Web App Makes STEM Learning Accessible

April 17, 2013

Aspire STEM app The Wheelock College Aspire Institute launched a first-of-its-kind mobile-accessible web application to engage parents and students in grades 3, 4, and 5 in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning. The application, funded by the Wheelock Sylvia Earl Innovation Award, was piloted on April 1, 2013 at the Sarah Greenwood School in Dorchester, MA.

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.  It demonstrates STEM concepts, greatly enhancing parent/child elementary age learning engagement.

"STEM activities for parents and students are not readily accessible," says Barbara Joseph, Online Solutions Project Manager and co-designer of the application. "We know that parents 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."

Application for elementary students and parents created to address the 'STEM knowledge gap'

Through fun activities, engaging experiments, and thoughtful discussion points developed by Wheelock faculty, Aspire staff, middle and high school students, and organizational leaders, this web application offers STEM information that can be weaved seamlessly into everyday activities - such as dinner conversations, car rides, and family nights. Incorporated into the web application is a riddle to incentivize students to engage for the entire six weeks.

"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.

Engaging STEM activities for children and parents in the application include such as ranking the number of items, like a cardboard box, plastic bag, glass bottle, banana peel, and tin foil, by their decomposition time.

Because accessibility of the web application is important, the application moves beyond English to be available in Spanish as well. Additionally it is customizable; parents can sign up to receive activities by providing a phone number, selecting language of choice (English/Spanish), time of day to receive activity, and choosing their technology preference (text with a link to the web application or email).

An "End-of-Pilot" Party will take place at the Sarah Greenwood School on May 31, 2013 in collaboration with the Discovery Museums, with the event culminating in a raffle. The three students who solve the riddle will be eligible to win either an iPod Shuffle or, the grand prize, an iPad Mini.

For more information on the STEM Activity Application, please visit the Aspire Wire blog.

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