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.

What factors spark STEM engagement?

Guest post by Marielle Lovecchio. This post is part of the Every Hour Counts STEM Connections series.

Last month, our Nashville-based trio made the trek to New York City with a specific aim in mind: to figure out how ExpandED Schools creates opportunities for students to engage in high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning after school, specifically through partnerships with formal (school day) and community (out-of-school) educators. We had all seen our share of one-off STEM activities, such as the infamous slime project, and were interested to see how collaboration between educators could lead to deeper STEM engagement. We wanted to learn how to help our students in Nashville’s expanded learning system, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), reimagine their idea of what’s possible through the application of STEM.

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Bringing STEM Education from Niche to Necessary: the Every Hour Counts FUSE 3.0 Institute

This post originally appeared on STEM Next, a national leader in increasing opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning for youth across communities both in and out of school.

Editor’s Note: In 2010, ExpandED Schools and Every Hour Counts launched the Frontiers in Urban Science Education project with support from the Noyce Foundation. The project aims to scale access to high-quality STEM learning for kids in out-of-school time programs, building off lessons piloted in New York City by ExpandED Schools. In 2014, the FUSE project published a resource guide of strategies to advance informal science education in after-school, and is now leading six organizations from across the country in connecting out-of-school and in-school STEM learning with the Next Generation Science Standards.

“What variable do you think students were testing during the Rockin’ Rockets Design Challenge?” Jasmine Maldonado, Science Coach Supervisor from the New York Hall of Science, asked FUSE 3.0 Winter Institute participants before testing the rockets in the video above. The question sparked a buzz of conversation around the room as participants explored how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) can be applied to expanded learning.

The presentation allowed us to step into students’ shoes to experience learning rooted in NGSS firsthand. We used our observation, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills to analyze the design variables students tested in the rocket challenge. We quickly realized that we were flexing the same social-emotional skills (SEL) to answer Maldonado’s question that students must use to be successful in the Challenge. The exercise highlighted a key FUSE theme: there are many ways to integrate both content acquisition and youth development in high-quality STEM learning.

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The Next Generation of Science Education

This post originally appeared on the blog of Boston After School & Beyond and is written by Ellen Dickenson, the organization’s Program Director, Partnerships and STEM.

Together with an outstanding team of educators from Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, we had the pleasure of participating in a recent workshop hosted byThe After-School Corporation and Every Hour Counts, facilitated by Cary Sneider, a lead writer of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and supported by the Noyce Foundation. Our revelation while working with Cary was this: though the performance standards of the NGSS are almost identical to the existing Massachusetts curriculum frameworks, the NGSS brings them to life through a three-dimensional approach to teaching science.

When core disciplinary ideas are integrated with practice and crosscutting concepts in this way, STEM subjects become an ideal platform for teaching the skills necessary to achieve, connect, and thrive at school, in the workplace, and in life. (You can read more on that in this FUSE: Next Generation strategy brief.)

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Outgrow the Stereotype: Helping Girls Become Lifelong STEM Lovers

Marie Curie, Sally Ride, Jane Goodall. They pushed past gender barriers and broke new ground in STEM fields. Yet even as we celebrate them during Women’s History Month, we note that science and technology jobs continue to be dominated by men. Despite growing efforts to engage girls in science, women still hold only a quarter of all STEM jobs, the same percentage they held in 2000.

Girls in STEMInformal science programs have great potential to attract young girls to STEM fields. A broad study of out-of-school time (OST) science programs found that, across all polled programs, girls accounted for 56 percent of program populations, on average—and much more for certain organization types. But simply attracting girls to OST science programs isn’t enough. Programs need to implement strong, girl-specific curricula and instructional practices that equip girls to deal with negative social pressures and prepare them to be competitive in STEM fields.

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Read All About It: Tools for Advancing Informal STEM Education


We’re excited to share with you the second edition of our FUSE Resource Guide, hot off the presses. The guide features lessons and advice from promising initiatives around the country, as well as tools and resources to help you improve informal STEM in your community—not to mention a snazzy new design.

If you aren’t already familiar, Frontiers in Urban Science Exploration (FUSE) is an initiative led by Every Hour Counts to institutionalize engaging, inquiry-based, informal STEM education nationally. It was developed in response to the observed lack of opportunities to spark enthusiasm for and sustained interest in STEM fields among students of all ages, especially in under-served communities. With limited pathways for young people today—especially girls and low-income and minority youth—to enter the STEM fields, expanded learning programs offer an ideal setting to engage students in STEM learning.

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New Resource for STEM providers: Click2SciencePD

One of the modules on Click2SciencePDAn exciting new resource to help out-of-school STEM providers is now available online. is a brand-new site devoted to providing free professional development resources to trainers, coaches, site directors and frontline staff/volunteers working in out-of-school time programs serving children and youth. The materials are focused on developing 20 “Essential Skills” identified by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension and the Noyce Foundation as necessary to implement science effectively in out-of-school time settings.

Evaluations of the national Frontiers in Urban Science Exploration (FUSE) initiative, led by Every Hour Counts, have shown that professional development is a critical element for supporting strong informal STEM education programs. Investing in training for frontline staff not only contributes to a program’s overall professionalism, it also increases staff and volunteer confidence and results in the implementation of high-quality activities. In fact, after participating in professional development activities, out-of-school time STEM staff in FUSE programs who lacked background or experience in STEM content were able to “catch up” to their more experienced counterparts, implementing high-quality programming and demonstrating strong facilitation strategies.

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Seeing STEM Learning in Action

“When you’re riding a bicycle, what keeps you from falling off?”

That’s the question I was asked last week as I was standing outside a Rhode Island College classroom with two bicycle wheels (one large, one small) at my feet. I was participating in an activity led by “Everyday Explorers”—AmeriCorps members who teach STEM in after-school programs in Boston, New York, and Providence—as part of a two-day forum CBASS hosted on informal science education.

Florida Afterschool Network COO Joe Davis and the author test out principles of angular momentum.

Florida Afterschool Network COO Joe Davis and the author test out principles of angular momentum.

In case you’re wondering, the answer (mostly) is angular momentum. The Everyday Explorers demonstrated this principle as part of a broader lesson on Newton’s three laws. Activities included trying to change the direction of a spinning bicycle wheel and being spun around in a chair while holding bricks in outstretched arms—not exactly your typical science “lesson.”

This type of exercise was at the heart of the forum, held at the Rhode Island College STEM Center and Providence After School Alliance. The meeting was part of a national CBASS initiative, supported by the Noyce Foundation, to increase after-school staff members’ interest and confidence in teaching STEM and to engage city leaders in supporting STEM education after school. (Check out our FUSE resource guide for more information.)

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