To further our mission of transforming K-12 Education Through Science™, the Smithsonian Science and Education Center (SSEC) is dedicated to positioning ourselves as leaders in STEM education equity by making K-12 STEM education more accessible and inclusive to diverse audiences across all platforms and communities.
The Smithsonian Institution interacts with tens of millions of visitors around the globe and reaches millions of students through its education initiatives. This scale of engagement–through in-person and online spaces—allows us unique perspective and insights as we seek to support the critical work of training the next generation of scientists and scholars. It requires us to hold ourselves accountable to amplifying the message that, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) must share equal weight in conversations regarding STEM education and its design.
To that end, we have adopted the American Alliance for Museums’ definitions of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion first published in their Facing Change report:
Diversity All the ways that people are different and the same and the individual and group level
Equity Fair and just treatment of all members
Accessibility Giving equitable entry to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience
Inclusion Ensuring diverse individuals fully participate in all aspects of the work including decision making and engineering solutions
Our goal is that all students at all education levels see high-quality STEM education and STEM careers as accessible to them. We are also committed that we operate as an organization that abides by these principles.
Through this initiative, we have several objectives
- Objective 1: Increasing the diversity of the STEM teaching workforce
- Objective 2: Supporting STEM teachers of English Learners
- Objective 3: Integrating accessibility and inclusive/universal design practices in STEM classrooms for students with disabilities
- Objective 4: Sparking girls’ interest in STEM to prepare them for the future workforce
- Objective 5: Addressing the summer skills gap by providing summer enrichment programming to students in high-needs areas
Objective 1: Increasing the diversity of the STEM teaching workforce
Problem: Representation matters. Research suggests that teachers are an influencing factor in a student’s motivations and aspirations; and students have more positive experiences with educators who look like them (Redding, 2019) However, the current teaching workforce does not reflect the diversity of the student body within our Nation’s classrooms.
Solution: Current investments in increasing diversity in the STEM teaching workforce are concentrated in recruitment, leaving out other viable solutions, such as investments in retention and creating pathways to leadership. Improving recruitment, retention and engagement in leadership development among teachers of color will increase the overall number of teachers from minority groups and enable more teachers to develop experiences critical to gaining senior leadership positions in the field. Increasing the number of STEM master teachers from underrepresented populations will subsequently grow the mentors and role models for students from underrepresented populations and inspire more students to ultimately enter the STEM workforce.
What is SSEC doing?
Our STEM Teacher Leadership Diversity Summit and the published playbook, “Fostering Change: Ideas and Best Practices for Diversity in STEM Teaching in K-12 Classrooms”, has allowed the SSEC to support 64 teams from 18 states and 36 school districts, representing nearly 5.47 million K-12 students from highly diverse populations, in addressing a lack of diversity in the STEM teacher workforce.
Objective 2: Supporting STEM teachers of English Learners
Problem: An increasing number of English Learners in the education system require supports tailored to their needs to ensure they successfully enter the STEM workforce. There are large populations of students who are learning English for the first time—with parents who have difficulty communicating with schools (U.S. State Department 2010). These students will soon be a part of the STEM workforce and for the future of our country, all children must receive an equitable education to become productive members of society (Darling-Hammond 2015).
Solution: Adapted STEM curriculum and professional development (PD) with a focus on strategies for English Learners are needed to decrease the achievement gap between English Learners (Els) and non-EL students by providing STEM teachers with resources for teaching Els hands-on science lessons.
What is SSEC doing?
Since 2017, SSEC has provided strategies for engaging English Learners to 89 K-8 teachers annually across 9 schools representing 5,103 students in the Aurora School District. Additionally, we produced a video series demonstrating strategies for STEM Teachers of English Learners to support teacher instruction of EL’s.
Objective 3: Integrating accessibility and inclusive/universal design practices in STEM classrooms for students with disabilities
Problem: Students with disabilities often display low levels of proficiency in science education, yet little research exists regarding how students with significant cognitive and physical disabilities learn science concepts (Andersen & Nash, 2016). STEM teachers may not be aware of their own biases when it comes to understanding what students with disabilities can achieve; therefore, limited expectations have been observed in the enacted science curriculum for students with disabilities (Andersen, 2016).
Solution: In order to address these statistics and lack of research, we need to seek out ways for all STEM teachers to ensure that students with disabilities see STEM as accessible to them; and, that all students, no matter what their ability level, use inclusive/universal design strategies when engineering solutions to scientific problems.
What is SSEC doing?
We have developed a workbook of teacher inclusive design strategies. This workbook, created in collaboration with national experts in inclusive/universal design and STEM education, provides strategies on ways to integrate inclusive/universal design practices into the K-12 STEM classroom.
Participating teachers in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) have each received a Smithsonian Science for the Classroom curriculum module and professional development on how to integrate inclusive design practices while implementing the module. This work includes 28 DCPS teachers across 14 schools representing 6,800 students (14% of whom are students with a disability).
Objective 4: Sparking girls’ interest in STEM to prepare them for the future workforce
Problem: The scarcity of women in STEM fields is a long-standing and persistent problem, and while there has been an increased number of women earning degrees and working in the STEM industry, women and men are often at odds over workplace equity. The perceived inequities are especially common among women in jobs who work mostly with men (Pew Research, 2018). In addition, women in STEM see more gender disparities at work, especially in computer science jobs, in majority-male workplaces, or in jobs that require postgraduate degrees.
Solution:To fulfill the STEM skills gap that we face as a nation, many Americans say that STEM education should be emphasized more in K-12, with a particular emphasis on educating girls and others who are typically underrepresented in STEM fields (Pew Research, 2018).
What is SSEC doing?
In collaboration with Johnson & Johnson, the SSEC is sparking young girls’ curiosity in STEM to ensure they are given opportunities in the classroom to behave like scientists, engineers, technologists, mathematicians, manufacturers and designers and to become scientifically literate citizens. To date, we have impacted over 500,000 girls through hands-on STEM activities and digital media.
Objective 5: Addressing the summer skills gap by providing summer enrichment programming to students in high-needs areas
Problem: Research on summer learning indicates that youth who lack access to enriching summer experiences, particularly those from traditionally underserved communities, experience an actual decline in skills over the summer months. By the time they return to school in the fall, students who do not participate in high quality summer learning opportunities perform, on average, one month behind where they performed in the spring, whereas their peers in enriching summer programs show a small increase in these skills.
Solution: Support students through a summer school program that is centered on science, technology, engineering, math, and arts.
What is SSEC doing?
The SSEC is supporting Smithsonian Science Summer School (S4), a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)+Arts education pilot program that pairs our K-8 primary and middle school curriculum with the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian collections. Working with external partner Horizons Greater Washing, a local DC summer enrichment program, we provide: targeted professional development for participating teachers; inquiry-based science instruction for students; and visits to Smithsonian museums. The S4 program is designed to provide a high-impact, immersive experience to low-income students from Title I schools in Wards 5, 7, and 8 in Washington, DC to reduce the summer skills gap that occurs for underserved youth.