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Where Innovation Is Tradition

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Mason Receives Grant to Study Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) High Schools

Dec. 6, 2011

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Fairfax, Va. – Last year, President Obama challenged education leaders across the country to create more than 1,000 new schools throughout the next decade that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – fields that are proven to be vital in today’s workplace and for America’s future economic growth.

In response to this call to action, researchers from George Mason University and George Washington University joined forces on the project titled “Opportunity Structures for Preparation and Inspiration (OSPrI).” The team received a $2.8 million grant, over four years, from the National Science Foundation to study the emerging trend of STEM-focused high schools.

The researchers will work to describe the critical components that make up the schools and will look closely at coursework development, instructional strategies and workforce development opportunities. The project will focus on well-established, inclusive STEM-focused high schools, particularly those that attract underrepresented minority students. Twelve schools will be chosen from states around the country such as Texas, Ohio and North Carolina.

“The goal of this project is to study the design, implementation and dimensions for a new kind of school that is quietly emerging across the United States,” says Erin Peters Burton, co-principal investigator of the project and assistant professor of science education and educational psychology in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development. “Because this type of study has never been done before, no one really knows what an “inclusive STEM-focused school” looks like and what works.”

“This project has the exciting potential to develop new sources of STEM talent among underrepresented minority students and provide them with opportunities to succeed in high school and the STEM workforce.”

Specifically, the researchers will create detailed case studies of 12 STEM high schools to explore different models of effectiveness in different states. Based on previous research conducted by SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute, the project will explore 10 critical components that are found to be crucial to the potential success of students in STEM-focused high schools.

Some of these components include course curriculum; use of technology in the classroom; use of qualified teachers with STEM content knowledge and experience; and support from businesses and organizations in the community. The project will also look at the different kinds of support provided to students outside the regular school day such as internships and mentorships, as well as opportunities for early college enrollment.

During the project, the researchers will utilize a variety of research strategies. Some of these strategies include focus groups, surveys and interviews with students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and business partners, as well as classroom observations of science, technology, mathematics and engineering classes. In addition, the researchers will go into each school for four days to become more fully involved in the students’ lives.

To better inform their findings, the researchers will compare indicators of success in the STEM-focused schools with those of comprehensive high schools in the same jurisdictions to provide a better understanding of their effects on students’ lives.

After the results have been compiled, the researchers will look for best practices and components that are common across all of the schools. From these commonalities, the researchers will develop recommendations for others who want to create STEM-focused schools.

“After the project has been completed, we expect the case studies of each STEM-focused school to provide a rich database of promising and effective models and practices,” says Burton. “We plan to share our findings and recommendations with the larger education community, as well as researchers and policymakers, to be used a resource to show the effective models that work to contribute to students’ success in STEM education.”

About George Mason University

George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country.  Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university. George Mason University-Where Innovation Is Tradition.

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