The story of the year in afterschool STEM learning just might have come out this week in Washington, DC. At the National Press Club, people from all corners of the afterschool STEM world gathered to learn about STEM Ready America, a new report on afterschool STEM that effectively defines the national paradigm for activities in the field. Program leaders and policy thinkers, corporate and non-profit executives and funders, STEM educators and researchers from all levels discussed, reviewed, and enthused about the rich combination of research, examples from the field, and recommendations for action.
Funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, STEM Ready America is a project of STEM Next, a national leader in studying and promoting informal and out-of-school STEM learning housed at the University of California, San Diego. Researchers at Harvard University and Texas Tech University collaborated on the work, which involved over 1,600 participating students and 160 programs in 11 states.
Findings from STEM Ready America might mean exciting things for the learning and life prospects of students going through afterschool STEM programs.
The report features articles taking three general angles of approach to afterschool STEM learning: the evidence for what happens, how to create a constructive environment, and examples of effective programs.
The section about evidence documents the benefits and accomplishments of afterschool and summer STEM programs. Articles look at how and what kind of research is conducted, what the results say about effects of afterschool STEM programs, and implications for policy and funding decisions. Highlights include a discussion of how Next Generation Science Standards relate to out-of-school STEM curricula and learning and how informal STEM education positively influences students' opinions and achievement in their formal STEM classwork.
Different states and localities take different paths to afterschool STEM success. Surveying work in Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska, and New York, articles in the section on afterschool STEM learning environments highlight effective, large-scale approaches. Cross-sector partnerships are key, for example, in Oregon and Indiana, while Nebraska has focused more on community-based efforts. And "STEM ecosystems" have grown from California roots to a national phenomenon, demonstrating how important it is to ground programs in local needs and resources.
Exemplary programs show how adaptable and effective afterschool STEM programs can be. In descriptive, narrative, and analytical terms, these pieces showcase the variety of successful approaches educators have taken. From technology to girls in STEM to minorities and low-income groups to career guidance to STEM and the arts, these programs demonstrate the rich bounty of programming that is possible to deploy within afterschool STEM efforts.
As the report makes clear, STEM learning is a natural fit for out-of-school programs. Kids can get out of class and into real-world settings, whether natural or designed, where up-close encounters with STEM activities make them see the relevance of what they're learning. With lower stakes attached, kids can try far-out, unfamiliar tasks without fearing dire consequences for failure. And exercising their brains (and bodies) in summer STEM programs reduces the learning loss that can take place between school years.
These are all things people have seen and studied in local settings, but STEM Ready America amasses the evidence – quantitative and qualitative – to support these arguments in any afterschool context.
Take a look for yourself. You're sure to find something that speaks directly to your long-held hopes or actual efforts in informal STEM learning.
For breakfast today, I finished my daughter's bowl of multi-grain Cheerios and banana with peanut butter, then moved on to a bagel with cream cheese and the usual two cups of coffee.
As a father of two girls ages 7 and 10, married to an amazing educator of over 20 years, I have a 360-degree perspective of the teaching and learning experience. As a matter of fact, my 4th grade daughter is my wife's student. It's a complete family affair. Most people I share that with have an initial reaction of concern. The most common questions are, "How is that working out for your daughter? Isn't that weird for her? Does she feel challenged?" All these have merit. What this arrangement has created for our family is that we tend to continue the teaching and learning timeline at home.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the constructs of the school day are extended into our dining table or living room. It becomes more about expanding the subject matter, questions, activities, content, or curriculum, taking them in a variety of directions. Whether it's using origami to communicate lessons in geometry and structure integrity, talking about how biomimicry (the study of emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies) helps us become better designers, or appreciating the history behind the lyrics in Lin Manuel-Miranda's Hamilton, all of it has served as an immersive voyage into context, relevance, and meaning for our kids. The result of this approach has typically ended in them taking back what we expanded on as a family to enrich their learning during the regular school day.
My kids are lucky. As parents, we are also fortunate that our lives allow us to expand on the academic careers of our children. As a teacher, my wife knows she has a champion that ensures that the hard work she puts into the classroom is not gone to waste. In many ways, my family IS the village that we so often talk about in education.
Many kids are not this lucky. Many parents are not this fortunate. Many teachers do not have someone further inspiring what they started.
In 2002, I was offered the opportunity to help start what would be a series of afterschool programs in the City of Los Angeles. Alongside an amazing group of change-makers, we launched the After-School All-Stars program in East and South Central Los Angeles. These neighborhoods sit in unincorporated areas of the city, meaning that they are under-resourced, under-represented, and had definitely fallen behind in a "No Child Left Behind" era. These neighborhoods had suffered years, and one dare say a generation, of low expectations and high rates of poverty and crime. Looking back, it was easy to see the skepticism school principals had when we first arrived on the scene. These particular schools had seen their share of "help" coming in, and just as quickly head out. Teachers and school leaders had very few champions they could lean on. Students had grown accustomed to adults promising more and delivering less. Kids here had few other adults in their lives, as their parents were busy helping their families survive in the literal sense! Parents in these communities felt the helplessness of not having the ability to talk about what their children were experiencing during school. Kids weren't that lucky. Parents were not that fortunate. Teachers had no champions.
A colleague of mine made a keen observation early in the lifecycle of our programs quoting that "two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time". Basic law of physics. This same law existed on the blacktops of these two schools. Our job was to drive out the negative culture that was so prominent by being steadfast and committed to making a difference on these campuses. In doing so, we had the opportunity of changing the feel of the community. Think about that for a moment. For a program to enter neighborhoods such as these and set sights on transforming their aspirations and expectations was a tall order indeed, but it happened.
It started with engaging youth and their attitudes about what it means to learn. Standardized tests do not account for this. It continued with staff walking into an empty and run down school auditorium with the belief that they could fill the space with students and their families (something the school day had seldom seen). You had to be at this event for it to be "demonstrable". It was in moments that included a staff member having the vision of taking a handful of beat up acoustic guitars and grow the idea to become a nationally recognized rock music program. As programs grew from 3, 7, 10, 21, 34, and eventually 54 school sites, programs that our current White House administration claims as having no impact have resulted in students and school day leaders giving direct credit to programs like After-School All-Stars for their high school success, college entry AND graduation, with youth appreciating how we set them up for a lifetime of prosperity and giving back.
The stories are too many to keep up with. A young lady without a voice finding it in the All-Stars of Rock music program, building up her courage and vision all the way to a Yale Education. It was evident in a young man's memory of the program being the first place where he had a desk to do homework (home only offered the floor). That young man is now sitting at a school desk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Another is the story of a young lady who thought our site leader's idea of her picking up basketball was a joke. There's nothing funny about her full athletic scholarship to Cal Berkley where she was one of the stars of the Pac 12 division of schools, playing basketball for the Cal Bears. She can look at the basketball she now dribbles for the Atlanta Dream and laugh at the irony of it all. You can see it in a young man out of South Florida who's on a mission to become a police officer, finish college, get into law school, and then the White House. Looking back, he shares, "After-School All-Stars helped me deal with my anger. I started writing poetry and played football. So through afterschool, I was actually working with my anger constructively. I was a lot happier." Part of his White House journey has begun with him meeting the former First Lady Michelle Obama during a summer experience with After-School All-Stars.
As programs like ours continue, so do the stories. More and more of our alumni are coming back with narratives influenced by our program's ability to expand their learning. Fast-forward to the NOW, we are standing at the cross roads of a revolution in what it means to prepare a young person for the future. More and more businesses are asking our educational institutions to expand the definition of what it means to learn. Scour the web and you will find a collection of credible research and articles asking questions such as, "We're Graduating More Students Than Ever, but Are They Prepared for Life After High School?" (Slate.com/ Laura Moser – April 2016).
Google cites intangibles when considering future employees. They call it "Googleyness" and it includes attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.
Enrichment programs that include coding, video game design, makerspace, and entrepreneurship all have elements of ambiguity and a high need for collaboration and problem solving strategies. All this requires an expansion of the teaching and learning norms that we're familiar with. The new economy is pushing for new ways to facilitate the success of our students. Innovation does not look at test scores, homework completion, and compliance. The future calls our young people to take risks in their learning, to go after things that others think as impossible or unlikely, and to think oneself as the solution to today's and tomorrow's challenges. It requires expanding the definition of success. This calls for a village of adults that youth can count on, champions that teachers can lean on, and people that serve as an extension of a parent's concern for the academic and social wellbeing of their children.
As a leader of a national non-profit committed to expanding the opportunities of youth across the country through afterschool programs, it is imperative that the current administration do the following:
I look back at After-School All-Stars and think about how lucky students have been in having the opportunity to expand their academic experiences. I think back at how fortunate parents have been to know they can provide for their families without worry for the safety and development of their children. I think of school teachers that look at afterschool practitioners as having their back, trusting that the learning continues after the school bell rings.
We all know it take a village. Does our leadership really believe that taking away the village is the answer? If so, then village needs to stand up and say, "not on my watch!"
For breakfast I had an omelette, fresh fruit, and an iced coffee!
It is with great pleasure that we announce the 2017 BOOST Conference Keynote Speaker, Former Senator Barbara Boxer!
BOOST Collaborative and Afterschool Alliance invite you to join us in honoring Senator Barbara Boxer at this year's BOOST Conference in Palm Springs, CA. Jodi Grant, Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance, will be presenting Boxer with an OSTI (Out of-School Time Innovations) Award on Wednesday, April 19th followed by a keynote address, audience Q & A, and book signing.
Schedule: April 19, 2017
Be sure to purchase your keynote book today! Log in to your online account to add or call us at 619-23-BOOST (619-232-6678)
Introducing: Barbara Boxer
A forceful advocate for families, children, consumers, the environment and her State of California, Barbara Boxer became a United States Senator in January 1993 after 10 years of service in the House of Representatives and six years on the Marin County Board of Supervisors. In January 2017, she stepped down after four terms in the Senate.
A champion of quality public education, Senator Boxer wrote landmark legislation establishing the first-ever federal funding for afterschool programs. Her law now covers 1.6 million children. She continues to work to expand afterschool programs nationwide as chair of the Senate Afterschool Caucus.
A strong supporter of the 1994 crime bill, she has worked to fund anti-gang programs, pass the Violence Against Women Law (VAWA), and the Community Policy "COPS" Program. Her bill to prevent the criminal use of personal information obtained through motor vehicle records was signed into law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
BOOST Conference April 18-21, 2017, Palm Springs, CA
The deadline to register for the BOOST Conference is March 24, 2017. Register here.
It's 2017 and here's what we're up against: A billionaire Secretary of Education is committed to dismantling public education as we know it. The White House is targeting immigrants, many of whom are Latino and Asian families living in the communities we serve. A Congressional majority is determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce Medicaid, both of which provide the only healthcare insurance available to many of the families of the children who attend our programs.
A Department of Agriculture Secretary nominee is recommending eliminating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), free and reduced price meals and summer meal programs – the food so many children and young people in our programs depend on. Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding may be an easy next step. And the list goes on.
I'm all about doing our best to prevent these things from happening, and I devote part each day to doing this. I also am painfully aware of the fact that the challenges ahead are compounded by the demands we already face. At the state and local levels, new minimum wage laws are increasing program costs each year.
I am clear about the seriousness of all of this, but I outright reject reducing the number of students who can attend our programs. I believe this is outrageous, unacceptable, irresponsible – and unnecessary. I won't look a child or his or her parents in the eye and say I'm sorry you can't be in our program anymore. Will you? We can, and must, do better! If you haven't done so already, the first step is to stop the overdependence that you may have on federal support.
It's been almost 15 years since the first edition of Securing Balanced, Diversified and Sustainable Funding for Afterschool Programs: Ten Steps to Success was published. This article has appeared on hundreds of websites. Thousands of program directors and others have attended my workshops. And many of the CEOs and District Administrators I've had the privilege of working with have positioned themselves to weather any financial storm now or in the future. You can, too!
The premise is simple, replicable, socially responsible, fiscally prudent and politically attractive. The argument is compelling to funders and the strategies have proven to make all the difference in whether programs achieve their potential or come up short financially. You can download a free copy at www.afterschoolsolutions.org. Children can't wait and neither should we. Let's keep co-creating the future together!
For breakfast I had yogurt, blueberries, granola and coffee between social media advocacy and calls to Washington, DC.
In partnership with the Afterschool Alliance, we hope you'll pass this along to parents and friends to help raise awareness for afterschool programs by writing a short letter to your local newspaper. This is a repost from the Afterschool Snack blog. Happy Valentine's Day from all of us at the BOOST office!
"This year, my Valentine is to a program that makes all the difference for me and for my family," So began West Valley City, Utah, resident Amanda Owens in her Salt Lake Tribune letter-to-the editor in 2015. The "program" she went on to describe was her son's afterschool program, run by the Community Education Partnership.
Amanda Owens is not alone. For the past several years, a number of parents of children in afterschool programs around the nation have sent similar letters to their local newspapers explaining from the heart why they love their children's afterschool programs.
Are you a parent with a child in afterschool who feels the same way? Or are you a program provider with parents who might be willing to send a letter?
If yes, here are few questions Valentine letter writers might consider as they write.
It's easy to submit letters-to-the-editor; most newspapers will take them via their website or by email. To find out about word limits and how to submit, just do a web search for the name of your newspaper and the words "letter-to-the-editor submission." If that doesn't work, try going to the newspaper's website, finding the letters section and looking for submission guidelines.
But the most important tip is the obvious one: Write from the heart!
That tip also applies to another way you can show why you love afterschool: social media. We've created a simple toolkit with guidelines and a printable that you and the afterschool students, parents and providers in your life can use to share what you love about these programs.
Participating is simple: Just print a page straight from the toolkit, fill it out with the heartfelt reasons you love afterschool, snap a photo of the finished product, and share it on your favorite social media sites using the hashtag #AfterschoolWorks (for example, "#AfterschoolWorks for my students!").
We can't wait to see the reasons you and the parents of kids in your program love afterschool. Be sure to tag us @afterschool4all on Twitter and Instagram or @afterschoolalliancedc on Facebook so that we see your social media posts and any letters-to-the-editor that you get published!
Planning a new program or improvements to an existing program usually involves setting objectives, planning activities, and other critical tasks. In the excitement of planning something new, it can seem like a buzzkill to ask, "What could go wrong?"
Several months ago, I started asking this question consistently with staff teams in my division of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We discussed it when we were planning a kick-off meeting for a district-wide initiative, when we were considering a major program change on a tight time frame, and when we were decided whether or not to cancel programs because of a forecasted snow storm. (Yes, I'm writing this in Michigan!)
I've found that staff teams benefit enormously from adding this question to the planning process. Sometimes staff have concerns but don't know exactly how or when to share them. Other times, "nay-say-ers" derail planning by peppering the conversation with all the detailed problems that could arise. Using a neutral discussion framework that's built into the planning process provides assurance to all staff that their concerns will be heard -- of course, it also helps prevent or minimize future problems.
I like using the Potential Problem Analysis (PPA) framework that's available from the non-profit TregoEd. (I work in a school district and have been trained in all four of TregoEd's collaborative decision-making tools.)
Broadly, a PPA helps you prepare for problems that could impact your program's success. It's helpful when you're implementing a new program, planning for a significant event, or making program changes.
Conducting a PPA is simple. All you need is a facilitator, your planning team, and some chart paper for recording responses.
1. First, ask the team "What could go wrong with our plans?" Ask the team to keep their answers succinct -- it's not necessary to go into every detail or repeat answers.
2. List people's answers on the chart paper, leaving space between each answer. The facilitator should let staff generate as many as they want, but don't allow the discussion to get too far out there (i.e. it's unlikely that aliens will land and disrupt the program).
3. Go back to the top of the list. For each potential problem, ask: "How could we prevent this from happening?" The answers often turn into specific action steps.
4. Return to the top of the list. Ask: "If this [potential problem] happens, what will we do to minimize the negative impact?"
5. If you end up with numerous potential problems, the team can prioritize 3-4 that are most important to prevent. Others can be worked on as time/opportunity permits.
6. For each potential problem on the short list, ask "What action steps will occur, Who will do them, and by When?"
I've used this process many times, sometimes as a full-blown process like what is outlined above, and sometimes just talking through the essential questions. The key thing is for the team to know ahead of time that you're going to have this conversation. This assures everyone (naysayers, too!) that there will be time to consider and plan for potential problems.
Using this simple question has improved program and event quality and decreased stress for staff at my organization. Hint: you can use it when making life decisions as well. Happy problem preventing!
For breakfast, I had an egg, turkey bacon, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin.
Under normal circumstances, I'm not one to be political in a public and professional forum, but really, I'm in need of some writing therapy. Every day, I read the latest news story about another negative appointment to the President- elect's cabinet. Who knew there were so many people who both seem to despise the role of government AND also want to lead it? While alarming, those aren't even the most upsetting parts of my daily doldrums. What really brings me down are the escalating stories about racist attacks on a whole array of people who are part of the fabric and heart of this country. Apparently freed by Donald Trump's purposefully divisive and unimaginably offensive comments, far too many people are letting lose what they really think.
To battle my dark cloud, I have three shining lights that brighten my day:
2) Expanded learning programs and staff who make a difference in the lives of young people.
3) The amazing young people who will be that difference.
The day after the election, the Partnership for Children & Youth co-hosted a public seminar on social-emotional learning in Sacramento. Driving up from Oakland that morning, I couldn't think past the previous night's unbelievable disappointment. I also assumed there would be zero attendance at the seminar.
Much to my surprise, the room was packed with energetic people, eager to be positive, forward-thinking and impactful. Love California! (If you haven't already, please read this inspiring statement from the California Legislature.) The conversation about social-emotional learning was certainly timely – what stronger call to action than the election of a person who lacks the most basic skills around self-management, social awareness, growth mindset, etc. As you can imagine, the conversation was rich. It focused on the educational imperative to go beyond testing and academics, and to intentionally and effectively support students in building the skills they will need to be responsible, inclusive and active citizens. These citizens – with stronger critical thinking skills and experience as leaders - can work together to build and maintain a positive community for everyone.
Expanded learning was a primary player in this conversation. With deep roots in youth development, expanded learning programs help young people understand their potential and reach for it. Staff, like you, are deeply committed to creating safe spaces, giving kids the opportunity to learn and practice skills, encouraging their ideas and actions, and teaching them about their impact on each other and the world. The essence of youth worker skill is captured in the CDE's quality standards that clearly define what we're doing to make young people feel "I am, I belong, I can" – the essence of SEL skills as defined by your peers in "Student Success Comes Full Circle." Thank you, ELO staff. You are nurturing the next and better generation.
My 16-year-old daughter cried the night Trump won. But, she woke up in the morning with a smile and the realization that she'll be 18 and eligible to vote in the mid-term election. And then there's my favorite map from the election – showing the beautiful blue voting patterns of 18 to 25-year-olds. Watch out, Trump! There are a lot of smart, extremely motivated young women and men eager to mess with your agenda. Amazing young people who will be the difference!
For breakfast, I've been adding extra sugar in my coffee, hoping to get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth.
These last few days have not been normal. I have spent my morning breaking up political fights. Not in Washington, not in my community or at a protest, but in my K-5 before and after school program. And that breaks my heart.
The day after the election, my kids were either devastated or elated as they walked through my door, with only a few falling somewhere in between. On one side, this in itself makes me proud. Proud that we are encouraging our kids, no matter the age, to be a part of the political process. But the other side of me, the larger side, is heartbroken that this election has not only divided us, this beautiful country that I love, but our kids as well.
As I thought through my morning and the many similar mornings and afternoons to come, this is what I shared with my staff. It is my hope that we take this opportunity to grow our little learners and instill in them values that they can use in the years to come:
The coming days are going to be interesting days at Adventure Club. Just as you are all probably wrestling through a variety of emotions as you process the results of the Presidential Election, our kids are as well. We're asking them to grasp some pretty big ideas with some still growing brains... some concepts that are hard for even us to work through. This morning, I was struck by the amount of students affected in some way by the election, with very few of them coming in without an opinion.
As I've thought through how to best handle the coming days, these are the thoughts I am left with. I appreciate in advance your ability to set aside your personal opinions for the good of the group. May we learn these lessons alongside our kids, as we continue to move forward through our year and the years to come.
Our kids are going to have questions. And that's ok. Let's teach them how to ask them respectfully, how to seek solutions to the issues they see as ongoing problems, and how to advocate for what they believe in.
Our kids are going to have fears. And that's ok. Let's take this time to reassure them that school is a safe place for them to be the unique individuals that they are. That we will continue to support them as they go through life.
(Some of) our kids are going to be sad or upset. That's ok. Emotions are always valid and ok to feel. Let's share with our kids that the Presidential Election was actually one of many elections that took place. That we have a system of checks and balances in our government that doesn't allow for any one person to have ultimate control.
(Some of) our kids are going to be happy. That's ok. Let's teach them to win gracefully, to understand that not everyone has the same views, and that the right to disagree is a good thing – it can challenge and grow us to hear things from a different perspective.
Our kids are going to say things that you disagree with. Let's show them the value in calm responses, and how it looks to respectfully disagree without trying to change their minds. Let's engage in forward-thinking conversations as we set the example for what we want their conversations with each other to look like.
Today is going to be an interesting day at Adventure Club. But interesting is not always bad. Feel free to send kids my way if you reach a point where the conversation turns in a way that makes you uncomfortable or is something that you don't know how to handle. I can't guarantee that I have all the answers, but I can guarantee that I'll listen, and that's sometimes all that a person needs.
Here's to our Adventure Club community growing closer despite the divisive ideals our kiddos may walk in with. Here's to our community respecting and valuing the opinions of others even if they are different than our own. And here's to us, the adults, remembering that if we don't have it all together, there's no way our kids will.
For breakfast, I had coffee with a donut.
Having made it through the hectic beginning of the new school year, now is a great time to take a fresh look at the food served in your afterschool program. Food is an important part of any afterschool program, helping to draw in children and to ensure that they are not hungry and can fully benefit from the activities being offered. Is your program providing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low fat milk?
For the millions of children who live in homes struggling to put food on the table and/or are overweight or obese, the adequacy and nutrition quality of the food provided at their afterschool programs is particularly crucial. The federal Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs through the Child and Adult Care Food Program reimburse schools, local government agencies, and private nonprofits for serving meals and snacks at programs.
This funding can support programs in serving higher quality meals and snacks. A simple meal could be turkey on whole wheat bread, carrot sticks, apple slices, and milk. And programs that operate long enough can provide both a meal and a snack.
To qualify, sites must be located in low-income areas and offer educational and enrichment activities. Meals and snacks can snacks can be served at programs operating after school, on weekends, and during school vacations and holidays.
Afterschool programs also can improve the quality and appeal of the food served by incorporating local foods into the menu. FRAC recently updated Fresh from the Farm: Using Local Foods in the Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Programs, which provides step by step guidance and best practices.
Grants are available to schools to support Farm to School initiatives. Programs that work with schools can encourage their school nutrition department to apply for these grants, which can be used to incorporate local foods into meals provided through the school, afterschool, and summer nutrition programs.
For breakfast, I had corn flakes with blueberries, a glass of milk, and coffee.
The third issue of the Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) has arrived! This spring issue launched at the 2016 BOOST conference and features a conversation about quality programming in afterschool, an article on the role that social emotional learning can play to close the achievement and learning gaps, and an article focusing on the links between professional development and quality STEM learning experiences. You can visit the first week's installment about social emotional learning, last week's piece with a researcher and practitioner conversation. Today's blog features a study conducted by Deborah Lowe Vandell, Ph.D., Rahila Simzar, Ph.D., Pilar O'Cadiz, Ph.D. and Valerie Hall, Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine.
This project was supported by funding from the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, and the Samueli Foundation in collaboration with the Afterschool Division of the California Department of Education. The views expressed in this paper are those of the named authors and are not necessarily the views of the project funders.
This study reports the results from a STEM learning initiative involving 96 public funded afterschool programs in California. Relations between professional development, staff beliefs, quality of STEM learning activities, and changes in student outcomes were examined over an academic year (2013-2014). STEM professional development experiences were linked positively to program staff beliefs about the value of STEM learning, which were linked to the quality of STEM learning activities reported at the programs, which were linked to several student outcomes, including gains in student work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, and science interests. These findings support the utility of STEM professional development in afterschool settings.
Keywords: afterschool, STEM learning, professional development, staff beliefs
Findings From an Afterschool STEM Learning Initiative: Links to Professional Development and Quality STEM Learning Experiences
Improving the quality of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education has become a national priority (Dabney et al., 2012; Krishnamurthi, Ballard, & Noam, 2014; National Research Council, 2011, 2012; Simzar & Domina, 2014). Although the majority of these efforts during the K-12 period have focused on improving in-school STEM learning, there is a growing awareness of the potential role of afterschool programs in promoting STEM learning (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009; National Research Council, 2015). However, efforts to introduce ongoing and high quality STEM experiences in out-of-school (OST) settings face serious challenges. One challenge is that a substantial proportion of afterschool staff members have limited education and training in STEM subjects (Vandell & Lao, 2015). A second challenge is high staff turnover (Vandell & Lao, 2015). A third challenge is structural barriers—many afterschool programs have weak relationships with host schools, which limit programs' access to STEM learning materials and opportunities to coordinate activities with classroom teachers (Bennett, 2015).
The purpose of the present study is to examine the effects of an afterschool professional development initiative in the State of California to determine (a) if professional development activities are linked to program staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning; (b) if, in turn, staff beliefs are related positively to quality of STEM-related activities in the afterschool classrooms; and (c) finally, if the quality of STEM-related experiences is associated with changes in student STEM-related dispositions over an academic year.
A Compelling Need for Staff Professional Development
Although program staff are charged with leading engaging and meaningful learning activities at afterschool programs, their education and training is typically more limited than K-12 classroom teachers. K-12 classroom teachers have four-year college degrees as a minimum, and the majority (56%) have a master's degree or more (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). In contrast, less than half of afterschool staff members have four-year degrees and less than 20% have a master's degree (Nee, Howe, Schmidt, & Cole, 2006). In addition, K-12 classroom teachers complete hundreds of hours of pedagogical training and supervised field experiences prior to becoming the instructor of record in their classrooms. Staff members in afterschool programs do not typically undergo this type of preparation (Nee et al., 2006).
Thus, while many afterschool staff members bring energy and commitment to their work, there is a great need to expand staff development opportunities for further education and training in the field, especially if programs seek to expand their offerings to include enriched STEM (Dennehy & Noam, 2005). The present study examines the effects of one such effort to offer professional development at multiple afterschool sites. Here, professional development refers to a diverse set of activities such as trainings offered by other organizations, informal and formal meetings among staff members, meetings with classroom teachers, and coaching by internal and external advisors.
Context for the Present Study
There are a growing number of public and private efforts to create meaningful STEM learning opportunities in afterschool contexts (Bevan & Michalchik, 2013; Krishnamurthi et al., 2014). Included in these efforts is the work of 17 statewide afterschool networks that have sought to coordinate efforts to support afterschool STEM learning (National Research Council, 2015). The present study focuses on one such initiative that was developed by the California Afterschool Network and a consortium of foundations. This statewide initiative was a three-year project aimed at increasing STEM learning opportunities in publicly funded afterschool programs serving low-income, ethnically diverse students.
Figure 1 presents the logic model underlying this state-level initiative. The logic model is sequential, with Professional Development and Curricula Innovation support represented in the box on the left side of Figure 1.
Figure 1. Logic model for the out-of-school time STEM initiative. Professional Development and Curricula Innovation support is represented by the box on the left. Professional development was expected to yield improvements in (a) Staff Beliefs about the value of STEM learning and feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities, and (b) Program Offerings (the quantity and quality of STEM activities offered by programs). Staff Beliefs and Program Offerings were expected to be mutually reinforcing, as illustrated by the bi-directional arrow between the two circles. Staff Beliefs and Program Offerings were then expected to yield improvements in Student Outcomes, the diamond box on the far right of the figure. Student outcomes included student reported work habits, student reports of efficacy in math and science, science interest, and career aspirations in the STEM domain.
Professional development was expected to yield improvements in (a) staff beliefs about the value of STEM learning and feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities, and (b) the quantity and quality of STEM activities offered by programs. Staff beliefs and program offerings were expected to be mutually reinforcing, as illustrated by the bi-directional arrows. Staff beliefs and program activities were then expected to yield improvements in student outcomes, the box on the far right of the figure. Student outcomes included student reported work habits, feelings of efficacy in math and science, science interest, and career aspirations in the STEM domain. These student dispositions are important predictors of students' likelihood to pursue STEM topics in the future (Bell et al., 2009; Bevan & Michalchik, 2013).
A total of 601 afterschool program sites, located in five of California's afterschool regions, participated in the STEM learning initiative in 2013-14. These five regions were originally selected in 2012-13, following a statewide competition. As part of the initiative, programs received technical assistance from Regional Innovation Support Providers (RISPs) who facilitated access to high quality staff training materials and curricular resources and who assisted partnerships among programs and support agencies. In this paper, we focus on the effectiveness of the initiative in 2013-14 at 96 program sites with all five regions represented by at least eight program sites.
A research team from the University of California, Irvine was responsible for overseeing data collection. Surveys were administered to program staff and to students using an online format. Program staff also reported the quantity and quality of STEM activities on a daily basis using STEM Activity Documentation Forms.
Program staff surveys. Online surveys were designed based on studies and administered to 178 staff in fall of 2013 and to 90 staff in spring of 2014 in which program staff reported various demographic characteristics (gender, age, ethnicity), educational background (highest level obtained), professional experience, and job tenure in their current position (Noam & Sneider, 2010). Staff reported their professional development activities, which included how often they attended (1) general professional development training, (2) STEM-related trainings, (3) staff meetings on general topics, and (4) staff meetings on STEM topics in the past academic year. Staff also reported how often they met with classroom teachers to discuss STEM concepts being taught in school (Vandell, Warschauer, O'Cadiz, & Hall, 2008). A complete list of these measures and corresponding items are provided in Appendix A.
Staff reported their beliefs about the value of STEM learning for youth and their feelings of confidence (efficacy) when implementing STEM learning activities (adapted from Vandell et. al., 2008). Staff beliefs about the value of STEM learning for youth was assessed with seven items (e.g., "I think students look forward to coming to the afterschool program when we have STEM activities going on"). Staff efficacy for implementing STEM activities was assessed with seven items asking staff to report on their sense of competency leading STEM activities (e.g., "I feel confident about teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Mathematics in the afterschool program"). These constructs were scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A complete list of items and internal consistencies of the scales for pre- and post- surveys, which were all acceptable, are provided in Appendix B.
Student surveys. Online surveys based on literature were administered to 3,738 students in fall 2013 and to 1,871 students in spring 2014. Students self-reported their work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, social competencies, science interest, and science career aspirations (Noam & Sneider, 2010; Tyler-Wood, Knezek, & Christensen, 2010; Vandell, et al., 2008). Students' work habits were assessed using six items (e.g., "I follow the rules in my classroom"). Both efficacy measures (math and science) were assessed using four items each (e.g., "I am good at math/science"). Science interest was assessed using 22 items (e.g., "Science is something I get excited about"). Social competencies were assessed using seven items (e.g., "I work well with other kids") and students' science career aspirations were assessed using four scales (e.g., "I will have a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics"). These constructs were scored on a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). A complete list of items and internal consistencies of the scales for pre- and post- surveys ranging from acceptable to excellent, are provided in Appendix C.
STEM Activity Documentation Forms. These forms were developed by the authors to document specific activities at program sites. Staff recorded the following information about each STEM activity that was implemented: (a) date and duration of the activity; (b) number of students participating in the activity; (c) name of activity and STEM content area addressed; and (d) 4-point ratings of the level of student engagement, level of challenge, and overall assessment of success of the activity. A total of 2,457 STEM activities were reported during 2013-14.
A total of 178 program staff at 78 sites reported their background characteristics. As shown in Table D1 (Appendix D includes Tables 1 through 8), a substantial majority of the staff was female (72%). The staff was ethnically diverse: 46% were Hispanic, 25% were white, 11% were Asian and 6% were African American. The staff was relatively young, with almost half (49%) being between 18 and 25 years, and 30% being between 26 and 35 years. The educational background of the staff varied widely. One-fourth reported having completed a four-year college degree, and 10% reported having post-graduate education. The remainder (65%) had less than a college degree, with the highest proportion (1/3) reporting "some college."
Staff reported diverse professional experience. The majority (61%) of the program staff reported having experience working in an afterschool setting (e.g., leading activities and/or working directly with youth) and approximately half (51%) of the program staff had experience working as a classroom aide or teaching assistant. Finally, staff reported the length of employment at the program site. Here, 29% reported working at the respective program sites for less than six months. Almost half of the program staff (47%) reported having worked at their program site for less than three years.
Surveys were completed by 3,738 students during the fall 2013 data collection. These students were fairly evenly divided by gender (49% male and 51% female). The majority of the students were in elementary school, with most of the students (72%) being in Grades 3 through 5. Twenty percent of the students who provided surveys were in middle school. Less than 1% of the students were in high school (Grades 9 through 12).
Types of STEM Activities That Occurred in the Afterschool Programs
A total of 2,457 STEM activities were reported by 84 staff at 53 program sites. As shown in Table D2, the majority (55%) of STEM activities focused on science. Typically, 28 students participated in each activity. Activities were between 30 and 59 minutes in duration. The majority of the reported activities involved students who were in third, fourth, and fifth grade (46%, 54%, and 47%, respectively). Staff reported that students were "mostly" engaged during 36% of the activities implemented and that they were "very" engaged during 56% of the activities implemented (an average of 3.48 on a rating scale from 1 to 4). Lastly, staff reported that the activities implemented went "mostly" well approximately 38% of the time and "very" well approximately 53% of the time (an average of 3.43 on a rating scale from 1 to 4).
Professional Development as it Relates to Staff Beliefs About STEM Learning
Our first substantive analysis asks if specific types of professional development were related to staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning for youth and to staff feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities. Tables D3 and D4 present standardized regression coefficients predicting staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning and efficacy for implementing STEM activities, respectively.
In Table D3, Models 1, 2, 3, and 4 examine associations between specific types of professional development activities and staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Model 1 indicates that higher levels of staff training during the past academic year is associated with a .32σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Model 2 indicates that a one-σ higher level of STEM staff attending training during the past academic year is associated with a .29σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Models 3 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss program issues is associated with a .29σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Lastly, Model 4 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss STEM programming is associated with a .27σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning.
In Table D4, Models 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 show associations between specific types of professional development activities and staff feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities. Model 1 indicates that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff attending training during the past academic year is associated with a .29σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Model 3 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss program issues is associated with a .30σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Model 4 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss STEM programming is associated with a .36σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings with classroom teachers to discuss STEM concepts being taught in school is associated with a .28σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Lastly, Model 6 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings with parents about STEM activities is associated with a .23σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities.
Staff Beliefs Linked to the Quality of STEM Learning Activities
Our second set of substantive analyses asks if staff beliefs are linked to the quality of STEM activities at the afterschool programs. Table D5 presents the standardized regression coefficients relating staff beliefs to two measures of STEM activity quality and Table 6 presents standardized regression coefficients relating staff efficacy for implementing STEM activities to two measures of STEM activity quality. The analytical model views activity quality as a product of these staff beliefs net of determinants such as staff gender, ethnicity, and the number of students participating in the activity. Because the reports of STEM activities reported by staffs that share a site are not independent, we clustered standard errors on site identification to account for the non-random assignment of staff into sites.
In Table D5, Models 1 and 2 indicate that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning is associated with a .25σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities and a .14σ increase in staff reports of how well the STEM activities went overall. In Table D6, Models 1 and 2 indicate that a one-σ increase in staff efficacy for implementing STEM activities is associated with a .27σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities and a .09σ increase in staff reports of how well the STEM activities went overall.
The Quality of the STEM Learning Activities Related to Student Outcomes
Our third set of analyses asks if the quality of the STEM learning activities predicts changes in student outcomes over the academic year. Tables D7 and D8 present standardized regression coefficients predicting six student outcomes (work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, social competency, science interest, and science career aspirations). The analytical model views each student outcome as a function of prior functioning in the domain and other determinants such as measures of activity quality (student engagement and how activities went overall) and student gender. Because student outcomes for students that share a site are not independent of one another, we cluster standard errors on site identification to account for the non-random assignment of students into sites.
Student engagement in STEM activities. In Table D7, Models 1 through 5 show significant relations between staff reports of student engagement in STEM activities and student outcomes. Specifically, Model 1 indicates that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .06σ increase in student reports of work habits. Models 2 and 3 indicate that a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .06σ increase in student reports of math efficacy and a .13σ increase in student reports of science efficacy, respectively. Model 4 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .18σ increase in student reports of social competency and Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .08σ increase in student reports of science interest.
Overall STEM activity quality. In Table D8, Models 1 through 5 show significant relations between staff reports of how well the STEM activities went overall and student outcomes. Specifically, Model 1 indicates that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .08σ increase in student reports of work habits. Models 2 and 3 indicate that a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .14σ increase in student reports of math efficacy and a .04σ increase in student reports of science efficacy, respectively. Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .20σ increase in student reports of social competency and Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .11σ increase in student reports of science interest.
This study examined relations between professional development, staff beliefs, program activities, and student outcomes in a large, systemic effort to support STEM learning in California afterschool programs. The logic model guiding the initiative posited that specific types of professional development activities would relate positively to staff beliefs about the value of STEM programming, which would relate to the quality of STEM activities offered at the afterschool programs, which were expected to support gains in student outcomes.
Findings were consistent with this theory of change. In particular, staff who were exposed to more training activities (both general and STEM-specific) and who attended more staff meetings to discuss general program issues and STEM programming reported stronger beliefs about the value of STEM learning and stronger feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities. These findings support the value of a multi-prong approach to professional development within the afterschool context, one that incorporates dedicated training activities, staff meetings, and close links with host schools (Vandell & Lao, 2015).
Also consistent with the STEM initiative's theory of change, the current study found that these staff beliefs were linked to the quality of STEM activities at the participating programs. Staff who endorsed the importance of STEM learning and who felt capable of implementing STEM activities reported higher levels of student engagement in the afterschool programs' STEM activities and the overall quality of the STEM activities implemented. Links between staff beliefs and their practices have been reported in the early childhood (Sheridan, Edwards, Marvin, & Knoche, 2009; Zaslow, 2009) and K-12 in-school (Loucks-Horsley, Stiles, Mundry, Love, & Hewson, 2010) contexts, but have not been specifically studied previously in afterschool programs.
Finally, student engagement in STEM activities in the afterschool programs predicted relative gains in students' work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, social competency, and science interest over the school year. The strongest relations were found between student engagement and students' math efficacy and social competency. These findings represent one of the first cases in which STEM professional development has been linked to positive student outcomes in the afterschool context.
It is noteworthy that the program staff who participated in the current initiative are similar to the staff profile at many U.S. afterschool programs (National Research Council, 2015; Peter, 2002, 2009; Vandell & Lao, 2015). A substantial majority of the program staff in the current study had less than a college degree. The majority of the program staff members were young adults, between 18 and 25 years of age and had brief tenures in their current position. Almost one in three of the program staff reported working at the program for less than six months. Because their education, training, and prior experience is limited, staff may particularly benefit from ongoing and continuing professional development opportunities that provide curricula supports accompanied by dedicated trainings and opportunities to connect with other program staff, parents, and classroom teachers on STEM-related topics. Importantly, these experiences can enrich students' STEM experiences in afterschool settings and support growth in students' interests and efficacy in the STEM domain.
For breakfast, Deborah had a bowl of cereal topped with fresh peaches.
Pilar had his favorite Sunday brunch breakfast, which he makes all the time for my family - Mexican Huevos con Chilaquiles (scrambled eggs mixed with fried tortillas, veggies, chile salsa and cheese).
Rahilia enjoyed a piece of toast and scrambled eggs with cheese.
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