Rural Maine Afterschool PD Program Gets $1.85 million NSF Grant for Online Video Coaching

A professional development (PD) program run by the Maine Mathematics & Science Alliance (MMSA) operating in rural Maine was recently awarded a $1.85 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue coaching educators and librarians on how to bring out-of-school STEM learning opportunities into their communities.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called “The Nation’s Report Card,” Maine students on average have scored above average in science and mathematics since the state began participating in NAEP testing in 1990. However, these scores tend to waver in rural areas that lack adequate training resources.

“Equity is such an issue for us in rural settings where there are so few professional development opportunities,” said Sue Allen, Ph.D and project principal investigator of MMSA’s Afterschool Coaching for Rural Educators in STEM (ACRES) program, in a video overview of the program. “We’re really trying to make the system work entirely online as well as hybrid models.”

ACRES is designed to support PD opportunities for out-of-school providers in rural settings mainly through the use of video, as the program site explains. It was piloted for two years and will soon be made available in an entirely online format with the NSF grant, according to a news release.

For ACRES, four to eight educators and/or librarians convene online with a live coach and discuss skills as they learn them. Participants start out by watching and analyzing videos of other trainees and then move on to videos of themselves in the classroom working with students — which, Allen commented in the video, “is where the real learning comes. They come together in these groups, and share their videos, and look at them together, and start to see their skills develop and those of others.”

Trainees are asked to videotape their own work with youth and small-group sessions with peers using Zoom, a cloud-based video and web conferencing service. Zoom offers high-quality wireless screen sharing, HD video and audio, native integration (no additional hardware required), and other features that work for ACRES.

A few of the after-school programs that ACRES works with are:

“The focus is on coaching,” explained Sue Allen, Ph.D and ACRES project principal investigator, in the video. “Rather than a lot of professional development opportunities that are workshops in a particular content area, we’ve taken on trying to help after-school providers learn important skills that would work in any program or STEM activity.”

The $1.85 million grant is part of NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which:

  • Seeks to apply evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments;
  • Provides additional pathways to expand access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences;
  • Furthers cutting-edge research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and
  • Fosters deeper learning experiences.

An MMSA news release stated that about 14,000 students and 500 program providers will be impacted by the ACRES project.

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].