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MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning to Remote Learning Environments


Abstract and Figures

With schools and educational centers around the country moving from in-person to emergency remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, education faces an unprecedented crisis (Hodges et al., Educause Review 27, 2020). This case study presents the efforts and impact of Full STEAM Ahead (FSA) launched by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in response to the pandemic to support remote collaborative learning for K-12 learners, parents, and educators. We present two FSA initiatives: (1) weekly themed packages with developmentally appropriate activities for K-12 remote learning and (2) Full STEAM Ahead Into Summer (FSAIS), an online summer program for middle school Massachusetts students, specifically targeting students who are at risk for “COVID Slide.” (Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education-Final Report: ?) Our operative theory of change is that we can improve K-12 remote collaborative learning experiences through developing and sharing a curriculum that exemplifies the minds-on and hands-on approach advocated by MIT, strategically leveraging existing structures and projects within MIT, and establishing partnerships with the local and international community. We gauge the effect of these efforts on contributing members of the MIT community and targeted learners by analyzing data gathered through participant surveys and artifacts such as the website, packages, modules, and student projects created during the summer programs. Our findings indicate that existing structures and resources – with community building – facilitated the achievement of our goal to develop and distribute problem-based learning activities and that interaction and community building were central in meeting those goals. This work contributes to the knowledge base regarding emergency online learning and the development of effective university outreach efforts.
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299© The Author(s) 2022
F. M. Reimers, F. J. Marmolejo (eds.), University and School Collaborations
during a Pandemic, Knowledge Studies in Higher Education 8,
Chapter 20
MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing
Project-Based, Collaborative Learning
toRemote Learning Environments
ClaudiaUrrea, KirkyDelong, JoeDiaz, EricKlopfer, MeredithThompson,
AditiWagh, JennyGardony, EmmaAnderson, andRohanKundargi
Abstract With schools and educational centers around the country moving from
in-person to emergency remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, education
faces an unprecedented crisis (Hodges etal., Educause Review 27, 2020). This case
study presents the efforts and impact of Full STEAM Ahead (FSA) launched by the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in response to the pandemic to sup-
port remote collaborative learning for K-12 learners, parents, and educators. We
present two FSA initiatives: (1) weekly themed packages with developmentally
appropriate activities for K-12 remote learning and (2) Full STEAM Ahead Into
Summer (FSAIS), an online summer program for middle school Massachusetts stu-
dents, specically targeting students who are at risk for “COVID Slide.” (Institute-
wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education-Final Report:
future- report/TaskForceFinal_July28.pdf?) Our operative theory of change is that
we can improve K-12 remote collaborative learning experiences through develop-
ing and sharing a curriculum that exemplies the minds-on and hands-on approach
advocated by MIT, strategically leveraging existing structures and projects within
MIT, and establishing partnerships with the local and international community. We
gauge the effect of these efforts on contributing members of the MIT community
and targeted learners by analyzing data gathered through participant surveys and
artifacts such as the website, packages, modules, and student projects created during
the summer programs. Our ndings indicate that existing structures and resources–
with community building– facilitated the achievement of our goal to develop and
distribute problem-based learning activities and that interaction and community
building were central in meeting those goals. This work contributes to the knowl-
edge base regarding emergency online learning and the development of effective
university outreach efforts.
C. Urrea (*) · K. Delong · J. Diaz · E. Klopfer · M. Thompson · A. Wagh
J. Gardony · E. Anderson · R. Kundargi
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
20.1 Introduction
Within the short span of a few months in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic rap-
idly impacted and transformed the world. In mid-March, as schools and educational
centers around the United States transitioned to emergency remote learning, educa-
tion faced an unprecedented crisis (Hodges etal., 2020). For several decades prior,
the MIT community has invested in improving pK-12 education. In response to an
institute-wide recommendation to dene a K-12 strategy, a special interest group
known as the pK-12 Action Group was established in 2016.1 This group joins mem-
bers of different departments, laboratories, centers, and educational outreach stu-
dent groups2 to develop programs, activities, and resources to engage pK-12 teachers
and students in meaningful educational experiences. As the pandemic disrupted
education, the pK-12 community paused to consider, “How can our collective
resources and ideas be made of service to the education community?”
This case study focuses on Full STEAM Ahead (FSA)– MIT’s response to this
educational crisis. Specically, we present the design and development of two
related Full STEAM Ahead initiatives. The rst initiative was FSA learning pack-
ages– a curated collection of theme-based science, technology, engineering, arts,
and mathematics (STEAM) learning activities for K-12 educators, students, and
parents. From March to May, we released ten weekly learning packages on a newly
designed website to share high-quality curricular materials for remote use. Members
of the MIT community volunteered their time and efforts towards this initiative. The
second initiative, Full STEAM Ahead into Summer (FSAIS), was conceptualized as
the pandemic threatened to signicantly disrupt summer learning opportunities for
all students. Many summer programs for K-12 students, including our on campus
programs, were canceled. Additionally, MIT students’ summer job opportunities
were limited due to the weakened US economy and uncertainty of safety in the
workplace. To provide learning opportunities for local students and summer employ-
ment for MIT students, we created an online summer program where MIT students
served as tutors and mentors to middle school students. FSAIS utilized resources
curated from the spring FSA learning packages and other STEAM camp modules.
Funding for the summer program came from a few sources. The MIT Chancellor
Cynthia Barnhart’s Ofce funded MIT student salaries; an internal donor funded the
books included in materials kits. Money for the materials kits was raised from an
external donor, the MIT Ofce of Government and Community Relations, and fami-
lies who donated funds to cover the cost of those materials.
Full STEAM Ahead’s mission is to create and share high-quality resources to
facilitate digital and non-digital learning for K-12 and lifelong learners. By provid-
ing STEAM-based instructional materials and an open forum for users to share
insights, we aimed to inspire a diverse global community of educators, students, and
1 Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education-Final Report:
2 To learn more about these pK-12 programs and activities visit:
C. Urrea et al.
parents to nd innovative and humanistic solutions to the challenges of learning at
a distance. With this mission in mind, our theory of change is that we can improve
K-12 remote collaborative learning experiences through strategically leveraging
existing structures and projects within MIT and establishing partnerships with the
local and international community. We are guided by two research questions:
1. How do groups at MIT collaborate internally and with schools and families to
develop and support education efforts that reect the mission of MIT?
2. What impact do these collaborations have on MIT students, K-12 students, and
parents, and for improving future iterations of our work?
We rst describe each initiative and then examine its impact on contributing MIT
members and targeted learners. Finally, we explore the effects of those initiatives by
analyzing survey data from participants and artifacts such as the website, modules,
and student projects. In our discussion, we reect on the advantages and challenges
of each of these approaches and consider what aspects of our experiences could be
transferable to other institutions.
20.2 About MIT
Since its founding in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has remained
committed to advancing knowledge and educating students in science, technology,
and other areas of scholarship to best serve the nation and the world in the twenty-
rst century. MIT currently has a student population of approximately 11,500
undergraduate and graduate students, awarding need-based scholarships to 59% of
enrollees. The institute is well known for rigorous education and a faculty including
Nobel Laureates and MacArthur Fellows. Furthermore, MIT is intentional about
developing and supporting the next generation of learners in STEM education.
In 2014, an institute-wide task force initiated a deep self-assessment on the
future of MIT Education focusing on the potential of MIT’s resources and research
to produce innovations in education based on “the educational model that has served
the institute so well for so long.” From this, a list of recommendations included a
call to extend MIT’s “mens et manus” style of pedagogy to the world, exploring
means of certication to empower learners outside of the institute, collaboration
with the global community to bring scaled change, and denition of an institute-
wide K-12 strategy. For years, many departments, labs, centers, and student groups
had been actively supporting young learners who fell outside of the scope of higher
education. However, in establishing a concentrated devotion from the auspices of
the institute’s administration and highlighting MIT’s focus on K-12 education, our
community has grown to collaborate, support, and innovate new practices. We have
more fully realized the potential impact of higher education on establishing path-
ways for youth into STEM careers and fostering imaginative ways of thinking to
bring both students and the world future success.
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
20.3 Bringing “Mind andHand” toRemote
Learning Environments
The pedagogical spirit underlying these initiatives is embodied in MIT’s motto,
“mens et manus,” which translates to “mind and hand.” “Mind and hand” describes
the combination of study and practice that characterizes the MIT approach towards
meaningful learning. Fullling “mens et manus” involves rich learning opportuni-
ties to engage with content by collaboratively tackling problems, experimenting
with multiple solutions to real situations, and learning by designing and building
projects in alignment with one’s interests.
MIT canceled all in-person spring and summer programs in response to the
COVID-19 pandemic. Several MIT pK-12 groups responded to the disruption by
pivoting to offer a diverse set of online programs. MIT Media Lab’s Public Library
Innovation Exchange (PLIX) and the Science and Engineering Program for Teachers
(SEPT) are two adult learning programs delivered remotely. For high school stu-
dents, programs included the Beaver Works Summer Institute (BWSI); the Saturday
Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy; BioBuilder; the
Edgerton Center’s Engineering Design Workshop (EDW); MIT Online Science,
Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC); and Lemelson-MIT Biotech
in Action: Virtual Summer Lab. In addition to programs developed by MIT groups
and centers, several programs created and managed by MIT students switched to
remote delivery. These included the ESP Summer Program, involving two thousand
students and approximately two hundred MIT student teachers, and the MIT CodeIt
program, a six-week middle school program which teaches Scratch (a block-based
programming language). Additionally, the MIT App Inventor’s Coronavirus App
Challenge received around one hundred project submissions from 20 countries,
with participants between the ages of 8 and 72.
This case study focuses on Full STEAM Ahead (FSA), a program that includes
two parts: the spring Weekly Learning packages, and the online collaborative
project- based summer program.
20.3.1 Weekly Learning Packages
When schools shut down, our team members connected with teachers to learn more
about their challenges from transitioning to remote learning. State education agen-
cies (SEA), who usually guide schools, administrators, and educators, had vastly
different responses to the pandemic. Some SEAs provided detailed guidelines,
while others had little information for educators (Reich etal. 2020a, b0). One of the
greatest difculties that teachers reported was the limited availability of high- quality
learning materials. Teachers did not have the time to develop new materials from
scratch and often did not know where to nd pedagogically sound curricular materi-
als online. Teachers were also overwhelmed in trying to communicate with students
C. Urrea et al.
online and reaching the students with the most needs—themes paralleled in multi-
ple research studies (Reich et al. 2020a, b). In response to the pandemic, many
organizations offered curricular materials to teachers for free. Inundated with new
curricular options, many educators could not simultaneously vet resources and
adapt their classrooms and lives to remote instruction. Conversations with teachers
inspired the conceptualization of MIT’s Full STEAM Ahead learning packages.
The Full STEAM Ahead learning packages curated student-facing lessons with
distribution over a span of several weeks. Learning packages were originally envi-
sioned to be a weekly set of themed activities relieving some of the teachers’ chal-
lenges. The release of learning activities over several weeks was intended to create
a space where teachers, parents, or students could return each week to nd new,
well-designed materials on a variety of topics(Table 20.1).
Each package was intentionally designed to be open-ended, project-based, and
theme-based with their activities for K-12 learners. The ten learning packages cov-
ered many topics in a variety of styles. For instance, the packages included activities
that engaged learners in constructing a simulation of disease contagion (Package 1),
designing musical instruments and compositions (Packages 4 and 8), and using
recycled materials to build new inventions (Packages 2 and 6). Some packages also
experimented with innovative ways of learner interaction, which includes allowing
learners to ask researchers questions about life in space and the future of exploration
virtually (Package 3) and asking learners to gather observations of their immediate
surroundings and consider why things in and around their homes are the way they
Table 20.1 List of Full STEAM Ahead Weekly packages and their creators
Weekly package Contributor
Week 1: Modeling the
spread of disease
The Education Arcade
Week 2: Stepping into
invention education
Lemelson-MIT program (School of Engineering)
Week 3: Exploring and
living in outer space!
Space Exploration Initiative (MIT Media Lab)
Week 4: Making music and
Edgerton Center
Week 5: The world
around us
Collaboration between MITOpen Learning, Education Arcade,
MIT Museum, Edgerton Center, MIT Sloan, Public Library
Innovation Exchange, MIT Environmental Solution Initiative, &
Week 6: Inventing matters! Lemelson-MIT program (School of Engineering)
Week 7: Reveal!
Discovering science through
compelling images
MIT Museum
Week 8: Making Music &
Sounds– II
Edgerton Center
Week 9: Articial
Collaboration between personal robots group & MIT app inventor
Week 10: Get creative with
Lifelong Kindergarten Group(MIT Media Lab)
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
are (Package 5). Across all packages, there were common elements, such as inter-
views with experts and opportunities to share creations and collaborate through an
online forum.
The analytic data described the demand for the packages and the general level of
interest. Project examples we received through forums and emails demonstrated the
students’ level of engagement and the potential use of the materials, but this data
was anecdotal, and our learner engagement was very limited. We reected on this
initial effort, the positive response from members of the MIT community, and our
ability to collaborate as part of the response. From this, we saw an opportunity to
engage more closely with learners, to scaffold learners’ interests, and to advance
our understanding of how middle school students learn STEAM concepts and
develop skills through online learning experiences. Full STEAM Ahead into
Summer was launched!
20.3.2 Summer Program: Engaging Directly withLearners
Full STEAM Ahead into Summer is a virtual summer program and academic enrich-
ment opportunity that combines hands-on exploration, project design, and skill
building (such as collaboration, problem-solving, and academic skills) in STEAM
subjects. Designed for rising 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students in the state of
Massachusetts, this three-week program involves approximately 4 h of activities
and mentoring each day, incorporating materials from the Full STEAM Ahead web-
site and open-source modules adapted for remote use from prior MIT STEAM
camps (Bagiati etal., 2018).
To simultaneously serve MIT students and families and children in the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we decided to develop a program where MIT
students could mentor and teach middle school students through a collaborative,
hands-on, remote learning program. We hoped to leverage our existing resources in
the form of FSA learning packages and student expertise while developing a
STEAM enrichment program for children most affected by the pandemic.
We recruited 33 MIT undergraduate students, graduate students, and recent grad-
uates to be mentors for this pilot program. Two of these mentors were promoted to
program coordinators, responsible for serving as the primary points of contact
between the MIT staff, MIT student mentors, and the program participants as well
as their parents and guardians.
Seven training sessions made the mentors familiar with the activities and mod-
ules they would facilitate over each of the three-week sessions and hosted faculty,
K-12 educators, MIT digital learning fellows, and our staff to share advice. These
sessions included an introduction to problem-based learning inspired by “The Three
Acts of a Mathematical Story,” an introduction to the specic STEAM modules,
online teaching tips, culturally responsive teaching, a training to involve all students
in remote learning, an introduction to Design Thinking, and how to lead a book club
around “The Lost Tribes” by Taylor-Butler (2018) (Gewin, 2020; Hammond, 2014;
Meyer, 2011; Razzouk & Shute, 2012).
C. Urrea et al.
Elements of the Program
The switch to online learning has been especially challenging for students with a
lower socioeconomic status, who are at a greater risk of falling behind academically
(Goldstein, 2020). We wanted to make sure the program served learners from differ-
ent backgrounds and interests, but above all, those who could benet from the dif-
ferent elements of the program (math tutoring, project modules, etc.). The initial
phase of the recruitment focused on partner schools that serve traditionally under-
represented students in STEM elds– including Black and Hispanic students– stu-
dents who qualify for free or reduced lunch, English language learners, and students
who will be the rst in their families to attend college (see Table20.2).
We spoke with teachers, administrators, and parents at the Community Charter
School of Cambridge (CCSC) and incorporated their input into the design of the
program. For example, parents advised us that they would prefer a three-week pro-
gram (as opposed to a six-week program) and that it would be important to make
Table 20.2 FSA Summer Program Schedule
Time Element Brief description
Schedule reminders, shout-outs, community building
Choice time Modeled after MITEducational Studies Program’s SPLASH
and SPARK offerings, described as a “teaching and learning
extravaganza” where MIT student volunteers teach a topic of
their choosing on a specied weekend in November
Our mentors’offerings included Coding in Scratch and
Python, Greek Mythology, Creative Writing, Micro:Bit
Basics, TikTok Dancing, LGBTQ Diversity, Making Origami
Animals, etc.
11:20–12 Academic time
(math tutoring, book
club on Fridays)
5–7 students per group
Informed by the Massachusetts prerequisite content standards
and interviews from teachers and parents
Math problems are based on “three ACT math”, an inquiry-
based strategy where students analyze a visual image or
video using a three-part, story-telling structure (i.e.,
invitation, discussion, and resolution)
Friday Book Club: Students read and discuss The Lost Tribes,
a book for middle school students by Christine Taylor-Butler,
an MIT alumna
12–1 Lunch break
1–3 (2 on
learning time (guest
speaker on Fridays)
10–12 students per group, engaging in a variety of hands-on
Topics included Exploring Outer Space with CubeSats,
Music Instruments & Data—Sonifying Your Data, The World
Around Us—Observational exploration, Building Wind
Turbines, and Two-Stage Water Rockets
Culminated in a week-long design thinking workshop in
which students develop their own projects
Generative, allowing space for creativity and innovation (not
just replication)
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
activities engaging, as many of their students were tired of remote learning. Our
recruitment team also utilized existing partnerships between MIT and local
Cambridge Public Schools, Prospect Hill Academy in Cambridge/Somerville, and
Greater Lawrence Technical High School. Our outreach included multiple meetings
with school leaders and teachers to describe our program in depth and conrm sup-
port from the school. We requested that schools allow students to keep borrowed
technology over the summer so that students, regardless of income level, could
access our program.
We discovered a high demand for access to summer opportunities. Over the
course of two weeks, we received 800+ applications for the pilot program.
Admissions prioritized students from our “partner schools;” over half of our partici-
pants came from schools that serve underrepresented students. Every student who
applied from a partner school was granted a seat. We lled the remaining 130 seats
through a random lottery of completed applications. We accepted 341 students
(6th–9th grades) from 57 cities across the state of Massachusetts (see Fig.20.1).
The rst session began on July 6th and included 166 students from 47 towns. The
second session, which started on August 3rd, included 125 students from 40 towns.
Because of the hands-on nature of the project modules, each participant and MIT
Mentor received their own materials kit. Early on, we decided that the kits were
necessary for the program’s success and equity for all participants, so they were
provided free of charge. To make the most of limited resources, we decided to order
materials and self-assemble 350 kits in a socially distanced setting, a collegue’s
backyard. We offered three pickup locations for kit distribution, and the remaining
boxes were mailed to participants.
Fig. 20.1 Map of student participant locations in Massachusetts
C. Urrea et al.
So far, we have described two remote learning initiatives– FSA learning pack-
ages and FSAIS –developed in response to the pandemic. In the remainder of this
paper, we draw on data from the initiatives to investigate two research questions:
1. How do groups at MIT collaborate internally and with schools and families to
support education efforts?
2. What impact do these collaborations have on MIT students, K-12 students, par-
ents, and in helping us improve our work?
20.4 Method
The research study includes a mixed-method, convergent research design, with
qualitative and quantitative data gathered simultaneously during the project (Fetters
etal., 2013). Our methods are similar for both Full STEAM Ahead Weekly Learning
Packages and Full STEAM Ahead into Summer initiatives. We invited participants
from FSA and MIT community members to complete a survey about the package
creation and distribution process; we also invited parents and middle school stu-
dents to complete a postexperience survey about the FSAIS program. Our research
has been designed with minimal impact on the day-to-day experience of the pro-
gram and to maintain condentiality and anonymity among respondents. It is also
covered under COUHES E-2470 for the FSA project and COUHES Protocol #:
2007000196 for the FSAIS project. We calculated frequencies and descriptive sta-
tistics for quantitative data from survey data and qualitative review of the artifacts
designed by students during the program, open-ended survey responses, and infor-
mal parent/student feedback.
While our summer program had an academic component, we did not expect to
see signicant changes in student performance in math and reading over just
3weeks. Research on similar outreach programs indicates that programs of about a
30-h duration can impact students’ knowledge of the program topics, as well as
attitudes, interests, and beliefs in STEM (Cappelli etal., 2019; Newton etal., 2018).
Thus, we hypothesized that this program would increase students’ interest in and
motivation to explore STEAM topics, their self-efcacy in mathematical problem-
solving, and their knowledge of and self-efcacy for open-ended, project-based
work (Chen, 2012; Chen & Usher, 2013). Our sample at the time of writing this
article included 50 parents and 50 students, about one-third of those who had
enrolled in Session 1. The demographics and age for the students in this sample
appear in Table20.3.
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
20.5 Results
This case study includes responses from the MIT community about their experi-
ences and contributions to FSA learning packages and results from the rst session
of the summer program; at the time of this chapter’s writing, the second session had
just begun. We plan to maintain our research into the summer program and share
these ndings in future publications.
20.5.1 MIT Community Collaboration inLearning Packages
FSA learning packages provided an opportunity for the MIT community to mobi-
lize their capacities and efforts towards common goals. In what follows, we describe:
1. How the community self-organized within a very short span of time to mount
this initiative.
2. Results from data analytics about the global reach of learning packages.
3. How this collaboration supported the MIT community members’ individ-
ual goals.
20.5.2 Rapid Mobilization ofCapacity andEfforts toLaunch
theLearning Packages
Each package represented the combined efforts of several groups or labs and indi-
viduals across MIT.The groundwork for the development of the packages was
largely established through the development of Package 1, “Modeling the Spread of
Disease,” which was assembled and released within 5days of project initiation. In
the development of this package, members of the MIT pK-12 community self-
organized into four sub-teams. The sub-teams were uid and changed based on the
specic week, but a small core team of individuals volunteered their time toward
package development across the ten-week span. The four sub-teams worked on spe-
cic tasks involved in package completion:
Table 20.3 Demographics of student and parent respondents
Race N/% Ethnicity N/% Grade in Sept 2020 N/%
White 22 (44%) Not Hispanic 37 (74%) 7th 22 (44%)
Asian 8 (16%) Hispanic 11 (22%) 8th 10 (20%)
African American 13 (26%) Prefer not to say 2 (4%) 9th 18 (36%)
More than one 4 (8%)
Prefer not to say 3 (6%)
C. Urrea et al.
1. Ensuring that each week had a package lead, coordinating with package leads,
and ensuring that packages-in-progress aligned with our broader pedagogi-
cal goals.
2. Designing and developing activity materials for the package and interviewing
experts. In some weeks, this team consisted of individuals from a single group
that was already involved in STEM education outreach (e.g., Package 10), and in
others, a package was formed out of a collaboration between two or more groups
(e.g., Package 5).
3. Preparing and transferring the activity materials and videos onto the Full STEAM
Ahead website.
4. Disseminating packages through writing and sharing media releases.
20.5.3 Data Analytics About Global Reach ofthePackages
Our analytics revealed a total of 130,000+ pageviews and 45,000+ unique viewers
for the learning packages over the course of the 10-week package release. The pack-
ages were accessed by learners in 150 countries around the world, with most visi-
tors from the United States, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Japan,
Australia, Mexico, Turkey, and Hong Kong. Around 35% of site visits were from
returning viewers. Data from the rst week of August shows that the most popular
packages have been “Stepping into Invention Education” (Package 2) and “Modeling
the Spread of Disease” (Package 1). Other popular packages include “Making
Music and Sounds Part I” (Package 4), “Exploring and Living in Outer Space!”
(Package 3), and “Getting Creative with Math” (Package 10) (Fig.20.2).
We received some examples of artifacts produced by students from Full STEAM
Ahead forums and emails. One of the projects came from a young boy who shared
Top Package Pages on MIT Full STEAM Ahead (March - July 2020)
Week 2: Stepping Into Invention Education
Week 1: Spread of Disease
Week 4: Making Music and Sounds
Week 3: Exploring and Living in Outer Space!
Week 10: Get Creative With Math
Week 5: The World Around Us
Week 6: Inventing Matters!
Week 9: Artificial Intelligence!
Week 7: Reveal! Discovering Science
Through Compelling Images
Week-8: Making Music and Sounds - II
Fig. 20.2 Top page hits from the MIT Full STEAM Ahead website
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
his picture of the invention journal, developed during “Stepping into Invention
Education” (Package 2). A second example came from a middle school girl who
was engaged with the “Future of Space Food” activities that were part of “Exploring
and Living in Outer Space!” (Package 3) (Fig.20.3).
We also heard from teachers, who adapted some of the resources and activities
for use during the spring semester and added them to their remote teaching.
I love the activities in the Full STEAM ahead modules! There are a lot of resources being
thrown at us [teachers] right now but I do nd the Full STEAM ahead ones stand out in
terms of being actually useful.— Educator from Columbia, SC
20.5.4 How This Collaboration Supported theMIT
Community Members’ Individual Goals
We received 20 responses from members of the MIT community who contributed to
the weekly packages. We have at least two responses from eight out of the ten pack-
ages. Packages 7 and 10 had only one response (Fig.20.4).
The top factors that motivated members of the community to participate in the
FSA consisted of helping others (teachers, parents, and students) and collaborating
with other members of the MIT community. Approximately 95% of respondents
reported that they felt that they met those goals (N=20 responses). The only respon-
dent who expressed that their goals were not met explained that “the goals of con-
tent creation were met, but we really don’t know anything about who we reached or
how satised they were.
About 44% of responses mentioned the need to have more visibility of the impact
(N=9 responses). Some respondents also reported that the FSA team did not con-
nect them with teachers.
Fig. 20.3 Artifact examples from Full STEAM Ahead package activities
C. Urrea et al.
Content creation, dissemination, and collaboration among members of the MIT
community were some of the most important outcomes from the weekly packages.
When reporting about participation, 90% of the respondents said that they were able
to reach a broader audience, and 85% said it helped them both develop age-
appropriate materials and collaborate with other MIT community members (N=20
respondents). Specically, the respondents reported that the FSA team helped them
disseminate their materials (90%), provide feedback (85%), or help by adding new
resources (45%). Looking deeper at collaboration among members of the MIT com-
munity, we know some collaboration happened during package creation and contin-
ued even after the package launches (50%). About half of the respondents (55%)
reviewed other packages, so that all packages were reviewed by between 2–6 com-
munity members. Further opportunities and aspirations for collaboration were pro-
posed by the respondents, who mentioned ideas such as “combine technical,
research and subject matter expertise/offerings with others to have greater impact,”
“collaborating on research projects,” and “blending content/cross-referencing con-
tent,” among other comments.
20.5.5 Summer Program
Students and parents were asked to rate different aspects of the summer program:
the materials kit, hands-on projects, choice time, math tutoring, and the selected
book. The responses are summarized in Fig.20.5, grouped by aspects with student
feedback on the left column and parent feedback on the right.
1 To help educators during a time of crisis 2 To help parents during a time of crisis
3 To share existing resources with a wider audience 4 To create new resources for students
5 To adapt what we have created to an online format 6 To collaborate with other teams at MIT on a projec
7 To feel like I’m giving back in a time when everything feels so bleak8 Other (please explain):
8 Total
Fig. 20.4 Reasons for participating in developing FSA learning packages
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
Parents and students gave the material kits and the hands-on projects the highest
ratings. Some students and parents recognized that being online made project build-
ing more difcult and were especially appreciative of having hands-on projects.
One parent appreciated that “[…]my child was able to do hands-on activities while
doing distance learning – the ability to not be stuck in a chair during distance
One student wrote that what they liked best was “the way they made Zoom meet-
ings fun, starting to learn Python in choice time, and building and designing hands-
on projects despite the fact that we were all remote on Zoom.”
Another important part of the program was how mentors encouraged collabora-
tion among students. Students responded that they felt like they were part of a com-
munity of peers and MIT mentors. Students were able to share ideas and work
together through the online format, indicating that community interaction was an
important part of their remote learning experience (Fig.20.6).
Students’ open-ended comments reinforced the importance of interaction with
others. One student wrote, “I enjoyed how I got to interact with other people during
quarantine and had fun during this program.” Another commented, “Something that
I liked from the program is the way we interact which is cool to see online because
this didn’t happen in regular school.” Parents also commented on the level of
engagement their children had in the program. One parent wrote, “My son used a
scientic approach to build and design independently. It was amazing to see such
engagement in an online learning platform.” Another commented, “My child was
willing to get out of bed every day and participate; he did not do this with remote
school. He absolutely loved his math tutor and has not stopped talking about it! Well
done!” The MIT mentors were essential to the success of the program and were
described as “friendly,” “fun to talk to,” “inspiring,” “patient,” and “phenomenal.
We are learning a lot from the MIT mentors’ reections and will present those data
in future research.
Materials kit
- students
kits - parents
Hands on
projects -
Hands on
projects -
Choice me
acvies -
Choice me
acvies -
Tutoring -
Book club -
Book club -
Percentage of responses
terrible bad neutral good excellent
Fig. 20.5 Students’ and Parents’ Feedback on the Summer Program
C. Urrea et al.
While there is still a lot of uncertainty about education in the coming months, it
is certain that online and remote learning will continue to be an essential delivery
system for learners. We will continue to investigate these ideas during Session 2 and
will continue our research on how to develop and support active, hands-on, and col-
laborative learning in remote settings.
20.6 Discussion
This case study demonstrates two approaches toward the same goal of improving
pK-12 remote collaborative learning experiences between the university and com-
munity in response to the global pandemic. In this discussion, we consider the ben-
ets and drawbacks for each and consider how these ndings may inform other
institutions who are interested in engaging with the pK-12 community. We believe
our results support our hypothesized theory of change, which was that a minds-on
and hands-on approach can be applied to remote learning experiences by strategi-
cally leveraging existing structures and projects within MIT and through external
Our initial response was to gather a range of existing resources for the Full
STEAM Ahead website. The FSA website presented the range of resources from
existing MIT pK-12 groups. The initiative also prompted the creation of weekly
packages, which created opportunities for MIT staff and faculty to collaborate
across groups to create and distribute weekly updates to the community via social
media. Website analytics display that the content was accessed by people around the
globe. We had some, but little, activity in the online forums. Beyond the analytics
and some user emails, we are uncertain of the website’s impact on educators and
Fig. 20.6 Students’ response to online engagement and collaboration during FSAIS (N=50)
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
learners. However, we know that this initiative helped bring together people at MIT
and resulted in a product that is easy to maintain and sustain.
Our summer response was more focused, labor-intensive, and resource-intensive
but still drew from existing projects. We were able to reach out to teachers and
recruit students from our existing partnerships with local schools. These relation-
ships allowed us to connect with teachers and parents for a “needs assessment” to
determine what types of activities would be helpful to their students. In some cases,
we were able to arrange for students to keep the technology they had borrowed from
their school to support access and equity.
The existing curriculum was adapted from prior work and from the website
weekly packages for the remote project-based learning experience. We also modi-
ed existing processes to t with the online format. For example, we created shared
Google Docs; two coordinators reviewed the reections each day for themes, great
ideas, questions for the group, and “shout-outs” for the group meeting. Results from
this program suggest middle school students and parents valued the learning experi-
ence and connections with MIT mentors.
In reecting on our Full STEAM Ahead efforts, we believe that there are some
key ideas that are applicable beyond MIT. The rst idea is to leverage existing
resources whenever possible. We were able to pull together a website and a summer
program quickly in part because we already had established the network of people
doing pK-12 activities and because we identied a plan of action and invited the
MIT community to contribute. The second idea is to embrace and nd resources to
support cross-institutional partnerships. We were able to leverage school partner-
ships and relationships that we had cultivated both from the STEP teacher certica-
tion program and the Ofce of Government and Community Relations. This
initiative enabled us to work alongside members of other MIT programs who we
may not have connected with outside of Full STEAM Ahead. We believe that fund-
ing from the Chancellor is one indication of support for cross-institutional partner-
ships and hope that the value in these partnerships will continue to be recognized
and encouraged by the university. Third, we encourage individuals to cultivate
pK-12 communities within their institution. MIT has several pK-12 initiatives, and
we share ideas and awareness of each other’s work through monthly informal
“pK-12 lunches.” During these lunches, we eat together, invite a speaker from inside
or outside the MIT community to share their work in pK-12, and engage in a discus-
sion. This community was the cornerstone of the Full STEAM Ahead initiative and
the source of the core team, and it consolidated the resources used for the website
and summer program. Building community through hosting these types of lunches
is an easy entry point into building a community of pK-12 interested groups and
individuals that can be ready to activate for the next global crisis, with the hope that
we will not need to do that anytime soon.
C. Urrea et al.
20.7 Conclusion andNext Steps
We have met the challenge of remote learning with innovative strategies that we
hope will advance MIT’s mission across a distance. While designing the learning
experiences, we have purposefully maintained the hands-on nature of the activities
and allowed students the freedom to develop and test new ideas, fail, and iterate. In
the spring, we purposefully designed our weekly packages to be accessible to many
audiences by creating projects that mostly needed commonly available items such
as paper, cardboard, markers, string, and aluminum foil. In the summer, we contin-
ued this strategy by assembling and distributing materials kits to all students who
participated in the Full STEAM Ahead into Summer program.
As we continue to adapt to the pandemic’s challenges, we will still document and
share our successes and challenges, cultivating further reection and the develop-
ment of promising ideas. With this in mind, we think about three critical pathways
forward: teaching and mentoring opportunities for MIT students, STEAM projects
and materials for students, and teacher/parent support and development.
For fall 2020 and spring 2021, MIT has committed to fund every undergraduate
student in an experiential learning project. Faculty and staff from MIT departments
have developed a range of opportunities for MIT students that are collectively
grouped under a few themes: Public Service and Social Impact, Innovation and
Entrepreneurship, Global Opportunities, Teaching and Learning, and the long-
standing Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). With the expan-
sion of experiential learning this fall, we are seeking ways for the program to
provide a model for others and how we can leverage this experience to provide an
umbrella that helps to support other teaching and learning experiences in a rigorous
way. With administrative support, we have established the Undergraduate Teaching
Opportunities Program (UTOP) as an umbrella organization to provide trainings,
pedagogical development, seminars, and structure to programs across the campus,
drawing upon lessons from past efforts and recent efforts during the age of remote
As we craft new methods for valuable learning environments, we have continued
to honor our motto: creating and sharing high-quality learning experiences and
engaging the minds and hands of pK-12 students.
Acknowledgements We are thankful to all our colleagues, partners, and the MIT groups, centers,
and departments that supported this work provided amazing content and donated their time to
make this happen in a very short time frame. A special thank you to those who provided generous
donations to the Full STEAM Ahead into Summer program, the families, and the MIT Ofce of
Government and Community Relations for helping cover the cost of the materials, and to MIT
Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart for championing this project and funding the MIT student mentors
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Dr. Claudia Urrea is the Senior Associate Director for pK-12 at the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel
World Education Lab (J-WEL), and she also has a visiting scholar position with the Lifelong
Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. During the last 7years, she has worked on different
initiatives such as the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, the MIT Online
Education Policy Initiative, and the MIT pK-12 Action Group. Additionally, Dr. Urrea founded the
MIT STEAM camp, which brings MIT’s learning approach to middle school students and teachers
in international locations, and co-founded Full STEAM Ahead, a virtual program that combines
hands-on exploration, project design, and skill building in STEAM subjects. Before joining MIT
Open Learning, Urrea worked at the Interamerican Development Bank as a consultant in the edu-
cation sector and at the One Laptop Per Child organization as Director of Learning. For the past
25years, Dr. Urrea has helped multiple governments and nongovernment agencies– The NewYork
Academy of Sciences, Schlumberger Excellence in Education Development, and International
Development Research Centre, among others– to empower and support schools and communities
of learners to evolve from traditional pedagogy to progressive learning environments.
Kirky DeLong has over 20years of experience in the development of learning technologies,
online laboratories, and open-source projects. During her time at MIT, she has worked on many
projects involving a broad range of technologies, including the MIT iLab Project, which developed
online laboratories enabling students to access real instruments online that can be shared around
the world; the MIT-Haiti Project, which promotes teacher professional development through active
learning and Kreyòl language in STEM disciplines; and the Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx)
project, which aims to improve the professional and academic prospects of high schools students
from underserved communities in India.
Joe Diaz is an MIT graduate and advocate of hands-on STEAM activities for K-12 students. As an
alumnus of MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program, he has spent time both inside and outside
the classroom, developing programs for kids who have little access to quality education. For the
past 4years, he has worked with MIT Open Learning to bring MIT’s learning approach to elemen-
tary, middle, and high school students and teachers via the STEAM Camp project to a variety of
locations including Hong Kong, China, and Greece.
Dr. Eric Klopfer is Professor and Director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program and the
Education Arcade at MIT.He is also the Head of the Department of Comparative Media Studies
and Writing, and faculty advisor for MIT’s J-WEL World Education Lab. His research has focused
on technology and pedagogy for growing the understanding of science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM) and systems. His work uses a design-based research methodology to
span the educational technology and learning ecosystem, from the design and development of new
technologies to professional development and implementation. Much of Klopfer’s research has
20 MIT Full STEAM Ahead: Bringing Project-Based, Collaborative Learning…
focused on computer games and simulations for building an understanding of STEM as well as
connecting programming to topics of student and teacher interest. He is the co-author of the books,
“Adventures in Modeling,” “The More We Know,” and “Resonant Games,” as well as the author of
“Augmented Learning.” His lab has produced software (from casual mobile games to the MMO:
The Radix Endeavor) and platforms (including StarLogo Nova and Taleblazer) used by millions of
people, as well as online courses that have reached hundreds of thousands. Klopfer is also the co-
founder and past president of the nonprot Learning Games Network.
Meredith Thompson draws upon her background in science education and outreach as a research
scientist and lecturer for the Scheller Teacher Education Program. Dr. Thompson’s research inter-
ests are collaborative learning, STEM educational games, and virtual and simulated environments
for learning STEM topics. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Cornell University, a
master’s degree in science and engineering education from Tufts University, and a doctorate in
science education from Boston University. She has two current projects: The Collaborative
Learning Environments for Virtual Reality (CLEVR) is creating a cross-platform collaborative
game about cellular biology and INSPIRE is a group of education professors who are using games
and simulations in teacher preparation. Thompson uses those games and simulations when she
teaches the STEP course: “Understanding and Evaluating Education.
Aditi Wagh is a Research Scientist in the Scheller Teacher Education program at MIT. She
received her doctoral education in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University after which
she spent 3years as a postdoctoral scholar at Tufts University. As part of her research, she designs
computational tools that enable students to author ideas and express their thinking for STEM learn-
ing in classrooms and informal learning environments. She investigates how these tools can sup-
port students’ learning of complex systems and engagement in STEM practices. Her research has
been funded by organizations such as the National Science Foundation, Tufts University, and the
Davis Foundation. Her research projects have ranged from designing and studying maker educa-
tion in schools and after-school programs, developing computational modeling toolkits and curri-
cula for K-12 education, redesigning undergraduate biology labs to integrate computational
modeling, and developing interactive museum exhibits for the Field Museum.
Jenny Gardony is the Program Manager of the Scheller Teacher Education Program at MIT.In
her role, she co-teaches the Introduction to Education Classes (“Looking Forward and Looking
Back on Education” and “Understanding and Evaluating Education”), and she mentors, supports,
and evaluates upperclassmen earning their teacher certication in secondary STEM elds. Jenny’s
other work in the STEP Lab includes teacher professional development, particularly around
student- centered inquiry-based education, and community outreach to broaden access and partici-
pation in STEM elds. Prior to coming to MIT, Jenny taught middle and high school math for
10 years. While teaching, she served as a mentor for new teachers, a grade level leader, and
founded/led a student drama club. She received her BA from Tufts University and her MEd from
Cambridge College.
Emma Anderson is a research scientist in the Scheller Teacher Education Program at MIT.She
received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She holds
an MA from the University of Buffalo in geology and a BA from Smith College in sociology-
anthropology. Her research centers around science, art, making, and play. Her research has
explored learning biology through a complex systems lens, bridging science and math learning
with coding, shifting teachers’ pedagogical practices, and more. Prior to her doctoral studies, she
worked at Baltimore Woods Nature Center as an environmental educator bringing science lessons
into urban kindergarten through sixth-grade classrooms and leading summer campers around
the woods.
C. Urrea et al.
Rohan Kundargi As the K-12 Community Outreach Administrator within MIT’s Ofce of
Government and Community Relations, Dr. Rohan Kundargi works assiduously to connect MIT’s
K-12 opportunities with young learners in the Cambridge- Boston metro area. A rst-generation
Indian American, Rohan was raised in Northern California before embarking on careers in research
and higher ed. Before his career in community engagement, Dr. Kundargi was an academic geo-
scientist, obtaining earth science degrees from UCLA and Boston University, where he enjoyed
investigating Earth’s mysteries using a myriad of techniques: from shooting lasers through dia-
monds to creating complex 3-D models to simulate how volcanoes erupt. After graduate school, he
moved to Eastern Washington to run Science in Action! Gonzaga University’s largest STEM out-
reach program to the second- largest school district in the state, before joining MIT OGCR in 2018.
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FULL TEXT IN OPEN ACCESS SEE HERE: The purpose of this study was to explore (a) the individual belief profiles that naturally arise among middle and high school science students (n=1225); (b) the relationships between these profiles to science achievement and other prominent motivation variables; and (c) the demographic and developmental differences among the belief profiles. Results revealed that a four-class solution fit the data the best. These profiles were differentially related to achievement goal orientations, science self‐efficacy, and science achievement. Differences in profiles also arose as a function of minority status, grade level, and gender. Findings support and refine Schommer-Aikins's (2004) Embedded Systemic Model of epistemic beliefs. Results are discussed in relation to theory and implications for science instruction