Points Emphasized by the Speakers
- Greater understanding of the learning process can inform the design of cross-setting learning.
- Diversity is a hallmark of a robust learning ecosystem.
- The leaders of afterschool and informal learning institutions have already done extensive work on the issues associated with cross-sector collaboration.
- Leadership, incentives for collaboration, and diverse advocates are important tools for policy and advocacy in cross-sector collaborations.
As noted in the presentations summarized in the previous chapter, realizing the vision at the heart of the convocation has implications for both research and policy. Two speakers explored those implications in depth, while a series of breakout groups (see Chapters 5 and 6) examined them more broadly.
Over the past several decades, the learning sciences—which encompass the cognitive sciences, the developmental sciences, artificial intelligence, and the brain sciences and neurosciences—have been developing
detailed accounts of learning to understand how, when, and why it happens, noted Bronwyn Bevan, director of the Research and Learning Institute at the Exploratorium.1 One key understanding that has emerged is that learning is deeply contextual—it is a process that takes place across specific times and settings (Bransford et al., 2006). Another important conclusion, she said, is that learning is “life wide, life long, and life deep” (Banks et al., 2007). Values, beliefs, interests, and understandings are a resource for learning. They profoundly shape how one approaches and engages learning opportunities. These values, beliefs, interests, and understandings are developed in many places—in families, in communities, in all the interactions a person has with others. Bevan said they also fluctuate over time and may evolve into sustained “lines of practice” (Azevedo, 2011).
Bevan has been doing a literature review of the research on cross-setting learning with two colleagues, and she reported on several design principles they have identified (Penuel et al., 2014):
1. Draw on values and practices from multiple settings.
a. Identify and integrate diverse values of all stakeholders.
b. Identify practices in one setting that can be used as a resource to support learning in another setting.
2. Structure partnerships to encompass the goals of all stakeholders.
3. Engage participants in building stories, imaginative worlds, and artifacts that span contexts and that facilitate meaning-making across contexts.
4. Help youth identify with the STEM learning enterprise.
a. Provide opportunities to contribute to authentic endeavors.
b. Name youth as contributors or potential contributors.
5. Use intentional brokering to facilitate movement across settings.
a. Prepare educators to play roles as brokers.
b. Prepare parents to play roles as brokers.
According to Bevan, a prominent issue that arises in applying these principles is whether providing access is sufficient for equity. Research indicates that equity requires ongoing, multiple opportunities to do and learn STEM, she said, with opportunities for redundancies and variation. It also suggests that STEM education should be introduced as the best means for solving problems, challenges, and questions that have meaning to the learner. Finally, learning activities need to leverage children’s familiar personal, family, and cultural resources and routines, according
1The PowerPoint file for this presentation is available at http://www.samueli.org/stemconference/documents/Bevan_Cross-Setting_Learning.pdf [June 2014].
to Bevan. “By making STEM education activities or programs familiar to kids, you are inviting them to come in from a position of strength,” she said.
As one example of this final point, Bevan mentioned the work of Emdin (2011) with African American students in the Bronx on rap ciphers as discourse patterns. Educators familiar with rap ciphers, including overlapping speech, heightened emotions, and gestures, can learn to identify and leverage, rather than shut down, student engagement in STEM discussions in classrooms. She also mentioned work at the Exploratorium to take advantage of play in afterschool programs for STEM learning. “It’s really important to leverage play,” she said. “Play is a developmental resource. All humans and animals learn through play.”
She noted that Penuel et al. (2014) also identified seven infrastructural elements for cross-setting learning:
- Establish programs and individuals who can broker and support students in key transition moments, such as the transition from middle school to high school or from school to afterschool.
- Create strategies and systems that can recognize and make visible young people’s accomplishments from one setting to another. (Badges for achievement are one such system.)
- Establish programs that connect youth with professionals and workplace or public settings.
- Establish programs that provide classroom educators with opportunities to work with students in different low-stakes settings and contexts.
- Use social media to link people and practices across disparate settings.
- Intentionally relate learning opportunities in formal, informal, and afterschool settings in ways that make apparent to all stakeholders how all learning opportunities reinforce and expand young people’s interest, understanding, and commitment to STEM subjects.
- Create professional development that works across institutional boundaries to engage educators with how their efforts can collectively support interest, capacities, and commitment.
Bevan also issued several cautions. Learning ecosystems already exist, she said. They are populated by people and by institutions and are not simple. They have evolved over time as a product of complex interacting systems. The task then becomes to optimize, improve, and coordinate ecologies. She also noted that diversity is a hallmark of robust ecosystems. For this reason, diversity is an asset rather than a liability in
STEM learning systems. “A big question for us is how we are going to expand diversity of learning opportunities,” she stated.
STEM learning systems need to avoid a cultural deficit model, she said, in which the norms of one culture are imposed on all students. “What is STEM, who is STEM, how do we talk about STEM, where does STEM happen?” asked Bevan. These are all critical questions in thinking about opportunities to build STEM interest.
Finally, she suggested the idea of cultivation as a metaphor. By starting with children’s interests, peer groups, and strengths, STEM learning opportunities can deepen and extend their experiences.
Educators at all levels have a huge amount of work to do to understand and figure out how to implement all the changes needed for effective cross-sector collaboration, said Jennifer Peck, executive director of the Partnership for Youth and Children. Fortunately, she noted, afterschool and expanded learning providers have been focusing on the issues associated with these changes.
Peck referred to the “four Cs” of policy work: collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity. All four of these Cs can be seen in the activities afterschool programs do with students, Peck noted. Students are doing research in their communities, working in teams to find things out, and making presentations where they use technology and multimedia tools. Because of the sophistication of some of this afterschool programming, the education community is more open about including out-of-school providers in the conversation. “The thing I ask myself is how are we maximizing this opportunity and not doing it just in piecemeal ways,” Peck said.
Leadership is one important element in policy and advocacy for cross-sector collaborations, said Peck, but leaders who are willing and eager to collaborate are rare. “It is a very natural tendency for systems and leaders of systems to work in their own boxes,” she said. “Yes, there are policies and rules and regulations that can perpetuate this, but in a lot of cases it is really organizational culture and habits … that keep us in silos.”
A second important policy tool that Peck pointed to is to incentivize collaboration at all levels. Collaboration is hard and can require doing things differently, she said. It can require sharing of resources and sharing of credit. It also can require policy incentives to collaborate more effectively. As an example, she noted that the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program provided a funding stream for afterschool
programs, and some states, like California, gave priority to grants that featured cooperation between schools and community organizations.2
But, she warned, policy opportunities also can be forgone. For example, a major missed opportunity to promote collaboration between school systems and partners occurred when the School Improvement Grants, which provided a large infusion of support for low-performing schools, provided little policy guidance about how to turn around performance.3 As a result, schools tended to do the easiest things rather than take actions with a basis in research or best practices, said Peck. In California, for example, which has 4,500 publicly funded afterschool programs, many of which are located at the same schools that had grants, the funds generally were not used to forge connections between afterschool programs and the school day.
A third tool Peck identified is the collective role of diverse advocates. For example, when leaders and systems are doing good things, advocates should recognize their work and give them credit for having the courage to deepen and sustain partnerships. “Public recognition is an incredibly powerful motivating factor for policy leaders at a variety of levels,” said Peck. “It is important to weave this into any strategy around policy change.”
Multiple sectors and partners play a role in making sure that students can be successful. “Everybody has to wear an advocacy hat,” said Peck. “We have to embed this concept into policies and guidance to move us in this direction, because we can’t just assume it’s going to happen.” In California, for example, the Partnership for Youth and Children is working with the state department of education to develop and implement in state policy a definition of high-quality expanded learning opportunities. Such a definition could apply not just to afterschool programs, but also to the wide range of resources that can be used for out-of-school programming, Peck said.
The partnership is also collaborating with the state education agency on developing guidance for districts and for out-of-school time providers around how to communicate and collaborate around the new education standards. “There’s a lot of confusion, at the local level, about how to do that well,” Peck observed.
Finally, work is under way to develop concrete tools and information that people at the local level need to understand what the implementation of new standards means for out-of-school partners. Peck said,
“This is true for the Common Core, and it’s going to be just as true for the Next Generation Science Standards, where we have an even bigger opportunity.” Discussions about policy often get stuck on the barriers to collaboration, said Peck. More time needs to be spent determining what is a real barrier and what is a perceived barrier and how creative solutions can overcome both, she said, noting that “strong leadership is absolutely essential to all of this.”
During the discussion session, Justin Duffy, a STEM specialist with World Learning in Brattleboro, Vermont, asked how the lessons derived from the convocation could be applied across socioeconomic and racial lines so that all schools and students benefit from the integration of STEM learning. Bevan emphasized the importance of examples that can serve as visual talking points and the need to have conversations across sectors. “We don’t have those at this point. We have pockets of activity, but it is not integrated into the mainstream conversation about STEM education,” she responded.
Christopher Roe, chief executive officer with the California STEM Learning Network in San Francisco, asked about the role of “backbone” organizations in supporting and sustaining an integrated approach. Peck referred to the role of intermediaries at the local or regional level in facilitating and brokering conversations and in directing attention to the policy arena. Both the public and private funding sectors can help create more of that infrastructure, she opined. These intermediaries also can leverage public resources to get the most out of public investments.
On this topic, Linda Ortenzo, director of STEM programs at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, described the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Development, which takes into account all of the major STEM programs in the area and includes a teacher excellence academy.4 She said this effort has created a group of people who represent all of those stakeholders in the STEM learning system. It also has created a process for schools to evaluate their STEM education programs and figure out how to increase integration, which it now is piloting with three different school districts. “The goal is to give schools rails to run on, not a prescription, to allow for diversity but to give them guidance to get to the place where we’d all like to see the whole ecosystem go,” she explained.
Finally, Bevan urged that groups interested in influencing policy work through state associations of school boards, given the difficulty of work-