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STEM learning across settings: Cultivating learning ecosystems

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STEM learning across settings: Cultivating learning ecosystems

There has been a lot of talk recently about learning across settings and constructing or cultivating “ecosystems” for learning.  This refers to the notion that there are many influences and supports a young person draws on; when we put the learner at the center rather than the institutions where learning might occur, we see that schools, while crucially important, are not the only player in this system.  While the notion of such “learning ecosystems” has been around for many decades, it's gaining renewed attention as we try to truly rethink how we approach (STEM) education improvement.  Afterschool programs are very much at the heart of this debate. 

As part of my work to highlight the potential of afterschool programs as partners in STEM education, I have been part of a few recent efforts to increase the discussion of this idea.  We hope that we can foster a robust debate and change some of the policies and funding streams to allow such ecosystems to thrive.  But first, we have a lot of work to do to think through what this might look like and what issues we need to consider. 

Recently, I served on the organizing committee for a meeting that the National Research Council and the STEM Funders Network hosted in Irvine, California, on this topic.  Titled “STEM Learning is Everywhere,” it intentionally brought together funders, policy experts, researchers and practitioners from both the formal and informal learning settings.  The recently-released Advancing STEM Learning Through Collaboration: STEM Learning Ecosystems Report provides examples of programs and cities where such cross-sector collaborations are occurring and provided fodder for discussion at this meeting.  We discussed various aspects of the issue—what allows such collaborations to thrive and what are the challenges, both perceived and real?  What do we need in addition to a strong leader?  What would assessment look like for such a system?  How do we ensure that schools and out-of-school-time programs can partner without losing their soul and compromising the things that make them strong in their own right?

As one of the participants colorfully described it, ecosystems in nature are messy and diverse and evolve—these are necessary attributes we have to maintain in a learning ecosystem as well.  We have to provide room to try things and fail and not be too rigid and risk-averse.  There are many questions to sift through but I am excited that we are finally having a real debate about this. 

Very soon after the meeting in Irvine, I participated in a session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago.  In a session titled “Creating an ecosystem for science learning in and out of school,” my co-presenters and I discussed the need and evidence for including out-of-school-time programs as integral partners in STEM education and why the time is now right for such partnerships.  With rapidly expanding infrastructure and deep thinking about outcomes and assessments in such settings, afterschool programs are truly poised to fully exploit their potential for exciting and engaging young people about STEM fields and careers.  The session was very well-received and generated a lot of interest and discussion.

Collaborations are not new to afterschool programs and providers; we may indeed argue that they are at the heart of most strong afterschool programs (see for example, our recent issue brief on partnerships!).  There are many cities in which the mayor has promoted strong afterschool systems that don’t put the onus on young people to figure out what opportunities exist for them and how they can take advantage of it.  The AfterZone in Providence, Rhode Island, for example, provides middle school students with year-round access to a variety of programs offered by 70 community-based organizations.  The key to success is a coordinated schedule with coordinated transportation and snacks provided. The Nashville After Zone Alliance is a partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools to develop a coordinated system of free afterschool programs for middle school students organized by geographic zones.  The cradle-to-career civic infrastructure approach of the StriveTogether Network, initially launched in Ohio and Kentucky, has now spread to 37 states and the District of Columbia.  The Harlem Children’s Zone is another high-profile example of the amazing results we can produce for young people when a community works together.  

Cities and communities are already coming together to cultivate these ecosystems.  We need to figure out how we can grow more such systems all over the country and ensure that STEM learning opportunities are a part and parcel of these efforts.  I am greatly looking forward to continuing this conversation and acting on it so we can put the young person at the center and organize our efforts to help all young people grow into successful adults.

February resources from Million Girls Moonshot

Welcome to the February installment of STEM resources from the Million Girls Moonshot. This month, Million Girls Moonshot resources are focused on diverse role models and mentors as a strategy to strengthen equity and inclusion in STEM programs. You’ll find podcasts, toolkits, and activity...

BY: Chris Neitzey      02/22/21

What does a new president and Congress mean for afterschool STEM?

President Joe Biden was sworn into office on January 20, marking the beginning of a four-year term with the pandemic still front and center in the eyes of policymakers and the general public. The first steps for President Biden and Congress have been aimed at getting a handle on the pandemic, which...

BY: Chris Neitzey      02/16/21

STEM resources to support engineering mindsets from Million Girls Moonshot

Every month we’ll be publishing a list of resources and activities for afterschool programs to better engage students in STEM. These monthly posts are developed with resources shared from our partners at the Million Girls Moonshot. If you are interested in becoming involved in the Million...

BY: Chris Neitzey      12/17/20

From the STEM field: An innovative model to deliver STEM learning to under-served youth during the COVID-19 era

By Stephen White, Vice President of External Affairs, Strategic Initiatives, and Business Development and Allie Greiwe, Director of External Affairs at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, OH. This blog is a continuation of our series of case studies examining how informal STEM...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/10/20

Out-of-school STEM during a pandemic: An interview with leaders from FIRST, Learn Fresh, and Girlstart

By Gemma Lenowitz, associate program officer for Inspired Minds at the Overdeck Family Foundation. This article was originally published on the Overdeck Family Foundation's website on November 30, 2020. It is reposted here with the author's permission. Erica Fessia is vice president of...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/01/20

How STEM learning is adapting in COVID-19

This blog post comes to us Rachael Van Schoik, Science Action Club Manager at the California Academy of Sciences. Over the coming months we’ll be highlighting how STEM programs have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue serving students with STEM activities, and what lessons we can...

BY: Guest Blogger      10/26/20

Launch of Million Girls Moonshot boosts STEM learning for girls across the country

After a long-anticipated countdown, the Million Girls Moonshot officially launched on September 16. Established by the STEM Next Opportunity Fund in partnership with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Intel Foundation, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the effort will engage one million...

BY: Chris Neitzey      09/18/20

Free STEM learning opportunity: Facebook's Engineer for the Week!

We are excited to invite you to join Engineer for the Week's Fall 2020 Sprint! It runs from October 5 to December 4, 2020. Are you an afterschool practitioner looking for high-quality, cost-free curriculum to help your students develop computer science skills and explore engineering? Do...

BY: Leah Silverberg      09/14/20

New Education Innovation and Research competition prioritizes STEM and computer science in latest call for proposals

On July 29, The United States Department of Education released the call for proposals for the FY2020 round of early and mid-phase EIR grants. The EIR competition provides funding to “create, develop, implement, replicate, or take to scale entrepreneurial, evidence-based, field-initiated...

BY: Chris Neitzey      08/11/20

New report shows severe loss of capacity for outdoor and environmental science education

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders have stressed the opportunity for families to get outside and learn more about their natural surroundings. The opportunities to observe migratory patterns of birds, grow fruits and vegetables at home or in community gardens, and simply learn more about the...

BY: Chris Neitzey      06/12/20

February resources from Million Girls Moonshot

Welcome to the February installment of STEM resources from the Million Girls Moonshot. This month, Million Girls Moonshot resources are focused on diverse role models and mentors as a strategy to strengthen equity and inclusion in STEM programs. You’ll find podcasts, toolkits, and activity...

BY: Chris Neitzey      02/22/21

STEM resources to support engineering mindsets from Million Girls Moonshot

Every month we’ll be publishing a list of resources and activities for afterschool programs to better engage students in STEM. These monthly posts are developed with resources shared from our partners at the Million Girls Moonshot. If you are interested in becoming involved in the Million...

BY: Chris Neitzey      12/17/20

Out-of-school STEM during a pandemic: An interview with leaders from FIRST, Learn Fresh, and Girlstart

By Gemma Lenowitz, associate program officer for Inspired Minds at the Overdeck Family Foundation. This article was originally published on the Overdeck Family Foundation's website on November 30, 2020. It is reposted here with the author's permission. Erica Fessia is vice president of...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/01/20

Launch of Million Girls Moonshot boosts STEM learning for girls across the country

After a long-anticipated countdown, the Million Girls Moonshot officially launched on September 16. Established by the STEM Next Opportunity Fund in partnership with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Intel Foundation, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the effort will engage one million...

BY: Chris Neitzey      09/18/20

Structuring for scale-up success: Adaptive program model

By Meeta Sharma-Holt, vice president of programs and strategic partnerships at Techbridge Girls. This is the fourth in a four-blog series: read the previous blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Organizational structure for sustainability & scales, or head to the first...

BY: Guest Blogger      01/16/20

Structuring for scale-up success: Organizational structure for sustainability & scale

By Meeta Sharma-Holt, vice president of programs and strategic partnerships at Techbridge Girls. This is the third in a four-blog series: read the first blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Techbridge Girls shares lessons from its 5-year scale-up of STEM programs, and the second blog,...

BY: Guest Blogger      01/09/20

Structuring for scale-up success: Partnerships first

By Meeta Sharma-Holt, vice president of programs and strategic partnerships at Techbridge Girls. This is the second in a four-blog series: read the first blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Techbridge Girls shares lessons from its 5-year scale-up of STEM programs. During the last...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/12/19

Structuring for scale-up success: Techbridge Girls shares lessons from its 5-year scale-up of STEM programs

By Meeta Sharma-Holt, vice president of programs and strategic partnerships at Techbridge Girls. This is the first in a four-blog series: read the second blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Partnerships first. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that STEM jobs are...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/06/19

Promoting access to computer science for girls

Earlier this month, CBS’s 60 Minutes highlighted the work of Code.org in expanding access to computer science opportunities for girls. The 60 Minutes piece drew public attention to the growing number of tech-related jobs across the country and the lack of women currently filling these...

BY: Leah Silverberg      03/26/19

February resources from Million Girls Moonshot

Welcome to the February installment of STEM resources from the Million Girls Moonshot. This month, Million Girls Moonshot resources are focused on diverse role models and mentors as a strategy to strengthen equity and inclusion in STEM programs. You’ll find podcasts, toolkits, and activity...

BY: Chris Neitzey      02/22/21

STEM resources to support engineering mindsets from Million Girls Moonshot

Every month we’ll be publishing a list of resources and activities for afterschool programs to better engage students in STEM. These monthly posts are developed with resources shared from our partners at the Million Girls Moonshot. If you are interested in becoming involved in the Million...

BY: Chris Neitzey      12/17/20

Out-of-school STEM during a pandemic: An interview with leaders from FIRST, Learn Fresh, and Girlstart

By Gemma Lenowitz, associate program officer for Inspired Minds at the Overdeck Family Foundation. This article was originally published on the Overdeck Family Foundation's website on November 30, 2020. It is reposted here with the author's permission. Erica Fessia is vice president of...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/01/20

Launch of Million Girls Moonshot boosts STEM learning for girls across the country

After a long-anticipated countdown, the Million Girls Moonshot officially launched on September 16. Established by the STEM Next Opportunity Fund in partnership with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Intel Foundation, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the effort will engage one million...

BY: Chris Neitzey      09/18/20

Free STEM learning opportunity: Facebook's Engineer for the Week!

We are excited to invite you to join Engineer for the Week's Fall 2020 Sprint! It runs from October 5 to December 4, 2020. Are you an afterschool practitioner looking for high-quality, cost-free curriculum to help your students develop computer science skills and explore engineering? Do...

BY: Leah Silverberg      09/14/20

Structuring for scale-up success: Adaptive program model

By Meeta Sharma-Holt, vice president of programs and strategic partnerships at Techbridge Girls. This is the fourth in a four-blog series: read the previous blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Organizational structure for sustainability & scales, or head to the first...

BY: Guest Blogger      01/16/20

What does a new president and Congress mean for afterschool STEM?

President Joe Biden was sworn into office on January 20, marking the beginning of a four-year term with the pandemic still front and center in the eyes of policymakers and the general public. The first steps for President Biden and Congress have been aimed at getting a handle on the pandemic, which...

BY: Chris Neitzey      02/16/21

STEM resources to support engineering mindsets from Million Girls Moonshot

Every month we’ll be publishing a list of resources and activities for afterschool programs to better engage students in STEM. These monthly posts are developed with resources shared from our partners at the Million Girls Moonshot. If you are interested in becoming involved in the Million...

BY: Chris Neitzey      12/17/20

From the STEM field: An innovative model to deliver STEM learning to under-served youth during the COVID-19 era

By Stephen White, Vice President of External Affairs, Strategic Initiatives, and Business Development and Allie Greiwe, Director of External Affairs at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, OH. This blog is a continuation of our series of case studies examining how informal STEM...

BY: Guest Blogger      12/10/20

How STEM learning is adapting in COVID-19

This blog post comes to us Rachael Van Schoik, Science Action Club Manager at the California Academy of Sciences. Over the coming months we’ll be highlighting how STEM programs have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue serving students with STEM activities, and what lessons we can...

BY: Guest Blogger      10/26/20

New report shows severe loss of capacity for outdoor and environmental science education

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders have stressed the opportunity for families to get outside and learn more about their natural surroundings. The opportunities to observe migratory patterns of birds, grow fruits and vegetables at home or in community gardens, and simply learn more about the...

BY: Chris Neitzey      06/12/20

Bringing STEM learning home during social distancing

These are difficult times for so many of our young people and their families. With school closures impacting families across the country, and extracurricular activities put on hold, finding ways for students to stay busy and engaged is likely at the top of mind for parents and guardians....

BY: Chris Neitzey      03/19/20