CAREER: Talking Science: Early STEM Identity Formation Through Everyday Science Talk Grant

CAREER: Talking Science: Early STEM Identity Formation Through Everyday Science Talk .


  • This is a proposal responsive to the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) solicitation (NSF 17-537) and submitted to the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program. The proposal will address the critical issue of developing children's identification with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and will respond to the existing limited knowledge about the development of STEM identities through conversations, particularly among very young children from underserved and underrepresented populations. The study will be based on the premise that individuals who develop STEM interest and identify with STEM at a young age tend to pursue STEM-related careers more so than individuals who develop these interests later in life. Research on the topic suggests that after exploring a variety of childhood informal STEM learning experiences, such as playing with electronics, taking care of animals, and joining after-school science clubs, talking about science and consuming science-related media were the only predictors of STEM identity. The study will investigate whether STEM-related conversations outside of school with friends and family during formative years (i.e., 5 -9 years old) predict their STEM identity later in life and their STEM-career choices. The goals of the project will be : (1) To develop an understanding of the features and context of conversations that support STEM identity development in both majority and Hispanic/Latino populations; and (2) To translate the research outcomes into informal STEM learning practices that contribute to young people's perceptions of STEM fields in their future.To achieve the goals, the work will address the following research questions: (1) What is the content, context, and structure of STEM-related conversations with friends and family that youth ages 5-9 participate in; (2) How do these conversation features (i.e., content, context, structure) relate to the development of youth's STEM interests, sense of recognition as STEM people, and self-identification with STEM; (3) How do the cultural values and science talk experiences of Hispanic/Latino youth shape conversation features related to youth's STEM interests, sense of recognition as STEM people, and self-identification with STEM in comparison to non-Hispanic/Latino youth; and (4) Does professional development for informal STEM learning educators that focuses on encouraging youth to engage in STEM-related conversations with friends and family positively contribute to youth's STEM interest, sense of recognition, and self-identification with STEM To address these questions, the study will adopt a qualitative research approach that applies phenomenological strategies in research design, data collection, and analysis to allow for exploration of the meaning of lived experiences in social and cultural contexts. Participants will include elementary-age students (ages 5-9; n = 50) from socially, culturally, and linguistically diverse backgrounds, enrolled in summer science camps in the greater Miami area that intentionally solicit the participation of children and families who would not typically participate in these kinds of programs due to socioeconomic and cultural barriers. To inform the development of interview protocols in terms of the kinds of childhood talk that leave a long-term impact on students, including the kinds of talk experiences remembered by students who choose or persist towards a STEM career in college; the project will also recruit first- and second-year college students as participants. Data gathering, and interpretation strategies will include surveys with college students (n=32) and interviews (n = 16), as well as recorded and coded semi-structured interviews with early-grade students (n= 50). Broad coding of the content, context, and structure of STEM-related conversations will be further subdivided into sub-codes to identify patterns using qualitative analytical strategies. The outcomes of this research will constitute a theoretical framework and models that can guide the development of both professionals and programmatic activities at informal learning institutions, particularly around scaffolding participation in STEM through science talk. An external evaluator will address both formative and summative aspects of the activity.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • March 15, 2019 - February 28, 2026

sponsor award ID

  • 1846167