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Junior and senior high school students who learn mathematical concepts in a hands-on approach are more likely to think engineering is fun and want to pursue STEM advanced degrees.

The Arizona State University Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) club reached these findings through its Mechanical Flapping Bird STEM Outreach Program sponsored by the NASA Space Grant. In the program, students designed, built, tested and analyzed mechanical flapping birds and Arduino-based robotic cars over six weeks.

Program results were presented at the 14th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Education from January 3–6 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The club’s paper, “Building a mechanical flapping bird and Arduino robotic car for educating youths in seventh, eighth and ninth graders at Arizona State University,” focused on the impact the club had on 13 female Hispanic students from Superior Junior/Senior High School during the fall 2015 semester by using a hands-on approach to learning mathematical concepts.

After the program, the middle and high school students showed an 85 percent increase in knowing what type of engineer they want to become in the future. They also showed a 20 percent increase in thinking engineering is fun and a 30 percent increase in the perception and motivation in becoming engineers.

The MAV club’s president and founder Michael Thompson has conducted the program for four years, involving 276 elementary, middle and high school students mostly representing underrepresented minorities. The targeted seventh to ninth grade students represent a critical demographic for strengthening the nation’s STEM pipeline.

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