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Long-Term Benefits of Beyond-School Science

Chicago's Project Exploration is doing a good job of engaging urban, minority students in out-of-school science learning, and the long-term payoff is impressive, a recent study finds.

In "10 Years of Changing the Face of Science: A Retrospective Evaluation," researchers report that Project Exploration—which targets students who may not have been academically successful—has had a positive and significant impact on the 1,000 children the researchers tracked. The study was undertaken by Bernadette Chi and colleagues at the Center for Research, Evaluation and Assessment at the University of California, Berkeley. It was underwritten with funding from the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Noyce Foundation. (To be transparent, Noyce is providing support to Education Week for an upcoming special report on informal learning.)

In a "Lessons Learned" article on the report, Project Exploration co-founder and Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon, notes that 95 percent of the students studied have graduated from high school or are on track to graduate. The percentage is almost double the overall rate for youths in the Chicago public schools, researchers say. In addition, an unusually high number of the students who participated are pursuing science-, technology-, engineering-, and math-related degrees in college.

"Data from the report underlines the link between meaningful experiences in science, technology, engineering and math—known as 'STEM' learning—and the pursuit of science careers," Lyon writes. "The value of Project Exploration programs extends beyond simply exposing students to new ways of understanding science—as important as that is. In fact, the Project Exploration 'youth-science' model keeps students involved with science long after they finish programs."

Researchers also found that the sense of community and "family" that Project Exploration built was noteworthy. The report states that:


  • 83% of alumni said they felt part of a special community.

  • 95% said they agreed or strongly agreed that "adults showed an interest in my academic success," enabling students to discuss and explore new educational and career opportunities.

  • 91% agreed or strongly agreed that Project Exploration had increased their self-confidence—and 89% felt better about their futures because of their experiences.

Lyon writes, however, that, post-research, one question remains unanswered: "Now, with the results of the research report in hand, we must ask a new question: How can Project Exploration's proven model be shared locally and nationally?"

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