Roads, rails and race cars: A STEM educational program for 4 th-12th grade students

Cynthia Marie Baker, Laurence R. Rilett, Gina M. Kunz, Gwen C. Nugent

Research output: Contribution to journalConference article

Abstract

Many U.S. public school systems have experienced declining standardized test scores in math and science. Of particular concern is an increasing disparity in the scores of underprivileged and underserved students compared to other peer groups. This trend poses a distressing problem for the engineering field, and has been identified as a major issue by the US Department of Transportation, being viewed as a threat to the sustainability of the nation's infrastructure and economic growth. This issue is compounded by a growing demand in the transportation industry for skilled workers. Recognizing these concerns, a number of entities, including the University of Nebraska's Mid- America and Nebraska Transportation Centers (MATC/NTC), the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools (CYFS), the Nebraska Department of Education and Lincoln Public Schools, of Lincoln, Nebraska, formed a consortium to address this issue. In 2010, the consortium created and implemented an after school program intended to foster learning and engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among our nation's students. The result was the Roads, Rails and Race Cars (RRRC) program. RRRC utilizes a science-as-inquiry approach in a club-based format. Club lessons and activities highlight real world applications of STEM concepts, emphasizing transportation issues that students encounter in their daily lives through the use of a curriculum developed collaboratively by partners from the fields of engineering, education and educational psychology. RRRC clubs are guided by teams comprising of STEM teachers and college engineering student mentors, who mirror the rich diversity of the primary and secondary school systems. This positive role modeling and one-on-one attention are a key focus wherein the program encourages students to explore STEM careers and discover paths to achievement. Further, clubs frequently feature career presentations by community professionals from the private sector to encourage this career exploration. While establishing itself as a sustainable program model that positively impacts students, RRRC has also been beneficial to its multiple partners. K-12 teachers have received additional training in STEM education that they can implement in their core classrooms; student mentors have gained opportunities to improve their interpersonal and public speaking skills; and community partners, like the Nebraska Trucking Association, have gained opportunities to reach out to their future workforce. Following a highly successful middle school pilot program, RRRC expanded to include the elementary and high school levels, providing evidence of the program's successful transferability across age groups and locations. To date, club attendance has reached over 5,200 in combined attendance by approximately 900 different students across 12 separate program sites. Moreover, the program continues to be evaluated through qualitative and quantitative metrics in order to ensure that the goals of the program are being met and to identify potential areas for improvement. This paper provides an overview of the development of the RRRC program and its goals, briefly summarizes current and future pre- And post-measures of effectiveness and presents concluding remarks regarding future program applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2014
Event121st ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: 360 Degrees of Engineering Education - Indianapolis, IN, United States
Duration: Jun 15 2014Jun 18 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)

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