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The Research is In: STEM Educators Academy Demonstrates Success

By Emma Banay, Director, STEM Programs

Hypothesis: Afterschool and school-day educators can team up to thoughtfully design and skillfully implement lessons that engage students in afterschool STEM.

Prediction: A program that trains collaborative teaching teams to facilitate fun, hands-on STEM activities will boost educators’ skills and get students excited about science.

Conclusion: The research is in and it demonstrates success.

In 2013, the NYC STEM Education Network launched a program known as STEM Educators Academy (SEA) led by ExpandED Schools and the New York Hall of Science. Funded by the Pinkerton Foundation with additional support from RBC Foundation USA and an anonymous donor, SEA is a STEM training program that brings middle school teachers and afterschool educators together to create engaging science programming with an eye to reinforcing school-day lessons through explorative, design-based projects.

Over its eight year history, SEA has evolved into a robust professional development series with multiple levels of engagement, individualized coaching and supports, and a growing learning community. The core elements of the program include joint professional development that bridges the school-day and afterschool, partnership among those in the STEM ecosystem (CBOs, ExpandED, schools, and cultural institutions), and educator collaboration.

ExpandED’s study of SEA’s impact over the past three years demonstrated the success of the SEA model. Educators—and students—benefitted from the program which provides in-depth professional development and coaching support along with lessons for both in-person and remote implementation. Our evaluation showed that in 2019-20:

  • 94% of educators saw an increase in their students’ enthusiasm for science. 

  • 94% of educators saw an increase in students’ understanding of how science is relevant to their everyday lives.

  • SEA-trained educators felt more efficacious, earning a score of 50.65 on a nationally normed efficacy survey, compared to a neutral score of 39.

STEM Educators Academy benefitted from the learnings of Design2Learn, a research study funded through the Investing in Innovation (i3) program at the U.S. Department of Education.  ExpandED Schools partnered with Research Alliance for New York City Schools to evaluate Design2Learn and applied many of the lessons, formative assessment strategies, and program improvement recommendations from that study to the STEM Educators Academy program as it evolved.

Over the past three years, 56 afterschool programs have participated in SEA. The program was recognized as a featured program for STEM teachers in the NYC Department of Education’s 2018 STEM Handbook to build STEM practices and instructional content.

Of course, the arrival of COVID-19 created significant challenges to afterschool programming at the same time engaging learning opportunities have never been more important. In response, ExpandED retooled the SEA model to address in-person, remote, and hybrid learning environments and has innovated SEA resources, training, and coaching to be offered virtually. Afterschool programs mobilized in powerful ways to support kids and families, packaging up materials kits for at-home learning, doing home calls and outreach to boost remote attendance and enrollment, and integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) strategies into STEM lessons to meet the emotional needs of young people during the pandemic.  Despite significant barriers, including public funding cuts impacting staffing, 26 of 34 sites sustained SEA programming in spring 2020 during the initial peak of the pandemic in New York City.

Since then, ExpandED has continued building out the STEM Educators Academy Toolkit, adding five new lessons specifically designed for remote or hybrid engagement and modifying eight lessons that can easily be adapted for virtual implementation. For example, using simple materials (tape, paper, and straws) to build and test paper rockets, students can identify the design criteria that result in longest flight distances. This activity can be done from home and reinforces school-day science content, such as the Newtonian laws of physics, in an exciting and experiential way. Interested in trying these lessons out in your own program? Tell us what you think!

Currently, ExpandED is working with program stakeholders and expert consultants to design a collaborative curriculum review and development process. Together, stakeholders are setting a shared rubric, reviewing existing lesson plans, and making recommendations for revision or elaboration. In March, the program will launch an educator-led curriculum development effort, where frontline program educators will develop an additional set of new lesson plans as part of a cohort experience. In addition to looking to current events that entwine STEM and social justice (like the Flint water crisis), educators will also incorporate tried-and-true youth development strategies for engagement and inclusion like incorporating youth voice and interests, connecting STEM topics to students’ lived experiences, and celebrating STEM figures of color from the past and present.

In addition, ExpandED continues to partner with the New York Hall of Science to offer professional development remotely, and is piloting an on-demand asynchronous training option where afterschool educators can learn from interaction modules on their own time. ExpandED team members have also developed new flexible forms of professional development including virtual office hours, skill shares, and learning labs that highlight educator expertise from the field and encourage peer-to-peer learning. 

As of today, ExpandED is serving 69 educators who are reaching an estimated 977 students.  Interested in getting involved in STEM Educators Academy? Our enrollment season begins this Spring! Let Fran Agnone, Program Manager, know at fagnone@expandedschools.org.

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