How MEAs Help Engage Students in STEM

Teachers and parents around the world have certainly heard, “why do I need to learn this?” from their students! A classroom tool known as MEAs (Model-Eliciting Activities) let students see firsthand how the ideas and theories they are learning in the classroom can be applied in real world scenarios. K-12 and beyond, it’s clear that MEAs have a positive impact on student understanding and engagement, vital for STEM education. Did you know? The idea of MEAs as a classroom tool has been in existence since the 1970s and in practice since the early 1990s. It was originally developed by math education researchers.

So what is an MEA?

MEAs are activities that encourage students to invent and test models. In STEM education, MEAs ask students to develop a procedure to solve a problem. Examples of MEAs include:

  • Determining the best flying paper airplane:
    It has students determine how to create a fair judging scheme for a paper airplane contest while considering both the most accurate paper airplane and the best floater.
  • Gaging roughness at the nano scale for gold:
    It provides students with a hands-on experience with relevant scientific and mathematical concepts used in nanoscale technologies and research.
  • Measuring study effectiveness:
    Students analyze survey data about study habits and determine a method for rating study effectiveness.

What we’ve found in our research is that MEAs (especially in engineering education) can drastically impact student understanding and engagement levels. And, MEAs help educators assess the thought processes of students and understanding of the subject at hand.

How do MEAs benefit teachers?

Through interviews, journaling, surveys and classroom observation, we’ve witnessed the positive impact MEAs have on instructors. Teachers are able to better identify areas where students are both excelling and struggling—which can provide an overall better learning environment.

With the MEDIA Project, a National Science Foundation funded research project, the University of Minnesota has collaborated with researchers from six other major universities including Purdue University and the US Air Force Academy to discover the influence MEAs have on teaching and assessment. Along with our colleagues nationwide, we’ve worked with college-level instructors to help write and implement MEAs for undergrad STEM classrooms. Our research results extend beyond engineering into other STEM-related subjects like physics, chemistry and even biology to provide a more engaging classroom where students are motivated—and get to see how their hard work can pay off in the real world!

Check back next week as we explore how MEAs can add some spice to a STEM classroom that traditional textbooks can’t replicate.

— Tamara Moore and Gillian Roehrig, STEM Education Center Co-Directors

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Gillian Roehrig

About the Author

Gillian Roehrig, Ph.D.

  • STEM Education Center Co-Director
  • Associate Professor, Science Education
Tamara Moore

About the Author

Tamara Moore, Ph.D.

  • STEM Education Center Co-Director
  • Assistant Professor, Mathematics & Engineering

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2 thoughts on “How MEAs Help Engage Students in STEM”

  1. Subodh Dixit says:

    This type of modeling education could be actually beneficial for the engineering students in the real life. Because they would have already good exposure to various engineering concepts.

    We are always looking for practical engineers who can do precision machining work at our company

    It is really really needed skill when it comes to actually modelling the engineering work.

  2. Rejith says:

    Nice clean informative article! Great work!

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