Design Principles

Design Principles

We all live within ecosystems. Cultivating a STEM Learning Ecosystem to meet the needs of all young people requires intentional and strategic action toward shared goals. 

Each STEM Learning Ecosystem is unique in design and practice, but we suggest the following design principles to help guide this work:

  1. There is no one right way, no ‘correct model’ for cultivating STEM Learning Ecosystems.
  2. Ecosystems are complex and messy, and not necessarily linear. The goal of ecosystem cultivation is not to design the same STEM experience for all young people—but to maximize, grow and connect STEM learning opportunities so all young people have access to robust and connected learning experiences along pathways that are individualized according to their own interests.
  3. Cultivating ecosystems requires a credible, highly engaged lead organization committed to collaborative practice.
  4. Ecosystems cultivation features dynamic partnerships and diverse partners who share respect for each others’ roles across sectors. The collaboration works by attending to the ‘enlightened self-interest’ of all partners.
  5.  Ecosystems cultivators embrace the values, beliefs, interests and strengths of diverse cultures representative of the communities they serve. Stakeholders welcome non-traditional partners and experiment with creative new ways to partner across sectors.
  6. Identifying and eliminating barriers to equitable access to high-quality STEM learning for all young people is a key driver of ecosystem cultivation.
  7. STEM learning ecosystems are grounded in the National Research Council’s Framework for K12 Science EducationSurrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments and Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, as well as other research about how young people learn and develop.
  8. Practices promote active, inquiry-based learning to 1) build students’ competence and self-efficacy in STEM; 2) deepen their understanding of their current and future potential to solve complex problems; and 3) strengthen their social-emotional skills, including persistence, resiliency, creativity, problem-solving and collaboration.
  9. Ecosystem cultivators value transparency and understand that data sharing and data-based decision making are critical.
  10. Collaborators prioritize time for reflection and peer exchange, among and between practitioners engaged in implementing cross-sector strategies and organizational leaders focused on sustaining these efforts.


Key Stakeholders in a STEM Learning Ecosystem include:

  • A credible, highly engaged lead organization committed to collaborative practice
  •  Schools and school districts
  • Out-of-school time (OST) systems/programs
  • STEM-expert museums and science centers
  • Institutions of higher education
  • STEM-related companies
  • Businesses that recognize the need for STEM competencies
  • Libraries
  • Community-based organizations
  • Philanthropies
  • Families and parent organizations
  • Youth organizations

Next Steps for Your STEM Learning Ecosystem

Visit the Strategies section of this website to see how communities are bringing cross-sector partners together to cultivate STEM learning ecosystems.


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