The Relevance of After-School Science Programs for Students and Teachers Alike

For several years I have had the opportunity to design, implement and teach after-school science programs for both elementary and middle school students in New York City public schools. These experiences have given me the chance to understand the importance of after-school science in terms of getting students motivated to learn and engage in science, enhancing their productivity in their in-school science classrooms, and potentially helping them score higher on standardized tests.


A few years ago I implemented an after-school science club for middle school students. The ten students participated in the program freely. There were several factors that made this science club successful. First, I allowed the students to help design the curriculum. I asked them what they wanted to learn about. Second, I matched the curriculum to the state standards and National Science Education Standards. The administration and other teachers in the school were so pleased to see the students engaging in science through extension exercises in the relaxed environment of the science club. Third, I bridged science with as many other subjects as possible, such as literacy, math, and history. I also had the students explore science in inquiry-based activities and topics related to their everyday lives (i.e., nutrition, health, recycling, pollution, and service-learning projects).

The students created posters on ways to decrease pollution and encourage their classmates to recycle. Toward the completion of that year’s science club, the students were excited about learning and doing science. For me, that was truly amazing.

student posters encouraging recycling

Student posters encouraging recycling. Click to enlarge.Photos courtesy of Janell Catlin.

 

More recently, I had the opportunity to start a science club with a New York City elementary school, which involved my preservice teachers and a faculty member in the science education program, Felicia M. Moore, at Teachers College. The uniqueness of this science club was that it was formed out of a university-school partnership. Teachers College was invited to create a science-based after-school club for third graders.

I encouraged the preservice teachers to employ techniques similar to those I used in the middle school science club. Specifically, I suggested that the teachers ask the students what they wanted to learn about science and connect the club curricula to the state and national standards as well as to the fourth-grade standardized science test concepts. I also suggested bridging other subjects with the science curricula; for example, including stories for students to read, playing science vocabulary games (which was especially important for English language learners), and including mathematical and historical concepts in the lessons.

The preservice teachers were thrilled to have the opportunity to teach science and hone their teaching skills by doing so. Again, toward the end of the year, science club students were more excited about science and felt free to say, “I didn’t like science before, but I love it now!” What more could a science teacher ask for?

All in all, I think that as teachers we must acknowledge the usefulness of after-school science programs. For us, they offer an extension for our students to learn science in a more relaxed and playful environment. Also, once students return to the classroom for the in-school science lesson, they are more knowledgeable and eager to learn and engage in doing science!

How can you get an after-school science club started at your school? Here are a few suggestions: you and a team of teachers can start one independently; you can reach out to a college or university to form a partnership (which was how I started the elementary science club); or you might connect with a community-based organization that is willing to help get you started. You may want to start a blog where teachers can discuss the design and implementation of after-school science programs.


Resources

Some online resources for thinking about activities include:

Environmental Kids Club
Activities, resources and games on environmental issues.

Froguts
Virtual dissections of frogs, owl pellets and squid.

MyPyramid
Activities, resources and games on health and nutrition


Having an after-school science club at your school is an excellent opportunity for your students to learn and practice science in ways that are relevant and meaningful, pertain to their everyday life, and support them in doing well in the science classroom. Most of all, after-school science is fun for everyone!


This article was written by Janell N. Catlin. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Janell at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright October 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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