Having a STEM curriculum available in afterschool programs is more important than ever, especially since there is such a demand for afterschool programs. Youth.gov finds that nearly 10.2 million children and youth participate in afterschool programs annually, with that number growing every year. However, many parents are facing obstacles to getting childcare and important learning experiences to their students after school. America After 3pm reports in their survey of parents at rural schools that:
- 43% find that programs are too expensive
- 29% find that there are too few programs
- 39% find that there is no safe way to get their child to and from programs
That’s why it’s so important for elementary and middle schools to offer a STEM afterschool curriculum, so it can meet the students it needs the most. At Kidspark Education, we’re happy to offer our programming for afterschool programs, so we can fulfill our mission to help schools and educational service providers disrupt the pattern of educational inequity by providing STEM education early and consistently for Pre-K – 8th grade students. That said, we know it can be daunting for educational institutions to start programs like this from scratch. With that in mind, we’ve assembled this quick guide to help you build an impactful STEM curriculum for your students after school.
1. Utilize Convergent and Divergent Learning
Because every student learns differently, it’s important to offer both convergent and divergent learning in STEM programs. This structure is what makes Kid Spark Education’s programming work so well, by making sure lessons reach every student. Convergent learning starts by instructors explaining and talking through the STEM concepts that the STEM lab will be covering. Divergent learning is when students break out into groups and test out the concepts hands-on.
Being able to do these hands on concepts is actually crucial to really engaging students. In GoGuardian’s 2021-2022 State of Engagement Report, after surveying thousands of educators from all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico, researchers found “that teachers value learning experiences that address the whole child creatively, cognitively, and emotionally”. In fact, they found not only that encouraging creativity was important, but that “practicing Hands-On Learning consistently emerged as one of the top practices for impacting engagement, with an average score of 4.27 and 83% of teachers reporting that it had a large to very large impact on their students’ levels of engagement”. By offering this in your afterschool programs, you can be sure to engage students in a brand new way.
At Kid Spark Education, with both types of learning approaches, we make sure we can reinforce the educational concepts for every type of learner. By learning both of these ways and working with learners that learn different ways, students will come out with a stronger understanding on how they can use STEM to change the world.
2. Have Flexible STEM Labs to Reach Students of All Ages
Because afterschool STEM programs often have students of different age groups, it’s important to have activities that all students can work from. At Kid Spark Education, our elementary and middle school programs are comprised of progressive units of instruction that cover a range of STEM concepts and can be used to meet any student where they are. Using our Foundational Fluencies Labs that cover K-1st Grade and our STEM Pathways Labs for 2nd-8th grade, multiple age groups of students can learn to solve problems and build out scientific concepts.
With our progressive curriculum resources, you can ensure that you’re teaching the right STEM concept for the right group and progress through units as you go. You’ll be amazed to see how students solve problems in new ways and grow in their problem-solving working together.
3. Foster a Safe, Supportive Learning Environment
One of the most important things you can do to make your after school STEM program impactful is to make it a safe and supportive place for students to learn. According to the SoLD Alliance’s The Science of Learning and Development in Afterschool Systems and Settings,
“After school systems support programs, so they can provide developmentally rich settings where all participants can thrive. After school systems are designed to build capacity, provide resources, and guide quality improvement. The infrastructure that systems provide enables afterschool providers to offer high quality afterschool programs with settings that are safe and supportive, allowing young people to create meaningful, mutually respectful relationships with each other and with adults, explore their interests, and engage in experiences that foster learning and development.”
At Kid Spark Education our core mission is to disrupt the pattern of educational inequity by providing STEM education early and consistently for Pre-K – 8th grade students. Providing a supportive space for students to learn STEM curriculum is a key way that marginalized students can be empowered to learn to love STEM. Inequities in STEM opportunities for girls, underserved children, and other marginalized communities have cut off generation after generation of talent, ingenuity, and imagination. By offering STEM programs in the classroom and afterschool, we’re re-building a pipeline of talent and innovation. Providing a safe place for students to learn with their peers can only help this mission even further.
4. Invest in Professional Development For Mentors
Having a teacher who is an instructor, role model, and STEM program mentor all in one is critical, especially for afterschool programs. Teachers who serve as STEM mentors ensure that students stay at their learning edge, the zone where skills and fluency may be just shy of what’s required to accomplish the task at hand. A STEM mentor’s encouragement can mean the difference between a child giving up on STEM and excelling in STEM. That’s why mentors need to also be up to date with the curriculum and training they need to empower their students.
Because this is so important, at Kid Spark Education we offer professional development training for the instructors that use our programs. We have professional development courses hosted through Kid Spark’s online learning management system.
5. Choose a STEM Program That is Easy and Affordable
One of the most important things about creating a STEM afterschool curriculum is making one that is sustainable and affordable for your school. No matter what a school’s funding is or what resources students have outside the classroom, everyone deserves the chance to experience the power of STEM learning. That’s why, at Kid Spark Education, we wanted to build a program that had a low barrier of entry and tools that can be built on year after year. With the same STEM lab kits and evolving curriculum, students in afterschool programs can use the same tools to learn new lessons, all without schools having to pay for annual licensing fees year after year. Kid Spark Education is readily adopted by elementary teachers and is the lowest-cost school-wide solution available.
In addition, we know every school may not have the resources or budget to allocate for something like Kid Spark Education. That’s why we also offer the Kid Spark STEM Equity Grant Program to provide our STEM labs to schools that truly need it. U.S. public Elementary, Preschool, and Head Start programs serving Title 1 students are all eligible to apply. In addition, priority will be given to schools supporting a large percentage of underserved and underrepresented students. Whether you apply for a grant or investigate whether it can fit in your school’s budget, this program is an affordable, accessible way to bring STEM education to your afterschool programming.
Ready to Start Building Your Afterschool STEM Curriculum?
Of course, this is just a quick overview of how you can build your afterschool STEM curriculum with the support of a partner like Kid Spark Education. If you’re interested in learning more about adding Kid Spark Education programs at your school, we’d be happy to talk to you about this further.
With Kid Spark, students learn to see like designers and think like engineers, so that they have the skills to change the world. Ultimately these experiences help students develop a lasting interest in STEM for years to come. Learn all about our Elementary and Middle School STEM programming here. If you would like to bring Kid Spark Education to your classroom, purchase programs here.