2020 Year in Review

As we anticipate the start of 2021, we’d like to reflect on the year of 2020 and what we’ve accomplished with your support:

2020 Summit Paves the Way for Diversifying the K-12 STEM Teaching Workforce

Just prior to the nationwide shelter-in-place orders, SSEC conducted the fourth annual “STEM Education Summit: Building a Coalition for Attracting and Retaining a Diverse STEM Teaching Workforce” at Xavier University in New Orleans, LA. Generously sponsored by Shell Oil Company and a new INCLUDES planning grant from the National Science Foundation, this annual event brings together education teams from across the country. The initiative’s long-term goal is to help school districts attract and retain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers from underrepresented groups resulting in 30,000 new and existing teachers by 2030.

This event focuses on presenting and addressing districts’ diversity challenges in K-12 STEM education. All participants leave with an action plan and keep in close contact with mentors to ensure they stay on track and move toward their goals. Our next event will be held virtually February 20 through 27, 2021.

To learn more, go to Smithsonian Magazine’s article “Diverse Voices, New Narratives: Education at the Smithsonian” and read about one team’s efforts from Eastern North Carolina.

Youth Lead the Way on Curbing the Spread of COVID-19

Within weeks of the worldwide shutdown, SSEC, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), engaged its team to create COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others?. Part of the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project, this guide provides simple activities that allow children ages 8–17 from all backgrounds to discover, understand, and act upon the science that underlies the protective behaviors of a pandemic.

Available in 25 languages and disseminated around the world, COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others? was funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and generous individual donors, including from the Smithsonian Regional Council. It includes the development of an integrated action plan to improve users’ own health and that of others. To help educators and caregivers better understand how to use this resource, several dissemination webinars were held throughout the spring, summer, and fall, impacting thousands of educators, caregivers, and millions of youth.

For example, under the COVID-19 lockdown, COSIP-TV created seven television episodes in Spanish to help bring the seven hands-on tasks found in SSEC’s COVID-19! module to life for 26 million students and their families through TV programming in Mexico. SSEC also worked with Scarisbrick Hall in the UK, in collaboration with WHO and UNICEF, to launch “The Global Classroom”, educating more than 2.4 million students to date on COVID-19.

Getting Ahead of the Curve Through the Action Planning Institute

When school districts shut down across America in March, the Smithsonian Science Education Center began plans almost immediately to host a virtual event for educators, caregivers, community members, and industry stakeholders dedicated to ensuring continuity in STEM education for all students.

Thanks to the generosity of Johnson & Johnson, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Shell Oil Company, General Motors, and Carolina Biological Supply Company, the inaugural Action Planning Institute was held virtually from July 28–30, 2020. More than 750 educators representing schools, districts, nonprofits, government agencies, and higher education from 22 countries, 46 U.S. States, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico attended the event, shaping their own experiences by choosing from 16 coaching sessions and 13 different content sessions on topics ranging from social emotional learning to equity and accessibility in K-12 STEM education.

Information from these sessions was used to inform the writing of participants’ action plans that guided their plans for STEM education during the 2020–2021 school year, impacting 18 million students!

Addressing the Digital Divide

In 2020--with the support of Ofinno, the Smithsonian Secretary, and the DCPS Initiative managed by the Office of the Under Secretary for Education--the Smithsonian Science Education Center partnered with Horizons Greater Washington to support virtual summer school programming for 90 students across three Washington, DC-based campuses. SSEC provided virtual professional development to five K-8 STEM teachers using SSEC’s How Can We Provide Energy to People’s Homes? and How Can We Provide Freshwater to Those in Need? part of the Smithsonian Science for the Classroom curriculum.

To address the digital divide, SSEC worked with Horizons Greater Washington to provide students and their families with hands-on equipment and printed materials to engage in STEM learning at home. Then, following 6 weeks of at-home instruction, SSEC arranged for two virtual museum visits. The first was to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which included a hands-on activity that supported students’ learning about electricity and an understanding of how the museum uses solar power to support its energy needs. The second was to the Smithsonian Gardens, who took students on a virtual tour through the orchid greenhouses, supporting their learning about how water gets from one place to another.

To learn more about the Smithsonian Science Summer School (S4) program, go to: https://ssec.si.edu/smithsonian-science-summer-school

Supporting Distance Learning for Girls and Women in STEM

Women have influenced eras and changed nations. Throughout history, women have made extensive contributions in STEM. And 2020 was no different.

In 2020, SSEC continued its work with Johnson & Johnson, FHI360, JA Worldwide, the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc, and the American Women’s History Initiative (AWHI) to provide digital STEM resources for today’s girls (and boys) and promote women in STEM throughout history.

We released hands-on STEM lessons and ignite activities in multiple languages that can be completed at home with simple materials, helping students learn about density and diffusion with Dr. Drew (through a collaboration with NMAAHC) and sun safety through Dressed to Protect. Our AWHI e-Book Stories of Women in STEM at the Smithsonian reached #1 on the Apple Books free biographies within only a week of its release.

How Do You Break Down Barriers in STEM Education

In 2020, remote learning as a result of the global pandemic brought topics of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) to the fore of conversations concerning the state of education. The pivot to fully virtual and hybrid instruction pushed educators to find new solutions to challenges related to accessible and inclusive STEM learning.

Creating and maintaining a classroom where STEM lessons address the needs of all students, including those with disabilities, has been an ongoing challenge for STEM teachers, even before the pandemic. But when the pandemic hit, they were suddenly faced with a new barrier—conducting classes virtually.

Thanks to the generous funding from General Motors and the Smithsonian Accessibility Innovation Funds, SSEC provided Washington, DC Public School K-8 STEM teachers with a lifeline: the “Zero Barriers in STEM Education Accessibility and Inclusion Workbook.” This workbook provides strategies to integrate inclusive/Universal Design for Learning (UDL) practices into the K–12 STEM classroom. Read how one DC teacher shaped his students’ online learning experience through using the “Zero Barriers in STEM Education Accessibility and Inclusion Workbook” here.

Through the Zero Barriers in STEM Education initiative, SSEC also offered teachers in DC Public Schools professional learning opportunities, high-quality STEM content, and hands-on curriculum developed by SSEC to strengthen teachers’ ability to use inclusive strategies in their STEM classrooms.

This innovative initiative is preparing teachers to become leaders of change in their schools by supporting STEM teachers to form a school-based team that identifies and addresses an area of improvement in utilizing inclusive and accessible practices in STEM programming so that all students have robust STEM experiences.

None of these initiatives would have been possible without our partners, funders, and individuals like you. Thanks to your generosity and support, the Smithsonian Science Education Center was able to continue its mission and achieve greater reach, greater relevance, and profound impact in 2020, despite the challenges we all faced. We look forward to a brighter 2021!

From all of us at the Smithsonian Science Education Center—thank you.


The SSEC Staff