SynergiesWith funding from the California-based Noyce Foundation, Oregon State University (OSU) researchers John Falk, Lynn Dierking, Nancy Staus, doctoral students Jennifer Wyld and Deborah Bailey, and visiting scholar, Faik Karatas, Karadeniz Technical University, Trabzon, Turkey, and University of Colorado-Boulder colleagues William Penuel, Ben Kirshner and doctoral students Adam York and Samuel Severance, have launched the four-year longitudinal SYNERGIES--Understanding and Connecting STEM Learning in the Community project to understand how, when, where, why and with whom children access and use STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) resources in their daily lives.

Several major international studies recognize that children (and adults) pursue lifelong STEM interests and understandings, in and out of school, using a variety of community resources and networks. In most communities though, these resources are not well connected with one another, nor is there understanding on the ground of how children and adults can best access and use these resources to support their lifelong STEM interests and learning. The premise of SYNERGIES is that if one better understands how children become interested and engaged with STEM (or not) across settings, time and space, it will be possible to use that information to support a more coordinated network of educational opportunities, involving many partners in and out of school, and in the process, create a community-wide, research-based educational system that is more effective and synergistic.

The SYNERGIES project is currently completing Year Two; here’s what we’ve been doing:

Synergies in the Parkrose Community

(1) In 2011-12 we tracked as many of the 5th- and 6th-grade-aged children living in the Parkrose neighborhood of Portland, along with their peers, siblings and significant adults (approximately 500 residents) to determine to what degree and how (socially, physically and virtually) children seek out and utilize learning resources in the community to engage with and learn about STEM.  This cohort of children enters 7th grade this fall and we plan to continue to track them.  Research approaches combine standard surveying with questionnaires, along with innovative participatory research tools: agent-based modeling (ABM), video-documentation, high school-aged youth research, mapping activities and in-depth interviews in families’ homes.

(2) Underlying this applied research is the creation of a complex Agent-Based computer model of STEM learning activity within Parkrose. This model will allow Parkrose citizens, STEM educators and learning researchers to visualize the multi-dimensional dynamics of STEM learning engaged in by Parkrose children, whether in school, watching TV, visiting museums and natural areas, and/or surfing the Internet, etc. It will also be a tool to test the power of possible coordinated educational activities designed to improve the STEM learning system in Parkrose that can be broadly applied to long-term STEM education improvements locally, nationally and internationally. Components of the project are currently being replicated in Colorado and South Korea.