Today, many afterschool and summer programs include science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as a standard part of their comprehensive programming. Afterschool providers recognize the importance of improved STEM education for their students and that hands-on, inquiry-driven STEM is in line with afterschool’s overall approach to education. Practitioners are able to directly see the impact afterschool STEM programs have on students—they see youth engaged in and excited about STEM activities, asking questions, and wanting to learn more. However, funders, policy makers and other stakeholders often want data that substantiates such claims and demonstrates positive changes in a variety of outcomes: interest and engagement in science, greater knowledge of STEM careers, election of school science classes, and, sometimes, improved test scores in science and math.
In this new paper, “Examining the impact of afterschool STEM programs,” we overview some of the recent research findings about the importance of afterschool and other out-of-school time experiences for STEM learning. We then summarize evaluation data from a selection of strong afterschool STEM programs and describe the types of substantive impacts these programs are having on participating youth. Several themes emerged in our analysis:
On the heels of National Summer Learning Day, there’s great news for kids in Michigan. Starting next year, Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) will host summer STEM camps for middle and high school students, thanks to a gift from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. The foundation awarded the university a $5 million endowment to establish the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow STEM Scholar Network, which will support SVSU’s summer camps, as well as sponsor undergraduate research projects. The four-week, 160-hour middle school camp will reach 60 students and target those who are struggling academically. SVSU will also host three 80-hour high school camps reaching 36 students, with the goal to encourage more to pursue college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. SVSU students and school staff will serve as mentors in the summer camp, a model based on a 2012 pilot program at a local middle school.
Afterschool and summer STEM programs engage and excite kids with real-world, hands-on learning, giving them opportunities to think about the STEM fields in new ways. Not only will SVSU’s summer camps help students avoid losing skills they’ve gained during the school year, but they will also help build interest and new capabilities in STEM. We hope to hear great things from this initiative!
We welcomed more than 30 youth from across the country to this year’s Afterschool for All Challenge. Half came from science center afterschool programs, thanks to our partnership with the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC). Youth from this year’s MetLife Foundation Afterschool Innovator Award-winning programs also attended. These young advocates visited Congressional offices along with their state teams and shared personal stories of how afterschool has impacted their lives. But before they got started, we helped prepare them in an intensive workshop.
The workshop started with the students brainstorming ideas about what advocacy is and how it’s done. The group focused in on one aspect of advocacy—that it gave voice to those that don’t have one—thinking about other kids in their home communities. Then, we discussed what kinds of "asks" state teams would make and how advocacy through Capitol Hill visits fits into the legislative process (and of course, we had to show the classic School House Rock video).
To prepare for their turn to speak in the next day’s Capitol Hill meetings, we spent time crafting and practicing talking points. The task was to come up with a short, succinct way to describe what they did in their afterschool programs; why it mattered to them; and to concretely describe the effect participation has had on their interests, behaviors, knowledge and skills. Our last task for the workshop was to translate these talking points into a memorable document to leave behind with Congressional staff after the meetings. Check out all the youth’s handouts in America’s Afterschool Storybook.
Feedback from both the youth and their adult leaders was overwhelmingly positive. Leaders reported that the youth’s compelling personal stories were a great impact at each office they visited. ASTC is currently working on a video capturing the reactions of the science center youth—we’ll post that next week. We’re looking forward to an even bigger and better Afterschool for All Challenge in 2015!
Last week, the White House Science Fair hosted more than 100 students from across the U.S. to showcase their inventions and projects. Students, either individually or in teams, had won a variety of national and regional competitions in everything from rocketry, robotics and electric vehicles. Two of these teams represented afterschool programs! Pres. Obama toured the fair, meeting all of the students, and then announced new components of the Educate to Innovate initiative, including an expansion of the STEM AmeriCorps program and a national STEM mentoring effort.
Last week, we hosted a webinar addressing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As the first of what will likely be an ongoing series of webinars, we started with a brief outline of the standards and heard from one afterschool program on what they were doing around NGSS.
Katelyn Wamsted, director of programs at Girlstart, explained why they have aligned their curriculum with NGSS. Despite being located in Texas, a state that has not adopted Common Core or NGSS, Girlstart believes it's important to demonstrate their commitment to high quality STEM education, which they believe is reflected in the NGSS. Girlstart also participates in national conversations about out-of-school-time programming. Katelyn walked us through two examples of how they align curriculum to both NGSS and the Texas State Standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS).
Afterschool can play a key role in helping schools plan for and implement NGSS. The quality and strength of partnerships emerged as an important theme within the webinar. Katelyn gave her best practices for partnering with schools and described how Girlstart hosts internships for preservice teachers to facilitate their afterschool and summer programs.
This weekend’s USA Science & Engineering Festival drew more than 325,000 kids and their families to downtown D.C. Hundreds of exhibitors brought along hands-on activities, demonstrations, and the latest in science and tech. Science celebrities made appearances, including They Might Be Giants and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Studio STEM traveled all the way from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, with their solar-powered LEGO cars. Baltimore-based Digital Harbor brought along several of their high school students to show off creations made on a 3-D printer. Visitors were also able to play MaKey MaKey banana bongos with the Boys & Girls Club of Harford County. On Sunday, kids created floating sculptures with FutureMakers and tested them out in giant wind tubes. We were even visited by MIT’s Sky Diving team, who explained that they actually practice in human-sized wind tubes, similar to what FutureMakers had!
Science Learning+ will provide up to $14.4 million to support research into how learning happens outside the classroom, exploring the most effective practices and building the evidence base in this area. The aims are:
- To learn more about, evaluate and maximize the impact of informal learning experiences
- To improve understanding of how informal environments may help to widen access to STEM for youth from all backgrounds
One-year-long Planning Grants (proposals due on July 10, 2014) will enable initial collaboration and idea development. Partnership Grants (due in 2015), will fund research activities for up to five years.
Science Learning+ funding is particularly aimed at encouraging collaborative projects between researchers and practitioners in the U.S. and U.K., developing stronger links and partnerships internationally, and building a learning community for exchanging experience and expertise.
This blog post was contributed by Laura Batt, director of educational programs at JASON Learning, an exploration-based organization that links students to real science and scientists. Laura works in JASON's out-of-school-time division, Immersion Learning, which focuses on developing multi-media ocean science curricula.