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Stimulating Immersive Science Through Engaging, Motivating, and Authentic Scenarios

Project Overview

Dr. Hodges and her research team received a 1.3 million NIH SEPA grant to continue their work that aspires to increase interest and engagement in STEM careers. We aim to do this by opening access to STEM for all people by strategically targeting underrepresented groups. We will address this by creating a Summer Outreach STEM Camp for middle-grade learners; developing professional learning for middle grades life science teachers; and enriching Virtual Vet, a proven serious educational game, to support Latinx Multilingual Learners (LML).

In the U.S., people of color are severely underrepresented, especially LML, who represent only 7% of the STEM workforce. This project addresses the issue at the beginning of the STEM pipeline when children decide whether STEM is a possible pathway for them. For students to consider STEM as a pathway, they must be able to access the knowledge. Our project goals address these needs from a variety of perspectives.

This project is funded by a NIH Science Education Partnership Award

Project Goals

Goal 1

Engaging middle grade learners at STEM camp on the University of Georgia campus. Participants will spend five days on campus conducting science research! We are strategically designing the camp to increase students’ content knowledge and their attitudes toward science. We will use a variety of translanguaging strategies to support multilingual learners.

Goal 2

Our team is also working to expand the Virtual Vet learning environment to reach a more diverse student population through creation of a Spanish version of gameplay and read aloud functionality. This leverages the fully functional and proven learning tool, Virtual Vet, so that language does not exclude players from learning science. We will also retool Virtual Vet with translanguaging supports, beginning with capability to play in Spanish. This will increase students’ science content knowledge and their attitudes toward science.

Goal 3

Our team aims to extend the impact of the Virtual Vet learning environment from elementary to middle school through the creation of four new gameplay levels targeting the middle-school NGSS performance expectations. This will increase middle grades learners science content knowledge and their attitudes toward science. The game levels will address genetics concepts, identified by teachers and research that middle grades learners struggle to deeply understand.

Goal 4

Our team will enrich Virtual Vet through machine learning integration to better engage and evaluate elementary and middle grades student engagement with the content and skills required of the biomedical field. Our team will integrate machine learning into the immersive environment with two distinct goals. First, the data will allow the research team to deeply examine how players construct knowledge in a translanguaging, immersive environment. In addition, we will use the tool in a practical manner, to provide students and teachers with feedback to constructed response items during Virtual Vet gameplay.

Meet the Team

Georgia Hodges, principal investigator

Georgia Hodges is a former science teacher who loves working with teachers to create meaningful learning experiences for students. During the Fall, she can be found cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs.

Alan Cohen, Co-PI

Allan Cohen is a professor emeritus in the Department of Educational Psychology. Cohen’s research involves examining methodological issues in educational measurement with respect to applications in test design and development. Most of his work has focused on (1) problems in the construction and maintenance of achievement tests, including linking and equating, detection of differential item functioning, and estimating model parameters under item response theory, and (2) investigating new methods for better understanding the test taking behaviors of examinees, including latent variable models and methods from machine learning. In addition to his own research, he collaborates on problems requiring statistical expertise mainly in psychometrics.

Xiaoming Zhai, Co-PI

Xiaoming Zhai is a former award-winning high school teacher who taught physics for nine years. He is working on projects using AI-based innovative assessments to advance science teaching and learning.

Lourdes Cardozo-Gaibisso, Co-PI

Originally from Montevideo, Uruguay, Lourdes Cardozo-Gaibisso is an assistant professor of TESOL and linguistics in the Department of English and a research fellow for the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. Her work focuses on developing equitable learning opportunities in science for multilingual children and youth.

Pam Perry, curriculum developer

Pam Perry has been working in science education since 1990. She began working as a medical researcher at Emory University and then moved to become a teacher and science department chair at two Georgia schools. She recently retired in May 2022 from being a teacher and is super excited about what we are doing!

Katelyn Wasson, project manager

Katelyn has a Bachelor’s in Social Work and has been on our team for almost 3 years! While being the Project Manager she is continuing her education at UGA to receive her Master’s in Social Work.

Shaugnessy Mccann

Shaugnessy Mccann manages the reaching lab for the genetics department at UGA where he is also a Ph.D. student in science education. He is broadly interested in issues of equity and identity and understanding how out-of-school experiences in science impact K-12 students.

Ngutor Tembe

Ngutor Tembe is a Ph.D. student currently studying mathematics education. He is interested in how teachers can support students to learn math as fun and appreciate the aesthetic and interdisciplinary nature of math and how it relates to their daily living. He believes every child has the right to learn and access quality math instruction equally irrespective of race, culture, sex, and social status.

Bridget Perez

My name is Bridget Perez and I am a freshman here at UGA! My major is Health Promotion! I love hanging out with friends and playing tennis and pickleball as well as going hiking!

siSTEMas Summer Camp

The siSTEMas Summer Camp is a free educational Summer camp open to all rising seventh graders. Campers are encouraged to see themselves as scientists and will engage in hands-on activities that promote learning from doing.

Register Now

El campamento de verano de siSTEMas es un campamento educativo gratuito abierto a todos los estudiantes de séptimo grado. Se alienta a los participantes a que se vean a sí mismos como científicos y a que participen en actividades prácticas que promuevan el aprendizaje auténtico.

Regístrate ahora (en Español)

Camp Counselors

Francisco Galdamez

I am going to Athens Tech for Culinary Arts. I have a small business called Chico’s Bakery, and my dream is to one day open up a store in downtown Athens!

Miriam Ghaly

I am a rising second-year Environmental Engineering major with emphases in Spanish and Global Health. I enjoy novels, local coffee shops, and alternative music. I am eager to be working with the siSTEMas team this year!!

Marlee Greenspan

I am a 3rd year student at UGA studying Genetics and a minor in Dance. I’ve been a dancer my entire life and continue to perform here at UGA! I also love thrifting, cooking, and traveling. This May I studied abroad in Thailand!

Emma Hodges

I am a junior at Young Harris College, studying Biology with a minor in Chemistry and Spanish. Fun fact about me: I play college soccer at Young Harris.

Bridget Perez

I am a sophomore here at UGA! My major is Health Promotion. I love hanging out with friends and playing tennis and pickleball as well as going hiking!

Maggie Rezendes

I am a 4th year Spanish major at UGA and am pursuing a Historic Preservation Certificate. A fun fact about me is that I love to sew and upcycle old clothes to express my own personal style!

Danitza Ulloa

I am going to Athens Technical College for a Bachelors in Business Management. I am Biliteracy Certified in Spanish!

Anissa Waller Del Valle

I am a rising second year PhD student in Cellular Biology at the University of Georgia. I love playing video games, running, and cosplay!

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