Investigating why kids lose interest in science, math

PORTLAND (StreetRoots News) – Nobody’s quite sure why, but toward the end of middle school students lose interest in science and math. Researchers at one Portland school want to learn why. By solving the mystery, they hope to reverse the trend.

Northeast Portland’s culturally diverse, working-class Parkrose Middle School is the subject of an investigation by Oregon State University researchers hoping to discover why science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, no longer appeals to many kids once they reach the eighth grade.

STEM has become a watchword for educators wanting a trained workforce capable of flourishing in an increasingly science-and-technology-driven global economy. Others say STEM is essential to create an informed citizenry able to weigh in on issues from climate change to bioengineering.

However, whereas much of STEM education is currently dominated by in-school curriculum changes, the OSU Parkrose project is traveling a different path.

“The data says if they [students] have interests and are engaged, good things will happen,” says OSU professor John Falk.

Falk heads OSU’s Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning. He’s organizing the Parkrose project and its small team with his wife, OSU professor Lynn Dierking.

Both are also associated with Oregon Sea Grant’s program in Free-Choice Learning – operated out of the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport – which seeks to systematically study how people learn about science in “free-choice” settings such as aquariums and musems, where they can follow their own interests, set their own pace and explore at will. …

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(This story was written by Nathan Gilles, a Portland writer and former Sea Grant Communications intern)

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