Learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom. After school programs have contributed to academic achievement, provided community support, and helped working families provide a safe space for their children for decades.
When it comes to STEM education, out-of-school programs offer an immersive experience for students to practice their STEM skills outside the classroom and experience the real world applications of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The Role of After School STEM Programs
STEM is like a language. The more exposure one gets, the more fluent they become in that language. Language doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does STEM. Seeing and applying the skills of STEM education to experiences outside the classroom exposes young minds to the opportunities in the fields of science and technology.
These after school programs are not intended to replace traditional classroom education. Instead, they build on what is already being taught and help sustain the journey of STEM education in a valuable informal setting. In this way, after school programs serve as a complement to a student’s classroom education - not a replication of it - and provide additional opportunities to practice STEM fluency and engage with the world through STEM in new and dynamic ways.
After school programs have their own role in the STEM education ecosystem. They help maximize the impact of the community’s educational ecosystem by providing a learning environment that is rich in interactive and immersive experiences for students to apply STEM skills to real-world situations. By using the hours outside of school, students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to engage in meaningful and quality STEM education.
The Benefits of STEM After School Programs
The informal STEM learning environment of out-of-school programming creates specially-designed opportunities for students to practice their STEM skills outside of the classroom, along with the following benefits:
Doing STEM: a focus on activity
STEM education is best learned and ingrained through hands-on, immersive, and “doing” learning experiences. These “doing” activities relieve the pressure of “knowing” concepts that can cause anxiety in young learners.
For complete STEM fluency that carries on through higher education and adulthood, young learners need to work with their hands, grasp onto scientific concepts physically, and have a lot of exposure and practice doing so. These kinds of activities can take a lot of time so it’s common for the traditional classroom setting to provide a limited amount of time dedicated to hands-on learning. However, after school STEM programs can be focused on these hands-on learning activities and give students time to experiment and explore these concepts on their own. This kind of exposure and practice allows students to see the real-world applications of STEM and think more critically and creatively about the world around them.
Encouraging Repetition: learning how to practice
With STEM fluency being similar to learning a new language, becoming fluent requires repetition and immersion into new experiences, new uses, and new opportunities to practice what you’ve learned. This immersive repetition goes beyond memorization and vocabulary, but provides context, richness, and complexity to what students are learning in the classroom.
The more exposure students get, the more embedded the language and skills of STEM fluency become. That’s why repetition plays such a key role in STEM education. After school programs offer the perfect opportunity to practice in a new setting and foster a deeper understanding and connection to STEM.
An Opportunity to Follow the Spark
After school STEM programs can provide high-quality education that supplements classroom instruction and provides students with a chance to pursue a passion, or spark, even further.
In the classroom, educators are responsible for teaching a classroom of students that range in interests and learning styles. Traditional STEM curriculum might not be enough for young minds who show a keen interest in these subjects, but after school STEM programs can provide more challenging and exciting opportunities specially designed for STEM.
After school programs typically have a lower student-to-educator ratio, so advanced students can get more individual instruction from a STEM mentor. This gives students access to more activities, concepts, and practice than they might get at home and school.
Building a Comprehensive STEM Ecosystem
Learning, and especially STEM learning, takes place over time and in many different settings. A learning ecosystem is made of various settings that all enhance a comprehensive educational experience.
These settings include libraries and museums, the traditional classroom, home life, culture and lifestyle, and the communities that exist within each of these settings. Altogether, these places create an ecosystem that can help a student thrive, or can discourage a child if several parts of their ecosystem aren’t supportive of their interests or individual learning style.
After school STEM programs provide a safe, supportive, and engaging environment that can bring multiple aspects of the STEM ecosystem together through collaboration. Local community members and mentors and educational resources like libraries and museums can provide safe learning environments that advocate for a child’s STEM education. These out-of-school programs act as a hub between community, social groups, and educational systems to provide a diverse and inclusive ecosystem.
Providing Access: Closing the Gap
After school programs have the opportunity to close the gap between the quality of education between low-income households and more affluent households. This is partially due to less disparity within after school programming. In a report by the Afterschool Alliance, parents in high-poverty communities reported after school programs in their community being very similar to the programs offered in more affluent communities.
Because after school programs often involve parties outside the traditional school system, they can often find support from nonprofit organizations, community members, libraries, museums, and other educational resources to create effective programming for youth. Without budget or administrative constraints, after school programs can be run independently and provide their own curriculum which often provides modern, current, and effective resources to students of all backgrounds.
Programs like Kid Spark’s STEM Equity Grant Program also help provide lab kits, curriculum, and training so that every student has access to STEM education. These points of access work to disrupt the pattern of educational inequity and remove barriers to STEM education.
How to Start an After School STEM Program in Your Community
To contribute to your local STEM ecosystem, start by working with the community. The most effective educational programs are connected to the ecosystem grid, so you want to be connected to local community members, resources, establishments, and mentors who can help you provide a comprehensive after school program with longevity. These connections can help you find the right space, collaborate with existing and trusted educational systems, and find teachers, STEM mentors, and educators to support the program.
You then want to pick a grade level or age group. This can always be expanded later, but to start, it’s helpful to pick one age group so you can provide the appropriate grade-level curriculum (feel free to check out our blog for specific grade-level curriculum ideas).
How Kid Spark Education Can Help
These resources are specially designed to help students develop STEM fluencies that they can continue to build and develop throughout their educational career. Scientifically backed, our lab kits create dynamic learning experiences for youth K-12, and provide support and training for educators so they are well-equipped to be STEM mentors and lead students to success.
In addition to curriculum, lab kits, and grant equity programs to provide equal access to STEM education, the Kid Spark team includes STEM Program Specialists who can help you design your own Kid Spark STEM program that’s backed by the power of science. Our Program Specialists can assist you in creating a STEM program that fits your community’s STEM ecosystem and empowers young minds with the power of STEM.