Superhero Training Network Enhances Engagement of Elementary Students in STEM

Scientists and engineers are considered true superheroes in society. They develop ideas and build things that
are fun and interesting, and provide us with knowledge to extend human life and our capacity for exploration. As much as they can improve our lives they can also do considerable harm. It is this bifurcation of the idea of science and engineering in education, and the opportunity to show students the “power” of what they are learning as well as the responsibility to use that “power” for the betterment of humanity that led Audrey Buttice and Samuel DuPont to create Scientific League LLC, a company which aims to deliver science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM-related knowledge primarily to elementary aged students.

Audrey Buttice, Ph.D. and Samuel DuPont, Ph.D., chanced upon the idea while working on their Ph.D.’s in chemical engineering at the University of South Florida. Through STARS (Students, Teachers, and Resources in the Sciences), a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded program, they visited Florida elementary schools where they provided instruction and performed experiments with students and teachers. The experience satiated Buttice & DuPont’s passion for educating young students and teachers in STEM related topics.

Buttice and DuPont thereon came up with the idea of developing lessons using multimedia. They toyed with many ideas (Pirates, Clowns, Lab Rats, and even Detectives), and finally struck upon the idea of Superheroes while standing in line for a ride at Walt Disney World. Soon after, Buttice and DuPont cracked open the idea for the next project, their company’s first creation, the Superhero Training Network.

The Superhero Training Network is a series of materials and resources designed to enhance student 
engagement in STEM-related topics and provide trainers (teachers) with a solid network of educational support. In its superficial form it is a series of videos and printed materials designed by people with a solid background in STEM, and created with a focus on engaging student interest and enhancing a teacher’s ability to convey core STEM concepts. Superhero Training Network materials follow both the Sunshine State Standards (current Florida education standards) and the new Next Generation Science Standards. One of the goals of the program is to form a community of educational professionals that have various degrees of experience in educational techniques and STEM related subjects which act as resources for the educational community without requiring an unreasonable time commitment.

Primary modes of instruction include full video lessons, small video segments, textbook/reader style “Training Manuals”, activity kits, and paper-based puzzles, quizzes, and challenges. “Our country, and the entire world, will rely heavily on STEM careers in the future. Encouraging students at a young age to fulfill this need will ensure a strong workforce for our country as the world continues to make vast strides in technological advancements.”

To date, they have produced six full episodes, lasting 20-30 minutes, which include science-based interviews with the cast and segments on science in the community. “We plan to continue production after the core series, developing videos that focus on a specific topic in its entirety” Buttice and DuPont said. Additionally, they plan to create more “segmented” videos which tackle basic concepts in a short and meaningful manner to encourage students to be excited about STEM concepts.

Use of Superhero Training Network materials have greatly expanded since its inception. In 2011, the initial year, STN materials were used in four Hillsborough County schools. This year, 24 Hillsborough County schools will be using the materials. “Our hope is that students recognize how fun STEM topics can be and prime their minds to learn so that they develop a life-long passion for STEM learning and activity.” Of the students who have used the program, over 80% reported an enjoyable experience and 2/3 expressed desire to access STN themed materials from home. On curriculum relevant topics, an overall average increase of 15% in student knowledge has been noted.

The goals of FLATE are closely aligned with Science League as both organizations are focused on
encouraging students to explore STEM based opportunities. Science League has been working with FLATE on a variety of video production projects aimed at encouraging students to pursue technical and manufacturing workforce. These videos will also provide students with an idea of the types of jobs available to them in their state as well as what these corporations look for when hiring new technical employees. “We have really enjoyed working with FLATE and plan to continue partnering with them on other projects that our multi-media expertise can benefit” Buttice said.

For more information on the Scientific League and the Super Hero Training Network visit http://www.scientificleague.com/, or contact Sam DuPont (sam@scientificleague.com) and Audrey Buttiice (Audrey@scientificleague.com). For more information on FLATE and STEM based projects visit www.fl-ate.org and madeinflorida.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger@fl-ate.org.