An Examination of Northeast Florida STEM2 Hub’s success with state policy and budgeting
Kathleen Schofield, the leader of Florida’s STEM2 Hub, became a LEAD STEM fellow in 2017, joining the inaugural class of STEM leaders to enter the formal training program operated by the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice.
“I felt like I was at a place in my life and in my career where I needed to expand my viewpoint and learn how to have a greater impact,” Schofield wrote about her decision to join the program. “My role was changing in my ecosystem, and I knew that I needed to learn a new set of leadership skills if I were going to grow as a leader.”
She explained that the national ecosystem work was inspiring. “I wanted to play a bigger role in the national work, learn more strategies about impacting policy, and have a bolder vision to set impossible goals for my region, and then work to achieve those goals,” she wrote.
Schofield’s LEAD STEM capstone project, “Exploring in the STEP (Solve/Tinker/Explore/Play) Lab was inspired by her fear that schools were not moving quickly enough to reach every learner who needed deep and meaningful exposure to computer science, coding, robotics and other STEM activities. As part of her project, she spent considerable time talking to and learning from many ecosystem partners and discovered that there was a serious need for comprehensive teacher preparation and professional development for 21st century skills.
DEVELOPING A PLACE
With several partners, including the College of Education at the University of North Florida and numerous visioning meetings, the decision was made that a “place” needed to be developed. That place would be where teachers could come to learn new skills, where educational leaders could learn to teach in a new learning environment, and where preservice teachers could learn the skills needed to enter their careers with a thorough understanding of problem-solving and critical thinking that robotic technologies and making environments could foster.
The decision was made to house the place at the university with sister spaces strategically located in school districts so that local capacity would be built, and teachers would have a place to explore and learn with their students. Numerous partners came to help imagine what the space should look like and how it should function, including teachers from surrounding school districts, university faculty members, members of the business community, statewide education officials, IKEA, Google, LEGO Education, the MIT Media Lab and others. Flexible furniture, robots, 3D printers and more started to fill the lab.
LANDING A STATE APPROPRIATION
While plans for the space and its design continued, Gary Chartrand, the founder and major benefactor of STEM2 Hub, knew that acquiring state funding would accelerate the work at a tremendous pace. Chartrand set the foundation and made the connections for the STEM2 Hub to work through the legislative process to request a local appropriation. With significant guidance and support from Chartrand, Schofield worked by his side to working on an appropriation for workforce development to expand equitable access to robotics, computer science, high quality mathematics instruction and to expand after-school programs that prepare students to be critical and flexible thinkers.
In spring 2018, Schofield received word that the STEM2 Hub’s first appropriation was approved and $975,000 was earmarked for expanding access to robotics, computer science and coding, building deep fundamental math skills for teachers, increasing access to robotics in the school day, and exploring new and emerging technologies, such as drones and augmented/virtual reality in the schools. After a successful implementation year, the STEM2 Hub has once again been approved for a second appropriation that will continue and expand the work.
As with many of the initiatives of STEM2 Hub, Schofield credits Chartrand with providing the leadership, know-how and introductions that enabled the success. “I didn’t know any of these people in the beginning, or how to do this. And the first time Gary told me to get in front of a state legislative committee, I was like a deer in the headlights,” she said. “I didn’t even know where to start! And I have made mistakes, but Gary always guides me and helps me learn. Thanks to his leadership, so many students are having experiences that just would never have been possible.”
When news arrived that funds would be available to work with school districts, Schofield began to focus on the details of building an implementation plan. She started developing and implementing an outreach plan, meeting with district superintendents and curriculum leaders, pitching the idea of starting to expand access to robots, coding, 3D printing and makerspaces to their media centers, starting in the elementary schools.
“As buy in continued to build excitement around the region grew. We knew that this work was going to make a huge difference to our children. We developed a bold implementation plan with a heavy focus on professional development that would help us to build capacity,” she said.
Addressing the needs of preservice teachers to learn more of these skills before college graduation, The STEP Lab continues to be a work in process, and the partnership continues to grow. As of May, 2019, the College of Education awarded the first 10 educators with the newly developed Computer Science Educator Cord, indicating that they are graduating ready to introduce computer science and robotics to students in their classrooms. Preservice teacher preparation will be critical to a sustainable effort to expand access to computer science, Schofield remarked.
Its implementation plan shifted from elementary media centers to middle school science courses – a shift in thinking that has opened new doors for the project.
AFFECTING SYSTEM CHANGE
Reflecting on the project, Schofield said, “I did not anticipate how much deeper the project will need to go to affect a complete system change that is needed to truly prepare teachers for the needs of our students, and for the workforce. I also did not realize or anticipate up front that my work, funded through this project would, in fact, be the catalyst for such a change!
“But what I found was that there is a team of people working with us on this project that are ready to engage, partner, and help us take the project to the next level, bringing in additional content, curriculum, and expertise. I also realized that inventing the tools to prepare teachers to empower children to solve problems that we do not yet know about or understand is a challenge and a mindset shift in itself.”
STEM2 Hub envisions high-quality, culturally relevant STEM learning experiences for every child and young person. In STEM2 Hub’s view of Northeast Florida, students should have access to and possess a sense of belonging in STEM and lifelong learning pathways that extend across formal and informal K–12 and higher education settings, including schools, science centers, and other STEM-rich institutions. A STEM education, comprised of the following six core principles, holds promise for powerfully transforming all students’ access to and engagement in STEM.