STEM education in Virginia 4-H: A qualitative exploration of engineering understandings in 4-H STEM educators

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Virginia Tech

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is spurred by an economic and social need for cross-discipline understanding of complex, worldwide problems, made through intentional connections between two or more STEM subject areas. In order for educators to articulate these connections, research suggests they must have a firm understanding of the individual disciplines through both content and pedagogical approaches. In 2007, as a leader in non-formal STEM education, 4-H made a specific commitment to improve STEM literacy in America's youth by forming the 4-H Science mission mandate, therefore increasing its STEM programming.

This qualitative study examined how 4-H educators come to understand STEM and engineering concepts and utilizations, and whether their backgrounds influence their verbalization or expectations of engineering. Narrative themes emerged that help determine how engineering is currently and can continue to be more clearly and consistently articulated and connected within 4-H programming. Themes included 1) a lack of direct connection or understanding of engineering characteristics to 4-H programs, 2) familiarity with and ability to apply engineering characteristics to the Do Reflect Apply model, and 3) the importance of volunteers as STEM and engineering educators within 4-H programming.

Strategies for professional development emphasizing engineering understandings, learning outcomes, and broad applications were discovered. Professional development should consider the effects of engineering and STEM self-efficacy, as well as professional identity development. Additionally, it utilize approaches such as the Do Reflect Apply model, and reflect on the learning objectives 4-H educators strive to achieve during STEM programming in conjunction with life-skills.

4-H, STEM Education, Engineering Education, Self-efficacy, Content Knowledge