Building Relationships by Avoiding the “Show-and-Go”: A STEM Project for High Schools

  • Many current political leaders in the United States advocate an increased emphasis on STEM topics in the primary and secondary school systems. As a result of this focus, there are multiple sources of funding available in the STEM outreach arena. It is tempting to seek funding through these various means and produce what could be labeled as a “Show-and-Go” program. This paper defines “Show-and-Go” as a project with a short-term focus, with little-to-no long term investment. Additionally, Show-and-Go projects focus on the “fun” aspects of engineering with very little emphasis on the underlying fundamental mathematics and science principles. These projects do create a sizable amount of initial interest, but without follow up, those short-term gains can quickly fade. This paper describes one of several projects developed by the Integrated STEM Education Research Center (ISERC) at Louisiana Tech University. The project described here is targeted toward high school juniors and seniors. Even though this project is geared to high school students, the real gains are made by building lasting relationships with the high school teachers. This paper presents a full description of one of the low-cost projects, with a rationale for the various activities. Topics presented in this paper include material characterization, conservation of energy, communication through various media, teamwork, statistical analysis, and general problem solving. In addition to the paper, resources for the project will be available for download on the ISERC website, Along with the project description, data are presented that reflect the effectiveness of the project toward building lasting relationships with area feeder schools. Since 2004, 74 different teachers from 17 different high schools have participated in Louisiana Tech’s STEM outreach programs. Although the primary focus of these programs is to build lasting relationships with the area teachers, over 350 local high school students have been directly impacted by these programs with over 1500 indirectly impacted. The rising enrollment in the College of Engineering and Science at Louisiana Tech University indicates that the direct and indirect impact of these programs on local high school students has created an increased interest in STEM topics in the region in the midst of dramatically falling high school graduation rates in Louisiana. Additional data show that the enrollment of students in STEM fields at Louisiana Tech is increasing at a faster rate from high schools who participate in STEM outreach projects developed by ISERC.