Saturday, February 25, 2012

Starting STEM: Picking low hanging fruit from science centers

Last week the Coalition for After School joined school districts, community based organizations, service providers and policy makers who care about quality after school programming at Beyond School Hours in Burlingame, CA.  We were excited to be in the great company of educators and administrators from around the country to share ideas, best practices and strategies for improving outcomes for youth outside of school time, throughout the year.

Many of the educators we spoke to at our booth expressed their desire to do more science with the youth in their programs, but were somewhat unsure about where to begin.  Luckily our presentation at BSH was crafted with providers like these in mind.  For organizations just starting to think about offering STEM after school we presented a panel entitled STEM After School: Getting the Most from Science Museums, Aquariums and Zoos.

The central idea that Coalition Director Carol Tang presented is that after school providers don't need to dedicate an exorbitant amount of time or money becoming experts in science before offering rich learning experiences in STEM.  Science centers including museums, aquariums, zoos and national parks draw upon deep knowledge from the STEM fields and offer a wealth of workshops and classes that are a perfect match for out of school time programs.  These organizations are looking for ways to reach large audiences, and that is exactly what after school programs have to offer, so partnerships between the two can really be a perfect fit!

There is a spectrum of depth in partnerships between after school organizations and science centers.  On one end is something like a one-time visit, where your program takes a field trip or pays for an outreach group to visit your site.  On the other end is a long term investment over the course of months or years.  This can be inquiry into an issue of interest to the kids and the science center staff.

Check out these forms of partnerships after school organizations can have with science centers.  Which would work best for your organization?

A) External STEM program provider
Partner provides STEM activities directly to students at their institution, at after school site or outdoors. 

B) STEM partner provides staff development 
Partner may train staff or train program leaders who then lead and support their after school staff (train-the-trainer model). 

C) Materials-based partnership 
Partner provides equipment, curriculum and hands-on activities and could provide  training to support these. 

D) Partnerships with STEM providers
(1) Customizing the partner’s standard curriculum or
(2) establishing new partnerships to serve youth audiences. 

E) STEM educators as coaches 
Partner provides content and pedagogical expertise to support afterschool staff and programming. 

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