Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 624–640 | Cite as

Interest-Driven Learning Among Middle School Youth in an Out-of-School STEM Studio

  • Michael A. Evans
  • Megan Lopez
  • Donna Maddox
  • Tiffany Drape
  • Rebekah Duke


The concept of connected learning proposes that youth leverage individual interest and social media to drive learning with an academic focus. To illustrate, we present in-depth case studies of Ryan and Sam, two middle-school-age youth, to document an out-of-school intervention intended to direct toward intentional learning in STEM that taps interest and motivation. The investigation focused on how Ryan and Sam interacted with the designed elements of Studio STEM and whether they became more engaged to gain deeper learning about science concepts related to energy sustainability. The investigation focused on the roles of the engineering design process, peer interaction, and social media to influence youth interest and motivation. Research questions were based on principles of connected learning (e.g., self-expression, lower barriers to expertise, socio-technical supports) with data analyzed within a framework suggested by discursive psychology. Analyzing videotaped excerpts of interactions in the studio, field notes, interview responses, and artifacts created during the program resulted in the following findings: problem solving, new media, and peer interaction as designed features of Studio STEM elicited evidence of stimulating interest in STEM for deeper learning. Further research could investigate individual interest-driven niches that are formed inside the larger educational setting, identifying areas of informal learning practice that could be adopted in formal settings. Moreover, aspects of youth’s STEM literacy that could promote environmental sustainability through ideation, invention, and creativity should be pursued.


Connected learning Informal STEM education Middle school youth Interest-driven learning Engineering design-based science learning 



This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grants DRL 1029756 and 1239959, and the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT) and the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE) at Virginia Tech. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of sponsors. Studio STEM ( at Virginia Tech includes the authors, and a talented team of coinvestigators (Drs. Brett Jones, Christine Schnittka, and Carol Brandt), and graduate and undergraduate research assistants. We thank Ms. Samantha Won, doctoral student in the Department of Learning Sciences and Technologies, Virginia Tech, for providing valuable feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript.


  1. Andersen HM, Nielsen BL (2013) Video-based analyses of motivation and interaction in science classrooms. Int J Sci Educ 35(6):906–928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asghar A, Ellington R, Rice E, Johnson F, Prime GM (2012) Supporting STEM education in secondary science contexts. Interdiscip J Probl Based Learn 6(2):4Google Scholar
  3. Barron B (2000) Achieving coordination in collaborative problem-solving groups. J Learn Sci 9(4):403–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barrows HS (1998) The essentials of problem-based learning. J Dent Educ 62(9):630–633Google Scholar
  5. Blickenstaff JC (2005) Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gend Educ 17:4Google Scholar
  6. Brophy S, Klein S, Portsmore M, Rogers C (2008) Advancing engineering education in P-12 classrooms. J Eng Educ 97(3):369–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Charmaz K (2006) Constructing grounded theory. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen C, Kahne J (2012) Participatory politics: new media and youth political action.
  9. Corbin J, Strauss A (2008) Basics of qualitative research. Sage Publications Inc, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar
  10. Crowley K, Jacobs M (2002) Islands of expertise and the development of family scientific literacy. In: Leinhardt G, Crowley K, Knutson K (eds) Learning conversations in museums. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJGoogle Scholar
  11. Eccles JS (2005) Studying gender and ethnic differences in participation in math, physical science and information technology. New Dir Child Adolesc Dev 110:7–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Evans MA, Won S, Drape T (2014) Interest-driven learning of STEM concepts among youth interacting through social media. Int J Soc Media Interact Learn Environ 2(1):3–20Google Scholar
  13. Grimes S, Fields D (2012) Kids online: a new research agenda for understanding social networking forums. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Hannafin MJ, Hill JR, Land SM, Lee E (2014) Student-centered, open learning environments: research, theory, and practice. In: Spector M, Merrill MD, Elen J, Bishop MJ (eds) Handbook of research on educational communications and technology, 4th edn. Springer, New York, pp 641–651Google Scholar
  15. Honey M, Kanter DE (2013) Design, make, play: growing the next generation of science innovations. Rutledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Ito M, Gutiérrez K, Livingstone S, Penuel B, Rhodes J, Salen K, Schor J, Sefton-Green J, Watkins S (2013) Connected learning: an agenda for research and design. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, Irvine, CAGoogle Scholar
  17. Kolodner JL (2004) The learning sciences: past, present, and future. Educ Technol Mag Manag Change Educ 44(3):37–42Google Scholar
  18. Kwan A (2009) Problem-based learning. In: The Routledge International Handbook of Higher Education, pp 91–107Google Scholar
  19. Marcu G, Tassini K, Carlson Q, Goodwyn J, Rivkin G, Schaefer KJ, Kiesler S (2013) Why do they still use paper? Understanding data collection and use in Autism education. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM, pp 3177–3186Google Scholar
  20. Merchant G (ed) (2012) Virtual literacies: interactive spaces for children and young people, vol 84. RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  21. Patton MQ (2002) Qualitative research and evaluation methods. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  22. Pellegrino JW (2012) Education for life and work: developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. The National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  23. Schmidt HG, Rotgans JI, Yew EH (2011) The process of problem-based learning: what works and why. Med Educ 45(8):792–806. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2011.04035.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schnittka CG, Bell RL (2011) Engineering design and conceptual change in the middle school science classroom. Int J Sci Educ 33(13):1861–1887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schnittka CG, Brandt C, Jones B, Evans MA (2012) Informal engineering education after school: a studio model for middle school girls and boys. Adv Eng Educ 3(2):1–31Google Scholar
  26. Siegel M, Derry S, Kim JB, Steinkuehler C, Street J, Canty N, Fassnacht C, Hewson K, Hmelo C, Spiro R (2000) Promoting teachers’ flexible use of the learning sciences through case-based problem solving on the WWW: a theoretical design approach. In: Fishman B, O’Connor-Divelbiss S (eds) Fourth international conference of the learning sciences. Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp 273–279Google Scholar
  27. Subramaniam MM (2012) Reimagining the role of school libraries in STEM education: creating hybrid spaces for exploration. Libr Q (Chicago) 82(2):161–182. doi: 10.1086/664578 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Swarat S, Ortony A, Revelle W (2012) Activity matters: understanding student interest in school science. J Res Sci Teach 49(4):515–537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Torp L, Sage S (2002) Problems as possibilities problem-based learning for K-16 education. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VAGoogle Scholar
  30. United States National Science Foundation: Office of the Director—Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE) (nd) (2004) National Science Foundation. Accessed July 3 2013
  31. Walther JB, Loh T, Granka L (2005) Let me count the ways: the interchange of verbal and nonverbal cues in computer-mediated and face-to-face affinity. J Lang Soc Psychol 24–36Google Scholar
  32. Yin RK (2009) Case study research design and methods, vol 5, 4th edn. Sage Inc, Thousand OaksGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael A. Evans
    • 1
  • Megan Lopez
    • 2
  • Donna Maddox
    • 3
  • Tiffany Drape
    • 4
  • Rebekah Duke
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Learning Sciences and TechnologiesVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  3. 3.Department of Chemical EngineeringVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA
  4. 4.Office of Educational Research and OutreachVirginia TechBlacksburgUSA

Personalised recommendations