A scoping review of students' experiences of K-12 STEM education initiatives, 2012-2016

Year: 2017

Author: Holmes, Kathryn, Berger, Nathan, Jomaa, Jinane

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In Australia, the publication of the Chief Scientist's 2013 position paper - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the National Interest: A Strategic Approach - resulted in a significant increase in the development and implementation of STEM initiatives in K-12 schools. Further legitimacy for this increased focus on STEM followed the Education Council release of the National School STEM Education Strategy in 2015. This strategy provided guidance for schools, teachers, school systems, universities and industry partners for improving the teaching of foundational STEM skills and inspiring students to engage with more challenging STEM subjects in the senior years of high school. These Australian developments follow earlier STEM education initiatives in the 2000s in the UK and US.

Given the increased global focus on STEM education, what do we know about the effectiveness of STEM learning experiences from the perspective of students? This paper presents the results of a scoping review of empirical research focused on investigating K-12 students' experiences of STEM learning experiences over a five-year period from 2012-2016 (n = 126). The purpose of the review is to identify and synthesise STEM education research over this period to determine characteristics of effective STEM initiatives and determine gaps in the K-12 STEM education research landscape. We find that most empirical research conducted over this period has emanated from the US. The focus of this research is varied, with some new initiatives involving integrated STEM and others focusing on individual STEM components. The issue of students' perceptions of STEM and their STEM identity was prevalent, including an emphasis on gender as a key factor. Our review illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of recent research, arguing that national progress toward STEM goals is hampered by a weak evidence base for recent STEM initiatives.