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.