high school graduates. Part of this difference is contributed to college graduates’ higher employment rates: for example, in 2016, the unemployment rate for high school graduates was 5.2% compared to only 2.7% for students having bachelor’s and 3.6% for those having an associate’s degree.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service focus is to provide support to RCISD in preparing youth through academic achievement, working with students from 3rd to 12th grade to provide experimental learning experiences for youth to build science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) mastery. Extension has been providing leadership in the development of student directed, research projects (Project Based Learning through 4-H) in the area of agriculture and natural resources to address real-world issues through real-world solutions. These hands-on projects are purposeful in connecting program content to career opportunities. Elementary and middle-school research projects are designed by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service faculty and add value to classroom instruction. The high school research projects are capstone projects conducted on an individual basis that are monitored by Extension.
For the past six years (2013-2019) students 5th grade students have been engaged in a 4-H STEM education program designed to augment classroom instruction. This analysis evaluated the following:
In 2019 a retrospective post evaluation of students was conducted to determine their satisfaction with Extension educational programming, understanding of various elements of research, their confidence in themselves, and their knowledge related to conducting research.
Table 1 reflects the gender of 5th grade students evaluated:
Table 1. Gender of 5th grade students evaluated at Roscoe Collegiate ISD.
Table 2 reports the ethnicity of 5th grade students evaluated at Roscoe Collegiate ISD.
Table 2. Ethnicity of 5th grade students evaluated at Roscoe Collegiate ISD.
When students were asked how satisfied they were with the STEM education they are receiving when developing a 4-H research poster 94.8% of the 5th graders reported they were satisfied a lot or some. Table 3 provides details regarding 5th grade student’s satisfaction level regarding STEM education they are receiving when developing 4-H research posters.
Table 3. Satisfaction level reported by 5th grade students in the STEM education they are receiving associated with developing 4-H research posters.
When students were asked if they understood how to create and test a research hypothesis 92.7% of the 5th graders indicated that they did understand how to create and test a research hypothesis with no 5th graders indicating they did not and 7.3% indicating that they were unsure. Table 4 provides details of regarding student’s understanding of how to create and test a research hypothesis.
Table 4. Understanding of how to create and test a research hypothesis.
When students were posed the question regarding their understanding of the basic elements of a scientific research poster 82.9% of the 5th graders indicated that they understood and 17.0% indicated that they either did not understand or were unsure of the basic elements of a scientific research poster. Table 5 provides details regarding student’s understanding of the basic elements of a scientific research poster.
Table 5. Understanding of basic elements of a scientific research poster.
When students were asked the question regarding their excitement about conducting more research projects in the future 75.6% of the 5th graders indicated that they were 14.6% indicating that they were not excited about future research opportunities. In addition 9.8% of the 5th graders indicating they were unsure. Table 6 reports details regarding student’s excitement about conducting future research projects.
Table 6. Excitement regarding conducting future research projects.
When students were asked about their confidence in various categories using a Likert scale of 1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3= agree, and 4= strongly agree. The 5th grade students reported a mean score of 3.49 for their willingness to listen, 3.37 for their abilities as a leader, 3.26 for speaking with others and 3.09 for their confidence in defending and explaining their research. The lowest mean score was reported by students in the category of giving a speech with a mean score of 2.37. Table 7 provides details regarding student’s confidence in various categories.
Table 7. Descriptive statistics for Student’s confidence (N=43).
Likert Scale; 1= Strongly disagree, 2= Disagree, 3= Agree, and 4= Strongly agree.
When students were posed question to determine their knowledge regarding elements of their research project 5th graders test score ranged from 40 to 100 with a mean score of 71.1. Table 8 provides details regarding student’s number of correct answers.
Table 8. Numbers of correct answers for questions to determine knowledge regarding elements of research projects.
Using the results from the pre and post-tests by 5th graders, data from the most recent year results (2018) was collected to capture the improvement or mastery of the TEKS science elements. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS are the state standards for Texas public schools from kindergarten to year 12. They detail the curriculum requirements for every course. State-mandated standardized tests measure acquisition of specific knowledge and skills outlined in this curriculum. The TEKS are taught to students and within the end of the year, they take a standardized test based on the TEKS called the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
From an instructional and extra curriculum (school wide 4-H) perspective learning objectives align with required TEKS science elements. Table 9 provides details for pre-test and post-test (official assessment) TEKS scores for 5th graders related to science objectives.
Table 9. Percentage of 5th grade students that master science TEKS.
1 P= Process; The student are expected to collect, record, and analyze information using tools, including calculators, microscopes, cameras, computers, hand lenses, metric rulers, Celsius thermometers, prisms, mirrors, balances, spring scales, graduated cylinders, beakers, hot plates, meter sticks, magnets, collecting nets, and notebooks; timing devices; and materials to support observations of habitats or organisms such as terrariums and aquariums.
2R=Readiness. These are TEKS that are introduced at this grade level and there is a very high likelihood that they will be tested on the state assessment;
3S= Supporting. These are TEKS that are scaffolded back in at this grade level and could be tested.
The following are some notable findings revealed from this evaluation:
Results from this research suggest that youth involved in 4-H STEM education within the school are satisfied with the STEM education they are acquiring, obtained an understanding of research components, increased their confidence in their overall leadership ability, and had a percentage point increase for several science and math TEKS competencies when measured in a pretest and posttest (official test). Extension educators are uniquely postured to assist students in acquiring STEM mastery due to Extension’s position within the Land-Grant University System and its wealth of resources available.
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