Research reveals how school science project experience prepares students for 21st century workplace success

Lauren Williams's picture
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Outreach Foundation has released research that points to hands-on science projects as an effective method for improving students' mastery of competencies required by businesses and organizations across all industries.

Results of the research were announced by Foundation President Gary Robinson. "What these results make clear is that engaging in hands-on science projects helps students learn a wide range of skills that are critical for success in any modern workplace—skills such as collaboration, organization and communication," Robinson said.

The survey was conducted online by West Ed, a preeminent national educational research firm headquartered in San Francisco. The survey was targeted at students in three different grade spans: upper elementary (grades 4–5), middle school (grades 6–8), and high school (grades 9–12). More than 1,600 students in Santa Clara County completed the survey after finishing a science project.

Students were asked to reflect upon their classroom and science fair experiences and to rate their skills in several areas, before and after completing their projects. Among these skills were:

  • Scientific investigation: develop an idea, plan an experiment, conduct an experiment
  • Project management: manage a project and meet deadlines
  • Scientific analysis: keep a logbook, analyze data, create a chart or graph
  • Communication: write results, create a presentation board, present and discuss results

Students were asked to report their abilities using a 4-point Likert scale ranging from "Very low," "Low," and "Good" to "Very good." In nearly every category, significant numbers of students rated their skills as having improved to "Good" or "Very good" after participating in a science project.

Project Management:

When asked about their ability to "manage a project and meet deadlines," 21 percent of upper elementary students, 15 percent of middle school students and 14 percent of high school students responded that their ability had improved to "very good." (Figure 4, Table 6)

Scientific Analysis Skills:

When asked about their ability to "create a chart or graph," 22 percent of upper elementary school students, 23 percent of middle school students and 12 percent of high school students said their ability had improved to "very good." (Figures 9, 10, 11)

Communication:

When asked if their ability to "write results" had improved, 26 percent of upper elementary students, 19 percent of middle school students and 14 percent of high school students responded that their ability had improved to "very good." (Figures 14, 15, 16)

When asked about their ability to "discuss and present results," 21 percent of upper elementary students, 21 percent of middle school students and 16 percent of high school students said their ability had improved to "very good." (Figures 14, 15, 16)

"While we expected students to rate their abilities as having improved following their participation in a science project, we had not anticipated the degree to which they felt they had improved," Robinson said. "As the job market continually evolves, high school and college graduates entering the workforce must be flexible in the type of industry they target. Being able to demonstrate competency in skills such as time management, teamwork and communication—skills that employers often value as much as specific industry knowledge—will enable these graduates to increase their opportunities for success."

About the Synopsys Outreach Foundation

Since its creation in 1999, the Synopsys Outreach Foundation has supported more than 1 million individual science project experiences. It provides science project support to teachers at more than 600 California schools annually and serves as the major sponsor of the Santa Clara County, Sonoma County and Sacramento Regional science fairs. One of the foundation's goals is to spur young people's interest in careers in science and engineering, thereby replenishing the supply of these workers in the decades ahead. "The results of the survey show that our support of hands-on science projects will not only contribute to this goal but will also help prepare competent young adults for an array of career paths," Robinson said.

The complete survey report is available at http://www.outreach-foundation.org/pdfs/SOF_Evaluation_Report_010913.pdf