The ACRES Project (Afterschool Coaching for Reflective Educators in STEM) is a 3-year project that pushes the boundaries of what is possible in virtual professional development for informal STEM educators, particularly those in rural settings who often have limited access to high-quality PD without the burden of significant travel. The project focuses on afterschool educators and library staff in particular, two types of informal STEM professionals who are ubiquitous in communities across the country, and who are increasingly taking on STEM facilitation roles with youth.
The model is at the intersection of research on instructional coaching, professional learning communities, and video-based learning tools. Participating educators come together as individuals and use zoom videoconferencing to create a virtual professional learning community, led by a coach. Members of the group learn a series of STEM facilitation skills, such as how to ask youth purposeful questions or how to build their identity and career interest in relation to STEM. A central feature of the model is that the participating educators bring videos of themselves interacting with youth, and share and discuss these with each other and the coach.
Ongoing evaluation focuses on whether participants are able to learn and practice the STEM facilitation skills, and how their learning experiences are shaped by the larger organizational contexts in which they work.