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How STEM learning is adapting in COVID-19

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How STEM learning is adapting in COVID-19

This blog post comes to us Rachael Van Schoik, Science Action Club Manager at the California Academy of Sciences. Over the coming months we’ll be highlighting how STEM programs have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue serving students with STEM activities, and what lessons we can apply to the future of STEM learning.

The current state of STEM

Citizen science is an evergreen tool for meaningfully connecting youth with nature. Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic and widespread school closures, it’s never been more important to help youth feel knowledgeable and informed about how the environment works—and see science as the means to understand. Children stuck at home are experiencing reduced access to environmental learning and parents and educators feel pressure to highlight the outdoors as a safe, exciting place to learn. Out-of-school time partners are concerned roughly 11 million youth could miss engagement in OST and STEM programs by December 2020. Research consistently points to nature-based learning as a direct line to increasing pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. Science Action Club (SAC) capitalizes on this opportunity by using citizen science to connect youth and families to nature, wherever they are. 

Science Action Club’s pathway

Listening

The key to SAC’s success and national growth is grounded in our practice of listening to our out-of-school time partners. We facilitate annual evaluations, host calls and webinars, and actively contribute to important industry conversations. During the pandemic, this necessary practice allows us to learn about the unprecedented fears, challenges, and needs in OST. 

Integrating

Our team, guided by what we’ve heard from our partners, embarked on programmatic shifts that were grounded in these truths: 

  • OST programs and families want connections to the outdoors through nature-based STEM learning.
  • Agencies are following highly localized shelter-in-place or reopening plans that mean program implementation varies by state, county, and even city.
  • SAC’s curricula and training are valuable in getting youth outdoors, but our partners need flexible, creative support.

Innovation

SAC partners heard the call! One Washington-based program ran a fully virtual SAC program called Cloud Quest and adapted the SAC sport-based games for Kahoot. By sending SAC kit materials home ahead of time, the program was able to do the hands-on activities together on Zoom:

“The hands-on activities were a big hit. The students especially enjoyed making clouds, satellites, and rockets. Don't be afraid of the silence while students are building their projects. The students are engaged and will come up with amazing creations. I recommend having a place for student work to be shared.”

Library systems have re-packaged SAC Bug Safari kits into take-home packets used at meal distributions sites and housing centers, where families in need of extra support can easily share this science-rich excitement with their young learners. Additionally, using the SAC online training, partner libraries had their teen librarians create multi-media videos that paired with the distributed kits and helped home-based caregivers lead STEM activities with joy and confidence.

Recommendations for connecting students to nature virtually

First, using citizen science, afterschool programs learn to view nature as a resource that can be accessed anywhere, from rural communities to the most densely packed cities. If your youth are learning at home, bring them to a window or stoop to observe nature at different times during the day. Secondly, programs should partner with providers, like the California Academy of Science’s Academy @ Home project or the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, that prioritize STEM and outdoor learning specifically in afterschool and are eager to make your programs a success. 

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