IEE Presents at AERA: Design for Success - Developing a STEM Ecosystem
The American Educational Research Association (AERA), a national research society, strives to advance knowledge about education, to encourage scholarly inquiry related to education, and to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.
As humans, we regularly interact with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) concepts in our daily lives, but often STEM education does not include experiences that make connections to life outside of classroom walls. One approach to bridge STEM learning across settings and sectors is called STEM Learning Ecosystems. According to a recent report on the approach “a STEM learning ecosystem encompasses schools, community settings such as after-school and summer programs, science centers and museums, and informal experiences at home and in a variety of environments that together constitute a rich array of learning opportunities for young people”. 1 The STEM Learning Ecosystems approach promises to have broad impact, but there is much that we do not understand regarding how best to successfully organize, manage and promote it. Indeed, even the underlying elements of ecosystem efficacy warrant further research. This study begins to address such lack of understanding by asking, how do partners building and running a STEM learning ecosystem define the parameters of an “effective” ecosystem? To answer this question, we studied the first cohort of 27 ecosystems in the national 1 Traphagen, K., & Traill, S. (2014). How cross-sector collaborations are advancing STEM learning. Los Altos, CA: Noyce Foundation. STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative. Leaders of the Initiative describe it as “a collection of like-minded partners preparing every child to thrive through high-quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education…By relying on coordination between unlikely partners— such as school districts, teachers, parents, higher education institutions and informal STEM programs, to name a few—each ecosystem can transform the local infrastructure for ensuring more students, particularly underserved and underrepresented students, develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.” In the inaugural year of the Initiative, community partners from 27 ecosystems participated, reflecting a diversity in terms of age, size, and location. This study centers on two rounds of interviews with partners from a total of 24 ecosystems. We supplement these interviews with direct observations of five ecosystems and analytic review of key documents, including initial applications to become part of the Initiative and ecosystem self-assessments.