Throughout the convocation, participants had opportunities to comment on the issues raised by presenters and breakout groups. This final chapter of the summary compiles these comments as a way of revisiting and elaborating on the major themes of the convocation.
A prominent topic of conversation was the usefulness of the ecosystem analogy for STEM learning systems. Margaret Honey, president and chief executive officer of the New York Hall of Science, emphasized the importance of specifying what an “ecosystem” means in the context of a STEM learning system. In ecology, an ecosystem is a complex system that unfolds in interesting ways at different times, she noted. If the emphasis is on measuring what is happening here and now, important information will be lost. Assessments can measure some things at some times, but the informed observations of educators and learners can be even more valuable, she said. In particular, students can be powerful judges of their own interests, knowledge, and motivations.
Carol Tang, program officer with the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation, further developed the analogy. As she described, an ecosystem consists not just of the top-level carnivores, but also of decomposers such as bacteria and fungi, and sometimes the critical species in an ecosystem is not a sea otter but a sea star. Similarly, a largely overlooked community organizer or leader may end up being the one who sparks significant change, she
suggested. Also, ecosystems are not efficient, they evolve over very long time periods, and they constantly change. “When we think about this work and try to make it too easy and clean, we are losing the messiness that is inherent in the system and that makes it beautiful and resilient,” Tang said.
Several participants mentioned the role of diversity in ecosystems. Diversity is necessary for an ecosystem to thrive, said Anita Krishnamurthi, vice president of the Afterschool Alliance, and collaborative efforts need to take care not to diminish the strengths of individual sectors. She also pointed out that diversity can be intimidating, because it implies that there are many options facing programs. Bronwyn Bevan, director of the Research and Learning Institute at the Exploratorium, responded that education systems tend to simplify and move in single directions, so a case can be made for diversity of approaches. As an example of the diversity with which STEM learning systems must deal, Bernadette Chi, interim director of the Coalition for Science After School, noted that different types of organizations provide different types of programming. Some are very focused on STEM subjects, while others are not STEM focused at all, she pointed out.
Ryan Collay, director of the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences Program at Oregon State University, pointed to the need to identify common goals while respecting the diverse cultures of the parts of the STEM learning system. Even within individual sectors, subgroups can have varying perspectives, despite the “universal effort to do good.” Ecosystems are marked by resilience, diversity, energy flow, and other attributes. “How do we see that interconnectivity? What is that wonderfully messy collective program?” he asked. Research can do much to untangle influences on the success of programs, he said, which in turn will help make the effort sustainable in the long term.
An important aspect of ecosystems, said Harry Helling, president of Crystal Cove Alliance, is that they have external drivers, which in the case of the STEM learning system include funders, policies, media communications, and community attributes. They also have internal drivers, such as strategies, assessments, and features of a system that make it more robust. An analysis that focuses on these external and internal drivers could help shape tactics and goals, he suggested.
Several participants emphasized the roles of particular players within complex and diverse ecosystems. Dennis Schatz, senior vice president at the Pacific Science Center, reminded the group about the importance of family and peers in addition to the three sectors being discussed at the convocation. He also said that he tends to think of formal education as occurring both in school and in many locations out of school. Separating
afterschool or informal programs into separate sectors risks “soiling” those efforts from formal education, he said.
Bevan pointed to the importance of funders, noting that the convocation marked the first time that multiple funders with an interest in the issue had gotten involved in the conversation. “That’s really important and exciting,” she said.
Martin Storksdieck, a staff member at the National Research Council, emphasized the importance of including policy makers in the conversation. Private funders are important, but they cannot fund the entire agenda themselves. One way to involve policy makers is to link STEM education to other objectives, such as healthy and livable communities, he said. On that note, Honey pointed to the formation in Congress of a bipartisan STEAM caucus—for science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and design/art—that shares the same concerns as the people at the convocation.1
Finally, Storksdieck pointed to the analogy between learning systems and the United Nations’ Agenda 21 action plan,2 which has been ongoing for more than two decades. This movement has produced considerable experience with changing complex systems that could benefit educators and education policy makers.
The critical importance of teachers and other educators was another major topic of participants’ comments.
Joan Bissell, director of teacher education and public school programs in the California State University Chancellor’s Office, urged that pre-service internship placements in an informal science environment or an afterschool environment become the norm. “That’s something we can do institutionally, but it also requires changes in the way certification agencies consider field experiences and clinical placement,” she said. In addition, it requires that experts in informal and afterschool science join university faculties in clinical positions. “That’s a major transformation,” she said, “and it recognizes that expertise resides in many individuals.”
Frank Pisi, director of the California AfterSchool Network, noted that the network focuses on joint professional development between school-day and expanded learning programs. The network also can influence school board members and superintendents, creating a consistent mes-
1More information is available at http://stemtosteam.org/events/congressional-steam-caucus [June 2014].
2More information is available at http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.php?page=view&nr=23&type=400 [June 2014].
sage from both the top and the bottom. Pre-service teachers soon will be thoroughly versed in the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, Pisi noted, which will further support efforts to implement these new approaches in schools.
David Greer, executive director of the Oklahoma Innovation Institute, stressed the potential value of having STEM professionals work with STEM teachers. For example, STEM professionals can demonstrate to students why it is important to learn STEM subjects, beyond doing well in a test. “Maybe that’s a good way to start thinking about scaling up opportunities for kids to connect with STEM,” he suggested.
Kenneth Hill, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program, noted that the American Association for the Advancement of Science has initiated a mentorship program to work directly with teachers and schools, which is a model that could be considered for collaboration.3
Claudia Walker, a fifth-grade teacher from the Murphey Academy and a member of the organizing committee, emphasized the importance of reaching out not only to teachers who are enthusiastic, but also to those who are reluctant. “We need to make sure that instead of saying, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ they’re given the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, that wasn’t so bad. Maybe I can,’” she said. Mike Town, science teacher at the Redmond STEM School and cochair of the organizing committee, also noted that many teachers in the formal sector are concerned about teacher evaluations based on assessments. A new vision of science education needs to overcome this concern, he said.
Hillary Salmons, executive director of the Providence Afterschool Alliance, asked how teachers can be empowered to facilitate inquiry. She expressed concern that the ways in which the Common Core standards are being implemented could displace efforts to teach students how to become self-improving problem solvers. She stated, “Let’s be persistent about finding a way to enable our informal and formal educators to explore good practice around inquiry, because I think inquiry is the hardest thing in the world to do.”
Jim Kisiel, associate professor of science education at California State University, Long Beach, pointed to the role of universities as the institutions that not only prepare teachers, but also educate afterschool and informal science leaders. The culture of the university therefore can have a powerful influence on collaborations and cooperation, in his view.
3More information is available at http://www.aaas.org/page/senior-scientists-and-engineers-stem-volunteer-program [June 2014].
Several participants called attention to the issues facing rural schools in engaging in cross-sector collaboration.
Margo Murphy, a high school science teacher at Camden Hills Regional High School in Maine, noted that such schools usually do not have ready access to universities or to a wealth of informal and out-of-school programs. Teachers in these settings can feel overwhelmed by new demands such as those embodied in the Next Generation Science Standards, she said, while, at the same time, support from informal and out-of-school programs, perhaps through virtual partnerships, can make such demands seem much more attainable.
Many students in rural districts who identify with STEM do so because of the efforts of a single teacher, observed Susan Kunze, a second-grade teacher at Bishop Elementary School in California. Initiatives in these areas may not provide as much “bang for the buck,” said Kunze, but they are still important given the number of STEM professionals who come from rural areas.
Several participants described resources that will be available to facilitate cross-sector collaboration.
Katherine Ward, an Advanced Placement biology and biotechnology teacher at Aragon High School in California, called attention to the focus on practices in the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. These practices explicitly state what capacities a student should be able to demonstrate, and these capacities can frame the discussion for cross-sector collaboration. “It’s no longer about parsing out what I do versus what you do. It’s about where do we overlap and how do we get students to this point,” she said.
Phil LaFontaine, director of the Professional Learning Support Division in the California Department of Education, reminded the group of the need to keep working on exactly what STEM education means in the context of all three sectors. He also observed that parents and other members of the public need to be informed of how STEM education is changing from what they experienced so that they do not react negatively to those changes.4
Christopher Roe, chief executive officer of the California STEM Learn-
4Several weeks after the convocation ended, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council jointly released a video titled “What Is STEM?” to address these issues. The video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlPJ48simtE [June 2014].
ing Network, cited the National Research Council report Monitoring Progress Toward Successful K-12 STEM Education (National Research Council, 2013), which developed 14 indicators around STEM education. He noted that California considered these indicators very carefully as it was choosing the metrics most relevant to that state, after which it added other metrics appropriate for the state.
Margaret Ashida, executive director of the STEMx Network, pointed to a framework for action and accountability being developed by Washington STEM that, in a single page, lays out the key elements that need to be addressed in cross-sector STEM collaboration from the early grades through the workforce, including workforce, policy, benchmarks, and high-impact strategies.5 “Let’s contribute and build on those kinds of efforts which are under way at the multistate level even as we are working for local innovation around the country,” she said.
Finally, on the topic of resources, Chi emphasized the potential contributions of design thinking.6 Aspects of the design process such as prototyping, evaluation, and “creative competence” could inform the development of STEM learning systems, she suggested. Jan Morrison, president and chief executive officer of the Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM and Envision Excellence in STEM, echoed this idea of using design thinking. The STEM Funders Network was created using the design process, she noted, “and there’s a long and good track record of using STEM to create STEM education.”
Elizabeth Stage, director of the Lawrence Hall of Science, emphasized the importance of publicizing successes. She said that creating a public event that features local officials and policy makers “costs a lot of staff time but not a lot of cash” and can get “a lot of attention.”
Finally, many convocation participants discussed the importance of developing allies. Jennifer Peck, executive director of the Partnership for Children and Youth and cochair of the organizing committee, suggested the need to have messengers outside of the STEM education field—and particularly the leaders of K-12 education—communicating with policy makers and the public about the potential of STEM learning systems. “We
5A draft of the executive summary for this framework is available at http://www.washingtonstem.org/STEM/media/Media/Our%20Approach/WA-STEM-Framework-Validation-Executive-Summary-with-Appendices.pdf [June 2014]. The final document should be available by fall 2014.
have a growing number of those allies, and I think this work is going to help us find more,” she stated.
Cindy Hasselbring, special assistant to the Maryland state superintendent for education, emphasized the critical role of parents. Students come to kindergarten with varying degrees of preparation to learn about science, which is just one indication of how important parents are to STEM learning systems, she noted, adding that “trying to help parents understand what they can do to help support their student in STEM is a really important part of the work we are doing.”