For one week in October, students in Boston’s public middle schools—6,500 students in 36 schools–set aside their regular lessons and participated in Boston STEM Week, a hands-on, in-depth program connecting students with real-world examples of STEM in action.

Organized by i2 Learning during October 3-7, Boston STEM Week grew out of a STEM-focused summer camp that took place for one week on empty school campuses. Organizations such as MIT, the Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Science in Boston contributed hands-on STEM courses for students.

In 2015, teachers working at the camps observed a high level of student engagement, but noted one drawback: the STEM camps only attracted students who were already interested in the topic. They wondered if expanding it to public school classrooms could engage students who hadn’t otherwise expressed an interest in STEM.

The district-wide program was first piloted in one Boston school, followed by a pilot in 15 charter and parochial schools, funded by Boston-based organizations.

To prepare, middle school teachers attended summer professional development in the form of a two-day workshop focused on hands-on learning with the STEM curriculum they planned to use.

“Our goal is to reach kids who might have ignored STEM otherwise,” said i2 Learning founder Ethan Berman. “[STEM is] where our world is going. I think so many kids just don’t have exposure, and we’re trying to get it to them early. They don’t necessarily know what real-world math and science are. Even beyond STEM as a subject area, learning to build with their hands, using creativity, being allowed to fail, and building collaboration skills are valuable for today’s students.”

i2 Learning reached out to foundations and philanthropic groups for support as it moved to scale across the city’s middle schools. “We needed all of these partners to make something like Boston STEM Week happen at that scale,” he said.

Next page: How teachers prepared for the week-long event; how students responded