A project in the College of Education’s Center for Youth Engagement that is creating a curriculum for incarcerated youth focused on STEM careers is featured on the STEM for All Video Showcase of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the study.
The project, “Reclaiming Access to Inquiry-based Science Education (RAISE) for Incarcerated Students: An Investigation of Project-Based Inquiry Science within a Universal Design for Learning Framework in Juvenile Corrections Settings” is aimed at developing a digital science curriculum to improve learning for incarcerated juveniles, who are helping shape the teaching tool. The effort is funded with a $3 million NSF grant.
In the video, Karen Harrington, senior research fellow at the Center for Youth Engagement, and Jeremy Kelleher, lead iOS engineer on the project, discuss the goals of RAISE and the ongoing work with incarcerated juveniles.
The researchers are working with the Massachusetts-based Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST) and the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS on the digital Project-Based Inquiry Science curriculum designed within the Universal Design for Learning framework.
The project is aimed at a population that typically does not attract the attention of researchers, practitioners or funding organizations, say Michael Krezmien, associate dean of the College of Education’s Office of Research and Engagement, and RAISE co-principal investigator Martina Nieswandt, associate vice chancellor for research and engagement.
Yet research suggests that failing to address the educational needs of incarcerated juveniles has broad implications for society. “Typically, these are students with many educational barriers,” says Krezmien. “Incarcerated kids are usually those who’ve most often been left out of the education system. They haven’t had access to high quality education, they’re the ones who have often been kicked out of class, and their education has been piecemeal.”
Krezmien and Nieswandt point out that because incarcerated students frequently do not have a basic understanding of science and scientific concepts or the inquiry skills needed to support scientific thinking, they often fail the state-mandated tests in science, which prevents them from obtaining a high school diploma. “So, they are more likely to drop out, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to become dependent on public assistance and be confined in adult prisons,” Krezmien says.
“Our response to some of these educational barriers faced by incarcerated youth, such as a lack of reading skills or background knowledge needed to participate fully in a traditional science-based curriculum, is to create a virtual science curriculum, accessed by iPads, that includes supports for diverse learners,” Krezmien says. For example, students who struggle with reading or have dyslexia access the RAISE curriculum through multimedia elements and interactive experiences, and can access text-to-speech technology and deepen their understanding of key concepts through embedded technological scaffolds and supports.
The RAISE research team includes College of Education faculty, staff, graduate students, and a tech and curriculum development team of one computer science graduate student and 11 undergraduates from computer science, biology, the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, and natural resources conservation.