Family Engagement Blog

STEM Next Opportunity Fund’s lead researchers, Linda Kekelis and Kara Sammet, muse on some of the ah-ha moments and key take-aways from The Family Engagement Project.

These are challenging times as we deal with the COVID-19 health crisis and disruptions in work, schools, and community affairs. Social relationships are more important than ever while we maintain safe distance. We thank you for your efforts to adjust and find new ways to support youth and families in your communities during these uncharted times. We recognize that you are doing this work while being impacted personally and professionally.

Organizations are stepping up and offering support to youth, parents, and educators. We are seeing lots of great educational resources shared through social media. It’s a big challenge to navigate through these online offerings, STEM activities, and parenting advice. We want to make sure that we work hardest for those families most impacted and most vulnerable. We offer five practices to support families. Let’s commit to making sure that every child and every family has access to the resources they need.

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STEM programs with the most impact on youth engage families. The programs that most successfully engage families embrace listening to and learning with families. Whether you are launching a new program, developing resources, or revisiting your work with families, we encourage you to make listening a priority. This blog features five ideas from the field on how listening empowers families and improves STEM programs.

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Get ready. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day will be hosted February 20, 2020 during Engineers Week. Girls want to make the world a better place. Girl Day shows them how engineers are doing just that and how they can have a place in engineering a better world. In this blog, Dr. Kekelis shares five ideas to make Girl Day the start of something special with long-term impact.

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Cheers to another successful Computer Science Education Week. What began as a one-hour coding challenge has expanded into a worldwide phenomenon with millions of kids taking part in Hour of Code™ in classrooms, afterschool programs, libraries, and worksites. This year’s theme, Computer Science for Good, has been especially successful at broadening participation in computing. Here are a few of the exciting efforts with diverse and far-reaching impact. CS Education Week 2019 launched at the Santa Fe Indian School. Deaf Kids Code led an app development lesson via live video to deaf classes around the world. Infosys Foundation supported Digital NEST in hosting an agtech field trip to introduce sustainable and scalable technology careers in low income and rural communities in the Central Valley in California. We love these bright spots and can’t wait to see them take hold and expand into more. In this blog, Linda shares three ideas for making Hour of Code into a year of possibilities.

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This year, Dr. Kekelis, is switching up her usual holiday gift list and sharing ideas that make time for creativity and connection. These gifts won’t cost anything, and will provide you and your child the gift of time together. This blog highlights STEM activities that will bring joy and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to your family.

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Computer science, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and venture capital. Imagine youth in Detroit, DC, and Des Moines bringing their talents, fresh ideas, and social justice to these works. There are lots of bright spots in computer science both in and out of school. But all things aren’t created equal in computer science. The recent report on computer science on access and equity from Kapor Center shines a light on the serious inequities in participation in computer science. The statistics are sobering, and STEM Next wants to change the status quo. As part of our commitment to closing the opportunity gap, STEM Next launched The Family Engagement Project to elevate the critical role of families in supporting youth, particularly youth who are under-represented in tech, to pursue and persist in computer science. Since our announcement at the CSforAll Summit in 2018 we have invested in a number of efforts to help advance greater equity in tech. In this blog we highlight five ideas to support families in your community so that every child and every family has the opportunities to access and benefit from the possibilities that computer science has to offer.

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As kids go back to school, their families are looking for safe places for them to do their homework, engage in physical activity, and learn new skills. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) afterschool programs meet these needs and more with activities that teach skills for school, work, and life. Afterschool activities help build on the enthusiasm of kids who are already into science, robotics and math. They also spark an interest in those who haven’t discovered their love for tinkering or aptitude for coding, yet.

As part of our commitment to closing the opportunity gap, STEM Next is investing in family engagement with research and resources. We invite you to work with us to make sure that every child and every family has an equal opportunity to benefit from quality STEM afterschool programs. In this blog, Dr. Kekelis and Ron Ottinger, our Executive Director, share four ideas to support families in your community this school year and open the door to STEM opportunities.

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Summer can offer time to explore new subjects and go deep into personal interests. Summer can also increase the opportunity gap. We know that kids from under-resourced communities may fall behind in academics, while kids in higher-income families increase skills over the summer months. It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s research that shows elementary school kids with high levels of attendance in voluntary summer programs experience benefits in math and reading.

STEM Next appreciates the importance of supporting families and summer learning. In this blog, Dr. Kekelis shares six ideas to empower families and make 2019 the summer of STEM.

Read the full blog here. 

Bringing science-themed workshops to families in rural Appalachia, giving students and families in a summer meal program a chance to build robots, and letting parents see their children apply early math skills to everyday life are a few examples of how public libraries are making STEM learning experiences more accessible to families.

Global Family Research Project highlights public libraries and their critical role in supporting student’s learning and interest in STEM in their new policy brief, “Public Libraries Engage Families in STEM.” This blog features key themes that emerged from examples compiled in the brief.

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What do libraries have to do with STEM? These days, plenty. You can find preschoolers and their caregivers engaging in hands-on science and math activities, girls and mothers tinkering with tools and technology, and families learning to code at summer lunch programs all at their local public library. These experiences spark new interests in kids, build confidence in parents, and can even have lasting impact on career interests.

What makes these library programs so important is how they help reduce the opportunity gap in STEM. While not every community has a science center, tech museum, or zoo, just about every town has a library that offers books along with access to computers and STEM programs for families. Libraries bring resources and fuel dreams that help reach underserved and underrepresented people and regions.

STEM Next wants all families to have access to quality STEM programs. This blog highlights four strategies to help inspire and deepen engagement with families at libraries.

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February 21, 2019 was Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. This special day during National Engineers Week helps girls understand they have a place in engineering a better world. Engineers Week raises awareness of engineers’ contributions to our quality of life and increases interest in engineering careers. In her blog, Dr. Kekelis shares a list of five ideas to spark inspiration and empower parents to Introduce Their Girl to Engineering Day and the days and weeks after.

Read the full blog here. 

Good fiction with STEM topics can do more than provide information about the world of science and technology.  They can get kids excited about the fun of science and engineering as they learn about the struggles and triumphs of fascinating characters in amazing situations. In this post you will be introduced to a interesting titles, mostly starring middle school students from a variety of racial, ethnic, and economically challenging backgrounds, including several with disabilities, who serve as inspiring role models.

Sharing a few chapter book gems with parents and caregivers can be a brief but highly productive part of a family night at a school, or open house at a library.

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Can we reimagine family engagement? If we did, how might more families benefit and how might impact be longer-lasting? How can we make it more possible for parents to engage where and when they can? Here we detail three ideas from organizations that don’t ask families to come to programs, but instead support family engagement at home.

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Public libraries have a unique opportunity to expand the reach of STEM. “Public libraries provide a ‘third space’ beyond the formal classroom and home that can unite schools and communities around STEM education and complete the community’s STEM learning ecosystem.”1 What’s more, public libraries are accessible and trusted spaces in the community; these elements help to increase access for youth and parents who are underserved and underrepresented in STEM. In celebration of  National Library Week April 8-14, we showcase one library that expanded its mission with a new program to support families and help close the opportunity gap in STEM.

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Imagine if family engagement was deeply tapped into during Hour of Code™ and Computer Science Education Week. Family Code Night was developed by Executive Director, John Pearce, to include  parents in sustaining children’s learning and passion for computer science. Pearce shares, “To truly overcome the digital divide we must do so in the K-5 years and in this effort we must engage the most powerful influence of K-5 children’s self-belief: parents and family.”

Read the full blog here.