Out of school STEM experiences can be just as educational for students as STEM experiences in the classroom. Summer camps, afterschool activities and weekend programs offer a fun day out for students while exploring STEM content. Out of school staff can present the educational content in ways different than the classroom and these out of school experiences can be very rewarding.
One benefit of STEM experiences outside of the traditional school setting is they provide a low risk environment. Failure is welcome and has no adverse consequence because there are no tests. The lack of school bells allow time to explore multiple solutions to tasks or problems while increasing opportunities for student collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. These programs can lead to students developing interest and confidence in subject areas that seemed hard like science and math because the material is presented in a relaxed setting. For example, this summer the Newberry Opera House hosted an Astronaut Camp. One activity asked groups of students to create a habitat on Mars. The group was given a limited number of supplies, so although each member of the group had his or her own ideas, ultimately there could only be one habitat. The group members had to communicate to explain their ideas, critically think to come up with the best solution and collaborate to work together to build the habitat.
A second benefit of out-of-school STEM programs is the integration of physical activity with STEM learning. Physical activity is often involved in out of school programs. Numerous studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between physical activity and content retention. According to the article, “Active Education: Growing Evidence on Physical Activity and Academic Performance” movement is important. “Children participating in physical activity are better able to stay focused and remain on task in the classroom, thus enhancing the learning experience.” With that being said, it only makes sense that we provide students with these hands on learning opportunities to engage in STEM lessons outside of school. Camps, weekend and afterschool programs give us those chances. Round Hill Elementary in Round Hill, Virginia offers out-of-school activities where using scooters students can become human rockets, using technology students film trick shots in sports, they incorporate science playing solar system golf and use circuit boards like Makey Makey to count push up or laps on obstacle courses.
A third benefit of out-of-school STEM experiences is the emotional connection through memorable experiences. These experiences are ones that students really don’t have to think about, they just remember them. Maybe the experience made them laugh, cry or both. Maybe the experience included making a new friend or spending the summer away from an old friend. When it comes to STEM outside of the classroom, learning about matter while making Oobleck or creating an egg drop parachute to understand the relationships between force and momentum can be memorable experiences. Matter and force are science standards that teachers are required to teach to students. When students have a fun experience being introduced to these topics, they are likely to be more engaged and interested when learning more about them in the classroom.
Even though these experiences are taking place outside of school, they are just as productive as a traditional classroom. Out of school STEM programs should engage students intellectually, socially and emotionally, respond to their interests, experiences and cultural practices and connect STEM learning in a setting other than the classroom. So, whether it is the afterschool program at your child’s school, a weekend festival in your neighborhood, or a summer camp at a local youth center, if STEM education is involved, odds are the experience will be just as educational as if your child was in the classroom and most likely, your child will learn something new.
To find out-of-school activities that might fit your program, check out: