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Report: How Five Schools Infused STEM Lessons Into After-School Programs

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As the Noyce Foundation prepares to sunset its operations, it's offering a parting gift of sorts to the extended-learning field: a report sharing the lessons learned from a collection of  initiatives to support high-quality STEM programming outside of the regular school day.

The final report on the foundation's Strengthening STEM in ELT Schools project came out in October and chronicles the work of a project intended to improve student interest and interaction with science programming in selected schools from January through June of this year. The project was funded by the Noyce foundation working in connection with The National Center on Time & Learning. (A note of disclosure here: The Noyce Foundation previously helped support coverage of informal and school-based science education and other topics in Education Week.)

The main focus of the foundation project, which was implemented in five elementary schools in conjunction with local community-based science partners, was to address the national issue that teachers, especially at the elementary level, are not well-trained to guide students through the multilayered processes set forth in the newest Next Generation Science Standards, and the hope that after-school formal and informal integration of science, technology, engineering, and math instruction could help fill in that gap.

The 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education offers dramatic evidence that these concerns are well-founded. This survey revealed that fewer than 4 in 10 elementary teachers (39 percent) felt comfortable teaching science and that elementary students learn science for, on average, fewer than 25 minutes each day—factors that the report notes are holding students back from engaging with the kinds of hands-on, high-quality experimentation and analysis that experts agree are vital to building scientific knowledge and interest.

Participants received small planning grants ($10,000-$12,000) to pay teacher leaders and community partners to work together to develop new curricula and plan programming, and were invited to attend a series of three technical assistance sessions provided by the NCTL.

Profiles of each of the five sites throughout the report suggest that the selected schools and their after-school partners were able to make significant strides in providing high-quality STEM education for over 1,200 children, although the educators at these sites recognize they are only just beginning to achieve their objectives after a single semester of documented implementation.

For instance, at Centennial Elementary School in Denver, where around 70 percent of the 500 students enrolled qualify as low income, 2nd and 3rd graders took part in units designed by community partner Eurekus to run 90-minute enrichment blocks each week. One of these units aimed to teach 2nd graders about the six simple machines through particular hands-on projects, each focused on a different machine.

"Throughout these projects, students are pushed to think critically about how simple machines form the building blocks of more-complex engineering, from modern construction equipment to the Mars rover," the report writes.

The capstone project of this unit was to create a stop-motion animation video, through which students synthesized their understanding of their creations by developing their own personal narratives related to the objects.

Centennial science teacher Mary Keohane conducted assessments of 2nd graders' knowledge before and after the unit, in which the students were asked in September and then again in December to identify the six simple machines in both picture and word form. While the class averaged only 34 percent correct in September, the same cohort of students scored an average of 83 percent correct 10 weeks later.

See the full contents of the report and its findings here.

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