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Posts tagged ‘STEM’

How bugs beat out video games

The Teen and Youth Center (TYC) in Seward was at a low point. Attendance was declining, and grades were dropping – especially after summer break.

“Kids just wanted to stay home and play video games,” explains Josie McClain, coordinator of TYC, a city-run program offering afterschool programs and summer camp for elementary and middle school students.

When Josie saw an email from the Alaska Afterschool Network (AAN) – a program of Alaska Children’s Trust – about an upcoming Science Action Club training on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), her eyes lit up. “I said, ‘I want to explore this!’”

“Investing in our children safeguards their well-being today and assures the future success of our state and nation,” explains Thomas Azzarella, AAN director. “Research shows that afterschool programs increase student’s attendance, grades, and graduation rates; decrease expulsions; increase self-esteem, causing a reduction in suicide; and builds the protective factors to overcome trauma.”IMG_1102

Josie received a grant from AAN and attended her first STEM training – on bugs – last October. “I don’t even like bugs, but it was so cool,” she says. After completing the training, she brought the curriculum kit back to Seward and launched a pilot program for middle schoolers.

And that’s when the tides began to turn for TYC.

“Before, we didn’t have these kinds of programs in Seward. It helps us reach kids we don’t normally see, and we are seeing more and more of them,” Josie shares. “Kids interests began to change, and we started to see them light up.”

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The STEM afterschool program was so well received that Josie built the entire summer program around STEM. With coaching from AAN, Josie wrote and received a grant from the Seward Community Foundation to help cover summer activities. “We were full for the first time in years,” she says. “We even had a wait list.”

As part of the summer program, kids visited botanical gardens, explored the Imaginarium in Anchorage, and went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Alaska Zoo. “It was the coolest summer, and I have been doing this for a long time,” says Josie, who has been at TYC since 2005.

While increased participation is exciting, it’s the change in the kids that is most powerful. “Kids are having conversations, partnering more and asking good questions. They want to do activities, not just hang out. And they are having a lot of fun – they don’t think it’s work,” Josie shares. “It is really cool to watch the changes.”

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One student in particular stands out to Josie – a middle schooler who has always struggled to fit in with his peers. This summer, as part of another Science Action Club STEM curriculum on birds, the student was put in charge of researching the different kinds of birds that the group saw.

“He was very meticulous. He went beyond what the lesson was – he researched more and then came in and presented to everyone,” Josie recalls. “It gave him the opportunity to be the hero. He still had rough times but to watch him shine in those moments was so special.”

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Josie is looking forward to continued opportunities through AAN, including a Science Action Club training on clouds this winter and the Alaska Afterschool Conference in November.

“I am so grateful to the Alaska Afterschool Network for helping open the door for Seward,” Josie says. “None of this would be possible without organizations like AAN bringing this information to smaller communities.”

The Alaska Children’s Trust 2017 community report is full of inspiring real stories like this one about how our supporters are making a real difference in the lives of Alaska’s children and families. Read more on our website – and if you’d like to help us make a difference, please consider making a gift to ACT. Thank you!

Science Action Club Builds STEM Identity Among Youth

20170227_102025_resizedTwenty youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club stealthily maneuver in the outdoors, keeping their eyes to the sky – they’re on the lookout for birds. These youth are citizen scientists, actively counting birds and documenting their findings in an online platform where professional scientists and ornithologists use the submitted data for research.

The following week, the youth explore how oil spills can affect birds. Comparing two feathers – one dipped in water, the other dipped in oil – the youth discover that the feather dipped in oil will not dry, and investigate environmental solutions to cleaning oil from feathers.

“My favorite activity was seeing what happens to feathers in oil,” says Jacob Belleque. “I was surprised. I thought the oil would come out of the feathers, but it didn’t.”

This is Science Action Club – a curriculum designed to engage middle school youth in authentic, hands-on science during afterschool.20170228_170918_resized

Programs such as Science Action Club address a real need to engage more youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a young age. Alaska employers say STEM jobs are going unfulfilled because students are graduating from high school without the requisite skills. And in college, too few entering freshman see themselves as scientists, mathematicians, technical experts and engineers. Many youth, especially girls and other underrepresented groups, see STEM as something “other” people do – not something they can pursue.

Science Action Club is helping to make STEM relevant, important and fun for all youth. And once students engage in hands-on science, they begin to reconfigure their beliefs about themselves and their abilities. The club has helped the youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club understand that they are part of a larger community – the Citizen Scientist Community. This sense of belonging has led to increased levels of self-confidence and STEM identity among club members.

At the start of Science Action Club, many of the youth stated that they did not consider themselves to be scientists, but that opinion has changed over the course of the club. Youth talk about activities with their peers and influence them to join the club – and the learning doesn’t stop when the club lets out. Youth voluntarily track bird activity at home and seek out and share birding books with each other. Parents have noted that dinner discussions are very animated on club days.

And that’s possibly because Science Action Club doesn’t look like your typical science class.Dillingham SAC 2

Instead, it looks like engineering a device that prevents a raw egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height.

It looks like designing paper airplanes to fly across the room, mimicking the flight styles of owls and falcons.

And it looks like real-life experiments, such as dissecting owl pellets, as well as going on regular birding walks.

“I like Science Action Club because we can identify birds and study them to get to know them better,” says one club member.

STEM education creates critical thinkers and increases science literacy. Science Action Club is only one example of the impact of an engaging STEM curriculum in out-of-school time. And while the Science Action Club curriculum is portable and can easily be taken on the road to different communities, access for many young people is still a problem.

Dillingham SAC 3The Alaska Afterschool Network aims to address these barriers, especially in rural Alaska, by forming partnerships to provide high-quality programming opportunities in the state. The Science Action Club is an example of such a partnership. The Alaska Afterschool Network brought the Science Action Club curriculum to 15 program sites across Alaska in conjunction with the National Girls Collaborative Project and the California Academy of Sciences, with funding support from BP Alaska.

The Science Action Club is only a dent in the surface of creating greater access to high-quality STEM learning in out-of-school time. And even though the research is clear on the benefits of exposing students to STEM activities, both within and outside of school, funding can still be a challenge.

Without continued, intentional support of STEM learning in afterschool, students may not get the chance to discover a future career as an ornithologist, or may not choose to pursue a college degree in physics. Afterschool programs bring STEM alive for youth – and support and active partnerships are crucial to continue bringing opportunities to our youth.

To get involved in supporting important afterschool efforts like the Science Action Club, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Alaska Afterschool Network.

STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants Provide Youth with Opportunities

By Rachael McKinney, Afterschool STEM Expansion VISTA

The Alaska Afterschool Network, Juneau Economic Development Council, and BP Alaska have awarded $24,000 allocated to 16 programs across the state, with grants ranging from $500 to $2,000. These STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants are designed to help afterschool programs implement or expand high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.noorvik-bg-club

The Alaska Afterschool Network (a program of Alaska Children’s Trust) is grateful for the opportunity to help bring such a great resource to afterschool programs in Alaska.

The need to support STEM learning in-school and after-school is ever-growing. Students spend less than 20 percent of their waking hours inside a school-day classroom, and a number of studies show that STEM learning during the school day is necessary but may not be sufficient for lifelong STEM literacy. Afterschool provides opportunities to reinforce in-school STEM learning through engaging, hands-on STEM activities that can garner and sustain student-interest in these fields.

Estimates show that 80 percent of future jobs will require STEM literacy, with employment in science and math occupations growing 70 percent faster than the overall growth of occupations. A strong, educated STEM workforce is critical to the continued growth of Alaska’s economy. Alaska must provide a STEM education pipeline for students to become effectively educated with the critical thinking and 21st century technology skills needed to tackle the rapidly changing economic, communication, and physical environments affecting Alaska.

However, many students, especially girls and those from underrepresented minorities, find it difficult to envision themselves in these careers. Participation in afterschool STEM programing has been correlated with reducing STEM inequities and increased likelihood of students selecting science-related college majors and careers.

peak-2STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants are aimed at fostering this process of sparking youth interest in STEM for a more productive and innovative future workforce. From opening a bakery to creating an automobile engineering summer camp, the grant recipients will help provide Alaska youth with valuable skills to prepare them for success in college, career and life.

The Alaska Afterschool Network thanks all of the grant applicants for their commitment to positive youth development and informal STEM education. In total, 53 grant applications were submitted by a diverse group of applicants, including programs from nonprofits, public schools, and libraries spanning the entire state, with requests adding up to more than $83,000. The Alaska Afterschool Network and our partners are committed to increasing resources and opportunities so all Alaskan youth have the opportunity to engage in STEM learning during out-of-school time.

The 2017 STEM Afterschool Innovation Grant recipients are listed below.

Boys & Girls Club of Alaska – Nome Community Center | Nome, Alaska
The Clubhouse plans to teach youth that we are all changing individuals and how these changes benefit everyone through the exploration of habitats and solar energy. Funding will be used to purchase habitat supplies, microscopes, solar car kits, and wind turbine experiment kits. This will allow the clubhouse to increase the frequency of STEM offerings and to take their STEM programing to the next level.

St. Paul Preschool | St. Paul, Alaska
Funding will be used to purchase a Discover STEM Lab to be used on a rotational basis, exposing students to multiple STEM modalities by promoting innovation and inquiry, developing problem-solving, and encouraging mathematical reasoning skills within their afterschool program.

Boys & Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula – Kasilof Clubhouse | Kasilof, Alaska
The Kasilof Boys & Girls Club Bakery will encourage the use of engineering, science, and mathematical skills among club members. Youth will create a student-run bakery business by constructing a storefront for sales, using data analysis to create and maintain spreadsheets of sale records, and utilizing math and life science skills in baking and nutritional labeling.

Sitka Sound Science Center | Sitka, Alaska
STEM grant funding will be used to create a new one-week summer camp called REVolution Camp, which will focus on automobile engineering, fuel systems, and design and product testing. The camp will expose students to the ideas of automobile mechanics, renewable energy systems, design requirements, and testing engineering.

Cordova School District | Cordova, Alaska
Funding will be used to help purchase a Little Bits Pro Library to provide students with more opportunities to learn and create. The Little Bits Pro Library will enable youth to create a comprehensive makerspace that engages them in hands-on STEM activities.

Meadow Lakes Elementary | Wasilla, Alaska
The Meadow Lakes Einstein’s Club will use funding to purchase materials and accessories to teach students problem-solving, engineering, and computer programming. Students will engineer things such as index card towers and paper tables; robots will be used to teach youth about coding and programming.

Teeland Middle School | Wasilla, Alaska
Funding will be used toward the purchase of a replacement 3D printer, which will be used to manufacture robot frames and used as a vehicle for teaching computer programming to students.

Discovery Southeast | Juneau, Alaska
Discovery Southeast will incorporate an explicit STEM focus into its Outdoor Explorers Summer Camp. Three weeks of the camp will be dedicated to Ocean, Salmon, and Rocks, during which campers will pose questions, conduct investigations, collect data, and create a project to share the information they have gathered.

Friends of the Zach Gordon Youth Center | Juneau, Alaska
STEM grant funding will assist Body and Mind Afterschool Activities in providing new STEM curriculum focusing on snow science, space, and birds.

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District 21st CCLC | Fairbanks, Alaska
Funding will be used to purchase three OSMOs classrooms sets that will be shared across 21st CCLC programs in Fairbanks using their Afterschool Lending Library. The OSMOs expose students to problem-solving, coding, mathematics, and computational skills.

Trailside Discovery | Anchorage, Alaska
Trailside Discovery will use grant funding to purchase a JASON Rigamajig to be used in Anchorage School District Title I schools that operate 21st CCLC programs. The Rigamajig is a large-scale building kit used for hands-on free play and learning.

The Arc of Anchorage | Anchorage, Alaska
STEM grant funding will purchase a modular Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) race track and corresponding Maglev cars. Participants will be able to building different tracks, and will then break into teams to build the Maglev cars that will be used for racing. Concepts such as aerodynamics will be taught to students to help them continually rebuild and improve their engineering designs.

Anchorage Public Libraries | Anchorage, Alaska
A geocaching program for youth grades 3-5 called “Geocaching – Hi-tech Hide and Seek” will be rotated throughout programs held in Anchorage’s public libraries. Geocaching will increase youth’s early exposure to real-world mathematics, geospatial science, and GPS technology, while also building upon critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and teamwork.

Boys & Girls Club of Alaska – Woodland Park | Anchorage, Alaska
Funding will be used to create a DIY STEM program at the clubhouse. Four units will be introduced: Energy and Electricity, Engineering Design, Food Chemistry, and Intro to Aeronautics. The program will promote interest and awareness of STEM among club members.

Camp Fire Alaska – Tyson Elementary and Fire Lake | Anchorage/Eagle River, Alaska
Staff members of Camp Fire Alaska will receive specialized training in STEM activity facilitation, focused on supporting youth to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Additionally, staff will receive an orientation to the STEM supplement of the Youth Program Quality Assessment tool in preparation for observing and measuring quality of STEM programing. Camp Fire staff will then implement 12, pre-planned activities intended to introduce youth to basic STEM concepts.