How do I know if it is working for my youth? As we talked about last month, the Internet is chock-full of sites claiming that their activities will turn your young people into scientists and engineers. We know however that all STEM activities are not created equal and it can be challenging to find the right fit for your club or program. Execution, or how you facilitate the STEM activities, is also really important. We will talk about that in future posts!
Look for activities that focus on real world things that your young people will be interested in and will spark their curiosity. It is also helpful if the activity has multiple creative solutions and not just one right answer. Here on campus we run a program called Teen Science Café where high school students work with one of our Rutgers scientists or engineers to learn about current research on a STEM topic of their interest. The teens invited an engineer, Dr. Benaroya, to explore the idea of moving to another planet? Dr. Benaroya completely engaged the teens in engineering and design thinking with just a sheet of paper, a pencil, and their collaborative brains. The teens spent over an hour engineering creative space elevators to the moon. This problem was real-world and definitely sparked their interest! There were as many designs as there were groups of teens working collaboratively on the solution.
At the end of the day, the activity should provide several opportunities for the youth to experience what scientists and engineers really do:
- Asking scientific questions
- Designing investigations or solving problems
- Using math
- Constructing explanations
- Analyzing information
- Using models to explain phenomena
- Engaging in argument from evidence
- Communicating information
Make it cool to want to do these things… especially for your young girls in your club or program. Making your activities gender friendly for both boys and girls is very important.
I encourage you to check out the Click2science STEM Activity Quality Checklist to see how your activity measures up.
As club or program leaders we often can sense when things are going right and when they are not. It might be helpful to think about these questions as you design your STEM activity:
- What will success for your activity look like?
- Where were you at the outset of this activity? What do the kids already know about this topic? (establish a baseline so you can measure progress)
- How will you know that you have been successful? What evidence will you rely upon and hence need to collect to make a judgment on its success?
Thoughtful consideration of these ideas can make a club meeting or afterschool program more meaningful to your young people and engage them in true STEM learning. Next month we will talk about how to engage young people in meaningful STEM conversations.
By: Janice McDonnell, Science Agent, Rutgers Cooperative Extension