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Engaging students in STEM

Julie Kos reports on a mentoring program that provides a valuable resource for science and maths teachers.

A mentoring program involving university students undertaking degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) disciplines is a valuable resource in science and maths classes and improves Year 8 and 9 students’ confidence in their STEM knowledge and skills, according to a new ACER report.

Called In2science, the mentoring program brings STEM university students into Victorian high school science and maths classes once a week for 10 weeks to work with classroom teachers, mentor students, share their university experiences and relate STEM to the real world.

The ACER evaluation involved surveys of nearly 2000 students from 34 Victorian schools over one semester in 2016.

According to the ACER report, In2science provides a valuable resource for science and maths teachers, who make use of the mentor in a wide variety of ways to suit their class needs. Given this variation in the ways teachers make use of the mentors, the report also recommended further detailed evaluations to assess the different ways that mentors work in the classroom to determine which modes are more effective with which students.

Other findings from the evaluation were that students:

  • have more confidence in their science and maths learning after participating in In2science
  • have a greater understanding of the importance of science and maths in daily life after participating in In2science
  • have a better understanding of how many different occupations use science and maths after participating in In2science, and
  • are off-task less frequently when their mentor is in the classroom, and continue to be off-task less frequently after participating in In2science.

The evaluation also found that high school students in the mentoring program reported that they could use what they learned in science and maths classes in other classes at school.

In terms of attitudes to STEM and learning, students also reported that they were more determined to try to solve science and maths problems on their own, and that their attitude towards science and maths had improved whether they worked directly with a mentor or indirectly, after having a mentor in the classroom.

The report indicates that university mentors appear to improve student behaviour in terms of reduced off-task and distracted behaviours, and increased on-task and engaged behaviours.

Science and maths teachers and subject coordinators interviewed during the evaluation recommended extending the duration of the program and making it available to students beyond Year 8 and 9.

The ACER report recommended better matching of mentors with teachers and classes in the placement process by focusing on how the teacher will work with the mentor, and further evaluation of the longer-term effects of the program to determine whether the program influences subject choices and the post-school study of science and maths.

In2science Program Director Megan Mundy has welcomed the recommendations in the ACER evaluation. ■

Read the full report:
Evaluation of the In2science Peer Mentoring Program by Julie Kos, Jacynta Krakouer and Sheldon Rothman.

Further information:
The In2science mentoring program is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, through the Australian Maths and Science Partnerships Program, and the Victorian Government, through the Student Mentoring Grants Program, working with partner universities, La Trobe University, the University of Melbourne, RMIT University and Swinburne University of Technology. More information is available at www.in2science.org.au

RD

About the author

Julie Kos is a Senior Research Fellow in ACER’s Education Policy and Practice research program.

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