New Mexico is changing the way families think about math and science
The ideas that parents and family members carry about math and science can heavily influence a child’s own relationship with learning.
STEM-New Mexico (STEM-NM) is transforming deep-rooted fears about STEM by training families to develop mathematical mindsets that encourages conversation about math at home, as well as showcasing STEM within the community in ways families can understand.
STEM-NM runs two large family engagement initiatives to build strong STEM identities for children and inform families about key STEM career pathways: 12 Months of Math and Science Fiesta. Allison Brody and Mitchell Whittier lead the ecosystem work from their positions at Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum.
“There is a ton of great research that shows that families are critical in building a child’s STEM identity,” says Whittier. “Programs like our 12 Months of Math get the whole family involved with fun math activities and build confidence. We use resources developed by Jo Boaler out of Stanford, including free resources for caregivers on YouCubed.”
The ecosystem undertakes math achievement
The 12 Months of Math program was truly an ecosystem initiative. Convened by the United Way, a STEM stakeholder group completed a number of community listening sessions to better understand the greatest local needs.
“Our math achievement gap is one of the worst in the nation,” says Whittier. “So the ecosystem set out to increase the number of students graduating high school by focusing on math as a result of the listening sessions. Additionally, STEM career pathways became another opportunity as skills needed for workforce weren’t always being met.”
“We are also a minority – majority state,” says Brody. “This means that gap is even more significant, in that it affects proportionately more people. STEM-NM set out to close that gap.”
With Explora serving as the backbone, STEM-NM won an NSF INCLUDES grant to support two math initiatives: 1) 12 Months of Math, a community math project mirrored after San Diego STEM Ecosystem’s 52 Weeks of Science; and 2) deep, holistic work with the teachers, students and families of two schools to improve math achievement.
Meeting families where they are
As part of the family engagement work with schools, Explora hosts workshops at elementary schools for the local families. Events provide access to childcare for younger siblings and resources were always offered in English and Spanish.
Word of mouth by trusted community members has proven to be the most successful way to market online resources and math nights with parents and caregivers. “We made sure to work with parent liaisons at each school to recruit families to the events,” says Whittier. “Emails, texts and calls don’t work well without a relationship.”
In addition to leveraging school-family relationships, Explora has expanded work with ecosystem partners, like Catholic Charities, to introduce the work at their adult education courses. “We have also invited families to join the math nights and other events at popular events like the state fair and the local Balloon Fiesta,” says Brody. “These events attract a diverse array of people, including many of the audiences that are targets for us.”
Science Fiesta – fun and dialogue for the whole family
The Science Fiesta helps us showcase the importance of STEM in an entire community. It is much more than a traditional science festival,” says Brody. “We make sure that we show STEM in all different aspects of the community, especially in areas that might be contrary to what we’ve seen STEM look like before. Diverse representation of people, careers and what STEM looks like is very important.”
STEM-NM works with providers coming into Science Fiesta to give tips and tricks that will ensure the whole family is engaged. Providers are advised to ask adults questions during Fiesta activities and family members are included as part of the planning committee to offer valuable input.
Leveraging partnerships and technology, the ecosystem works to address barriers so all families are able to participate. Sponsorships allow families to attend the Science Fiesta for free and Explora offers activities that families can do in their home as well if they aren’t always able to travel to events. See at-home activities here.
Communicating science in the broadest ways possible
The ecosystem works with a number of different audiences, including families with English as a second language. Cultural context and relevance are considered in all family programming, especially when creating language translations.
STEM-NM presents science in the most general ways possible. “We always include a diverse representation of providers and careers at Science Fiesta to keep things accessible,” says Brody. “Sometimes some of our audiences haven’t had the opportunity to build a STEM identity yet, so we communicate science in the broadest terms and find as many different interpretations of science, math, and art-based STEM careers as we are able to find.”
STEM-NM creates resources for families to talk about career pathways in those inclusive manners. Career Pathways graphic
Feedback from events
The ecosystem is taking a deeper look at the best ways to gather feedback from events. Survey completion has been a pain point in previous years.
Brody gives a visual at just how difficult collecting survey data has been by describing Science Fiesta as a large, open air festival, with people entering and exiting from a number of locations throughout the day. Understaffed survey ‘turn-in’ stations were not successful.
“We have found that putting the surveys in the hands of families brings the most success,” says Brody. “We have equipped staff at the doors with clipboards and pens, which has yielded greater success, but we are always looking for ways to improve.”
- A single conversation isn’t enough to build a relationship. Leverage trusted community leaders to get the work done.
- Feedback is important. Sometimes it is necessary to dedicate more resources, like staff, to ensure valuable feedback is collected.
- Listen to the community. Include diverse stakeholders on your planning teams.
- Language and cultural context are extremely important in successfully engaging families.
STEM-NM is New Mexico’s nationally designated STEM Learning Ecosystem. We are working to increase equity in and access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) experiences for students in our community in order to prepare them for jobs in our local science, technology, and health care sectors.
We are a network of organizations throughout New Mexico working together to prepare our students with the STEM background needed to enter the 21st century workforce. We are a geographically and organizationally diverse group of institutions collaborating to expand equity in and access to STEM education.