Head Start on Engineering: Supporting Engineering Interest Development in Early Childhood
Disparities in engineering participation and achievement by women and individuals from traditionally underserved racial and ethnic groups have been persistent. Approaches outside the context of university and school reform, including approaches to supporting interest development in early childhood, have not been fully considered by educators and policymakers. This AISL Pathways project will focus on engineering, which has emerged as a critical topic in the STEM education field and a prominent aspect of educational standards and policies. Building on a strong empirical and theoretical base, it will lay the foundation for future research efforts to advance the field's limited understanding of early childhood engineering-related interest development, especially through parent-child interactions; create research tools for studying engineering-related interest in young children; and identify effective strategies for supporting long-term engineering interest pathways. "Head Start on Engineering" is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. Through an asset-based approach and authentic engagement with families and community organizations, Head Start on Engineering will pilot research and program activities that are sensitive to the constraints of low-income families and build on the resources and funds of knowledge within these communities. It will test and refine an innovative, theoretical model of early childhood interest development. The overall design of the pilot study will be mixed-method and short-term longitudinal, with data collected before, during, and after program implementation from participating families. Quantitative measures will allow for consistent comparisons across groups and within families, while qualitative data will help explore complex factors and processes hypothesized in the theoretical framework and related to program implementation. This work will allow the team time to address unanswered questions and issues around how to feasibly operationalize key aspects of the revised theoretical model in preparation for more extensive, longitudinal and experimental investigations as part of the next phase of the project. Understanding and honoring parents' beliefs, knowledge, and experiences is central to this project. In developing and implementing both the programs and research activities, the team will adopt culturally responsive and asset-based perspectives. The Pathways project is a collaboration between the Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of lifelong, free-choice learning for all communities through research, practice, and policy initiatives; Mt. Hood Community College Head Start program; the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), a nationally renowned science museum; and the Center for STEM Education at the University of Notre Dame. The project involves families with four-year-old children who attend the Head Start program. The collaboration between educators, community organizations, and researchers and the integrated approach to research and program development will ensure that study findings translate to practical and effective education strategies and that future research efforts are well-grounded in the realities of practitioners and learners.