S5-STEM4-2 - Increasing STEM Interest through Coding with Microcontrollers

2. Research-to-Practice Full Paper
Sandra Nite1 , Ali Bicer2, Kimberly Currens1, Rayan Tejani3
1 Texas A&M University
2 University of Wyoming
3 Allen Academy

This research-to-practice full paper presents a study about capturing student interest in computer science. Constructing new knowledge through doing provides an effective pedagogy to increase interest in STEM fields. Coding has become increasingly more important in most career fields, STEM and non-STEM, as technology advances permeate every aspect of our lives. Summer camps offer informal learning opportunities that allow students to engage in STEM activities collaboratively. This study, using a microcircuit kit to introduce basic coding concepts, is seen through the lens of culture, cognition, and literacy. Common themes when defining culture include united standards, common past, shared linguistics, and collective behavior patterns. Cognition comprises knowing, remembering, and judging with the ultimate goal of problem-solving. The cognition of this informal learning experience focused on coding concepts as related to interacting with a microcircuit kit. Literacy, in general, is based on three components: print knowledge, phonological awareness, and oral language. STEM literacy is the ability to develop fluency in STEM such that an individual can express ideas plainly and persuasively, and challenge personal reasoning and thinking. The theoretical framework combines two ideas: 1) situated learning, from John Dewey’s theory of experiential learning, and 2) pathways to STEM. Situated learning-based constructivism, occurs in social contexts where knowledge develops through experience, practice, and engagement. As learners develop meaning, competence, and knowledge, they construct identities through blending culture, cognition, and literacy. Recommendations for facilitating pathways to STEM careers include reducing STEM participation barriers for all students. Also recommended is incorporating technology, demonstrating relevance, using collaborative teamwork to cultivate social support systems, and hands-on activities with investigative learning. The research question was, “What effect did a summer camp experience that included microcontroller kits have on student knowledge of circuitry, microcontrollers, coding, and computing careers?” Rising 7th-12th grade students participated in a summer camp in the western part of the US. They engaged in four mini-courses, one of which was working with microcontroller kits. These kits required students to create circuits that performed actions such as flashing light, buzzers, and pitched sounds. Although some students created codes from scratch, most students downloaded and edited code to perform the various functions. Students (N = 30) completed a pretest and posttest to assess their knowledge of circuitry, microcontrollers, and coding. There were 19 males and 11 females in the study, with foster students, students with learning disabilities, and diverse ethnicities represented. A paired-sample t-test was conducted to determine whether the scores from pre and post were statistically significantly different. Hedge’s g effect size was calculated. Mean scores from the pretest and posttest increased from 6.63 to 8.20 and were statistically significantly different (p = 0.018). Hedge’s g effect size showed practical significance. Additionally, several students spent extra time at every opportunity, to use their microcontroller kits to expand or create additional projects.