Afterschool Science Engagement

In this month’s Reaching the Stakeholders section of the Leaders Letter, there is mention of a feature on NPR which raised the point about engagement of students in science in the classroom.  A follow up point about engaging students in science opportunities afterschool and at home was also posited – after all science does not only happen in school.  Science is all around us and part of our everyday life.  One of the featured resources mentioned was the training kit for families and community participants that was developed by the National Center for Quality Afterschool.

Their home page states “[t]he key goal of Engaging Families and Communities is to increase student achievement, aptitude, and interest in science by involving families in the learning process and making the most of community resources.”  Opportunities for students to engage in science through afterschool programs and community opportunities hopefully contribute to developing the love of science as well as the understanding of science in students. Local astronomy clubs, 4H programs, robotics clubs, and others provide these outreach opportunities for students to pursue an interest in a science topic.  There is even a Coalition for Science Afterschool that provides a searchable database which is designed to increase access to high-quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education beyond the classroom for youth and families across the nation.

While not every student will be able to participate in or attend the White House Science Fair, they can participate in local science fairs or junior academy of science presentations.  Organized as part of the American Junior Academy of Sciences, states offer opportunities for students to engage in science research.  Many local county or regional groups also have science fairs that go beyond the school day and walls.  As a Pennsylvanian, there are many different science fairs that are held throughout our state, one such being the Delaware Valley Science Fair which is also associated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

As a former middle school teacher, I remember spending many many (did I say many) hours afterschool working with our Science Olympiad Team preparing for events such as Road Rally, Get Your Bearing, Bridge Building, and other content focused and design focused events.  In full disclosure the names mentioned above may give away the years of participation as some of the names of these events have changed overtime. Science Olympiad is still going strong, celebrates its thirtieth year this year and offers opportunities for middle and high school competitions. States often have regional competitions and/or a statewide competition that leads to the nationals in the spring of each academic year.

While these are just two organized events that are offered for students to participate in science experiences, there are many other programs, events, and groups throughout the country that offer competitive opportunities or simply exploratory opportunities.  Teachers are often one of the best resources for potential suggestions to parents, community groups, and even individual students about where and how they can become engaged in science opportunities.  So, what recommendation would you add to the list for afterschool engagement opportunities?

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2 Comments

  1. MITCH BATOFF
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Chris covered the territory pretty well. Here is another type of activity that could ignite a life-long interest in science, engineering, the technology resulting from engineering, and mathematics which is central to everything: regular visitation to a local science museum or science center. As a child growing up in Philadelphia, I have vivid memories of many Saturdays spent at the renowned Franklin Institute and Fells Planetarium. My parents gave me a membership in the Institute and I would spend the whole day there (by myself.) Loved it! There are similar museums and science centers all across the United States and around the world. Some that come to mind are the iconic Exploratorium in San Francisco, Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, The Museum of Natural History and Hayden Planerarium in New York City, The Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Ontario,
    the Science Center in Rochester, New York and one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
    The Museum of Science in Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Pacific Science Center,
    the renowned Deutsches Museum of Science and Technology in Munich, SE Germany…This is a start. There are more than 200 worldwide. Perhaps I will revisit this topic in the future. Museum education is a field of considerable interest and study.

  2. Kimberley
    Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    As a previous middle school participant of the Science Olympiad with Chris, I am a strong supporter of afterschool science engagement programs and wish my sons middle school had such programs for the students. Not only did my participation increase my interest in science but it gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment when I would share what we learned with my dad. While I do not remember all the details of the events, I do remember compettitions at the local college campus, learning all the bones of the body and learning land navigation by use of maps and compasses. Having this program available in middle school was a positive experience for me both educationally and personally.

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