This blog was also published on LinkEngineering.
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.
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.
In 2015, the Girlstart afterschool program served more than 1,300 4th-6th grade girls with free STEM programs. The goal of Girlstart is to increase girls’ engagement in STEM and interest in STEM careers. Through this program, girls have the opportunity to complete hands-on engineering projects, like designing a rubber band powered jeep or solar powered tour bus, and meet women working as engineers. Girlstart partners with local universities and colleges and provides a paid internship program for pre-service teachers enrolled in UTeach, an undergraduate program at several Texas universities that allows science and engineering majors to earn a teaching certification. Interns work 100 hours per semester, teaching hands-on activities, attending training sessions, and receiving coaching from Girlstart staff. This allows pre-service teachers to improve their teaching skills, while providing girls knowledgeable female role models in STEM majors. Girlstart also reaches out to families by providing monthly, multi-lingual parent association meetings, where they outline what students are doing and what opportunities STEM careers can provide.
The California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN), a partnership between two youth-serving organizations and two science centers that operated from 2012 to 2015, designed and implemented STEM-rich afterschool tinkering programs aimed at serving low-income, historically marginalized communities. Tinkering provides a fun, low-stress, inquiry-based approach for introducing students to engineering and design. Through CTAN, younger students completed STEM-rich tinkering activities with the assistance of program providers, while older participants created engineering projects of their own design to showcase at their local Maker Faire. Many students use Arduino microcomputers and other computer science tools for these projects.
CTAN found that, to ensure equity, afterschool STEM program should provide equity-focused professional development opportunities, recognize student choice and voice in projects, connect activities to real community issues, and cultivate a supportive team environment with a focus on valuing process and iteration over final products.
You can find more expansive descriptions of these programs through our STEM program profiles! These profiles highlight afterschool programs providing high-quality STEM learning experiences for the youth who need them most. Each profile explains the program’s structure, features, curricula, and outcomes, and touches on their strategies for professional development, funding and partnerships.
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