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12 Steps To Writing a Winning Grant For STEM Education

There Is A Wide Array of Grants Available For Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math At Both State and Federal levels

STEM gap graph
Closing the STEM education gap means equal job opportunities for all students. Source:

What is STEM Education and why does it matter?

Over the past decade, jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have grown at a rate three times faster than non-STEM jobs. According to the Department of Commerce, STEM jobs will continue to grow over the next decade at a staggering rate of 17 percent—compared with an estimated 9.8 percent growth in other occupations. What does this mean for our students? Proficiency in STEM subjects, from an early age, is more important than ever. Government organizations, non-profits, and private businesses alike are all ramping up funding to better engage students in STEM education and close the achievement gap. (Read more about closing the STEM gap for girls.)

If we don’t keep the doors of opportunity wide open to students of all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds then we will collectively forfeit a huge portion of the talent that these next generation challenges demand.

—Joseph Kennedy III, Member of the House Committee on Science and Technology

The Obama administration has responded enthusiastically to the need to better engage all students in STEM education and, in particular, broaden the participation of girls and women in math, science, and technology. Dozens of federal programs offer funding for STEM classroom activities and teacher training. The ambitious “Race to the Top” Fund (2009–2015) awarded $4.1 billion in grants to states nationwide to develop strategies to improve achievement and provide rigorous curricula to better prepare students for college and STEM careers. More than 22 million students, approximately 45 percent of all K–12 students in the United States, benefited from these education grants.

How do teachers engage a diverse student population in STEM education?

One interesting trend that Race to the Top identified was the move from traditional classrooms to classrooms that incorporated personalized learning. In fact, 16 school districts nationwide used $400 million in federal grant awards during the final phase of the program to invest in digital technology that enabled blended learning with flexible anytime/anywhere learning. While some schools embarked on a district-wide makeover and others narrowed in on a single area, such as middle school math, they all employed similar tactics. They invested in iPads and other mobile technologies, individualized digital curricula for students, and data dashboards that collect all student learning information in one place for easy-access for teachers.

There is a wide array of grants available for science, technology, engineering, and math at both state and federal levels. (See our comprehensive 2016 resource for teacher and classroom technology grants.) Schools nationwide are using these grants to make instruction in diverse classrooms more effective and engaging. Just one example of STEM funding making a difference is the STEMLink Partnership, a joint effort by the Utah State Office of Education, the Department of Workforce Services, and the STEM Action Center. The program is offering $6 million in grants for STEM classroom activities.

We believe … investing in STEM and focusing on our kids in STEM-related activities is preparing the workforce for the future.

—Jon Pierpoint, Executive Director, Department of Workforce Services, Utah

One school taking advantage of the STEMLink Partnership funding is Crimson View Elementary School in St. George, Utah. Every Wednesday afternoon for a month, students participate in the Wildcat Wednesday program focusing on STEM activities. Fourth grade teacher Michelle Belliston and other teachers formed a STEM committee to brainstorm how to bring engaging STEM education to their classrooms. Interactive activities include everything from building molecules with Legos to coding and using iPad applications like iMovie.

Steps for Writing STEM Grants that Win Big Money for Your Classroom

STEM Education Pays Off
Preparing all students for college and beyond in the global STEM economy.

During the past decade alone, the NEA Foundation has awarded more than $7.1 million to fund nearly 4,500 grants to public school educators. How does your school get a piece of this and other funding for STEM education? Here are 12 steps for writing STEM grants that win big money for your classroom:

  1. Knowing what you want before you applying is critical in finding the right grant. Providers want to know if their investment is making a difference, so you should be prepared with desired learning outcomes or evidence of impact. Classroom teachers and school administrators need to know how STEM is being defined in their school or district. Is there a strategy? What is the grant making process, protocol, or procedure in your school or school system??
  2. Create a sustainable project plan. It’s worth the time and effort to make sure your project has well-defined objectives and a clear path to success. You may even want to create a steering committee of teachers and parents for your project to build momentum and brainstorm ideas.
  3. Start early. The grant process is long and involved, so be sure you have defined the objectives and goals, and that you have the time required to see the project through to completion.
  4. Create a budget. Funding sources want a clear breakdown of how you’ll use the grant and, sometimes, what other funding sources you have in-place and are considering tapping into.
  5. Do your research and find the right match. Read the foundation’s website and call the grant administrator to make sure you understand the foundation’s goals in distributing funds. Is it a foundation focused on STEM education in general? Equality for girls? Closing the opportunity gap for ELL and at-risk students? Make sure your project is a fit before you spend time filling out the application.
  6. Understand guidelines and requirements. Most funding agencies publish grant guidelines that must be followed to the letter. Again, if you have questions, call and ask.
  7. Make a strong case. The “needs statement” drives your entire grant proposal. Make sure you’re clear about your mission and how it solves the challenges that your classroom faces. Do you need to invest in digital curricula to help tutor students who are falling behind in math? How many students? What are the test scores? Are they ELL students, and does your school serve a large ELL community? Spell out all of the details.
  8. Write a persuasive project abstract. The “project abstract” is a summary of your project needs, goals, objectives, and budget—all within a few paragraphs or a page at the most. Make it clear, so that someone without your understanding of science or math can understand the importance of the project. Make it easy for the reader to understand your main points with subheads and bullets. Above all, help the funder to get excited about engaging students in active learning and transforming your school!
  9. Use SMART goals. Every proposal will require at least one section that describes the budget goals and measurable objectives of your project. “Smart” goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable and within the means of the budget. Take the time to detail all project activities and make sure that your budget narrative closely matches the description of the activities. Your evaluation should carefully measure whether the stated project objectives are being met in a timely manner.
  10. Build credibility. Make sure you identify key parents, teachers, and other community members who are committed to helping you carry out the program. Some funders will accept a letter of support from a prominent community member.
  11. Write a standout cover letter. Your cover letter shouldn’t simply repeat the information in the proposal. It should bring your project to life and actively engage the reader in a single page.
  12. Be collaborative. Brainstorm with other teachers, parents, and community stakeholders who may have a passion for your project.

For more tips on writing winning grants for education, download our 2016 Grants Guide. Learn how and where to secure funding for STEM, EdTech, and professional development!

Helpful STEM grant resources

Check out these free resources for the information you need to successfully find and apply for grants:

  • eSchool News online: An online monthly newspaper that contains an updated grants section.
  • Instructional Technology Council: Searchable glossary of grant programs from the federal government and from foundations that provide funding for distance learning.
  • Technology Grant News: Receive an electronic copy of Technology Grant News with live website links and the “Technology Resource News” E-Bulletin, and a free Grant Index of your choice.
  • Twitter: Follow @winmoregrants
Dr. Gregory Firn