Update on Our Equity in High School STEM Implementation Grantee Projects

As we embark on the next decade of our network continuing our focus to address the STEM teacher shortage while also centering belonging in STEM for Black, Latinx, and Native American students, we are excited to highlight ways we are currently supporting partners  to implement work that advances belonging in their local contexts. Below, we tell the story of the connectedness between our belonging research, the unCommission, and our recent implementation grants. Then, we share specific updates on the work of our implementation grantees and highlight how their work is currently exploring the concept of belonging. 

Last year in 2021, we began to experiment with opportunities that would deepen our work to address shared challenges in STEM education. We did this by launching Communities, a less structured version of our more well-known Project Team program. This program brought partners in the network together to collaboratively address challenges related to Equity in High School STEM, our third and most race-explicit catalyst. We were impressed by the energy  related to this catalyst and saw an opportunity to further support the implementation of these learnings and outputs in partners’ day-to-day roles. This is how the idea of implementation grants came about and, to date, we have provided ten implementation grants to communities and project team members that were bringing to life  work related to equity in high school STEM. 

While we were expanding our catalyst work through these implementation grants, we were also grappling with the direction of our next moonshot goal. In the Fall of 2021, 100Kin10 launched the unCommission, a massive, diverse, and participatory opportunity for young people who have been most excluded from STEM to share their experiences navigating their STEM learning journeys. Belonging rose as a central theme from this initiative and has since served as a north star for our work. The energy around our equity focused catalyst and the focus on belonging led us to grapple with the question: what factors impact a student’s sense of belonging? 

To answer this, we reviewed numerous resources, spoke with nearly 60 from various sectors who brought unique perspectives on the topic of belonging and led an analysis of our catalyst project team work. This led us to identify four major contributors to fostering a student’s sense of belonging: 
-Institutional Structures: state, district, and school policies, laws, and regulations that impact a student and teacher’s experience in the classroom
-Instructional Practices: norms, pedagogical tactics, and social dynamics in classrooms
-Teacher Belonging: the perspective that teachers can best foster belonging for their students when they experience belonging themselves
-Mindset: defined as belonging being a muscle, skillset, or belief system that enables feeling comfort in oneself and navigating changing external factors and settings

Though the implementation grant work began before we knew the important role belonging would play in our work moving forward, we are excited to have found inherent synergy between partners focused on work related to Equity in High School STEM and our new focus on fostering belonging in STEM classrooms, particularly for Black, Latinx and Native American students and teachers. All of our ten grantees, whose projects are summarized below, address challenges that sit at the intersection of Belonging and Equity in High School STEM. Below you will find a summary highlighting each grantee’s  progress, grouped by the factors that contribute to student belonging that their project most directly addresses. 

Implementation Grantee Summaries 

The following projects highlight the power in utilizing Instructional Practices as a method of fostering belonging in classrooms. 

Advancing Equity in STEM Education 
Rebecca Vieyra and the team from PhET Interactive Simulations at University of Colorado Boulder initiated this project to do the following: (1) Build off the work of the Empowering Teachers to Close STEM Education Opportunity Gaps with a Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) Toolkit and Instructional Strategies that Promote Classroom Equity project teams by co-designing an equity framework to align professional development offerings based on their learnings. (2) Identify four high school teachers that will serve as PhET STEM Equity Advocates to work with the PhET team. (3) Design, deploy, and evaluate a 45-hour “Equity in STEM: PhET Virtual Workshop” for ~50 high school STEM teachers that has the potential to impact thousands of students nation-wide.

Rebecca and her team are in the process of actualizing this work and have received additional funding to build capacity for expanding this project. More specifically, they have formed a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) advisory board composed of 14 individuals (four students and ten teachers) and 13 out of the 14 identify as BIPOC. They have also hired a STEM equity consultant who is a former educator and PhET user bringing expertise in equity to ultimately build capacity for the PhET team. They have expanded their timeline for this work and are in a season of pre-planning for the workshops that will happen at the top of next year. 

Empowering Teachers to Close STEM Education Opportunity Gaps with a Culturally Responsive Education Toolkit
NMSI and teachHouston have partnered together to create a CRE (Culturally Responsive Education) STEM Toolkit that would support environments, curricula, and instructional methods that validate and reflect the diversity, identities, and lived experiences of all students in the state of Texas. The intention of the toolkit implementation is to better reflect students' cultural and linguistic diversity, and simultaneously ensure that all teachers are equipped and resourced to empower students with STEM in a culturally responsive way. In particular, the aim of their project is to reach high school STEM teachers/educators, curriculum leads, professional development leads and resource hubs in the state of Texas.Their plan is to disseminate the toolkit through workshops, professional development opportunities and newsletters. 

Exploring Contemplative Pedagogy 
Sunyata Smith, a professor at Lehman College CUNY, proposed a project that addresses the lack of STEM belonging experienced by traditionally underrepresented groups, as well as the lack of multicultural competencies among educators from across the country. This project was inspired by the work of the Instructional Strategies that Promote Classroom Equity project team, where they explored pedagogical strategies to enhance equity in the classroom.

The work of Sunyata’s project includes developing a professional learning community for in-service high school STEM teachers focused on the use of contemplative pedagogy, a method of teaching and learning that fosters deep learning through the cultivation of awareness, attention, and introspection. She hopes the use of contemplative pedagogy (CP) will enhance equity, promote STEM belonging and assist teachers to develop equitable instructional practices that empower student voice.

Sunyata has begun this work and received significant interest in the professional learning community. The participation of this community is broken up into two phases. Phase one includes an 8 week online training course where participants will deepen their understanding of CP, practice techniques like mindfulness before co-designing strategies to incorporate contemplative pedagogy into their STEM curricula. During phase two, teachers will implement CP into the classroom and refine their practice as part of a professional learning community. Sunyata is also pursuing additional funding that would expand this work and allow her to serve more educators. 

Liberatory STEM Pedagogy

This project, led by Gideon Weinstein, a Senior Course Instructor at Western Governors University, aims to expand the availability of online resources on Liberatory STEM Pedagogy for teachers. Specifically, through live trainings (virtual, on-site, or hybrid), he will share newly developed curriculum tools to encourage teachers to implement Liberatory STEM Pedagogy.  

Gideon made the decision to switch from critical to liberatory STEM pedagogy as it gives special attention to the social, political, cultural and economic contexts of oppression, as they can be understood through STEM. Liberatory STEM Pedagogy also demands action promoting reforms in support of more just and equitable social, political, cultural and economic life. Gideon sees Liberatory STEM pedagogy as a tool that, when utilized, could not only inspire students (particularly Black, Latinx and Native American students) to not only identify challenges in STEM but do something about it. Gideon has developed partnerships with other departments in the WGU system that have assisted with marketing and advertising of his training.

 Unconventional STEM Career Pathways (Career Changers)

This project led by Katherine Wilcox, the Executive Director from Encorps STEM Teachers, aims to engage teachers who want to make the case for culturally responsive STEM teachers so that students can see themselves in STEM curricula, fields, and careers. She is utilizing the toolkit created by her Community Team, Unconventional STEM Career Pathways to provide career changers who are going into education, professional development and support as they navigate the process of entering a new community and engaging with students that come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Most recently, Encorps hosted their annual Summer Institute that provides Educators the opportunity to learn the latest instructional techniques and strategies for educating the next generation of STEM leaders, to build their professional network with other STEM teachers, and to share best practices and ideas with each other in a supportive, inspiring environment. The two days professional development event had educators participate in expert-led interactive sessions, reflect and learn from each other in small group sessions, and hear keynote presentations from leaders and experts in the STEM education field. One of these presenters was Sheldon Eakins, founder of the Leading Equity Center. They will continue to partner with Sheldon, who will lead nine additional sessions starting in August. Earlier in the year, they also hosted a spring institute, which is where their Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) committee, formed from the response to racial injustice happening around the country, presented the Toolkit for Teacher’s Self-advocacy around Social Justice in STEM

Rethinking Intro to Education through a Racial Equity and Justice Lens
Dewayne Morgan (University System of Maryland), Allison Little (Massachusetts Department of Higher Education), Sophia Keong (Ohio State University), and Zee Cline (California State University) built off the work from their Rethinking Intro to Education through a Racial Equity and Justice Lense project team, focused on exploring the impact of redesigning introductory education courses. Specifically, their team investigated how shifting these courses from being a class about pedagogy and learning to one focused on the history of schooling through a racial equity and justice lens, could appeal to a broader audience and bring more students of color into the teaching field.

This led the project team to create a syllabus that serves as a guide for professors who were interested in using this approach to teach their course. This project is focused on supporting professors and their institutions to use the syllabus to design their course. Currently, they are supporting four professors from Georgia State University, Augsburg University, Bridgewater State University and University of South Florida to teach the course this fall. Additionally, the professors are participating in cohort touchpoints that will help provide the team that will build their capacity to execute the course while also providing Allison, Dewayne and the ongoing project team with some initial data on how to improve the syllabus and impact of the course of preservice teacher diversity. 

The following team address Teacher Belonging as a method for fostering belonging for students. 

Supporting STEM Education in Tribal Communities
This project continued the work of the Supporting STEM Education in Tribal Communities project team led by Talia Martin and Melinda Higgins, focused on providing educators as well as outreach and engagement practitioners a resource that will help them frame initial interactions with federally recognized Tribes and Alaska Native communities. The resource will suggest ways a user could begin interactions with Tribal leaders and staff while recognizing tribal sovereignty as well as the uniqueness and individuality of each Tribe. Specifically, this project has three goals: gather authentic feedback to determine if the resource improves communication, leverage the opportunity to bring free STEM resources to tribal schools, and finally, help alleviate burden on the tribal communities when engaging outside entities for STEM education opportunities. Recently this team traveled to Fort Hall Idaho and Santa Fe, New Mexico and held four focus groups to get feedback on the resource. Specifically, they spoke with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Pueblo of Jemez, Pueblo of Pojoaque and Pueblo of San Ildefonso Tribal members. 

Expanding Understandings of Mathematical Concepts, Algorithms, Histories and Cultures, to Pursue Solutions that Matter
Vanessa Cerrahoglu from the Orange County Department of Education created this project to develop professional learning opportunities that engage in-service educators in reflective practices that foster a sense of belonging, identity, and agency in students who are historically underserved in high school STEM courses. They are building from the work of the Standards for Culturally Relevant Mathematical Practice and Inquiry project team. At the root of this work is broadening the way we think about what doing mathematics means. Vanessa set out to identify a path educators can take in moving toward classrooms where more students feel heard and seen in STEM classrooms. Currently, there are four teachers enrolled in the learning community and they are planning to kick off in September. There will be four synchronous sessions during the Fall and she is currently in the process of revamping the content that will be used for the learning community. 

The following teams address how shifting one’s mindset can be a tool for fostering belonging for students. 

Advancing Self-Advocacy Social Justice In STEM 
Emily Dilger, the Chief Education Officer at Ignited, is continuing the work of the Unconventional STEM Career Pathways community team by disseminating their toolkit to teachers in their summer program. This toolkit provides teachers with tools to seek support from stakeholders for integrating inclusive pedagogy in STEM classrooms. Specifically, the toolkit provides background information on how to learn more about social justice and incorporate it in the classroom as instructional leaders. The toolkit resources include suggestions for finding supporters of bringing social justice into the STEM classroom, example anecdotes from other teachers, research-supported examples, and a stakeholder letter template for teachers to use to gather support for their own classrooms. Earlier this year, Ignited trained seven curriculum coaches on the toolkit in preparation for their summer program, an 8-week experience that engaged around 100 educators. These coaches disseminated the toolkit to teachers in their summer program as they were building out their lesson plans. They also hosted a social justice workshop for all of the teachers led by Kathryn Ribay, PhD, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at San José State University.

Looking Ahead 

This work from our partners serves as a powerful bridge between our last decade of work and our decade to come. We look forward to continuing to follow this work and build upon it as we embark on our next moonshot, centered explicitly on belonging.  

We also have five grantees who are implementing work related to Foundational Math. If you’re interested in learning more about the work of those grantees, click here. We will be connecting with all our grantees again later in the year, so please be on the lookout for those updates.