The basic philosophy of the ASL workshops is that if students are to become interested in engineering, they have to see and understand how scientific principles and engineering relate to their everyday life. Hands-on activities, such as the workshop projects implemented at the ASL, allow students to directly manipulate tools and materials, similar to those used by practicing engineers.
Specifically, the informal workshops at the ASL offer ideal conditions for the social interactions and authentic practice necessary for acquiring scientific principles and problem-solving skills involved in engineering. The Arizona Science Lab workshops:
Use numerous simple hands-on demonstrations to illustrate scientific principles;
Use authentic examples of everyday objects to illustrate how the scientific principles affect the engineering design and the operation of devices; and
Use a collaborative hands-on construction project to reinforce the science principles and the engineering design, build and test cycle.
The success of the Arizona Science Lab can be measured by examining the Workshop Summary Statistics over the past few years: number of workshops taught; districts and schools served; Title 1 schools served; gifted, special needs, and mainstream students participated; and teachers who return year after year with new groups of students. Here are Workshop Summaries for the past few school years:
2015-2016 School Year Summary Statistics
2016-2017 School Year - Students by Month
Measurement Research Project
As part of a research project, working with faculty members and graduate students at the Arizona State University, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, the Arizona Science Lab had the students complete a pre- and post- survey form to see if we could measure the effectiveness of the program. Comparison of pre- and post-workshop surveys indicated that the workshops significantly improve the student perceptions of engineers as problem solvers and of engineers having a positive impact on the world. Also, the student self-perception of familiarity with engineering as well as general STEM interest and self-efficacy were significantly increased.
The findings from this study demonstrate that the ASL workshops have a significant positive influence on students’ perceptions of engineering and STEM fields. The expert-guided, hands-on activities may promote student attitudes through three primary mechanisms. First, by carrying out simple, authentic engineering projects, children are able to understand the problem-solving steps undertaken in developing real-world engineering solutions. Second, by putting to use the physical products of these engineering projects in the real world, students come to recognize the local and global impact of engineering solutions. Third, by showing students that they can achieve engineering solutions themselves, the activities increase the students’ feelings of familiarity with engineering. Each of these factors not only elevates attitudes toward engineering, but also increases students’ interest in, and self-efficacy toward, STEM fields more generally.
The results of this study have been published in 2012 in the Global Journal of Engineering Education. A reprint of this paper can be downloaded by clicking below: