Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tis' the Season for STEM

Despite the title of this blog post; every season should include STEM. Every child should be exposed to high-quality, hands-on, inquiry-based, project based STEM activities on a daily basis. A STEM-rich background will prepare our students for the 21st century. Meaningful STEM activities will also expand our student's horizons and make them college or career ready. As the recent data from the Great Recession (2007) shows, in California, STEM  skills have stayed in demand even through the economic downturn. There were 1.4 jobs available for every 1 unemployed person that had a STEM background. In comparison, there was only 1 job available for every 4.9 unemployed people who didn't have a STEM background. The U.S. Department of Commerce also highlighted in its report STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future, that STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17% from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations. STEM workers also command higher wages, earning 26% more than their non-STEM counterparts. We can even take a closer look and look at the E (Engineering) in STEM and see why U.S. companies are lobbying for more H1B visas (the STEM pipeline in america is not producing enough engineers); in the U.S. about 4% of all bachelor's degrees are in engineering, compared with 19% in Asia and 12% in Europe.

We in the after school field have been and can continue to help turn children on to STEM by exposing them to high-quality, hands-on, meaningful STEM activities. Keep in mind though that STEM education is more than just science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; it is an interdisciplinary and applied approach that is coupled with real-world, problem-based learning (Gateways East Bay STEM Network). This means there is art, history, literacy, etc. in STEM. The more that we can weave into an activity, the more doors we can open for our students and their futures. We need to start early though, for if students are not interested in STEM by fifth grade then 92% of boys and
97% of girls will loose interest in STEM subjects.

Now let's step off the STEM data soapbox and see what after school sites in Region 3 have been up to in the last month:

Name of Out-Of-School-Time Provider: Yuba City Unified School District Before and
                                                                     After School Programs

Name of School District: Yuba City Unified School District

Name of School Site: Andros Karperos School (is being highlighted, but all OST
                                     programs are using KidzScience Curriculum this year)

Grade Level of Activity: 3rd thru 5th Grade

Number of Students who took part in this activity: 22

Type of Activity: "Car on a Roll" from Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT) and the
                              "Crime Lab" kit from the Forensic Unit (After School KidzScience

Learning Outcomes: Students were able to:

RAFT –“Car on a Roll”
  •   Learn about motion along inclined planes, friction, gravity, momentum, and potential vs. kinetic energy.
  • Note that an object's motion can be described by recording the change in its position over time.
  • Observe that the way to change how something is moving is to give it a push or a pull. The size of the change is related to the strength, or the amount of "force," of the push or pull.
  • Observe and demonstrate that tools and machines are used to apply pushes and pulls (forces) to make things move.
  • Understand that scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions & conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept, and to address the content of the other strands, students will develop questions & perform investigations.

“Crime Lab Science Kit” from Forensic Science Unit (After School Kidz Science Curriculum)
  • Students learn about investigating a crime scene: sweeping for fingerprints
  •  Students learn about Chromatography
  •  Students are able to set up and observe a DNA station
  • Students are able to set up and observe a Clear Liquids Station
  • Students learn about the Scientific Process while observing all evidence and eliminating “suspects”
  • Students are able to come up with a hypothesis and come up with their own conclusion through exploration of all evidence left at the “crime scene”.

Instructor’s Notes:

The students loved both STEM activities. The younger students were able to contribute to the “Cars on a Roll” lesson more and enjoyed trying out different surfaces and inclines for running their cars down. All of the students were able to try out a variety of surfaces and inclines to see what role friction and velocity played in the speed of the car. The students used different types of tape (masking, packaging, painters) and sandpaper to create different surfaces for the cars. This activity has been a huge hit at all YCUSD After School Program sites.

The students worked in teams made up of younger and older students (3rd-5th) for the “Crime Lab” activity. Immediately, the students’ attention was captured by the outline of the dinosaur feet and crime scene tape. The props provided in the Materials for the kit are very effective in mimicking a true “crime scene” for the students. The students enjoyed learning about the role that dusting for fingerprints plays in investigation. The lesson was extended to include students dusting their own fingerprints and identifying the “type” of fingerprint that they have. The students enjoyed using the DNA and Liquids stations to test PH. The open-ended nature of the lesson plan really allowed for students to identify their own hypothesis and come to their own conclusion through the scientific process and elimination.

We highly recommend the After School Kidz Science curriculum. The students and staff alike look forward to these lessons and activities and all feedback has been positive. All materials and supplies included in the kits can be easily replaced at The Dollar Tree or Wal-Mart.

Yuba City Unified After School students working on "Car on a Roll" STEM activity.

"Car on a Roll" STEM activity.

"Crime Lab" KidzScience activity.
AK after school student partaking in a Crime Lab activity.

For any questions about the above activities, please feel free to email Danielle Pasquale at

Name of Out-Of-School-Time Provider: Wheatland School District Before and
                                                                     After School Programs

Name of School District: Wheatland School District

Name of School Site: Lone Tree, Wheatland Charter Academy, and Wheatland

Grade Level of Activity: K-3 (Tangram Puzzles), 4th - 5th Grade (Colors of Light

Number of Students who took part in this activity: 70 students combined

Type of Activity: "Tangram Puzzles" from Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT) and the
                              "Colors of Light Spectroscope" also from RAFT

Instructor’s Notes:

  • At one site, the Tangram Puzzles were set up as a self-directed center with enough supplies for 1 Tangram Puzzle per student.  While they were initially drawn to the center, only 4 students decided to stay and try to make the puzzles.  Of those that stayed to make puzzles, the person shape  was the one each student chose to attempt.  Two Kinder students decided to make their own in an abstract fashion.  What I did love about the project is that as students sat down to decide if they wanted to attempt the puzzle, they asked for directions, and the students sitting at the table, including a Kinder, stated they would explain the project and proceeded to do just that!

  • At another site, the Tangram Puzzles were set up as a self-directed center with enough supplies for 2 Tangram Puzzles per student.  The staff observed that more girls were drawn to the project table than boys regardless of grade-level. The project held the students’ attention for approximately 5-10 minutes and only 1 student finished the puzzle completely (it took 15 minutes).  The general feedback was that the activity was “too hard”, regardless of staff/peer assistance.

  • Staff said that this project would be more appealing to students if the puzzle pieces had magnetic backings and could be manipulated on metal cookie sheets that had different Tangram puzzle designs on them.  This project scored low on appeal. Staff said that they would include this project “as is” in their STEM center rotation on a 6-12 week basis.

  • The Colors of Light Spectroscope project was done with 4-5th grade students. Ten students participated fully (with 10 more scheduled today). Under staff supervision (and the staff laid out the materials), a volunteer student read the directions. The students built and tested their spectroscopes. Additionally, they decorated their spectroscopes with fancy duck tape, jewels, and other craft supplies.  As the students decorated, the staff were able to engage the students in discussions using the “Science Behind the Activity” and “Learn More” sections.  The students expressed a high interest in this project and requested more like this. We plan on taking this to our Middle School students by the end of the month.

Wheatland after school students proudly showing off their Colors of Light Spectroscope.

For anyone interested in the above activities please contact Tara Arroz at

Name of Out-Of-School-Time Provider: Higher Learning Academy
                                                                    After School Programs

Name of School District: Higher Learning Academy (Charter school within TRUSD)

Name of School Site: Higher Learning Academy

Grade Level of Activity: K-6 (Puff Rockets), 4th - 5th Grade (Colors of Light

Number of Students who took part in this activity: 20 students combined

Type of Activity: "Puff Rockets" from Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT) and the
                              "Colors of Light Spectroscope" also from RAFT

Instructor’s Notes:

The Puff Rocket activity went well. It took some time for the students to get it right, but in the end they really enjoyed it. The group leader took the kids outside to see which student's rocket could go the farthest. The students were really excited about the use of everyday items to make the rocket and thought about building one at home. The students really enjoyed the light spectrum activity. All of the students had a blast with looking through at the different light sources. One of the students cut a heart into the kaleidoscope, and the result turned out really cool. We just wanted to give you an update and tell you how much the students liked the RAFT activities. 

For more information about any of the activities above please contact Michaela Thomas at

STEM Articles/Videos:

a) California STEM Conference Materials

b) Sacramento Bee article highlighting California STEM Conference

c) News 10 Highlights California STEM Conference

d) Capitol Radio Highlights California STEM Conference

e) Middle School Science Standards Divide Teachers

f) Meet the Man who wants to Diversify Silicon Valley by 2040

g) What are the Benefits of Science Experiments?

STEM Activities/Websites:

a) The Coalition for Science After School

b) Exploratorium After School Science Activities

c) Easy to Make Rube Goldberg Machines

d) Preschool Science Activities and Experiments

e) PBS Preschool Science Activities

f) Science Experiments for Elementary School Students

g) Science Experiments and Activities for Middle School Students

h) Hands-on Activities for Teaching Biology to High School Students

i) First Book (Access to books for children in need)

STEM Professional Development Opportunities:

a) Online Webinar: How to Construct your own ebook (Free)

b) Online Webinar: Engaging Multimedia with Animoto and Prezi (Dec. 5 and Free)

c) California STEM Summit (February 3 & 4, 2014 Price: $195)

d) Educators, Teachers, and After School Trainings hosted by SMUD (Free and
    new workshops will be added in early 2014, so please check back)

STEM/Misc. Grants/ Contest:

a) Student Cam Message to Congress 2014 (Deadline: January 20, 2014)

b) End Childhood Hunger Youth Grants (Deadline: January 31, 2014)

c) VH1 Save the Music Grant (Deadline: Rolling)

d) Letters about Literature (Deadline: Grades 4-8 January 10, 2014)

e) Share our Strength Grant (Deadline: Rolling)

f) P.E. Equipment (New Applications Accepted in Early 2014)

g) Teen Safe Driving Grants (Deadline: Rolling)

h)  Starbucks Youth Leadership Grants (Deadline: December 15, 2013)

i) Lowes Toolbox Fund (Deadline: February 14, 2014 or when
                                       1500 applications are received)

j) Fender Music Program Grants (Deadline: Rolling)

Thanks again for all that you do in the field. Please keep us posted about STEM events/activities in your area. Please feel free to contact us at any time.

Monica Gonzalez-William (SCOE: Region 3: After School Regional Lead)

Phil Romig: (SCOE: Science Curriculum Specialist) @

Mark Drewes: (SCOE: Project Specialist II: After School) @


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