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STEM bill passes House, could support afterschool STEM

By Erik Peterson

On February 13, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the “Building Blocks of STEM Act.” The bipartisan legislation (H.R. 3397), sponsored by Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and cosponsored by Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.), directs the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education research focused on early childhood (under the age of 11). H.R. 3397 also includes provisions championed by Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) that award grants to encourage young girls’ participation in computer science, and updates the NSF Noyce Teacher Scholarship program to include informatics.

This legislation, which combined a number of bipartisan STEM education bills, includes the “Girls Who Code Act” and instructs the National Science Foundation, (NSF) when awarding grants under the Discovery Research PreK-12 program, to consider age distribution in order to more equitably allocate funding for research studies with a focus on early childhood education. The bill also supports girls in STEM education and computer science by instructing NSF to accelerate research efforts to increase understanding of the factors that contribute to the participation of young girls in STEM activities. This includes research on effective teacher training and professional development. Among the allowable uses of research grant funds is investigating the role of informal and out-of-school STEM learning opportunities on girls’ perception of and participation in STEM activities.

According to the bill’s authors, studies have found that children who engage in scientific activities from an early age develop positive attitudes toward science and are more likely to pursue STEM careers later. The legislation has the potential to build upon the momentum at the National Science Foundation behind a desire to better understand and support informal STEM education in settings like afterschool and summer learning programs. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it reportedly could move later this year.

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