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Design2Learn: Tapping STEM Educators' Imaginations

Emma Banay

Emma Banay is the Design2Learn Program Manager at ExpandED Schools.

Paper structures designed to stand up to pouring rain (from a spray bottle) and gale winds (from a fan). A model greenhouse designed with windows that open and close. Miniature cars, composed of simple machines, powered by rubber bands. A prosthetic duck foot. What do all these inventive creations have in common? They were ideated, built and tested by imaginative educators trained in design-based teaching as part of a new ExpandED Schools initiative, Design2Learn.

Based on the STEM Educators Academy, Design2Learn provides professional development for educator teams composed of in-school science teachers and informal educators from community-based organizations who work in after-school programs. Educators benefit from training together during the summer in design-based learning, science content and science standards. After the training, educator teams return to their schools to plan together and create engaging, STEM-rich activities that create a bridge between students’ in-school science learning and after-school enrichment. These experiences lead to deeper understanding of STEM concepts. The results? A more seamless experience between school and afterschool for educators and students, engaging projects that put student learning and exploration first and – our ultimate goal – an increase in students’ interest in and engagement with STEM subjects.

Design2Learn officially kicked off in August, when science teachers and after-school educators attended a week-long Summer Institute held at the New York Hall of Science. Putting on their “student hats” for the first portion of the week, educators experienced a variety of design challenges first hand – from catapults to water filters – and learned by doing, as their students will. Upon completing a crane made of simple machines, one participant reported, “I feel like a mini-engineer!” The training emphasized the New York Hall of Science’s Design-Make-Play philosophy, and educators could certainly be seen at play. A highlight for those of us on the sidelines was watching twenty adults attempt to balance a giant seesaw (or lever, as it is known in science-speak) in the Hall’s science playground.

It wasn’t just fun and games, though. Educators walked away with a better understanding of what their students face when engaging in collaborative projects and spoke about their newfound appreciation for the challenges – and joys – of teamwork, taking turns, listening and respecting other’s ideas. The educator teams used what they learned about the engineering design process, science standards and effective collaboration to create relevant STEM lessons for their students. New and veteran educators were bolstered by the week’s preparation. One educator, a college senior, said, “because I’m the youngest one here, I think I learned a lot from everyone’s experience …after this, I feel like I could teach a lesson myself.”


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