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Engaging African American Middle School Girls in STEM: The Power of Informal Learning Programs

Improving Learning Strategies in STEM

Author Information:

Natalie King
University of Florida

Presentation Information:

Presentation #: 4
Date: 3rd June, 2015
Time: 10:30 am - 12:00 pm
Location: KHAIROON EAST (Room 1)


An expertise in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is required for nations to maintain national security and international competitiveness in this 21st Century global market. However, many reform efforts in education that seek to promote effective instruction still fail to meet the needs of underrepresented populations, especially African American girls, and thus only a limited number of African American women pursue STEM careers. FOCUS, an informal learning STEM program, provided African American middle school girls with reform-based STEM ?learning experiences. Using an interpretive design, we investigated the following questions: How do African American middle school girls experience an informal summer program that focuses on STEM and cultural relevance? What is the impact of a summer informal STEM program on African American middle school girls? perceptions of themselves as learners? Data analysis revealed that becoming aware of STEM career options provided the girls with opportunities to dream of possibilities and to project themselves into that image; culturally aware STEM teachers are able to embrace their roles as mentors beyond mediators of content knowledge; and an informal STEM learning environment provided the girls a sense of belonging, and exposure and interest to STEM careers. Our findings have implications for practice and seek to confirm that when credence is given to the cultural experiences of African American middle school girls, they are poised to reveal their luster toward STEM learning. We therefore submit this proposal to the strand: Improving Learning Strategies in STEM.