STEM Professional Development Resources

Front cover of the ACT Now STEM guide

Throughout ACT Now’s STEM Guidebook, there are resources on how to fund your program, gain professional development opportunities, build a curriculum with activity recommendations, and ways in which you can advocate for policy change for STEM in afterschool.

As an afterschool provider, you do not have to have a STEM background or have access to an expensive lab. STEM can be learned, experienced, and experimented with alongside the students in your program and through the affordable resources presented in this guidebook. There are many, many resources on STEM afterschool education, so the resources throughout this guidebook are by no means all of the incredible, insightful resources available!

ACT Now 2023 to 2024 STEM Learning Opportunities

To register for the FY23 STEM Webinar Series, and all upcoming ACT Now events, please sign up for the ACT Now Center for Afterschool Learning (ANCAL). ANCAL is an online learning and training platform that is FREE for all Illinois afterschool and out-of-school time (OST) professionals.

STEM Trainings and Webinars


  • STEM Webinar #1: Sharing Your STEM Story: How to Talk About Science, Tuesday, September 26, 2023 (recording available on ANCAL)
  • STEM Webinar #2: Increasing Student Engagement in STEM, Tuesday, November 14, 2023 (recording available on ANCAL)
  • STEM Webinar #3: STEAM and How to Plan Cross-Curricular Activities, Tuesday, February 6, 2024, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
  • STEM Webinar #4: Evaluating Your STEM Program, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Archived STEM Webinar Series






STEM Resources

News and Reports

Out-of-School Time Workforce Report

Afterschool Matters published the findings from the Power of Us workforce survey interviews supported by the Wallace Foundation. Read what youth field workers from OST programs, summer camps, parks and recreation, outdoor education programs, libraries, museums, faith-based organizations, housing organizations, and statewide afterschool networks have to say about the field.

Investing in Out-of-School Time STEM is an Investment in a Robust, Diverse STEM Workforce

Read a brief by STEM Next Opportunity Fund and Jobs For the Future (JFF) describing the role OST plays in STEM workforce development.

YOU Belong in STEM Initiative

The U.S. Department of Education launched the “YOU Belong in STEM” Initiative on October 12, 2022. The goal of this initiative is to help school districts and their programmatic partners redesign systems and learning spaces to make sure students receive a well-rounded STEM education. 

Students Look to Pursue STEM Careers

eSchool News released an article with new survey data that suggests that more students are looking to pursue STEM learning opportunities and careers. Interestingly, the survey highlights that more girls and students of color are entering STEM professions.

Cracking the Gender Code in Computing

Recently, Accenture and Girls Who Code developed and published a report detailing the gender gap in Computer Science (CS). The report highlights some of the main causes for this gender gap and key strategies to increase the number of women in CS by 2025.

Students Are Pursuing STEM Careers at a Higher Rate

eSchool News wrote a brief article highlighting how nationwide more students are pursuing STEM college and career experiences. The article also elevates continued barriers for youth to access STEM programming and could be used to make the case for more STEM afterschool in Illinois.

How to Make Science More Relevant for Students of Color

EducationWeek has written a quick article highlighting how educators and afterschool providers can engage students of color in science curriculum in a more intentional manner.

America After 3PM STEM Special Report

The Afterschool Alliance recently released a special report on the state of afterschool STEM programming. The report highlights how programs that facilitate STEM experiences typically serve underrepresented students in the STEM sectors, decreasing barriers to college and career exploration for youth of color. There is also Illinois-specific data that indicates families recognize the importance of STEM learning opportunities.

Culturally responsive practices

The American Journal of Community Psychology has published an article on how culturally responsive practices are necessary to achieve high-quality and equitable science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) afterschool programs. The overall purpose of the study was to identify and examine culturally responsive practices in the context of a high-quality university math enrichment afterschool program serving approximately 120 low-income LatinX middle school youth from underserved schools in Southern California.

Education Week Article: Top U.S. Companies: These Are the Skills Students Need in a Post-Pandemic World

Education Week has published an article on the skills that large companies in the United States believe are important to foster in young people. These skillsets are tied to the social-emotional well-being of youth and the article provides insight into why providers should continue to build up them up. To read the article, click here.

Afterschool STEM Hub Newsletter

The Afterschool Lab Report is a quarterly newsletter produced by the Afterschool STEM Hub. It includes STEM policy updates, resources, advocacy opportunities, and research publications that help make the case about why afterschool STEM learning is important.

Afterschool Alliance: STEM Messaging for Learning Recovery Document

The Afterschool Alliance has developed a two-pager with talking points on the importance of STEM programming. This material may be utilized by providers when conversing with legislators and school district administrators in order to access funding, including federal COVID relief funding from ESSER III (American Rescue Plan). To access the document, click here.

Improving Programming

Recruit STEM Experts as Volunteers

Million Girls Moonshot (MGM) has partnered with VolunteerMatch to connect STEM experts with out- of- school-time programs! Create a VolunteerMatch account and post volunteer opportunities to work with youth in your program today! 

UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report

This annual report key challenges and barriers to achieving equity in education across 120 countries and highlights the impacts of gender stereotypes and biases on girls’ access, performance, and pursuit of STEM. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) resource highlights key findings on girls’ performance in mathematics reasoning behind why many girls do not pursue science-related careers.

NAPE Education Foundation: Make the Future Campaign

The NAPE Education Foundation is launching its Make the Future program which aims to encourage women and girls, especially those of color, to take part in STEM education and pursue advanced manufacturing careers. This opportunity provides free methods and tools to help educators, afterschool providers, and employers break down barriers for women interested in pursuing STEM education paths and high-demand advanced manufacturing careers.

Ready4K Article: STEM Language to Encourage Children and Youth to Participate

Ready4K has published an article with strategies for engaging early learners and youth in STEM programming. The article emphasizes specific language in order to relate math competencies to everyday life. To read the article, click here.

STEM Equity Evaluation Rubric

This rubric is designed to help program providers, administrators, designers, and funders identify the critical attributes of a STEM program to determine the degree to which it is inclusive and supports access and success for students who historically have not engaged in STEM. 

Elementary School Principals’ Afterschool Support Toolkit

Helps principals and other school leaders expand quality afterschool and summer learning programs for children and youth.

Citizen Science Toolkit

Citizen science is defined as the involvement of the general public in scientific research. Citizen science unites expertise from educators, scientists, data managers, and others to help speed innovation by sharing insights across disciplines. The California Academy of Sciences developed this Toolkit to help integrate citizen science projects into classroom curricula or afterschool programming.

Science for All–How to Reach English Learners

Developmentally inappropriate content puts English Learners behind in science from the start! Here are 3 actions and a variety of apps to help EL students build science literacy.

Engage Students in Local Nature During Out-Of-School Time!

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (PNNM) has a new Science Enrichment Series that engages students in critical thinking about local nature phenomena even when they’re not in the classroom! The resources are geared toward grades 1 through 8.


These resources will help create an environment that maximizes the learning of all students and increase the participation of people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

How to Start a Virtual Coding Boot Camp in 5 Easy Steps

Challenged by budgetary constraints, time limitations, and the wide selection of new technology that’s being thrown at them, K-12 districts and afterschool programs alike aren’t in the best position to set up onsite robotics and coding classes for their students. To overcome these challenges, several West Virginia schools are leveraging a technology platform that’s completely online, and that’s helped them bring the fascinating world of robots to a wider band of students.

National Girls Collaborative Project: State of Girls and Women in STEM

The National Girls Collaborative Project has updated its resource on the reality for girls and women in the STEM sectors. This report presents compelling statistics and research and focuses on K-12 Education, Higher Education, and the STEM Workforce. To access the resource, click here.

North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs: STEM Lesson Plans for Afterschool Providers

The North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs has written a variety of robust lesson plans for STEM programming. These lesson plans surround the themes of Earth Science, Environmental Science, Life Science, and Physical Science. To utilize these high-quality lessons, click here.

Professional Development

NextWaveSTEM Professional Development: STEM & Emerging Technology Trainings

NextWaveSTEM is hosting a variety of professional development opportunities for educators and afterschool providers looking to facilitate STEM programming for youth. Trainings surround STEM curriculum on robotics, coding, and more, materials, and instructional strategies. Please Note: After completing each one-hour webinar, Illinois educators will receive one ISBE professional development hour – sent via email.


These staff development tools are designed to assist in training frontline staff and volunteers to facilitate quality STEM learning experiences for youth to engage in engineering practices, including: defining the problem, design a solution, testing, responding to failure, and optimization.

Afterschool STEM Hub

The Afterschool STEM Hub has a new suite of resources available on their website. Developed by the FrameWorks Institute, all of their new materials build off of their in-depth messaging research on the American public’s perception of STEM and afterschool and summer learning. With their new resources, you will be even more prepared to advocate the importance of afterschool and summer STEM learning, share with your colleagues why our messaging works, and spread the word and support for informal STEM.

New Guide! Working with STEM Experts

The National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE) has published a new guide for educators on how to find, prepare, and work with STEM experts. It includes suggestions for ways to involve experts in STEM programming, strategies for finding different types of expertise, including those with Indigenous knowledge, and more!

Free STEM Teaching Tools

The STEM Teaching Tools site, funded by the National Science Foundation, offers open education resource tools to help teach STEM concepts, including equity-focused practice briefs with recommended actions for attending to equity in STEM teaching.

Strategy to Help Low-Income, Minority Students Master Math

Low-income minority kindergartners learn math better when taught in small groups, according to a new report from University of Michigan (U-M) researchers. This type of instructional approach not only has a positive impact on achievement but can help bridge the gap with higher-income peers.

Engineering and Math

Teach Engineering

Ignite STEM learning with this resources that provides hundreds of engineering challenges,lessons, and units. Everything for grades K-12.


DiscoverE is the backbone organization behind Engineers Week™ (established 1951), Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day™ (2001), World Engineering Day (2016, formerly known as Global Day of the Engineer), the Persist Series (2005), and the Future City Competition™ (1993). Find the perfect engineering activity that promotes critical thinking and career awareness.

Engineering Games!

PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) has published a collection of free engineering-focused games for youth. 

Design Squad Global Clubs

Provide kids ages 10 to 13 a vehicle to explore engineering and develop global competency by partnering them with out-of-school-time programs from a different country.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) promotes STEM programming through its MIT Blossoms learning space where educators and students alike can access math and science video lessons. These videos are geared towards High School classes. Click here to view the lessons.

Tech and Coding

National Center for Women & Informational Technology (NCWIT)

NCWIT offers ways to engage students in computing experiences that align with their interests and passions, to inspire them with real-life role models, to celebrate students’ persistence, and more.


Scratch is the largest free coding community for kids. No coding experience needed. There are lessons, tutorials and projects for all to complete.

Connecting to Computer Science

A Resource for Afterschool Practitioners: Pulls together existing resources, curricula, and research.

TechGirls Opportunity 

TechGirls is an interactive technology and computer camp and cultural immersion opportunity for girls ages 15 to 17. Girls participate in skill-development workshops with tech professionals, engage in job shadow experiences in various cities, and visit sites in Washington D.C. 

Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code (GWC) has developed a toolkit with relevant resources for engaging families in youth in the organization’s GWC Clubs and STEM programming. Resources include sample newsletter copy, social media content, and more! There is also information on GWC Clubs.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is offering FREE online courses on: Computer ProgrammingComputer Science, AP Computer Science Principles, and Coding (via its Hour of Code Program).

Code Your Hero

The CS First team at Google has created a new activity where students can use their imagination to turn a real-life hero into a superhero using code. Code Your Hero is an activity that honors the everyday heroes in students’ lives who use their powers to better their communities. Students will use Scratch, a block-based coding language, to animate and bring a story or game to life with movement and dialogue. It is available in both English and Spanish.  

eSchool News Articles: Multimedia Learning Tools for the Classroom, Team-Building Activities for Virtual Learning, and How to Teach Robotics and Coding from Home

eSchool News has published a series of articles regarding tools, activities, and strategies for engaging virtual instruction.

Article 1: twelve multimedia learning tools and resources that afterschool providers can utilize in their virtual programming. The article highlights platforms that allow students and youth to create their own short video stories, books, and develop projects using slide decks, templates, and images. These initiatives can be facilitated in a group-based and virtual or hybrid setting. Finally, the resources will help to elevate student engagement and support providers looking to share information in new and innovative ways. To read the full article, click here.

Article 2: showcases ten team-building activities that can be facilitated in an online or hybrid environment. These activities are great for introductions, quick breaks between virtual sessions, and for fostering deeper collaboration and understanding between youth participants. The games can also be modified for different age groups.  To access the article, click here.

Article 3: elevates the experience of an educator as he continues to teach students about robotics and coding while they are in virtual instruction. The article shares tips and best practices and highlights specific and high-quality coding programs for afterschool providers. To read the article, click here.

K-12 Robotics Apps

K-12 robotics is having more than a moment–it’s on its way to establishing itself as a necessary component of a 21st-century education. While it can seem overwhelming, it’s not as hard to incorporate K-12 robotics into your classroom. Apps offer an excellent way to gently move into robotics learning without feeling as if you’re in over your head. To learn more, explore K-12 robotics apps here.

Resources for Robotics Education

Robotics education is gaining steam in programs across the nation, and for good reason–it’s engaging, hands-on, and students learn real-world concepts as they solve challenges. As K-12 robotics education grows, so do the quality resources for providers to strengthen their own robotics skills and transfer that knowledge to youth. For a list of robotics education resources, click here.

Biology, Weather, and Space

Making More Space In STEM

A short video was shared by CNN that shows a field trip that Million Girls Moonshot took to the Adler Planetarium. Million Girls Moonshot went on a field trip with Dr. Katya Echazarreta, the first Mexican-born woman in space. The goal of the field trip was to inspire a new generation of female explorers. 

Earth and Space / La Tierra y el Espacio Resources

The National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE Network) is sharing its collection of resources on Earth and Space to help educators make this type of science programming more relevant and inclusive of local communities. The collection of resources features written materials, slides, and videos for you to explore at your own pace.

STEM Resources from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has grant funding available for field trips and teaching tools for summer programming! Applications are being accepted for the Historic Sites Field Trip GrantIllinois Biodiversity Field Trip Grant and Illinois Schoolyard Habitat Action GrantIDNR’s trunks and packs are available for loan from locations throughout the state.

SciJinks: Scavenger Hunt

SciJinks has created a scavenger hunt for students interested in learning about the weather. Afterschool providers can facilitate this scavenger hunt in remote, hybrid, and in-person programming. Students can complete the scavenger hunt activity by reading the selected articles on the SciJinks website to find the answers to each clue. Once they have all the clues, they will be able to spell the secret word. To access this activity, click here.

Weather Classroom Activities

Introduces students to common weather terminology and the concept behind weather satellites.

National Space Council Educator Resources

The White House Space Council Fact Sheet hosts information on the “Your Place in Space” Online Resources Hub, which is a new initiative launched by Federal agencies and the Smithsonian Institute to provide STEM resources for K-12 educators. This resource hub also promotes career awareness through the Space Career Resource Guide which highlights space career opportunities across the U.S. Government and the diversity of the space STEM professionals.

STEAM Activities

Build the Best Paper Bridge

This activity from Science Buddies incorporates paper, tape, and other classroom materials to help students learn how to build a bridge. If all your students benefit from healthy competition, make it a “race against time” by introducing a timer. 

NanoDays – STEM Resources

The NISE Network has a variety of STEM resources and curriculum to help program providers celebrate NanoDays (March 25, 2023 to April 2, 2023). Join in on thenationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science, engineering, and technology and their impact on society!

500 Free Activities for Youth

eSchool News has released an article highlighting Discovery Education’s 500 free activities for youth that help supplement learning in a variety of subjects. The resources are available in the K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 grade levels.  All activities will be released on a monthly basis, are organized to support weekly instructional goals, and were created based on the most searched terms during each month of the previous school year.

Art Infused with STEM Learning Activities Makes for a Colorful Time

This simple approach to STEM uses outdoor experiences and art to engage young children in math and science discussions. The activities not only build upon one another but build off children’s curiosity. They are also very easy to facilitate in an in-person environment.

Strategies for Incorporating Art into Programming

EducationWeek has published an article showcasing 13 strategies for incorporating art into programming. There are ideas for full sessions and recommendations for icebreaker activities!

MY SO – High-Quality STEM Program for Youth

Science Olympiad (SO) is launching its MY SO program! This FREE STEM program is available to all students and educators – at home, in the classroom, after school, or on a Science Olympiad team. Each month, youth will dive into a different STEM topic – like Epidemiology – with a lesson plan that’s aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a career connection video featuring a STEM professional, and an optional national online test. Science Olympiad has also created the MY SO 101 Guide to support teachers, afterschool providers, principals, and families in providing high-quality STEM opportunities.

STEM Resources for Students and Families

The STEM Innovation for Inclusion in Early Education (STEMI2E2) created resources for families to integrate STEM opportunities into daily routines. STEMI2E2, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, strives to develop and enhance the knowledge base on engagement in STEM learning opportunities for children from birth through age five with disabilities.

The Connected Girls

This free online collaboration tool gives STEM program providers a chance to find partners based on interests as well as a platform to showcase STEM opportunities to families. Families, in turn, have a free, go-to resource to connect the children in their lives to STEM learning opportunities in their community.

Science Buddies

Science Buddies is a K-12 nonprofit that has developed a unique library of quality STEM resources that are free for students, parents, and teachers. These resources include standards-aligned lesson plans, career profiles, hands-on activities, and 1,000+ project ideas.

Family and Community Partnerships

10 Amazing STEM Family Night Activities

Vivify has a resource to assist in the planning of a STEM or STEAM Family Night. Read about 10 amazing activities (plus tons of FREEBIES) that will engage the whole family!

Family Engagement Project

This toolkit contains resources for increasing family engagement in STEM learning.

Making STEM Education More Welcoming for Underrepresented Minorities

Many people working in STEM education are realizing that barriers to increasing diversity have less to do with underrepresented minorities being ill-equipped and more to do with the unwelcoming academic culture they must navigate. Click here to read more about how you can create welcoming STEM educational spaces for underrepresented populations.


Makerspaces serve as meeting points outside of schools for students to develop 21st-century skills, such as creativity and problem-solving. Makerspaces promote STEM learning and can help schools ensure students are combining creativity with critical thinking and other key 21st-century skills. Librarians are uniquely positioned to take an active role in designing STEM programs and makerspaces.

Community Engineering: Free Engineering Challenges for Youth

Community Engineering hosts a variety of engineering challenges that are community-based and includes learning modules on topics like school gardening, classroom renovation, and designing an accessible playground. To review these engaging activities, click here.

New Guide! Working with STEM Experts

The National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE) has published a new guide for educators on how to find, prepare, and work with STEM experts. It includes suggestions for ways to involve experts in STEM programming, strategies for finding different types of expertise, including those with Indigenous knowledge, and more!