The Chicago STEM OST convening included a wide array wonderful conversations, and many of these occurred in the numerous breakout sessions, where attendees were able to discuss issues, opportunities, and challenges in an array of areas pertaining to STEM OST work, and there was plenty of innovation and creation occurring in these dynamic groups. The rubber really hits the road when passionate, caring people gather around a cause as crucial as STEM in out-of-school time, and every breakout session found the room full of vibrant thinking and doing.
I started my tour of the breakout sessions with the Data and Data Systems session, led by Josh Kalov, Jameela Jafri, and Heather Thiry. People of diverse backgrounds, with a variety of interests in data collection and sharing, got together to discuss issues and best practices. We had people from national labs, grad students, museums, program directors, the City of Chicago, and more. The discussion revolved around data literacy, best practices for sharing and using data, and challenges related to data. After a demonstration from Josh of OpenGov, a data system that harvests public data, to help attendees learn about how they can use data to learn about and support their STEM OST efforts, discussion opened up, helping everyone get a better understanding of how to use data to support STEM engagement and student success.
My next stop was the Connected and Networked Learning session, led by Christian Greer. The questions were compelling at this session, exploring how we navigate the deluge of online media and learning networks to facilitate STEM learning. A major theme revolved around the idea that interdisciplinary connection spaces facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations. Teachers make connections, but the question that dominated this session revolved around how teachers can use technology resources, organizational tools, and each other to organize, connect, and improve. Among the other key issues that this group felt that people should be organizing around for a city-wide system in STEM, a common vision, an inventory of who is at the table, and a common application form instead of individual forms that would facilitate easy application by students were mentioned. How to get these things in place? The group felt that it’s important to think about blending the out-of-school with the in-school.
Next up was the Summer and STEM session, led by Peggy Espada, Hillary Stroud, and Liz McChesney, which explored how STEM programs could support summer learning loss-prevention, best practices for summer STEM programs, and how summer STEM fits into STEM education pathways. I walked into a session that found participants workshopping their best practices and ideas for STEM programs in the summer.
The Pathways to College and Careers session, led by Mike Davis and Tony Streit, found the crew talking about poop. Seriously. But, it had a purpose. They were talking about someone at the Lincoln Park Zoo who monitors animal, um, deposits, for various medical conditions, and the like. The point was that we want people, and kids in OST programs in particular, to understand that there are a range of career paths available to people who pursue STEM. We discussed professional develop for OST staff, the role of failure in student success (let students fail in a safe environment – it’ the best way to learn!), the learning curve in working with partners, and strategies for supporting college and career readiness in STEM OST.
The next stop was the Youth Experiences session led by Jeff McCarter and Michael Ramirez, where the group was discussing best practices for ensuring that OST programs put students at the center of programs. Making sure that programs are student-centric is key, and ensuring that their interests are represented, and a team of scientists, teachers, the youth, youth workers, and a number of other people need to come together to support successful programs.
Finally, I headed over to listen in on the Session on Partnering with CPS and City Agencies session, led by Rafael Rosa. Lots of great discussion went on about how to engage CPS as an individual or organization, and by extension, each other. A couple of important themes were communication, engaging teachers, and ensuring that collaboration was a two way street.
Stay tuned for our next post, where we’ll hear about the panel, as well as the report each breakout session gave to the conference group, and how much we learned from each other!