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!