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STEM 'Ecosystems' Bring Together Educators and Experts

A new working paper by the Noyce Foundation highlights 15 promising collaborations between K-12 schools, extended-learning programs, and outside organizations that aim to further STEM education. The authors call these joint efforts "STEM learning ecosystems" and posit they can deepen student understanding and engagement and broaden access to a well-rounded education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

(Education Week receives support from the Noyce Foundation for coverage of informal and school-based science education.)

Ecosystems, according to the authors, bring together educators and experts from STEM-rich environments, including schools, after-school and summer programs, science centers, museums, corporations, and universities. The idea is to help students connect their in-school and out-of-school learning experiences.

The programs detailed in the report run the gamut:

• In San Francisco, middle school students participate in Science Action Clubs, in which they explore local nature and contribute to scientific research, through the California Academy of Sciences;

• The New York City STEM Educators Academy is a professional development program for teachers working in disadvantaged communities operated by The After-School Corporation and a science and technology center; and

• In the Synergies Project (also funded by Noyce), researchers from Oregon State University are tracking 5th graders' formal and "informal" STEM experiences to develop tools to improve STEM education. 

The authors recognize that these ecosystem-model programs are being implemented on a relatively small scale (many serve just a few hundred students) or are still in the early stages of development. However, they clearly see room for growth—the report states that ecosystems could "play a key role in helping communities meet the vision of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics [and] the Next Generation Science Standards."

For more information on informal STEM learning—a piece of the ecosystem puzzle—see Education Week's 2011 special report on the subject.

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