Why Cultivate STEM Learning Ecosystems?

Courtesy Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP)

Young people can and should experience STEM learning everywhere.  How can organizations – across sectors – work together to cultivate a diverse array of connected STEM learning opportunities for every young person?

STEM Learning Ecosystems provide the architecture for optimizing cross-sector learning, offering all young people access to STEM-rich learning environments so they can develop important skills and engagement in science, technology, engineering and math throughout preK-16.

Strong STEM Learning Ecosystems feature dynamic collaborations among schools, out-of-school time programs, STEM expert institutions (such as museums, science centers, institutions of higher education and STEM professional associations), the private sector, community-based organizations, youth and families. In most places, a lead organization brings together stakeholders to create and connect learning opportunities for young people and sustains momentum over time.

These collaborations work to understand STEM education challenges, pinpoint gaps, define goals and launch, expand and connect initiatives. They also share wisdom, effective practices and data. They nurture partnerships across sectors, contributing to stakeholders’ mutual goals.

In STEM ecosystems, educators from all sectors have access to high-quality professional development and support, often in ways that enable them to learn and teach alongside educators from different settings.

Strong STEM ecosystems create multiple pathways to STEM mastery and careers for all young people—particularly for those who have not had equal opportunity to succeed in the STEM fields: young people of color, economically-disadvantaged young people, girls and young people with disabilities.


Robust STEM Learning Ecosystems have the potential to:

Seek out and successfully engage young people historically under-represented in STEM to participate in high-quality, diverse and interconnected STEM learning experiences.

Design and connect STEM learning opportunities to reflect the reality of young people’s lives: learning not just in school but out-of-school, online, home and in daily life.

Equip all STEM educators to understand the multiple learning contexts of young people and successfully lead them in active, collaborative and rigorous learning.

Provide experiences in multiple settings that enable young people to build complex skills, including how to design, test and revise solutions to real-world problems, and to work collaboratively with adults and peers.

Encourage young people to experience the joy of learning and the rewards of persistence through unhurried opportunities to tinker, experiment and explore areas of interest.

Actively engage young people in science, engineering and mathematical practices, as detailed in the Next Generation Science Standards and other similar state standards for science education and the Common Core State Standards.

Nurture young people’s “STEM identity,” or self-perception of competence in STEM. STEM Learning Ecosystems can do this by engaging them in challenging, relevant problem-solving on issues they care about; publicly recognizing them for their efforts; and helping their parents and guardians support their pursuit of and interest in STEM.

Ensure parents and guardians have the capacity to support their children’s STEM success by understanding the pathways to further STEM education and careers and accessing consistent guidance and resources.

Assess what young people know and are able to do in diverse ways that are understood and respected across settings. New assessment strategies include use of such tools as digital badges, e-portfolios or other competency-based ways they can demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge.

Ensure young people have opportunities to meet and build mentoring relationships with STEM professionals from similar backgrounds who serve as role models. STEM Learning Ecosystems ensure that young people are taught, from an early age, about a range of STEM career possibilities.

Connect preK-12 STEM learning, in and out-of-school, to post-secondary and STEM career opportunities. Match STEM learning pathways to the changing needs of STEM higher education and workforce.

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