Informal Science Education and Interest Development

Informal Science Education and Interest Development

The survey revealed that students’ self-reported level of competence in science skills increased steadily through the study, with competence significantly higher at the midpoint survey than baseline and significantly higher at post survey than midpoint. A similar pattern emerged for students’ engagement with science outside of the program, however the only significant difference was from post survey to baseline. Finally, based on the analysis of the structured interview, Habig and Gupta were able to classify the students’ level of interest development (4). Given that the requirements for the program were that students have an interest in science, it is unsurprising that none of the students were categorized as having triggered situational interest by the end of the program. Two students were categorized as having maintained situational interest . These students expressed interest in participating in science program again if given the opportunity, but were less confident about their ability to do science activities on their own. The majority of the students, 15, were categorized as having emerging individual interest. These students demonstrated mastery over the content, engagement with science outside of the program, and a strong desire to continue to engage with science in the future. For example, one student reported “…before doing these research projects, I wouldn’t really so much look into science articles… it never really crosses my mind. But, doing these research projects and searching up articles, you know, I realized that there’s such fascinating research out there that I would like to learn more about and especially now. Sometimes my parents and I will discuss biology and like I’ll search up articles and I’ll show it to them.” Finally, 2 students were categorized as having well-developed individual interest . These students scored highly in every dimension of interest – frequency of engagement, depth of understanding, voluntary engagement, and propensity for independent reengagement. For example, one student responded “I write for a teen science journal … I recently wrote an article about climate change and lobsters.” (4)

This research provides a really useful tool for understanding how interest, particularly interest in STEM, can be supported. I think there were several key aspects of this program that helped to make it successful. First, it focused on authentic science research, which the authors defined as “experiences in which students engage as practitioners of science, that is, where they develop research questions and use specific tools and practices of science in real-world contexts to collect and analyze data, and to communicate their findings.” (4). Second, this was supported by training in skills and background knowledge through workshops. Finally, the program took place from July through December, allowing for both the development of foundational background knowledge as well as spacing of material.


  1. Kricorian, K., Seu, M., Lopez, D., Ureta, E. & Equils, O. (2020). Factors influencing participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields: Matched mentors and mindsets. International Journal of STEM Education, 7, 1-9.

  2. Ong, M., Smith, J. M., & Ko, L. T. (2018). Counterspaces for women of color in STEM higher education: marginal and central spaces for persistence and success. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 55(2), 206-245.

  3. National Research Council (2015). Identifying and supporting productive STEM programs in out-of-school settings. The National Academic Press.

  4. Habig, B. & Gupta, P. (2021). Authentic STEM research, practices of science, and interest development in an informal science education program. International Journal of STEM Education, 8(1), 57.

  5. Hidi, S. & Renninger, K. A. (2006). The four-phase model of interest development. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111-127.