We know that poor, female, and students of color are underrepresented in the STEM fields. We also know that most schools are not providing much in the way of science instruction during the typical school day, given the heavy emphasis on the tested subjects, English language arts and math. So, given that American students are generally getting less science in elementary school than they need to develop the knowledge, skills, and engagement with the subject to move toward some level of expertise, what’s a country to do? How do we bridge that gap, short of redefining our educational priorities and redesigning schooling?
The distinguished African American educator Edmund W. Gordon has written extensively on the topic of “supplementary education.” In his book of that title, subtitled “The Hidden Curriculum of High Academic Achievement,” he says, “supplementary education is what parents who know and are able do to ensure that academic achievement and personal development are, in fact, achieved. Well-resourced families and communities are better able to provide such supplements than are under-resourced communities and families – but that does not mean that such supplements must remain unavailable to families of modest means. It certainly does not mean that such learning opportunities are inappropriate to the needs of such children. We are convinced that well-resourced schools, while essential, are not sufficient for the optimal education of many children. These supplementary learning experiences may be even more essential for young people from under-resourced families and schools.”
But what is supplementary education? Essentially, it’s educational opportunities that happen outside the context of the regular school day and curriculum. From field trips focused on non-tested subjects to after school, weekend, and summer educational programs and learning experiences, often connected to service to the community or to travel outside the community to cultural and other institutions, these are essentially opportunities for less advantaged children to expand their horizons and their knowledge by expanding their experience base. In other words, these are the good things that more advantaged parents are likely to provide to their own children. Providing them to everyone’s children is one way to help level the playing field.
At STEM Institute, following George Bodner, we believe in a constructivist approach to teaching and learning. We believe that human beings learn by gradually building up mental file cabinets stocked with all of the observations and knowledge we accumulate through our experiences every day. The more of those there are, the more possibilities for making those critical connections in our minds, linking new experiences, ideas, and knowledge about how the world works to what has already been acquired. Children born into poverty often have fewer of these rich experiences to connect new knowledge to. That’s why supplementary educational opportunities are so important for them.
Let’s take a look at how one university and the school districts it serves are taking advantage of after school hours to help students develop a passion for STEM. Set among 750 acres of prairie, 37 miles from downtown Chicago in the south suburb of University Park, Illinois, Governors State University (GSU) is a relatively new university. Founded in 1969, it is known for innovative programs in teacher preparation and has leveraged federal dollars to improve the educational experiences of children in their surrounding communities. Many of those are children of color and many of them live in poverty. In fact, one of those local communities is Ford Heights, at one point the poorest suburb in the United States.
In 2010, Karen Peterson of GSU was awarded a Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) federal grant for $7.1 million dollars to “enhance student achievement and teacher preparation.” With GSU colleague Pam Guimond, she formed a partnership with Golden Apple to provide the opportunity for 30 elementary and high school teachers from schools across the south suburbs to receive professional development in STEM. Karen and Pam thought it would be a great idea to use some of the federal dollars to support after school science clubs for students in those teachers’ schools and to have Golden Apple prepared teachers form the moderator corps for the program, with each teacher inviting a colleague who had not received the STEM professional development to be co-moderator. Thanks to that vision, approximately 25 middle school students in each of 17 schools, several among the poorest in Illinois, are having their curiosity ignited by STEM.
Kris Linde, a TQP teacher previously trained at GSU and 2013 Golden Apple Fellow Jill Krysinski, a teacher at Bloom Township High School, did the initial planning of the after school clubs program with Karen and Pam. Their model is well worth considering and replicating.
Recently, I sat down with Karen Peterson and Jill Krysinski to ask some questions about the creation of the IC STEM (Ignite Curiosity with STEM) After School Clubs. Here are their responses:
Karen, what seeded the idea for you and Pam to initiate the after school science clubs?
“We wanted to make the most of expanding on the GA training. We had the model of multi-purposing summer school — both student achievement and new teacher development, and we wanted as many of our TQP graduates as possible to get the benefit of learning about inquiry, even if they didn’t attend. So we matched each person who attended your training with a TQP graduate and a few other teachers. Then we called in teachers Jill Krysinski and Kris Linde, and Pam and I met with them and started fleshing it out. We wanted it to be both for kids and for teacher development, so ongoing PLCs (Professional Learning Communities), with Kris and Pam and Jill making site visits to each club. I think this is an important model of multi-purposing work with kids and teacher development (our summer school Express Yourself is designed the same way and NCTE has actually had us do a national webinar on the concept). This is a great example of both job-embedded professional development and multi-purposing initiatives. Teachers have the opportunity for ongoing learning while they are working with kids. We also have teacher leaders who have experienced the Golden Apple training mentoring their partner teachers in inquiry. The focus is both on student learning and teacher development.
Having a Golden Apple Fellow take the lead has been outstanding! We have total confidence in her ordering materials, mentoring the teachers, etc. In multiple ways, this turns out to be facilitating teacher leadership as well. Another really good outcome in terms of the underrepresentation of certain groups in STEM is that 85% of the teachers in the program are women and more than 50% are teachers of color.”
Jill, what role did you play in bringing them about and do you continue to play a role in their implementation?
“I was part of the team that developed the IC STEM After School Club plan. I developed a 2.5-hour training for club teachers based on the Golden Apple inquiry summer training and my own research about how to flip a traditional lab into an inquiry lab. Half of the teachers that attended my training attended the summer institute at MSI, the other half were TQP teachers that were partnered up with a GA trained STEM teacher. I created a binder with the steps to develop an inquiry lesson, steps to flip a lab, and I turned all the the GA Inquiry activities into inquiry lesson plans. The lesson plans I created modeled the lesson plan template we wanted the club teachers to submit to the GSU lead teachers. The goal was that trained teachers practiced writing and implementing inquiry science lessons, while mentoring the TQP teacher. We also encouraged all club teachers to share labs and knowledge with their colleagues
After training in January, the clubs had to submit a schedule of club dates and meeting dates. The goal was to meet as a club 2 times a month and plan 2 times a month. Kris Linde and I created a survey and asked teachers which GA inquiries they wanted to do and GSU would buy those supplies. We met a few times to create a list of supplies for each team. Each team received about $6,000 in materials! Blast Off Rockets, Sliders, Ramps and Rollers, Gravity vs Magnetism Box, Soda Density, Rainbow Density Column, Sink or Float, Hand Washing, Interactions, and the Private Eye were the GA activities that the teachers requested supplies to do. Kris and I added some other fun stuff: Green Snap Circuits, Makey Maky, Brush Bots, Squishy Circuits, door bells, voltmeters, wires, and circuitry tools. We also purchased club sets of markers, scissors, large bins, and shoe-boxes.
All the supplies were delivered to GSU and stored in a lab. Kris and I came in to sort the materials (we had help from GSU TAs too). The teams had to come in January to get their materials. The day when 36 teachers came to claim their supplies was crazy!! Kris, Pam, and I made a schedule to visit each team two times. I have completed round one and I will begin round two visits next week. I tried to consult with teams, talk to teachers, talk to students, take pictures and videos, and write a summary of my visit. Kris and I planned a mid-way all-team meeting that took place in March. All the teams had to present 3 slides and discuss their successes, challenges, share inquiries they created, and describe the overall experience.”
Jill, do you have a favorite IC STEM Science Club story?
“At Roosevelt School in Chicago Heights I saw some great planning and implementation by the teachers and awesome student interactions and responses. Kris Linde and Jessica Chiappetti are the teachers. I observed Blast Off Rockets and Circuitry Circus. I loved several things about Blass Off Rockets. When I arrived the students had already finished the explore phase and they were discussing variables. Kris made some really cool laminated Inquiry Wheels. The students brainstormed in pods about possible IVs and DVs (Independent and Dependent Variables). They wrote on the wheels with dry erase markers. It was fun to walk around and listen to the students dialogue as they tried to decided, as a team, on the best IV and best DV.
I teach high school, so I was amazed to hear 4th and 5th graders discussing the variables and that their ideas were correct. They really understood that the IV is invested and the DV is measured. Then some of the students volunteered to share their ideas. The students’ wheels were placed under a document camera and displayed for all to see. The students were very proud and confident when sharing their ideas. They got to test their ideas, and that was very fun. But I really was impressed with the class and pod discussions.”
Jill, what kind of response have you had? From teachers? From kids? From parents?
“Teachers LOVE it! The club is fun and they really love all the equipment. Many of our schools lack basic science supplies. The teachers, collectively, expressed that their major challenges with the club is the lack of time to go through the Explore Phase, Concept Development Phase, and the Concept Application Phase in 1.5 hours. They had to modify often.
All the students I observed and interacted with loved the club. Many said they wanted to come more than twice a month. Club is cool because it fosters a love of science without the pressure of a grade. I am also a parent. My son Jack attends a club. He loves it. When he comes home I ask him what inquiry they did. I always ask him his hypothesis and the variables they discussed. He explains everything with accuracy and excitement. I am always impressed. Jack told me, “It’s fun because we get to do experiments other kids do not get to do. My favorite inquiry was the Blast Off lab. We used canisters as the engine and solid fuel.”
Jill and Karen, why are after school programs important? How do they impact student learning in school?
“The response from students has been tremendous. Many schools have waiting lists. The students are so focused on the tasks and so excited working with the materials.” (Karen)
“These programs provide an opportunity for additional science education and time with friends/classmates. It gives kids a sense of belonging and a group purpose, much like an athletic team. I think students develop leadership skills, too. This is a great example of how the school day doesn’t end when the bell rings. In my community, this club provides a safe, healthy, after school alternative to a student going home to sometimes a not so safe neighborhood. I think the club supplements school science and enhances the students’ learning at a deeper level. The club generates excitement for science and hopefully inspires these young students to want to learn more about science as they develop into teenagers.” (Jill)
Karen, what can you say about the future of these clubs, once the grant funding runs out?
“We are grateful for our partnership with Golden Apple. It brings a whole new level of excellence in STEM initiatives to our region. We are also grateful that grants allow the opportunity to explore possibilities. We have had tremendous response from the STEM clubs. Multiple districts have told us that they are going to find a way to fund them after the grant ends. They are seeing the power of engaged learning. We always focus on sustainability and that is why we always work to develop teacher leaders committed to particular initiatives. They often find a way to continue without continued grant funding.”
Jill, what advice do you have for other teachers, schools, districts who might be considering starting a similar program? Any lessons learned?
“Do it! What are you waiting for? Schools have athletics, art clubs, band, and choir … why not a science club? We live in a technological world and we are surrounded by science and new scientific discoveries.
On a practical level, make sure that teachers have time to plan, this is really important. Make sure is it student centered; give the students ownership. Let students share ideas and drive the club once it gets up and operating. Finally, clubs should have adequate time to complete an inquiry activity, at least two hours.”
Edmund W. Gordon said, “Various expressions of these supplements appear to be equally important, as are good schools. In my view, nothing may be as important as the fact that parents and other concerned adults participate in the building of the scaffolds for learning, and in the mediation of their use by children to enable children to ‘move up.’”
My sense is that he would highly approve of the IC STEM Clubs in Chicago’s south suburbs, where the adults are doing just that!
You can learn more about Golden Apple STEM Institute here.