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Calling for a New Research Agenda on OST STEM

As interest continues to climb in out-of-school science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiatives, there's a growing need to develop new research questions and methods to evaluate the programs, a new report says.

"Out-of-School Time STEM: Building Experiences, Building Bridges" cites survey data indicating that more than 90 percent of after-school providers would like to increase science offerings for children. The report synthesizes findings presented at a 2009 conference and research supported by the National Science Foundation through its Academies for Young Scientists program.

The report notes typical differences between out-of-school (OST) STEM initiatives and in-school efforts. For instance, "OST STEM activities tend to be less verbal and abstract, and more tactile and situated in or connected to everyday settings," the report says. OST programs are often more flexible in the way they use time than their in-school counterparts, which have to follow a curriculum.

"Above all," the report says, "because most OST environments are low-stakes (non-evaluative) environments, they provide opportunities for students to play or experiment with science, taking on new roles and stances that may be less accessible or possible in school settings."

The report's authors credit OST STEM programs with providing valuable, enriching experiences for kids. But they also recommend the development of "new research and evaluation questions, methods, and instruments" for OST programs because such efforts aren't simply mirror images of school initiatives.

The report calls for "a focused research agenda" on OST STEM. The questions that could frame that agenda include:

  • What are the important ways that OST programs build children's capacities to engage in science?
  • What features of high-quality OST STEM programs can or must be maintained in efforts to introduce STEM into a broad array of OST settings at scale?
  • In what ways can the OST space support new and veteran teachers' views of science and science teaching and learning?

The Learning and Youth Research and Evaluation Center at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and SRI International in Menlo Park, Calif., conducted the research for the "Building Experiences, Building Bridges" report.

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