NCTAF STEM Learning Studios are creative, collaborative partnerships between classroom teachers and local STEM professionals that foster deeper learning for students and engage teachers in ongoing professional development.
Launched first in 2009, Learning Studios are project-based learning environments in which 4-6 teachers within the same school work in interdisciplinary, cross-curricular teams. Learning Studios are not a curriculum intervention; they change the teaching process. Working with local scientists and engineers, teachers from different content areas work together to develop and implement year-long project investigations. Learning Studios surround students with experts who are passionate about their work, building pathways to college and career success for students who too often tune out of STEM coursework.
For example, a team of teachers at Hammond High School in Columbia, Maryland saw students struggle with important concepts in the earth science curriculum. Each teacher spent the year investigating the same Learning Challenge question with her/his students: How do human and natural forces impact the environment? The team applied real scientific data, such Google maps and NASA remote sensing data, to model strategies that could mitigate pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
Learning Studio teachers participate in NCTAF-led quarterly workshops to assess the outcomes of their Learning Challenge, refine the design of their next project, and sharebest practices with other teaching teams. The collaborative process continues beyond the face-to-face work sessions using various online platforms and strategies.
NASA, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and the Deerbrook Charitable Trust helped launch this effort. NCTAF is also currently launching a New Hampshire STEM Learning Studio Network in five schools across the state. Learning Studios are now thriving in nine high school and 11 middle schools, across four districts in Maryland, deploying 35 teacher/expert teams for a total of 200 teachers and 30 STEM experts working with approximately 4,000 students.
An independent evaluation is being conducted by WestEd to gather data about student engagement and teacher satisfaction, and so far, the data—both quantitative and qualitative—is promising. Most promising is the fact that the Learning Studios model encourages each community to utilize its own unique sets of STEM resources, making this process adaptable, flexible and responsive to all kinds of different contexts.