Resources to Help Parents Support Kids’ STEM Interests and Explorations

Tracy McMahon has over 10 years of experience designing quantitative and qualitative research and evaluation studies. Much of her work focuses on program evaluations that examine the effectiveness of formal and informal science education initiatives. In 2016, she co-authored the report Engineering for Every K-12 Student based on her team's work on a National Science Foundation-funded landscape study of K-12 engineering education in Massachusetts. Tracy is also a mom, and in this post she describes some free science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) resources and programs that she hopes will be useful to other parents who are interested in the recent focus on STEM in their kids’ education.

September is here and in Waltham, home of EDC headquarters, schools have opened their doors for a new year of learning opportunities.This summer, I tried to find the balance between letting my kids have fun and learn in ways that are nonacademic, with the reality of teaching them skills to succeed in the ever-changing world in which we live. As the school buses hit the road, I’m still seeking that balance. This is particularly true in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM as often referred to in education circles.

I’m not alone in this. Given the focus on STEM education in schools these days, I find that my friends with children have lots of questions about what STEM learning is all about, what it means for their children, and how to support this learning. In my evaluation and research work at EDC, I’ve been able to learn about some interesting STEM projects, programs, products, and initiatives—some developed by EDC colleagues. I’ve talked about this work with friends, and it feels important to share what myself and others are learning with a wider circle of parents who are interested in knowing about opportunities for their children.

Below I describe just a few of the many projects, programs, products, and initiatives that I’ve learned about at EDC. I encourage you to check them out and see if any resonate with what you know about your kid’s interests. You may even start to see some of these implemented in their classrooms.

Happy learning!

1. Gracie and Friends | Math | PreK|
These are great iPad apps designed collaboratively by WBGH, EDC, and SRI as part of the Next Generation Preschool Math project led by my colleague Ashley Lewis Presser. The apps focus on Gracie and her friends as they learn math skills like subitizing and equipartitioning by playing in scenes that require pairing numbers in playground scenes, dividing food among friends, and more! I can tell you first hand, this is a great resource for early learners. My 4-year-old loves Gracie and Friends, see for yourself:

PARENTS: I suggest you download the Gracie and Friends app if you have access to an iPad and allow for screen time. You might want to check out the Teacher’s Guide, too, as it provides directions for non-digital activities and books that will extend the math learning!

EDC CONNECTION: To learn more about EDC’s role, contact Ashley Lewis Presser and read up on the Next Generation Preschool Math project.

2. Techbridge | Technology | Elementary, Middle and High School |
With the slogan, “Inspire a girl to change the world,” Techbridge is dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology. Their afterschool program is for girls in grades 4 through 12 and focuses on hands-on learning and real-world applications. Their curriculum features a variety of units including topics such as Career Exploration, Computer Science, Green Design, and Product Design—just to name a few.

PARENTS: Techbridge offers programs in California, Seattle, and Washington, DC. If you have or know of girls in this age group, you should look into their afterschool and summer programs.

EDC CONNECTION: To learn more about EDC’s work with Techbridge, contact Ginger Fitzhugh. You can also read up on the program on EDC’s website.

3. i2 Learning Camp/Week | Engineering| Elementary and Middle School |
i2 aims to bring intensive, design-model based, hands-on and engaging engineering curriculum to students who don’t have access to this material in their regular school day. i2 built a week-long learning experience around one particular topic—allowing students to fully engage in the learning and work all day long. Students also get to engage in real-world problems, design learning, and hands-on activities.

PARENTS: Consider asking your school’s science teachers if they have heard of i2 or plan to implement it. And, keep an eye out for the summer camps in your area.

EDC CONNECTION: To learn more about EDC’s work with i2, contact Jackie DeLisi.

4. NASA Kids’ Club | Science | PK-4 |
NASA Kids’ Club is an online portal to many games designed to help children in grades PK through 4 learn about NASA and its mission. What I love about this resource is that it offers a guide specifically for parents that provides useful information about science standards as well as descriptions of each online game and how they map on to the standards.

PARENTS: Let your kids try some of the online games themselves and then talk with them about what they learned. And, as a bonus, you can print out these activities and work together with them.

EDC CONNECTION: EDC has partnered with multiple projects that have received funding from NASA. Currently, through the Real World, Real Science project (headed by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute), EDC’s Oceans of Data Institute is helping develop classroom curriculum to accompany informal learning experiences in science centers around New England. A separate team from EDC is evaluating the effort. For more information about the curriculum, contact Randy Kochevar. To learn more about the evaluation, contact Ginger Fitzhugh and Jackie DeLisi. And, find out more about the Real World, Real Science project on the Oceans of Data Institute’s website (while you’re there, check out the Institute’s resources).

EDC is also working with NASA’s@My Library project, which engages public library audiences in learning about Earth and space sciences, partly by leveraging resources from their STAR Library Education Network (STAR_Net). To learn more about EDC’s work with NASA@ My Library and STAR_Net, contact Ginger Fitzhugh.

…and MORE…
In addition to these great resources that all have connections to our work here at EDC, there are many more online resources available to parents who want to explore STEM learning. In my personal and spare time, I curate a collection of online resources for parents, many of which focus on STEM education that I invite you to explore. Also, I encourage you to revisit EDC’s Learning and Teaching website and EDC’s new website to learn more about our STEM work. 


Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - 2:30pm