100Kin10 Unconferences: Working Together, Regional Partners Lead the Way

September 29, 2017

Editor’s note: Curious to learn more about 100Kin10 gatherings? We are thrilled to invite you to our fall Back-to-School Breakfasts, happening in seven regions around the country the week of October 23rd. Find one in your region and RSVP here.

“What do you want to talk about?”

100Kin10 Unconferences offer partners a platform to drive the conversations they most want to have, sharing their concerns and fresh ideas about the Grand Challenges hindering our efforts to recruit, train and retain excellent STEM teachers. These local gatherings are participant-directed, with just enough structure to ensure rigorous, deep discussion. The connections and ideas that result often inspire longer-term collaborations pursued in Collaboration Grants or Project Teams.

So how does it work? It’s simple. 100Kin10 partners gather in small groups across the country, creating their own agenda of multiple topics — to be the subject of rigorous small group discussion — all in just four hours. This past February, Unconferences were organized by the Colorado Education Initiative (Denver), the Breakthrough Collaborative (Bay Area), and Maricopa County Education Service Agency (Phoenix). While each Unconference is unique, reflecting partner voice in that region, one thing is certain—-all the participants are passionate and eager to make a difference in STEM education.


Unconferences kicked off with a short presentation on the latest happenings in the network, as well as other upcoming network opportunities. At the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI), Yasmin Fodil, 100Kin10’s National Director of Community spoke about 2017 Project Teams, explaining that they are designed to empower and assist partners in turning their ideas into real projects that can chip away at the most pressing STEM education challenges. “This is the scale and shared ownership of problem solving our network needs to reach our vision,” she announced, quickly adding, “but no pressure, at the Unconferences, we are here to explore.”

After introductions, partners got down to the “nitty gritty.” Each regional Unconference host took the reins, facilitating co-creation of the day’s agenda with participants. Hands flew up, as the hosts wrote down each idea on a large post-it. Within minutes, potential topics covered the walls. Then, these topics were narrowed to 6-8 overarching challenges to be tackled in smaller break-out groups. Here are a few of the key challenges and solutions that partners wanted to tackle:

  • Develop Long Term Teacher Professional Development;
  • Create Equity in Teacher Recruitment;
  • Support and Empower Teachers, especially in rural areas; and
  • Attract College STEM majors into Teaching.

It’s in these informal small groups that the magic really happened. The multiple perspectives of 100Kin10’s diverse partnership enable rigorous exchanges of ideas, revealing new and deeper ways to approach these shared challenges.


The diverse organizations participating in the 2017 winter Unconferences included:

  • funders (such as Freeport-McMoran Foundation and Chevron),
  • museums (such as the Bay Area Discovery Museum), and
  • media organizations (like KQED).

We saw university programs that train future STEM teachers (like the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study in Colorado Springs) connecting with
school districts seeking to recruit those new teachers (like the Denver Public Schools). Working shoulder to shoulder, these passionate, individual voices quickly got to the root of each challenge.

No one leaves a 100Kin10 Unconference empty-handed. Unconferences are all about connection, ideation and early stage ideas. With a goal as ambitious as putting an excellent STEM teacher in every classroom, partnership is the the first ingredient for success. An Unconference is the perfect mixing bowl to test a new recipe. And that’s how progress gets started.

See below for a few dynamic exchanges generated in these events.

Professional Development - Giving teachers input.
One Denver small group session began with a discussion about how we can understand what teachers need and want from PD. Together, partners ideated ways to to survey teachers about their needs. Then came that energizing “light bulb” moment. Why not have a competition whereby teachers design their own PD? In so doing, PD designers can better understand the teacher perspective on what is important. By the end of the session, partners were eager to figure out how they might form a project team to give this idea some legs.

STEM Teacher Recruitment - It’s about heart, not the money.
In a Bay Area small group session, partners shared their frustrations around recruiting high quality STEM teachers. Sharing ideas and business cards, the group had a deep dive discussion about what works for their organizations and what doesn’t. Heads were nodding as as these partners agreed that engineering and computer science undergraduates have no financial incentive to pursue teaching. A partner from Berkeley Science & Math Initiative/UTeach shared their seemingly counterintuitive (and sneaky) approach to getting STEM undergraduates interested in teaching, “We offer a course in teaching but students don’t realize that when they sign up… After that course, they get hooked.” The group conclusion: It’s about the heart, not the money.”

Helping Elementary School Teachers Teach STEM - what’s working?
In a Phoenix small group session, participants were excited to discover that their fellow partners like the Arizona State University/Physics Dept were having measurable success using American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA) workshops to help middle school teachers become more comfortable teaching STEM. They agreed that the AMTA approach could be used for younger grades as well.