Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Service-Learning: An Innovative Approach to Science After School

Out-of-school time presents an excellent opportunity for students to learn more about how science, technology, engineering, and math are intertwined with the world around them. But even in an afterschool environment, science education program developers and teaching staff may struggle with helping students connect what they are learning to their everyday lives. In order to create meaningful learning, students should be able to emotionally invest themselves in their work, creating a personal connection that extends beyond academic value and achievement.

Service-learning is a hands-on method of learning that helps students connect to their projects in a meaningful way. In service-learning projects, students use their skills and subject matter to complete a project that benefits the community. Similar to citizen science--where individuals or groups of students participate in various components of the science process to contribute to a larger data-set--students participating in STEM service-learning projects do "real" science that benefits the world around them. In service-learning, students' projects often have a real effect on their own neighborhoods and communities, helping them to see the connection between science and their everyday lives.

Service-learning is a natural environment for STEM-related projects. In one form of service-learning, students use their scientific knowledge to craft a community program--as these students did at L'Anse Creuse Public Schools in Michigan, where they facilitated a recycling event to improve their local environment. Students in high school or college with advanced scientific knowledge can also form community partnerships to mentor students in STEM subjects, as in the Engineers as Teachers program designed by Iridescent (who are also members of the Coalition for Science After School).

If you're interested in starting a service-learning project in your community--or you would like to integrate it as a component into your existing program--check out the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. This database is a great starting point for research on service-learning outcomes, case studies of successful programs, and lots of other resources for getting started in service-learning. 

If you're looking for a way to share your service-learning program, consider listing it in the National After School Science Directory

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vote NOW for Time Warner Cable's first-ever STEM Super Connector!

There are thousands of individuals hard at work across the country working to connect young people in their communities to high-quality, high-impact science, technology, engineering, and math learning opportunities. Now, Time Warner Cable is seeking to recognize those individuals through their Super Connector search. Part of their Connect a Million Minds initiative, the Super Connector search will award one individual with $10,000 to support the non-profit of their choice, as well as the opportunity to appear in a Connect a Million Minds TV commercial!

Every nominee has an inspiring story to tell--including some Coalition for Science After School members--and you can view their video stories, and read more about them, on their page. Good luck to all of the contenders, and thank you for the inspiring work that you do!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Science Festival Fun!

This is Kalie, Membership Manager at the Coalition for Science After School. Last Sunday, I attended Discovery Days at AT&T Park, the capstone event for the inaugural Bay Area Science Festival. For those not in the Bay Area, AT&T Park is home to the San Francisco Giants, and it was a lot of fun to see this local sports landmark turned into a science wonderland!

We were so excited to partner with Radio Disney for two great performances that taught kids about energy through the adventures of Phineas and Ferb, two popular cartoon stars of their own Disney Channel show. In the performance, two scientists were turned into robots by the nefarious Dr. Doofenshmirtz and his Robot-In-Ator Force Field. Kids had to use different forms of energy by moving their bodies to release the scientists. At the end, kids and parents learned that they could find more fun learning opportunities for science outside of the classroom by visiting ConnectAMillionMinds.com. Radio Disney also hosted a booth where kids could compete in fun science-related challenges and pick up some prizes and goodie bags. Thanks to Radio Disney and PG&E for putting on a great show!

The Radio Disney dancers perform near their table. Image courtesy of Radio Disney.

 The show begins! Image courtesy of Radio Disney.

Aside from the Radio Disney performance, there were a lot of other fun things to explore and see. Over 90 different science organizations from around the Bay Area--including Coalition members like the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Chabot Space & Science Center, the California Academy of Sciences, Techbridge, and the Tech Museum--offered activities, contests, demonstrations, prizes, products, and much more. While there, I saw a squid dissection, telescopes from NASA, Lego robots, and lots of kids and families excited about science.

  A Radio Disney performer checks out the PG&E booth. PG&E sponsored the performance, which focuses on energy. 
Image courtesy of Radio Disney.

Science festivals are a great opportunity to explore science in an informal setting. Tabletop activities make it easy for families to move from one station to the next, and facilitators often bring a project or prize for kids to take home, lengthening the experience beyond the one-day event. The wide variety of exhibitors at the festival--universities, museums, researchers, industry leaders, and many other science institutions--meant that there was bound to be something fun for every attendee. Kids and parents got the opportunity to closely interact with professional scientists, as well as many college students and other science educators enthusiastic about their subjects. The location was close to public transportation, making getting to the event as eco-friendly as could be--and with the generous support of the event's sponsors, attendance was free. 

The Bay Area Science Festival is just one of several Science Fests going on around the country. Other upcoming events will be held in San Diego, Philadelphia, and Cambridge. Check out the Science Festival Alliance to find a science festival near you--or how to bring one to your area.

Lots of kids and families viewed the performance. Image courtesy of Radio Disney.

Even San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee stopped by! Image courtesy of Radio Disney.

Kids explored wind energy by moving their arms. Image courtesy of Radio Disney.

 It was a beautiful and fun day for science! Image courtesy of Radio Disney.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Building Effective Community Partnerships for Science After School Part II: Finding STEM Resources in Your Community

This is the second part in a two-part series on Building Effective Community Partnerships for Science After School, a workshop we recently hosted at the Up Your Game conference. Read Part I on Including Science Volunteers in Afterschool Programs for more information.

In the second half of our workshop on partnerships for afterschool science, our panel of speakers focused on finding and using community resources. Our first speaker, Leslie Lowes, is an informal education specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). NASA has a great many resources available for supporting informal science education (as well as lots of resources for in-school learning), and Leslie helped us navigate where to find them.

NASA has a number of education centers around the country--if you live nearby, contact your center to find out about the availability of public tours. The education centers may also have a representative available from NASA's Speakers Bureau (a great way to find scientists with public communication skills!) or a chapter of the Solar System Ambassadors program, a national program of volunteers that specialize in JPL's work.

NASA also offers customizable curriculum just for out-of-school learning. For elementary school students, the Out of School to Outer Space program offers 15 hours of NASA/solar system science and engineering activities, including teacher training and ongoing support. This program is designed to get 4th and 5th graders "thinking like a scientist." The Space School Musical program, featuring downloadable videos, songs, and a guide to putting on a space-themed musical production, gets kids excited about STEM through song and dance.

For middle school students, NASA focuses on developing science skills through programs like the Summer of Innovation. Programs for high school students are geared toward research and preparation for STEM careers through internships and innovation challenges, like the Real World In World engineering challenge.

Not everyone is close to a NASA center, but many people have a museum or science center in their community. Katie Levedahl, Director of Out-of-School Programs for the California Academy of Sciences joined the panel to talk about how to partner with science centers and museums to bring STEM content to afterschool environments. Katie highlighted the Careers in Science (CiS) program, a multi-year internship program for high school students. CiS interns, along with an Academy scientist, bring science activities to afterschool programs in their communities. Because the interns often come from the communities they visit, they become role models for the afterschool program students. Because museum workers are science content experts, they can be great sources of high-quality STEM activities. Katie talked about other ways that afterschool programs can partner with science museums, including:
  • Using the museum as a field trip site
  • Connecting with older youth programs (like CiS) to find science mentors for afterschool youth
  • Obtaining curriculum and activities from museums, or bringing museum scientist-educators into your program to facilitate activities
For the last presentation, I spoke about the many different resources available through the Coalition for Science After School. In particular, I highlighted our members and the National After School Science Directory as being great places to find local partnerships or connect with programs outside of your immediate area. I also highlighted our Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter pages as being great places to connect with resources, funding streams, events, professional development opportunities, research, and more. These tools are free and easily customizable to your needs.

For the final half hour of the workshop, we engaged in networking and a white-board brainstorming session to identify what individual programs actually need to facilitate STEM partnerships. We ended with a productive conversation on goals and next steps for the workshop participants.

For more information about the workshop--as well a starter kit for getting STEM in your afterschool program--visit Gabrielle Lyon's post on the Project Exploration blog.

Many thanks again to our wonderful speakers and engaged participants, and a special thank you to the California AfterSchool Network and Time Warner Cable for helping to make this workshop a reality.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Building Effective Community Partnerships for Science After School Part I: Including Science Volunteers in Afterschool Programs

This is Kalie, Manager at the Coalition for Science After School. Yesterday, I flew from our offices in Berkeley, CA down to San Diego to participate in a pre-conference session at the Step Up Your Game conference hosted by the California AfterSchool Network. The session was facilitated by Gabrielle Lyon, who serves on the Steering Committee of the Coalition, and sponsored by our friends at Time Warner Cable

We assembled a two panels of speakers to talk about how to build successful partnerships to promote science after school, who spoke about 1) how to recruit and integrate volunteers from the science and business worlds into afterschool STEM programs, and 2) community resources that programs can leverage to include STEM. This blog post summarizes the first part of that conversation.

Many thanks to the California AfterSchool Network and Time Warner Cable for helping us to make this event happen!

First, Dr. Lyon asked the participants about their programs. About half of the participants were already doing some level of STEM in their programs. We also established that "science" and "STEM" were interchangeable in our conversation. We then had a few moments for a free write, prompted by the question "What is worth it for young people in your programs to know and experience when it comes to science?" Some responses of the free write included:
  • Exposure to skill for college and careers (for example, in computer programming)
  • Wanting students to know that STEM is fun
  • Relevance to 21st century career pathways, especially in a rural area
  • Real-life connections to everyday life
Dr. Lyon pointed out that kids are only in school for about 20% of the day, which leaves lots of opportunities for alternate or extended learning of STEM skills. She also asked us to frame the rest of the conversation as how our vision can support the goals outlined during the free write.

After a brief presentation on Project Exploration (including on some of the results of the 10-year retrospective study of their STEM programming), we moved on to the first panel of presenters, who talked to us about including volunteers in their afterschool programs.

First, we heard from Linda Kekelis, Executive Director of Techbridge. Techbridge is an afterschool program for girls that focuses on STEM activities with a strong connection to careers. Linda said that early feedback in the program indicated that the girls saw the activities as fun hobbies, but not necessarily things that could help them in the future. The program's leaders saw the need to invite role models--women with real careers in the STEM fields--to work with the girls. After bringing in role models, program leaders found that even a one-time meeting with a role model can make a huge impact. Not all of the role models intuitively knew how to successfully interact with the girls, and Linda offered these tips for guiding interactions between the girls and the role models:
  • Make the interactions easy for the role models by providing training
  • Start by asking for a one-time commitment to build interest
  • Start by simply asking the role models to talk about what they do--making that personal connection to each girl participant is important
Other insights included to cultivate relationships by sending regular email updates about the program, communicating the value of training, and always expressing thanks.
Next, we heard from Liz Ferguson of BioWaves, one of the organizers of the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conference. This large conference brings together hundreds of girls for a day of workshops hosted by real female scientists, most of them affiliated with local universities in the San Diego area. Liz emphasized that it is important to make the conference an authentic science experience to spark interest among the participants. She said they largely recruit their scientist mentors by finding clubs on the different university campuses in San Diego.

We learned more about EYH from Cassondra Williams, who spoke next about recruiting in the science community. Cassondra spoke about both EYH--a large, one-time event--and BeWISE (Better Education for Women In Science and Engineering), a long-term mentoring program for girls. Cassondra identified four places for finding STEM professional volunteers:
  • Universities: the National Science Foundation (NSF) now requires many scientists who receive NSF funding to include public outreach in their research plans; this means that many professors and graduate students in the scientists may be looking for opportunities. 
  • Corporations: research individual companies in your local area; they may have an employee volunteer program and/or an outreach coordinator
  •  Research Institutions: this could include zoos and aquariums, as well as medical centers
  • Government: branches of the military and federal agencies may have volunteering programs; state and county branches may be a resource as well
Cassondra emphasized that programs should have resources available to support volunteers, such as ways to communicate their complicated research. She recommended personal networking (such as getting on listservs), researching specific scientists/STEM professionals to reach out to, and contacting organizations' outreach coordinators as effective ways to find scientists volunteers.

Finally, we heard from Milinda Martin of Time Warner Cable. Milinda is the Vice President, Communications for the Southern California/Mountain West region. Milinda talked about Time Warner Cable's philanthropic initiative Connect a Million Minds, including the Connectory. We also watched a great video of Time Warner Cable employees talking about their volunteer experiences working with kids to promote STEM education. 

Milinda talked about some of the challenges for their volunteers, which could help afterschool programs identify ways to better incorporate and connect with corporate volunteers. First, many employees may not identify as STEM workers--for example, they work in marketing or administration--and might not feel prepared to do science with kids. Second, most employees work during the time that afterschool programs typically operate. Third, afterschool programs may struggle to find the right person at the corporation to contact--look for a volunteer or outreach coordinator. She also emphasized that many employees like to hear feedback from the organizations and programs for which they volunteer.

After the panelists wrapped up their presentations, they participated in a moderated discussion with the audience. Questions ranged from sources of funding to evaluation--some highlights from the conversation included:
  • Building a relationship with volunteers and their home organizations is a key to success on both ends; this requires a good deal of dedication, investment, and time
  • Nonprofit organizations should collect data on their impact with students--for example, giving students pre- and post-participation surveys to identify changing attitudes
  • Students need and want a wide variety of exposures to STEM, and volunteering can help
Thank you again to our speakers, and we hope that this was useful for conference attendees. We'll post Part II of the session--on community resources for STEM--later this week!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Take Advantage of a Great Pre-Conference Opportunity this Monday in Sunny San Diego, CA!

We are traveling to sunny San Diego, CA this October 31st for the Step Up Your Game conference focusing on engaging older youth in afterschool. We will be hosting a pre-conference panel from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on building successful partnerships for science afterschool. We are happy to be able to offer FREE attendance to the pre-conference session for members of the Coalition for Science After School. Seating is limited!

This panel will be co-sponsored with Time Warner Cable. Our panel participants will include:

Linda Kekelis, Executive Director, Techbridge
Cassondra Williams, UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Gabrielle Lyon, Founder and Senior Explorer, Project Exploration
Liz Ferguson, Director of Education, Bio-Waves
Milinda Martin, Vice President in Communications, West Region, Time Warner Cable
Leslie Lowes, Informal Education Specialist, NASA
Katie Levedahl, Assistant Director of Out-of-School Time Programs, California Academy of Sciences
Kalie Sacco, Manager, Coalition for Science After School

Again, space is limited. If you are a member of the Coalition who will be able to attend the pre-conference, email Kalie Sacco at kaliesacco {@} berkeley {dot} edu with your name, title, and organization affiliation.

For those who will be unable to attend, check back on this blog next week for a summary of the panels. 

We hope to see you in San Diego!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What I Learned at the Association of Science-Technology Centers Conference

This is Kalie, Manager at the Coalition for Science After School, just back from four great days in Baltimore at the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) conference. I spent the first two days of the conference in the exhibit hall, where I was seated next to representatives from the Afterschool Alliance. The exhibit hall gave me a chance to meet representatives from many of our science center members, as well as introduce new people to the Coalition and the National After School Science Directory.

There is no doubt that science center leaders are interested in connecting with afterschool programs, or looking to include afterschool content in their educational programming. If you’re from a science center looking to partner with or include more afterschool programming, join the Coalition to receive our newsletter and engage with this dynamic community of out-of-school time STEM stakeholders.

Outside of the exhibit hall’s open hours, I was able to attend some interesting sessions focusing on education in science centers. I took some notes to share with our members. Descriptions of each session are below; some of them run a bit long, so skip ahead to the session titles that interest you the most:

1)   Integrating Scientists Into Educational Programming
2)   How to Demonstrate the Value of Science Centers
3)   The Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE): Year 4 Initiatives and the Future
4)   Innovative and Collaborative Sharing of Educational Resources Online
5)   Activating Young Science Learners

Thank you to the team at ASTC for putting on a great conference! I learned a lot and plan on attending again next year when the conference moves to Ohio. See you in Columbus!

Integrating Scientists Into Educational Programming
This session focused on showcasing the ways in which museums work with scientists to enhance their education programs and events. We heard from two representatives from the American Museum of Natural History, who offers a Science Café night for adults and a two-year mentoring program for high-school youth that matches them with a scientists mentor. We also heard from Elizabeth Babcock of the California Academy of Sciences, who talked about the museum’s Careers in Science program and efforts to make their scientist researchers accessible to museum visitors by opening up their glass-fronted research lab. Monique Scott of the Anchorage Museum talked about an exhibit on mammoths and mastodons and their programming that brought research scientists and community members together on the museum floor. Steve Tritz of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) told us about a great summer camp program that takes place all across the Pacific Northwest, in which students travel with scientists researchers and help them with their fieldwork.

Student connection to professional scientists is an important motivator for showing students that they can become scientists too. For example, Mr. Tritz of OMSI talked about how his program works with tribal scientists to connect American Indian students to the research that they do. Challenges in integrating scientists into education programs include finding scientists who are natural communicators to the public, as well as reaching out to scientists outside of personal networks. Several presenters mentioned that working with post-docs or graduate students has been a good strategy, as those students and recent PhDs often have an interest in outreach and a natural connection with students. For afterschool programs looking to partner with scientists, reaching out to a local college’s STEM departments could be a great way to find scientists interested in outreach.

For more information about this topic, stay tuned on our blog for a summary of the workshop we’ll be facilitating at the Up Your Game conference on October 31st in San Diego, where we will be focusing on connecting scientist volunteers and afterschool programs.

How to Demonstrate the Value of Science Centers
In this session, we heard from representatives from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) on their research and evaluation efforts to demonstrate how valuable museums and libraries—including those that focus on science content—are to their communities. IMLS recently put out a study on 21st century skills, which is available for download at their website and may be a useful tool for afterschool groups seeking to integrate skill-building STEM activities into their programs.

We also saw a video produced by the California Science Center highlighting some of their great exhibits, programs, and community recognition over the years. William Harris, Senior Vice President of Development and Marketing at the California Science Center Foundation, said that they have saved everything positive said about them over the years—ranging from local news coverage to a donation letter sent by a six-year-old visitor. These testaments to their educational impact, combined with videos of some of their most exciting exhibits and programs, was informative while also creating a deep emotional impact. He also said that they made their first video of this nature using a flip-phone camera—something relatively cheap that many people already have. Producing a video of this nature would be a great asset for an afterschool program to show potential funders and policymakers.

The Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE): Year 4 Initiatives and the Future
The Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) is a partnership between several projects, initiatives, and institutions that seeks to bring together and advance the field of informal science educators. Funded by the National Science Foundation, CAISE is continuously growing and expanding to bring together more partners and stakeholders across multiple STEM fields. Check out their website for more information about their projects, partnerships, and constituents.

Innovative Collaborative Development and Sharing of Educational Resources Online

This session introduced participants to a variety of educational resources and tools—all collaborative in nature and available online. Many of the resources found on these sites may be useful for afterschool programs looking to increase their STEM content—or for STEM providers seeking new venues for distributing their work.

  •     NSDL SMILE pathway: This great collection of informal math and science activities from science centers all across the country can be found at www.howtosmile.org. Users can search for activities by content, age, cost, and many other parameters. They can also submit reviews, ratings, and suggestions for modifications for each activity. We often recommend the SMILE pathway to afterschool programs looking for short science activities that use inexpensive materials and explain their science content in an easy-to-understand way.
  • NISE Network: The NISE Network is a collaborative partnership of science institutions offering resources for understanding and explaining nanotechnology in informal education environments. The presenter, Catherine McCarthy of the Science Museum of St. Paul, also gave an enlightening talk about copyright and the potential issues of sharing digital resources. The NISE Network uses a Creative Commons license, and encourages sharing with attribution. 
  • Open Exhibits: This community-based initiative provides free software that uses multi-touch and other human-computer interaction (HCI) technology to museums and other educational organizations. They also use a Creative Commons license. This new project capitalizes on the collaborative nature of science centers and the ease of open-source software development and sharing. Many of the exhibits that have been developed through Open Exhibits use cheap technology that visitors may be familiar with, like Microsoft Kinect and Google Maps. Check out their community site to see some of the projects that have been developed.

Activating Young Science Learners
The Science Learning Activation Lab research project based in the San Francisco Bay Area seeks to identify and explain the factors that “activate” science learning in children before they reach middle school. Their working definition of activation is a dynamic state composed of dispositions, skills, and knowledge that enable success in proximal learning experiences. It is definable, malleable, and predictive of future learning choice. Identifying factors of activation has the potential to present tangible evidence to policymakers and funding organizations that learning outcomes other than test scores can effectively measure science learning and increasing the number of students who go through the STEM pipeline (that is, students who go on to choose STEM majors and careers).

The research team, which includes the Lawrence Hall of Science and the University of Pittsburgh, is funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which has long supported Bay Area science research. The researchers are still formulating their tools for identifying and measuring activation. They hope to answer the question of how we, as informal science educators, can activate children’s interest and curious minds in ways that ignite persistent engagement in science learning and inquiry. Although this work is focused in the Bay Area, the research findings and any resulting models or tools for measurement can certainly be used by organizations in other areas.

At the session, we heard from leaders at major Bay Area informal science learning institutions (the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Children’s Discovery Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Exploratorium) about what they hope the research can accomplish as it moves forward. The hope is that by working together, the institutions can dramatically increase the amount of science being offered to Bay Area children.

The research being pursued in this project is highly relevant for afterschool providers who are seeking to offer science content in their programs. The researchers agree that any kind of learning experience has potential for activation, and afterschool learning is certainly a part of children’s learning experiences. Keep an eye on their website for preliminary results, and we certainly hope that they will present the next stage of their findings at next year’s ASTC conference in Columbus, Ohio.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Join Us at These Upcoming Conferences & Events This Fall

One of our top priorities in the coming year is to attend conferences and events around the country to meet afterschool leaders and learn more about the latest developments in the field. Here is where we’ll be in the next month—let us know if you will be at any of these meetings and events, or suggest somewhere for us to go next!
  • Association of Science & Technology Centers (ASTC) Annual Conference: We are kicking off our conference season this weekend at the ASTC conference in Baltimore, MD. Kalie will be there with the Afterschool Alliance to talk to science centers about how out-of-school time programs are an important part about science center offerings. 
  • Up Your Game Pre-Conference Workshop: Later this month, we’ll be travelling to sunny San Diego, CA to host a pre-conference workshop at the Up Your Game conference. This conference focuses on older youth in afterschool, with sessions oriented towards middle school earlier in the week and high school later in the week. Our pre-conference workshop on the 31st will focus on building partnerships for afterschool STEM, with two panels on engaging volunteers and finding community resources. We will have speakers representing high-quality afterschool programs and resources, and the workshop will be a great way to share practices and learn how to integrate community partnerships to promote STEM in your afterschool program. There is still time to register for this conference, so we hope to see you there!
  • National Summer Learning Conference: It may be fall, but it's still a great time to talk about summer learning! We'll be exhibiting at the National Summer Learning conference in San Francisco, CA from November 15th-16th. Summer learning is an important part of providing out-of-school time education opportunities for youth, and we look forward to connecting with many great summer programs at this event.

Keep an eye out for our Steering Committee members at other conferences and events around the country. You can also find out more about where we will be in our monthly newsletter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

STEM in Afterschool Impacts & Outcomes

The Afterschool Alliance recently released an analysis of the impacts and outcomes of STEM learning in afterschool. The report identifies evaluation studies that have been done in a wide range of afterschool programs across the country and highlights common themes, laying the foundation for future evaluation studies of STEM in afterschool.

 To find the 19 studies highlighted in the report, the Alliance cast a wide net among out-of-school time intermediaries (including the Coalition for Science After School) and program providers themselves. The report includes large national programs, (such as FIRST Robotics and the 4-H Science Initiative), statewide projects and initiatives (like After-School Math PLUS in New York and Missouri, and the Student Science Enrichment Program in North Carolina), as well as local groups (such as Project Exploration in Chicago and Techbridge in Alameda County, California).

The Alliance was able to identify three overarching themes that were examined and/or defined in the evaluation studies:

·      Improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers
·      Increased STEM knowledge and skills
·      Higher likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career

Further details of how each of the evaluation studies addresses each theme—and what the actual outcomes of each theme look like—are available in the full report.

Individual organizations can take action by conducting evaluation studies of their own programs. Evaluation studies are an excellent way for afterschool organizations and programs to identify what is and isn’t working in their program, as well as provide tangible evidence of success to funding organizations and community advocates. Afterschool programs can look for success indicators in two ways:

  • Youth development outcomes:
    • Increased graduate rates
    • Likelihood of attending college
    • Better attendance in school
    • Increased community service or involvemnet
  • Science and Math education outcomes:
    • Higher test scores
    • Demonstrated understanding of math and/or science concepts through high-quality projects and schoolwork
    • Likelihood of pursuing a STEM college degree and/or career

If you’re looking for more resources on doing an evaluation study within your program, see our Assessment & Evaluation Resources page.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

President Obama’s LinkedIn Town Hall: How Does STEM Education Fit with the American Jobs Act?

On September 26th, President Obama and LinkedIn presented a Town Hall discussion at the Computer History Museum in Palo Alto, CA. The theme of the Town Hall, “Putting America Back to Work,” was aimed at addressing questions about the proposed American Jobs Act. Participants at the Town Hall included LinkedIn members and employees and was moderated by the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner. I was lucky to be one of the approximately 20 members chosen to attend the event and have the chance to ask the President a question about how he plans to get America back to work.

LinkedIn set up a discussion group (which is still active) asking its members to submit questions. The company also reached out to active members through a survey and direct contacts. The team coordinating the event selected questions and attendees that represented a variety of interests and groups from all across the country—our questions topics ranged from unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security, tax reform, encouragement and tips for job seekers, and of course, education.

I’ve expressed in previous blog posts the idea that investing in STEM afterschool education is important for educating America’s future workforce. The President has expressed interest and support for STEM education in the past—as in his 2009 launch of the Educate to Innovate initiative—so I was curious to find out if and how support for STEM education was specifically included in the American Jobs Act.

While I wasn’t able to ask my question due to time constraints, the President did include science and math education in some of his answers to other questions asked by audience members, including the need to recruit and train qualified teachers and provide incentives for students to study science and math. He described a partnership between New York Public Schools and IBM to get kids excited about learning STEM skills:

IBM is engaged in a really interesting experience in New York… and this is not for the kids who are in the top 1 percent, this is for ordinary public school kids…. You follow this program, you work hard, IBM will hire you at the end of this process. And it suddenly gives kids an incentive. They say, oh, the reason I'm studying math and science is there's a practical outcome here. I will have a job. And there are practical applications to what I'm doing in the classroom.

The ideas that the President expressed in his support for STEM education are an integral part of many afterschool programs, and out-of-school time represents an important opportunity for getting students excited about STEM. Students already have little time for science learning—a 2007 study done in the San Francisco Bay Area showed that 80% of K-5 teachers spent 60 minutes or less per week on science, with 16% spending no time at all. While clearly reforms need to be made for school-day learning, afterschool learning time can help to fill the gap as well as promote experiences that may never be a part of the school day. Out-of-school learning can range from internships and research apprenticeships with scientists to robotics teams to science center exhibits—all of which have the power to activate and inspire learning and future STEM workers.

Thank you to LinkedIn and the White House for this incredible opportunity. I encourage all of our readers to watch the rest of the event (or read a transcript) and to continue to promote out-of-school time STEM learning opportunities in their communities.

--Kalie Sacco, Manager, Coalition for Science After School

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Badges for Lifelong Learning: What Could They Mean for Afterschool?

One of the challenges of providing high-quality STEM experiences outside of the classroom is ensuring that students' learning experiences are recognized by college admission offices and employers. Skills learned and projects completed in out-of-school time may not be documented on a traditional resume, and there are few spaces on social networking sites or other forms of self-representation for highlighting non-academic or non-professional learning experiences. The result of this lack of space is that students who excel in non-traditional learning environments--or students who complete significant accomplishments outside of the classroom or professional arena--may not be recognized for their learning achievements.

The new Open Badges project launched by Mozilla and the Humanities, Arts, Science, & Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC), with support from the MacArthur Foundation, aims to recognize the non-traditional learning paths that are characteristic of 21st-century learning. Students--and adults--will be able to collect badges to share on their social networking sites, personal websites, and digital resumes that demonstrate accomplishments or skill-building experiences. The open-platform nature of the project means that everyone will be able to create badges for causes or experiences that they find important. You can see an announcement of the project and learn more about it here.

There is a lot of potential for badges to tie into afterschool programs. Large organizations--like 4H, the Boys & Girls Clubs, and Girl Scouts--could use badges to show tangible results of experiences from their youth participants. Smaller programs could use badges to showcase unique and individual projects, and help their students create portfolios of their afterschool work. Afterschool professionals could use badges to show completion of professional development workshops, mentorship, or curriculum development or activity enhancement ideas.

Badges have a way to go before they become recognized as parallel to academic and professional credentials--the process for creating and earning digital badges may be ever-evolving. How could you see badges integrated into your afterschool program? What challenges would you anticipate?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Afterschool, STEM, & Jobs For the Future

Afterschool learning certainly benefits youth through rich learning opportunities--but few people outside of the afterschool field may realize that afterschool programs can be a boon for local economies and communities in several ways. Earlier this week, President Barack Obama recognized the importance of afterschool education by including support for afterschool in his American Jobs Act. Jodi Grant, Coalition Steering Committee Member and Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance, wrote on the Afterschool Snack blog about why afterschool is deserving of this attention, and made a case for increasing support for afterschool.

Science, technology, engineering, and math represent an important component of afterschool learning. Investing in afterschool STEM means supporting economic growth in the United States both now and in the future. Here are some reasons why afterschool STEM is essential in supporting the current and future workforce:
  • Afterschool provides a safe and enriching childcare environment for families who work outside of the home. Afterschool programs provide childcare for parents, enabling them to work full-time jobs and support their families. According to a fact sheet from the Afterschool Alliance, "decreased worker productivity related to parental concerns about after school care costs businesses up to $300 billion per year." With a record number of American families living under the poverty rate, investing in childcare opportunities is more important than ever in getting Americans back to work. 
  • Afterschool and other out-of-school time programs provide jobs. Out-of-school time jobs are often seasonal and part-time, and represent rich on-the-job learning experiences for youth and students. Youth unemployment depends heavily on seasonal and part-time employment typical of afterschool direct provider positions, and unemployment during youth correlates to fewer opportunities as an adult. Investing in afterschool programs enables more students to participate in the program, necessitating hiring more afterschool providers and administrative staff.
  • Early STEM learning opportunities influence choosing STEM as a college major and career. A recent survey by Microsoft yielded quite a bit of interesting information about parent and student attitudes toward STEM. About 78% of college STEM majors said they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier; about 21% said they decided in middle school. Investment in quality STEM experiences at early ages could increase the numbers of students who ultimately choose to pursue STEM careers.
  • There is a pressing need for investment in the future STEM workforce. In a time when unemployment and poverty rates are increasing the US, STEM fields provide a light at the end of the tunnel. STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018, in contrast with non-STEM jobs, which are only expected to grow 9.8%. This view is reflected in the Microsoft survey on parent and student attitudes toward STEM, where 66% of college STEM majors reported choosing STEM for the job potential, and slightly over half of parents said STEM should be a priority "to produce next-generation innovators."
It's clear that different groups recognize the importance of both STEM and afterschool. However, in the Microsoft survey, only 24% of parents said they would be willing to spend extra money to help their children be successful in their math and science classes. Decreased funds from government and private sources have devastated afterschool programs, although the need for their presence within communities continues to rise. It's clear that support for afterschool will have to come from multiple sources--including President Obama's jobs plan, as well as from successful private-public STEM education partnerships highlighted in a recent Congressional hearing.

Are you looking for more ways to include STEM in your afterschool program? Find curricula, professional development opportunities, and more on our Resources page. If you're interested in helping to advocate for afterschool in your community--and across the country--check out the Afterschool Alliance's Policy and Action Center.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Connecting Young Minds to STEM

Time Warner Cable's five-year Connect a Million Minds (CAMM) initiative has reached a major milestone just two years into its existence. The $100 million philanthropic initiative aims to introduce one million children in the U.S. the exciting world of science, technology, engineering, and math. Already, CAMM has connected 400,000 young minds to STEM

How has CAMM managed to reach out to so many kids and their families--and how can you support their effort?
  • Educators, parents and other individuals can join the campaign and pledge to bring STEM learning opportunities to their communities.   
  • Check out the CAMM-produced videos featuring kids from all over the world talking about why STEM is important to them.
  • If you're in a Time Warner Cable market, you can request support from CAMM. In just the last few weeks, CAMM has supported groups in South Carolina and California, and Time Warner Cable corporate volunteers have volunteered as coaches for robotics teams.
We're proud to say that we have worked with CAMM by operating the National After School Science Directory. The STEM programs and events in the Directory populate the Connectory, where kids and families from across the country can find STEM learning opportunities in their hometowns. 

Thanks to Connect a Million Minds and Time Warner Cable for their great work!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Change the Equation: A Rubric for Corporate Philanthropy in STEM Learning

There’s no doubt that STEM education is getting more attention these days. Education advocates, professional scientific organizations, and governments at the local, state, and federal levels have stepped up their commitments to promoting STEM. Increasingly, corporations are coming to understand that supporting STEM education is essential for ensuring that there is a STEM workforce in the future.

Change the Equation (CTEq), a group of more than 110 corporate leaders devoted to supporting STEM education programs, has released two guiding documents for their members and other corporate philanthropists interested in STEM learning. The Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy and the accompanying Rubric are designed to help corporate leaders support STEM learning in a way that will have a meaningful impact and align their philanthropic goals around common interests. The Design Principles draw on research and the real-world experiences of corporate philanthropic leaders.

The Design Principles outlines eight overarching principles to use as a framework when partnering with a STEM education partner:

·      Address a compelling and well-defined need
·      Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress toward ambitious but manageable goals
·      Ensure work is sustainable
·      Promote replicability and scalability
·      Identify outside conditions that can hinder or thwart progress
·      Create high-impact partnerships
·      Ensure individual attention to diverse learners’ needs
·      Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals

In addition, there are six STEM-specific principles:

·      Offer challenging and relevant STEM content
·      Include a focus on “21st century skills”
·      Inspire interest and engagement in STEM
·      Encourage hands-on, inquiry-based learning
·      Address the needs of underrepresented groups
·      Ensure the capacity of program staff or volunteers to promote student learning in STEM

Notably, the Design Principles and Rubrics are not designed to be a checklist for corporate partners to evaluate STEM education programs. Rather, they serve as a guideline for corporate leaders who want to make the greatest impact in their philanthropy. Furthermore, the Design Principles are a work in progress, and Change the Equation’s website says that the organization will “refine and improve them as [they] learn more from our member companies and other leaders in STEM learning.”

What does this mean for afterschool programs? Afterschool practitioners and intermediaries may find that they are already doing many of the things outlined by the Principles—especially if their program is concerned with youth development. Since the Principles are not a checklist for evaluation, programs should not feel that they have to meet all of the criteria outlined in the Rubric. Rather than be a hard and fast rule for determining quality, the Design Principles could provide a common ground for corporate philanthropists and STEM educators to have a conversation about STEM learning.