An Update for the Fall 2014 Iowa SySTEM Building Initiative:

What We Have Been Doing
Our reach is statewide, but we have also been focusing on a few sites within the South Central and the Southwest regions on infusing Active Learning STEM into current programming! We kicked off our SySTEM building with an initial meeting at the Impact After School Conference, on April 25, 2014. We presented the concept to the selected sites and had great conversations surrounding STEM in afterschool, successes, and challenges. There is currently room for just a few more sites, if you are interested, and are located in the South Central and Southwest regions, please let us know! We have started out with a small group of pilot sites, intentionally, and are hoping to replicate the work statewide eventually.

Next, with our STEM Active Learning Community Partners, we held a “SySTEM Recharge Day” on June 25th. The Dimensions of Success (DoS) Evaluation Tool was presented during this day-long professional development and networking opportunity, held at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, and observers were recruited for certification and use of the DoS Tool.

This fall, we had our first collaboration call with Noyce site leaders, and are now collecting baseline data on student interest in STEM and activity quality using the Common Instrument and Dimensions of Success tools.

About DoS
The DoS Tool measures overall program quality based on 12 dimensions that fall within four broad domains: Features of the Learning Environment, Activity Engagement, STEM Knowledge and Practices, and Youth Development in STEM. In order to have common language surrounding active learning STEM (STEM in out-of-school time) quality, the DoS tool provides criteria upon which observers base their observations of the STEM activities at program sites. The observers provide very detailed feedback to the site, which the site can then use to make decisions about curricula, have conversations with staff around quality, and increase overall program quality, interest and engagement of students.

In order to be a DoS Observer, and use the DoS tool, the individual needs to undergo training by PEAR (Program in Education, Afterschool and Resiliency through Harvard University). If you are interested in becoming a certified DoS Observer, please contact us (we are able to provide a couple of observer trainings at no cost to those interested in participating in this initiative). We know that there is no one particular curricula or set formula that will automatically generate success for a quality out-of-school time program that incorporates STEM. The key, then, is in training staff and programs on the general indicators of quality programming that incorporates STEM concepts, which is why the DoS tool is so useful.The other piece of the picture we are looking at includes a measure of individual student interest and engagement with STEM.

The Desired Outcome
With the Dimensions of Success results (program quality) and the Common Instrument (individual student engagement and interest), programs end up with a really good picture of the overall program quality as it currently stands, which allows programs to make informed decisions when moving forward and selecting program activities or curricula, as well as have concrete data to share about your programs!

At the statewide level, we are looking to increase the number of opportunities available for Iowa youth, families and adults to participate in high quality, active-learning (informal) STEM outside of the traditional school day, as well as disseminate resources that will be useful across the state.

Stay tuned for more updates, in the next edition of the SySTEM Building Newsletter (if you haven’t signed up yet, and would like to receive the newsletter, click here)!

Current participating sites include the following:


East Union Community Schools, Afton, Iowa
Nishna Valley YMCA After School, Atlantic, Iowa
Lewis Central Lucky Children (LCLC), Council Bluffs, Iowa
Harlan Community School District, Harlan, Iowa
Villisca Before and After School Program, Villisca, Iowa

South Central

Mahaska YMCA, Oskaloosa, Iowa
PAWS Afterschool Program, Winterset, Iowa
Central Decatur, Iowa
Ankeny Before and Afterschool Program
Capitol View Elementary, Des Moines, Iowa