Reflections on the FUSE 3.0 Institute: Cultivating Curiosity and SEL through Informal and Formal Collaboration

by Sabrina Gomez

 

“As you were walking, what are some things you notice about the conference room, its arrangements, its contents, what physical structure or behaviors would be necessary for insects to survive here?,” asked Olga Feingold, Program Director, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center in Boston. Olga was leading FUSE 3.0 Winter Institute participants in Nashville.

The Institute brought together forty leaders in youth development, education, and informal science from six cities who came together to share their thinking on using social-emotional learning (SEL) skill-building to strengthen STEM learning in- and out-of-school. Lead organizations included ExpandED Schools in New York City, the Providence After School Alliance, Boston After School & Beyond, the Nashville After Zone Alliance, Prime Time Palm Beach County, and Collective for Youth in Omaha. The group was joined by Ron Ottinger, Director of STEM Next, and leaders in the field of science and social emotional learning; Senior Research Scientist Dr. Sue Allen, who heads a national, Noyce-funded project that provides online professional development for afterschool providers; Dr. Cary Sneider, Associate Professor at Portland State University, leader of the engineering group on the NGSS writing team, and science consultant to STEM Next; and Dr. Nick Yoder, Senior Technical Assistance Consultant, American Institutes for Research.

Olga’s activity is routinely employed by Thompson Island informal educators, and is aimed at having students think purposefully about how structures and behaviors increase survival of the population. The activity sparked enthusiasm around the room as we explored how activities rooted in the Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices could be brought to life in an interactive, fun way led by informal educators.

The presentation also allowed us to step into the educators’ shoes to experience how they might assess the extent to which students are engaging deeply with the practices. We used observation, critical thinking, communication, and team work skills to make claims about the function of an adaptation by recording observed evidence and then presenting our individual organisms to the larger group, which fostered further idea-sharing among peers. We quickly realized that we were also relying on the same SEL to answer Ms. Feingold’s series of questions.

Olga’s presentation embodied the spirit of inquiry, assessment, and the intersection of youth development principles, STEM, and SEL that fueled January’s two-day Institute. Underlying this spirit was also a practical exploration of how teams could use formative assessments rooted in Next Generation Science Standards’ practices of scientists and engineers to create a solid foundation for this work.

Accordingly, Dr. Allen and Dr. Sneider co-led a discussion around how teams could incorporate formative assessments in out-of-school time in order to increase opportunities for youth to practice and strengthen their understanding of the science and engineering practices. To support this work, Dr. Yoder, who also leads the focal area on safe and supportive classrooms, and social and emotional learning (SEL) for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, facilitated a discussion about strategies for creating educator professional development experiences that connect STEM and SEL skills. Together, Institute teams learned from other cities’ professional development types and series they facilitate with staff. Ann Durham and Brittany Sandbergen, from the Providence After Zone Alliance, shared their work around designing and leading professional development experiences for formal and informal educators involved in FUSE 3.0.  

Combined, Institute’s discussions and activities highlighted the key theme of FUSE 3.0: Expanded learning time can be a time for youth to engage with Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices, and for educators to assess their growth in those Practices while still holding true to youth development principles that help cultivate curiosity.

Boston, Providence, New York City and Omaha are also part of the STEM Ecosystems Initiative, supported by STEM Next and the STEM Funders Network. The ecosystems work—intentionally connecting STEM learning experiences for kids across a full range of settings in- and out-of-school, at home, in community-based settings, online and in the workforce—aligns with the FUSE 3.0 strategy.

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