On the Table: Building a STEM Learning Ecosystem in Chicago

By Stephanie Levi, Ph.D

IMG_6491On Tuesday, May 12, 2015, the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (aka “The Coop”) and Project Exploration were honored to host special guests as a part of the Chicago Community Trust’s “On the Table” event across Chicago. Gerald Solomon, Executive Director of the Samueli Foundation, and Jan Morrison, CEO of Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM Education, joined members of the Coop for an inspiring conversation about STEM Learning Ecosystems in cities across the nation.

Attendees representing Chicago’s funding, STEM education, and STEM OST IMG_6500organizations learned about the attributes, strategies, and approaches of successful STEM Learning Ecosystems from Mr. Samueli. According to his presentation, STEM Learning Ecosystems connect students, families, educators, corporations, cultural institutions, funders, and policy makers in citywide networks that support high-quality STEM learning. What makes these ecosystems unique is that the high level of coordination, shared mission and vision, and shared outcomes among stakeholders enables cities to work in a directed, intentional fashion to move the needle on student success and access to STEM – with all stakeholders, and the city at large, benefiting as a result.

Mr. Solomon introduced the group to a STEM ecosystem development effort designed to promote the cultivation of emerging and existing cross-sector collaborations in the development of STEM Learning Ecosystems in communities across the country.

Following the presentation, participants engaged in a discussion about how these approaches may be implemented in Chicago, identifying aspects of other cities’ STEM ecosystems that may prove fruitful in Chicago, and made plans to convene a larger group of interested stakeholders to learn more about STEM Ecosystem Learning models in cities across the nation, introduce the Samueli Foundation ecosystem development program as an opportunity in Chicago, and refine the mission and vision of Chicago’s own STEM Learning Ecosystem – the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative. The discussion was focused, productive, inspiring, and succeeded in gathering people who wish to improve Chicago’s present and future by coordinating the efforts of all who contribute to STEM learning in Chicago.

More About the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative

The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative began as a collaborative effort between STEM educators, STEM out-of-school time (OST) program providers, civic leaders, higher education representatives, and funders to perform a landscape scan of STEM in OST across the city, which was shared in a report detailing a wide array of data that provided valuable insight into where, when, how, and for whom STEM in OST happens in the city. (Read the report here.) The study yielded a number of crucial insights, including geographical areas underserved by STEM in OST, underrepresented populations in Chicago’s STEM OST programs, and engineering as a vastly underrepresented field in Chicago’s STEM OST. These data directed the STEM OST community to action, and the report posed several critical questions intended to inspire further work and build Chicago’s STEM Learning Ecosystem further.

2014 Recap and Reports

The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative and Project Exploration are sharing two reports on an exciting year of activity and growth during 2014, titled Systematic Approaches to STEM in Out-of-School Time in Chicago. (They can be found here February 28 & here June 6.) Under the guidance of a stellar group of funders and policy-makers, the Co-op reconvened a group of funders, program providers, and policy makers in 2014 for a series of meetings. With input from the philanthropic, policy, and business communities, these gatherings focused on fostering discussion and setting goals for the group’s ongoing work. Two formal meetings of the group were accompanied by numerous informal conversations to:

  • Consider what city-wide STEM OST ecosystems might look like in Chicago’s future
  • Learn about local and national networks that already support Chicago’s STEM OST community
  • Learn about the Office of the Mayor’s city-wide STEM plan
  • Ensure that the Cooperative’s future work is informed by current needs

Numerous goals have been set following the meetings, including:

  • Providing an opportunity for philanthropic and policymaking stakeholders to learn about the Office of the Mayor’s citywide STEM plan
  • Strategy map delineating what and where foundations and other funding sources are supporting programs in Chicago
  • Follow up on the recommendations of the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative report, “State of STEM in Chicago in Out-of-School Time”
  • Develop a business model for the city-wide STEM strategy, including OST
  • Evaluate the system-wide approaches and models of other cities
  • Create a clearinghouse for activities, programs, and resources in STEM in OST

In 2015, the Cooperative looks forward to another exciting year as it continues to its work to improve STEM in OST by furthering progress on these defined goals. Additional collaborative work with practitioners is also planned. Please visit the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative LinkedIn page, Twitter, or email us with questions in order to get involved and join the conversation.



Integrating Science and English Language Arts via the Standards

With a three day weekend upon us, it’s hard not to think about the summer fun ahead and the opportunity to savor some summer reading. Be sure to put your time off to good use and toss a new report that can support your science education practice in your beach bag in addition to a great summer novel or a few fluffy magazines!

FSchoolchildren in a science classor anyone who has read the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), thought about or attempted NGSS implementation, or actually supported teachers in professional development around the NGSS, one of the questions that arises is likely to revolve around how the science standards and literacy fit together. It can seem daunting to cover it all, even with the individual English Language Arts (ELA) standards listed below each performance expectation in the NGSS (and CPS’ more defined scope of implementation). The National Academy of Science offers a recent report that tackles the alignment of the NGSS and ELA, and it includes ideas that Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 3.53.35 PMencompass the unique language of science (and the challenges that can present), best practices for weaving literacy and science together across grades to accomplish the integration of the NGSS and ELA (so important, since continuity across grades is one of the central pillars of the NGSS), and strategies for teachers to be more effective in integrating STEM and literacy for effective teaching.

The concepts and practices that overlap between the NGSS and ELA are valuable across disciplines and useful throughout one’s education and career.  The Venn Diagram above highlights these, and they include the construction of viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others, valuing evidence, and engaging in argument based on evidence.  Regardless of the careers people pursue, these abilities are critical and serve in a variety of contexts, including being a scientifically literate citizen – which is vital as the problems and issues we encounter as a society increasingly interconnected with science.

Science can present unique challenges to ESL learners because of the complexity of the scientific language.  However, it can also present a great opportunity for all learners, including ESL students, to hone their language skills while learning scientific content.  The NGSS posits that all standards are for all students, so tackling language barriers through scientific concepts really does address two issues simultaneously.

How do you approach the integration of science and literacy in your practice?  Let us know in the comments, and download the NAS report via the link above to access new ideas and strategies that can support your integration of science and ELA standards.

The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative: Convening Critical Conversations in STEM in Out of School Time

By Stephanie Levi, Ph.D.

This past February, the Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative (led by PE) hosted thirty local leaders to follow up on 2012’s “The State of STEM in Out of School Time in Chicago” report and conference, and begin planning next steps in the Cooperative’s work.

On February 28, representatives from STEM OST networks, the Chicago Office of the Mayor, and a variety of local funding agencies at the Chicago Community Trust met for a review of the findings of the 2012 report, as well as a review of other local networks. Perspective on the national STEM OST landscape was presented by Anita Krishnamurthi, Vice President of STEM Policy at the Afterschool Alliance, who discussed the Alliance’s work to better understand best practices for successful system-wide STEM OST networks.

Matthew Blakely, Director of the Motorola Solutions Foundation (standing in for Jan Morrison, CEO for the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM) discussed the STEM Funders Network, a group of funders working to strategically support and further STME OST work. Following the general meeting, the funders met for a closed meeting to discuss funding priorities, how best to collaborate to further systematic approaches to STEM in OST, challenges and opportunities for implementing a system-wide STEM OST approach, and their vision for moving a systematic approach to STEM in OST forward from a funding perspective.

Building on the momentum of February’s successful meeting, the Cooperative will be coordinating additional convenings for Chicago’s STEM OST community- including practitioners, funders, administrators, and other interested parties-this year to address topics of interest to the community. Project Exploration is excited to support this important and impactful work.

The Chicago STEM Pathways Cooperative is a unique collaborative housed at Project Exploration that is moving Chicago’s conversation about systematic approaches to Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in out-of-school time (OST) forward.  The Cooperative is a group of STEM OST practitioners, educators, museum, university and city administrators, researchers interested in STEM OST ecosystems and aligned, city-wide approaches to STEM in OST to support youth, families, and the schools and communities in which they live and learn.

Evaluation for OST STEM Programs: Strategies and Resources

By Stephanie Levi, Ph.D.

Evaluation is crucial to understanding how well our programs are working, and how to best improve them to support those we serve.  However, despite the utility of assessment and evaluation, identifying the right approach takes a great deal of careful work.  Resources are available to make it achievable, and they are appropriate for beginners and seasoned evaluators alike!

Explore these resources to learn which ones fit the needs of your evaluation strategy, and please let us know how they work for you so that other practitioners can learn from your experience!

Where do our STEM students go?

By Stephanie Levi, Ph.D.

STEM-students-electronic-model-MEAEvery day, we hear from a variety of sources that we need to work to encourage participation in STEM by both the public and students.  Recruitment into STEM is a crucial part of achieving such participation, but retention is equally important.  If students lose interest in STEM after initially being excited about their involvement in science, technology, engineering and math – whether from a bad experience with a teacher, struggles with content, a lack of encouragement from family, or a lack of understanding of what careers might be ahead if they continue with their STEM interests – their ideas and direct contributions to STEM fields may be lost.  So, what happens when students leave STEM, particularly at the post-secondary level?  What are the reasons, who leaves, and when?   A new report seeks to answer these questions, and may be very helpful for those who work at the university level in particular.  The report, entitled “STEM Attrition: College Student’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields,” authored by Xianglei Chen for the National Center for Education Statistics, details the rates of attrition from STEM fields and non-STEM fields, characteristics of students who leave STEM fields, comparing the courses and performance of those who leave and persist in STEM, and an examination of the strength of different factors’ association with students’ leaving STEM, among other subjects.

The report offers data to get us thinking about factors that we may be able to influence to improve outcomes for students in STEM, using OST programs as vehicles for change.  You can download the report at the link above, and let us know what you think and what you’ve learned in the comments here, and on our LinkedIn page.  We’d love to hear from you!

Staff Development: An Essential Ingredient for OST STEM Program Success

By Stephanie Levi, Ph.D.

It’s no secret that great staff are essential for STEM program success.  Front-line staff are the folks who will be interacting with the youth in your program, the people your participants will remember as they grow up, and the role models your participants will be looking up to as they consider their future in STEM.  Great staff are also essential, as they are the ones likely to be interacting with participants’ families, setting the tone for families’ comfort level with STEM.  The ability to put a welcoming, friendly face on a STEM program can change the way people feel about STEM in general – program staff are STEM ambassadors of the highest order.

Research indicates that some of the strongest factors in success or failure in youth engagement in STEM is teacher quality, and this extends to teachers and instructors in informal settings, too.  It is truly essential that programs ensure that OST front-line staff are equipped to convey positive qualities in their STEM work, ensuring that the staff who deliver STEM programs, communicate about STEM to youth and seek to inspire enthusiasm, interest and a sense of wonder regarding STEM topics are fully equipped to do so.

You may find the following resources helpful in supporting your staff members’ professional development for STEM OST programs.  These resources can enable programs to develop comfort and competence with STEM processes, techniques, methods and protocols, develop aptitude for teaching STEM using inquiry-based, experiential methods, help staff link STEM to the disciplines’ real-world applications, help staff learn to make clear career and college connections with the STEM experience, and help staff identify and integrate clear youth development connections that are brought out in practice.

We’d love to hear about how these work for you – please let us know by leaving comments here and by sharing your experience with Chicago’s STEM OST community over on our LinkedIn page.  We look forward to hearing about your challenges and successes!