Aspire Institute Launches Innovative Web App

March 26, 2014

STEM app activityThe Wheelock College Aspire Institute launches a first-of-its-kind mobile-accessible web application to engage families and elementary-age students in  family-friendly activities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The STEM Activity Application is a free web based application that fosters positive STEM-related interactions between elementary-age students and their families. The activities are low-tech and offline, with the goal that any family can use this resource to strengthen their child's love of STEM learning. The activities are designed to increase a child's excitement about STEM now, and to develop his or her interest in a STEM career in the future.

Research overwhelmingly demonstrates that parent involvement in children's learning is positively related to their academic success, yet largely missing from the national focus on STEM education is an appreciation for how families can promote learning.  Many parents and caregivers are not familiar with STEM topics; some are even 'STEM-phobic.' Recognizing this 'STEM knowledge gap' and the time constraints faced by many families, this application, developed in conjunction with web application developer Jamie Folsom, provides accessible, fun and engaging activities. For each activity, the app greatly enhances parent/child elementary age learning engagement by demonstrating a STEM concept, providing career information aligned with each activity in the "Who Studies this" section, and a learning takeaway.

"STEM activities for families and students are not readily accessible," says Barbara Joseph, Learning Solutions Program Manager and co-designer of the application. "We know that families have limited time to search online for these types of activities and even when they are able to find it, the information is not structured for parent/child engagement."

"Getting families to talk about STEM during their regular, daily lives is critical; it shows students that STEM is everywhere," said Alexander Mathews, Principal of the Sarah Greenwood School in Dorchester, where the application was piloted in Spring 2013.  Betsy Harris, Community Relations Liaison for Weymouth Public School, is doing more than just forwarding the sign-up link for the STEM Activity App to her community. According to Harris: "This project is an excellent part of our efforts towards College & Career Readiness, STEM, Curriculum Enrichment and Parent & Family Engagement. You all did a terrific job on this app. I will continue to share it through Community & Family Engagement opportunities as well as with our staff."

The Wheelock College Aspire Institute developed the STEM Activity Application in collaboration with faculty experts, college and high school students, and STEM organizations. It was funded by Wheelock's Sylvia Earl Innovation Award-which is designed to inspire and support innovative work, ideas, and programs that use technology to enhance the Wheelock College experience-and with additional funding from Wheelock College.

Families and teachers are invited to use the app for a weekly STEM Challenge. For each STEM Challenge of the Week, students can take home the activity and engage with their families, and then share their experiences and discoveries back in the classroom. The activities are fun, link to related STEM careers, and encourage students to reflect on how STEM connects with their everyday lives. Rigorous statistical analysis of a pilot test of the STEM Activity Application indicates that it increases a child's interest in engineering, as well as parents' comfort level discussing the topic.

Example STEM Activity: Paper Airplanes

Activity
Design your own airplane. Begin with one sheet of paper. Launch it as is and see what happens. Now fold it once and launch it again. Did it go further? Fold and trim the paper and see which designs glide the farthest. Why do you think some designs are better gliders than others? What's the farthest you can make your airplane go? - Submitted by The Discovery Museums

Everyday Takeaway
Your paper airplane design explored the idea of aerodynamics, the drag of air on the paper.  There are three other main factors that affect the distance a plane will fly:  gravity, thrust, and lift.  Explore the concept of gravity by remaking your plane with a different type of paper like newsprint or cardstock or light cardboard.  Then test your design by launching your plane with a soft and then a hard throw (thrust).  Finally try curving the wings of your designs to see how lift changes the plane's flight. Compare your designs with those of others by checking out the Paper Aircraft Association web page.

Who Studies This?
Design Engineer

Starting Monday, March 24, 2014, the application will be part of a 10-week program for teachers and families, with handouts available for all activities. Additionally, the app will be running throughout the summer, perfect for combating summer learning loss.

For more information and to sign up for the STEM Activity Application, please visit: http://stem-app.wheelock.edu/

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