What is Studio STEM?

2013-02-19 04.11.24 (Small)

Studio STEM is a three-year afterschool and summer program aimed at educational and
workforce needs. The project uses a design-based science approach to scaffold youth to
learn about energy conservation. An interdisciplinary curriculum is infused with digital
tools and social media to enhance and extend the experience.


A primary goal of Studio STEM is to engage middle school students in interesting
projects related to environmental issues that allow them to acquire critical knowledge,
skills, and dispositions. These experiences in turn are designed to lead to increased
likelihood of youth electing and succeeding in STEM and information and
communication technology (ICT) courses and careers. Our team proposes that the
synergy of curriculum, activities, technology, and mentoring in an informal setting will
engage and motivate students from rural, low socio-economic communities. Using a
social constructivist approach of action, pre-service and in-service teachers (referred to
as site leaders), and engineering and science undergraduates (referred to as facilitators),
work with Studio STEM participants using a curriculum with real-life problems in energy
sustainability. As one example, the Save the Penguins curriculum takes the plight of
penguins and climate change as a way to motivate students to explore science topics such
as convection, conduction, and radiation to apply engineering practices to construct a
protective dwelling. The project places emphasis on: (a) a content-rich curriculum that
links students to their environment, (b) support and scaffolded discussions with mentors,
and (c) an online network that supports the creation and maintenance of relationships
among program participants. The informal character of this program allows students the
freedom to explore and self-identify with topics.


The project has trained site leaders, facilitators, and other informal STEM educators
through a series of professional development workshops and onsite training. The training
is aimed at helping Studio STEM leaders become knowledgeable about engineering,
engineering design, and ICT use to a level at which they can effectively work with youth
on projects. As a result of increased STEM and ICT knowledge and skills, teachers, as
indicated in preliminary analyses and informal debriefing interviews, likely have higher
efficacy in using newer design projects and ICTs and will be more likely to integrate
STEM and ICT projects and ideas into their formal teaching practices.

2013-02-06 04.37.59 (Small)

Studio STEM is also partnering with NanoSonic, Inc., a biotechnology company located
in Giles County, VA. NanoSonic employees volunteer as facilitators to youth during
the after school programs. Moreover, NanoSonic sponsors site visits to introduce youth
to the technologies being developed in the area of nanotechnology. Studio STEM has
also worked to offer experiences to youth to demonstrate that STEM related careers are
available in the New River Valley. Site leaders, facilitators, and youth have taken field
trips to the New River Valley Regional Jail, home to the largest solar powered hot water
system in Virginia. Opportunities and partnerships like these help students recognize that
STEM related careers in markets that involve sustainable (or green) technologies in their
own communities.

2013-03-04 03.37.49 (Small)

Studio STEM is serving as a model for partnerships between institutes of higher
education and rural schools, science museums and centers, and related businesses. The
model could be adopted to address local educational, professional development, and
workforce needs in similar rural areas around the Mid-Atlantic Region. As a result of
Studio STEM, students, teachers, site leaders, facilitators and community partners have
increased access to a range of online tools, materials, strategies, and activities. During
the first 18 months of the project, Studio STEM has served over 100 students in grades
5-8 from rural Appalachian in low socio-economic communities. We also trained close
to 30 middle-school teachers and undergraduate students in how to implement the Studio
STEM ETK and use the online network.