Skip Navigation
Back to Navigation

STEM Challenge

← Back

STEM Challenge

San Francisco Public Library, Calif.

Education - Children & Adults | 2020 | Honorable Mention

Innovation Synopsis

STEM Challenge was a new web series developed for budding scientists and engineers to practice scientific methods using common household items from the safety of their screens. It aired weekly during Summer Stride. Local Teen Interns also created 29 original challenges as part of their leadership cohort for a teen takeover the final week.

A note from the library on the series title:

San Francisco Public Library strives towards being an anti-racist agency. In the spirit of this work, we changed the original name of this series, “STEM Challenge Yo’Self”, in recognition of the fact that it was appropriated from Black vernacular—an act we acknowledge contributes to the systemic oppression of Black people and the perpetuation of stereotypes that are rooted in racism. We apologize for the harm the original title may have caused to our Black community members and staff, and we have updated the name of this series to “STEM Challenge.” We are committed to doing better. Learn more about the library’s  Racial Equity Commitment and please read the SF Human Rights Commission's anti-Black racism statement.  


According to the National Summer Learning Association, many students lose two months of mathematical skills and two to three months of reading skills every summer. In May we unplanned 1,000 learning events due to shelter-in-place. We quickly rebuilt our Summer Stride program with weekly STEM programs online. A tiny group of Youth Librarians partnered to videotape a nine-part series. This entire project was developed, designed and produced within three weeks to meet the needs of an unprecedented Summer Stride.

Key Elements of Innovation

SFPL exercised a growth mindset to redesign and reintroduce youth programming on the screen. Previous summers had 290 STEM events, each crafted by neighborhood librarians. This year, we pivoted with a smaller team to build STEM offerings for the entire city. It was a professional development experience for our staff and for Teen Interns. The result was a popular "STEM-tastic" series that was easily findable on our social media channels, YouTube playlist and website and ultimately more accessible for all.

Achieved Outcomes

Virtual programing is a new chapter in SFPL’s diverse offerings. STEM Challenge quickly earned loyal followers with 7,000 views and counting. Program partners such as the YMCA incorporated it into their weekly offerings to provide youth with active learning experience. Teen Interns studied the series to create original STEM offerings for a Teen TakeOver event and monthlong series in October with the Bay Area Science Festival. To our delight, our programs became more accessible for our community and beyond.