STEM In a Box

This blog post is the third in a four-part series of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-related posts that align with the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference (April 23-25) and the USA Science & Engineering Festival in DC (April 26-27).

The cost of training and materials is a start-up barrier to implementing STEM programs that are often multidisciplinary and encourage hands-on, inquiry- and project-based learning. Two states have “STEM in a box” programs, with some evidence of positive effects on students and teachers, which include libraries of STEM kits and accompanying professional development training for educators.

The Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) provides professional development, equipment, materials, and on-site support to Grade K–12 teachers throughout the state with a goal of improving math and science teaching and learning. Schools in Alabama become AMSTI schools by sending all of their math and science teachers to a two-week summer professional development institute, after which they can check out “kits” to complete inquiry-based, hands-on activities in their classrooms. The U.S. Department of Education’s Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast conducted a randomized controlled trial evaluation of the AMSTI program and found that the program had a positive effect on student achievement in math, science, and reading; student engagement; and teachers’ reported time in active classroom instruction, compared with students and teachers that did not participate in the program. However, despite the positive effects of the program, funding issues threaten its continuation and expansion.

The Arkansas ASSET Initiative is a similar program, albeit more limited in scope to two project-based learning kits. The ASSET Initiative has not been evaluated.

Alabama and Arkansas are states that have many small, rural schools with limited resources. Other states with similar geographies and resource challenges may consider a “STEM in a box” program to provide teachers with materials and professional development to encourage and support them in incorporating STEM into the classroom.

Clarisse Haxton is a senior researcher and technical assistance liaison at the College and Career Readiness and Success Center.

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