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Science After School: Sizzle or Steak? [Guest Post]

Chicago journalist Maureen Kelleher writes in with her take on after school science:

In terms of buzz and grant money, efforts to keep kids learning outside the regular school day are hot. Efforts to build a pipeline of future American engineers, scientists and mathematicians are even hotter. Last week in Chicago, these two trends converged in the first national conference on science and technology in out-of-school time. "We think it's a crisis when we have to use all of our visas to get engineers," Motorola's  Eileen Sweeney told the crowd of 250 at the opening reception. "We think you're part of the solution to that crisis."

A 2006 study published in the journal Science showed students with an interest in science before high school were two to three times more likely to earn a bachelor's degree in science or engineering. So far, however, spending on out-of-school time science is small.  EdWeek reported that in fiscal 2006, the feds spent $173 million on informal STEM education compared to  $574 million on K-12 STEM programs.   

What do you think? Are kids more likely to get hooked on science inside or outside the classroom?

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It really depends on how good math and science teachers in schools are at making science very hands-on and interesting. So many teachers are not skilled at bridging the gap between homework problems and the real world, so oftentimes students don't have opportunities to see that there is more to science than memorization and lab reports. After-school activities provide that chance for kids to see the fun and usefulness of science, as well as get a taste of how science can be used in a future career. FIRST Robotics is much closer to what real engineers do than performing 3 pages of circuit problems with test at the end of the week. Science is generally one of the harder subjects, so without that exposure to the real-life applications science just becomes one of those things many kids suffer through so they can graduate.

...of course that's not to say that there aren't great science teachers already out there. I'm an engineer and I never did afterschool activities in K-12, so I know my teachers did something right.

But I agree that afterschool science activities can be very beneficial. Unfortunately, most kids have either developed an interest in or dismissed science by the time they're in middle school, so in the secondary grades afterschool programs become even more important in trying to reignite that interest and get kids back onto the science track.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.