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Sociology is most frequently taught as a college-level course offered in 50- to 90-minute sessions held over the length of a semester or quarter. So how would you bring sociology to life in a 10x10 booth at the nation’s largest celebration of science in eight minutes or less for children aged 11-14 years old?
This was the puzzle that the American Sociological Association and its two partner organizations, “Social Explorer” and “Teaching With Data” had to solve as part of their preparations for the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which took place at the Washington, DC Convention Center on April 27-29, 2012, and included more than 3,000 interactive exhibits, stage shows, and a book fair.
The solution was a booth titled “Science of the Modern Family: Using Sociology to Explore How Kids and Their Families Live Today.” Visitors to the exhibit engaged in hands-on activities that guided them through the process of developing a hypothesis and testing it with sociological data. The first activity invited participants to explore how family structure has changed in the past 50 years. The second activity focused on how family structure impacts the health behaviors of kids, including hours spent watching TV, binge drinking, and self-reported satisfaction with their lives.
Booth participants who filled out a “Mini-Quiz” at the end of either activity had the opportunity to draw a ticket from a raffle box for a chance to win an iPod Shuffle. The raffle was more than just a ploy to get people to visit the booth—although it worked wonderfully for bringing 11-14 year olds into the booth! It helped encourage participants to fill out the Mini-Quiz, which measured booth participants’ understanding of the four learning goals that undergirded both activities. There were 500 Mini-Quizzes collected during the festival, as well as nearly 100 comparison group Mini-Quizzes. Results from this “Informal STEM Education Assessment” will be shared in a future issue of Footnotes.