Friday, August 30, 2013

School’s Starting: Are Students Ready? The Benefits of Summer Learning for Kids’ Physical and Academic Fitness

By Guest Bloggers Patrice Chamberlain, Director of the California Summer Meal Coalition & Jennifer Peck, Summer Matters Campaign Co-Chair   


Patrice Chamberlain
It’s almost time to head back to school– but are students ready? One telling sign of a student’s physical health and academic readiness for the year ahead is whether they had access to a high quality summer learning program.

It is well documented that a lack of summer learning opportunities leads to “summer learning loss” – the loss of skills and knowledge that causes teachers to spend valuable fall classroom time re-teaching students who need catching up. 

According to the National Summer Learning Association, the cost of re-teaching material that students forget due to summer learning loss is four to six weeks of school time, or $1,500 per student. 


Jennifer Peck
It's not just academics that suffer when students miss out on summer learning, but their physical health may suffer as well. Low-income and rural communities often have fewer supermarkets and retail outlets offering healthy food; they may also lack safe places to play. For many children living in those neighborhoods, school’s summer closure means disrupted access to a consistent source of healthy food and fewer opportunities for physical activity. Without that access, children may become sedentary and eat junk food or skip meals. 

A UC Irvine study found that low-income children are more likely to fall into these unhealthy habits due to a lack of opportunity to participate in organized activities. Without access to summer learning activities, students may gain weight two to three times faster during the summer than during the school year. 

As part of a nationwide effort to prevent summer learning loss, a growing number of school districts are recognizing the need to make providing equal access to high-quality summer learning programs a priority because they offer an unparalleled opportunity for children to learn while having fun, with nutritious meals and health and wellness education blended into engaging projects and activities.

In addition to the summer learning activities taking place in schools, there are also community-based organizations across California that are partnering in new and innovative ways – and opening their doors to students and their families – to make sure summer matters. 

In Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, for example, local libraries have joined the efforts to keep kids healthy by jointly launching Summer Lunch at the Library programs to combat summer learning loss and summer hunger – offering summer reading programs along with free, healthy lunches through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer nutrition programs.



Summertime is an untapped resource; when students are free from homework and other stresses associated with the school year, they are free to learn and participate in new ways. In addition, summer programs can help promote healthy eating and active living by incorporating physical activity and nutrition education. Introducing students to summer’s agricultural abundance through summer programs is a great way to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables (not to mention it helps California farmers too). 

Although the onset of the school year will soon leave summer as a distant memory, we must continue to advocate for a coordinated and year-round approach to student health and learning that includes summer—it’s an investment in our students’ future. Parents, government agencies, community organizations, businesses, and school districts all play a role in setting students up for success. They are, after all, our future leaders and workforce that will help sustain our communities. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Young People and STEM: Did You Know That...


By Sam Piha


In 2012, a report entitled Where are the STEM Students? What are their Career Interests? Where are the STEM Jobs? was published. This report focused on high school aged youth and STEM careers. Below are some findings cited in that report.



  • One out of four high school students indicates interest in pursuing a Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics major or career. 

  • High school seniors are about 10% less likely than high school freshmen  to indicate interest in STEM majors and careers. 

  • Male students are over three times  more likely to be interested in STEM majors and careers, compared to female students.


  • While the gender gap in STEM interest had remained relatively steady over the past two decades, it is now increasing  at a significant rate. 

  • Mechanical Engineering is the most popular major/career choice among STEM students, followed by Biology. 

  • Nearly one-third of students with STEM major or career interest will be the first in their families to attend college.  

  • Female students are significantly more likely to be interested in the STEM majors/careers of Biology, Chemistry, Marine Biology and Science. 

  • Hispanic students with STEM interest are significantly more likely to be first generation college-bound, compared to other ethnic groups. 

  • STEM major/career interest among high school seniors has increased by over 20% since the graduating class of 2004. 

  • Engineering and Technology interest are on the rise, while interest in Science and Mathematics has decreased over the past few years.

  • American Indian students are the most likely to be interested in Engineering, compared to students of other ethnic groups. 


  • One-quarter of students interested in STEM majors or careers are taking Advanced Placement courses in high school. 


  • Since the graduating class of 2000, African American interest in STEM majors/careers has dropped by nearly 30%. 


  • STEM students are more likely to prefer attending a small or medium-sized college that is close to home, compared to non-STEM students. 


  • Interest in Electrical/Electronic Engineering is higher among underrepresented ethnic groups, compared to Asian and Caucasian students. 


  • Students with STEM interest are nearly twice as likely to be interested in attending a vocational or technical college, compared to students without STEM interest. 

  • Male students are significantly more likely to be interested in the STEM majors/ careers of Mechanical Engineering, Game Design/Development, and Computer Science. 


  • Four years ago, high school seniors were 50% more likely to report being interested in Mathematics majors and careers than seniors today. 


  • Female students are over twice as likely to be interested in Environmental Science, compared to male students. 





Thursday, August 15, 2013

Defining Youth Outcomes for STEM Learning in Afterschool (Part 2)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Recently, we learned that the Afterschool Alliance has a staff person dedicated to the STEM movement in afterschool programming. We also learned that she was a leader in a recent study, which worked with afterschool stakeholders to identify honest youth outcomes of STEM afterschool and summer programs. What we found most interesting about her study was her findings about which outcomes afterschool leaders were most/least confident they could demonstrate. Using this "weighted" approach to discussing the proposed youth outcomes was very useful in raising issues and questions worth exploring.

Dr. Anita Krishnamurthi
Below is the second part of our interview with Dr. Anita Krishnamurthi, Director of STEM Policy at the Afterschool Alliance. In this interview, Dr. Krishnamurthi discusses her new study and the relevance of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles. 


Q: In a recent article in Education Week, you noted that afterschool leaders are pessimistic about being recognized for their STEM work. Can you say more? 

A: We have always known that current assessment measures don’t adequately capture the outcomes of informal science education programs.  Our study revealed that afterschool practitioners in particular believe there aren’t assessment tools to capture the impact of their programming as described by this set of outcomes and indicators. 

Additionally, the attitudinal and affective outcomes of STEM programming are often not valued as much as pure content knowledge. Informal science education programs, including afterschool, often have tremendous impact on these issues, but a large part of their contributions are not valued as being as essential as content knowledge. People are consequently a little discouraged, but that doesn’t mean we stop doing this very important work. It just means that we continue to make the case for a more holistic approach to STEM education reform and ensure that new assessment tools can measure all that we know is important. 

It is worth keeping in mind that there has been tremendous progress over just the past few years – the afterschool field has embraced STEM programming and there are amazing and innovative afterschool STEM programs running all over the country now. Afterschool programs are increasingly recognized as key partners in STEM education and we are now discussing details of assessment.  We’ve come a long way!


Q: How do you see STEM work in afterschool and summer programs aligning with the new Common Core State Standards? 

A: The Common Core Standards emphasize higher-order thinking skills and also offer the opportunity to adopt more of an inter-disciplinary approach. STEM fields are by nature extremely inter-disciplinary even though they may be taught as very separate topics. Math is the language of science, and scientists and engineers also need to communicate about their work with each other and with other interested parties including the lay public. The Common Core Standards offer an opportunity for schools and afterschool/summer programs to partner even more deeply to structure hands-on team-based opportunities and projects.

The release of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) later this spring could also provide a great opportunity for afterschool and summer programs.  NGSS emphasizes the cross-cutting practices of STEM fields in addition to the content. It will be difficult for schools to implement the NGSS by themselves.   Afterschool and summer programs can partner with schools to ensure that young people have experiences that complement school-day learning so that we achieve that ecosystem for learning.



Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project names five key learning principles that should characterize our out-of-school programs - learning that is active, collaborative, meaningful, supports mastery, and expands horizons. Can you say a few words about each of these principles and how they relate to good STEM learning and teaching? 


A: These principles are exactly what learning in general should be about, not just out-of-school-time learning! You will notice that the youth outcomes and indicators we found in our study are completely in line with the five principles of LIAS. 

Our study participants expressed support and confidence that the field can support young people to actively participate in STEM programs by encouraging curiosity and developing problem-solving skills, to work in teams to conduct STEM investigations, to develop real skills and capacities relevant to STEM fields, and to develop an understanding of the variety of STEM careers available and the relevance of STEM to everyday life, including their personal lives.  

Q: Do you have any advice and/or resources for afterschool and summer programs that want to increase their support for STEM learning?  

A: The first thing I would say is that children start off as natural scientists—they are curious, they explore the world around them fearlessly and they ask a lot of questions. So all we really need to do is not stifle their natural inclinations and support them as best we can.  

But while it is good to engage with this effort in any way that you can, it is important to keep the five LIAS principles in mind so that programs can get beyond “random acts of STEM.”  We know from research and looking at program models that show positive impact on participants, being very intentional and deliberate about programming and offering STEM programs regularly and not as one-off events are critical. Setting aside time and resources for professional development of staff is also essential. Finally, partnering with STEM professionals or STEM-rich businesses or organizations may make it easier for programs to deliver STEM content and a richer experience for the young people.  

Finally, I would add that we have to change our definition of what being literate means in the modern world. STEM literacy and proficiency are as essential now as being able to read, write and do basic arithmetic. There are a lot of free resources available for afterschool and summer programs that want to offer STEM learning opportunities. The list below provides many resources to get you started and will take you to other websites with even more resources.

_________________________
Dr. Anita Krishnamurthi is the Director of STEM Policy at the Afterschool Alliance. She leads efforts to advance policies, research and partnerships so children and youth can have rich STEM education experiences in their afterschool programs. An astronomer by training, Anita received her PhD from The Ohio State University, conducting her postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Over the past decade, she has been deeply involved in science education and outreach through a range of roles at the National Academy of Sciences, NASA and the American Astronomical Society.  Anita strongly believes that afterschool programs play a critical role in STEM education reform and must be treated as strategic partners.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Defining Youth Outcomes for STEM Learning in Afterschool (Part 1)

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
Recently, we learned that the Afterschool Alliance has a staff person dedicated to the STEM movement in afterschool programming. We also learned that she was a leader in a recent study, which worked with afterschool stakeholders to identify honest youth outcomes of STEM afterschool and summer programs. What we found most interesting about her study was her findings about which outcomes afterschool leaders were most/least confident they could demonstrate. Using this "weighted" approach to discussing the proposed youth outcomes was very useful in raising issues and questions worth exploring.


Dr. Anita Krishnamurthi
Below is an interview with Dr. Anita Krishnamurthi, Director of STEM Policy at the Afterschool Alliance. In this interview, Dr. Krishnamurthi discusses her new study and the relevance of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles. 

Q: How do you view the role of afterschool and summer programs in promoting STEM learning?

A: Afterschool and summer programs that offer STEM learning opportunities are critical for young people, especially those who may not have the opportunities to enroll in enrichment activities that their more affluent peers might.  We know that children from populations that are traditionally under-represented in STEM fields participate in afterschool programs in large numbers.  Afterschool programs provide an opportunity to engage the very children we need to reach out to the most, offering hands-on learning experiences that can get them excited about STEM topics and careers.  Afterschool and summer programs also provide a flexible and personalized learning environment, allowing all children to engage in STEM fields on their own terms and see how they can make it “fit” for themselves.


Q: Do these informal youth programs have unique advantages over in-school STEM learning? If so, what would you point to? 


A: We need to shift our mindset about education away from treating school and out-of-school learning as completely separate things and instead move to one where we are thinking about providing an ecosystem for learning.  In such a system, school and out-of-school learning are partners with the end goal of supporting children who are engaged and excited about learning and gaining the holistic set of skills and proficiencies they need to become successful adults.  It is very difficult for schools to do this all by themselves and it is also not fair to expect schools to do this alone when there are many willing and capable partners.  

Informal youth programs, such as afterschool programs, have some unique traits that are really well-suited for STEM learning—the informal nature of such programs allows children to play around with STEM topics without a fear of failure and to explore topics in a manner that helps to bring the school-day learning to life.  This is a really important piece that doesn’t often get talked about—proficiency is not the only thing that will persuade young people to pursue these fields.  

What is more important is that they associate STEM fields with having fun while doing intellectually interesting and challenging things, and see careers in these fields as personally fulfilling as well as contributing meaningfully to their communities and the larger world.  Interest, engagement, and proficiency are part of a cycle—they feed off of each other and we need all of these components to get to the end goal of a young person who makes a decision to engage and stick with STEM fields.


Q: In your work at the Afterschool Alliance, you recently led a study of afterschool and STEM. Why did you conduct this?

A: We found that a lot of people are very supportive of afterschool as a concept and were very willing to consider that it could be a good partner in STEM education.  But they wanted more clarity about exactly what afterschool programs can contribute to this national priority of reforming and improving STEM education.  

The afterschool field has generally always said that it can get children excited about STEM, however, we found that this was seen as a necessary but completely insufficient deliverable by the wider STEM education community. We knew that getting children excited about STEM was a foundational contribution of afterschool programs but that children were also learning many valuable skills and proficiencies in afterschool STEM programs. At the same time, there has been increasing interest in defining assessments for informal science education in a variety of settings including afterschool programs.  

We wanted to make sure that the afterschool field had a say in this discussion and could define appropriate and feasible youth outcomes for STEM learning in afterschool.  Without input from the afterschool field, we would be saddled with measures that didn’t quite fit the setting.  We know that test scores don’t necessarily capture all the impacts of afterschool STEM programs, but we need to get specific about what else afterschool programs are able to deliver.  It is not sufficient to reject test scores as a measure of the afterschool field’s impact on STEM learning without offering other measureable outcomes that are more reflective of our impact in this area.  

We know that afterschool STEM programs have some amazing results, so our study was an attempt to define and articulate those outcomes.  We hoped this would provide the field with a set of achievable goals and also provide some common language around how to describe them.


Q: In your study, you settle on a few STEM outcomes that afterschool programs should claim. What are those? 

A: There are three major developmental outcomes for children in afterschool STEM programs that the participants in our study agreed on.  
Through afterschool STEM programs, children and youth:

  • Develop interest in pursuing STEM learning activities. (“I like to do this.”)
  • Develop capacities to productively engage in STEM learning activities. (“I can do this.”)
  • Develop expanded value for and commitment to pursuing STEM learning activities and pathways. (“This is important to me.”)

In addition, the participants in our study identified and ranked a set of six indicators of learning, which are concrete ways that young people demonstrate progress toward the intended program outcomes with respect to STEM learning.  These start to get more specific and include items like “Active participation in STEM learning opportunities,” “Ability to productively engage in STEM processes of investigation,” and “Ability to exercise STEM-relevant life and career skills.” 

We then got even more specific and asked them about “sub-indicators,” which represent specific, measureable dimensions of the indicators. The study results indicate that afterschool providers and supporters have a high level of confidence that afterschool programs are well positioned to support and expand those sub-indicators that stress the doing of science and developing “21st century skills” such as forming questions, problem solving and working in teams. They expressed a medium level of confidence in sub-indicators that addressed larger systems level issues that they may not have control over (such as pursuing other school-based or out-of-school STEM learning opportunities) or delved into specific issues such as understanding how to pursue STEM careers.  

But we think that this set of outcomes, indicators, and sub-indicators provides a good framework for how afterschool providers can think of their youth outcomes for STEM learning. It captures what is happening but provides specific language that the larger STEM education community will recognize and value.  I also want to stress that the outcomes framework we present is not intended to represent a set of mandatory goals for all afterschool STEM programs.  We know the afterschool STEM field is very diverse and the impacts are entirely dependent on the particular circumstances of each program (such as age of participants, resources, goals, community context, etc.). You can download the study report to learn more!



_________________________
Dr. Anita Krishnamurthi is the Director of STEM Policy at the Afterschool Alliance. She leads efforts to advance policies, research and partnerships so children and youth can have rich STEM education experiences in their afterschool programs. An astronomer by training, Anita received her PhD from The Ohio State University, conducting her postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Over the past decade, she has been deeply involved in science education and outreach through a range of roles at the National Academy of Sciences, NASA and the American Astronomical Society.  Anita strongly believes that afterschool programs play a critical role in STEM education reform and must be treated as strategic partners.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Guide to Implementing the LIAS Learning Principles

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles have made great inroads to the quality conversation in California. These principles serve as a core to the program quality standards recently recommended to CDE and they have appeared in several important field reports and documents.

It is not enough that the LIAS principles are well-known and being used by some programs. They have to make their way into the design of and day-to-day practice of many afterschool programs. 

To promote the large-scale integration of the LIAS principles, we developed Introductory Guide: Integrating the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) Learning Principles in Program Design and Practice. This guide includes: 

  • An interview with California Superintendent, Tom Torlakson; 
  • A review of recent research on afterschool programs;
  • An up-to-date glossary on afterschool program terms;  
  • More information on each of the five learning principles;
  • Examples of exemplar activities being conducted by California afterschool programs;
  • Things that programs can do right now to begin aligning themselves with these principles;
  • An observation rubric that programs can use to assess their own activities; and 
  • Several orientation and training activities that program leaders can use to introduce these principles to their staff and school stakeholders. 
This introductory guide can be purchased by writing to the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project at contact@learninginafterschool.org. The purchase price of this 118-page color guide is $30, plus postage. 

We also have training resources to support this work including:

  • Introduction to the LIAS Learning Principles – This is a half-day, interactive training introducing staff to the LIAS learning principles and how they might be applied to afterschool and summer programs. This training includes brief videos of national afterschool and educational leaders reflecting on the LIAS learning principles.
  • Implementing the LIAS Learning Principles – This half-day, interactive training addresses methods for implementing the LIAS learning principles. It includes how to use an observation rubric to assess program alignment and explores best practices in applying these principles. This training includes brief videos of national afterschool and educational leaders reflecting on the LIAS learning principles.
  •  An Extended Learning Community on Program Improvement to Better Implement the LIAS Learning Principles – This multiple meeting approach brings program leaders together to closely examine each learning principle, assess their current alignment, explore best practices, and promote program improvement through developing and implementing improvement plans. We successfully piloted this approach with program providers from Oakland Unified School District. This training includes brief videos of national afterschool and educational leaders reflecting on the LIAS learning principles, the 118-page LIAS Implementation Guide, and other materials to introduce these concepts to school and program personnel.
  • Training Older Youth in LIAS Program Implementation – This one-day, experiential leadership training is designed to prepare youth to assess their own program or another program using the LIAS observation rubric. Young people are trained on how to develop their findings and communicate them with program leaders. They are also prepared to formulate ideas as to how to improve program activities. This workshop is an excellent way to involve and engage youth leaders in program improvement.
  •  BRIEF VIDEO INTERVIEWS WITH NATIONAL AFTERSCHOOL AND EDUCATIONAL LEADERS – This DVD contains ten interviews with national leaders reflecting on the relevance of the LIAS learning principles. They include leading researchers, school superintendents and principals, and afterschool and summer program activists. This is a very useful tool in introducing the value of the LIAS learning principles to program staff, school personnel, and other stakeholders. This DVD is available for purchase.