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STEM Snacks
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
MAY
19
2016

STEM
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Webinar recap: A new vision for STEM with the Framework for K-12 Science Education

By Erin Murphy

Last month, in partnership with the Research + Practice Collaboratory, we hosted a webinar discussing the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and what it means for afterschool. The following speakers shared their expertise:

  1. Bronwyn Bevan, Senior Research Scientist at the University of Washington
  2. Katherine McNeill, Associate Professor of Science Education at Boston College
  3. Emily McLeod, Director of Curriculum at Techbridge
  4. Tracy Truzansky, Project Manager for Training at Vermont Afterschool

Bronwyn started the webinar off by introducing the Framework for K-12 Science Education, a report that articulates a new vision of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education needed for the 21st century. Its goal is to spell out exactly what all students need upon high school graduation in order to apply science to their daily life, critically consume science in the public sphere and go into the careers of their choice. Building on current research on how people best learn science, the Framework defines three key dimensions of STEM learning:

  1. Disciplinary Core Ideas: These include broad topic areas within the sciences, engineering and technology, such as chemistry, physics and earth sciences. There are fewer content areas, allowing students to delve deeper into each one.
  2. Cross-cutting themes: These themes, such as patterns, energy, and structure, connect across fields of science and are taught as part of all the disciplinary core ideas.
  3. STEM practices: These practices focus on sense-making from investigations, which entails using evidence from investigations to develop the best explanations.
APR
13
2016

STEM
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New AmeriCorps VISTA members will strengthen STEM Ecosystems

By Alexis Steines

The Afterschool Alliance is partnering with the STEM Funders Network (SFN) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to coordinate, train and supervise a new cohort of AmeriCorps VISTA members who will improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) “ecosystems” across America.

AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is one of several national service programs administered by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). For more than 50 years, VISTA has been at the forefront of strengthening the capacities of communities and organizations to fight poverty.

VISTA members devote one year of their lives to challenge the root causes of poverty. They achieve this goal by mobilizing community volunteers and building connections between local resources, and by guiding individuals in low-income neighborhoods to make positive change. 

In the new STEM Ecosystem program, VISTA members will focus on building capacity to increase access to STEM education in afterschool and summer learning programs that are connected and coordinated with K-12 schools and districts. STEM Ecosystem VISTA members can achieve this mission by:

  • Creating partnerships with STEM-rich institutions or businesses;
  • Mapping the local STEM out-of-school time space;
  • Writing grant applications;
  • Creating new tools and resources that can be used to increase access to STEM learning; and more.

The Afterschool Alliance and CNCS will place up to 26 VISTA members at host sites across the country, with the members working full-time on the ground. To support and guide the work of these new VISTA members for STEM Ecosystems, the Afterschool Alliance is seeking a new Field Outreach Coordinator to join our staff in Washington, D.C. Please carefully read all available information before applying.

White House highlights project

As President Obama hosts the sixth and final White House Science fair of his Administration today, on April 13, the White House released this STEM fact sheet lauding the efforts of the Afterschool Alliance, CNCS, and SFN for the new STEM Ecosystems program. You can find the reference in the second bullet under “New Steps Being Announced by the Administration Today.”

In addition to all of the partners mentioned here, the Afterschool Alliance is appreciative of initial support for its national VISTA efforts from the Broadcom Foundation, Samueli Foundation, Schusterman Foundation, and Simons Foundation.

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learn more about: Obama Science Vista Community Partners
MAR
30
2016

STEM
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Upcoming webinar: Learn to Speak "STEM-ish"

By Anita Krishnamurthi

Given all the buzz around "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, it would be easy to assume that everyone knows about it and supports it. But as STEM education advocates know, it can still be challenging to make a compelling case for public investment in STEM education reform. And it can be harder still when it comes to STEM learning in afterschool programs.

But we have some tools and tips that can help! Join us for a webinar on Wednesday April 6 from 1-2 p.m. ET to learn how to craft your best message around afterschool STEM to expand public support.  

The Afterschool Alliance has been working with the FrameWorks Institute, an organization that specializes in framing issues in ways that will move public opinion, to come up with research-based communications strategies to make the most compelling case possible for afterschool STEM. In this webinar we will be joined by Jenn Nichols, a Senior Associate at the FrameWorks Institute, who will review common communications traps that can weaken your messages’ effectiveness. We will practice staying out of those traps using tested tools that work to increase people’s understanding of informal STEM learning, how it works, and why it matters.  

You can take a sneak peek at some of this work on the Afterschool STEM Hub website, a resource center with the tools you need to make the case for expanding and supporting innovative and engaging informal STEM learning.  

In Part 1 of the webinar, on April 6, we will be introducing a wide array of practical tools and communication tips. In Part 2 of the webinar, on May 3, we will showcase the remaining tools and address any questions that come up as you start to apply these in your own work.

Help STEM blast off in your afterschool program! Register here to attend the webinar.

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learn more about: Advocacy Events and Briefings Science
FEB
24
2016

STEM
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How the engineering design process is changing STEM learning

By Erin Murphy

As we celebrate Engineers Week, we'd like to highlight five new research briefs from the Relating Research to Practice (RR2P) project that help us further understand why and how engineering design is valuable to our students. 

For more research on out-of-school time STEM, follow the RR2P project on Twitter and Facebook

Does the engineering design process help students apply math and science content?

Science education reformers have recommended that engineering be introduced into the K–12 curriculum, arguing that engineering activities and lessons help students apply science and math content in real-world context. In this paper, Berland, Steingut and Ko characterize students’ participation in and understanding of the engineering design process and how it creates—or reduces—opportunities for students to apply math and science content. The authors used UTeachEngineering’s curriculum Engineer Your World to examine student understanding of the engineering design process. They reflect on the implications of these findings for engineering curriculum design and implementation.

KEYWORDS: Learning progressionsMathematicsQuestioning strategiesScientific practices


A connected learning approach to an engineering design challenge

In this paper, Evans, Lopez, Maddox, Drape and Duke investigate how five intentionally designed features of an out-of-school time program, Studio STEM, influenced middle school youths’ engagement in their learning. These features include: using engineering design and problem-based learning, integrating of new media, encouraging peer interaction, an “open-studio” environment, and the use of alternative assessment methods.

KEYWORDS: Afterschool/OSTEnvironmental awarenessMiddle schoolNSF-fundedProgram designTechnologyYouth engagement


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learn more about: Issue Briefs Science
FEB
11
2016

STEM
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How did afterschool STEM fare in the President's budget proposal?

By Anita Krishnamurthi

Another year, another budget. But this time, a final budget request from this President. So let’s break it down and see how STEM education, and specifically STEM education in afterschool, fares in this budget request.

Just like last year, the overall request for STEM education across the federal science mission agencies is $3 billion. This includes everything from K-12 to graduate education. For more details, you can see the STEM education fact sheet from the White House.

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Education and Human Resources Directorate, which funds most of the STEM education programs at NSF, will receive an 8.3% increase to $952.86M. Of this, the one dedicated funding stream that targets informal science education and is used to fund afterschool STEM programming—the Advancing Informal STEM Education (AISL) program—will receive $62.5M, which is level-funded from the FY2016 estimate. The budget proposal would continue the AISL focus on supporting research projects that utilize informal learning environments in novel ways to engage students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM. Another program that is often used to provide afterschool STEM programs is the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which is funded by H-1B visa fees. This program is also level-funded at $25M. NSF is also committing $120M over five years in the new Computer Science for All initiative to enable rigorous and engaging computer science (CS) education in schools all across the country. It is as yet unclear if any of this funding can be utilized by afterschool programs although the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program will work with NSF to increase awareness of high-quality CS resources for afterschool programs.

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learn more about: Budget Congress Obama Science
JAN
29
2016

STEM
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Encourage your female high school students to try coding this summer!

By Erin Murphy

Girls Who Code has just opened applications for their FREE Summer Immersion Program, a seven-week introduction to computer science for 10th and 11th grade girls. If you have girls who are or might be interested in coding or STEM, please encourage them to apply! No prior experience is required.

During the program, participants connect coding to their passions, explore career opportunities within the world of computer science and engineering, and join a supportive and diverse community of girls who are passionate about coding.

Girls Who Code will be hosting 18 Summer Immersion Programs in the following cities:

  • Atlanta, GA (new!)
  • Austin TX (new!)
  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Miami, FL
  • New York, NY
  • Newark, NJ
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC
  • Emeryville, CA
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Mountain View, CA
  • Palo Alto, CA
  • Redwood City, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • San Jose, CA
  • San Ramon, CA
  • Santa Clara, CA

Though the program itself is free, additional transportation stipends and need-based scholarships are available to support students who qualify.
Applications are due March 1, 2016 at 11:59 PM PST.

JAN
21
2016

STEM
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The latest research in how policy is influencing STEM learning

By Erin Murphy

With the end of 2015 came large victories for afterschool. The passing of the new Every Student Succeeds Act secured the authorization of the 21st CCLC programs for the next four years, and the passing of the FY2016 omnibus spending bill increased funds for 21st CCLC by $15 million in Fiscal Year 2016. The omnibus also includes funding increases for education, health and human services, child care, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), all of which contribute to the development of high-quality out-of-school programs.

With education policy on our minds, we wanted to draw your attention to these new research briefs from the Relating Research to Practice (RR2P) project outlining the influence of education policy on K-12 STEM education.

High-stakes tests and ripple effects for science education

For almost two decades, strict accountability measures for schools have been in place across the country. In this study, Anderson investigated the effect of accountability on K–12 science instruction. Looking across multiple studies, he found that curricula have narrowed, less time is being dedicated to science, teacher morale is lower, and expectations for disadvantaged students have increased.

KEYWORDS: EvaluationPolicyTeaching