Finding Your “Brave” with Iowa STEM

Most of us know the feeling: Your brain goes from full steam ahead to what seems like a complete flat line, you get a little nervous because you just know you should know the correct answer, and you immediately end any eye contact with your teacher. If you didn’t greet this first sentence with a flashback to your grade school days, I applaud you.

As a soon-to-be Iowa State graduate and nearly full-fledged adult, I was surprised to find myself in this position during a STEM Workshop. This Active Learning-After School Workshop was an initiative of the Iowa After School Alliance, Greatness STEMs from Iowans, and STEM Next. Through the use of hands on STEM activities and an open dialogue between participants, we we taught about the 12 Dimensions of Success (DoS Planning).

DoS focuses on creating high quality STEM engagement opportunities and creating healthy STEM identities for participating youth.

The first three dimensions umbrella under the pillar of creating a learning environment. Organization, Materials, and Utilization of Space make up the “who, what, where, when, and why” of the experience. Through participating in a mock-STEM activity, participants learned to recognize distractions and relax when challenges can’t be anticipated as an educator. The bottom line of this pillar was: a well-structured learning environment makes more room for true learning to happen.

The second pillar of the workshop focused on creating a narrow STEM goal while encouraging participation and harnessing leadership.  Activity engagement bottlenecks from the creation of purposeful activities that are “Hands-On and Minds-On”.

Wow, Minds-On? What a perfect concept that gets overshadowed too often. The notion that hands-on activities may remain just that if depth of learning is not created is a reality that startles many in a position of education facilitator. Even now, the knowledge that I have had facilitation experiences that simply stopped after the “Hands-On” sits heavily on my shoulders as an educator.

True STEM Knowledge and Practice encompasses the content being learned, the opportunity to learn through questions, and reflection of concepts learned. The third pillar of the workshop was personally challenging and augmented my mindset from educator to being the student that was struggling with reaching the desired project outcome.

The authentic experience of being challenged and engaged in learning is something I feel distant from. What a perfectly frustrating and beautiful concept. My personal struggle with the STEM Lesson Plan opened my eyes to the value of having a facilitator that purposefully created layers of “Why?”.

The final pillar and three dimensions of DoS included Building Relationships, Creating Relevance, and Solidifying a Youth Voice or Identity for participants. Relationships have many dynamics including Youth to Youth interactions or Facilitator to Youth mentor-ship. Each of these relationships revolves around a shared goal, shared identity, and encouraging environment. Relevance pertains to creating lessons that agree with individuals’ pacing and current situation. Lastly, creating a youth voice means focusing on a growth mindset and making every STEM experience be a “Brave Space”.

Brave. Space. This concept was shared by a fellow workshop participant, and it resounded with me so deeply that it is forever printed in bold, all-caps letters in my workshop notebook.

A Brave Space is a shared environment that nourishes learning and building of relationships. The concept of creating Brave Space for youth is truly the purpose of STEM Programming and 4-H. My goal as Americorp 4-H member, community member, and friend is to create Brave Spaces for the youth of Black Hawk County.

Notes: This conference was amazing! Thank you to my BHC Office gals for finding this opportunity and encouraging me to represent the office, this experience was something I deeply value. Much of the information and ideas in this post stem (no pun intended) from true resources available to you! Visit for more information and opportunities.


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