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How can afterschool programs best support STEM learning?

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How can afterschool programs best support STEM learning?

We have just released our long-awaited report on STEM outcomes for youth in afterschool programs!

This report concludes a 10-month study, “Defining Youth Outcomes for STEM Learning in Afterschool,” that asked experienced afterschool providers and supporters to identify appropriate and feasible outcomes.  Study participants identified a consensus on outcomes, indicators and sub-indicators that provide a framework to map how afterschool programs contribute to larger STEM education goals.

There was a clear consensus that afterschool programs help youth to:

  • Develop an interest in STEM and STEM learning activities
  • Develop capacities to productively engage in STEM learning activities
  • Come to value the goals of STEM and STEM learning activities

There was also shared agreement that afterschool STEM programs are best positioned to impact indicators of learning in the following rank order:

  1. Active participation in STEM learning opportunities
  2. Curiosity about STEM topics, concepts or practices
  3. Ability to productively engage in STEM processes of investigation
  4. Awareness of STEM professions
  5. Ability to exercise STEM relevant life and career skills
  6. Understanding the value of STEM in society

Participants grouped the sub-indicators, which represent specific measureable dimensions of the indicators, into high-medium-low categories reflecting their confidence in achieving those impacts.  They rated the sub-indicators that stress the doing of science and developing skills highly.  These included demonstrating active engagement, teamwork, STEM skills, problem-solving abilities and an understanding of STEM careers.  They expressed medium levels of confidence in those sub-indicators that were more specific in terms of links to STEM resources or expertise and asked about demonstrating very specific types of knowledge such as a mastery of tools used in STEM investigations or knowledge of how to pursue STEM careers.  They did not express a low confidence in achieving any of the 17 listed sub-indicators, but did rate the “pursuit of school STEM learning opportunities” lower on the list indicating they expect to see little impact. 

We also found some differences in opinions and perspectives between the afterschool providers and afterschool supporters (who included funders, national education policy leaders and state education department leaders).  Most notably, the afterschool supporters were much more optimistic than the practitioners about the availability of assessment tools to document impacts of afterschool STEM programs.  This suggests that there may be different standards for assessment between the two groups.  The provider group may either be unaware that such tools exist or feel that they are not accessible or appropriate.

Based on the results of this study, we make the following recommendations to move the afterschool field forward and help programs achieve their maximum potential in STEM programming. 

  • Policy makers should utilize the results of this study to define the appropriate niche for afterschool programs in STEM education;
  • Afterschool program leaders should utilize the framework of outcomes and indicators to map out how their work contributes to STEM education overall; and
  • Evaluation and assessment experts should map available assessment tools to the framework of outcomes in the study and use it to inform the design of new afterschool assessment measures.

The study was funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and the Noyce Foundation.   

The study team was led by Anita Krishnamurthi, director of STEM policy at the Afterschool Alliance, and included Bronwyn Bevan, associate director of program, Exploratorium; Vicky Ragan Coulon, director, Evaluation & Research Associates; and Jen Rinehart, vice president for research and policy, Afterschool Alliance. The report was released at the monthly STEM Salon hosted by Change the Equation and a recording of the event will be available shortly at http://changetheequation.org/stem-salons.

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