STEM learning cannot rest solely on schools

A recent paper published by The Afterschool Alliance titled, "Examining the impact of afterschool STEM programs," includes research on the importance of out-of-school time experiences for STEM learning. What impact do afterschool STEM programs provide? And can summer STEM programs and camps help close the summer learning gap?

The study looked at afterschool programs in cities across the nation that focused on STEM subjects including coding, robotics, etc.  These programs are becoming more popular as technology becomes a bigger part of everyones lives. Schools are obviously important but they are also being recognized as only one of many opportunities for students to learn and engage with peers and mentors.

Some of the major themes and findings that the study points out are quite interesting.  They ring true to what we are experiencing with our own students at Start Code.  They found that quality outside of school time (OST) programs are having the following impacts on STEM.

  1. "The programs are successful in engaging and retaining large numbers of students from diverse populations in STEM."  We have witnessed this in our labs and summer camps and it is wonderful to see.  Most of our students continue for several months with some students participating for more than two years at this point.
     
  2. "Young people in these programs express curiosity and interest in STEM subjects, in ways that extended that interest in school and out of school."  Many of our students take projects that they began at Start Code and use them in school assignments and science and technology fairs.  These activities cross educational boundaries.
     
  3. "As they participate in these programs, young people gain real skills and the ability to productively engage in STEM processes of investigation."  When creating coding and robotics projects, students must think through design, testing, and problem solving.  They often have to do online research for answers and conduct scientific inquiry.  We help students by pointing them in the right direction because we do not have all the answers.  The computing field is "infinite in all directions" and you have to learn where to look.
     
  4. "Youth learn essential STEM-relevant life and career skills, such as working in teams and collaborating effectively, as well as making presentations to audiences."  We do this every year at summer camp.  Students choose a project and potential teammate during the week of coding. They work together and present to their classmates and parents on the last day.  It's always a highlight of the week to see what they have accomplished.
     
  5. "Participants in many of these programs come to understand the value of STEM in contributing to society and solving global and local problems."  They see how the tools and technology that they are using affects their everyday lives.  Students have many "aha" moments as they see the connections with code, hardware, robotics, networking, security, or any of the subjects that we discuss.  Then they are free to pursue the idea further during the next class or on their own time.
     
  6. "Students in these programs display an increased awareness of career options."  By trying the concepts and tools now and then asking the right questions along the way, students start to see what their own future might bring.  We have taken trips to game companies and had guest speakers and instructors over the years.  We discuss the programming languages and coding that college courses might have.  We build apps and show the students how they can put them on the app store NOW.  All of these experiences shape their future.

It was encouraging and gratifying to see all of these points brought out through data collection and research.  We might have told you these things based on our experience and hard work, but it is wonderful to see others analyzing how out of school time STEM learning is leading to both short and long term opportunities for our youth.  We are excited to see what our students continue to do both during the summer and throughout the school year.