|dc.description.abstract||Science education reform has prompted scientists, engineers, and politicians alike to act on the growing need for improved educational programs in the STEM fields. Informal science programs that provide an educational experience outside of a traditional classroom and involve students on real-life and hands-on experiments are among these initiatives. It is hypothesized that informal science programs may increase students’ interest and performance in science and related subjects. Here we evaluate this by assessing the impacts of one such program, the Junior Scientist Outreach Program (JSOP), a weeklong, free-of-cost camp with fourth and fifth grade students in a predominately Hispanic/Latino community in central New Mexico. A mixed methods approach - including pre- and post-JSOP surveys, and follow-up case studies that consisted of interviews of students and teachers, and in-classroom observations - was used to measure the degree to which informal science education initiatives benefit elementary students in traditionally underrepresented populations of typically lower socioeconomic status. Survey data suggest that JSOP increased students’ interest in pursuing a career in science and related fields.
Case study analyses provide insight into the advantages of informal science education and will be used to influence the design of larger studies. Informal science education has been found to be an effective tool for elementary science education. With hands-on experiments that allow children to apply scientific theory learned from textbooks children are apt to feel more free to explore science, a challenging subject that may not intrigue students that lack in proper academic training.||en_US