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Integrating Computational Thinking into Informal 6-12 STEM and Computing Education

Overview:

In many areas of the United States there has been insufficient preparation of high school graduates with the technical skills in manufacturing needed for obtaining available technical jobs. This project by Northcentral Technical College is located in a rural region of Wisconsin with many manufacturing companies desperate for engineers and skilled employees who have a science and engineering background. The need for a scientific workforce has become vital to strengthening Wisconsin's economy, but recruiting qualified personnel has been increasingly challenging. High schools struggle to get students interested in higher education and to think of themselves as potential members of the technical, manufacturing workforce. This project targets rural Wisconsin youth to provide them with learning opportunities and careers pathways associated with computer technology and engineering, both critical occupational areas across numerous industries. Northcentral Technical College, in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, six community-based organizations, and four school districts, will engage and prepare teachers and students to meet this challenge. As computing has become integral to the practice of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the STEM + Computing program seeks to address emerging challenges in computational STEM areas through the applied integration of computational thinking and computing within disciplinary STEM teaching and learning from early childhood education through high school (preK-12).
The University of Wisconsin-Madison will lead research efforts to determine to what extent, (1) informal learning environments increase interest and enrollments in formal high-computing technology and engineering courses; (2) how the implementation of near-peer and adult informal teaching and mentoring increases the near-peer mentor and participants' interest in pursuing postsecondary computing technology and engineering career pathways; and (3) how leadership and mentorship training of adults and high school students impacts informal learning opportunities. Further, the research will address three key questions: (1) Will drop-in, open-ended Maker (engineering and technology) experiences impact community perception of, and interest in, computing technology and engineering learning and careers?; (2) What do students who become Maker mentors learn about computing technology and engineering content, learn about themselves as Makers and STEM learners, and how does this participation impact their postsecondary learning or career trajectories?; and (3) What aspects of the community-involved Maker experiences are sustained beyond institutional intervention? This project will provide a model for regions with distributed, rural populations in building capacity for young people to develop skills and self-efficacy for participating in the emerging rural manufacturing STEM+Computing fields of the future.