Tuesday, September 27, 2011

President Obama’s LinkedIn Town Hall: How Does STEM Education Fit with the American Jobs Act?

On September 26th, President Obama and LinkedIn presented a Town Hall discussion at the Computer History Museum in Palo Alto, CA. The theme of the Town Hall, “Putting America Back to Work,” was aimed at addressing questions about the proposed American Jobs Act. Participants at the Town Hall included LinkedIn members and employees and was moderated by the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner. I was lucky to be one of the approximately 20 members chosen to attend the event and have the chance to ask the President a question about how he plans to get America back to work.

LinkedIn set up a discussion group (which is still active) asking its members to submit questions. The company also reached out to active members through a survey and direct contacts. The team coordinating the event selected questions and attendees that represented a variety of interests and groups from all across the country—our questions topics ranged from unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security, tax reform, encouragement and tips for job seekers, and of course, education.

I’ve expressed in previous blog posts the idea that investing in STEM afterschool education is important for educating America’s future workforce. The President has expressed interest and support for STEM education in the past—as in his 2009 launch of the Educate to Innovate initiative—so I was curious to find out if and how support for STEM education was specifically included in the American Jobs Act.

While I wasn’t able to ask my question due to time constraints, the President did include science and math education in some of his answers to other questions asked by audience members, including the need to recruit and train qualified teachers and provide incentives for students to study science and math. He described a partnership between New York Public Schools and IBM to get kids excited about learning STEM skills:

IBM is engaged in a really interesting experience in New York… and this is not for the kids who are in the top 1 percent, this is for ordinary public school kids…. You follow this program, you work hard, IBM will hire you at the end of this process. And it suddenly gives kids an incentive. They say, oh, the reason I'm studying math and science is there's a practical outcome here. I will have a job. And there are practical applications to what I'm doing in the classroom.

The ideas that the President expressed in his support for STEM education are an integral part of many afterschool programs, and out-of-school time represents an important opportunity for getting students excited about STEM. Students already have little time for science learning—a 2007 study done in the San Francisco Bay Area showed that 80% of K-5 teachers spent 60 minutes or less per week on science, with 16% spending no time at all. While clearly reforms need to be made for school-day learning, afterschool learning time can help to fill the gap as well as promote experiences that may never be a part of the school day. Out-of-school learning can range from internships and research apprenticeships with scientists to robotics teams to science center exhibits—all of which have the power to activate and inspire learning and future STEM workers.

Thank you to LinkedIn and the White House for this incredible opportunity. I encourage all of our readers to watch the rest of the event (or read a transcript) and to continue to promote out-of-school time STEM learning opportunities in their communities.

--Kalie Sacco, Manager, Coalition for Science After School

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Badges for Lifelong Learning: What Could They Mean for Afterschool?

One of the challenges of providing high-quality STEM experiences outside of the classroom is ensuring that students' learning experiences are recognized by college admission offices and employers. Skills learned and projects completed in out-of-school time may not be documented on a traditional resume, and there are few spaces on social networking sites or other forms of self-representation for highlighting non-academic or non-professional learning experiences. The result of this lack of space is that students who excel in non-traditional learning environments--or students who complete significant accomplishments outside of the classroom or professional arena--may not be recognized for their learning achievements.

The new Open Badges project launched by Mozilla and the Humanities, Arts, Science, & Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), with support from the MacArthur Foundation, aims to recognize the non-traditional learning paths that are characteristic of 21st-century learning. Students--and adults--will be able to collect badges to share on their social networking sites, personal websites, and digital resumes that demonstrate accomplishments or skill-building experiences. The open-platform nature of the project means that everyone will be able to create badges for causes or experiences that they find important. You can see an announcement of the project and learn more about it here.

There is a lot of potential for badges to tie into afterschool programs. Large organizations--like 4H, the Boys & Girls Clubs, and Girl Scouts--could use badges to show tangible results of experiences from their youth participants. Smaller programs could use badges to showcase unique and individual projects, and help their students create portfolios of their afterschool work. Afterschool professionals could use badges to show completion of professional development workshops, mentorship, or curriculum development or activity enhancement ideas.

Badges have a way to go before they become recognized as parallel to academic and professional credentials--the process for creating and earning digital badges may be ever-evolving. How could you see badges integrated into your afterschool program? What challenges would you anticipate?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Afterschool, STEM, & Jobs For the Future

Afterschool learning certainly benefits youth through rich learning opportunities--but few people outside of the afterschool field may realize that afterschool programs can be a boon for local economies and communities in several ways. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama recognized the importance of afterschool education by including support for afterschool in his American Jobs Act. Jodi Grant, Coalition Steering Committee Member and Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance, wrote on the Afterschool Snack blog about why afterschool is deserving of this attention, and made a case for increasing support for afterschool.

Science, technology, engineering, and math represent an important component of afterschool learning. Investing in afterschool STEM means supporting economic growth in the United States both now and in the future. Here are some reasons why afterschool STEM is essential in supporting the current and future workforce:
  • Afterschool provides a safe and enriching childcare environment for families who work outside of the home. Afterschool programs provide childcare for parents, enabling them to work full-time jobs and support their families. According to a fact sheet from the Afterschool Alliance, "decreased worker productivity related to parental concerns about after school care costs businesses up to $300 billion per year." With a record number of American families living under the poverty rate, investing in childcare opportunities is more important than ever in getting Americans back to work. 
  • Afterschool and other out-of-school time programs provide jobs. Out-of-school time jobs are often seasonal and part-time, and represent rich on-the-job learning experiences for youth and students. Youth unemployment depends heavily on seasonal and part-time employment typical of afterschool direct provider positions, and unemployment during youth correlates to fewer opportunities as an adult. Investing in afterschool programs enables more students to participate in the program, necessitating hiring more afterschool providers and administrative staff.
  • Early STEM learning opportunities influence choosing STEM as a college major and career. A recent survey by Microsoft yielded quite a bit of interesting information about parent and student attitudes toward STEM. About 78% of college STEM majors said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier; about 21% said they decided in middle school. Investment in quality STEM experiences at early ages could increase the numbers of students who ultimately choose to pursue STEM careers.
  • There is a pressing need for investment in the future STEM workforce. In a time when unemployment and poverty rates are increasing the US, STEM fields provide a light at the end of the tunnel. STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018, in contrast with non-STEM jobs, which are only expected to grow 9.8%. This view is reflected in the Microsoft survey on parent and student attitudes toward STEM, where 66% of college STEM majors reported choosing STEM for the job potential, and slightly over half of parents said STEM should be a priority "to produce next-generation innovators."
It's clear that different groups recognize the importance of both STEM and afterschool. However, in the Microsoft survey, only 24% of parents said they would be willing to spend extra money to help their children be successful in their math and science classes. Decreased funds from government and private sources have devastated afterschool programs, although the need for their presence within communities continues to rise. It's clear that support for afterschool will have to come from multiple sources--including President Obama's jobs plan, as well as from successful private-public STEM education partnerships highlighted in a recent Congressional hearing.

Are you looking for more ways to include STEM in your afterschool program? Find curricula, professional development opportunities, and more on our Resources page. If you're interested in helping to advocate for afterschool in your community--and across the country--check out the Afterschool Alliance's Policy and Action Center.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Connecting Young Minds to STEM

Time Warner Cable's five-year Connect a Million Minds (CAMM) initiative has reached a major milestone just two years into its existence. The $100 million philanthropic initiative aims to introduce one million children in the U.S. the exciting world of science, technology, engineering, and math. Already, CAMM has connected 400,000 young minds to STEM

How has CAMM managed to reach out to so many kids and their families--and how can you support their effort?
  • Educators, parents and other individuals can join the campaign and pledge to bring STEM learning opportunities to their communities.   
  • Check out the CAMM-produced videos featuring kids from all over the world talking about why STEM is important to them.
  • If you're in a Time Warner Cable market, you can request support from CAMM. In just the last few weeks, CAMM has supported groups in South Carolina and California, and Time Warner Cable corporate volunteers have volunteered as coaches for robotics teams.
We're proud to say that we have worked with CAMM by operating the National After School Science Directory. The STEM programs and events in the Directory populate the Connectory, where kids and families from across the country can find STEM learning opportunities in their hometowns. 

Thanks to Connect a Million Minds and Time Warner Cable for their great work!