Working Collectively to Change STEM Education

This week, stakeholders from across the country came together in Washington DC to work on advancing STEM education at the Next Steps Institute. With folks from Colorado, Alabama, Michigan, Arizona, and across the eastern seaboard, we saw the powerful impact of working together towards a common goal.

Cindy Hasselbring, the Special Assistant to the State Superintendent: Special Projects – MD, spoke about how we as educators and influencers need to change the way we brand STEM. Instead of saying we’re all  ‘nerds’ or that ‘math is hard’, we need to say ‘math is hard, it’s challenging, and it can be fun to be challenged.’


Dennis Chestnut, Executive Director of GroundworkDC spoke of the integration of 21st century skills through science, saying, “Science is asking questions and then working to try to find the answers to those questions.”

Throughout the two-days, participants worked in specific pathways of learning to dig deep, and to explore connections and solutions in areas of environment and sustainability, agriculture, cross-sector partnerships, and engineering.

On day two, Kim Cherry, the Deputy Chief of STEM at District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), spoke of the urgency around STEM, especially with minority students, saying, “If we continue to produce a community of test takers, we will fail. We need to produce a community of learners and thinkers.”

NSI2014 2

Jay Labov, a Senior Advisor for Education and Communications for the National Research Council, brought the Institute full-circle with a two-hour interactive session to put the knowledge gained into action. Labov stressed that it will take a concerted effort of dedicated partners working together to truly improve STEM education in the United States.

Attendees participated in a role-play activity, where everyone assumed a role within the education field (educator, corporation, administration, university, etc.) and brought their individual concerns to the table. Together, the groups came together to create a common agenda. It gave participants a glimpse into the work it takes to gain buy-in, balance compromise, and create a strong foundation towards change.

Thank you to all those that made the 2014 Next Steps Institute possible including CHS, DuPont, General Motors, and Carolina Biological. Also, thank you to our support partners STEMconnector, Afterschool Alliance, NOAA, WestEd, DCEEC, and the Smithsonian Science Education Center.

The Power of People in Collective Impact

Having worked within a Collective Impact framework for the past four years, one thing has become apparent: it’s about people.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review released an interesting article in Fall 2014 about the necessity of mindset shifts in addition to the five conditions of Collective Impact: a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support.

Read more about Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Better Together: Earth Force CEO Shares 20 Years of Community Problem-Solving

Lisa Bardwell Sixteen years ago, I was on an academic career path that revolved around finding ways to better engage people in the decisions that shape their communities and that impact their environment, health, and quality of life. I had researched ways to better elicit people’s commitment, energy, and good-thinking, based on what we called the Reasonable Person Model. The premise for this model is pretty simple – people will rise to important challenges and behave quite reasonably, given circumstances where they:

a) Understand what is going on;

b) Are valued, asked for input, and have meaningful choices; and

c) Feel like what they are doing truly makes a difference.

Imagine my surprise, when I came to Earth Force to find a real-world test of those strategies. Earth Force’s six-step Process manifests everything I would have predicted should work:

  • It helps groups look at and understand their community.
  • It provides a structure for people to work together with opportunities for them to evaluate and make choices together.
  • It helps them break big issues into meaningful chunks and supports them in actually doing something about those issues.

And it does it with young people.

How could I not find myself captivated by the opportunity to be part of an organization that, at its core, believes that we can find ways to solve problems together, and that looks to our young people to model the way?

Certainly, over the last 20 years, Earth Force has had to change to meet the challenges of the times, but it has held true to this core. Today, I remain captivated, challenged, and amazed at the enduring relevance of this organization.

And that path I was on? It now follows the trail laid by the experience and feedback of hundreds of thousands of young people who have infused their passion, creativity, and energy into working together. They (and their educators) have told us that “doing Earth Force” made a difference in how they view themselves, each other, and their communities and environment. It is paved with the history of the thousands of projects that youth have imagined and implemented. And, I get to walk it with those young people and the hundreds of partners who believe in the potential and promise of our young people. Please join us!

Earth Force celebrates 20 years on the Cherry Blossom Riverboat on September 22, 2014. Please join us or contribute to the next 20 years of engaging youth and changing communities.