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Students’ Perceptions of a Middle School STEM Innovation and Design Course


As part of a National Science Foundation Math Science Partnership at Georgia Institute of Technology, the 18-week STEM-ID engineering courses present students with a series of challenges, culminating in a design challenge. Each challenge is designed to build different skills while inculcating appropriate mathematics and science content. In the 6th grade course, students explore data collection, experimental design, sketching, prototyping, statistical analysis, and communication in the context of a challenge in which students design a carnival game. In 7th grade, the focus is on airplanes, where students re-design the interior cabin and airplane shape to make more fuel-efficient, comfortable, and profitable airplanes. The 8th grade course is grounded in robotics. Students design "feet" for a walking insect-bot, render them in 3D modeling software, 3D-print the prototypes, and test the robot's performance with respect to speed, traction, and ability to overcome obstacles. This course is also designed to encourage "students at risk" to engage academically. The purpose of this study is to explore and document students' perspectives on the course regarding what they have found challenging, engaging, and academically useful, specifically in core mathematics and science courses.

This study is being conducted in a public school district in the Southeastern United States. Participants include 6th-8th grade students at four middle schools. Approximately 71% of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch, and the race/ethnicity subgroups are White (47%), Black (45%), Hispanic (5%), and Other (3%). The participants were all enrolled in the STEM-ID course implemented during the 2015-2016 school year. Qualitative interviews were conducted in order to explore the students' perspectives on the course. Interviews were conducted with 92 students from all grade levels at the end of the school year. The interviews were semi-structured and lasted 20 minutes. Interview results are analyzed using eclectic coding process (Saldana, 2013) in which a combination of holistic, descriptive, and magnitude codes were iteratively applied in order to reveal patters in the interview data. Preliminary interview results suggest that students are able to transfer knowledge between engineering and their core courses such as math and science courses. Students viewed the STEM-ID courses as allowing them to put their science and math knowledge into practice.