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The growing energy behind STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curricula in US schools is influencing the after-school and tutoring communities to provide new learning options. Many educators feel that early support in the form of engaging, out-of-school activities and programs will foster an interest in STEM subjects, particularly among women and minorities who remain underrepresented in the workforce in these fields in the US.

The argument for STEM, not surprisingly, is that STEM learning focuses on helping students learn to think critically, solve complex problems, and participate in advancements in science and technology (with resulting economic benefits). STEM proponents assert that science and engineering jobs are growing much faster than other occupations, giving STEM school students a potential advantage when competing for high-tech jobs.

A lack of STEM learning, conversely, is seen as a major hurdle to getting one of these good job. The Coalition for Science After School quotes in a newsletter that “No one tells [students] or their parents that by failing to enroll in a rigorous, math-oriented college prep curriculum, they’re effectively making a life decision to forego the opportunity to pursue a career as a scientist or engineer.” This group advocates using afterschool time – presumably with the help of skilled tutors – to “get more students on the STEM path.”

2011 was named “The Year of Science in Afterschool” by the Afterschool Alliance, the National AfterSchool Association and the National Summer Learning Association. Similarly, “green” coursework focused on renewable and alternative energy is becoming more popular all the time across the country as a way to engage with students’ concerns about the environment.

This article in Education Week today was my inspiration for today’s post. It highlights an after-school program called Techbridge that fosters interest in STEM among girls. Overall the program has served thousands of girls in grades 5-12 since 2000. Among many projects, Techbridge has a “STEM curriculum in a box” that is being used by Girl Scout troops nationwide.

Who else is teaching STEM after school? The New York Academy of Sciences, for instance, has developed a STEM mentoring program that matches afterschool program providers around NYC and New Jersey with graduate student members of its Science Alliance. Academy staff and “curriculum partners” collaborate to train grad students and then place them in afterschool programs as instructors and mentors. The goal is both to support science education and to help young researchers learn to communicate more effectively about the science they’re doing.

In her Education Week blog “Beyond School” (which I really like), Nora Fleming notes that the most successful after-school STEM programs are those that increase students’ interest – and enrollment in classes relating to – careers in STEM subjects. She cites a report from the Afterschool Alliance, released back in September 2011, entitled “Stem Learning in Afterschool: An Analysis of Impact and Outcomes. This report evaluated programs around the country, with an eye toward improving STEM curricula in after-school programs – especially since many such programs give access to STEM learning to underserved populations like minorities and women.

The highest-quality programs “have the potential to shift attitudes about STEM-related careers, increase test scores and knowledge of STEM subjects, and improve the likelihood of high school graduation and college readiness,” summarizes Fleming.

Are you a tutor or other educator at the forefront of the move to strengthen STEM curricula? Please let us know how your work is being received by students and the wider community.

Featured image courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory.

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