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Snacks by Erin Murphy
OCT
13
2016

RESEARCH
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Poll: In public education, Americans want more than academics

By Erin Murphy

Image by Holger Selover-Stephan

Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) recently released the results of their 48th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. This report, Why school? Americans speak out on education goals, standards, priorities and fundingidentifies what Americans believe should be the primary goals of public education and what standards, priorities and funding should exist to support these goals.

The findings of the report suggest there is not a consensus on what the primary goal of public education should be. Only 45 percent of adult Americans believe that the main goal of education should be preparing students academically. Meanwhile, alternate views of public education are gaining popularity: 25 percent of Americans believe the goal of public education should be to prepare students for work, and 26 percent believe the goal should be to prepare students for citizenship. Additionally, respondents felt that the development of good work habits was a more important goal for schools than providing factual information.

This shift in the public attitude regarding the role of public education—toward success beyond academics—is reflected by the public’s preference for offering more career-technical or skills-based classes (68 percent) instead of more honors or advanced academic classes (21 percent). Afterschool has a long history of focusing on youth success beyond academics, reflecting and responding to Americans’ expanding desires for public education. Besides providing academic support—such as tutoring, homework help, and academic enrichment—programs are supporting students’ passions, introducing students to careers, and developing their 21st century skills. Because of this, afterschool is great a partner for the public school system in supporting education, growth and student success more broadly

OCT
10
2016

STEM
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These three programs successfully integrated engineering education

By Erin Murphy

This blog was also published on LinkEngineering.

Students from SHINE with their homemade robot. Image via @amjohnston

Afterschool programs across the country are providing students with the opportunity to explore engineering activities and careers. According to America After 3PM, 10.2 million children (18 percent) currently participate in afterschool programs. Sixty-nine percent of parents said their child’s afterschool program offered STEM programming, and 30 percent said these programs offered engineering and technology activities. To do the math, this means that over 3 million students are receiving engineering programming in afterschool programs.

The flexibility of afterschool allows providers to make engineering activities engaging and well-suited for the needs of the community. Programs are choosing topics relevant to kids’ interests while leveraging community partners—including science museums, zoos and aquaria, universities and businesses—and engaging parents in the learning process.

We’d like to highlight three programs that are providing impressive opportunities and outcomes for the students and families they serve.

SHINE

The SHINE After School Program, in Jim Thorpe, PA, exemplifies how rural programs can provide quality engineering education by using local resources and expertise. The program serves over 600 K-12 students and their families, with the majority of participants coming from low-income families and having special or remedial needs. In this program, 4th and 5th graders complete hands-on activities that focus on engineering, the health sciences and green energy, which introduces them to careers in those fields while improving their problem-solving skills. In middle school, students advance to a program held at a local technical center where they have access to Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and shop machinery. Working with college interns and high school mentors, middle school teams complete six engineering projects over the course of the academic year. One project is to build a “car of the future,” first designing the car in CAD, then cutting precision machined parts, and finally constructing the life-size derby car.

In a 2011-2012 evaluation, parents of middle school students observed an improvement in their children’s ability to use technology (86 percent) and in math skills (68 percent). Additionally, 95 percent of students in the middle school academy were excited about STEM careers, and 97 percent of 4th and 5th graders understood what an engineer does.

SEP
15
2016

RESEARCH
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New report: Participation in summer learning programs yields positive outcomes

By Erin Murphy

A new report shows that high levels of participation in summer learning programs can provide positive benefits for low-income students’ math and language arts performance and social-emotional skills. Last week, The Wallace Foundation released Learning from Summer: Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Urban Youththe third and final report analyzing the outcomes of their National Summer Learning Project.

This report, conducted by the RAND Corporation, is part of a six-year study offering the first-ever assessment of the effectiveness of voluntary, no-cost summer learning programs on the academic achievement, social-emotional competencies, and behavior of low-income, urban, elementary students. In fall 2013, third grade students enrolled in one of five urban school districts—Boston, Dallas, Jacksonville (FL), Pittsburgh, or Rochester (NY)—were selected to participate in the study. Half of the students were invited to participate in summer programming while half were not, and data on academic performance, social emotional skills, behavior and attendance was collected on both groups through the end of seventh grade.

Key findings on summer learning programs:

  • Students who were “high-attenders”—those attending a summer program at least 20 days—saw near and long-term positive effects in math assessments throughout the study.
  • High-attenders saw near and long-term positive effects in language arts assessments after the second summer of programming.
  • High-attenders saw positive benefits for their social and emotional skills after the second summer of programming.
  • When programs focused on math or language arts, students saw lasting positive gains in these subjects. Students who received a minimum of 25 hours of math instruction or 34 hours in language arts instruction during the summer outperformed students who did not receive the same level of instruction in the relevant subject in fall assessments. The report also found that the positive effects lasted into the spring after the second summer.
  • Providing students an invitation to attend did not lead to substantial long-term benefits, because of high rates of non-participation and low-attendance rates.
Infographic courtesy of the Wallace Foundation.
JUL
19
2016

STEM
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Changing the game for girls in STEM

By Erin Murphy

A new white paper from the nationally-recognized STEM education provider Techbridge calls for a more sophisticated approach to engaging girls in STEM. Across the U.S., girls are growing up in cities and regions bustling with innovation, yet many do not consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) due to lack of encouragement and opportunity. Meanwhile, STEM jobs are growing at an unprecedented rate, and companies are scrambling to build diversity in their workforce. Closing the opportunity gap for girls, especially for girls of color, will open up a tremendous untapped pool of talent.

Disappointingly, many previous and ongoing efforts to engage girls and minorities in STEM have had a hard time moving the needle. This paper draws upon Techbridge’s 16 years of experience in successfully improving outcomes for girls in STEM, as well as interviews from STEM education leaders in order to spotlight the most effective ways to foster diversity and inclusion in the workforce. The paper reveals two broad strategies to engineer a revolution in STEM diversity:

  • Design with diverse girls and communities in mind. Make sure to understand who will be in your program and customize programming and curriculum. Girls from different communities will have different wants and needs. Program designers should listen to the voices from the communities they serve.
  • Strengthen the girl-centric ecosystem. There are many factors that will influence the likelihood of girls to pursue STEM, so building strong community partnerships is key. Embrace an ecosystem approach and build partnerships between programs and families. Additionally, build relationships between programs and STEM industries to train female role models who can work with girls.
JUL
12
2016

STEM
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Start a Girls Who Code Club and help close the tech gender gap

By Erin Murphy

Girls Who Code is actively working to create a world in which men and women are represented equally in the ever-important technology industry. This year, Girls Who Code is looking to scale-up efforts through their afterschool clubs program. You can apply to be an official host site, and access free curriculum, teaching resources and support from Girls Who Code!

What is a Girls Who Code Club?

In a Girls Who Code Club, 6th to 12th grade girls explore coding in a fun and friendly environment. Students learn core computer science concepts through projects based on their interests, such as music, art or games. The curriculum is designed for students with varying experience levels, with lessons for students with zero coding experience or lessons that introduce college-level concepts. Field trips and guest speakers compliment the curriculum by demonstrating how these skills can be applied in the future. Additionally, this program provides girls a supportive community. They become part of a diverse sisterhood while gaining many female role models who are working at the world’s leading engineering and tech companies.

Become part of the movement

To get girls coding in your community, you can to host a club in either Fall 2016 or Spring 2017. All you need are computers, internet access, a facilitator (two is even better), and (of course) girls in 6th to 12th grade.

The lead facilitator can be an afterschool program employee or a community volunteer like a college student majoring in computer science or a tech industry professional. However, for the Fall 2016 session, the facilitator must have knowledge of programming fundamentals such as loops, conditionals, and functions. In Spring 2017, a newly-released curriculum will support non-technical facilitators, i.e. afterschool educators without prior knowledge of programming. If you need to recruit a tech-capable facilitator, here are some helpful resources:

If you are still having trouble finding someone to facilitate, Girls Who Code can help out! Just indicate this on your application.

JUN
20
2016

STEM
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Making and equity: how a successful program integrated the two

By Erin Murphy

As part of our ongoing celebration of the National Week of Making, we are excited to announce the release of a new STEM program profile highlighting the wonderful work of the California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN). The goal of our STEM program profiles is to share models of successful STEM programs and provide information about high-quality STEM learning experiences, professional development, funding, building partnerships and impressive outcomes for youth success.

CTAN is unique among our program profiles in that it is not an individual afterschool program, but was a partnership that brought together the expertise of afterschool directors, facilitators, and researchers. The network included two out-of-school time organizations—the Community Science Workshop Network (Fresno and Watsonville, CA) and Techbridge (Oakland, CA)—along with two science museums: Discovery Cube (Santa Ana, CA) and the Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA). Together, this group designed and implemented STEM-rich afterschool tinkering/making programs to serve youth from low-income, historically marginalized communities. These making and tinkering programs focus on learning STEM skills through the process of creating, building, or re-designing.

Check out the CTAN profile to learn more about:

  • Key characteristics of high-quality making/tinkering programs.
  • Youth outcomes related to high-quality, STEM-rich making/tinkering programs.
  • Building effective, and equitable partnerships with STEM-rich institutes and researchers.
  • Creating equitable programs that have positive outcomes for youth regardless of gender, ability, socioeconomic status, or community of origin.
  • Professional development strategies to support high-quality making/tinkering.

For more information on a variety of ways to approach STEM learning, check out our STEM Program Profiles!

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learn more about: Robotics Science Community Partners
JUN
17
2016

STEM
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Turn concepts into creations for the National Week of Making!

By Erin Murphy

The act of "making" is to use the process of creating, building or re-designing to learn new things about our world.

Join us in celebrating making this week by participating in the White House’s 2016 National Week of Making, June 17-23. The focus of this year’s event is to highlight the diversity of makers: young and old, experienced and novice, rural and urban. Afterschool programs have long focused on providing hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that allow kids to explore and discover creatively. This week, we will showcase how afterschool is helping kids from various communities and backgrounds become makers!

As part of this campaign, we will be releasing a new program profile for the California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN), a partnership of two museums and three afterschool programs focused on studying and implementing STEM-rich making in the afterschool space. Additionally, we will be participating in the Growing a Nation of Makers tweetchat, hosted by Design Squad. During the tweetchat on June 21 at 12 p.m. ET, we'll join a discussion on how we can help #GrowMakers. Finally, we will be sharing a guest blog from Techbridge, an afterschool program focused on introducing girls to science and engineering, in which the program's leaders will share their best-practices and teaching strategies for making in afterschool.

Get involved with the National Week of Making:

  • Tweet your Making experiences @afterschool4all with the hashtag #NationOfMakers or #WeekofMaking
  • Stay tuned for more blogs, tweets and Facebook posts from us to learn more about making in afterschool
  • Participate in the Growing a Nation of Makers #GrowMakers tweetchat where participants will share their knowledge and expertise around making. Tune in on June 21 at 12 p.m. ET with @Designsquad, @SWEtalk, @TheConnectory and @ngcproject.
  • Attend an event in your community

Respond to the White House’s call to action and make a commitment to helping spread the maker movement

JUN
10
2016

STEM
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Professional development improves afterschool STEM learning and student outcomes

By Erin Murphy

This blog is part of series highlighting articles from the third issue of the new Journal for Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO). This is a peer-reviewed, open-access publication from the Central Valley Afterschool Foundation.

In one of the first studies linking STEM professional development to positive student outcomes in the afterschool context, Findings From an Afterschool STEM Learning Initiative: Links to Professional Development and Quality STEM Learning Experiences discusses the impact of high-quality professional development on afterschool staff and students. The study, by Deborah Lowe Vandell, Rahila Simzar, Pilar O’Cadiz, and Valerie Hall from the University of California – Irvine, reports that high-quality professional development for afterschool staff increases staff belief in the importance of STEM and staff competency. In turn, these gains by staff lead to the increased quality of STEM learning activities, improving student outcomes and their STEM learning experience in the program.

Awareness of the important role of afterschool in STEM education has been growing, but challenges implementing high-quality STEM programming in afterschool—such as limited staff experience with STEM, high staff turnover, and structural barriers—persist. The purpose of this study was to examine the impacts of a 3-year initiative, led by the California Afterschool Network, aimed at increasing STEM learning opportunities in publicly funded afterschool programs through professional development. The study—which evaluated 96 publicly funded California afterschool programs, measured staff beliefs and competency providing STEM programming, collected student outcomes, and documented close to 2,500 STEM activities—found:

  • High-quality professional development has a positive impact on afterschool staff. The study found that increases in the frequency of staff training, discussions of program issues and STEM programming, and meetings with school teachers and parents were all shown to have positive impacts on staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning, as well as staff competency to implement STEM programming.
  • When afterschool staff have quality STEM professional development, it positively impacts student’s STEM learning experience. Increases in staff beliefs about the importance of STEM and staff competency were correlated with increased student engagement in activities and overall activity success.
  • Improved student outcomes in afterschool support overall academic engagement and success. Student engagement and activity success in their afterschool program were both shown to have positive impacts on student work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, social competency and interest in science.

These results suggest high-quality professional development is an important part of high-quality afterschool STEM programming and has direct impacts on student outcomes. Additionally, a well-rounded, multi-pronged approach to staff development—including staff training, regular staff meetings, and staff communication with teachers and parents—is most effective.

Afterschool programming is an important part of K-12 STEM education, and it is clear that professional development plays a key role in helping programs provide high-quality STEM programming and encourages positive student outcomes. 

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learn more about: Science