2016 Fellowship Recap: Encouraging Active STEM Learning in Early Childhood

January 18, 2017

The second Annual 100Kin10 Fellowship was a nine-month collaborative process which tackled the issue: Encouraging Active STEM Learning in Early Childhood. This 2016 Fellowship was designed to uncover the root causes which prevent P-3 students from receiving a strong, active STEM education, and to develop powerful, viable prototypes of solutions to this critical challenge facing America’s youngest learners.

An active STEM learning approach requires that students learn by first constructing their understanding of a STEM concept, starting with what they know and receiving guidance from the teacher along the way. Students are given the latitude to try to figure things out for themselves with guidance from the teacher. Only near the end of the lesson does the teacher confirm the normative understanding of the STEM concept. This is typical of ECE students inquiring into the world around them and asking why.

The Fellowship exemplifies 100Kin10‘s unique, successful “flipped funding” model which was featured in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s article “Science-Education Nonprofit Adopts Venture-Capital Approach.” This innovative approach to fundraising involves “front-loading” collaborative learning, user research, ideation, and prototyping before awarding grants - the 100Kin10 fellowship - before awarding grants, coupled with continued supportive networking and improvement work with grantees after grants are awarded - the 100Kin10 Networked Improvement Community. The process is meant to strengthen grant applications, recognizing that funders prefer to invest in projects which offer sufficient detail and research to suggest that they will be successful at making an strong impact on STEM education.

The 2016 Fellowship began with a comprehensive, collaborative exploration of the causes behind one specific ECE problem, followed by designing, testing and improving team solutions, culminating in applications for funding to help launch their Fellowship-driven work. This nine-month process was broken up into distinct phases, each building upon the previous.


Phase One 3/28 - 4/29: Rising to the Challenge

On April 29th, to kick-off this process, 33 Fellows, representing a dozen 100Kin10 partner organizations came together in Houston, Texas. Intensive brainstorming was the driving force, as Fellows worked together to identify the root causes behind the lack of active STEM learning in early grades. Dr. David Kanter, 100Kin10’s Director of Research and Innovation and Sam Seidel from Business Innovation Factory co-facilitated this event, assisted by 100Kin10’s Lauren Baier.

Teams were taught to explore the complexity of the challenge using tools including a fishbone diagram and a “5 whys” analysis. Next, Fellows worked together to divided the root causes into categories and several subcategories which all contribute to the big-picture problem. These included: 1) Inadequate teacher knowledge and confidence; 2) Insufficient administrative / systematic supports & infrastructure; and 3) Underutilized out-of-school time opportunities.

Phase Two 5/2 - 6/17: Exploring the Challenge

In the seven weeks following the Fellowship kick-off, Fellows conducted interviews and surveys with critical stakeholders to confirm or refute the pre-supposed root causes, and/or identify others. Now, as throughout the entire Fellowship process, teams met virtually, sharing ideas amongst themselves, guided by 100Kin10 facilitators.

After participants thoroughly examined the root causes of the ECE problem, 100Kin10 asked Fellows to prepare initial vision statements, reflecting their solution ideas. Teams also began to consider the criteria, constraints and characteristics of their eventual solutions. At this juncture, the root causes from the fishbone diagram were “flipped” into a driver diagram, now framed as drivers of change towards the solution.

Phase Three 6/20 - 7/8: Designing Solutions

On June 23rd and 24th, it was time for the Participatory Design Studio (PDS) in New York City, where Fellows met in person once again, to begin designing their solutions with continued facilitation from David, Sam and Lauren. The busy work space buzzed with brainstorming sessions focused on gnerating solutions, team and expert feedback.

On day one, individual organizations sought out like-minded Fellows, forming four “affinity groups.” Each group then focused on solutions for their specific, previously-identified root cause underlying the ECE’s lack of active STEM learning. These new cross-organizational teams looked at each other’s ideas for common solutions, as these solutions were each put to a “viability test,” viewed objectively on axes of difficulty and impact.

On day two, teams were coached on using human-centered design: prototyping and user/usability testing. Fellows learned to create storyboards and were instructed how to continue their research, as they refined their prototypes for user testing.

While organizations’ solutions varied, they shared a primary driver as the basis for their affinity groups. The four affinity groups, each with a root cause in common, addressed: 1) Expanding ongoing professional development into a long-term commitment for elementary teachers teaching active STEM thorough clinical experiences and coaching; 2) Co-constructing a vision with multiple stakeholders by finding ways in the the institution environment to create a supportive environment to help a STEM teacher do ECE work; 3) Increasing parental participation and family support by providing tools which help parents to try active learning outside the classroom; and 4) Better assisting teachers with active learning activities which utilize out-of-school resources like museums or non-school institutions to enhance ECE.

The Participatory Design Studio ended with each organizational team generating a first-draft prototype of their solution to serve as the basis for user testing. In the next phase of work, each organizational team would thoroughly research existing solutions that are similar to their own proposed solution idea, using that research to improve their prototype.


Phase Four 7/11 - 9/9: Testing Solutions

A key element of the Fellowship experience is extensive user testing, which requires that partners try their concepts out in the field, repeatedly. Accordingly, in the crucial nine weeks following the Participatory Design studio, Fellowship teams conducted multiple rounds of testing with users and iterated on their solution concepts.

This unique process empowers Fellows to learn whether their ideas will actually have impact in the real world, as they develop and refine their ideas into a working prototype. This is the time when teams experience their “aha” moments as they make changes based upon feedback from their actual target audience.

Fellowship teams tested their solution ideas, by showing their prototypes to potential users and incorporating feedback into new iterations of these solutions. The idea was to test early ideas before committing lots of time, money and energy, thus ensuring a greater chance of success.

For more detailed examples of how the the fellowship process works, check out our partner progress stories from the 2015 Fellowship here and here. And stay tuned for 2016 partner progress stories.

Phase Five 9/12 - 10/26: Presenting & Improving Solutions

On September 16th, Fellows came together in New York City for the Community Critique, the third and final in-person event. Fellows presented their “¾’s complete” concepts for feedback from experts in the domain, end-users, potential investors and peers. Afterward, Fellows incorporated this final round of structured feedback into final solutions to be submitted for potential funding. Fellows were also given feedback on draft proposals as they prepared their applications for the 100Kin10 Early STEM Learning Challenge Grant.

The ECE grant was open to all 100Kin10 partner organizations, not just those participating in the Fellowship. A total of 33 partners applied, 10 of which also participated in the Fellowship. Evaluation criteria for the grant, which could fund their solutions included: responsiveness to the users’ needs; evidence of desirability by the target users; feasibility; and potential to contribute to the learning of the field.

Postscript: Announcing ECE Grant Awards

As of January 2017, ten partner organizations were awarded ECE grants totalling approximately $2,480,000.00. Of the ten organizations, three had participated in the Fellowship.

The grantees are: District of Columbia Public Schools, Office of the State Superintendent Schools, National Academy of Sports Medicine(Fellow), New York Hall of Science, American Museum of Natural History (Fellow), Loyola Marymount University, University of Northern Colorado, The New York Botanical Garden (Fellow). University Of New Hampshire, Ignited (formerly IISME), STEMteachersNYC, and ExpandED Schools.

This year, the organizations receiving the ECE grant award will be required to participate in two years of follow-up coaching and improvement exercises to help them successfully utilize their funding to make an impact in early childhood active STEM learning, structured as the 100Kin10 Networked Improvement Community (NIC). The NIC enables participants to blend learning approaches and a technology platform, by sharing learnings, while measuring the progress and impact of solutions. Participants are supported by their peers and experts to help them solve challenges along the way.

2016 Fellows

Battelle, D.C. Public Schools, the National Air and Space Museum, Washington STEM, University of Houston- Clear Lake, Parkwood Elementary, WGBH Educational Foundation, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.

Gearing up for the 2017 Fellowship

100Kin10’s Third Annual Fellowship will focus on a carefully selected challenge: “Creating Classroom and School Environments which Give Teachers Room to Experiment.” After a year’s worth of intensive research, thoughtful conversation with partners and insights gained from prior Fellowships, this same problem kept presenting itself: teachers don’t have room to experiment and to authentically fail in service of creating better learning experiences for their students.

On December 13, 2016, 100Kin10 revealed the 26 individuals from nine partner organizations that will be participating in this exciting new Fellowship, identifying and testings ways which enable teachers to grow and try things in their classrooms.