Broad Implementation: Expanding a Successful Model of Fully Virtual Professional Learning for Afterschool Educators
This project will scale up fully virtual or face-to-face STEM professional development to afterschool educators in both urban and rural settings. Given that many afterschool educators have little or no background in STEM education, there is demand for professional development that is effective, inexpensive, and accessible. This project will build national capacity in STEM education by developing the STEM skills of over 1,500 educators across multiple states and will ultimately impact over 31,000 under-represented youth in these areas. The project will also deliver robust materials through a free open-source mechanism, for use by educators anywhere and anytime. The project will broaden participation in STEM by engaging community educators in the rural parts of the nation, a critically under-represented group in STEM. It will also reach educators from low-income urban communities across three states and seven cities, targeted through strategic networks and partnerships, including organizations such as the YMCA, 4-H, and the National Afterschool Association.
This collaborative project is scaling the ACRES model (Afterschool Coaching for Reflective Educators in STEM). The model humanizes the virtual experience, making it social and engaging, and allows educators to learn, share, and practice essential STEM facilitation skills with a focus on making STEM relevant and introducing STEM careers to youth. In addition to enhancing the professional STEM skills of rural and urban educators, the project will create a national cohort of coaches with deep expertise in (i) converting in-person activities for youth into a highly engaging, choice-rich online format, (ii) engaging isolated informal educators in supportive professional learning communities, and (iii) coaching foundational research-based STEM facilitation skills that ensure these activities are pedagogically sound. A key part of this broad implementation project involves studying how to integrate an effective professional development program into afterschool organizations, including the ways afterschool programs adapt the materials to be culturally responsive to their local communities. The researchers will also study factors contributing to the longer-term sustainability of the program. The research will use surveys, interviews, direct observations, and case studies of participants to provide the field with valuable insights into scaling a program in the afterschool world.
This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for extending access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.