NSF INCLUDES DDLP: Leadership and iSTEAM for Females in Elementary school (LiFE): An Integrated Approach to Increase the Number of Women Pursuing Careers in STEM
The LiFE Project, an NSF INCLUDES Design and Development Launch Pilot, will investigate and design a collaborative effort to counter the stereotypical expectation that boys are "naturally" better at science and math which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, silently shaping the girls'own perceptions of their ability. LiFE collaborators will address this problem at its source: the early learning experiences of elementary school girls. The elementary-middle school period is critical because by 8th grade, many girls have left the STEM pathway forever. The key to reversing the trend is finding effective ways to showcase STEM as a collaborative, people-rich space in which girls can participate together, be themselves, and engage in exploration. Research indicates that girls prefer collaborative activities that can make a difference in the world. Partnering with a coalition of economically and racially diverse New Jersey elementary schools, LiFE will employ "iSTEAM" learning strategies that encourage girls to apply the tools of various disciplines to investigate and solve real-world problems in an open environment of innovation, collaboration, and communication. This approach promises to be especially effective in engaging girls.
LiFE will build on a successful Girls Science Club (GSC) model that introduces girls in grades 3-4 to hands-on iSTEAM exploration activities using Problem/Project-Based Learning strategies. Additional activities will leverage the expertise of the project's corporate/government partners (including Apple and USARMY) to build communication and leadership skills. LiFE will sustain the GSC's benefits by developing clubs for grades 5-6 involving enriched content and long-term independent projects. Eventually, a tiered peer network will link girls from elementary school through women college students and female STEM professionals--each tier mentoring the tiers below. This network will sustain a crucial "sense of community" to retain women in STEM. Within LiFE's social innovation framework approach, participating districts will tailor the GSC to their community while also working together toward shared common goals. LiFE will study the impact of GSCs on persistence of girls' interest in STEM into grade 7. Based on this research, LiFE will develop a cost-effective template that can be replicated across the US. LiFE will bring problem-based iSTEAM concepts to girls of all academic levels in their elementary schools years while, having a community focus with participant-developed projects in a non-competitive environment and leveraging the resources of academic, corporate and government partners to foster broader participation by women in STEM careers.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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