Researchers to Look at Connection Between Sleep, STEM


A new study from the University of Arizona plans to look into whether sleep deprivation will reduce a student’s interest in studying the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The National Science Foundation offered $1.2 million to the study, called “Sleep Education Program To Improve STEM Education in Elementary School,” which has partnered with the Catalina Foothills School District.  Researchers said they will follow 500 fourth- and fifth-graders across a three-year time span.

“We believed it important to target students earlier in their educational experiences before their STEM interests and sleep habits decline,” said Michelle Perfect, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies. “The majority of proposals focus on middle school, high school or college, but we are focusing on elementary school students, which is the point before they develop worsening sleep habits and before they lose interest in STEM.”

Each student will be given a tablet to complete assignments as well as additional devices that will monitor their sleep patterns.  The data collected on the devices will be transferred to MySleep, an online service that will allow the data to be analyzed and offer real-time feedback, as well as the capability to communicate with parents and teachers.

Researchers hope to not only collect data pertaining to interest in STEM, but also increase that interest within elementary students, writes Andrew Bernier for KJZZ.  The study also aims to discuss sleep insufficiencies and the consequences of it.

“We wanted the kids to be excited about careers early on in their educational experience” Perfect said. “So, 4th and 5th grade became kind of a shift before they lose interest in STEM and before sleep habits significantly decline going into middle school.”

Teachers and families will also be asked to participate in the study.  Educators will be offered professional development that will allow them to better support the instructional practices that coincide with the Next Generation Science Standards.  Students will make use of sleep science lessons created by researchers using the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.  The curriculum has the capability to be used in other areas of science education throughout the public school system, reports Dian Schaffhauser for Campus Technology.

Parents will also be asked to be involved in the study as active participants, learning alongside their children both in the classroom and at home.

“Many science projects do not help parents understand what is happening, preventing disconnections between the school and home, and they don’t necessarily teach children how to refine a process,” explained Perfect. “The parents are not just checking off a box of homework completion. They are co-investigators. They are actively involved in their child’s school and their learning.”

Students will be given the opportunity to go on field trips, participate in webinars and visit with STEM professionals.  “Students need role models. They need to know that there are individuals with disabilities, with minority backgrounds, who are English-language learners — and that they are all in STEM,” Perfect noted.

After the project has ended, researchers will return one year later to measure the students’ interest in STEM.

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