How to Create a STEM Program for Tweens

Step 1 – Rally Support for STEM

Staff buy-in and co-development is critical. They provide skills and community engagement know-how that is essential to STEM learning – for example, who on your staff speaks a language in addition to English? STEM can seem intimidating if you have never tried it before. Give everyone the time and materials to try a hands-on STEM activity and experience, firsthand, that you don’t have to be an expert to succeed! When facilitating STEM explorations with tweens, it may be essential to have multiple staff assisting with your program. Also, look to your community! What STEM role models in your community reflect diverse cultural and social backgrounds? What organizations can volunteer their time and STEM expertise? Do you have teens or trade school or college students who can help facilitate a program? Be mindful of the time it may take to get background checks for outside volunteers.

Step 2 – What Do You Want to Achieve?

Step 2 – What Do You Want to Achieve?

STEM learning is an issue of equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility facing today’s youth, with an “achievement gap” persisting between low- and high-income students. Your library can play an important role in a tween’s development by tapping into their interests and providing a safe place for them to explore new concepts.
 
Work directly with underserved youth to understand their needs and interests. If you have a Teen or Tween Advisory Board, solicit their input early and often. Tweens bring a range of maturity levels, so plan to be flexible in what you set out to achieve. Meet potential collaborators to discuss their needs and brainstorm ways to support each other’s efforts. Decide together what you would like to do, and then formalize those ideas into goals that can evolve over the course of your collaboration. Start thinking about how you will measure progress toward those goals.
 
Learn more about how libraries have developed STEM partnerships >>
 
Learn more about how to evaluate your achievements >>

Step 3 – Design and Promote the Program

Explore the slideshow to learn tips on how to design and promote your tween STEM program. Icebreakers and Design-Challenges are great activities to try with tweens!

Step 4 – Final Preparations Prior to Program

Step 4 – Final Preparations Prior to Program

The tweens are coming to your program to have fun – it’s not school! As they are completing their activities, encourage them to share ideas with each other through discussion prompts and open-ended questions. Practice being a “Guide on the Side” facilitator through a brief video tutorial, example questions, and printable cheat-sheet. Run through your icebreaker and STEM activity(ies) at least once before the tweens arrive.

Step 5 – Evaluate and Reflect

Step 5 – Evaluate and Reflect

Use rapid feedback tools, such as surveys or talk-back boards, as fun and quick ways to evaluate the tweens’ experience. Use them to reflect. Celebrate your successes and look for areas of growth for your next tween STEM program!

Lessons Learned from the Partners for Middle School STEM

Through the Partners for Middle School STEM initiative, 10 public library systems built multi-sector community partnerships to increase science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities for underserved youth, ages 10-13.

Their pilot programs revealed important aspects to consider when engaging tweens in STEM, which are explored here.

Participating Library Systems

  • The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH
  • Hartford Public Library, CT
  • Gwinnett County Public Library, GA
  • St. Louis County Library, MO
  • Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, MD
  • Algona Public Library, IA
  • Chicago Public Library, IL
  • Pioneer Library System, OK
  • Durham County Library, NC
  • Mount Vernon City Library, WA

Popular STEM Activities for Tweens

The Urban Libraries Council and the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning partnered on the Partners for Middle School STEM project. HG&Co provided evaluation. This initiative was made possible in part by an Institute of Museum and Library Services Leadership Grant (LG-95-18-0025-18).