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STEM Snacks
SEP
2
2016

STEM
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How afterschool-library partnerships are engaging kids in STEM

By Robert Abare

A social media graphic designed by the Afterschool Alliance to promote afterschool-library partnerships.

The Afterschool Alliance has partnered with the Science Technology Activities and Resources Library Education Network (STAR_Net) to highlight the ways afterschool programs are partnering with local libraries to introduce kids to valuable science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning experiences. A project of the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning, STAR_Net unites an array of partner organizations to provide interactive STEM exhibits, programming and training to public libraries nationwide.

Often regarded as quiet places for kids to read or study, local libraries are revealing their potential to get kids learning in dynamic ways—from hands-on learning exhibits to conducting science experiments. STAR_Net is helping libraries engage their communities with many of the following resources, made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation:

  • Large, hands-on exhibits that are currently traveling to various public libraries across the USA. The exhibits—Discover Space, Discover Earth and Discover Tech—introduce kids to various scientific arenas.
  • Online and in-person training for library staff, which introduces them to the STEM content of the exhibits, and guides them in developing complementary programming.
  • A public awareness campaign, led by the Afterschool Alliance, to promote STAR_Net exhibits or resources among the afterschool field and highlight afterschool-library partnerships on social media with a series of shareable graphics.

How STAR_Net can bring more STEM to your program

STAR_Net also offers a number of resources that afterschool programs can use to develop quality STEM programming and stay up-to-date on trends and activities in the STEM field.

  • Webinars and webinar recordings cover a range of topics, from an international celebration of the Moon to interactive citizen science projects.
  • Browse ongoing STAR_Net projects to learn more about their content and see if any exhibits are visiting a library near your program.
  • Online games can make STEM learning fun, like Starchitect, which has kids design their own solar systems.

How STAR_Net turned a library into a pop-up science museum

The Ypsilanti District Library in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan is just one of many local libraries that has used resources from STAR_Net to engage afterschool youth. The library has hosted a variety of exhibits since it opened, but STAR_Net's Discover Tech exhibit was the library’s first to incorporate dynamic, hands-on experiences that teach kids about STEM and its various applications.

“Historically, exhibits haven’t been hands-on in this way—which was new and exciting for the community!” said Kristel Sexton, Youth Services Librarian at the library. “For partners and organizations in the community, it helped them see libraries can do STEM. We can be experts in STEM, and we can support you in this.”

Afterschool-library partnerships are not only proving that libraries can be experts in STEM learning, they are creating mutually beneficial relationships to ensure kids are in safe, nuturing environments after school, and that kids are aware of all the resources available to them in their community.

AUG
19
2016

STEM
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Guest blog: Help kids reach for the stars with YouthAstroNet

By Rachel Clark

Written by Erika Wright, Science Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

How do we translate young people’s intrinsic curiosity about space science into increased interest in STEM careers, particularly among girls and those from underserved communities? That is exactly what the Science Education Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics intends to learn through our YouthAstroNet Program and accompanying research project. You can apply to host your own YouthAstroNet program, and receive free training, curriculum, and access to the experts on the YouthAstroNet Team!

What is YouthAstroNet?

The Harvard-Smithsonian Youth Astronomy Network (YouthAstroNet) is an online community of youth, educators, and scientists that aims to help youth typically underrepresented in the sciences gain confidence and identity as someone who can do science through unique access to the resources of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. YouthAstroNet engages youth in grades 5-8 in a number of hands-on STEAM-related activities from image processing to engineering/design challenges. As a member of the YouthAstroNet community youth can take their own images using remotely controlled robotic telescopes, process those images using a professional-grade image-processing tool to learn more about space, and even speak directly with scientist mentors from the Center for Astrophysics. 

Contribute to the research

In addition to being a diverse online community, YouthAstroNet is an NSF-funded research project that aims to determine what strategies have the highest impact when it comes to turning interest in space into belonging and career aspirations in the STEM fields. By participating in the program, and utilizing the online portal with your youth, you and your students will provide valuable data about program factors that lead to positive outcomes for youth.

Join the network!

Educators from every style of learning institution—from afterschool programs to museums to traditional classrooms—are invited to join the network with their youth and utilize resources in a way that best suits their learning environment. No prior astronomy knowledge is required. Through a 3-week asynchronous online workshop, educators are trained to use robotic telescopes, image processing software, and the interactive portal itself, as well as given access to a proven set of hands-on curriculum. Following participation in the training, educators will have ongoing access to the wide array of learning resources, as well as support from YouthAstroNet staff.

Important Dates

Application Deadline: August 24, 2016 is the formal deadline, but applications will be continue to be reviewed for the following week.

Informational Webinars: August 29 at 3:30pm ET and 6:30pmET and August 30 at 1:00pm ET and 4:30pm ET

Asynchronous Training: September 7th–21st

If you are interested in participating, please complete this brief survey. For more information, check out our Recruitment Flyer.

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learn more about: Guest Blog Science
AUG
4
2016

STEM
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The Next Generation Science Standards: what do they mean for afterschool?

By Robert Abare

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offer a powerful new vision for American science education for the 21st century. NGSS brings long-needed reforms to national and state K-12 science education standards, incorporating decades of new research on how students best learn science—by actively investigating topics and solving real-world problems, just like real scientists and engineers do!

So far, NGSS has been adopted by 16 states and the District of Columbia, as well as several individual schools and districts. If it hasn’t already, NGSS will soon be influencing how your students are expected to learn STEM. To help program providers understand how afterschool fits in to the NGSS, the Afterschool Alliance has developed a new guide, Getting Started with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Key components of our new NGSS guide

  • An explanation and history of how NGSS was developed and who the key collaborators were.
  • The underlying philosophy of the NGSS, which encourages kids to learn science by doing.
  • An overview of the standards themselves.
  • How afterschool providers can work with partner schools and use NGSS as a way to improve their practice.

Back in April, we hosted a webinar that digs into the research behind the standards, and offers a couple examples of how afterschool programs are thinking about NGSS. Watch the recording, and stay tuned for our next NGSS-related webinar in September.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll enjoy Getting Started with the Next Generation Science Standards, and share it with other educators who might find this resource useful!

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learn more about: Issue Briefs School Improvement Science
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
14
2016

STEM
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Victories for STEM education in recent legislative activity

By Anita Krishnamurthi

As the legislative season winds down, several wins for afterschool STEM education have emerged. Most recently, on July 13-14 the House Appropriations Committee marked up the fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) funding bill. The bill maintains funding for 21st CCLC at the current level of $1.16 billion, which is very good news! As you might recall, the Senate version of the bill cut afterschool by $117 million, in line with President Obama's budget request.

Informal STEM education has bright outlook in new bills

STEM is increasingly an integral part of afterschool programs, so the House's proposed funding level for 21st CCLC will ensure that millions of children will continue to have access to STEM learning opportunities. The House education spending bill also provides $1 billion for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, the new block grant in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Although this is lower than the authorized level of $1.65 billion, the House appropriation puts the funding at $700 million over the Senate LHHS bill and $500 million above the President’s budget request. STEM education advocates are breathing a collective sigh of relief, as this grant was designed to be a formula grant for districts to use toward a wide range of activities, including STEM programing (with very supportive language about partnerships with afterschool programs), arts education and counseling services. House appropriators have indicated their strong support for the initiative with this funding level, but the final outcome is far from guaranteed as the Senate and House numbers will have to be reconciled eventually.

On July 7, 2016, the House Education and the Workforce Committee held a full committee markup of H.R. 5587, The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Actwhich you may know better as the Perkins CTE bill. The update includes changes that recognize the role of afterschool and summer programs in preparing young people for the workforce, and explicitly includes community-based organizations as eligible entities for funding. The bill has provisions for states to award grants that provide “support for programs and activities that increase access, student engagement, and success in STEM fields (including computer science), especially for underrepresented groups.” This provision could be very beneficial for afterschool STEM programs, especially when combined with the new expanded eligibility for starting these activities in the 5th grade (compared to the previous limit of 7th grade). 

Finally, the Senate Commerce Committee marked up S. 3084, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which encompasses plan to reauthorize the America COMPETES Actin late June. This bill authorizes the various federal science mission agencies, such as NASA, NOAA, NSF, Dept. of Energy etc., including their significant investments in STEM education. There are several key elements of the bill that are supportive of informal/afterschool STEM programming:

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
23
2016

STEM
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Guest Blog: Eight tips for facilitating maker activities with youth

By Erin Murphy

By Emily McLeod, Director of Curriculum at Techbridge, with contributions from Mia Shaw, Dolores Toledo, and Renny Talianchich, all Program Coordinators.

At Techbridge, making is a big part of the afterschool and summer STEM programming we deliver to more than 600 girls from underserved communities in the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about what high-quality making looks like and what staff can do to ensure that all participants are engaged and learning. Here’s our eight best practices for facilitating maker activities with youth.

1. Take time to build a community of makers

It is essential to take the time to create a culture and supportive space where it’s OK try new things, ask for help when you need it, and dream big. At the beginning of our Summer Academy, girls decided together what they wanted their community to look like. Every day, there were icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities, a practice we carry over into our afterschool programs.

2. Encourage youth choice

Youth are more invested in projects when they have ownership and seeing their own ideas come to life is a strong motivator. Youth choice also fosters equity, empowering youth to bring in their expertise, background, and personal interests. Therefore, most of our projects give youth meaningful choices about the direction they will take their work. In our high school programs, girls spend much of the year building projects of their own design to take to the local Maker Faire. With younger students, we often start with a prompt, concept, or design challenge (e.g. “make a robot that can interact with humans”) which provides focus, while allowing room for creativity.

3. Build peer and near-peer leadership

Taking on the role of an expert helps empower youth. To develop peer leadership, identify participants with more experience and actively encourage them to support their peers and share knowledge. During our Summer Academy, we invited girls from Techbridge’s high school programs to act as group leaders for middle school participants. This allowed older girls to develop leadership skills, provided younger girls role models and support, and gave program coordinators assistance in facilitating complex projects. You can try this model with college students as well!

4. Acknowledge challenges and focus on process, not product

Making can be challenging and projects may not turn out the way we intended. Acknowledge this! We make time to share our “Glorious Goofs” and talk about girls’ work as prototyping, rather than setting an expectation of creating polished products. Our facilitators encourage girls to think about the skills they are gaining, and the ideas they are developing, as the most important things they’ll take away from the project. For more information about addressing and reframing failure, see this blog post and this paper.

5. Share models and your own making experiences

We often share samples made by facilitators or girls in other programs. Youth love to see and play with physical examples, which can spark ideas for those who may be struggling to get started. If you can, make a variety of models; we’ve found that if there’s just one kind, youth may be tempted to copy it. Making models ahead of time also gives facilitators direct experience with the project and can help them see potential challenges youth might face and develop troubleshooting strategies.

6. Don’t forget aesthetics

Although Making encompasses a variety of interests and skills, the spotlight is often turned on projects that are tech-heavy, with focus on function over form. These projects don’t always appeal to everyone. For some youth, the way a project looks is just as important as what it does, and we make sure to build in time for visual design alongside the coding and engineering. Although it’s tempting to think of art-making or decoration as things to do if there’s extra time, for some youth, it can be the difference between engaging wholeheartedly with a project and tuning out.

7. You won’t know everything and that’s OK

Sometimes, youth will ask questions that facilitators don't know how to answer or ask for help with something they don't know how to fix. That's OK. We take a co-learning approach to our maker projects, and are upfront about the fact that we don’t have all of the answers. In these situations, model how a maker should address challenges—ask a peer; use a variety of resources (e.g., online guides, role models, fellow staff members, books); or be willing to try something that might not work. Taking risks and being vulnerable shows youth that it’s OK for them to do the same.

8. Celebrate successes along the way and share with others

You can help youth celebrate all kinds of success, not just completed projects. Use opportunities such as group shout-outs, gallery walks, and one-on-one feedback to appreciate youth for their progress along the way. At the end of a project, give youth opportunities to share their work through presentations to peers, at a science fair, or family event. It teaches them how to communicate with others and act as STEM experts within their own communities.

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