Points Emphasized by the Speakers
- STEM learning ecosystems could harness the unique contributions of different settings to deliver STEM learning for all students.
- Ideas currently at the forefront of STEM education reform align particularly well with the concepts of collaboration and understanding across sectors.
- Integrated STEM education could help provide students with the skills they will need as workers and citizens.
- The opportunity currently exists to operationalize and scale up the idea of STEM learning ecosystems.
- Partnerships within schools and between schools and other organizations could help teachers take advantage of the resources available outside schools.
Four presentations at the convocation considered ways of achieving the vision laid out by Bruce Alberts in his opening remarks. Each of these presenters viewed the issue from a different perspective, reflecting the multifaceted nature of STEM learning systems, yet they converged on common approaches.
In the months before the convocation, Kathleen Traphagen, an independent writer and strategist with expertise in education and youth development, and Saskia Traill, vice president of policy and research at The After-School Corporation in New York, talked with an array of thought leaders, policy makers, funders, and practitioners to find examples of cross-sector learning collaborations. (One of the programs they studied is described in Box 3-1). Narrowing their focus to 15 initiatives
The Detroit Area Pre-College
Science and Engineering Program
One of the programs discussed at the convocation was the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP),* which annually provides more than 4,000 students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade with hands-on exposure to science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine through in-school and out-of-school educational curricula. Operating in southeastern Michigan with its primary focus on Detroit, the nonprofit organization has a 38-year track record of nurturing and motivating historically underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in STEM fields.
By offering high-quality programming in areas including chemical and mechanical engineering, computer programming, robotics, nanotechnology, and renewable energy, DAPCEP meets a niche need in the community. “Everyone has heard about the trials and tribulation of education in the city of Detroit,” said executive director Jason D. Lee, a participant at the convocation. “We are an intervention strategy in that space.” For example, the organization partners with eight Michigan universities to offer Saturday science and math classes (such as “Wonders of Flight” and “Forensic Crime Stoppers”) to fourth- to twelfth-graders during the school year, as well as summer camp sessions.
DAPCEP is a launch pad for many students who will be the first in their families to go to college. The program also gives teachers a chance to engage deeply with students in exciting small-group activities. “Our classrooms are those loud classrooms where students and teachers are involved in hands-on learning experimentation and opportunity,” Lee said.
Detroit’s regional economy needs a STEM-educated workforce to transition from its traditional automotive manufacturing roots toward a technology-based economy, and DAPCEP is helping to make that transition. Around 60 percent of students attending its summer engineering academy at the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor School of Engineering subsequently applied to and were accepted by the school. In another survey, 80 percent of DAPCEP alumni said the program prepared them for higher education and careers in STEM fields and medicine.
that featured collaborations among formal K-12 education, afterschool or summer programs, and/or some type of STEM-rich organization, they studied each of the programs to derive lessons that others can use to deepen STEM learning for many more children. As they wrote in the resulting report (Traphagen and Traill, 2014), the potential is for “young people’s experiences [to] connect horizontally across formal and informal settings at each age, and scaffold vertically as they build on each other to become deeper and more complex over time” (p. 6).
The metaphor they used in their report—and one that was discussed extensively at the convocation (see Chapter 7)—was that of a learning ecosystem, which they defined as follows: “A STEM learning ecosystem encompasses schools, community settings such as afterschool and summer programs, science centers and museums, and informal experiences at home and in a variety of environments…. A learning ecosystem harnesses the unique contributions of all these different settings in symbiosis to deliver STEM learning for all children” (Traphagen and Trail, 2014, p. 4).
STEM learning ecosystems are emerging all over the country, Traphagen and Traill observed in their report. These systems are in different stages of evolution, the potential for development remains great, and people from one sector often do not know the people or organizations from other sectors. But the people with whom the researchers talked are excited to reach beyond their silos and work with others as part of a unified endeavor.
Ideas currently at the forefront of STEM education reform align particularly well with the concepts of collaboration and understanding across sectors, Traphagen noted.1 One such idea is the emphasis on crosscutting concepts and the development of scientific practices over time. Another is the importance of interest, identity, and how these concepts can be reinforced in different settings. A third is the development of what some learning scientists call noncognitive skills, such as persistence of an academic mindset. And a fourth is the opportunity to be more intentional about providing STEM learning opportunities for girls, youth of color, and economically disadvantaged children.
Through their survey, they learned that organizations have found niches where needs exist and have expanded into those niches. For example, Traill said, an afterschool program might be able to help an education system that is struggling with science professional development for its
1The PowerPoint file for this presentation is available at http://www.samueli.org/stemconference/documents/Traphagen-Traill_Cross-Sector_Collaborations.pdf [June 2014].
elementary school teachers. Or a science museum may provide a means for keeping middle school students engaged in science.
Traphagen and Traill pointed out that all of these systems have robust infrastructures. For example, 40 of 50 states have statewide afterschool networks, and the infrastructures for many of these networks are as robust as those for schools, though they may be far less visible. Similarly, the ecosystems they studied had several common attributes:
- They are anchored by strong leaders and a collaborative vision and practice.
- They are attentive to the enlightened self-interest of all partners.
- They are opportunistic and nimble.
Some of the people with whom they talked expressed concerns about cross-sector collaborations. For example, a few people were worried that partnering with formal education might mean being subsumed by it. But in general, Traphagen and Traill observed, people recognized that every organization has a mission that has to be honored, recognized, and respected as collaborations occur.
In their report, Traphagen and Traill looked at six different strategies to build STEM learning ecosystems.
- Build the capacities of educators in all sectors.
- Equip educators from different sectors with tools and structures to enable sustained planning and collaboration.
- Link in- and out-of-school STEM learning day by day.
- Create learning progressions for young people that connect and deepen STEM experiences over time.
- Focus curricula and instruction on inquiry, project-based learning, and real-world connections to increase relevance for young people.
- Engage families and communities in understanding and supporting children’s STEM success.
None of the 15 ecosystems they studied had engaged in all six of these strategies, Traphagen noted in her presentation, but their efforts overlap. For example, she said, afterschool programs could provide a place for teachers to work together, try something new, and test it, which they then could take back to their classrooms. Collaborations also provided time to talk about the same thing and build trust among sectors.
Structures could be established to continue cross-sector conversations even when time is short and other tasks are demanding, Traphagen and Traill observed. For example, some ecosystems used pre-service and student teachers as educators across multiple sectors, thus fostering collaboration in an early part of an educator’s career. Afterschool programs were also developing curricula and then employing teachers to work with children, which subsequently changed the way they teach in their classrooms. Out-of-school programs and STEM-rich institutions were engaging families and communities and also mounting public awareness campaigns about the importance of STEM, which is an area with great potential for further development and success. The potential forms of collaboration are extremely diverse.
Finally, Traphagen and Traill proposed a series of actions in three separate categories that they said could advance these ecosystems:
- Get ready to scale by learning more about what works and what does not.
- Create a community of practice for STEM learning ecosystems.
- Examine how STEM learning ecosystems can help realize the goals of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013), and A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012a).
2. Research and Evaluation
- Learn how to assess learning outcomes across settings.
- Disseminate relevant research more broadly and across sectors.
- Increase opportunities to connect research and practice across sectors.
- Craft a policy agenda that identifies strategic levers at different levels to advance ecosystem-building efforts.
- Take better advantage of the flexibility embedded in existing policies. For example, many funding streams offer more flexibility than is currently used in practice.
A policy agenda such as this can use strategic levers at different levels to advance the development of STEM learning ecosystems, Traphagen and Traill suggested. The result could be a shared vision, mutual understanding of the unique expertise each partner brings to the table, and better outcomes for children.
The Friday before the convocation, the National Academies released a pre-publication version of the report STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research (National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council, 2014), produced by the Committee on Integrated STEM Education. Committee chair Margaret Honey, president and chief executive officer of the New York Hall of Science, described the report’s major conclusions and recommendations at the convocation.2
As the report describes, solving the critical problems that face societies today will require contributions from across the domains of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, yet schools are still failing to produce the kind of learning that is applicable in the real world, Honey observed. The economy’s need for routine manual, routine cognitive, and nonroutine manual skills has declined dramatically in recent decades while the need for nonroutine interactive and nonroutine analytic skills has exploded, and this trend is going to intensify in the future. Whatever jobs can be automated will be, Honey said. Driverless cars, warehouses run by machines, and even drones delivering packages are going to radically reduce the needs for humans to do these jobs, just as software has reduced the need for accountants, travel agents, and others to do routine jobs.
Traditional education is not preparing students for this future, said Honey. Young people need to learn to be creative problem solvers, to take on challenges, and to collaborate with others who have different skill sets. “Classrooms in the 21st century should look more like the environment that I run, which is a science center, than a [traditional] classroom,” she said.
Instead of providing a single definition of integrated STEM learning, the committee developed a framework for STEM integration in K-12
2The PowerPoint file for this presentation is available at http://www.samueli.org/stemconference/documents/Honey_STEM%20Integration%20in%20K-12%20Education.pdf [June 2014].
FIGURE 3-1 Integrated STEM education can be approached through a framework that includes goals, the nature and scope of integration, outcomes, and implementation.
SOURCE: National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council (2014).
education (see Figure 3-1). The framework encourages the delineation of goals, said Honey, such as what is a program trying to accomplish, what is the nature of an integrated approach, what kinds of supports need to be in place for success, how do teachers need to design their classrooms, how should they work with their colleagues both inside schools and outside of schools, and so on.3
Honey reported that the Committee on Integrated STEM Education developed nine recommendations, which fall into four categories and are designed to achieve the goals implicit in its framework.
3When the final version of the report was released in early March 2014, an accompanying short video that summarizes the findings of the report for general audiences also was released. That video can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlPJ48simtE [June 2014].
1. Research is best when there is
• rich description of an intervention,
• alignment of study design and outcome measures with the goals of an intervention, and
• the use of control groups.
2. The field—educators, program developers, researchers—could benefit greatly from a common framework for both description of an intervention and, when appropriate, for the research strategy.
3. Delineate the impacts on achievement, interest, identity, and persistence. Avoid the “integrated STEM is good for everything” strategy.
4. Examine the long-term impacts on interest and identify among diverse audiences.
Design and Implementation
5. Delineate a logic model, including goals, necessary supports, and outcome measures.
6. Be explicit about teaching and learning goals.
7. Use the rapidly developing cognitive and learning literature to understand learning goals and learning progressions.
8. Rethink assessment to enable the development of high-quality assessment tools.
9. Embrace continuous improvement.
The STEM education community, both inside and outside schools, has an opportunity to build a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement, said Honey. She said a particularly promising option would be to take the framework developed by the committee and operationalize it so that different programs can be mapped onto the framework. The result could be a tool that, as Honey said, could provide much greater coherence and discipline in describing “what it is we want, how it’s going to happen, what it’s going to take to get there, and how we are going to know if we are successful.”
The idea of a learning ecosystem is not new, said Anita Krishnamurthi, vice president for STEM policy at the Afterschool Alliance. Many people have been thinking about the concept for decades.4 But, she pointed out, the opportunity now exists both to operationalize and to scale up the idea.
Nevertheless, barriers exist and need to be overcome, according to Krishnamurthi. The different settings in which science education can occur have different cultures that cannot be ignored. Instead, the differences need to be turned into an advantage, said Krishnamurthi. Each setting has a unique potential to contribute to the larger ecosystem (Afterschool Alliance, 2011b). “It’s happening in small packages,” she said. “The challenge is how to grow this.”
Krishnamurthi said each sector lacks knowledge about the others. For example, the afterschool sector has an image problem that it is trying to rectify. Large afterschool providers such as 4-H and the YMCA have adopted STEM programming as a flagship effort within their programs, and citywide and statewide afterschool networks have come into existence to support educational objectives. People in the formal education sector now can be confident that afterschool providers can deliver on their promise, said Krishnamurthi, noting “the afterschool sector is becoming very sophisticated, savvy, and capable.”
In a recent survey done by the Afterschool Alliance, nearly all of more than 1,000 afterschool program directors and staff said that it was important for afterschool programs to offer STEM programming as part of a larger comprehensive effort (Afterschool Alliance, 2011a). Yet a recent Nielsen survey found that only 20 percent of households have children enrolled in afterschool STEM programs (Change the Equation, 2013). The untapped potential to take advantage of what the afterschool community can offer is huge, said Krishnamurthi.
At the same time, evaluation research has been proceeding rapidly. A study on defining youth outcomes for afterschool STEM learning (Afterschool Alliance, 2013) found that these programs could deliver many of the goals and outcomes identified in the integrated STEM report (National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council, 2014). “Afterschool programs are a place where this kind of integrated learning and teaching can occur—is already occurring. [These] programs and providers are ready to provide this kind of learning, and we should help them do more and do better,” she said.
4The Powerpoint file for this presentation is available at http://www.samueli.org/stemconference/documents/Krishnamurthi-Walker_Integrating_Afterschool_Platforms.pdf [June 2014].
Policies will need to change to enable greater integration, Krishnamurthi said. Today, most of the resources and expectations for student outcomes are organized around what schools can deliver; which she said has a variety of consequences. For example, science centers often do professional development for teachers and sometimes for afterschool educators, but rarely do they provide professional development to both groups at the same time, usually because afterschool programs do not have the money that schools have to pay for such activities.
Another example she presented involves student data. Privacy laws are important to protect students, but they also can inhibit sharing of information between school teachers and afterschool providers. “If Mary is really struggling with wave theory in physics … and the afterschool provider knows that she loves music and is playing with beats and harmonies and resonance, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could make those connections in a very explicit way?” asked Krishnamurthi. “That’s what this kind of thinking can engender, but policies need to be changed for us to be able to do that.”
A shared vision for the entire STEM learning system would distribute responsibility for learning among all of the sectors, she noted. This responsibility could encompass not only academic achievement, but also the development of identity, interest, curiosity, and passion.
According to Krishnamurthi, leadership will be essential to make this happen, but one single charismatic leader is not enough. Rather, many players in the system need to be involved in crafting initiatives and policies, said Krishnamurthi, as has been happening in cities such as Providence and Nashville, and larger state efforts such as one in Ohio. People are asking how to make collaboration a central goal and how to incentivize people to come together and share resources in the best interests of students. She gave as an example that the Afterschool Alliance has been working with the Association of Science-Technology Centers to bring science centers and afterschool providers closer together to work on professional development. In addition, the National Girls Collaborative Project has shown that even small mini-grants can bring people together.
“We can’t wait for the policies to be put into place before we start working,” said Krishnamurthi. “If this is to become systemic and sustainable in the long term, we all have to advocate for this kind of thinking, find champions at the city, state, and federal levels, and ultimately change policies so that this becomes a way of life and not the exception that is driven by one charismatic leader here and there.”
In the discussion session following Kristhnamurthi’s presentation, Ryan Collay, director of the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences Program at Oregon State University, noted that the “elephant in the room” is assessment. He said academic achievement is often considered the sole measure of success, but afterschool programming is focused on a variety of outcomes, not just academic achievement. In particular, afterschool programs seek to build identity, engagement, persistence, and other attributes. “I’m worried about afterschool morphing to become more school-like,” he said.
Krishnamurthi responded that more conversations about these attributes are occurring. Even among policy makers and corporate leaders, recognition is growing about the importance of outcomes other than academic achievement, she observed, and the challenge is to measure these outcomes of afterschool experiences. Afterschool programs need a way of showing that they are delivering what they are promising, she said, and such assessments need to become more robust and widespread. “It’s a long, slow slog—we’re not going to get there overnight. But I think the movement has begun,” she said. In her view, corporate leaders in particular need to be more vocal about workforce needs for the movement to gain traction.
Krishnamurthi also pointed to research that has helped reveal the importance of STEM identity. For example, Tai et al. (2006) demonstrated the importance of having an interest in STEM subjects by the eighth grade. Eighth graders with average grades who were interested in STEM were more likely to go into a STEM field than eighth graders with good grades who did not have an interest in STEM subjects. “We just need a few more of those kinds of powerful studies to make the case to policy makers,” she suggested.
In addition, Traill called for generating more standardized survey information across sectors and for greater use of the survey information that already exists. For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress collects a lot of information about STEM activities outside of school, and the field has not been making enough use of those data. Martin Storksdieck added that many research projects are currently under way to address the issue and that a solid body of research is being compiled.
STEM teaching in many elementary schools remains very traditional, noted Claudia Walker, a fifth-grade mathematics and science teacher at Murphey Traditional Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, because
teachers tend to teach the way they were taught. It is not that they do not want to teach in a more engaging way, Walker said; rather, they do not know how to teach that way.
The families served by many schools do not have the resources to take their children to museums or give them experiences that will spark their interest in STEM subjects. Again, it is not that they do not want to. As she noted, “Parents are always asking me, ‘Mrs. Walker, what programs do we have? What can we do? What summer programs are there?’” But many summer programs are for middle and high school students, not for elementary school students, Walker pointed out, even though younger students need good science teaching, too.
Elementary school teachers face an especially great challenge when teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Walker said. They have to both build background knowledge and make students realize that science is fun and not just a list of words to memorize.
The Orange County STEM Initiative (OC STEM)* in Southern California is a thriving example of a local partnership integrating three circles of STEM learning and teaching efforts—formal K-12 education, afterschool programs, and science institutions. OC STEM, which is also a regional network in the statewide California STEM Learning Network, has three goals: (1) to equip all students in the county with the science, mathematics, and critical-thinking skills to become competitive leaders in STEM fields; (2) to give educators the tools and support to teach those students well; and (3) to help build in Orange County the most competitive STEM workforce not just in California but in the entire United States. Although the county is home to many innovative high-technology and biomedical firms, it is not producing enough STEM-proficient students to maintain its competitive edge in the future.
The OC STEM collaboration encompasses students, parents, teachers, businesses, and funders ranging from the Samueli Foundation to Boeing. Its key implementation partners include the Discovery Science Center, an informal science institution in Santa Ana that is the largest nonprofit educational resource in the county; the Orange County Department of Education; THINK Together, a nonprofit that provides afterschool programming; and the Tiger Woods Foundation.
OC STEM kicked off in 2012 and now operates at more than 200 sites, said Gerald Solomon, executive director of the Samueli Foundation, which staffs the initiative. The program reaches more than 10,000 students each year with a variety of in-school, out-of-school, and virtual learning activities. Orange County has roughly 500,000 public K-12 students.
Partnerships, both within schools and between schools and other institutions, can play a big role in addressing these challenges, Walker stated. (Box 3-2 provides an example of an especially active partnership that was featured at the convocation.) She said elementary schools need people who will challenge their colleagues to try new things and think in new ways. Elementary school teachers also need colleagues interested and skilled in STEM teaching who will stay at that level and not go to a middle school or high school.
Elementary schools tend to think that afterschool and summer programs are separate entities, but it does not have to be that way, Walker said. She described her work with faculty members and students at a nearby university, including pre-service teachers, to provide the students in her school with experiences that they never would have had otherwise. Walker applied for grants that would help her bring materials and profes-
Partner members complement each other in bringing their own resources and know-how to the collaboration. For example, the Discovery Science Center houses more than 120 stimulating interactive exhibits within its 59,000 square foot museum site, but it has also long been committed to enriching science education in the community through outreach and field trip programs. As part of OC STEM, for schools lacking teachers with strong STEM expertise, the Discovery Science Center offers a series of hands-on, inquiry-based teaching activities using do-it-yourself science kits based on its Future Scientists and Engineers of America project (www.fsea.org). The museum provides materials, curricula, and professional training to frontline teaching staff who want to implement these programs, said Janet Yamaguchi, the center’s vice president of education. Discovery Science Center staff also have made “pop in” classroom visits to observe and coach teachers not just on how to use the activity kits with competence and confidence but also with the enthusiasm that gets students fired up. “We were excited to see that that system worked,” Yamaguchi said.
This year, OC STEM is integrating more business participation into its model through its STEM Connector—kind of an “eHarmony of education,” Solomon said—that connects STEM professionals who volunteer time with in-school and afterschool activities and events. The goal for 2014 is to make 10,000 connections by December.
*More information is available at http://ocstem.org/ [June 2014]. The PowerPoint file for this presentation is available at http://prezi.com/e3lkkkakc3a0/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share [June 2014]. A video describing OC STEM that also was presented during this session is available at http://youtu.be/HOAn7xw__ko [June 2014].
sional development into her school, which also enabled her to take teachers out of the school to conferences and STEM-related events. She also has been working with principals and superintendents to make sure that they are supporting new practices. Science is tested in the fifth grade in North Carolina, which means that it receives more attention from administrators and teachers. Walker observed that this can result in principals being focused on end-of-year test results, but for those who are more flexible, it also provides opportunities to support learning at a high level. For example, noted Walker, science can be taught across the curriculum and can support the rest of the curriculum.
Walker said teachers need to be empowered to give their students socks and let them walk in the playground, referring to Alberts’ example (see Chapter 2), or to walk around a city and think about the ecosystem in which they are living. The informal sectors can help provide students with those experiences, because they do not have many of the constraints of formal education, she stated. When students are not successful, the system has failed, not the student, said Walker, who added, “I challenge all of you to think about that—think about our students and our ultimate goals.”
During the session that ensued after comments from the discussants, Kenneth Hill, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program, Inc., pointed to the amount of time it takes teachers to change. “You can’t do it in a week,” he said. In a program developed with the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the assumption was that teachers need 90 hours of professional development spread over multiple years.
Hill also noted that when parents are involved with their children in STEM activities, children get a message about the importance of STEM subjects. “When children were doing science activities with their parents on Saturdays, they began to recognize that their parents value STEM, which then translated into improved student achievement Monday to Friday,” he said.