Making STEM a Priority
From building video game controllers with conductive playdough to creating stop motion animation videos to building spaghetti and marshmallow towers, the students fortunate enough to land a coveted spot at 9 Dots Community Learning Center’s free after-school program in Los Angeles are developing a passion for STEM (academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math).
Driven by young Stanford graduates who traded comfortable corporate careers for community service that put their own STEM skills to task, 9 Dots opened its doors in 2011, and in doing so, opened the doors for underserved youth to a world that makes science, technology, engineering and math fun and exciting. The organization was inspired by the 9 dots puzzle, a 3 x 3 grid that drives students to think outside of the box to solve challenges – the kind of innovative thinking that is at the foundation of 9 Dots’ teaching philosophy.
Based in Los Angeles, Calif., this nonprofit helps economically disadvantaged students – many of whom are minorities – develop the engineering, language and creative skills they need to become 21st century innovators. Unequal opportunities and lack of access have long impacted lower achievement in math and science, leaving underserved youth like these unprepared to pursue a career in STEM. Only 12 percent of the STEM workforce are currently African American or Latino.
This innovative program not only strengthens academic fundamentals through enrichment curriculum, but also creates original STEM projects that teach exploration, inquiry and innovation. Students build a newfound confidence and master the skills that prepare them to succeed in the careers that are among the fastest-growing and most lucrative occupations of the future – a future that is estimated to offer about 2.4 million new job opportunities by 2020.
For these underserved youth, dreams and aspirations can be realized. By choosing STEM, they choose a better future.
Unleashing Solar Power, One Community at a Time
To some, the goal might seem lofty – making solar an accessible, affordable, and equitable distributed energy source on a massive scale across the country. Yet, some determined citizens are already engaged in developing community-based renewable energy at the local level, often in isolation, and often facing daunting challenges. As a leader in the community-based solar movement, Community Power Network (CPN) creates on-the-ground change through renewable energy projects and policy reform – one community at a time. A network of grassroots, local, state, and national organizations working to build and promote locally based renewable energy projects and policies, CPN believes that the energy transformation movement is taking root, bringing communities together for collaboration.
By close of 2015, CPN had recruited more than 5,500 solar co-op members, implemented 60 co-ops, and oversaw the installation of more than 1,000 solar systems, resulting in 6 mW of solar power through on-the-ground programs. Additionally, CPN has facilitated $18 million in solar investments, helping to create new jobs.
CPN’s ambitious education outreach builds awareness of distributed solar, amplifies success stories, shares best practices for deploying projects, and grows contagious support for community solar. Analysis and case studies on community solar projects provide citizens with resources on how to create positive change in their own communities. A monthly newsletter covers key issues, tips and tools in the community renewables space and shines a spotlight on innovative projects that can be replicated.
CPN will especially highlight the innovative work in states that have less developed solar markets and policies, including Florida, Ohio, and West Virginia. Most importantly, CPN communications will target all “practitioners” and citizens who have an interest in a future where every community participates in the financial benefits of solar energy diversification.
An Energy Encore for Dell’Arte
For Dell’Arte International, the world is quite literally a stage. And, the critically acclaimed nonprofit theatrical organization brings that cultural stage to California where they have engendered the relationship between art and place, artist and community for 40 years.
Since opening its doors in 1975, the organization has been providing a unique blend of arts and community service that has cultivated strong ties between Dell’Arte and the town of Blue Lake – and other rural and culturally diverse towns in Northwest California. In a sense, the theatre has become a community epicenter – providing local arts initiatives and attracting visitors from around the world.
Now, committed as ever to the community’s preservation and growth, Dell’Arte is embarking on a solar energy project that will increase the theatre’s energy efficiency and utilize the region’s available solar power. By installing a 17kW solar generator, the theatre will offset between 50 and 70 percent of its electricity use and ultimately achieve a high level of energy independence – a strategic vision for the Blue Lake community and the larger state of California.
But Dell’Arte has an even loftier goal in mind. By investing in solar technology, the theatre hopes to bring solar awareness to its community and serve as a catalyst for area residents, businesses and other nonprofits. For rural towns like Blue Lake – where access to high technology is inconsistent – energy independence can reduce costs, increase efficiency, and lead to sustainable operations.
By shining a spotlight on solar power, Dell’Arte continues to lead by example, both on and off the stage, and protect an environment and community vital to the organization’s success.
Middle School Teacher Training to Meet Next Generation Science Standards
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) sets the science education bar for what students should know as they prepare for college, career, and citizenship. However, this potentially transformative vision for science education can achieve little without teacher training to support both mastery of new content areas and considerable shifts in instructional classroom practice to inquiry-based learning.
This challenge is all the more daunting for teachers working in socio-economically diverse middle schools in east San José, an area with a significant percentage of residents living in poverty. In this community, science is marginalized amid intense pressure to improve test scores in reading and math – particularly in the absence of resources to support hands-on investigation.
An APNF grant is helping to launch San José State University’s NGSS Implementation Collaborative (NIC) in partnership with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF). This 12-month effort directly supports more than 20 local public middle school teachers and their 1,000 middle school students. The collaboration builds upon the successes of the university’s Bay Area Environmental STEM Institute, a year-round professional development program which has been serving teachers since 1990; and the Green Ninja Project, a 2014 winner of SVEF’s STEM Innovation Awards. This educational project inspires young people to learn how to fight climate change through social media and hands-on learning experiences by following the adventures of the climate action super hero Green Ninja.
A four-day NIC summer institute of learner-centered instruction for teachers will blend science concepts with pedagogy through investigation of the NGSS-aligned Story-Science-Solution, a middle school learning sequence centered on climate change. In-person and online follow-up throughout the academic year will support implementation of materials modeled during the summer institute, helping teachers embrace California’s required transition to NGSS.
Urban Teacher Residency United (UTRU)
Urban districts across the nation continue to have an unmet need for highly effective teachers who have the knowledge and skills to improve student achievement. Today, roughly 50 percent of all urban public school teachers nationwide leave their positions in less than three years. The desire to educate exists, but teachers aren’t always adequately prepared to make an immediate impact on kids.
Urban Teacher Residency United’s (UTRU) signature technical assistance program develops and supports highly effective teacher residency programs that focus on developing teachers to be successful in urban districts. Residency programs are the most comprehensive model of teacher preparation in the nation. Residencies play an increasingly important role in designing human capital strategies by creating a pathway that responds directly to the hiring needs of school districts. In addition, residencies provide career advancement for experienced teachers to act as mentors, while developing highly effective new teachers that are capable of impacting student achievement from the moment they enter the classroom as a teacher of record.