Evaluating Large-Scale STEM Outreach Efficacy with a Consistent Theme: Thermodynamics for Elementary School Students

Joseph F. Dewilde, Esha P. Rangnekar, Jeffrey M. Ting, Joseph E. Franek, Frank S. Bates, Marc A Hillmyer, David A Blank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


A biannual chemistry demonstration-based show named "Energy and U" was created to extend the general outreach themes of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and a college education with a specific goal: to teach the first law of thermodynamics to elementary school students. The effectiveness of the program was analyzed using a clicker survey system for over 12 000 visiting students. The fraction of the students that correctly answered the question "Is it possible to create energy?" increased from 14% immediately before the show to 89% immediately after the show. Students who had seen the show at least 5 months prior were twice as likely to correctly answer at the beginning of the show, demonstrating longer-term lesson retention. Interestingly, similar trends were observed for the adult chaperones that accompanied the students and participated in the clicker survey. A statistically significant difference (>99% confidence interval) was noted between the students' responses to the questions "Can you create energy?" and "Can you destroy energy?", revealing a potential effect of word choice on the interpretation of the first law of thermodynamics despite the two questions representing complementary concepts. Student performance, measured interest in science, and desire to attend college were not correlated with standard economic indicators. This measurement is consistent with the postulate that economic biases surrounding interest in STEM fields are less pronounced in elementary school than later in high school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2661-2668
Number of pages8
JournalACS Omega
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 5 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank David Sittenfeld, manager of the Forum program at the Museum of Science, for helpful discussions. We acknowledge the financial support of The National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the University of Minnesota (MRSEC under award DMR-1420013), The National Science Foundation Center for Sustainable Polymers at the University of Minnesota (CSP under award CHE-1413862), The College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Medtronic Corporation, Schlumberger, and John Deere. J. M. T. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship under grant no. 00006595 and the University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. We gratefully thank Professors Aditya Bhan, Cari Dutcher, Renee Frontiera, Christy Haynes, Theresa Reineke, Aaron Massari, Kevin Dorfman, and Connie Lu for leading numerous performances. We also thank Eileen Harvala, Laura Seifert, Jennifer Henderson, Kelsi Klaers, Kelly Horn, and Courtney Meeker for coordinating the organization, transportation, and logistics of the shows.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Chemical Society.

MRSEC Support

  • Partial

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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