K-12 STEM teachers and communities of practice at non-formal education organizations: A case study



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The purpose of this study was to explore why K-12 STEM teachers participate in communities of practice facilitated by non-formal education organizations. Communities of practice serve as professional development for teachers, providing them with an opportunity to grow their knowledge and skills. Non-formal education organizations have a long history of providing support for K-12 STEM education through various investments, including professional development. This qualitative case study used communities of practice, including the critical elements of domain, community, and practice, as the framework to document teacher participation in a STEM-focused community of practice at a non-formal organization in the United States. Findings from this study indicate that teachers participate in communities of practice primarily due to the connections between members of the community and the continuous learning and growth they experience, along with other intangible benefits such as confidence and a renewed excitement for teaching. Study participants also noted numerous benefits resulting from having a non-formal education organization facilitate the community of practice, primarily the access the organization can provide to unique and exclusive opportunities and resources. Furthermore, this study has implications across the formal and non-formal education spheres as it adds to the growing body of literature on social learning communities relevant to both communities of practice and teacher professional development. The study also highlights the contributions of non-formal education organizations to K-12 STEM education and helps validate communities of practice as a model of effective professional development.



Community of Practice, STEM, Teachers, K-12