STEM Teachers Conduct Summer Engineering Research

STEM Teachers Conduct Summer Engineering Research

Hands-on learning helps middle and high school students make sense of the concepts that challenge them in math and science courses. That’s equally true for the teachers of middle and high school students. Each summer, USC Viterbi hosts inner city STEM teachers in USC Viterbi engineering research labs and helps them translate those experiences into lesson plans. The results are impressive – not just for the teachers, but also for their students.

Nineteen teachers came to USC this summer in the ACCESS 4 Teachers Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program, led by Professors Gisele Ragusa and Maja Matarić and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Boeing Foundation. Immersed in labs throughout the engineering spectrum, from biomedical engineering to computer science, these teachers devoted themselves fulltime for five weeks to cutting-edge research. Every week, the cohort spent a day with Professor Ragusa, USC Viterbi’s STEM Education Researcher, translating their research experiences into lesson plans aligned to the Common Core Math and Next-Generation Science curricular standards. These teachers began their fall semester classes with lesson plans and units of study that had been honed through the help of the RET cohort and Professor Ragusa.

Pictured here, the RET teachers spent a day learning to code and program Botball robots. Trained by Dr. Ragusa with Dr. Ross Mead, a roboticist who conducted research with Professors Matarić and Ragusa while still a graduate student, these teachers worked together in dyads to code their robots to follow a prescribed path. Since most of the teachers were non-coders, their anxiety at learning a new skill reflected to them the feelings of their middle and high school students when first confronting algebra or physics. By using the engineering design process, the cohort ended the day with their robots performing on task.

Since 2011, USC Viterbi’s RET has helped 70 middle and high school teachers and their 10,400 students learn STEM content through innovative, hands-on approaches instilled through this process. Professor Ragusa has confirmed these results via her paper presented at the 2017 American Society for Engineering Education:

  • 32.7% gain in performance in teacher performance
  • 21.5% gain in science teaching efficacy
  • 35.3% gain in student science knowledge
  • 35.4% gain in student science literacy
  • 35.1% gain in science interest and motivation


Applications for the 2018 RET Program will be accepted beginning in January, 2018.

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