Smithsonian K-12 Science Education Action Planning Institute

Smithsonian K-12 Science Education Action Planning Institute

The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) is holding its first fully virtual, free leadership development event this summer, from July 28-30. Through a series of live and asynchronous meeting opportunities, individuals and teams will tackle the challenge of ensuring K-12 science education remains a critical component in their classrooms and communities during COVID-19 and beyond.

This institute is open to educators, parents, community members, and industry stakeholders dedicated to ensuring educational continuity for all students. Teams and individuals will attend sessions most relevant to their needs on topics like social emotional supports, evaluating digital resources, facilitating three-dimensional science investigations remotely, and equity and accessibility. Participants will then create action plans to articulate meaningful connections between their knowledge and practice.

To learn more about this program, contact Katie Gainsback at

2020 API Report

Program Overview

By participating in this program, attendees will:

  1. Identify the supports needed to continue the teaching and learning of science in a time of unprecedented challenges.
  2. Develop an action plan to guide science teaching and learning in the coming months.
  3. Exchange knowledge with other professionals committed to improving education for all students.

This three-day institute is fully customizable to teams and individuals seeking the opportunity to connect with colleagues and share best practices on topics most relevant to education today. All sessions are optional and will be recorded for later viewing. Currently the agenda is as follows:

institute agenda

Please continue to check back as the agenda and speakers are finalized. Sessions will include:
Tuesday, July 28

Wednesday, July 29

Thursday, July 30

Fees and Registration

This year’s virtual convening will be offered at no charge, however we are seeking participants committed to participating fully in the program and willing to share their work with others. Space is limited and at this time we have reached our capacity.

Continuing Education Credit

While this institute will not directly provide Continuing Education Units, we will offer completion certificates at the conclusion of the institute for those that meet the minimum participation requirements. Furthermore, we’re happy to work with individuals upon request to generate more specific documentation (such as contact hours based on your participation) to submit to your accrediting agency. Please verify with that agency if this opportunity will meet your certification needs as we know that those requirements do vary from place to place.

Special Thanks

Support for this program 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), Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), Global Schools First, Childhood Education International; Innovation in Science Education (INNOVEC), Leonard Gelfand STEM Center, Logan Center for Education, Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, Puget Sound Educational Service District, North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology (SMT) Education Center; Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA), Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), Smithsonian Gardens, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM), South Carolina's Coalition for Mathematics & Science (SCCMS), and the STEM Equity Alliance.

Session Abstracts

Blended Learning or Bust: What models, assumptions, considerations, and processes are most important as you plan for this evolving school environment?
Presented for: Classrom educators, administrators, instructional coaches
During this session participants will define and consider various models for Blended Learning and explore the successes and challenges they faced during the COVID-19 crisis. Participants will also compile and organize assumptions and considerations around the many aspects of blended learning moving forward. Learning and Pedagogy, Software, Equity, and Teacher Training are some of the assumption themes that will be explored. Return to session titles.

Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Presented for: Administrators, teachers and other school staff, parents
The new NASEM report, Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Prioritizing Health, Equity, and Communities, provides guidance on the reopening and operation of elementary and secondary schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to the nation's K-12 education system. States, districts, and schools are grappling with the complex and high-stakes questions of whether to reopen school buildings and how to operate them safely if they do reopen. These decisions need to be informed by the most up-to-date evidence about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19; about the impacts of school closures on students and families; and about the complexities of operating school buildings as the pandemic persists. The recommendations of this report are designed to help districts and schools successfully navigate the complex decisions around reopening school buildings, keeping them open, and operating them safely. Return to session titles.

Filling Instructional Gaps: Which resources are right for my students?
Presented for: Classroom educators, coaches, department chairs, curriculum directors
Participants will reflect on their search for quality instructional resources during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent efforts to maintain educational continuity for students. This session will create a space for participants to identify and record their unique community and student needs and shape considerations for selecting future materials and resources. Participants will walk away from the session with a more strategic mindset, including a set of priorities to guide their educational continuity plans for the 2020-2021 school year. Return to session titles.

Once More With Feeling! Embedding Social and Emotional Practices into Daily Learning
Presented for: Classroom educators, administrators, parents
This session is intended to be a critical reflection on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices both in and out of school, and how those practices can be tied directly to curriculum and classroom learning. During the session, participants will begin by defining SEL practices and identifying the SEL skills that they use in their own lives. They will then explore who benefits from SEL, and where it can be applied. Finally, participants will work to embed and integrate SEL practices into a new or existing lesson plan (preferably a STEM subject!) that they plan to use with students or educators. Return to session titles.

Recovering Forward: Keeping a focus on cultural proficiency and equity (CPE)
Presented for: Classroom teachers, building administrators, district level administrators, parents, community partners
While we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a time of national unrest, reflection, and action regarding racial disparities, we have an unparalleled opportunity to affirm robust approaches to science education. We simply cannot go back to “normal” but instead must Recover Forward as we rethink and accelerate learning for our most vulnerable populations. Science is often side-lined from equity conversations that focus on the biases or disparities of other content areas. An equity lens on science clearly shows that all students are not provided with equivalent opportunities to learn science in student-centered, culturally responsive classrooms. The foundational model of Recover Forward begins with analysis of self and system for understandings of Cultural Proficiency and Equity, leading to a substantive Theory of Change. Return to session titles.

Cultivating Partnerships Between Schools and the Community: Creating mutual value and shared learning
Presented for: Classroom educators, educational leaders, administrators, community partners, industry members
Partnerships between schools and communities are valuable ways to engage community, support teachers, and enhance students’ educational experiences, but they are often underutilized. Through this session, participants will explore different ‘levels’ of engagement that partners may have, be it a one-time visitor, a consistent classroom volunteer, or a vanguard advocating for education inside and outside of the school. Participants will also explore the value of school-community partnerships, ways that they can engage people in partnering, and identify some possible partners that may already exist in their community.

During COVID-19, we have learned that a volunteer’s value is not exclusively in their physical presence within a classroom. Students can explore new spaces that are otherwise inaccessible, meet different people, and see the world of work in action. Participants will discuss how we take these new tools of engagement, and feed them forward when classes are back in session. Return to session titles.

Accessible and Inclusive Distance Learning
Presented for: Classroom educators, administrators, parents, industry members
During this session, participants will explore accessibility and inclusion practices for distance learning. Using the principles of Universal design Learning (UDL), in addition to considerations about the accessibility of instruction, curriculum, materials and method of delivery, participants discuss how transition all aspects of a traditional classroom into an accessible and inclusive distance learning experience. The session will culminate with participants determining how accessibility and inclusion will need to be implemented in all elements of their action plan. Return to session titles.

Meeting the Needs of K-12 STEM Teachers Through Virtual Professional Development
Presented for: Teacher leaders, instructional coaches, curriculum directors, administrators
This session is intended to support participants in identifying and implementing virtual professional development for K-12 STEM educators. During this session, participants will identify their individual and team needs for virtual PD through discussions. Presenters will introduce best practices for implementation in formal and informal educational settings. The session will also provide various resources and tools that are helpful in supporting the delivery of virtual PD. The goal for participants is to gain the skills and knowledge that will aid in creating an action plan which implements continuous professional development and support for educators. Return to session titles.

Strengthening Caregiver-School Partnerships During Blended Learning
Presented for: Classroom educators, school leadership, instructional coaches, parents, and caregivers
We recognize that unprecedented challenges in education as a result of COVID-19 have required parents and caregivers to take on new responsibilities in managing their student’s learning. Therefore, in order to provide students with a high-quality learning experience, it is more crucial than ever for educators and families to strengthen their bonds through frequent and meaningful engagement.  

In this session, participants will consider various models of family-educator partnerships and reflect on the successes and challenges they have faced since COVID-19. Participants will collaboratively review the activities already present in their action plans which offer the greatest opportunities for family engagement. This will be followed by guided, independent revisions of the action plan which will enhance caregiver-educator partnerships and strengthen outcomes. Return to session titles.

Introduction to the Smithsonian Learning Lab
Presented for: Classroom educators, curriculum designers/specialists, school librarians
Learn how to use the Smithsonian Learning Lab, a free platform that gives users access to millions of digital resources (images, videos, texts, and more) from across the Smithsonian and the tools to create learning experiences with them. We’ll walk through how the site works, showcase ways that museums, classroom teachers, and more are already using the Lab to create lesson plans, and digital exhibitions, and discuss methods to get your content out to the audiences who need them, especially for distance learning ( Participants will create a free Learning Lab account and try adapting a pre-built Learning Lab Collection or create one of their own. Return to session titles.

Teaching Youth Ages 8-17 About COVID-19 : How can we best prepare students for the “New Normal”?
Presented for: Classroom educators, administrators, parents, informal educators, pandemic response teams
As districts develop plans for their 2020-21 school year, science educators will play an important role in educating students about COVID-19 and the underlying science and social science of the pandemic. At the Smithsonian, we hypothesize that students will be better able to accept the unusual circumstances if they understand the science of WHY school procedures have changed.

To that end, the Smithsonian Science Education Center collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the InterAcademy Partnership (which represents 140 countries) to develop a free hands-on guide for families to use at home with their children as a way of preparing them for their return to school: The guide has been translated into 20+ languages.

This session will demonstrate some of the hands on activities science educators and families can do with children to help them better understand COVID-19 and will address the role science educators will play in helping students to protect themselves and others as they return to their “new normal” this fall. Return to session titles.

Highly Immersive STEM Learning Experiences: Engaging students in immersive experiences from afar
Presented for: Classroom educators, informal educators, administrators, industry members
This session will introduce educators, administrators and community members to alternative ways of engaging students in highly immersive STEM learning experiences virtually during COVID-19. This session is intended to engage both formal and informal educators as they endeavor to create immersive and captivating experiences for every age group when students are not able to be physically on site. Panelists from organizations hosting highly immersive STEM education experiences will provide insight into their own experiences and discuss some of their successes and challenges. Finally, educators will work to identify potential collaborators who they may engage with to craft highly immersive STEM education experiences for their own students. Return to session titles.