EXPLORING DIVERSE RURAL ELEMENTARY STUDENTS INTERESTS AND CONCERNS OF THE FOOD SYSTEM AFTER PARTICIPATING IN A VIRTUAL AGRI+STEM EXPERIENCE
STEM education is a top priority in the educational development of youth across the United States as the country tries to address the need of having a more well equipped, prepared, and educated workforce. Agriculture, food, and natural resources (AFNR) has the ability to provide a relevant context for engaging students in STEM education through experiential learning. Tragically, both STEM and AFNR struggle to reach and engage more diversified audiences, especially students of color. AFNR education provides an authentic avenue to center STEM engagement around addressing societal grand challenges like food and nutritional security, childhood-obesity, and climate change; issues faced by all communities. The approaches and steps taken to address these AFNR related grand challenges can all be explored through the lens of food systems. Food systems is a concept within AFNR that encompasses the interdisciplinary components of AFNR, STEM, and social sciences that provides a breakdown for the process and system involved in getting food from farm to fork. In an era where youth are more disconnected from understanding where their food comes from, food systems education has the ability to reconnect youth to the root of this issue and the potential to lead them to explore finding solutions to the grand challenges facing their generation. Furthermore, food systems education provides a context to engage youth in authentic learning experiences in nonformal and formal classroom settings around relevant issues with the potential to enhance their interests and concerns around these topics.
The purpose of this study was to explore and describe elementary school students’ interests and concerns about the food system, and their overall engagement in the learning experience after participating in an authentic learning based Virtual Agri+STEM Camp focused on food systems education, AFNR, and STEM activities. The convenience sample for this study was made up of elementary school students between grades 3rd and 8th grade (N = 99) who were either in the classroom or participating in an at-home Agri+STEM session. The majority of these students were from rural communities and most of them were African Americans. Quantitative data was collected before and after participation in the Virtual Agri+STEM Camp experience that using the research developed Food System Interest and Food System Concern instrument. Previous AFNR related experiences were also reported by students. The researcher also used an adapted version of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) and STEM Semantics survey to measure student engagement and attitudes after participating in the experience. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data, which included means, standard deviations, frequencies, and percentages. To explore the relationships between each of the variables, correlations were also computed.
There were four conclusions for this study. First, students that participated in the Virtual Agri+STEM Camp were motivated and engaged in the learning process while doing the Agri+STEM Camp activities. Second, students that participated in the Virtual Agri+STEM Camp were interested and concerned about the food system before and after participating in the Virtual Agri+STEM Camp. Third, African American student participants reported less previous AFNR experiences, yet they reported more interests and concerns in the food system than Caucasian American participants before and after completing the Virtual Agri+STEM Camp. Lastly, Students that felt more competent, saw the value, and were interested/enjoyed the Agri+STEM experience were more likely to be interested and concerned about the food system. Recommendations for future research and implications for practice and policy were discussed.