Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Movie Science Resources

Here is an interesting site connecting movies, reading, and science. It provides activities and facts connected to Charlotte's Web. There is a new film version of the movie coming out this week. The main site,, offers educational resources connected to films, major events, etc. I can't vouch for it directly, but it seems like a good idea. (Thanks to Carole Bos, who posted this on the ITEA Innovation Station listserve!)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mythbusters and Curiosity

The NY Times ran an article about Mythbusters yesterday. I like the quote from an MIT professor who has appeared on the show: “I don’t think the ruling on a given myth is all that important,” Dr. Wallace said. “It is more about being curious and trying to figure things out.”

Friday, November 17, 2006

NAEP Science - Some Brief Attention

Urban student performance on the NAEP science assessment made national headlines yesterday. The obvious response is to call for more attention to how schools are teaching science. How will such calls fare when the next math or reading assessment is released, with similarly disappointing scores for our nation's most underserved students?

We absolutely should improve science teaching in the classroom, and the folks at NSTA, AAAS, and many other places are trying to do that. To truly transform achievement, though, will take a larger effort. It starts with accepting the scientific process as something that children can understand and use. The next step is to give them time to use it - in after-school programs, museums, parks, etc. Finally, these opportunities must be extended to those students who may not get such experiences from home.

I recommend two things: 1) Don't let these headlines be a flash in the pan. 2) Don't place all the burden for a solution on our teachers and schools. The whole community can be part of scientific learning.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Diet Coke and Mentos

The guys at Eepybird, who brought you video of Diet Coke/Mentos geysers which swept the Internet, are at it again. Check out this preview of their new video, coming on 10/30. More important to this blog is the competition that they are promoting. Sponsored by Coca-Cola, they are challenging viewers to "make a video of everyday objects doing extraordinary things." Sounds like a great opportunity, especially for middle or high school groups that are involved in technology. According to this article in the Toronto Star, Steve Spangler (of Steve Spangler Science) started this craze. For a more scientific approach to why Diet Coke + Mentos = Geyser, check Spangler's site. Also, Mythbusters did an episode on the topic. Anyone have other science sites on this?

After-school leads to Entrepreneurship

Here is an interesting story about an after-school program for high school students in Colorado. The program teaches students about alternative energy, particularly the development of biodiesel. One graduate turned his knowledge into a startup venture in the Phillipines, making fuel from coconuts. (Thanks to Susan Brenna for the link!)

Monday, October 23, 2006

If You Need Science Activities Now...

As it is October, there are many after-school programs that may be interested in starting a STEM activity, but need something they can start right now. While high quality
professional development is the best way to go, sometimes you just have to find something to do right away. I recommend that you start at the Science Afterschool Toolkit for an overview of what a program should look like. Once you are ready to pick out some activities, here are some places to look:
These are just a few of many "instant gratification" sites for after-school group leaders. Good luck!

*CSAS is partially funded by a grant through the Exploratorium.

Good Resource on Afterschool

If you are looking for general information about the state of after-school, contact information in federal and state organizations, etc., here is a good resource provided by the National Child Care Information Center at the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Midsouth Region Gets STEM Training

After-school leaders from the Southwest U.S. will get a healthy dose of the connection between STEM learning and youth development at next week's Midsouth Region Fall Afterschool Training Roundup, presented by the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning at SEDL.

At the opening plenary session, attendees will hear from Cathy Jordan of SEDL, who directs the Partnership - supporting development of high quality programs that balance academic enrichment and youth development, and Jane Quinn of the Children's Aid Society. Jane is a Coalition board member and an overall guru of youth development. Check out Jane's thoughts on community schools, science in after-school, and in Youth Today.

Among the relevant workshops, Patricia McClure from SERVE will present the after-school science toolkit, which contains resources to help after-school leaders build fun and educational enrichment activities.

At the closing session, attendees get to hear from Gretchen Walker of the American Museum of Natural History and author of the NASA and Afterschool report, and me. We plan to provide an engaging experience that shows how learning science in after-school can be fun as well as educational.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Student Enjoyment Not Sufficient

According to this EdWeek story, there is a new study from the Brookings Institution about the effect of student happiness and confidence on math test performance. Based on international test data, the study found that in countries where students most report happiness and confidence regarding math, performance tends to be lower. The U.S. is one of those higher confidence, lower performance nations.

Hopefully no one interprets this to mean that we should make our kids hate math. As the report's author, Tom Loveless, states, "What’s clear from these findings is happiness is not everything." At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I refer you to Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity. Student engagement is one piece of the puzzle, but it has to be connected to the rest of their learning needs. High quality after-school math and science will keep our kids interested, but it has to connect to the classroom and other life experiences.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Volunteers in After-School

In preparation for the debut of Design Squad (which I have discussed before), WGBH will be hosting a training session for engineers in November in Washington, DC (as well as other sessions around the country). Getting volunteers, especially STEM professionals, into after-school programs is a big challenge. It is also very important, given the importance of role models in career choices.

Developing a strong volunteer base for after-school is something that must be done deliberately. After-school leaders need a consistent commitment, and scientists and engineers want to feel like their unique skills are helpful to the program. This usually happens with a local connection and often with an intermediary, such as a museum. (WGBH has developed partnerships with several engineering professional groups.) FIRST Robotics is a good example of a group that has standardized a practice for recruiting volunteers in support of its local chapters.

As for individuals, here are the thoughts of a scientist preparing to volunteer his time with high school students.

If you have other examples of strong volunteer programs, please share them with me.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Will You Wiki With Me?

The Science After School wiki is open for business. I recently added a page about how to participate in the wiki. Please visit and add something - even a very rough post. It will get cleaned up, and there will be more for everyone to build on. Posting is as easy as sending an email - everyone can do it!

More great programs

For those of you who do not get the Coalition newsletter, here are two of the programs that I highlighted in the most recent edition. If you would like to get the newsletter, you can either contact me about joining the Coalition, or just join the general mailing list.

Please note that these are just a few of the programs out there. If you know of more outstanding programs, please post them on the Science After School Wiki.
  • Ocean Institute: Located on the Pacific coast between San Diego and L.A., the Ocean Institute provides hands-on, immersive experiences to youth and educators. According to its website, the institute serves more than 78,000 K-12 students and 6,000 teachers annually. Through an NSF ITEST grant and a partnership with a local Boys and Girls Club, the Ocean Institute is extending its unique opportunities to underserved populations. For more info, visit the Ocean Institute and the EDC page on the grant.

  • Intercultural Center for Research in Education (INCRE): INCRE has been developing and field testing the Afterschool Explorations in Science (AXIS) curriculum. These modules embrace a model of co-inquiry, instructors and students learning together. “AXIS recognizes that leaders need to be able to ask good questions to encourage participant inquiry. Leaders are not expected to have all of the answers to the questions, but do promote thinking through the questions that they ask.” This is particularly relevant to after-school, where instructors may not be science experts. INCRE is now seeking urban partners to field test AXIS beyond the Massachusetts area.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

High School Scientists

There are a number of outstanding programs that are developing high school students into future scientists. This is particularly important given some unfortunate attitudes among students - Public Agenda’s Reality Check 2006 reports that 45 percent of secondary students surveyed would be “really unhappy if [they] ended up in a job or career that required doing a lot of math and science.” Only 39% of 12th graders who took the NAEP in 2000 reported that they were "good at science."

While in Boston, I met with representatives of the Timothy Smith Network of community technology centers. One of the many programs offered by this network is part of the After School Astronomy Project, developed in partnership with MIT's Kavli Institute. Students are engaged in actual astronomy - learning to process digital images and look for astronomical phenomena. They are even able to take their own images, using remote-controlled telescopes provided by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Other outstanding programs for high school students combine science learning with employment, either as apprentices with professional scientists and engineers or as instructors for younger children. The St. Louis Science Center offers both types of opportunities through its award-winning Youth Exploring Science program.

Perhaps the future of after-school STEM learning for high school students is being developed in Chicago. With a grant from Abbott Labs, After School Matters is developing a science component to its already successful programs in arts, technology, sports, and communications. Keep your eyes on Chicago as pilot programs begin soon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How about the Science of Football?

Several professional soccer teams in the UK are actually hosting after-school programs in their clubhouses. They use the draw of their popularity to offer lessons which pertain to the sport but also cover other subjects, such as business and science. Link to article in the Times of London

Connecting with STEM Programs for OST

I was in Boston over the past two days and met with a number of leaders who have created great programs and/or are doing related work to advance the state of STEM education, after-school, youth development, etc. I plan to share what I learned in postings over the next few days.

Funny take on STEM Education

The Onion has an article in the "funny because it is sadly true" category:

"In a nationally televised Oval Office address Tuesday, President Bush expressed the concern that if Iran is allowed to enrich its students unchecked, many of them could end up anywhere, with some potentially landing in major university centers in New York and Los Angeles.

'The U.S. stopped enriching its students decades ago, and we call upon Iran to do the same,' Bush said."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Contests and Competitions

There are many contest and competition programs to encourage young people in STEM learning. Many of these are well designed and offer great incentives for students and coaches. However, they are also highly proscriptive and demand a lot of adult and student time. This is one of the reasons that they tend to be dominated by higher income participants. Most program organizers are aware of this concern and have been making efforts to reach underserved populations. The Team America Rocketry Challenge opened its entries to non-school groups and ended up having its national winners come from a rural 4-H club.

I am starting to build a wiki page with some more examples of competition programs. Feel free to add more information.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Equity through STEM Learning

I attended a great session last weekend sponsored by ASTC and hosted by the NY Hall of Science and the Educational Equity Center (EEC) at AED. EEC has been developing a new curriculum, Afterschool Math PLUS, with support from the National Science Foundation. The product is outstanding and seems to be showing great results through the pilot phase, which includes sites in NYC, St. Louis, and Louisville. Implementation is being done as a partnership between a science museum and a community-based after-school provider. With private support, EEC is now moving forward to replicate this success. EEC also has exemplary curriculum for science inquiry, reviewed at the Consumers Guide to Afterschool Science Resources and available here.

EEC's efforts are not just about teaching math and science skills. They start with a focus on equity - ending discrimination based on gender, race/ethnicity, disability, and level of family income. The need for changing attitudes about science and math and offering engaging learning opportunities follow from this.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Einstein and the Dominant Paradigm

Corey Powell wrote an interesting essay for the book My Einstein, reprinted in the October 2006 Discover magazine, about Albert Einstein’s enduring legacies as scientist, philosopher, and symbolic figure. Powell’s description of how Einstein revolutionized physics with unconventional thinking got me thinking about the potential for revolution in education:

“Einstein was a kind of physics hippie, a man whose creativity was inseparable from his refusal to play by the rules of academia and buy into its comfortable certainties. He reminds me of Bob Dylan kicking out an electrifying “Like a Rolling Stone”… Einstein could easily have compromised…Instead he chose a line of work that allowed his thoughts to hum freely until they spun out the song of special relativity.”

“every natural philosopher before Einstein, going back to Aristotle and beyond, accepted some version of [absolute space with variable physical laws.] Einstein arrive at special relativity almost purely from an examination of logical flaws in the then current theories of physics, flaws that were evident for all to see. … He insisted on examining the workings of the world at a more rigorous level than even the most illustrious of his predecessors, until he was totally certain that the system made sense. His requirement of total consistency forced him to take seriously the problems that his predecessors and colleagues alike had swept aside as trivialities or unanswerable…”

Can education, like physics, be revolutionized by a “Swiss Patent Clerk,” looking at the fundamental things that fade into the background for those too close to the issues? Clearly this has already started to happen with fundamental laws of schooling being challenged by grassroots or non-“establishment” efforts (See Deborah Meier, KIPP, High Tech High, and more!)

Einstein’s revolution was built upon critical work by Maxwell and others, and relativity was only acclaimed after being confirmed by findings from other researchers. We can expect an education revolution to be preceded and followed by critically important work by established experts. But the lesson of Einstein is that anyone out there can push the fringe, even challenge the fundamental principles – the length of the school day, governance, funding streams, or anything that needs to change if every child is to succeed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Interest as well as achievement

A small finding announced a few months ago should be a wake-up call to many of us in education. A group at the University of Virginia found that career preference in 8th grade is a better predictor of which students enter STEM careers than achievement test scores (in math). This article from the Boston Globe provides a good summary of the research, which was published in Science. The key point is the same as in my last post - building student understanding and measuring academic achievement is only one piece of the puzzle. Getting young people interested in and excited about science and technology is as important if not moreso. If CSI (or a better link) and Mythbusters can get this started, shouldn't schools and after-school programs keep the kids engaged?

On a personal note, after winning multiple math awards throughout my youth, I hardly considered a math or science major in college. Special thanks belong to the middle school principal and Teach for America staff who trusted me to bring my passion for math to a 6th grade classroom!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity

Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity: A Trilogy for Student Success, a report by Dr. Eric J. Jolly (Science Museum of Minnesota), Dr. Patricia B. Campbell (Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc.) and Lesley K. Perlman (Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc.), provides a useful framework for anyone trying to connect youth development and academic achievement. It acknowledges that there is no magic bullet that moves a child into productive adulthood, something that most of us know but too many policy makers forget when dividing up scarce resources.

Our efforts in education must include all three pieces:
  • Engagement - "The spark" that gets a child interested in learning.
  • Capacity - "The skills" needed to continue to the next level of understanding.
  • Continuity - "The pathways" that provide access to higher learning and careers.
Some youth development workers worry that science will take the fun out of after-school, so we must work to make after-school science engaging - something that children are as likely to choose for themselves as basketball, dance, or drama.

Some educators worry that hands-on, inquiry-based science does not actually lead to higher-order understanding. Yet, quality inquiry learning is considered necessary by all of the major science standards (NSTA has a good position paper summarizing this.)

Some policy makers think that a child with an interest in science and the skills necessary to achieve success will find the path to a career. However, there are many more obstacles, especially for the millions of children living in poverty, who choose jobs over career-related internships, or who cannot afford college. Even given the resources, a child may never pursue a science or engineering career if they have never seen a role model - someone who looks like them - follow a similar path.

So, as we meet the challenge of raising a generation of science and technology workers, let us keep in mind that there are many pieces to the puzzle. Luckily, none of us faces that challenge alone.

Back to Blogging

I went away for vacation and then Labor Day, so now I am back. I am excited to see that I got a comment, so I hope that means that some of what I write gets read.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bad for Pluto, Good for Educators

Mike Smith's article on really hits the nail on the head about the lesson of the Pluto controversy for educators. Science is all about asking questions and debating conclusions based on evidence. It should never have been enough to memorize the names of the nine planets, and now, hopefully, it will not be.

In an essay submitted to NASA as part of the 2005 report on NASA and Afterschool Programs, David Hammer and Janet Coffey offer the following as one recommendation of how NASA can contribute to after-school science learning:
"Highlight controversies and confusions ... for children to learn how science progresses through argumentation, they need to be able to see some. At one level, they need to see, simply, that disagreements are not only inevitable, but productive; scientists like to find things to argue about, because arguments are opportunities for learning.

... this can happen at different levels, depending on the students. Early, it may be enough for them to see that scientists argue in these ways; later, they can start to understand the specifics of a debate. Then the objective can be for them to see the logic and evidence on either side, even if—especially if!—the controversy is not yet resolved. If the main objective were students’ acquiring knowledge, this might be counter-productive, because they’d hear conflicting ideas. But we second the reports’ view that this shouldn’t be the main objective; that’s already the focus in schools. Instead, NASA can help afterschool provide something that doesn’t happen in class, opportunities for students to see and experience how the game is played.

For the same reasons, it is helpful to display mistakes and confusions that happen in authentic science. Students need to see that scientists shoot and miss, as they do in basketball. It’s not the same as having a teacher tell them it’s okay that scientists make lots of mistakes; they’d get much more out of having access to particular examples and the people involved."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Training Demands of Science Inquiry

The August 2006 Education Update from ASCD includes an article about training elementary teachers to use inquiry methods. It reminds us that inquiry instruction must be learned, and that kit-based, hands-on learning is insufficient if the teacher is not prepared to use inquiry-based approaches.

That raises the question for the after-school field (as well as for elementary educators) about how to deliver professional development. There are many successful programs out there that depend on good trainers. How do we offer the same quality professional development to the thousands of after-school leaders across the country?

One way is to use technology. the National Partnership's toolkits include videos that demonstrate teaching techniques. Over time, I would like the Coalition for Science After School to develop a video library with many examples of quality after-school science learning.

The other option is to develop an army of instructors, available to deliver quality professional development at every regional, state, and national conference. This will presumably cost more, take more time, and be more difficult to maintain than a video library, but the results could be spectacular!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Promoting STEM Learning through Mass Media

Among many adults, science is becoming "cool" again. TV shows such as Mythbusters or Brainiac are popular among geeks like me, while the CSI franchise has taken off among the mainstream.
Meanwhile, a similar effort is underway to engage young people in STEM learning through mass media.

Of course, this is nothing new. A steady stream of shows from Mr. Wizard to 3-2-1 Contact to Bill Nye the Science Guy, Jake's Attic, and ZOOM have entertained and educated kids for many years. Today's shows are working harder to connect their original product directly to youth through classrooms and after-school programs. The Discovery Channel was a major sponsor of the 2006 NSTA conference, and forensic science has also taken off among science educators thanks to CSI's popularity. I'd like to highlight some PBS shows in particular which are connecting to after-school around the country:

Cyberchase, produced by PBS-affiliate WNET in New York City, is an entertaining animated series that teaches standards-based math lessons. The program's website includes materials and other educational tools for parents and teachers. Furthermore, WNET supports professional development for educators from both formal and out-of-school time education.

Following the success of ZOOM, WGBH in Boston is offering two new science and technology shows. Fetch targets younger students. Design Squad, which targets middle grades with a reality show-like design competition, is due for release in February. Both programs have been designed with connections to educators in mind. The WGBH team offers materials and trainings in support of educators who are using the show. Note that the Design Squad educator trainings specifically target out-of-school time education through the Girl Scouts of America and the National Afterschool Association.

Finally, Dragonfly TV, produced by Twin Cities Public Television, offers a number of high quality materials in support of its science inquiry show. Dragonfly models the inquiry process and then encourages children to apply inquiry methods at home and in their communities.

These are just examples of the many high quality programs that are available. Surveys, research, and common sense tells us that students do not need more hours of traditional schooling, but they do need engaging activities that connect them to real-world science and scientists. Mass media has the potential to offer these programs, and, by connecting what they see on television to what they encounter in school and in their communities, educators can multiply the impact.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Importance of Role Models

The August 16 Seattle Post-Intelligencer featured a story about the Microsoft-sponsored "DigiGirlz" technology camp for girls. Not only does this camp offer learning opportunities in technology, it also connects girls to role models who are succeeding in the technology field. Exposure to role models from similar demographic groups is critically important for youth to develop and maintain an interest in science and technology careers. Seeing someone like themselves who is actually in a career sends a message that is difficult to convey just through words. Cheers to Microsoft and the many others who are helping match role models with young people! As this blog and the Science After School wiki expand, I hope we can feature more and more of these programs.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Overcoming poverty through education

Eduwonk's latest post has brought to my attention a recent column in the New York Times on poverty's role in student achievement. There has been a strong backlash about this piece, pointing out that, while poverty may make it harder for students to learn, this is not an excuse for failures in education or a reason to abandon schools. Eduwonk calls this a "phony war" because both education and poverty are policy concerns that should not be in conflict.

My attempt to add to this discussion may be pointing out the obvious: we cannot expect to succeed if we stop our interventions with youth at 3 PM every day. In the hours beyond the core school day, students should explore their interests and develop skills -- like communication, problem-solving, and teamwork -- that complement their academics. A good lesson plan starts by assesing students' prior knowledge, and after-school enrichment activities expose students to new ideas and experiences which build that knowledge.

Many schools have started building this enrichment time into their extended school days. For example, the KIPP model includes "More Time" as one of its five pillars. It is critical to recognize the after-school hours as time for youth development and enrichment, but it is also beneficial to help students draw connections between their "school world" and the "real world". By bridging this gap, we can help break the connection between poverty and achievement.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Science After School Wiki

I have posted a link to the right to the Science After School wiki. I have started this wiki to allow advocates of STEM learning in after-school to share programs, research, and other useful information. It would be impossible for me alone to post all of the good information that exists out there. If you are reading this, I hope you will also check out the wiki and consider sharing your own knowledge. Even if you just post a short sentence or paragraph and a link, you will be planting a seed that can grow.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Science in Afterschool

Since this is my first post, let me explain what I am doing here. This blog exists to share information relevant to the field of science, techology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) education within after-school activities. This is an emerging field at the intersection of several established sectors of education - STEM, after-school, and youth development. The purpose of this field is to provide young people from all backgrounds access to high quality STEM learning experiences during out of school hours. Through these experiences, these youth will learn to be curious and inquisitive, develop skills in teamwork and communication, and hopefully discover an interest for a future career. They will also build the prior knowledge and experiences that are necessary for academic success.

As director of the Coalition for Science After School, I am working to connect science-rich institutions (museums, universities, and others) with after-school educators. By sharing understanding based on research and experience, these groups can provide better opportunities for youth. Through this blog, I hope to share some of the empirical and anecdotal evidence that crosses my desk on a daily basis. I hope my visitors will find an occasional story, stastistic, or opportunity that will help them, and hopefully you will be inspired to share some interesting facts of your own.