Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) permeate the modern world. The jobs people do, the foods they eat, the vehicles in which they travel, the information they receive, the medicines they take, and many other facets of modern life are constantly changing as STEM knowledge steadily accumulates. Yet STEM education in the United States, despite the importance of these subjects, is consistently falling short (see Box 1-1). Many students are not graduating from high school with the knowledge and capacities they will need to pursue STEM careers or understand STEM-related issues in the workforce or in their roles as citizens.
For decades, efforts to improve STEM education have focused largely on the formal education system. Learning standards for STEM subjects have been developed, teachers have participated in STEM-related professional development, and assessments of various kinds have sought to measure STEM learning. But students do not learn about STEM subjects just in school. Much STEM learning occurs out of school—in organized activities such as afterschool and summer programs, in institutions such as museums and zoos, from the things students watch or read on television and online, and during interactions with peers, parents, mentors, and role models. Even during their elementary school, middle school, and high school years, U.S. students spend just 18.5 percent of their waking hours over the course of each year in school (see Figure 1-1). If even a fraction of the activities and experiences that occupy much of the other 81.5 percent of their waking hours could be coordinated with the educa-
Identifying the Problem
During his opening remarks at the “STEM Learning Is Everywhere” convocation, Gerald Solomon, executive director of the Samueli Foundation, pointed to some well-studied problems in U.S. STEM education that the convocation was designed to address:
- Students in many other countries solidly outscore U.S. students in international comparisons of STEM learning (e.g., Kelly et al., 2013).
- Half or more of all first university degrees in Japan and China were in science and engineering, compared with just one-third in the United States. Asian and European colleges and universities are producing far more scientists and engineers than are U.S. colleges and universities (National Science Board, 2014).
- Women and minorities are underrepresented in many STEM educational programs and STEM careers (National Science Foundation, 2013).
- Growth in STEM jobs has been much faster than growth in non-STEM jobs (Langdon et al., 2011).
- STEM workers have earnings advantages at nearly every level of educational attainment (Carnevale et al., 2011).
- Solving the grand challenges that exist today in engineering, health, and other fields will require substantial contributions from STEM professionals (National Research Council, 2009, 2014a; National Academy of Engineering, 2008; Varmus et al., 2003).
Private philanthropies have an “ethical and moral imperative” to take on these problems, Solomon said. As one of the few remaining sources of risk capital available in the United States, they can support initiatives that government, businesses, and schools cannot.
tion they receive in school, students could emerge from their K-12 years much better prepared for the increasingly scientific and technical world in which they will live.
To explore how connections among the formal education system, afterschool programs, and the informal education sector could improve STEM learning, a committee of experts from these communities and under the auspices of the Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) of the National Research Council (NRC),1 in association with the California Teacher Advisory Council (CalTAC),2 organized a convocation that was held at the
FIGURE 1-1 Estimated time spent in school and informal learning environments.
NOTE: This diagram shows the relative percentage of waking hours that people across the lifespan spend in formal educational environments and other activities. The calculations were made on the best available statistics for a whole-year basis on how much time people at different points across the lifespan spend in formal instructional environments.
SOURCE: Reproduced with permission of The LIFE Center, University of Washington.
Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California, on February 10-11, 2014. Titled “STEM Learning Is Everywhere: Engaging Schools and Empowering Teachers to Integrate Formal, Informal, and Afterschool Education to Enhance Teaching and Learning in Grades K-8,” the convocation brought together more than 100 representatives of all three sectors, along with researchers, policy makers, advocates, and others, to explore a topic that could have far-reaching implications for how students learn about STEM subjects and how educational activities are organized and interact.
The planning committee worked from the following Statement of Task, which was approved by the NRC’s Governing Board Executive Committee:
An ad hoc steering committee will organize a convocation to explore the benefits that might accrue from engaging representatives from the formal, afterschool, and informal education sectors in California and from across the United States in strategic dialog and action planning to facilitate more deliberate connections among these three often independent communities. The emphasis of this convocation will be to foster more seamless learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for students in the elementary and middle grades that respond to new expectations and opportunities for STEM education as articulated
in the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts.
Convocation participants, drawn from these three communities as well as education researchers, policy makers, professional development specialists, and funders of STEM education, will also explore how strategic connections among the three communities might catalyze new avenues of teacher preparation and professional development, integrated curriculum development, and more comprehensive assessment of knowledge, skills, and attitudes about STEM.
Based on this Statement of Task, the committee agreed that the convocation had five main goals:
- Define the barriers to achieving more strategic, integrated approaches to STEM learning across the informal, afterschool, and formal learning platforms.3
- Identify challenges and opportunities associated with developing a STEM learning “ecosystem.”
- Identify key attributes and characteristics for possible prototypes of strategic collaborations to move forward.
- Disseminate prototypes for community uses.
- Secure attendee commitments and devise plans of action to work on these issues for the ensuing 18 months.
The planning committee for the convocation was cochaired by Mike Town, science teacher at the Redmond STEM School in Redmond, Washington, and Jennifer Peck, executive director of the Partnership for Children and Youth in Oakland, California. The committee also included Margaret Gaston, president and executive director of Gaston Education Policy Associates (who also served as manager of CalTAC); Laura Henriques, professor of science education at California State University, Long Beach; Anita Krishnamurthi, vice president of the Afterschool Alliance in Washington, DC; and Claudia Walker, a fifth-grade teacher at Murphey Traditional Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The convocation was sponsored by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Samueli Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which are all part of the STEM Funders Network.
3As noted by several speakers at the convocation, the terminology used in different sectors can vary. In this report, “afterschool programs” include before school, afterschool, and summer programs, which are sometimes collectively referred to as out-of-school programs.
Over the course of the convocation, the organizers of the event identified some themes that emerged from the presentations, the question and answer sessions, comments from individual participants, and the reports of breakout groups. These themes are compiled here as an introduction to the major topics that were discussed at the convocation. They should not be seen as the conclusions or recommendations of the convocation, but they represent especially promising areas for future discussion and action as identified by many participants.
Concentric circles of influences surround the individual learner, said Martin Storksdieck, then director of the Board on Science Education at the NRC (see Figure 1-2). Closest to the learner are family, friends, role
FIGURE 1-2 Individual learning is surrounded by layers of influences that have an effect on learning.
SOURCE: Reprinted with permission from Martin Storksdieck.
models, caregivers, mentors, and peers. Beyond these influences, a set of institutions seeks to teach or otherwise provide experiences to learners, including schools, museums, media, libraries, afterschool clubs, and churches. Finally, infrastructural elements such as policies, culture, communities, and values create the rules of the game for institutions as well as individuals.
The STEM learning system is remarkably diverse, Town noted, and all parts of the system have something to contribute to STEM learning. The challenge, said Henriques, is to mesh these contributions synergistically rather than duplicatively while adapting models that have worked well in one place to the culture, governance, and idiosyncrasies in other settings. In other words, they said, the goal is to create an actual integrated system for teaching and learning wherever learning occurs both in and outside of school (as indicated in the title of this report summary) rather than a set of uncoordinated activities.
Krishnamurthi observed that many other communities have engaged in cross-sector collaborations and that STEM learning systems could learn from those models. Solomon added that no single model of cross-sector collaboration is sufficient. Though different models may have common attributes, communities will be best served by models that reflect local cultures, environments, and stakeholders.
Peck pointed to the major changes occurring in education that provide an opportunity to align the parts of the STEM learning system. She said that the advent of the Common Core State Standards,4 the Next Generation Science Standards,5 new assessments that are emerging to align with these standards (e.g., the Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Careers [PARCC],6 Smarter Balanced Assessment Curriculum,7 and National Research Council, 2014b), growing interest in the social and emotional development of children, a renewed focus on effective teaching, and education finance reform are producing dramatic changes and equally dramatic opportunities. But sophisticated professional development across the entire learning system will be needed for different sectors to work together, she observed.
Different kinds of metrics will be needed for policy makers to be convinced of the value of cross-sector collaboration in producing such outcomes as persistence and having a STEM identity, said Town.
Mutual understanding, respect, and trust among the three sectors are
critical, said Walker. “We all have very similar goals,” she said. “We need to find those goals and work together through them.”
Finally, Peck emphasized the passion of everyone at the convocation and the surprising degree of unanimity among the participants. Even though the idea of collaboration can raise the concern that the efforts of one sector will be co-opted to meet the immediate needs of another, the commitment of the convocation participants to collaboration was inspiring, energizing, and eye-opening, she said.
This report of the convocation summarizes the presentations, discussions, and reports to the plenary group by representatives of the breakout sessions. After this introductory chapter, Chapter 2 frames the problems the convocation was designed to address and ways of solving those problems. Chapter 3 provides four different perspectives on how better to integrate STEM learning systems. Chapter 4 examines the implications of such integration for research and for policy.
Chapters 5 and 6 summarize the main conclusions of breakout groups that discussed both particular issues and next steps in fostering collaboration among the informal, afterschool, and formal STEM education sectors. Chapter 7 compiles comments and reflections of convocation participants over the course of the event. Appendix A provides details of the convocation agenda, and Appendix B is a list of convocation attendees. Appendix C contains brief biographies of committee members and convocation presenters.