Smithsonian K-12 Science Education Action Planning Institute

Smithsonian K-12 Science Education Action Planning Institute

The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) held its second fully virtual, free Action Planning Institute this summer, from July 27-29, 2021. Through a series of live and asynchronous meeting opportunities, individuals and teams tackled the challenge of ensuring K-12 science education serves the needs of all teachers and learners, whether it is taking place online, in the classroom, or in a hybrid learning environment. Together participants had a chance to share lessons learned from the past year, explored how to integrate best practices in online and in-person K-12 science education, addressed issues of learning loss and learning recovery in STEM, and discussed new America Rescue Plan funding opportunities. 

This institute is designed for educators, parents, community members, and industry stakeholders dedicated to providing high quality K-12 teaching and learning for all. Participants attend as individuals or teams with members of their school, district or organization. Sessions included how we approach Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion in the K-12 education space, how we support learning to address learning loss, how we support teachers as we transition back to in-person learning, and what resources are available to undertake this work. Participants then created action plans to articulate meaningful connections between their knowledge and practice.

For additional questions, contact Katherine P. Blanchard at

Join us for an Action Planning Reconvening! November 3, 2021

Global connections and conversations are invaluable for exploring shared challenges and solutions regarding science education. Through a virtual reconvening, The Smithsonian Science Education Center is bringing together participants from 2020 and 2021 K-12 STEM Education Action Planning Institutes on Wednesday, November 3 from 10 am-12 pm Eastern. 
To foster the long-term, deep interactions amongst educators in this uncertain time, participants in attendance will have the opportunity to: 
Share progress on their action plans/listen to others share action plans to collectively celebrate successes, tackle challenges, and inspire one another to continue with their action plans. 
Hear from experts in the field to further their knowledge. 
Network with and strengthen the community of global educators. 
If you attended the 2020 or 2021 K-12 STEM Education Action Planning Institutes and are interested in attending the reconvening please email Eva Muszynski,




2021 Action Planning Program Overview (July 27-29)

This three-day program will integrate content sessions featuring experts in the field interspersed with networking sessions where participants will have the opportunity to meet each other, talk about issues that are important to them, and collectively foster a network of educators from across the globe. 

Institute Objectives: 

  • Identify where our schools, teachers and learners are now, and what supports they need to move forward post-COVID. 
  • Build a community of educators around the world dedicated to supporting learners in challenging times. 
  • Develop an action plan to help guide our work through the next school year.

Institute Agenda:

Content Session Descriptions:  
Introduction to Action Planning
Asynchronous Pre-Work
The Action Planning Institute is an opportunity for educators to collaborate with peers, and identify strategies and approaches to respond to the most pressing needs of the day. Through this Introduction to Action Planning, participants will have the opportunity to walk through the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Action Plan Template, select the key issues or challenges that they want to address for their education system, and identify key outcomes for their action plan. This session will be completely asynchronous so participants can work through the content at their own pace.  

Institute Introduction and Welcome
Tuesday, July 27 10:00-11:00am Eastern

Join us for an overview of the institute and a walk-through of the additional supports that will be made available to participants throughout the 3 days. 

Addressing Learning Loss and Learning Recovery in STEM Subjects 
Tuesday, July 27, 12:00-1:00pm Eastern
For anyone involved in K-12 education, the last year has shed light on existing inequities within education systems, and created new discrepancies in student and teacher experiences. We know that in many cases, learning – especially in science – has been lost, but we may not yet know what our students have lost, or to what degree. In this session, participants will explore what learning loss has looked like in their own communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and what some of the root causes are. They will determine approaches to continue to identify learning loss over the coming months and years, and will collaboratively brainstorm strategies to initiate learning recovery in K-12 science and STEM subjects.  

Confronting Race in STEM Education: Learning from Our Past and Present in Order to Form a Better Tomorrow 
Tuesday, July 27, 2:00-3:00pm Eastern
In this session, participants will think about how issues of race in STEM education are addressed at individual and organizational levels.  To do this, participants will be prompted to take inventory of ways issues of race have been confronted in the past, how systems and approaches have evolved, if at all, and through lessons learned, develop future aspirations for themselves and their organizations. Participants will also listen to experts share research, strategies, promising practices, and tools that are effective at supporting efforts to address issues related to race in STEM education and hear from educators that have been successful at confronting issues related to racial diversity in the STEM teaching workforce at previous STEM Education Summits.

User-Centered Approaches to Designing Solutions
Tuesday, July 27, 4:00-5:00pm Eastern
This session supports participants in thinking differently about the sudden and rapidly changing needs of students, educators and education systems through the lens of design.  The presenters identify what user-centered design is and why it is relevant to our society in this moment.  They describe their own experiences in incorporating user-centered design approaches for consumers and museum patrons, and the process of making their own organizations more human centered.  They frame the challenges that students and educators are facing as an opportunity to integrate design.  Participants will consider how educators might center students in their work, even when limited by technology or other circumstances.  By focusing on making the process participatory and no longer designing for students, but designing with them, participants could apply user-centered design to distance learning experiences.

Supporting students to build global perspectives through STEM learning
Wednesday, July 28, 10:00-11:00am Eastern
The COVID-19 pandemic raised global awareness of the interconnection of people, places, and decision making around the world. Through this session, participants will identify how global perspectives, and Sustainability Mindsets are built and nurtured through STEM learning, and consider how we as educators can model these skills for our students. 

How Do We Engage Students Around the Topics of Race and Social Justice in STEM Education?
Wednesday, July 28, 12:00-1:00pm Eastern
The focus of this session will be more student-centered rather than organization-centered.  We will work to answer the questions, “How do we engage young people in these conversations?  and “How is the Smithsonian Institution engaging young people in these conversations? We will hear from a variety of groups who grapple with this topic.  They will discuss, “What’s working in their school, district, city, or groups of students?”  We will provide opportunity to share resources for participants to help them as they interact with students and this challenging topic.

Student Assessment Strategies to Address Learning Loss and Learning Recovery 
Wednesday, July 28, 2:00-3:00pm Eastern
With a focus on assessing where learners are right now and how we support them to move forward, this session will include reflection on the gaps in learning that we are encountering, and also celebrate the unconventional learning that has occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants will learn from experts on best practices for summative and formative assessments for students and determine which data are necessary and useful to best serve students where they are right now.

Vaccines! How Can We Use Science to Help our Community Make Decisions About Vaccines? 
Wednesday, July 28, 4:00-5:00pm Eastern
In order to protect our health, we each must understand the science that underlies the decisions we make. As communities and individuals are making decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine, there are different situations and concerns that are unique to each community.  The Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project is supporting educators and young people to engage in these important conversations through the Vaccines! How can we use science to help our community make decisions about vaccines? guide. This session will walk participants through the Vaccines! guide and discuss ways we can engage students and communities in productive, science-based conversations about vaccines.

Ensuring Accessible STEM Learning for All Students 
Thursday, July 29, 10:00-11:00am Eastern
During this session, participants will explore Universal Design as an engineering practice and foundation for CAST’s Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.  Participants will reflect on their current pedagogy, and through a review of scenarios, apply UDL principles to determine any areas of improvement in their teaching practice.  Participants will also hear from a panel of experts who will share tools and strategies they have used to meet the needs of all students. The session will culminate with participants determining which accessibility and inclusion considerations they plan to integrate into their action plan.

Strategies for Addressing the Digital Divide in STEM Classrooms 
Thursday, July 29, 2:00-3:00pm Eastern
This session will provide an overview of the digital divide on a systemic level, and the impacts that it has on our students. Participants will then focus on strategies to empower ourselves and our communities to meet the needs of our students at an individual or classroom level. Hear from an array of practitioners along the spectrum of high tech-low touch to low tech-high touch on how they are implementing programing reaching participants via low tech, limited technology and high technology usage.

Exploring Opportunities for Post-Pandemic FInancial Resources for STEM Education
Thursday, July 29 12:00-1:00pm Eastern
As education systems begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of funding opportunities are becoming available at the local, national, and global level. During this session, participants will hear from a group of experts who: will identify what some current and upcoming funding opportunities are; how school systems can position themselves as competitive candidates for these opportunities; and how they can responsibly steward funds to meet the greatest needs of their unique community.

Sharing Action Plans and Closing Session
Thursday, July 29, 4:00-5:30pm Eastern

This session is an opportunity for participants to reflect on their experiences, to share their action plans with their peers, and the consider ways that they will engage their colleagues and communities post-institute. 

Networking Session Descriptions: 

  • Role-Alike Affinity Groups – Network with peers from around the world who hold a similar position. Groups will include classroom educators, educators working in informal settings, administrators, and community partners among others.
  • Regional Affinity Groups – Network with others in your region
  • Office hours for Action Planning – Get support for your action plan from seasoned professionals and from your peers currently undertaking the process. 
  • Debriefing the Content Sessions – want to dive a little deeper into the content session materials? Some content sessions will offer follow-up debrief sessions to explore the content more thoroughly. 
Fees and Registration

This year’s virtual convening was offered at no charge for participants committed to participating fully in the program and willing to share their work with others.

Professional Development Credit

Participants of the institute will be eligible for up to 15 Professional Development credit hours based on the sessions of the institute that they attend, and upon successful completion of an Action Plan. 

Special Thanks to our 2020 Funders and Supporters:

To read about the 2020 Action Planning Institute, please see our report here.

Support for the programs that are a part of the 2021 Action Planning Institute is generously provided by:

Johnson & Johnson, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Shell Oil Company, General Motors, and Carolina Biological Supply Company logos

We are especially grateful to our colleagues and collaborators for helping make this program possible:

Access Smithsonian, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA), Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)