Thursday, October 08, 2009

The White House Star Party Features Informal Learning Activities

If you missed the White House Star Party last night, you can still recreate the activities at home (or in your school or after-school programs). The activities came from the Lunar Planetary Institute's Explore! program, designed specifically for use in libraries and informal learning environments. Explore! has been used in 21st Century Community Learning Center and other after-school programs. Try one or more of these White House Star Party activities with your kids:
  • Impact Crater Activity: The students dropped 4 different sized objects and measured the diameter of the objects and the depth and diameter of the craters.
  • The other activities are harder to recreate. Your local science museum may have some of these. Inflatable planetarium dome presentations, "Rocks from Space" with a touchable moon rock, lunar sample disks, a Mars meteorite display and meteorites from the Smithsonian collection, and scientists to talk with the kids.
Thanks to the NASA JPL Museum Alliance for passing along the information!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

School Gardens in the News

It's harvest time in school gardens. It is also time to plant garlic bulbs and other winter crops. Many schools and after-school programs are finding that gardens are great cross-curricular activities, requiring science, math, organization, and other skills. Gardening also gets students outside and eating healthier.

Here are two examples from Moraga, CA, and Jefferson Co., KY.

Find curriculum on science, including two on horticulture, at the Consumers Guide to Afterschool Science Resources.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Are you looking for an amazing opportunity to promote your science and technology programs?

The Coalition for Science After School recently opened a national directory of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities. This directory will be widely marketed and can rapidly increase the visibility of your program! The best news? There is no cost involved, it is FREE! There is, however, a cost to not participating: missed promotional, funding, and partnership opportunities.

Sign up now!

Are you interested in increasing the number of kids participating in your programs?
The promotion of this Directory will increase interest in opportunities to participate in science after school and in other informal settings, and it will direct interested parents and students to the programs entered in our database.

Are your programs full? Do you need support - funding, volunteers, partners - to open up your programs to more students?
Our Coalition is committed to working with policymakers and funders and will ensure that the Directory is used for increased advocacy in support of informal science education.
All that is needed to become part of the Directory is to visit our website:

Sign up now!

Spend a few moments entering information on your organization and its programs and events. If you have any questions about the Directory, the Coalition, or informal STEM education, please contact our team at

I would like to thank you in advance for your participation. The larger we are able to grow this database the more effective the Directory will become! If you know of any colleagues who might be interested in taking advantage of this opportunity, please feel free to forward this message along.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Young People Need to be Taught How to Argue (??)

While many parents may not think that their children have any difficulty with arguing, researchers have been studying ways to improve argumentation skills.  Making logical arguments is part of the critical thinking process and does not necessarily follow naturally from learning a lot of facts.  This is yet another role that out-of-school time experiences can play - offering students a setting to practice making logical, coherent arguments. 

Education Week article
(Subscription required)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Science and Art "CreatureCast" on Squid Iridescence

This is one of the most entertaining and scientifically educational videos that I have ever seen.  A young person with an interest in art might find the connection with science very engaging!  This is apparently "Episode 1", so I look forward to future CreatureCasts.

CreatureCast Episode 1 from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Teen Scientist Finds Bacteria to Decompose Plastic

I just wanted to repost this article from Wired Science.  A teen from Ontario found bacteria that makes plastic decompose in just three months.  This is something that scientists have been working on for many years.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Pew Study: Public Respects Contribution of Science to Society

A new study of public opinion finds that Americans overwhelmingly respect and support science.  84% of the public believes that science has a "mostly positive" effect on society.  Asked who contributes a lot to society's well being, members of the public name this top five: members of the military (84%), teachers (77%), scientists (70%), medical doctors (69%), and engineers (64%).  Even among those who believe in creationism, 63% believe scientists contribute a lot to society.  While debates over evolution, stem cells, and climate change may dominate headlines, most Americans recognize the overall value of science.  Now we just need to convince them that their own children can be part of that scientific community!

Pew Research Center for People & the Press

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Summer Learning Day

Tomorrow is National Summer Learning Day (so proclaimed by President Obama).  Find an event near you and celebrate summer learning - a critical tool for closing the achievement gap.  Here is a video from Ron Fairchild of the National Center for Summer Learning, saying more about the value of summer opportunities for youth:

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Science of Cooking

Here is an article about a middle school summer science and cooking class.  I wish there were more resources on the science of cooking for kids.  At home, I use Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, which is not written for kids.  Same goes for Cooking for Engineers, a fun blog.  I mentioned some resources in a previous post, but does anyone know of others?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A narrative of afterschool science

For those who are interested in better understanding what science learning in afterschool programs is all about, The After-School Corporation has posted a great new article that describes programs in New York City and lessons that can be applied nationwide.
"Got Science?"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Education Directly Connected to Inequality

For anyone who likes academic-level economics, here is an interesting commentary on the connection between educational attainment and economic equality.

From the 1940s to 1970s, economic growth was shared among the classes ("A rising tide lifts all boats.") Since the mid-1970s, the majority of economic growth in the US has rewarded the top 20% of Americans ("The rich get richer.")

Economists Goldin and Katz attribute this difference almost entirely to educational attainment. For a while (post-WWII), there were many more people going to college, driving up supply of college-educated workers and closing the income gap between college and non-college. However, starting in the 1960s, that gap started to grow again. Historically, US children would have more education than their parents. That has become less true in the past 30 years. If we are to increase equality in this country, we need to make education a priority for ALL children.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Use Cheap Modern Electronics to Explore Nature

Here is a fun blog post about using new, inexpensive digital microscopes to make nature more interesting. In the poster's words: "I spent the whole afternoon looking at stuff and taking pictures. Skin cells, fabrics, seeds, and of course, bugs, were just part of the wild menagerie of things I examined." He also links to a YouTube video that he created, showing a mite crawling on an ant.

The device that he is using costs under $100. If you are working with kids who like engineering, one of the commenters provided a link to a Do-It-Yourself page to create a digital microscope for about $25.

Link to "Exploring Your Own Backyard" on BoingBoing

Friday, May 29, 2009

Virtual Camp

Here is a new concept (to me, at least) - virtual camp! Fresh Brain describes itself as a "Technology Exploration Platform for Teens." The site offers a variety of relatively short activities, targeted at individuals, and longer projects, which can be done independently or in groups. This summer - June 15 to August 14 - they are offering a "Virtual Technology Camp" for teens. This camp will include a series of activities, projects, and challenges, and will be supported by counselors and expert advisors. This seems like a great tool that can be used from home or at the local library, community center, or other settings that offer teens access to the Internet.

Of course, if you prefer an in-person camp, check out Project Exploration's Discover Your Summer guide to summer science and technology programs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Parents of Middle Schoolers Should Emphasize Future Relevance

A new study reports that parents can best help middle school students by linking school work to future goals and instilling the value of education, instead of emphasizing homework help. According to Dr. Nancy Hill, the lead researcher on the Harvard University Study: "Although they may want to make their own decisions, they need guidance
from parents to help provide the link between school and their
aspirations for future work." While instilling the value of academic work had a positive effect, helping with homework produced mixed results.

This finding is not surprising - more help on school work is not as valuable as connecting to the wider world. The finding is specific to parent involvement, but it probably applies to after-school providers as well. Those providers often act as proxies for busy or absent parents. This finding should provide evidence in opposition to the reality that after-school programs for at-risk youth often emphasize homework help over enrichment. Those receiving federal and state funds feel pressure to increase test scores - a short term outcome - as opposed to supporting career interest - which is more closely linked to future achievement. This finding is one of many that should move after-school back to a focus on youth development and academic enrichment and away from tutoring and repetition of the school day.

Science Daily Report on Harvard Study

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Analysis of Extended Day Policy Efforts

In the December 2008 Phi Delta Kappan, Larry Cuban offers an interesting analysis of the efforts to lengthen or alter the school day and year. He goes through the history of reform efforts. He even dispels the myth that our long summer break is a remnant of an agrarian economy; it is actually a result of middle-class parents wanting time to go on vacation or send kids to camp.

One of the major problems is the assumption that schools are just designed to prepare workers:
"By blaming schools, contemporary civic and business elites have reduced the multiple goals Americans expect of their public schools to a single one: prepare youths to work in a globally competitive economy. This has been a mistake because Americans historically have expected more from their public schools."
Cuban points out that there are many reasons that citizens support public education, including preparing responsible citizens, promoting common cultural values, dispel societal inequities, etc. So, building an entire reform effort around the needs of the business community does not actually work.

Instead, Cuban recommends improving the quality and focus on "academic learning time," "improving the quality of the time that teachers and students spend with one another in and out of classrooms":
"If policy makers could open their ears and eyes to student and teacher perceptions of time, they would learn that the secular Holy Grail is decreasing interruption of instruction, encouraging richer intellectual and personal connections between teachers and students, and increasing classroom time for ambitious teaching and active, engaged learning."
My only addition to Cuban's recommendation is that we should consider that not all learning time happens in a classroom in the presence of a teacher. There is a reason that middle-class parents demanded camp opportunities, and a reason that kids who go to camp don't fall as far behind academically as those who do not. It is not because those camps are focused on academic learning with classroom teachers. It is because high quality, focused learning time is more effective if it is balanced by a culture of out-of-school learning experiences.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Gardening, Community Service, and Science After School

Here is another example of a community gardening project.  This is happening without a specific classroom component, based upon cooperation between the community-based organization and a city department.  Teen boys have built a garden that is benefiting the whole community.

Link to Charlotte Observer article

Thursday, May 07, 2009

NSTA Journal Article on After-school Science

The March 2009 issue of the NSTA elementary school journal, Science & Children, contains an interesting article about an after-school science lesson.  Sami Kahn notes some of the issues that make after-school science different from the school day: She is working with multiple grade levels (1-4); the group has 90 minutes for an activity, compared to 40 minutes during the school day; and, since students often miss the after-school class due to other commitments, activities need to stand somewhat alone.  This is a well written article, especially for conveying the value of an after-school setting to an audience of science teachers. 

Read the article for free at the NSTA website

Monday, May 04, 2009

Parent Involvement in Science Learning

The National Science Teachers Association has released a new position statement on Parent Involvement in Science Learning. This should be a valuable tool for everyone seeking to improve science learning. We know that schools cannot do this work alone, and family involvement is critical.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Response to Math and Science versus Femininity

Dr. Freeride over at ScienceBlogs offers an interesting post about teenage girls perceptions of science and math learning in opposition to social status. We have to change the identified costs and benefits. That is very hard to do with deferred benefits from education. By providing social situations that encourage science and math, we can decrease the cost - you can have your friends and learn. The smartest kids get these opportunities - math team, science club, academic summer camp, etc. - and many scientists point back to those experiences as formative. Now we need to give social learning opportunities to the average kids - every kid should have a science club once a week or get to play math games outside of school. This requires a change in attitude from everyone involved, but it can be done.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Math Circles Allow Youth to Explore Mathematics Beyond the Classroom

Math Circles, which originally were born in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations, have been spreading across the US for at least 30 years. While many of these circles connect mathematicians with high-level learners, the structure of Math Circles is actually accessible to youth of all abilities and ages. There are math circles for kindergartners and for adults. Some have worked to connect students at the highest level of achievement with others who are just interested in math for fun.

Now there is a resource available that can help you find a circle near you or start a math circle of your own. Circle in a Box is freely available from the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at UC Berkeley.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Challenging Assumptions in Education Policy

In a commentary in Education Week, Ronald Wolk offers a commentary on why the nation is still "at risk," 25 years after the landmark report. One of the five assumptions that he challenges is: "The United States should require all students to take algebra in the 8th grade and higher-order math in high school in order to increase the number of scientists and engineers in this country and thus make us more competitive in the global economy." His reasoning for challenge this assumption:

"Most young people who go into science and engineering are well on their way by the time they start high school, because they become hooked on science or math in the early grades and do well in mathematics in elementary and middle school. ... If the nation wants more scientists and engineers, then educators need to find ways to awaken and nourish a passion for those subjects well before high school, and then offer students every opportunity to pursue their interest as far as they wish."