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Snacks by Melissa Ballard
DEC
7
2016

STEM
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New report: Opportunities and challenges in afterschool computer science

By Melissa Ballard

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, we’re proud to release our new report, “Growing computer science education in afterschool: Opportunities and challenges.” A diverse group of stakeholders—including educators, business and industry, policy makers, and parents—agree that computer science education is vital for kids to become the creators and innovators for the next generation, making technology work for them and designing solutions for their communities.

In the report, we asked the afterschool field what they thought about computer science education. They responded with overwhelming interest: 59 percent of our survey respondents were either offering computing to their students at the time of the survey or had offered it in the past, with the majority saying they were highly likely to offer it again. Among the programs that had never offered computing education before (40 percent of respondents), 89 percent indicated a high or medium level of interest in trying it out.

Despite this strong interest, afterschool providers indicated some big challenges to offering computer science to their students, especially finding qualified educators to teach it, securing funding, and accessing necessary technology. To address these common challenges, as well as other issues mentioned in our focus groups, our report offers nine recommendations for K-12 computer science education stakeholders:

For afterschool leaders and practitioners:

  1. Document promising practices.
  2. Share existing resources more broadly.
  3. Support individual afterschool programs’ capacity for partnerships. 

For computer science education experts:

  1. Conduct targeted outreach to the afterschool field to educate them on computing.
  2. Increase professional development opportunities for out-of-school time educators.
  3. Develop engaging curricula designed for the afterschool environment. 

For industry partners and grantmakers:

  1. Engage and invest in meaningful partnerships with afterschool providers.
  2. Support training for employee volunteers.
  3. Provide and promote a diverse array of funding opportunities.

For more details on our recommendations, and how you can implement them, download the full report!

We hope that our findings will help K-12 computer science education stakeholders support the growth of quality, sustainable computing education within the afterschool field. Read the full report today, and be sure to forward it to your friends and colleagues.

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learn more about: Digital Learning Science
NOV
30
2016

STEM
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New report: Documenting the impact of afterschool STEM

By Melissa Ballard

Afterschool programs support students’ success in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in a multitude of ways—by helping them become interested and engaged, develop tangible STEM skills, and begin to see themselves as potential contributors to the STEM enterprise. While afterschool programs across the country are working hard to measure the impact they’re having on youth, we know that program evaluation is no small task—requiring a professional evaluator, getting staff on board, and ensuring student and parent participation.

Our new report “The impact of afterschool STEM: Examples from the field” compiles some of the most telling studies on how afterschool STEM programs are engaging students. Fifteen afterschool programs—diverse in size, structure, and approach—shared their evaluation data with us, thereby adding to the growing evidence that afterschool programs are crucial partners in bolstering student success in STEM education.

Here's a sample of the impacts you can read about in the report:

  • After participation in Girlstart, a Texas afterschool program, girls perform better on the state science and math tests compared to non-participants. Further, participants demonstrate a continued interest in STEM—Girlstart girls enroll in advanced 6th and 7th grade science and math courses at significantly higher rates than non-participants and 89 percent want to return to Girlstart After School in the next school year.
  • Youth members of The Clubhouse Network (pictured) report that they have learned how to use more technology (91 percent), are more confident using technology (88 percent), and use technology more often (84 percent) as a result of their Clubhouse experience. Almost 90 percent of youth in the Clubhouse’s Start Making! initiative felt they were better at solving hard problems, and had more skills to design, make or create projects.
  • After participating in Explore the Bay, an environmental and marine science afterschool program, 81 percent of students said that they were really interested in learning about plants and animals and 89 percent of students surveyed reported that they wanted to take better care of their environment.

To read more impacts of afterschool STEM, read the full report.

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learn more about: Evaluations Science
NOV
21
2016

STEM
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What are you doing for Computer Science Education Week?

By Melissa Ballard

This December 5-11, join the Afterschool Alliance in celebrating the importance of computer science education for all kids for the 2016 Computer Science Education Week. Planning an Hour of Code with your students and participating in our tweet chat is a great way to start!

Plan an Hour of Code

Interested in getting your students started with computer science and coding? The Hour of Code is designed as an easy introduction to the topic for students and staff, as well as an opportunity to drum up support for computer science initiatives among community partners and stakeholders. Last year, almost 4,000 afterschool programs across the country hosted Hour of Code events—let’s keep growing our numbers!

Get involved in two simple steps:

  1. Get registered.
  2. Start planning with step-by-step instructions.

Just announced for 2016 Hour of Code is the addition of an all-new Minecraft Hour of Code Designer, a tutorial which lets students code their own Minecraft rules to create a totally unique Minecraft experience, and then share it with friends or play it on their phones!

Mark your calendar for our tweet chat

On Wednesday, December 7, at 2pm EDT, we’re teaming up with the National AfterSchool Association to dig into the challenges and opportunities around computer science for afterschool programs. We’ll have a focus on professional development needs for staff to successfully facilitate computer science and coding. Stay tuned for more info! In the meantime, follow @afterschool4all on Twitter and subscribe to our blog, the Afterschool Snack.

APR
7
2016

FUNDING
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Help your students join science competitions through a new grant opportunity!

By Melissa Ballard

Conducting authentic science research is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn the true nature of science and experience the thrill of discovery. By entering science research competitions, students gain additional skills such as learning how to present their work to peers, scientists, and the public. Unfortunately, applying to and participating in science competitions can be intimidating and challenging for many students, especially for those underrepresented in STEM fields.

To address this challenge, the Society for Science & the Public (SSP) developed the Society Advocates Grant, which provides a $3,000 stipend to an individual, such as an afterschool educator or community mentor, who will serve as an advocate for 3-5 underrepresented students, helping them transition from conducting a scientific research project to completing applications for scientific competitions. No prior experience is required for students—it can be their very first time completing a science experiment for competition!

Advocates support their students by informing them about potential competitions, prompting them on deadlines, and supporting them through the process of gathering and producing the required elements of an application. SSP will provide advocates with information on major science competitions, as well as regional and local fairs. SSP will also host a convening event to help grantees become more comfortable with the process (all expenses paid).

The grant is open to anyone who is interested in applying. Applications are due April 13th, 6 p.m. EST.

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learn more about: Funding Opportunity Science
DEC
18
2015

STEM
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The latest in STEM learning research: December 2015

By Melissa Ballard

In our final round-up of research briefs for 2015 from the Relating Research to Practice (RR2P) project, we’ve got new research on developing students’ critical eye toward media, helping students address their fears about science, and using science infographics in the classroom. There are also two policy-related briefs from the Afterschool Alliance—one on the pathways STEM workers take to reach their current careers, and another on how state science standards address engineering.

Get more frequent updates by following the RR2P project on Twitter and Facebook

Reading between the lines

Developing the ability to read and critically assess science-themed media reports is of great importance, given the media’s pervasive and powerful influence on people’s beliefs and behaviors. This Oliveras, Márquez, and Sanmartí study examines a technique designed to develop high school students’ critical reading abilities. Findings suggest a progression from blind belief toward the ability to draw conclusions based on scientific information.

KEYWORDS:  Argumentation, Scientific practice, Scientific reasoning

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learn more about: Science
DEC
14
2015

STEM
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Where to go next with coding: A new resource guide

By Melissa Ballard

As Computer Science Education Week ended on Sunday, we know many of you participated in the Hour of Code, giving your students a fun and easy introduction to computer science. Thinking about what your next steps should be? Check out our new resource guide for computing!

The guide includes curricula, professional development resources, and some background reading. While there’s lots of resources on computer science and coding out there, we put together a curated list just for afterschool educators.

We’ll continue to do more around computing in 2016, so be sure to visit our computing webpage: www.afterschoolalliance.org/STEM_computing.cfm

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learn more about: Science Academic Enrichment
DEC
10
2015

STEM
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Guest blog: Hands-on STEM, all month long!

By Melissa Ballard

Written by Katelyn Wamsted, Director of Programs at Girlstart in Austin, TX. Girlstart provides year-round programming for girls and families including afterschool, summer camps, a yearly “Girls in STEM” conference, and community STEM events to get girls interested in STEM at an early age.

Throughout the month of December, Girlstart hosts DeSTEMber: 31 days of STEM fun! DeSTEMber highlights various STEM-related topics through hands-on activities, photos, and videos as part of a month-long program to drive awareness for STEM, showing kids that “STEM is everywhere”.

One of my favorite activities so far is Human Battleship. Fun, hands-on math activities can be hard to come by, but through creating a life-size version of Battleship, students learn about coordinate geometry and practice their spatial thinking skills.

New activities and full lesson plans posted every week at www.destember.org! You can also follow Girlstart on any of our various media channels to stay up-to-date.

Girlstart's mission is to increase girls’ interest and engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through innovative, nationally-recognized informal STEM education programs. We cultivate a culture where risk is rewarded, curiosity is encouraged, and creativity is expected. As a result, Girlstart girls are connected, brave, and resilient. Girlstart makes girls more successful, and inspires them to take on the world’s greatest challenges.

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learn more about: Guest Blog Science Academic Enrichment
OCT
12
2015

STEM
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Guest blog: Reimagining the relationship between research + practice in afterschool

By Melissa Ballard

By Bronwyn Bevan and Michelle Choi.

Bronwyn Bevan is Director of the Exploratorium’s Institute for Research and Learning. She served on the National Research Council's Committee on STEM Learning in Out-of-School Time and is widely published on issues relating to STEM in afterschool.

Michelle Choi is the Project Director for the Research + Practice Collaboratory at the Exploratorium. Her professional interests focus on designing collaborative and creative learning experiences for in and out-of -school settings.

When was the last time you read a paper or column called “What Practice Says?” In the afterschool world, though the depth and breadth of research is growing, we often retain a silver bullet rhetoric that positions research as having the answers and practice as having the questions.

But is that your experience?

There’s both common experience and actual research showing that research results frequently don’t stick and even more frequently don’t scale. At the Research + Practice Collaboratory we believe this is because research designs often fail to formally take into account the knowledge and practical realities of educators not only in the design and implementation of the studies, but also in the very framing of the research questions.

Although the field frequently looks to research to justify or prove the efficacy of our programs, in fact research is about knowledge production – it’s intended to develop insights into problems, solutions, and strategies. As research demands and activities continue to grow in afterschool, it’s worth considering how you or your organization might participate in partnerships that could produce results that you could use to strengthen your programs. 

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learn more about: Guest Blog Science