National Academy of Sciences Releases New Resource for STEM in Out-of-School Time

National Academy of Sciences Releases New Resource for STEM in Out-of-School Time

 Since its release late last year, the Board on Science Education’s new report on STEM in out-of-school time has been downloaded more than 7000 times. Authored by an expert Committee headed by Eric Jolly of the Science Museum of Minnesota, the report asserts that:

“Access to productive out-of-school opportunities that engage young people in authentic STEM experiences is a critical piece of the STEM learning ecosystem. Such out-of-school opportunities can support STEM learning independently from classroom learning, and they are particularly well suited to building interest in STEM and identity as a STEM learner.”

The report identifies key criteria for identifying and developing productive STEM out-of-school programs. These criteria can inform policy development, program design, grantmakers’ decision-making, and curricula and professional development.


Productive OST STEM Programs:

ENGAGE Young People Intellectually, Academically, Socially, and Emotionally

  • Provide first-hand experiences with phenomena and materials.
  • Engage young people in sustained STEM practices.
  • Establish a supportive learning community.

RESPOND to Young People’s Interests, Experiences, and Cultural Practices

  • Position STEM as socially meaningful and culturally relevant.
  • Support young people to collaborate and to take on leadership roles in STEM learning activities.
  • Position staff as co-investigators and learners alongside young people.

CONNECT STEM Learning in Out-of-School, School, Home, and Other Settings

  • Connect learning experiences across settings.
  • Leverage community resources and partnerships.
  • Actively broker additional STEM learning opportunities.


To support programs in meeting these criteria, the report calls on policy makers, program developers, and other stakeholders to:

  1. Understand the local conditions for community programs that support STEM learning: Build a map and bridge the gaps.
  2. Design programs to achieve access, equity, continuity, and coherence: Connect young people to opportunities to learn.
  3. Support the use of creative and responsive approaches to evaluate the success of programs at the individual, program, and community levels: Support innovative evaluation approaches.
  4. Increase the professionalization of out-of-school program leaders and staff: Provide professional development.
  5. Strengthen the STEM learning infrastructure: Build an infrastructure that will last.
  6. Invest in research to improve our understanding of STEM learning in out-of-school programs: Explore how STEM learning ecosystems work.

At a Washington DC briefing in mid-February to illuminate the report’s ideas, its key authors and other stakeholders focused in on what the criteria mean for programs and how to create a supportive policy environment. At STEM Next we are finding this report tremendously helpful and well aligned with our key focus areas of championing STEM learning, brokering cross-sector collaborations, building systems and catalyzing new investments.

We are looking forward to digging further into what these criteria look like in practice, and what the implications are for system building and policy. For example:

  • We’re particularly interested in how to support professional development that helps educators put these criteria into action. The Click2science portal is one example of our work in that area – another is Every Hour Counts’ FUSE project where educators across sector are diving deep into using Next Gen Science Standards to bridge school and out of school and focus on STEM practices and engagement with kids.
  • This report is also very informative for our STEM ecosystems initiative – particularly as we consider how to assess the impact of STEM learning ecosystems and how innovative evaluation approaches will help us understand how to create access to quality STEM learning and engagement for all young people.
  • We see so many connections to the work of innovative communities – for example the Maryland Out of School Network mapped STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore; and the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance has created the STEM Guides project to connect rural kids and families to STEM learning. We are interested in delving into and disseminating other key examples of success.

We are grateful to the Committee for their efforts in creating this useful report. Kudos and please share your stories of how this report is helpful to you – and how its vision is playing out in practice in your community!