How We're Building Collective Ownership to Create a Shared Vision for Early STEM Innovations – Digital Promise

How We’re Building Collective Ownership to Create a Shared Vision for Early STEM Innovations

A group of educators sit at various tables in discussion. There is a chart board with paper on the left side with the words Children In Our Classrooms.

With support from the Girard Foundation, Digital Promise and the YMCA of San Diego County Preschool Programs are thrilled to embark on the next phase of our collaborative early STEM work. Over the next several months, researchers from Digital Promise’s Learning Sciences Research team and the Center for Inclusive Innovation will continue to engage with YMCA preschool educators and invite families to co-design STEM innovations across two strands of work: outdoor STEM learning spaces and professional learning resources for educators to integrate science in their classrooms.

Collective Ownership in Action

Last summer, we kicked off a six-month planning phase to explore how to integrate STEM meaningfully and feasibly into the YMCA’s preschool environment. Our approach involved engaging our teams in a series of virtual and in person activities aimed at:

  • Fostering our relationships with one another.
  • Developing a shared understanding of our approaches to early learning.
  • Learning about the strengths, areas of growth, and the local communities of each YMCA preschool site to eventually co-create a plan and approach for co-designing a solution.

In the spirit of the collective ownership tenet of the Inclusive Innovation process, we started with a virtual kickoff meeting with YMCA program leaders to engage in icebreaker activities designed with relationship building in mind. Through these activities, we learned about one another and our respective organizations and committed to embracing our collective leadership of the project. We also developed a shared understanding and vision to guide our work ahead.

With our shared vision now established, YMCA leadership and the Digital Promise team then collaboratively created and administered a brief online survey to capture preschool educators’ insights on their classrooms and current teaching practices. We then used the survey findings to inform our in-person listening sessions with each preschool site. The listening sessions were structured around interactive activities to continue relationship-building efforts—this time with the educators—and deepen our collective understanding of each preschool site’s strengths, areas for growth, and community context. For instance, we generated a community asset map as an artifact of our listening session work together.

 A drawing of concentric circles labeled Our Community Asset Map. Children are at the center, followed by families, then preschool, then community.

A community asset map artifact developed during a listening session

To help situate the survey and listening session findings, a subset of teachers participated in virtual focus groups where we reviewed and made sense of the findings together as they related to their specific preschool site.

“We are very excited for this opportunity to explore STEM innovation at our program,” said Jennifer Hardy, association program specialist of child and youth development at the YMCA of San Diego County. “Having the space to think collaboratively with our team as well Digital Promise allows us to get really creative in our thinking of how we best support our children and families.”

What We Learned

Through the planning phase activities, we learned with the YMCA leaders and educators that:

  • Facilitating outdoor learning emerged as a strength in some YMCA preschool sites and as a need in others.
  • Integrating science emerged as an opportunity for growth.
  • YMCA’s preschool sites’ focus on family engagement is a strength.

YMCA leaders’ and educators’ insights directly shaped the focus of our current efforts to co-design outdoor STEM learning spaces and professional learning resources for educators to integrate science in their classrooms—a key example illustrating the power and aim of collective ownership.

The Ecke YMCA preschool team shared, “Using the Jamboard and the given prompts really supported us in thinking about how we currently use our space as well as areas we might change to enhance STEM learning.”

As we begin the co-design phase, we will continue to emphasize collective ownership to ensure YMCA preschool educators’ and families’ perspectives and voices are continually reflected and amplified throughout the process and in the resulting STEM innovations.

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