Pals in Professional Learning: WestEd and Discovery Place Education Studios

Guest blog post by Staceylyn Machi, professional development specialist in the Understanding Science for Teaching Project at WestEd. 

Whether you’re in a sandbox, a school, or an office, everyone needs good pals in life. During the 2014 Next Steps Institute, WestEd will lead the Creating Cross Sector Partnerships to Advance STEM Education pathway. We know from experience how important partnerships are when working to make an impact through STEM education. When developing the Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS), a project from WestEd’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, we found a pal in the Discovery Place Education Studios.

Who are we?

The MSS project produces best-in-class teacher professional development courses in science. We also provide facilitation academies to prepare facilitators to lead the courses for teachers. We are a small team and don’t have the capacity to provide our courses directly to teachers. Discovery Place Education Studios provides professional development to thousands of teachers, and they want to provide the best science professional development out there.

How did we become pals?

Obviously, MSS and DPES are great compliments to each other, but becoming pals didn’t happen overnight.

We met each other by chance, and over the years Discovery Place staff attended several MSS facilitation academies. We quickly realized that Discovery Place was well-organized with a staff of knowledgeable and passionate science educators. They valued our expertise in curriculum design for teachers and the techniques we use for facilitating collaborative teacher learning.

From this foundation of mutual respect, we built a partnership. Both organizations were clear about what they needed and what they could and could not offer. We called on our organizations’ contract and legal departments to help sort out the logistics. Thanks to conference call technology, we had plenty of remote play-dates.

What have we done thus far?

In June, MSS instructors led a facilitation academy for the Making Sense of SCIENCE: Energy teacher course at the Discovery Place. The successful academy reached many formal and informal educators. The participants were engaged and challenged by the course and impressed with Discovery Place’s state of the art facility and fantastic staff.

At the end of the week, compliments abounded. One participant shared, “Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us to help teachers and impact student learning.” Hearing them was like stepping back and watching the flag soar on top of the sandcastle.

What will happen next?

The key to maintaining our successful partnership is finding ways both organizations benefit. Soon, Discovery Place will lead the MSS: Energy and the MSS: Force & Motion courses for teachers at their fantastic Education Studios. This July, their staff will get first dibs on learning our brand new course, MSS: Genes & Traits.

We are excited to see how this partnership grows, and are looking forward to meeting new pals at the Next Steps Institute to play in the STEM sandbox!

Register for the Next Steps Institute!


STEM Evolving in Out-of-School Settings

This week, our partner Afterschool Alliance featured a guest blog post from us about the importance of collaboration between afterschool and in-school educators when working to implement STEM education.

The piece is a great reminder that education does not stop once school lets out. Today, we need well-prepared formal and informal educators that are dedicated to providing hands-on, engaging opportunities for young people to learn and explore the world we live in.

Check out the Afterschool Alliance’s blog, Afterschool Snack, and learn more about how STEM is evolving in out-of-school settings. To learn more about how to integrate STEM learning in your community, register for the Next Steps Institute, Washington, DC, Sept. 22-23, 2014.

Denver Youth Work to ‘Keep It Clean’

Guest blog post by Lydia Hooper, “Keep It Clean” Communications Liaison

Rain can be a welcome friend in Denver, CO, but it has a dark side as well: sweeping litter and pollutants that runoff from lawns and roads into Denver’s parks and waterways. Last fall, Denver Public Works installed a new green infrastructure system to improve the water quality at Huston Lake Park.

Fifth-grade students at Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA), one of Denver’s ten KIC-NET (Keep It Clean – Neighborhood Environmental Trios) sites, visited Huston Lake to test the water quality. KIC-NET is a hyperlocal urban watershed education program facilitated by Earth Force and funded by the EPA and State Farm. The program works to create natural connections among youth, their learning, and the community.

This type of real-world learning was recently put into action when students noticed construction along the lakeshore. Denver Public Works Senior Engineer Kevin Lewis explained to the students that the system worked to eliminate water pollutants, but that residents still needed to practice good wastewater management.


“If we didn’t go door-to-door then maybe Huston Lake would have even more trash.”

Interactions like this are critical for making connections between classroom curriculum and the real-world implications of what students are learning. Without meeting Lewis, students would not realize the important role they, and their community, play in keeping their waterways clean.

Inspired, students committed themselves to educating their community about the project and what neighbors could do to help keep the lake clean. They created a brochure and delivered it, with bags for collecting dog waste, to neighborhood households.

“I think [our KIC-NET project] was [important] because if we didn’t go door-to-door then maybe Huston Lake would have even more trash,” said student Eric.

Experiences like this are what make Earth Force, and the KIC-NET program, so powerful: communities and their young people mutually reinforcing and supporting one another. In order to create true change, you can’t have one without the other.