Once you have mapped the field of afterschool and STEM, you can make decisions with your partners about what your priority strategies are for STEM system-building and begin implementing those strategies. The range of partners interested in STEM and the growing number of initiatives focused on STEM can make it hard to agree on state level priorities. Noyce grantees focused their strategies in three main areas:

  • Professional development and quality building strategies;
  • Policy strategies; and
  • Communication strategies.

While your work will no doubt evolve in a dynamic way in response to opportunities that arise, it is important to take a strategic look at the landscape in your state and develop priorities that are grounded in the outcomes you hope to achieve through your STEM system-building work. This will help to ensure that scarce resources are used most effectively to achieve outcomes. The Noyce STEM system-building grantees were focused on the following outcomes:

  • Improved systems to support informal STEM, including leadership and partnerships; quality systems and professional development; evaluation and data collection; and policy and communications.
  • Increased number of programs delivering quality informal STEM activities.
  • Improved out-of-school (OST) staff confidence in delivering STEM activities. 
  • Improved quality of STEM activity delivery by OST staff. 
  • Increased number of students reached with quality informal STEM programming.
  • Increased youth interest, motivation and engagement in STEM subjects. 

While all of the Noyce STEM system-building grantees focused on the above outcomes, the strategies they have opted to pursue and the sequencing of those strategies has varied widely depending on the state context, the players in the state and the afterschool network structure and capacity. Network leaders have sought to balance the goal to achieve widespread scale and reach across their state with the goal of achieving substantive change in the quality of programming and confidence of staffing within individual programs. They have most typically pursued a dual track – selecting a particular locality or a small number of programs to work with intensively to offer ongoing training, technical assistance and data collection while pursuing broader reach through light touch training, communication and policy strategies.  

You and your partners should begin with clear agreement on the outcomes you are trying to achieve and then identify the priority strategies that make sense for your network and state using information you gathered about the landscape in your state. The following tools include a document that highlights key questions to consider as you develop your strategies and tools that other system builders utilized as they began this work. 

STEM System-Building Strategies: Key Questions to Consider

Mainspring Consulting developed this document that provides a series of questions to consider as you prioritize strategies. Questions include considerations related to leverage and scale; commitment and accountability; capacity and resources; and sustainability and institutionalization.

Frontiers in Urban Science Exploration Resource Guide Second Edition, February 2014

The guide features: core elements of high-quality informal STEM education; overview of the Every Hour Counts FUSE national demonstration, profiles of promising city- and county-wide initiatives and lessons learned in working to bring informal STEM education to scale; curriculum resources to advance informal STEM learning and strategies to inform the development of comprehensive evaluation plans that assess the impact of STEM education in informal settings. The guide also includes a reference list of resources to help support the development of inquiry-based STEM learning opportunities in expanded learning systems.

Kansas/Missouri System Strategic Planning Session Proceedings

The Kansas Enrichment Network and the Missouri Afterschool Network convened a joint session on how to enhance STEM learning outcomes and workforce development through strong partnerships in community. This document summarizes key discussion points and priorities that emerged from the session. 

Maryland Framework to Guide STEM System Priority-Setting

This is an internal document that Maryland Out of School Time Network (MOST) developed to guide their priority-setting work for STEM system-building. 

Described below are the tips, state examples and tools related to each of the system elements professional development, policy and communication.  

Professional Development

Strategies & Tips
  • Use your map of the field to identify existing professional development resources where you can build capacity to address informal science in afterschool.  This includes both the identification of existing afterschool professional development resources where you can build the capacity to deliver STEM content through training of trainers, as well as linking existing informal science and STEM expertise and programming in your state to afterschool providers.  
  • Broker new connections between afterschool providers and the growing field of STEM-rich institutions that bring new STEM content expertise and opportunities for learning to both providers and students in afterschool settings. 
  • Work to build a focus on STEM into the existing professional development and quality building system in your state.  If you have afterschool quality standards, seek to integrate STEM-specific standards into those standards.  
  • Integrate a STEM focus in quality monitoring and evaluation required by afterschool funders.  The DoS tool and STEM YPQA are both observation tools that can be used to monitor the quality of STEM programming in afterschool.
  • Consider how you can utilize the DoS and/or the STEM YPQA observation tools to support continuous quality improvement by intentionally linking observation results to training, information, and technical assistance.  
  • Tap into and build the capacity of local intermediaries to support local providers in building the supply and quality of STEM programming in afterschool.
  • Develop training and technical assistance models, such as training institutes, that enable you to offer training and ongoing coaching and technical assistance as well as learning networks, to a cohort of sites. 
  • Consider what the staff capacity, equipment needs, and ongoing costs will be for sites as you identify STEM curricula to disseminate to the field.  Use curricula and training models with providers that are reasonable to sustain over the long-term and that build core competencies for delivering effective informal science education. Link providers with STEM-rich institutions for more specialized and technical content.
State Examples

Professional Development - Integrating STEM in Afterschool Professional Development and Quality Infrastructure

Indiana Afterschool Network developed Indiana STEM Standards and online assessment tool for programs and partners to define and track quality as part of their larger quality work with the Department of Education. Programs can produce a report of their results and receive a Pledge to Quality Poster for completing the assessment. The network will be able to aggregate data across sites, track results and target professional development to gap areas by the end of the year.

Michigan Afterschool Partnership initiated a revision of the Model Standards for After-School Programs, which are the state standards of quality for afterschool programs that have been adopted by the State Board of Education. The revised standards include STEM specific standards and provide self-assessment tools including Dimensions of Success (DoS) Evaluation Tool and Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) STEM Tool as a permanent support to the field. The Board of Education approved the standards in 2013. A STEM endorsement process for the Michigan School Age Youth Development credential is underway. Discussions have centered around trainings, including both online (such as Click2Science PD) and face to face trainings. Recently, the network is partnering with the Michigan Department of Education, Math and Science Center Network, Michigan State University and 4H Extension, along with Eastern Michigan University Bright Futures 21st CCLC program to pilot the use of open digital badges as a means to earn the STEM endorsement for the afterschool workforce as well as STEM related youth badges aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Indiana Afterschool Network participated on the STEM Action Coalition that helped the Department of Education to create a new STEM School Certification. As part of this certification application rubric, STEM Schools should offer opportunities outside the school day (that may or may not be held at school) resulting in many ways for students to extend their STEM learning. These STEM opportunities must have a strong connection to the school curriculum and activities that lie within.

Professional Development - Developing Statewide Training Capacity 

Kansas did not have a well-developed statewide training infrastructure for afterschool, so the Kansas Enrichment Network worked to recruit trainers from multiple provider networks, with a focus on achieving geographic coverage of the state. Train the trainer sessions were held on NPASS, Equity in STEM Education, NASA, 4-H Science, and SciGirls curricula. Trainers from a variety of afterschool programs participated in training, including the Boys & Girls Club, Communities In Schools, School District programs, Parks & Recreation programs, YMCA, YWCA, 4-H and Resource & Referral staff. These trainers bring strategies back to their provider networks, and act as regional resources for training. Network staff also participated in a Master Trainer Institute for NPASS, enabling them to train other trainers. Kansas has trained five master trainers and has six in training in 2014. Through this strategic approach, Kansas now has training resources addressing informal science in afterschool in most regions of the state. 

Professional Development - Developing a STEM Learning Community

In 2013 the Maryland Out of School Network (MOST) chose their first cohort of 38 sites for the SySTEM Learning Community. Participating sites choose two ambassadors to participate in learning community trainings and share information with their programs, where they choose to focus on one of ten evidence-based curricular models. MOST provides technical assistance, data collection and trainings to Learning Community sites. This work has had a significant impact on the availability of high-quality STEM resources to sites and dramatically increased partnerships between sites and STEM-rich partners. The next phase of work will focus on expanding the number of learning communities and build out a strong core of STEM engaged afterschool professionals that can help translate best practices to programs.  

Power of Discovery: STEM2 – a project of the California Afterschool Network (CAN) and the California STEM Learning Network focused on building regional capacity in order to take STEM professional development to scale in the state. Five Regional Innovation Support Providers worked with afterschool programs in their region to improve STEM learning in afterschool. Programs were offered professional development, curriculum resources, the establishment of communities of practices and an interagency network of support for programs in their regions. A virtual Innovation Support Center was established by CAN to host a range of quality STEM curriculum and program management resources to serve program providers throughout the state. Recent findings have shown that line staff are attending more STEM trainings, have greater efficacy in implementing STEM activities and have more frequent discussions with classroom teachers about STEM concepts being taught in school as a result of this work. In addition, staff reported an increase in the numbers of meetings with parents to discuss STEM programming and the number of STEM-related events for parents. 

National Resources

Dimensions of Success

Dimensions of Success (DoS) is an observational tool that measures 12 indicators of STEM quality in out-of-school time. The tool is a four level rubric with a level of quality associated with each dimension. The DoS tool can be used to support continuous improvement through self-observation tool as well as an evaluation tool.  

Dimensions of Success Program Planning Tool

The DoS Program Planning Tool is a new tool being developed by PEAR for practitioners in the field to use as they prepare staff to lead STEM activities. The planning tool aligns with the DOS observation tool, and focused on how facilitators can prepare activities and prepare a teaching strategy that will allow them to reach high quality on all twelve dimensions. 

Click2Science PD

Click2Science is an interactive, professional development site for trainers, coaches, site directors and frontline staff/volunteers working in out-of-school time programs serving children and youth. The site provides free online training modules and connection to a learning community focused on 20 key skills necessary to implement STEM content effectively in afterschool settings. 

State Resources

Indiana Afterschool Specialty Standards: STEM

The Indiana afterschool standards are statewide voluntary standards that offer a framework of expectations for all stakeholders – state policymakers, funders, providers and parents.  Indiana has developed general standards as well as specialty standards for STEM, and other areas.  

Michigan Out-of-School Time Standards

The Michigan Afterschool Partnership supported the creation of the Michigan Out of School Time Standards of Quality (MOST) adopted by the State Department of Education. They include a standard for STEM program content (Standard V.I). A self-assessment checklist based on the standards is available here.

Maryland sySTEM Learning Community Resources

Maryland RFP for STEM sySTEM Learning Community sites - 2013-2014
The Maryland Out-of-School-Time Network created a request for proposals for sites to join the network of STEM programs in the 2013-2014 school year.  The RFP includes eligibility and expectations of partners. 

Orientation Agenda & Session Descriptions
Agenda and description of sessions for a meeting held to orient Learning Community programs to STEM curricula and resources available from STEM-rich institutions in the state.  

Orientation PowerPoint
Slides that orient Learning Community sites to the goals of the work, the roles and responsibilities of participating sites and the supports available from MOST. 

Rhode Island STEM Resource Tool Kit Application

The Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance released an application for out-of-school time sites to receive a STEM resource kit in partnership with local business Utilidata.

Michigan Project Liftoff Training Overview

Document that describes a training academy model implemented by Michigan to train cohorts of afterschool programs in the delivery of high-quality STEM content.  

Maryland STEM Trek Conference – Agenda and Session Descriptions

Program for annual STEM conference for STEM educators, professionals, students and parents.

California STEM Resources for Programs

The California Afterschool Resource Center (CASRC) offers STEM curricula and activity materials for loan to programs throughout the state.


Strategies and Tips
  • Convene and participate in statewide planning efforts for STEM in order to influence the priorities, policy and funding of statewide STEM initiatives and ensure that afterschool is included as an important setting for delivering STEM-rich content.  
  • When exploring policy and funding opportunities, consider ways to expand afterschool through a workforce, economic development, college and career ready lens as well as through education.
  • Consider opportunities to influence policy broadly, including public agency funding, regulation and monitoring as well as legislative policy. Work to influence public agency leaders to prioritize STEM in their afterschool funding requests and quality assurance activities.  
  • Use the focus on STEM to engage champions from industry, the state legislature and the executive branch who have not traditionally prioritized afterschool and who have the ability to influence state policymaking.  
State Examples

Maryland Out of School Time Network was invited to chair the subcommittee for authentic learning experiences in STEM in the State Department of Education’s STEM Education Planning Process and is using this opportunity to include both formal and informal perspectives in this process.  

The Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership (MAP) was able to engage the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, the Massachusetts Pipeline Fund and Executive Office of Education to leverage funds to support informal STEM learning opportunities. The network advocated for the role of informal STEM opportunities in the student interest portion of the Council’s work as the State redrafted its STEM standards. These efforts have positioned MAP as a lead expert on STEM in afterschool while being able to recommend budgetary guidelines to the council. As the legislature moved to codify the Governor’s STEM council to assure its presence when a new administration is sworn in next year, it modified the makeup of the council to include a representative of the out of school time field. The latest Request for Proposals to the Regional STEM Networks was changed to include priority points for submitting proposals that strategically focused on afterschool collaboration across the region. As of 2014, the collective partnerships have directed $1.7 million toward informal STEM initiatives. 

The Michigan After-School Partnership participates on the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Career Inspiration Advisory Committee, which is rolling out a statewide initiative to advise on STEM and entrepreneurship, collaborating with the Michigan Department of Education and the Workforce Development Agency. 

Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network engaged the Pennsylvania Department of Education early in the planning and systems building work. From the inception, the Director of Student Services who oversees the 21st CCLC program has been a key partner in the work. The last two RFPs for 21st CCLC programs now include priority points for afterschool programs that include STEM programming as part of their work. In addition, the network STEM portal is a resource for 21st CCLC programs across the state and several 21st CCLC sites are part of the network’s pilot STEM professional development efforts.

State Resources

Innovate: A Blueprint for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in California

 A report by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s STEM Task Force. The California Afterschool Network, as part of their Power of Discovery: STEM2 Initiative, was a partner in the development of this plan, specifically the emphasis on STEM in Expanded and Informal Learning.

MA Economic Stimulus Legislation Establishing the STEM Pipeline Fund

STEM Pipeline Fund is in Section 13. 

Maryland STEM Strategic Plan

Governor O’Malley’s Administration led the development of a STEM Education Strategic Plan, which the Maryland Out-of-School Time network (MOST) contributed to. This website summarizes the strategic plan.  

PA RFA for 2014 21st Century Community Learning Centers  

PA prioritized STEM/STEAM programming in this RFA (see page 10 – 11)


Strategies and Tips
  • Identify existing conferences and planning bodies focused on afterschool and/or STEM and work to get on the agenda of these efforts to talk about the opportunities for offering informal science in afterschool. This can create “quick wins” in terms of new awareness of the importance of STEM in afterschool, credibility of the networks as a leader on STEM and engagement of new partners. This continual awareness-building and outreach is critical to maintaining the state vision as new STEM efforts continue to surface in states.  
  • Highlight informal science in afterschool as part of the solution to the problem of limited interest, proficiency and engagement of many young people in STEM subjects in school and careers over the long term.  
  • Emphasize the importance of STEM investments in your ongoing communication efforts with public agency officials, legislators, governor’s and their staff and industry leaders about afterschool.
  • Broaden your engagement strategy to include partners who can support your system- building communication goals, such as public radio and television, journalists, media firms and marketing and PR firms. 
  • Hold local, regional, or statewide summits on STEM learning in afterschool to bring together a range of stakeholders, build awareness of the importance of STEM and gather input and engagement on a statewide vision for STEM in afterschool. 
State Examples

Beyond School Bells, Nebraska’s statewide afterschool network, developed a statewide public awareness campaign to promote STEM. A critical factor in the success of their campaign was the development of partnerships that expanded the reach of their messaging. These included strategic partnerships with Nebraska’s public broadcasting entity, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications (NET) and a statewide public awareness campaign, Nebraska Loves Public Schools (NELovePS). These partnerships led to statewide programming raising public awareness about OST STEM including an hour-long feature program on NET and a series of short persuasive OST STEM videos on NELovesPS. In 2014, Nebraska partnered with Gallup to develop podcasts to be run on a Nebraska STEM YouTube site that feature interviews of individuals in the STEM field in the Omaha metro area. 

At the Maryland Out of School Time Network, STEM is a major component of all their communications efforts, especially through social media. STEM was the focused topic at their statewide policy forum that featured youth STEM programming using 3D printing at the state house in Annapolis.

National Resources

Telling the STEM Chapter of the Education Core Story: A Communications Toolkit

Created by Frameworks Institute, sponsored by the Noyce Foundation, is intended to support communicators in framing the issues that surround STEM learning in both formal and informal learning contexts. It includes three main types of content: (1) Communications guides, intended as “job aids” to be used while crafting communications that align with FrameWorks research; (2) Sample communications, intended to be used in external communications. These include annotations that unpack the framing strategy being illustrated, so that the recommendations can be extended to new communications; and (3) Links to research reports, intended to be used as reference material.

Afterschool Alliance Making the Case for STEM Toolkit

Contains general tips and links to resource for advocating for policy and investments in STEM in afterschool.

State Resources

Maryland STEM Overview PowerPoint

An overview PowerPoint introducing a new audience to the importance of STEM in afterschool and the landscape of efforts in the state.

Florida Afterschool Network Partnership with Public Television to Deliver Training

The Florida Afterschool Network partnered with WFSU public broadcasting services and the Electric Company to offer web-based training in STEM curricula for summer programs. 

Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance STEM and Afterschool Policy Brief 2012

RIASPA created this brief to document the national and statewide STEM challenges, the need for quality afterschool STEM programming and state-level recommendations. 

OKAN Policy Brief: STEM Education and Oklahoma’s Future Workforce

The Oklahoma Afterschool Network created this policy brief connecting STEM education in afterschool programs with workforce development goals.

Nebraska Beyond School Bells Communication Materials

Beyond School Bells, the Nebraska afterschool network, has created a number of communication materials making the case for STEM, including an infographic, fact sheets on the importance of STEM and STEM logos for download.

Missouri STEM Evaluation: Afterschool Works!

The Missouri Afterschool Network used Project LIFTOFF evaluation data to evaluate afterschool and STEM education.

Nebraska Beyond School Bells Public Awareness campaign materials include short persuasive videos about the importance of STEM from Nebraska Loves Public Schools; series of short videos highlighting different STEM programs, produced in partnership with Gallup; and a public television show that highlighted STEM and afterschool as part of a series on the state of public education.