Providing access to productive out-of-school STEM learning opportunities is key to enriching STEM learning for youths and children. As described in the first chapter of this report, productive programs are intellectually, socially, and emotionally engaging. They reflect and develop young people’s interest in and understanding of STEM and provide connections to the broader ecosystem of STEM learning and career pathways. In detailing what counts as productive in this chapter, we also pay particular attention to how programs can actively seek to broaden participation of youths from communities historically underrepresented in STEM fields.
The criteria for identifying productive out-of-school STEM programs are derived from syntheses of research and practice in the fields of youth development,27 learning science in informal environments,28 and connected or cross-setting learning.29 In discussing the supporting evidence for the criteria, we provide examples of how they can operate in practice. Our criteria fall into three categories:
Productive programs engage young people intellectually, socially, and emotionally.
- They provide first-hand experiences with phenomena and materials.
- They engage young people in sustained STEM practices.
- They establish a supportive learning community.
Productive programs respond to young people’s interests, experiences, and cultural practices.
- They position STEM as socially meaningful and culturally relevant.
- They support collaboration, leadership, and ownership of STEM learning.
- They position staff as co-investigators and learners alongside young people.
Productive programs connect STEM learning in out-of-school, school, home, and other settings.
- They connect learning experiences across settings.
- They leverage community resources and partnerships.
- They actively broker additional STEM learning opportunities.
Our review of the research suggests that productive out-of-school STEM programs demonstrate a dynamic and interwoven relationship among these three sets of criteria.30 For example, productive STEM out-of-school programs that intentionally leverage young people’s interests help make explicit the connections between STEM experiences across multiple settings31 and help them see the relevance of those experiences to their daily lives and future careers, which can deepen their intellectual, social, and emotional engagement with STEM.32
Research suggests that intellectually engaging STEM programs provide young people with firsthand, materials-rich, and place-based learning opportunities that involve processes of scientific or engineering investigation and practice.33 These opportunities help to make STEM a living field of activity and allow for multiple modes of learning (including visual and tactile).34 Out-of-school STEM programs can provide young people with the time, community, and support needed to engage in STEM practices for a sustained period. For example, they can provide young people the opportunity to develop and pursue STEM questions or ideas that have personal meaning over time (whether hours, days, or weeks) in ways that can encompass the full range of STEM practices—from problem to solution or from question to explanation.35
Because learning involves intellectual, social, and emotional engagement, it is best supported in social environments that inspire young people to participate, that offer opportunities to contribute to a shared endeavor, and that provide the necessary social supports that allow young people to stretch themselves intellectually, socially and emotionally.36 The key attributes of supportive out-of-school programs that lead to young people’s meaningful participation and development include37
- physical and psychological safety;
- opportunities for belonging;
- support for efficacy and mattering (meaningful involvement);
- appropriate structure;
- opportunities for skill building;
- integration of family, school, and community efforts;
- supportive relationships; and
- positive social norms.
FIRST-HAND ECPERIENCES WITH STEM PHENOMENA AND MATERIALS
Research demonstrates the power of learning through first-hand experience with phenomena and materials.38 In STEM learning, first-hand experience is often equated with “hands-on.” But firsthand is more than hands-on: it can include place-based investigations, computer-based studies of complex systems, projects that explicate the relationship between STEM and society, as well as hands-on explorations of physical properties and materials. First-hand means providing young people direct engagement with questions, contexts, and data in all of its relevant forms.
The productive out-of-school STEM programs we reviewed provided young people with such first-hand experiences. They included opportunities to care for small animals in a local community zoo; data collection activities involving mapping of neighborhood trees and interviews
with community residents; tabletop investigations of light and color; and design and engineering activities to fabricate digital clothing. They also included Web-based research and data collection and visits to local community STEM-rich settings.
One example of a program that provides first-hand experiences with materials and phenomena is the California Tinkering Afterschool Network, a collaboration among five STEM-rich organizations working in partnership with after-school programs in urban and rural California communities.39 At one partner site, the Community Science Workshop (CSW) in Watsonville, young people drop by to use the workshop tools and materials to build objects of their own choosing motivated by needs from home (such as a fountain for a garden), school assignments (such as a working trebuchet), or models found in the workshop (such as a wooden tortilla press or a Rube Goldberg machine). Young adult staff support young people’s ideas and teach them how to use the tools, to plan and measure, and to troubleshoot their designs.
At CSW, young people learn about materials and phenomena by working directly with them. For example, a group of three girls who were regular drop-in participants signed up for a CSW summer field trip to a local lake, having decided that they wanted to build a canoe that they could use on the trip. First, they had to determine what kind of materials would both float and carry the weight of at least two people, choosing from the low-cost materials available in the workshop. Assisted by a facilitator, the girls investigated workshop materials. After initial exploration, they began to experiment with the use of duct tape as a material that might provide a lightweight but waterproof skin for the canoe. Over several days, they designed and tested different ways to layer the duct tape to attain the desired characteristics of abrasion, puncture, and tear resistance (e.g., weaving strips together as in a fabric, layering them on top of each other as in a roof). After creating and testing several small-scale prototypes, they decided to alter their plans a bit by creating two canoes that would support passenger weight on their frames, using the duct tape as a material to keep the water out but not to bear direct weight. The canoe frames were created using flexible PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe, connected by cross bars and a platform in the style of a catamaran, and finally wrapped using the woven tape. A few days later, the girls indeed successfully used the canoe on the field trip. This example illustrates what first-hand engagement with materials and phenomena can look like in out-of-school settings: it can be purposeful, iterative, and collaborative.
ENGAGEMENT IN SUSTAINED STEM PRACTICES
Research has demonstrated that one of the best ways to learn STEM is to engage in the practices of doing STEM.40 Direct involvement in STEM practices gives young people an appreciation of the wide range of practices that are used to investigate, model, and explain natural phenomena and the man-made world.41 STEM practices include asking questions and defining problems; developing and using models; planning and carrying out investigations; analyzing and interpreting data; using mathematics and computational thinking; constructing explanations and designing solutions; engaging in argument from evidence; and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.42 Scientists and engineers fluidly and iteratively move back and forth among these practices, and they carry out activities that might involve multiple practices at once. Through direct engagement in scientific and engineering practices, young people can experience and understand STEM as a powerful approach for exploring, learning about, and interpreting natural phenomena and the constructed world; they also learn how STEM knowledge develops.
Techbridge, for example, is a nonprofit organization that provides after-school and summer programs that aim to inspire girls in underserved communities to discover a passion for STEM by engaging them in STEM practices through hands-on learning. Through collaborations with the Girls Scouts of the USA, YMCA, and others, Techbridge provides training to the adults who serve as role models and facilitators. The after-school and summer programs engage girls in real-world applications of science, engineering, and mathematics; support career exploration with role models; and promote leadership. Participants engage with STEM practices on a regular basis as they work on projects over several weeks that involve posing problems, designing solutions to problems as they arise, testing designs while conducting investigations, revising designs based on their findings, and communicating their findings.
Research on Techbridge programs documents how its activities provide a motivating context for girls to engage
in STEM practices. For example, one Techbridge project involves girls hacking or repurposing an item they have selected from a local community-run thrift shop. The girls begin their project by choosing an item to hack and sketching out an illustration of what they plan to do (e.g., sketching out where they might add LEDs [light-emitting diodes], where they might add small speakers, what they might take apart and put together in new ways). One participant planned to add a sensor at the bottom of the Buddha-shaped coin bank, so that the mouth would light up whenever a coin was added. Over a period of weeks, as she worked on her project, she came to realize that the sensor pad at the bottom of the bank did not register every coin as it was dropped in the bank. With additional investigation of her materials (and assistance from a facilitator), she realized that she could perhaps get coins being fed through the bank coin-slot to complete a circuit with metal touching metal, and that this circuit, in turn, could make an LED light up. After successfully testing whether the coins contain enough of the right type of metal to complete a circuit, the girl created and attached the circuit to the bank’s coin-slot, and it worked. This project illustrates what STEM practices (e.g., planning and carrying out investigation, developing and using models, and designing solutions) can look like in out-of-school settings: in this case, it was creative, whimsical, and personally designed.
SUPPORTIVE LEARNING COMMUNITIES
In productive STEM learning environments, young people are encouraged to develop their own questions, to devise ways of investigating and addressing those questions, and to share the results of their inquiries, which will often be tentative. This type of experience is a fundamental part of doing science and being scientific.43 Young people who feel supported to explore the unknown are more likely to attempt explanatory modeling and to persist after experiencing a moment of failure, which can lead to a moment of new insight.44 Research shows that socially supportive contexts are linked to such outcomes as increased pro-social behavior and school achievement.45 Thus, thoughtfully designed supportive learning communities may be key to young people’s STEM learning in out-of-school programs, and they may be particularly important for broadening participation in STEM for young people from historically underrepresented communities.
An example of such a supportive learning community and its role in positioning children in grades 3-5 for success comes from Communities Educating Tomorrow’s Scientists (COMETS), an afterschool program in West Virginia funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. COMETS was part of a larger initiative that demonstrated sustained participation and interest in STEM among middle school students in comparison to their matched counterparts, for whom participation and interest declined.46 In these programs, staff frequently made accommodations for students who had particular areas of expertise or interest; who were tired at the end of a long day, or perhaps struggling with family issues and in need of interpersonal care; or who needed to express themselves in their own unique ways.
AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH:
There is a need for more detailed accounts of how STEM learning in out-of-school settings emerges through the intertwining of intellectual, social, and affective dimensions of learning environments.
An example of social support in this context comes from an activity about hurricanes. After watching a short video about hurricanes as part of learning about meteorology, a program facilitator sat down with the children in chairs circling a round table and asked them to share with each other what they knew about hurricanes. “They have strong winds,” said one child. “They can blow your house down,” another said. The next child, a boy about 8 years old, stood up and began to silently but energetically spin around the table like a hurricane. Eventually his “orbit” brought him back to his starting point and he collapsed into his chair. “I’m going to build my house on stilts,” he said, so that his house couldn’t be flooded. He switched to talking about how dogs fared in hurricanes. The facilitator smiled encouragingly at the child while he spoke, responding to his comments with “Really?” and “Uh-huhs.” He let him finish his thought on dogs and then quietly suggested that they ask the next child what she knew about hurricanes. All eyes turned to the next child at the table. This combination of sensitivity to children’s moods and accommodation of their interests in the context of STEM activities corresponds to goals to motivate children and promote their interest in STEM.47
Many young people experience STEM as an abstraction that appears to have little connection with their daily lives.48 Commonly, young people’s ideas about STEM reflect cultural models that include images of obsessive genius scientists working lonely late night hours in their laboratories.49 Young people are less likely to understand STEM as a collaborative and team-based activity, they seldom picture STEM practices as involving artistic and detailed representations of the natural world, and they consistently associate being good at STEM with natural ability rather than hard work.50 Such cultural models make STEM less appealing to many young people who envision their future life’s work as addressing significant issues in their communities. A major goal of STEM education therefore is to help young people to understand the relevance of STEM to the worlds they know, so they can understand the utility and value of STEM and how it is situated in meaningful social contexts.51
There is a relationship among prior experiences, beliefs, relevance, and engagement in education.52 When young people recognize a question, problem, or strategy as meaningful, they are more likely to become interested in it.53 When they are interested in the idea or topic, they are more likely to pursue it.54 When they believe that a skill will be of value to them in their immediate context, however they define it, they are more likely to persist in learning it.55 Young people who are supported to persist and succeed and to reflect on their tenacity, are more likely to apply themselves and, indeed, to succeed.56 Understanding how to make out-of-school STEM responsive to young
people’s prior interests and experiences so that they can see STEM as meaningful and relevant to their own experiences and aspirations may be especially important for youths from communities historically underrepresented in STEM fields.57 Girls and youths from economically marginalized communities, including immigrant communities, are frequently treated, explicitly and implicitly, as less capable in STEM and therefore may approach STEM with hesitation or even antipathy.58 Ensuring access to high-quality, personally relevant, and responsive out-of-school STEM programming may be a valuable strategy for addressing equity issues in STEM education.
STEM AS SOCIALLY MEANINGFUL AND CULTURALLY RELEVANT
Recent research on the relationship between supportive and culturally responsive out-of-school STEM programs and STEM learning, and more detailed accounts of what culturally responsive STEM out-of-school learning looks like and leads to are needed. Yet there are compelling accounts demonstrating that when programs explicitly connect STEM to recognizable problems in a community and leverage the participants’ cultural resources and practices, the possibilities for STEM learning experiences are expanded.59 Such cultural practices include discourse patterns (e.g., overlapping speech patterns, hybrid bilingualism, uses of metaphors, and ways of questioning) that can be engaged to support scientific argumentation,60 familiar home skills and practices that can be engaged (e.g., sewing, banking, carpentry, or fixing things) to encourage young people’s participation and skill sharing,61 and belief systems that can be engaged to support observations and analysis of natural phenomena.62
Supporting young people’s appreciation of how STEM is relevant to important questions and problems can engage youths who may not self-identify as STEM learners but are committed to social or community issues. Situating STEM learning in relevant settings and contexts can also assist young people who may feel cultural dissonance between current cultural meanings of science, for example, and their personal systems of belief (e.g., religious) or family histories (whether any family role models have ever worked in the sciences). Out-of-school STEM programs that situate STEM in relevant settings and contexts treat young people as knowledgeable and capable, thus supporting them intellectually, socially, and emotionally to fully participate, contribute, and develop as members of the STEM learning community.63
Native Science Field Centers, a program developed by Hopa Mountain and Blackfeet Community College, serves as an example of how STEM learning experiences can be designed to be socially meaningful and culturally relevant. These centers strive to create relevant environments in their year-round programs for young people. Their programs explicitly connect traditional culture and language with Western science: for example, young people engage in environmental observations in their own communities, learning empirical observation and recording techniques as well as tribal traditions related to the natural environment.
The program depends on community involvement. An advisory board ensures that program developers are implementing traditional knowledge in an appropriate way and provides guidance and support in developing curriculum materials and finding resources. Parents, teachers, and tribal elders contribute by donating materials for the projects, sharing their knowledge, and volunteering their time. This collective effort leads to activities that bring together cultural traditions and STEM practices. For example, a harvesting activity at the centers begins with participants huddling in a circle, reciting a prayer in their language, and making an offering of tobacco—traditions meant to make the youths aware of the reciprocal relationship they have with mother Earth. Research indicates that engaging in such activities helped participating youths build self-efficacy in STEM and confirmed for them the value of the cultural knowledge of their communities.64 This example illustrates how socially meaningful STEM experiences can engage young people in STEM practices and learning.
SUPPORTING COLLABORATION, LEADERSHIP, AND OWNERSHIP OF STEM LEARNING
Research shows deep links between identity development and learning,65 illustrates the importance of engaging youths as both leaders and learners,66 and demonstrates the significance of addressing young people’s agency in their learning.67 Participation in collaborative communities of practiceg can be critical to the emergence of identities, and, specifically, to the development of practice-linked (or domain-specific) identities68 and a sense of belonging.69 Researchers have documented the roles of STEM communities of practice in shaping commitments to STEM learning.70
Collaborative learning strategies, including problem-based learning approaches, may provide especially flexible contexts for allowing young people to leverage their own strengths, interests, skills, and even networks to ensure team success. For example, if one person’s data skills and another person’s facility with engaging older adults help a team successfully interview community residents to investigate and later communicate health conditions in an urban neighborhood, a program may have positioned both young people to develop productive STEM learning identities.71 Project-based learning may be an especially productive strategy for learners to develop and evolve in their roles in communities of practice, providing young people the opportunity, over time, to take on new roles as the project progresses.72 Because of the time-dependent and often site-specific nature of project-based learning, it may be well suited to out-of-school settings that can allow for extended investigations.
gA community of practice is a group of people who learn from each other and has an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally by sharing information and experiences with each other.
For example, the Green Energy Technology in the City (GET City) Collaborative provides a series of afterschool and summer engineering design experiences for youths in the Lansing, Michigan area.h GET City programs provide participants the opportunity to explore energy issues; engineer creative solutions to energy problems; and educate peers, community members, and local organizations about energy issues.
One GET City project involved investigations of urban heat islands and their effects on community health.73 The multifaceted nature of the project, which incorporated research, engagement with community members, creating meaning, and presenting results at a town hall meeting, created opportunities for youths who did not self-identify as STEM learners to find meaningful ways to engage in STEM. Although they may have become engaged in the GET City activities through an identity as a community advocate—with an interest in interviewing community members and presenting at the town hall—participants worked with STEM concepts, data, analysis, and data representations, in the process coming to see themselves as capable in STEM.
POSITION STAFF MEMBERS AS CO-INVESTIGATORS AND LEARNERS WITH YOUTHS
To create productive STEM out-of-school programs that reflect the criteria described above, skilled and caring adult support is essential.74 Supportive relationships involve adults who come to know and to recognize the strengths and interests of program participants and empower them to identify and pursue their own meaningful questions.75 These relationships can develop when staff members work alongside young people as co-investigators, asking “what-if” questions and recasting “failure” as a fundamental part of learning and scientific endeavors. Supporting youths to take ownership of their learning may be especially important in out-of-school settings, where young people are developing new interests and deepening existing ones that can be further pursued in other settings including school.
One example is the Oakland-based Youth Radio, a program that allows young people (ages 14 to 24) to take on roles as reporters of science stories and developers of technology.i The program is designed around fluid roles and relationships among participants and between young people and adults. Program activities include classes and workshops, peer mentoring, and paid reporting activities done in collaboration with adults to produce reports for National Public Radio. The program uses what it calls “collegial pedagogy”—a relationship of shared responsibility—to support young people’s advancement from novice to expert as they develop their journalistic capacities as well as understanding of the subject matter (often science, engineering, health, or technology).76 The Youth Radio program builds a collegial pedagogy by creating a context in which adult experts and young people are mutually dependent on each other’s skills and perspectives. The program creates such an environment through joint framing of an issue, youth-led inquiry, and distributed accountability.
One Youth Radio program relevant to STEM is Young Radio Investigates (YRI). YRI engaged youths in collaborations with scientists and radio producers to examine data on a personally relevant STEM issue and report the results in a major news outlet. With guidance from scientists, the participants collected and analyzed primary and secondary data. In addition, the participants worked closely with producers to identify credible sources and translate findings for media outlets. One participant who volunteered to develop a story on a sensitive public health issue worked closely with the producer to determine what aspects of the health issue should be the focus of the story and what question the story should address. After a series of discussions, the participant suggested that the story be framed around the neurological aspects of the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), because she has struggled with similar neurological issues. The producer agreed it would be an interesting angle for the story and helped develop the idea into a full news story. An evaluation of the program found that participants learned STEM concepts, developed more positive attitudes toward STEM, and acquired technical skills related to computer programing.77
Researchers have begun to develop strategies for understanding and documenting how learning develops, fluctuates, and deepens across settings and over time.78 A growing number of studies demonstrate how young people bring STEM understanding and practices developed in one setting to another, including between home and school,79 between school and out-of-school activities,80 between home and out-of-school activities,81 and across out-of-school settings.82
Productive out-of-school STEM programs can help young people understand how their out-of-school experiences build on, connect with, and support continued learning and activity in other
settings, including school.83 Making these connections provides context and meaning to young people; failing to make these connections can have negative consequences for their interest and growing expertise in STEM. Collaborations or institutional partnerships among organizations have the potential to facilitate explicit connections between school and out-of-school programs,84 monitor youth development across a wide array of settings,85 and build networks of opportunities that are brokered to advance young people’s engagement with STEM.86
AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH:
Research on the design of out-of-school programs is needed to better specify how culturally responsive and relevant out-of-school STEM learning experiences affect the short-term and long-term learning trajectories of young people, especially young people from underserved groups.
Although all young people would likely benefit from more brokering of learning opportunities, young people from economically marginalized communities, rural communities, or immigrant communities whose parents may not have access to or awareness of possible pathways and opportunities, may need more active brokering.87
CONNECTING LEARNING ECPERIENCES ACROSS SETTINGS
Historically, designers of STEM out-of-school programs have struggled with how to be or not to be “school-like.” The unproductive dichotomy of school or not school has led to dilemmas about how active a role adults should play in supporting young people’s learning, how sequential and coherent program activities should be over time, and when and how to introduce academic and disciplinary language and terms.88 Too often the result is a belief that out-of-school learning should get adults “out of the way,” prioritize individual moments of engagement over a coherent sequence of experiences, and keep academic or advanced language “out of the picture.” When taken to the extreme, these approaches can shortchange possibilities for student learning and development. For example, it is well established that individuals learn best when supported by caring others. The goal is to position adults as active and responsive supports of student-directed learning. The dichotomy between school and out-of-school also negatively affects public perceptions of the significance and value of out-of-school settings and programs.89
Evolving understanding of learning beyond the classroom and of the importance of academic success to the well-being of youths and their paths to adulthood have challenged this dichotomy.90 It is clear that young people benefit by becoming aware of how particular skills or understandings in one setting, such as an after-school program that has young people investigating local waterways, are relevant in another, such as classroom engagement with scientific practices.91 Productive STEM out-of-school programs are not stand-alone or destination points but rather are points on a journey, recharging stations where young people can replenish, expand, and deepen their engagement with STEM learning.92
An example of a program that aims to provide ongoing connections among STEM experiences is the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Academy for Reproductive Sciences (PARS).j PARS is a 6-week Saturday program that offers girls in grades 10-12 the opportunity to explore their interests in reproductive health and research science and to learn directly from top professionals in these fields. PARS participants deepen their understanding of comparative developmental biology through hands-on laboratory experiences. Participants are asked to analyze scientific literature and discuss ethical scenarios related to their research experience.
The weekly lessons were designed to reinforce and create connections with disciplinary concepts taught in the participants’ high school biology classes by taking abstract concepts (such as the structure and function of DNA, inheritance and variation of traits, and genetic diseases) and providing opportunities to use this knowledge as a foundation for experiments in a laboratory and in patient care in a clinical setting. The PARS program has built a network of teachers and youths who tell program staff about their classroom curriculum in science and biology and individual life experiences that might be relevant. Opportunities for participants to pursue their interest and extend their learning are also made available to alumnae through summer research and clinical internships. Thus, PARS makes connections through direct communication with teachers and provides tangible resources. This example illustrates how out-of-school programs can make connections explicit without subordinating the out-of-school learning experience to the school agenda.
LEVERAGING COMMUNITY RESOURCES AND PARTNERSHIPS
As ecosystem perspectives of learning continue to gain traction, more community organizations are seeking to build partnerships that can support and even track young people’s STEM learning across settings.93 This systemic view of learning includes multiple parties in a community who collectively seek to expand opportunities for STEM learning.
A number of studies have investigated the relationship between partnership structures and outcomes94 and provide useful insights on how best to choose partners, establish clear lines of work and communication, and avoid pitfalls. Few studies, however, have investigated outcomes for youths. An exception is a recent dissertation study of museum-school partnerships,95 which found that outcomes for participants were optimized when teachers and museum professionals collaboratively designed coursework that incorporated the instructional practices and instruments of both learning environments. In particular, when the coursework was organized in such a way that the young people were asked authentic STEM questions, were given authentic tasks to do, and their answers and products were taken seriously by their teachers and the museum professionals, the
jPARS is modeled after Dr. Theresa Woodruff’s Oncofertility Saturday Academy, which focuses on exposing a diverse group of high school young women to the basic sciences. For more information, see http://irm.med.upenn.edu/science-impacting-the-clinic/education-outreach/pars/ [May 2015] and http://oncofertility.northwestern.edu/oncofertility-saturday-academies [May 2015].
young people were strongly motivated to do the work. This study suggests the potential of productively organized partnerships for creating new types of learning opportunities, not available without the partnerships, which can motivate and inspire youths to engage in STEM learning. The findings of the study also play out in practices in a number of communities including in New York City where the Urban Advantage programk has created partnerships among the public school system and the city’s science institutions (e.g., museums, zoos, and science centers) in order to accomplish a number of goals, including connecting STEM learning in school and in out-of-school learning settings and providing professional development for educators.
One project that aims to leverage productive partnerships is SYNERGIES in Portland, Oregon, whose partners include the Parkrose School District; Oregon State University; 4-H Youth Development (Portland Metro Group); Math, Science, Engineering and Achievement Program (MESA); Girls, Inc.; Oregon Museum of Science and Industry; Multnomah County Library; Pixel Arts; and the port of Portland.l The project is designed to create a better, more effective, community-wide STEM education system for low- to moderate-income early adolescents living in Parkrose, which is a diverse, underresourced neighborhood in East Portland, Oregon. Together, the partners are developing a comprehensive, community-wide plan to improve youth STEM learning in Parkrose, both in and outside of school. SYNERGIES’ staff and its partners work to ensure that each of the STEM learning opportunities in Parkrose interconnect, and that every STEM education provider knows what other Parkrose educational providers are doing, as well as what the youth in their programs are doing and what interests them.96
An example of the connected learning experiences facilitated by SYNERGIES is the partnership between the Parkrose Middle School science program, the Portland Port Authority (which includes the airport), and a major after-school program (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program). Educators from all three groups, facilitated by the SYNERGIES community coordinator, developed integrated experiences focused on engaging youths in engineering practices. Connections across stakeholders such as these have led to STEM learning offerings that are more interrelated and synergistic.97 In addition, a key asset that the SYNERGIES project has brought to the Parkrose community is the ongoing collection of data about youth interest and participation.
lFor more information, see http://education.oregonstate.edu/book/synergies-parkrose-community [February 2015].
BROKERING ADDITIONAL STEM LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
Brokering learning across settings is an important strategy for promoting greater diversity among STEM learners.98 By brokering we mean actively identifying opportunities and networks that can assist youths in choosing activities. Just as a real estate broker selectively identifies potentially interesting properties for prospective homeowners, so can brokering help young people and their families become aware of potentially interesting choices and opportunities, and how to prepare for them.
In most communities there are STEM resources available to youths in or near their homes.99 All young people need support in understanding how to navigate these possible learning experiences in order to advance and diversify their developing interests and skills.100 Youths and families who have been historically underrepresented in STEM may especially benefit from more explicit brokering of these opportunities.101 Active brokering can include directing young people to more advanced programs, helping them to secure internships or apprenticeships, and introducing them to professionals and other key individuals. It might also include creating opportunities for them to express their emerging STEM knowledge through leadership in clubs and other settings. Brokering can expand the personal networks of young people102 and help them navigate educational requirements and expectations.103 To be effective at brokering, out-of-school STEM program leaders need to be aware of opportunities for STEM learning in their communities. This may require them to develop relationships with other program leaders, including K-12 teachers, as well as with parents. Brokering can also be facilitated by community-level maps of STEM learning assets.
The Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, in partnership with Maine 4-H and local organizations, has created STEM Guides, people who broker STEM opportunities for young people. The program focuses on creating links between rural youths ages 10-18 and the broad array of STEM resources that are available to them. The program recruits and trains a small number of local adults to become the STEM Guides, whose job it is to link youths to resources, particularly those resources that support individuals’ developing interests. The STEM Guides also use proven community-based dialogue formats (such as Teen Science Cafém) to connect local STEM-related professionals with young people who want to know about their fields.
For example, in a rural town of 4,000 people, a STEM Guide met with a 16-year-old youth and discovered he was interested in engineering. At the STEM Guide’s suggestion, he joined the local youth leadership team to organize science cafes for local teens, and he helped select the first speaker, a design engineer. As a next step, the STEM Guide told him about an engineering summer camp for juniors, and when he was old enough he asked her for a letter of recommendation
mFor more information, see http://teensciencecafe.org/cafes/teen-science-cafe-for-me/ [May 2015].
to attend. He was accepted and thoroughly immersed himself in the experience. This youth is now planning to study engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This example illustrates the ways in which adults can organize opportunities for youths to support ongoing engagement, learning, and commitments to STEM.
AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH:
Research is needed to better specify and understand the ways in which learning develops across formal and informal settings, leveraging community resources and partnerships.
Whether or not a program embodies the criteria for identifying productive out-of-school STEM programs depends not only on the design of the programs, but also the actions of the frontline staff who work directly with participants. The preparation of frontline staff varies greatly. The frontline staff have backgrounds in a wide range of fields, including education, social work, sociology, urban studies, art, science, engineering, mathematics, and history. They may have high school diplomas, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, teaching certificates, social work licenses, or doctoral degrees.104 There is also little consistency across programs in terms of job titles and responsibilities. Developing a high-quality out-of-school STEM workforce is complicated by the high turnover rate among frontline staff.105 The diversity of staff backgrounds, education, and responsibilities, along with the high turnover rate makes it difficult to develop a high-quality workforce and to design effective professional development activities.
Effective professional development for out-of-school STEM facilitators and instructors needs to cover many areas: presenting ideas and concepts with a clear rationale for their importance, demonstrating new practices, taking advantage of staff experience and expertise, offering opportunities for practice and feedback, providing ongoing support and follow-up training, linking staff members with mentors, using planning time to cultivate collaboration among staff, and augmenting training time with resources and materials.106 In addition, effective professional development provides educators with opportunities to learn about STEM disciplinary content and practices, as well as theories of child and youth development, in order to develop positive relationships with and empower youths, to decrease risk factors and maintain safe learning environments, and to implement age-appropriate activities. Professional development also prepares frontline staff to value cultural and ethnic diversity, to interact with families, schools, and communities, and to serve as professional role models, while integrating staff interests and input into all activities.107
4-H is one out-of-school STEM provider that has focused on improving the capacity of its staff members to facilitate productive learning experiences. The 4-H commitment to improving the STEM skills of America’s youths has been present during the organization’s 110-year history. Building on its history of hands-on science education, in 2007 4-H partnered with the Noyce Foundation to develop a nationally recognized youth development approach to STEM in out-of-school settings. A key aspect of this partnership was to create a professional development strategy to prepare state and local 4-H educators and volunteers.
4-H has developed a suite of materialsn that can be used by state and local 4-H staff to train the 4-H science volunteers who facilitate education activities. The materials have been designed to be appropriate for training the volunteers who come from a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds, and they can be tailored to the needs of the local volunteers. Included in the materials are resources for building an understanding of quality STEM programs and for implementing professional development. The resources designed for building an understanding of program quality focus on what educators need to know about inquiry-based learning and further develop their understanding of the STEM concepts and positive youth development practices that frame 4-H STEM programming. The implementation resources are designed to provide strategies for 4-H staff to recruit, retain, and prepare volunteers.
nFor example, see http://www.4-h.org/resource-library/professional-development-learning/science-training-guides-resources/ [May 2015].