Ecosystem Spotlight: STEM-NM New Mexico’s Nationally Designated STEM Learning Ecosystem

Ecosystem Spotlight: STEM-NM New Mexico’s Nationally Designated STEM Learning Ecosystem
September 27, 2018

STEM-NM gained inspiration and ideas from another Ecosystem program to engages students and families in practical, job-related math activities.

In the question and answers below, Allison Brody, a leader of the STEM-NM ecosystem, shares details about how the program operates. Be sure to visit the resource library on the STEM Learning Ecosystem Community of Practice website for more details about the program.

Q: Please describe the program 12 Months of Math

A: The program, 12 Months of Math, a project of STEM-NM, includes a variety of activities, events, and resources to help Albuquerque families engage with math and help them prepare for good jobs in local industries, including science, technology, and health care.

Each month focuses on the math skills needed for different careers, including agriculture, computer science, finance, engineering, and more.

September’s theme of food & agriculture employed various mathematical concepts and tools that are regularly used in farming and ranching to estimate yields, plan for seed, fertilizer, water, and feed requirements and prepare products for market.

Working with our September action partner, the NMSU Bernalillo County  Cooperative Extension Service 4-H, STEM-NM offered two 12 Months of Math events: a booth at the New Mexico State Fair, and a school field trip day to the Bernalillo County Extension complex. The activities created for these events provided concrete examples of math in food and agriculture while highlighting the various STEM careers associated with the agriculture industry.

Q: What activities are offered in connection with 12 Months of Math?

A: For the New Mexico State Fair, 12 Months of Math activities included: (1) a life-sized print of a horse – measuring the horse using standardized and non-standardized measuring tools; (2) predicting how high a pygmy goat might jump (compared to a child) – recording and comparing data on large-format graph paper; (3) using a refractometer to measure the sugar content in various juices and drinks; and (4) asking families to record how comfortable they are with math.

Other STEM-NM partners also participated, bringing robotics demonstrations and other information about STEM activities for families.

For the 4-H school field trip day, scheduled for September 20, students will be divided into small groups and will visit 5 different activity stations: (1) visit a horse and hear from a 4-H Extension Agent about non-standard measurements, conversions, the math behind feeding and caring for horses, and career opportunities with horses; (2) beef products and the math behind beef production; (3) the NM Department of Agriculture will do a presentation about pollinators (how bees do math) and the math of pests and agriculture; (4) a visit to the Urban Farm Oasis garden, which donates 100 pounds of food each year to homeless shelters – the presentation will include how research is done on this small plot and the math of composting; and (5) the math of germ defense in food sciences.

Q: How many students and families take part in the initiative?

A: We estimated about 400 families participated in the 12 Months of Math activities at the State Fair this past Friday (September 14); another 200-250 students, teachers and chaperones are expected on September 20 for the 4-H school field trip. Explora will also host a repeat of these activities at Explora on September 23 – probably another 100-150 people will participate at that point.

Q: What do you hope they take away from the experience?

A: This is our second year partnering with 4-H for Math in Agriculture. Here is an evaluation report prepared by Brittany Sonntag, Urban 4-H Agent, from last September:

“At the completion of the agriculture showcase, teachers and youth completed an evaluation. Youth were given a paper clover evaluation to fill out. They were asked in two of the clovers to list one thing they learned about math in agriculture. A total of 206 responses were received. A review of the clovers showed that each youth that attended the showcase left with at least one new fact about math in agriculture. Additionally, 70.30% of youth were able to recall two math facts learned from the showcase. In the 3rd clover, youth were asked one thing they are still wanting to know about math in agriculture. A total of 38.46% wanted to know how other animals use math. On the final clover, youth were asked to list their favorite part. A total of 72.73% said their favorite part was learning about the animals, while 23.23% enjoyed interacting with the animals the most. One youth stated, “I had no idea there was so much math in my food!”, while another claimed, “learning about math with the animals was way more fun than a normal day in the classroom! I bet I will remember this stuff”. These results show that the youth who attended the showcase had increased their knowledge around the math in agriculture as well as increased their aspirations to learn more around the topics.

A survey of the teachers showed that 57.14% of teachers felt their youths’ knowledge of math in agriculture increased a lot by participating in the program, while 42.85% felt their youths’ knowledge of math in agriculture increased some due to participating in the program. None of the teachers felt their youth left with no increase in knowledge of the math in agriculture. Additionally, 100% of teachers felt their youth left that day with a greater understanding of the importance of agriculture in their daily life. One teacher said,

“This has been one of the best field trips I have taken my students on. I really feel the students were engaged in the lessons and will be leaving today with a much greater appreciation and understanding of agriculture. The spin of adding the math will significantly contribute to what we are doing in class and I plan to keep the theme of agriculture going”.

Long term evidence of the program’s impact was observed by the 4-H Agents in subsequent visits to the participating schools. During such visits, the 4-H Agents both observed and participated in conversations around the agricultural math facts the youth learned while participating in the program. Furthermore, the preliminary evidence suggests that the impact of this program will indeed help to increase the mathematical literacy of youth, especially minority youth, over time.”

Q: Whose idea was this project?

The original idea derived from a STEM Funders Network/STEM Learning Ecosystem presentation we saw at a conference – the Fleet Science Center presented about their “52 Weeks of Science” Ecosystem initiative. Paired with our research-based goal of addressing Central New Mexico’s math achievement gap, the STEM-NM Leadership team developed the 12 Months of Math initiative. The Fleet Science Center was incredibly generous in sharing their original planning and budget documents.

Q: Who operates “12 Months of Math?”

Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum is the backbone organization for STEM-NM. We have several staff members who work on the 12 Months of Math project each month, including our Webmaster, STEM Learning Coordinator, Educators and the Director of Education. We find a STEM-NM action partner each month to co-create the month’s events and activities (see attached planning document).

Q: Can you please explain some of the challenges with operating this program?

A: One of our challenges is that planning and implementing this program is complicated – the many moving parts include: finding action partners each month to collaborate with; co-creating activities and finding events; developing and posting web-based resources; staffing and facilitating events; and reporting and documenting each event. We have recognized that the project has been under-staffed, and have recently been able to bring on an additional .5 FTE to manage STEM-NM, including the 12 Months of Math program.

We find a STEM-NM action partner each month to co-create the month’s events and activities (see planning documents below).