News from STEM Advisory Council

News from STEM Advisory Council

New Report Highlights STEM Learning Outside School

The National Academies recently released a report on Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out of School Settings, which examines best practices for STEM learning in non-school environments.

Children spend 80% of their time in places other than school. Informal settings, like science centers, offer tremendous potential to connect learning experiences. The report notes that “there is growing evidence that opportunities to learn STEM outside of school directly affect what is possible inside of classrooms.”

The report also comments that out of school programs are “well positioned to broaden participation in STEM learning” by providing inquiry-based resources not typically found in underserved schools.

Effective out of school programs share three common characteristics.  They are designed to:

1.) engage

2.) be responsive

3.) make connections.

  • Engaging children reaches them intellectually, academically, socially and emotionally through first-hand experiences interacting with STEM phenomena and materials, such as the types of activities we offer at the Lab and in our community programs.
  • Being responsive to children’s interests, experiences and cultures includes supporting collaboration and offering leadership roles. Our “For Kids by Kids” design philosophy involves children’s feedback on activities and design of our museum and exhibits. Our Youth Leadership Council and Youth Advisory Board provide near-peer mentoring opportunities, collaboration and leadership experience for pre-teen to high school students.
  • Making connections includes leveraging community resources and partnerships, such as with the schools we visit or the field trips we host. Researchers have found that “deep learning develops across multiple settings and timeframes.”

Caring adult support is also critical to STEM learning. This includes family learning, such as visiting the Lab or attending a Family Science Night, as well as learning facilitated by our staff and volunteers. The report recommends adults serve as “co-investigators” with the children, asking “why? what if?”, and encouraging them to test hypotheses. Our staff and facilitator training emphasizes this exact approach.

“The National Academies report underscores the critical role that science museums plays in enhancing communities’ STEM learning ecosystems,” commented Nene Spivy, Executive Director, “Further, the Children’s Science Center relies on this type of industry leading research to guide the design and delivery of our exhibits, activities and programs both at the Lab and in the community.”