Selected researcher and teacher panelists respond to and discuss key issues in K-12 STEM education.

Meetup Summary: Ways to Expand Diversity in STEM

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On April 1, 2021, STEMTLnet and Reggie Duncan hosted a Meetup to discuss ways to expand diversity in STEM. The following is a summary of the discussion that took place and a list of resources shared.

How has the pandemic this school year affected any strides made in your efforts to increase diversity in STEM education?
There have been both positive and negative outcomes in efforts to increase diversity in STEM education during the pandemic.  The focus has shifted from STEM education to “learning loss” and state assessments in schools throughout the country.  Extracurricular and/or after school STEM clubs and competitions have been scaled back or eliminated completely while the increase in screen time and exposure to technology throughout the day has, in some cases, decreased interest in more STEM and technology related activities following the end of the school day.

Conversely, collaboration and the ability to connect with diverse guest speakers from research labs, local communities and businesses, etc. have increased.  It has enhanced our ability to connect research in the lab to a diverse group of students that may not have had the same level of access in previous years. 

What district level policies have prohibited or contributed to the lack of diversity in STEM education?
STEM education has taken the backseat to testing in many districts with varying levels of understanding of what learning is essential during the pandemic and STEM being eliminated entirely at some elementary levels.  Science is often pushed out to students asynchronously with a focus on content versus inquiry-based learning creating situations where students are only reading about science versus experiential learning.  Access to resources and where to find them is an obstacle to be overcome as we work towards better disseminating that information to all students and educators in schools across the country.  One participant stated, “It is a right for every child to have quality science education” while another stated that students need to “see the world as their laboratory.”

Pulling students out of Science classes and decreasing the time allotted for STEM education at the elementary level during the pandemic is detrimental to our goals of increasing diversity in STEM.  More opportunities for students to see themselves as scientists, engineers, etc. are dramatically decreased with the emphasis given to state assessments.  A participant in our discussion who served as a state science coordinator stated, “If you’re doing good science instruction in your classroom and your kids are doing inquiry science; [they’re thinking and asking questions, they’re engaging with the practices even if they’re not naming them] then regardless of the content, your kids will do just fine on the state assessment.”

What policies and/or institutional norms stand as the biggest challenges to closing the achievement gap in STEM education for students from underrepresented groups?
More advocacy is needed for safe, quality science instruction at home with a focus on equity and access of different materials and respect for the dignity of our students’ home environments.  Students must be able to see themselves represented consistently with a focus on making STEM and STEM career fields relevant to them and their lives.  When we do not make the content relevant to students and their realities, all of the work and hours of creating the curriculum becomes lost.  Dismantling racist policies, institutions, and ideas along with inequities in gender, economic class, and multi-lingual representation are key to aiding students in developing their own STEM identities.  Our students need to have a “voice and a choice in their futures.”  We must consistently expose our students and educators to a variety of diverse projects with both formal and informal learning opportunities.  One very poignant comment made in our discussion was “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

Following is a list of resources shared during the discussion:

Finding & Leveraging the Bright Spots
In this presentation, science consultant Kathy Renfrew hopes we can shift our attention away from “remediation” by building on the bright spots we’ve experienced during pandemic teaching.

Long-Term Supports for Extended School Closures
These documents offer support for designing longer-term home-based science learning opportunities. They highlight the many ways family members can support young peoples' learning. The FAQ document addresses important questions, such as "How should we think about assessments and grading at this time?" and "How do we support our learners who are furthest from educational justice in science at this time?" The final four resources outline different activity types that focus on local phenomena, science notebooks, and family science talks.

CSSS Community Projects
During the sudden crisis of the COVID-19 global pandemic, CSSS members embarked on a collective effort to develop guidance and support structures through the Community Projects Initiative which aimed to address the immediate and long-term need of the membership and greater science education community.

Learning in Places
We co-design innovative research and practice with educators, families, and community partners that cultivates equitable, culturally based, socio-ecological systems learning and sustainable decision-making utilizing “field based” science education in outdoor places, including gardens, for children in Kindergarten to 3rd grade and their families.

IF/THEN® Collection
The IF/THEN® Collection is the largest free resource of its kind dedicated to increasing access to authentic and relatable images of real women in STEM.

STEM Activities from the Smithsonian Science Education Center
The Girl Scouts provides free, fun and quick STEM activities for grades K-12 from the Smithsonian Science Education Center. 

Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building, by Christy Hale
A picture book that connects great works of architecture to the ways children build and play.
Video of book read aloud by Elementary STEM with Ms. Crosman who used this book for remote STEM classes to encourage elementary students to build with anything they had around the house.

Museum & Informal Education Alliance
The Alliance is the starting point for informal educators seeking free NASA educational resources and services.  It is also where NASA experts can find a ready-made audience who can engage the public worldwide.

Spring 2021 Argonne STEM Chats
Argonne STEM chats are FREE 30-minute live virtual Q & A sessions with a STEM professional.