Monday, July 25, 2011

Making and STEM

The act of making things--whether its gluing toothpicks into simple or complex structures, or welding scrap metal to make art--is a natural vehicle for exploring concepts and applications of science, technology, engineering, and math. In addition to taking into account the aesthetics of design, makers are in essence performing constant experiments: what do I think will happen if this is attached to that? What can I do to make that happen? Making equals exploration, which leads to innovation.

Making encourages creativity--an important ingredient in answering scientific questions. But many scientists and non-scientists alike may not consider themselves to be "creative" as the word is typically applied to the arts. Fortunately, there is a movement to make "making" accessible and show how creativity can be found in unexpected places.

The Maker Faire, a.k.a. the world's "largest DIY Festival," hosts showcases of innovation across the country. This year, the World Maker Faire will be held on September 17th and 18th in New York City in partnership with the New York Hall of Science. Smaller faires inspired by the larger event frequently take place in smaller communities, highlighting regional activities. 

Individual institutions can support the science of making. At the Exploratorium, daily activities at The Tinkering Studio support exploration of many kinds of materials and science concepts. Check out their blog for highlights of recent activities. And in case you're starting to feel inspired, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) has a blog up post about integrating the Maker community with K-12 education (specifically in-school, but the idea of linking making to the out-of-school time education field is worth considering as well). 

Making represents great opportunities for doing science, engineering, technology, and math outside of typical school hours. Have you seen making in action?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Afterschool In New York Could Mean for Afterschool Nationwide

In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg launched the citywide Out-of-School Time Initiative in New York City, which grew to serve up to 85,000 students per year. Now, New York City is rolling out new standards for how afterschool student support should be included in school-community partnerships. Lucy Friedman, Founding President of The After-School Corporation (TASC) and member of the Coalition for Science After School Steering Committee, summarizes the findings and explores the implications in today's Huffington Post in an article called "Raising Standards After 3 PM."

What could this mean for the rest of the nation? As Lucy puts it: 

"...the proposed new standards neatly encapsulate what a decade of independent research has told us: that in order to truly benefit kids, after-school program activities should be based on planned and sequenced curricula that support specific learning and developmental goals. Kids should be involved in active, project-based learning, especially middle school students who desperately need to feel like they own their own learning and that learning is relevant to their lives -- otherwise they'll stop attending. Program staff members need to intentionally support the development of kids' social and emotional skills." 

 The new standards create a framework for schools and afterschool programs to work together to reach common goals surrounding student achievement. If successful, this could create a model for other large cities across the country where schools and afterschool programs serve diverse and varied communities. It could also scaled down to support smaller communities, which can also have a great deal of invested partners. Especially in a time of scarce resources, it will be interesting to see if the proposed program--which is designed to lower bureaucratic barriers--increases efficiency without sacrificing high-quality experiences and content in a time of scarce resources.

The proposal is still in its beginning stages--a concept paper has just been released by the New York Department of Youth and Community Development--and it will be interesting to see how it is implemented and developed over the coming school year.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Bringing STEM Professionals to Your Program

Students and STEM professionals alike benefit when they're brought together in an afterschool environment. Connecting youth to scientists breaks the stereotype of scientists and their work as being elite, inaccessible, too hard, or boring. By working directly with students, scientists have the benefit of knowing that they're having an impact on the future scientific workforce. Educators, parents, and community volunteers can all play a part in connecting students to scientists.

But finding a scientist willing to take time to talk to afterschool students may present a challenge. Fortunately, there is an able and enthusiastic effort to bring the two communities together. If you're a parent or educator who wants to bring scientists into your child's afterschool program--or a STEM student looking for a science mentor--where should you start looking?
  • Scientist outreach online communities. There are several great sources for finding scientists in your area, and more initiatives are underway. The National Lab Network is an online source for scientist volunteers and classrooms in need can connect with one another. Scientific American is leading another outreach initiative, 1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days, to recruit more scientists who may be interested in educational outreach.
  • Science departments at colleges and universities. Many departments offer some kind of educational outreach--such as public lectures, summer camps, mentoring, or on-site science fairs. Some departments may require graduate students to participate in outreach activities as part of their course of study. Contact your local institution--the undergraduate or graduate student advisor might be a good place to see if there is an outreach program already in place.
  • Corporate volunteering. Large companies that do scientific, engineering, or technological research and development are a great resource for contacting professional scientists. Some corporations may have annual corporate volunteer days or offer tours of their facilities to student groups. See if your local company has a corporate responsibility or outreach department, or contact your local volunteering center to find a corporate volunteering partner. 
If you're a scientist looking for an afterschool program in your area to work with, try searching in the National After School Science Directory or viewing the Coalition for Science After School members in your area.

For more insight on this topic, check out the discussion on our LinkedIn page.