Thursday, December 27, 2007

After-school Funding Increases

As part of the omnibus spending bill approved by Congress and signed by President Bush on December 26, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program received a significant funding increase. The $100 million increase for 21st CCLC in Fiscal Year 2008 puts the total funding at an all time high of $1.1 billion. This means an additional 100,000 kids will have access to high quality after-school programs. (For those of you doing the math, that is $1000 per child. Not a very high price to pay, considering what many people pay for day care. Of course, building a quality program costs more than this, which is why state, local, and private funds are so necessary.)

To see how this funding increase will affect your state, click here for a PDF of current vs final funding for 21st CCLC.

Thanks to the Afterschool Alliance for this update and for all of their hard work in making this funding increase a reality.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Little Winter-time Science Amusement

Over at LiveScience, George Frederick offers a fun explanation of why your tongue will in fact stick to a flagpole (or other metal object) in the cold. Complete with graphic!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More great science demonstrations

I keep finding good science demonstrations on the web. Here is Robert Krampf, a science educator from Florida who has done touring show for 30 years. The videos are very professional looking and the demonstrations cover a range of interesting topics. The one that I have embedded here is currently making the rounds on popular sites like BoingBoing and Digg. Krampf's website includes these videos and information about booking his shows. The videos are also available at, another interesting site for sharing knowledge through video.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Giving High School Students a Chance to Serve

One of the best ways to engage the current generation of youth is to give them a chance to serve. Service learning programs are engaging and appealing to many types of students. A topic like biology may appeal to future scientists, while working with children may appeal to future teachers. An example of a program that offers both is featured in the Raleigh News and Observer.

There are many programs that combine service-learning and science, such as St. Louis Science Center's Youth Exploring Science and the Elementary Institute of Science's Commission on Science That Matters. Of course, there are many more youth interested than programs available, so I hope you will consider this as an option for kids in your community.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

5min Videos

I just came across a site called, which is like YouTube, but focused on short instructional videos. What makes it unique is its media player, which allows you to watch videos in slow-motion or frame by frame. This is for anyone who ever asks, "How do they do that?" There are a number of science and nature videos. Be wary, though, some are less than scientifically accurate (such as the Philadelphia Experiment video), and many are just clips from old documentaries. But if you look around the site, you should see the potential of web video for instructional purposes. Enjoy this video demonstrating waves with fire:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

How they built Stonehenge?

For those with an interest in engineering and/or history, here is a video of one man building a full-size replica by himself, using only simple materials (wood, water, rope, etc.) He suggests that these may be the techniques used by those who built the original.

Source: J-Walk Blog | Innovation Station email list

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Science of Brining Your Turkey

In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share this link from one of my new favorite sites, Cooking for Engineers. Michael takes readers through the science behind turkey (and other meat) brining, which is soaking in a salt solution. It is a good refresher on osmosis if you haven't taken biology in a while and a fun amount of trivia for the T-day table. FYI, brining was popular long ago as a way to make imperfect cuts of meat more tender, and it has come back into fashion as we try to be more health-conscious by eating leaner meats. (I learned that at a brining demonstration at the Culinary Institute of America.)

As it relates to work, I think it would be great to have more "science of food/cooking" programs for youth. The only afterschool product that I have found is part of the 4-H Youth Experiences in Science materials. There are several other sites, though, including this one from the Exploratorium. If you know of other ones, please share!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Futures Channel: Movies and Activities about Sci/Tech

The Futures Channel includes a large collection of movies with related activities for kids (and big kids, like me!) I really like the one with Dava Newman (an amazing engineer!) talking about futuristic space suits. Another provides hands-on math activities to go with a video about robot-builders from NASA. The videos would be good to use as a focus, followed by the activities that connect back to them. You could even have a whole club that does one of these a day.

Thanks to Mike on the ITEA Innovation Station list for the reference!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Youth Involved in New Dinosaur Discovery

You may see a news story in the next few days about a newly discovered dinosaur species. You may be interested to know that a group of Chicago-area high school students were a part of this discovery. The students, as well as three teachers, were part of every aspect of the research that led up to the press announcement. They participated in science fieldwork during the summer, toured the fossil lab where the new species was reconstructed, completed a day of training by lead scientists, and studied scientific reports and media alerts before they were released to the public and press.

Their participation was part of Project Exploration, a Chicago nonprofit science education organization (and CSAS member). Paleontologist Paul Sereno (who led the new discovery) and his wife, educator Gabrielle Lyon, founded the organization in 1999.

The experiences of the students and teachers are available at the Project Exploration website.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fun Forensic Science?

Groundwork, Inc., an outstanding community organization in New York City, shared this video in their most recent newsletter. Apparently, the youth in one of the Groundwork programs discovered that their program director had been "murdered". It took teamwork and sleuthing to find out "whodunit". And, their Film Club produced a trailer video to build up excitement around the event.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Afterschool Astronomy, Easy and Interesting

In case you missed it, there is something very interesting happening in the sky. A comet named Holmes is in the middle of an outburst, making it easily visible - even in urban areas. It went from magnitude 17 (fainter than Pluto and not visible with binoculars) to magnitude 2.5 (among the brighter stars). This type of astronomical event can be very engaging for kids, if someone reminds them to look up!

There are a number of tools online that can help with amateur astronomy. Each month, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab posts video podcasts highlighting the most interesting things to see in the sky. Google Earth now includes Google Sky, so you can look up as well as down. If you want a free program that takes you even further, Celestia is great!

If you are actually planning to include astronomy in an after-school program, there are several resources that may help. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is a leader in the field of astronomy education and serves as a professional association for many space science educators. ASP sponsors Project ASTRO, which links astronomers with educators, and Astronomy from the Ground Up, workshops for informal educators. NASA has numerous resources, including those collected at the Afterschool Astronomy site and a new "Beyond Einstein Explorers Program" being tested in Washington DC after-school programs that will soon be widely available. Finally, anyone working with high school students and with access to computers might want to learn about the MIT After School Astronomy Program, in which youth participate in actual astronomy research.

Friday, November 02, 2007

More Time for Learning (Another View)

I expressed my thoughts on extended learning days last week. Now, Karen Pittman, who is wiser than I, offers her thoughts.

Link to Forum for Youth Investment

Thursday, November 01, 2007

No Time for Science (Video)

An addition to my previous post. Here is a video about the need for more science time in elementary schools.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bamboo Microscopes

Nature has an article about an organization in India called Jodo Gyan that provides educational services to underprivileged children. One of their products, a bamboo microscope that costs only $4, is attracting particular attention. Not surprisingly, the inexpensive device is in high demand. Microscopes are a great way to engage kids in science - looking at something they can't otherwise see can be very cool. However, making one for $4 could be transformative - now if we can just get some to the U.S.

A quick Google search found that Jodo Gyan considers itself a social enterprise (as opposed to a not-for-profit or NGO). They create products and deliver services to engage kids in learning in effective ways.

Link to Nature article

(Thanks to BoingBoing for the reference)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Baseball and the Evolution of Language

This post has little to do with my usual topic, but it may be of interest to anyone who works with kids or has ever complained about "kids these days" not knowing proper English. As huge Boston Red Sox fan (Go Sox - World Series champs!), I was drawn to this repost on Slate about how they spell S-O-X. Not surprisingly, our current battle with the language of text messaging (or worse, LOLspeak) is not the first time that efforts have been made to simplify the English language. Did you know that Noah Webster was mostly successful at changing irregular words like "gaol" to "jail", but less successful with "group" to "groop"? I was also interested to learn that Teddy Roosevelt tried to replace the "-ed" suffix with "-t". And, thanks to the practice of the day, the Declaration of Independence will always look like it encourages the "Purfuit of Happineff" to me.

So, with technological change comes the evolution of language. I guess those of us who work with children will jus has 2 deal wif it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Time for Science

A new study from the Lawrence Hall of Science* paints a grim picture of science learning in SF Bay Area classrooms. There just is not enough time. 80% of teachers report spending less than an hour per week on science, and 16% say they teach no science at all. One principal in the SF Chronicle article points out that each day has only 5 hours for instruction, so it is no surprise that some subjects get the short end. And the subjects that are not tested are the first to go, which is why NSTA has started a campaign to "Make Science Count".

As a teacher of children who were way behind, I made similar decisions to focus on math and reading. After all, these are the "gateway" subjects - without them, you cannot advance. It was only after I left teaching that I realized that by limiting exposure to science, social studies, arts, etc., we were opening the gateway with a path to nowhere. I find this concept best expressed as Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity, a paper arguing that all three of these pieces are needed for student success.

I argued yesterday against extending the regular instructional day. However, we do need a paradigm shift that provides time for engagement in science and other potential future careers. Eliminating testing is just hiding the evidence. Instead, we need to face testing as a reality and find ways to reach students with all the instruction they need, plus the ideas that make that instruction worthwhile. They are awake for 14-18 hours a day - I think we can find the time!

Link to Article | Link to Study
(*Disclaimer: I work on the same team at the Lawrence Hall of Science as those who conducted the research.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Time for Learning?

As an advocate of incorporating science in after-school, I might be expected to support the concept of longer school days that allow for more subjects to be taught. S. Paul Reville's article in Ed Week calls for this, and Massachusetts has taken the lead in piloting extended days. Now this topic is gaining ground as part of the revision of No Child Left Behind. I agree that there must be more time for "learning," but there are a few reasons that we must be careful about just adding more time for school.

Enrichment vs Academics: Spending time learning hard facts is important. Students need to be proficient in math, reading, and writing, and there are core facts in science, social studies, and other subjects that need to be absorbed as well. But how many hours per day should a 10-year-old spend on this? What about exploring topics that don't have hard answers, like what exists on other planets, or what the heck is this stuff?

Teacher Time: More time on academics presumably means more time committed by teachers. Is it really fair to expect teachers to add hours to their teaching day and time to prepare more lessons? And this doesn't even account for the higher demand of keeping kids engaged longer, when they are tired and just want to play. Enrichment time can be led by para-professionals, part-time staff, or volunteers, because it involves the child exploring, without the pressure of academic content or timetables.

Much of the pressure for longer school days comes from the success of charter schools with extended days. However, I can speak from personal experience - when I worked in such a program, we converted the extra hours into enrichment time, with art, drama, Odyssey of the Mind, etc. This was a better use of the time than extra instruction ever could have been (for teachers and students).

I support Mr. Reville's call for more learning time, but let's make sure that the law does not restrict the funding to academics. Programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers are successful because they trust community-based organizations to support the schools in providing enrichment. Let's keep that success moving in the right direction!

Link to EdWeek article (may require registration)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Even More Girls and Tech

I spend my whole day looking at after-school programs that engage kids in science and technology, but even I am amazed at the media coverage that seems to be surrounding programs that make STEM fun for girls. I think this is my third post on the subject. Here is a story about a YWCA TechGYRLS program being implemented in Delaware.

Clearly there is no shortage of interest in these programs from the press and presumably from parents. It is also likely that these programs are effective - a national organization like YWCA usually builds in evaluation to ensure that. So, the big challenge becomes scale. How do we make sure that programs like these are available to all of the 6 million children in after-school and 15 million more who would attend after-school if it were available in their community? The answer includes more money, but it also requires many, many more people to staff the programs, and an infrastructure to prepare that staff and help them share the practices that make their programs great. In the meantime, I hope the media coverage continues and that I keep hearing about these great programs.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Astronomy Students Helping Protect Our Planet?

I couldn't help but post this story about a team of undergraduate students at the University of Washington. They have identified more than 1,300 previously undetected asteroids! That number represents 1 out of 250 known objects in the Solar System. Talk about citizen science!

Link to story

Monday, October 08, 2007

Project Exploration on Ampolo

Project Exploration, a non-profit that supports public understanding of science and a Coalition member, is featured on a recent episode of Ampolo. Ampolo is a site that provides weekly episodes about good ideas that you can (hopefully) embrace and use in helping your community. View the video to learn more about the ideas that drive Project Exploration, a remarkable program!

Link to Video Article

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Science Club for Girls Expands

Coalition member Science Club for Girls was featured in the Boston Globe this week. This 13-year-old program reached over 600 girls last year in Cambridge, MA. Now it will reach girls in other Boston-area cities as well. The program serves girls in grades K-12, encouraging older girls to work with the younger ones.

Science Club for Girls is also part of the National Girls Collaborative, which connects the numerous programs that exist to support girls in STEM learning.

Link to Boston Globe article, Sept 23, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007

Learning Science on the Bus

Spending three hours on a bus may not be an ideal before- and after-school activity, but it is a reality for some children in rural areas. Handheld technology offers a good way to use this ride time, according to a program in rural Arkansas. Students are given laptops or video iPods loaded with educational videos, such as National Geographic Society's Wild Chronicles.

Hopefully the next step will make this an interactive experience for the kids - perhaps a hands-on activity to do once they get home?

Link to MSNBC story

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Citizen Science: Count the Stars

"Citizen science" is a great way to engage students in real science in an out-of-school setting. There are many projects in which everyday citizens help scientists by observing the world around them and sharing the data.

One project that starts soon is "Count the Stars," managed by the folks at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (a member of the Coalition). From Oct. 1-15, everyone is invited count the stars that they can see and complete a simple form online. This will help scientists better understand light pollution around the world.

Other citizen science projects that are widely used in after-school programs include the Cornell University Urban Bird Studies projects (Consumers Guide review) and the very large and effective GLOBE program.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More evidence for supporting girls in science and engineering

The National Science Foundation issued a "back-to-school" press release yesterday urging educators to be vigilant in keeping girls interested in science. It presents five "myths" about efforts to close the gender gap. Interestingly, when I have posted items about girls in the past, I have had some responses warning not to forget the boys. This NSF statement specifically addresses that - evidence shows that programs targeting girls work for boys as well.

There are also two new resources on this topic: New Formulas for America's Workforce 2 is a compilation of awards given by the Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program in the past 5 years. (Older awards are compiled in the prior volume.) New Tools for America's Workforce compiles products that have been developed by the NSF-funded projects that can be used by others.

Link to Press Release | MSNBC Story

Friday, August 17, 2007

More Summer Science for Girls

In case you thought toy recalls and stock market crashes were the only stories getting consistent attention this summer, here is yet another story about girls learning science and technology in summer camps. I have already posted on this twice: Aug 3 and July 26, not to mention numerous previous posts on programs that specifically address gender and equity.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fewer Extra-curricular Offerings for Urban Students

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that students in urban Milwaukee high schools have significantly fewer after-school options compared to their peers in suburban schools. The article points to academic pressures from NCLB, but I expect we could all come up with other reasons as well. Students who have to work after school to pay bills, teachers who don't live in the neighborhood, and limited facilities are among a few that I would suggest.

The consequences of these differences are more than just less fun for kids at urban schools. There is less connection to the school when you are only there for classes. There are fewer opportunities to explore career options and non-academic interests.

Options for addressing these problems vary. Connecting community-based organizations (such as Boys and Girls Clubs) can help with staff and facilities. It may even be appropriate to look at options to pay students to participate in clubs. Often high school clubs can provide services for younger students, e.g., a FIRST robotics team mentors a Lego League team, and the students could be paid for these.

Extra-curriculars are critically important for youth development. A minimum score on the SAT or ACT is not sufficient preparation for college - students have to have passions, whether they are artistic, scientific, service-oriented, etc.

Link to article

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Less Time for Science (and Other Subjects)

A recent report confirms what most of us already know, the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind have led schools to decrease the amount of time they spend on non-tested subjects. The Center on Education Policy found that elementary schools decreased time spent on science an average of 75 minutes per week. That time is being reallocated to math and literacy, the core subjects that are assessed by states.

An article by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post presents both sides of this issue rather effectively. It seems to come down to:
1) If you can't read or do math, you won't be able to handle the other subjects.
2) If you only learn reading and math out of context, then you can't handle the richer vocabulary, higher-order concepts, etc.

With the new test in science arriving, schools are going to have to make more hard choices. The CEP report clearly shows that schools are unlikely to extend the day - only 9% have done so, and then only an average of 18 minutes. This leaves a few options:
- Integrate science and other subjects into literacy and math, and vice versa. Learning should be done in context whenever possible.
- Utilize after-school and out-of-school time programs to build student interest in science, art, music, and other subjects to improve their all-around engagement in school.
- Obtain a national supply of Hermione Granger's time-turners so students can take several classes at the same time!

Unless someone has a lead on the third option, I suggest we really get to work on the first two. Accountability and assessment are important, and reading and math are critically important. So, if we want our youth to find engagement in subjects that are critical to being productive adults, we are going to need more time and better ways to include those subjects in the learning day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Science All Around Us - More Apparent in Rural Environs?

The Status of Education in Rural America, published by the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, provides some interesting findings about academic performance in rural areas. Rural students outperform their urban counterparts in math and reading at almost every level, and the difference in science was particularly noteworthy. Rural fourth graders scored higher than all other subgroups, including suburban. Rural 8th and 12th graders do much better than those in urban areas.

It seems likely that rural students have more practical experience with science. Some may work on family farms, while others may just have more opportunities to see the woods or the stars.

Urban schools are working hard to connect kids to real-world science and nature. There are programs like the Growing Connection, which uses the EarthBox to allow students to grow crops in all settings, and Urban Bird Studies, which includes students in a real "citizen science" research project on bird life in the city.

There is obviously just as much "science" around the city as there is in the country. We just have to be deliberate about helping kids connect to the environment around them.

Link to report | Link to article about the report

Friday, August 03, 2007

Students & Teachers Learn Science & Tech in the Summer

Here are two interesting articles about summer learning in science and technology. One is about an inventor's camp where youth learn the design process. The other is about a special education teacher who went to Space Academy and brought those lessons back to her classroom.

For more about summer programs, visit the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Science Songs Win Award

Coalition for Science After School member The Health Adventure, from Asheville, NC, has received an award for their new CD, Momentum: Songs about Science. Congrats to them!
Link to their press release: HTML | PDF

Monday, July 30, 2007

Science, Math, D'oh!

There is funny and enlightening interview with The Simpsons Executive Producer (and Harvard math graduate) Al Jean on the Nature website. Jean describes a few inside jokes that only scientists or mathematicians are likely to get. He also provides some insight on science in pop culture. Also, make sure to click the link at the bottom which contains the top 10 science moments in Simpsons' history. Link to interview

Friday, July 27, 2007

More Videos, More Oobleck

I have previously posted (twice) about videos and demonstrations of science activities available on the web. There are more videos on YouTube of Oobleck. Check out:

- Non-Newtonian Egg Protector (Egg in a bag with oobleck)
- People in a pool of oobleck: Spanish TV ; Exploratorium

Another user, ScienceOnline, has also posted some interesting demonstrations. The lemon battery is featured on YouTube's front page right now. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tech Camp Blog

Teacher Magazine has been host to a blog this summer written by an educator working at a summer camp in Chicago. The camp is an ecology and technology program for 9-14 year olds in a predominately Latino neighborhood. Amy Abeln, the author, shares some very interesting insights about kids learning science and technology outside of a traditional school setting. I particularly like her July 8 post about some of the students and their preference for science class over technology: "We love the projects... We like technology, too, ... but we get to do computers all the time in school. We're in the gifted class. But we hardly ever do science." There is so much to analyze in these statements, and Amy does a very good job.

Link to 'My Summer at Tech Camp'

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dads Influencing Daughters

Results of a longitudinal study recently released by the University of Michigan indicate that behavior of fathers has a significant impact on interest in math. Stereotypical attitudes (conscious or unconscious) lead to less supportive environments for girls, such as buying math and science toys - always more for boys than girls in the study. The impact of these attitudes is not surprising, but it is further hard evidence that helps explain the gap between academic performance and pursuit of science and math careers. Females and males perform about the same on tests of math and science ability, but men continue to outnumber women in almost every relevant field. As one of the report's authors notes, "It's as if women are saying, 'I can, but I don't want to.'"
Link to report
(Thanks to the Connect for Kids newsletter for the link.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why People Resist Science

Here is an interesting article, adapted from a recent article in Science. The authors discuss why some people resist science, addressing not just the American debate over evolution but how children and adults learn and how this impacts general views of science. For educators, the discussion about misconceptions is useful. Children (and adults) have difficulty with ideas that conflict with experience, e.g., the world is a sphere, yet objects don't roll away. The article concludes with a discussion of trust and deference to authority. Complex ideas often require us to trust an authority. When people do not trust scientists, they will be less likely to believe in scientific findings. Trust and mistrust can also spread (if you have two friends who don't believe something, you may start to question it as well), which helps explain recent figures showing major differences among nations in public acceptance of evolution. As the article concludes: "one way to combat resistance to science is to persuade children and adults that the institute of science is, for the most part, worthy of trust."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Science Demonstrations

The Discovery Center of Idaho is hosting a new wiki designed to share demonstrations of science. This is a great place to find or share the type of activities that you might use in a museum (or any informal science setting) to demonstrate a science concept. Let's hope lots of people share their ideas. Perhaps there will be some good video links as well - see my previous post on videos for ideas.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Student-Centered Learning

Students learn better when they are directly involved in problem solving, scientific experiments, or following their own lines of inquiry. However, achieving this type of learning is difficult even for experienced science teachers. These comments won't come as new or innovative to those who have worked in science education for a while. Yet, they continue to be central to achieving high quality learning.

A new study on physics education finds that students engaged in interactive courses outperform their peers who received traditional, instructor-led lessons. ASCD Research Brief / Study

In my own experience visiting after-school programs where youth workers are trying to lead inquiry activities, there is a difficult balancing act between student-centered activity and science content. If you asked them to teach drama or basketball, these experienced and trained after-school leaders would presumably put the students at the center - letting them play and experience the activities. Yet, with science, the staff revert to their own experience with science, attempting to spew facts or take the children through programmed experiment steps.

Overcoming the preconceptions about science education as lecture-led starts with the staff. NSTA and others have been helping teachers with this for many years. Now we have to reach a new group of science education staff in after-school programs, camps, and other informal settings.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New Reading on Out-of-School Time

There is an interesting new article called "Beyond the Classroom" about out-of-school time by Rhonda Lauer of Foundations Inc. In addition, the National Institute on Out-of-School Time has published its latest fact sheet. The article provides good thinking about the state of our education system and the role of OST institutions (especially for urban youth). The fact sheet offers a summary of the information that you may find yourself thinking about after reading the article.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Informal Science Social Bookmarking Site

For those who work in the informal science or museum worlds, you may want to check out, a new social bookmarking site for science centers and museums.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More enrichment, Less basic skills, part 2

Earlier this month, a report in Science stated that elementary schools spend too much time on the basic skills and not enough on enrichment. Now, a report from ACT finds that state standards are not matching up with college expectations. In the area of science, high school teachers tend to emphasize content knowledge over scientific process skills, while college faculty would prefer students with the latter. In general, colleges prefer that students have in-depth understandings of certain knowledge and skills. State standards tend to be wide rather than deep, covering the basics of many categories, but little with any depth. Links: ACT Report / USA Today coverage

Monday, April 16, 2007

Worldwide Science Day

Apparently, April 18th is the World Wide Day in Science. If you are involved in science, you are encouraged to submit essays, due May 18, about what you did on April 18. If you work with students, they may be interested to read the essays from this and previous years.

Speaking of science days, Astronomy Day is April 21. Take your kids outside to look at the sky (if this Nor'easter ever clears up!) For more guidance, visit the NASA site I referenced last week.

Now that you have viewed the Cosmos, take some time for the world around you. Earth Day is April 22. If you have not been watching the new Discovery Channel series on Planet Earth, you should check it out. Remarkable videos of nature - many never seen before moments.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Monthly Star-Gazing Video

The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab has released a new video feature on its website describing the most interesting views of the night sky for the month. Each month will feature a new video, and the views are accessible even for people who lack telescopes or live in urban areas. This month's video talks about Saturn, which is prominent in the sky this April.

The video is called "What's Up" and can be found on the JPL homepage, the Solar System Exploration page, or follow this link for April's video. There are also great resources for educators - including after-school - on the Solar System education page, including a page on amateur astronomy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Too much basic skills, not enough enrichment

A new study published in Science this week finds that elementary classrooms are too focused on basic skills and lack the enriching, student-centered environment that they need. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, and researchers spent thousands of hours in 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade classrooms.

Links: USA Today | Science Magazine Link (subscription required)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

National Math & Science Initiative

I had a chance to participate in a phone call last week regarding the National Math & Science Initiative. This is a major undertaking to improve the quality and quantity of math and science learning opportunities around the country. It is primarily funded by the ExxonMobil Foundation (with $125 million!!!) and seems likely to serve as a pool for other funders to have a larger impact together. They plan to fund proven models, starting with two Texas-based projects, one which prepares science undergraduates to teach in public schools, and one which supports high school students in taking AP classes. RFPs are currently open to replicate these models in other states/regions.

Replicating programs that have been studied is a great way to go. Replicating at local/state-levels allows those with a closer connection to the target audience to tailor their version of the program to unique local needs. Personal experience tells me that holding all youth to high expectations works, but it also can require a lot of support beyond academics, so let's all be prepared to be involved.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reaching After-school Providers

The National Afterschool Association held their annual conference in Phoenix last week. The thousands in attendance had a wealth of science, technology, engineering, and math learning opportunities to choose from. There were 45 sessions in total, including 17 from Coalition for Science After School affiliated groups and 11 from NASA representatives. The conference organizers will be posting presentations on the site in the coming weeks in case you missed it.

Children's Science Books

Here is a useful list posted a while ago on the "blogosphere". It is a list of children's books that pertain to science (both directly and more generally).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Teach for America targets STEM learning

I will be at the Teach for America Mathematics and Science Summit on Saturday in Washington, DC. I am going primarily as a TFA alum, but I also hope to spread the word about informal learning and the many opportunities to reach kids beyond the classroom.

I recently received email from a former student (who is now a college sophomore - way to go, Sandy!) She mentioned that she mostly remembers the part of my class where they learned chess - a set of activities I organized after we covered all of the math objectives for the year. It just goes to show that young people will remember what they enjoy and connect with. Not that the math standards were not important to her life, but chess was fun and interactive in a way that classroom math was not.

For all of the informal educators out there, TFA teachers could be a great audience for your materials. Many seek to start after-school clubs at their schools. Most are new to their communities and may not know about museums and other kid-friendly resources. Each TFA region has a local office, so you should look them up. There is also a new, well-funded math and science initiative, for those of you on the national level.

Press coverage for Minnesota program

The Science Museum of Minnesota is engaged in a number of efforts to support STEM education in its community. One program that connects high school students with younger children to learn science after school was recently featured in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Science Videos

I saw a link on BoingBoing today about free documentaries on Google video. This got me started looking for kid-friendly science videos. Finding them in all of the clutter is hard, but there are some interesting resources available for free. If you have ever done the "oobleck" activity (i.e., cornstarch and water), you may want to check out some of the demonstrations available. (The link is for a "corn starch water" search. You may want to try other search terms as well.) Several videos, including one showing here, demonstrate vibration of the solution, creating some fascinating results.

There is so much that can be learned from such a simple solution, you should use extend "oobleck" lessons as much as possible. If you are looking for good lesson plans around oobleck, there are many out there. Two of the best are in Afterschool Science PLUS (review / link) and Great Explorations in Math and Science.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Day for Learning, Part 2 - Professionalism

As promised, I have given a little more attention to the New Day for Learning report. The task force identified a number of steps that will lead to an education system that uses the full learning day. Many of these steps will require more attention to the people who teach our children, not just full-time classroom professionals but also the community-based staff, volunteers, and many others. The report rightly calls for the use of "research-based knowledge on how students learn best." However, connecting this knowledge to individuals who may not be professional educators is not straightforward. Those of us working with after-school need to be deliberate about including the research in our work and making it accessible to ALL of the people who work with children.

The report recognizes that part of this effort involves including after-school staff in decisions:
"We see communities of policymakers, institutions, and individuals, working together to make sure all students have optimum opportunities to learn and grow into responsible citizens. Up to now, policymaking around how children use their learning time has been mostly schoolbased [sic]. Yet, the majority of time available for learning occurs outside of the traditional school day."
There are many approaches to supporting after-school staff and making the field more professional. The Center for After-School Excellence at The After-School Corporation (where I sit) is one example.

As this effort to connect the traditional school day with the whole day of student learning, the Coalition for Science After School will work to connect the potential of STEM learning with the existing capacities of after-school staff.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Exended Days in Massachusetts

There is an article on CNN this week about the Massachusetts project to extend the school day. There seem to be two different approaches to extending learning time for students - a longer school day or increased investment in community-based after-school. It seems likely that the solution is somewhere in between, depending on the needs of the community, funds available, and many other factors. Either way, I hope students get to explore new and exciting ideas in the extra time that is available and that test preparation does not dominate.

P.S. I am going to try and blog more regularly starting... NOW!

Monday, January 22, 2007

New Day for Learning, Part I

If you are not already aware of the new report, A New Day for Learning, you should be. Given the early buzz, this report of the Time, Learning, and Afterschool task force, funded by the C. S. Mott Foundation, is likely to have a lasting impact on the way we view time for learning.

Of course, I have not read it yet, which is why this post says "Part I." I will provide comments once I digest it!

The Edutopia website hosting the report also includes several interesting commentaries. Jodi Grant of the Afterschool Alliance provides a good review of the political and funding landscape for after-school programs.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cyberchase at the NY Hall

If you live in New York and have kids, you may want to take them to the NY Hall of Science in Queens this weekend. The stars of the WNET-produced PBS animated series Cyberchase will be there.

If you aren't going to the event, you may still be interested. It is an example of good collaboration between museum and media to engage and educate young people in science and math.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mind-expansion on the Playground

Check out the new playground that has been proposed for lower Manhattan. It is designed to be interactive and spur imagination.

When I taught 5th grade, my students once helped build a playground at a local science museum. Google helped me find the designer of that project, Tom Rockwell, and several others projects that his team has done. Cool stuff!

I also had a recent conversation with the Trust for Public Land about their efforts to preserve and create green spaces, including parks near public schools. Nature makes its own playground!