STEM in Informal Learning Settings

wikimedia photo of someone working with a robot “After a 15-month review of the current evidence base, the National Research Council’s (NRC) Board on Science Education concluded in a recent 2015 study that out-of-school programs have been shown to:

  • contribute to young people’s interest in and understanding of STEM,
  • connect young people to caring adults who serve as role models, and
  • reduce the achievement gap

That’s from a recently released report titled “The Case for Investing in Out-of-School Learning as a Core Strategy in Improving Science,Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education” (The report was published by the STEM Education Coalition.)

That information is really powerful for library staff working with teens to think about, internalize, and inform colleagues, administrators, stakeholders, and the community about. It’s the type of information you can use to advocate for quality STEM activities as a part of your overall library program of service. You will want to read the full report to learn about other data and research findings that support your integration of STEM library activities.

There are actually two pieces to this report and the second – following the information on the impact STEM programs can have in informal learning settings – is a set of recommendations for achieving success in this area. While the recommendations focus on federal support for this type of learning – it’s possible to take the recommendations to a more local level. For example, one recommendation focuses on funding and another focuses on professional development. These are both areas that your local, state, and regional funders, government officials, and stakeholders can invest in. Maybe you can use the data in this report to build a case for expanded funding for STEM activities in your community. And, why not also use it as a way to gain support for your own, and your colleagues’, professional development in the area of STEM learning.

As you get started with learning more about STEM activities for and with youth I highly recommend checking out some of the webinars available through the Afterschool Alliance. A few weeks ago I participated in an Afterschool Alliance webinar titled, The Framework for K-12 Science Education: What it Means for Afterschool. By the time the event was over I was totally inspired. Some of the discussion points that were inspiring to me focused on:

  • Attention to hands-on activities that help youth to make real-life connections to STEM and careers.
  • Use of real-world experts who act as role models to help youth better understand STEM concepts.
  • The importance of building a seamless continuum between what youth learn in school and in out of school informal learning environments. (There’s actually a new journal that focuses on this topic – Connected Science Learning – that you might want to check out.)
  • The importance of youth voice and connected learning in these programs.
  • The fact that professional learning doesn’t simply come by providing learning facilitators with out-of-the box activities. Staff in informal learning environments – for example library staff working with teens – need to gain facilitation skills in order to provide high-quality STEM experiences. Staff don’t need to be scientists. They need to facilitate learning. And that might require professional development

The recording of the webinar is embedded below.

There’s a lot of exciting research and work being done in the area of STEM and informal learning environments. You can get started – or extend your knowledge – by checking out the resources mentioned above. If you know of other useful resources in this area, go ahead and list them in the comments. And, don’t forget YALSA’s STEM wiki page and STEM Programming Toolkit.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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