Blended Learning

Best time to build a love of STEM? It’s after the school day ends, research says

The Trump administration says it wants to encourage girls in STEM fields, but also proposes cutting after-school programs

After-school programs can help students develop an interest in science, technology, engineering or math.

If children haven’t developed an interest in those fields by the time they leave middle school, then it’s unlikely to happen. After-school programs can help expose students to more than they see in the regular school day, providing an opportunity for them to develop these interests.

“Part of that is giving kids a safe space where they can try an experiment,” without the pressures of school, said Ron Ottinger, director of STEM Next at the University of San Diego.

STEM Next is one of more than 20 private and corporate foundations that created the STEM Funders Network, in 2012. The initiative seeks to use its collective power to increase awareness on how to get more students involved in science, technology, engineering and math. A STEM Learning Ecosystems Initiative includes 37 communities across that United States that are dedicated to supporting research-based efforts to spread STEM lessons to children – inside and outside of the classroom.

In a national survey last year, more than 78 percent of children said they’d had a positive experience with the STEM subject areas because of an after-school program, according to new research from the PEAR Institute at Harvard University, McLean Hospital and IMMAP: Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis and Policy at Texas Tech University. The survey included 1,600 children and after-school program leaders in 11 states.

Related: An the race to expand STEM education enters its next lap, here are three ways to recruit and train more teachers
And there’s some proof that after-school programs are effective, as well. Research from Robert Tai, an associate professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, provides evidence that students who spend time on STEM subjects outside the classroom are more likely to pursue careers in these fields. The study was published in 2011 in the International Journal of Science Education.

In rural areas, where it can be logistically and financially difficult to do after-school programs, the internet has created ways that allow technology to fill the gap. One example: After-school programs can dial in to link with NASA online.

President Trump’s administration has declared an interest in encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers. After-school programs could serve as an effective way to help achieve that goal. But after-school initiatives have been slated for cuts under the Trump administration’s proposed budget.

“It’s puzzling that on the one hand the new administration says it’s important to get women and young girls launched in STEM, and yet you see the NASA education program [and others] on the chopping block,” Ottinger said.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about blended learning.

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Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo is a staff writer and social media editor. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic's online edition, Mind/Shift,… See Archive

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After school programs are a great thing and should be promoted.

But they will have a greater impact if they could be supported by in house-school day technical programs. During the late 19th and through the 20th centuries, our comprehensive public schools offered a great variety of technical programs. To the uninitiated they seemed like vocational programs better suited for the industrial age. In fact they were to provide many students (unfortunately mostly boys) with skill sets and hands-on experience with technical tools and materials. Due to educational politics, in this country, many of these programs were dismantled as they did not eschew the erudite educational snobbery which was so much sought after. Some thirty years have past and we now find that few students are enthused over these areas of study. It is any wonder? Find a school with no sports program or instrumental music program, and you will find few students asking to participate.

- from Chris Doeller, May 20, 2017