An Interdisciplinary Approach Combines Physiology, Engineering, and Computer Science to Increase Awareness of STEM Professions among Middle School Students


Including Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) learning experiences in afterschool programs positively impacts the participating youth’s excitement and engagement in these fields. Offered at the University of New Hampshire’s STEM Discovery Lab, Design Make Code is an afterschool program for middle school learners in the Manchester School District who belong to groups underrepresented in STEM degree programs and careers, including English Language learners (ELL), racial and ethnic minorities, and children from low-income families. Design Make Code participants engage weekly in problem solving, engineering design, science practices, and computational thinking to develop their STEM skills. To improve students’ self-perception as potential contributors to the STEM enterprise, faculty members from three STEM disciplines, Biological Sciences, Mechanical Engineering Technology, and Computer Science, collaborated to design and facilitate learning experiences that integrate professional aspects of these disciplines through relevant lab experiments. The exercise physiology experiment teaches students the connection between the pulmonary and cardiovascular system. Students perform an experiment testing the effects of exercise on heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. The connection between healthy eating, active living and disease prevention is discussed. The aeronautical engineering experiment teaches students to make and fly a glider which despite being of simple design, has the potential for good flight performance when carefully made and adjusted. The students learn through hands-on experience about the roles that proper balance and adjustment of aerodynamic control surfaces play in achieving stable and controlled flight. The computing activity empowers learners to create an augmented reality controller around a game they code. Students use the Scratch programming language, Makey Makey boards, alligator clips, recycled materials and arts supplies to design and make ingenious controllers that students use to play their games. Students engage with basic electrical engineering and programming concepts and techniques as they build, test, and demonstrate their projects. Undergraduate biology, computing, and engineering students participate as teaching assistants. The opportunity to interact directly with STEM professionals and undergraduate students pursuing career paths in STEM increases students’ understanding of value of STEM in society and awareness of STEM professions.

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FASEB Journal


(FASEB) Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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