Could an Afterschool Program Be Your STEAM Curriculum’s Secret Weapon?

Liz Alton
Liz Alton

Could an afterschool program be the key to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) growth and engagement for your students?

Increasingly, schools are seeking strategies that introduce STEAM concepts and reinforce classroom learning. Afterschool programs provide time for projects, self-guided exploration, and supplemental programming to build skills, confidence, and ongoing interest in STEAM. The latest statistics from the National Center for Women & Information Technology note that by 2024, only 45% of computing jobs could be filled by the projected number of U.S.-based computing technology graduates. For educators, the challenge is finding new ways to drive interest, engagement, and immersion into STEAM topics. If you’re looking for new ways to deliver a STEAM curriculum, here’s a closer look at how afterschool programs can help.

Understanding Afterschool STEAM Programs

According to the Afterschool Alliance, “Evidence shows that afterschool programs that provide high-quality STEM learning experiences are making an impact on participating youth. Participants not only become interested and engaged in STEM, but develop tangible STEM skills and proficiencies, come to value these fields and their contributions to society, and begin to see themselves as potential contributors to the STEM enterprise.”

That’s not all. Other benefits include:

  • Improvements in Specific Skills: Several studies and individual case studies highlight an improvement in specific skills. For example, one case study highlighted by the Afterschool Alliance found that students who participated in EVOLUTIONS (an afterschool program hosted by the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History) saw significant gains: 88% of graduating seniors reported improved communication skills, 82% improved teamwork abilities, and 71% improved their writing skills. The authors of the study note, “Among all students, 74% reported an increase in science literacy and 71% said they improved their field research skills.”
  • Increased Motivation: One of the most important benefits of STEAM afterschool programs may be the ability to deliver more targeted programming to help students stay engaged. As a recent study in the Journal of STEM Education notes, targeting students’ interests and intentions in STEM content before 8th grade is key to long-term success. The research team deployed a program called Studio STEM to measure the impact of programming on engagement and motivation. Participants’ ratings of their values for science and science competence were higher than those of non-participants. The researchers also reported these students had more stable beliefs about an interest in science and their ability to attend college. In addition, the students had the chance to explore different STEM concepts and activities—and verbalize their specific interests.
  • Career Impacts: In one study, 80% of students noted an increased knowledge of STEAM career options, and more than 75% noted an increased interest in STEAM careers. This increased knowledge and interest could have long-term implications for the desire to pursue a college degree, major selection, and career direction.
  • Inclusion: The STEM Education Coalition reports that afterschool programs help expand access to STEAM programming to diverse audiences, including those based on income, gender, and racial diversity.

How to Design an Effective STEAM Afterschool Program

Afterschool programs have the potential to be much more than a daycare option for students after the school day has ended. The data supports the case for afterschool STEAM programming, and successful programs offer clues on how to focus.

Create Space for Self-directed Activities and Learning

The STEM Education Coalition notes, “Kids power up their STEM skills by plugging into immersive activities extending beyond the standard school day, including hobby clubs, afterschool and summer programs, museums, parks, and online activities. In communities without enough of these outlets, children miss the chance to charge their learning outside of school. That lack of extra STEM practice can have a draining effect on the knowledge and skills they accrue at school.”

Don’t treat an afterschool program as an extension of classroom time; instead, look for ways to encourage students to follow their natural curiosity and interests.

Expose Students to a Variety of Options

Classroom time may be closely guarded due to demanding curriculum guidelines. Afterschool programs let you go off script and introduce students to new aspects of STEAM. For example, a robotics competition allows students to get hands-on exposure to engineering, while a makerspace supports creative innovation. Taking a diverse approach here can round out your students’ knowledge, while also helping them more effectively target their interests.

Take Advantage of Community Funding and Partnerships

There are a number of community-based partnerships that can benefit STEAM programs, whether it’s grants from a business active in the community or inviting in guest speakers from the community. Interviews, informal Q&As, and hands-on activities help kids get excited about entirely new areas of science, math, and technology.

Tap into Existing Programs

There are a wide range of resources that can help you maximize the impact of your STEAM curriculum. The Afterschool Alliance offers a Toolbox that’s a great place to start. The National Inventors Hall of Fame offers options and partnerships for educators. There may also be local or state-level resources that can help increase your STEAM capacity.

Engaging students and giving them the chance to explore self-directed learning, get hands-on practice with exciting projects, and discover the aspects of STEAM that interest them can make a significant difference. For schools looking for new ways to foster STEAM interest and engagement, leveraging an afterschool program is a smart way to get started.

Liz Alton

Liz Alton is a B2B technology and digital marketing writer and content strategist. She has worked with a variety of brands including Google, Twitter, Adobe, Oracle, and HP, and written for publications including Forbes. She is a regular contributor to Connected, Connection’s official blog.

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