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.

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