Out-of-school time presents an excellent opportunity for students to learn more about how science, technology, engineering, and math are intertwined with the world around them. But even in an afterschool environment, science education program developers and teaching staff may struggle with helping students connect what they are learning to their everyday lives. In order to create meaningful learning, students should be able to emotionally invest themselves in their work, creating a personal connection that extends beyond academic value and achievement.
Service-learning is a hands-on method of learning that helps students connect to their projects in a meaningful way. In service-learning projects, students use their skills and subject matter to complete a project that benefits the community. Similar to citizen science--where individuals or groups of students participate in various components of the science process to contribute to a larger data-set--students participating in STEM service-learning projects do "real" science that benefits the world around them. In service-learning, students' projects often have a real effect on their own neighborhoods and communities, helping them to see the connection between science and their everyday lives.
Service-learning is a natural environment for STEM-related projects. In one form of service-learning, students use their scientific knowledge to craft a community program--as these students did at L'Anse Creuse Public Schools in Michigan, where they facilitated a recycling event to improve their local environment. Students in high school or college with advanced scientific knowledge can also form community partnerships to mentor students in STEM subjects, as in the Engineers as Teachers program designed by Iridescent (who are also members of the Coalition for Science After School).
If you're interested in starting a service-learning project in your community--or you would like to integrate it as a component into your existing program--check out the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. This database is a great starting point for research on service-learning outcomes, case studies of successful programs, and lots of other resources for getting started in service-learning.
If you're looking for a way to share your service-learning program, consider listing it in the National After School Science Directory.