Navigating the Afterschool Landscape: Policy, Research, and Funding

October 15th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

(Session summary by Sean Smith, ASTC’s director of government and public relations)

On Sunday afternoon, ASTC 2012 Annual Conference attendees had the opportunity to learn about ways in which to engage comprehensive afterschool programs as partners in STEM education. Session leader Anita Krishnamurthi (Director of STEM Policy, Aftershool Alliance), along with panelists Victoria Wegener (Lead Facilitator, Afterschool Technical Assistance Collaborative, Mainspring Consulting) and Debbie Zipes (Executive Director, Indiana Afterschool Network), shared effective practices, available funding streams, and federal policy issues that affect afterschool providers, while also presenting results from a recent study on defining STEM learning outcomes in afterschool.

The session, Navigating the Afterschool Landscape: Policy, Research, and Funding, began with an overview of what “afterschool” really means, then offered some statistics that helped frame the current state of affairs: here in the United States, 8.4 million kids (15%) participate in afterschool programs, while 15.1 million kids (26%) are on their own afterschool. According to the Afterschool Alliance, an additional 18.5 million kids would participate in a quality program if one were offered in their community—from an ASTC member perspective, then, the need certainly exists. But what can supporters of afterschool do to make the case for increased funding and opportunities? Fortunately, according to the panelists, there is tremendous bipartisan support for the issue. Messages that seems to resonate include the themes of keeping kids safe, helping working parents, and inspiring learners at an early age (which the Afterschool Alliance wants to get out even more).

A number of recent surveys and reports have focused on afterschool, including those from the Afterschool Alliance and Change the Equation and Nielson, which found that less than 20% of households have children enrolled in STEM afterschool programs, and that participation is especially low among elementary and high school students, perhaps because of a recent emphasis on middle school STEM.

What are some outcomes of learning—particuarly STEM learning in afterschool? We know now that they include: inspiring and engaging kids; building skills and proficiencies; and inspiring kids to pursue STEM majors and careers. And we may know more soon, as an ongoing Delphi study aims to delve into specific outcomes, indicators, and sub-indicators that the afterschool field can deliver. The study is currently wrapping up and a report may be ready as early as December.

With these studies in mind, Krishnamurthi reported on the number of U.S. federal programs that provide funding streams for afterschool. There are more than 100, including those offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, and, of course, the Department of Education, which offers the only federal program that exclusively targets afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. ASTC members will be pleased to learn that the program is ramping up its STEM empahsis, and now offers more support for the area. A look at the federal STEM education investment overall shows $3 billion in annual funding across the federal science mision agencies; the Office of Science and Technology Policy is working on a strategic plan to better coordinate these investments.

The conversation then turned to the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks, which was established by the C.S. Mott Foundation in 2002. Networks are public-private partnerships that are designed to provide intentional and meaningful bridges between leaders of schools, communities, and families in order to support student learning. There are currently 41 networks, and the numbers are growing. Networks include a range of partners, like state education, health and human services, and workforce offices, elected officials, etc. Attendees—and ASTC members who were not able to attend this year’s conference—were encouraged to visit the National Network’s website,, where they will be able to find detailed information on each existing state network, contact information available for state leads, and more. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the contacts in your state—Wegener reported that they are expecting to hear from you as a result of this session!

The session closed with insightful comments from Zipes, head of the Indiana Afterschool Network, who shared some practical steps for building an effective statewide afterschool STEM system, including: establishing the leadership team; creating a shared mission, vision, and goals; securing funding and resources; focusing on professional development; undergoing evaluation; and even advocacy efforts. Zipes reported that they have recently developed afterschool STEM standards for Indiana, which didn’t previously exist. Their work includes an online assessment tool for initial afterschool standards, which is scheduled to be launched in January—your feedback is welcomed. Zipes concluded with some great advice for those interested in cultivating great STEM afterschool partnerships in their state: (1) Ask for advice; (2) Stay true to what you’re great at; (3) Engage experts outside your area of expertise; and (4) You can accomplish anything if you don’t care who gets the credit.

Integrating mobile technologies into exhibit facilitation

October 15th, 2012 - Posted in Annual Conference by Christine Ruffo

On Sunday, Beyond Cell Phone Tours: Exhibit Facilitation with Mobile Devices reviewed interim results, including lessons learned, of 21-Tech, a three-year project in which institutions are using free or low-cost mobile apps in combination with hands-on exhibits as a way to extend and deepen visitor engagement. The project, largely funded by an IMLS 21st Century Museum Professionals award, is led by Children’s Museum of Houston in partnership with OMSI, Sciencenter, New York Hall of Science, and Lawrence Hall of Science.

21-Tech’s goal is to lengthen, deepen, and extend learning with personal mobile technologies (smartphones and tablets). The project uses only existing exhibits and mobile applications—no new content is being developed. Facilitation using mobile application was meant to meet visitor interests and advance hands-on activities, not replace them. If an application was too engaging and drew people away from a physical exhibit, its use was discontinued. A list of applications and hardware recommended by the project partners can be found here.

Panelists shared their experiences integrating mobile technologies into facilitation, including the challenges of training floor staff to use the devices in an effective way. The project website has a Gallery Facilitation and Training section that includes lessons learned and best practices.

Evaluation is ongoing, and Cecilia Garibay, Garibay Group, was able to share some early findings. The project has found that connections between mobile apps and the exhibits they are supplementing have to be tight for facilitation that switches between mobile technology and physical components to be seamless. Hardware and software must be easy to use. An application should not be so compelling that it takes away from activity on the floor, and ones that engage adults work best for engaging whole groups. Overall, the groups studied were highly engaged with the physical exhibit, the mobile apps, and the facilitator. A small percentage of visitors were unengaged, and that appeared to be related to group size. In larger groups of visitors, one person was more likely to step back.

For more information, visit

Brief Educational Session Recaps: Sunday, October 14

October 15th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

(Recaps written by Kenzie Moore, COSI membership processing associate and ASTC 2012 communications volunteer)

Teens Teach Space: Engaging Youth in Planetarium Programming
Museums are relying more and more on a teen/youth-based volunteer pool, but how do you make sure that both the teen and the center are getting the most out of the partnership? Two presenters from space centers in the U.S. shared with ASTC attendees their biggest takeaway points from their recent years involving teens in planetarium programs. Important details for institutions just beginning to wade into teen- and youth-focused involvement? Teens need more support and training to get the requisite presentational skills, the adults working with teens need clear scaffolding of what is expected of them in a leadership or cooperative role, and teens frequently benefit from having a chance to practice their roles. The key takeaway for centers with an established youth program? Give teens a chance to shine. Give them a voice in the scheduling of programs they’ll be involved with, get their feedback about what kind of programming or hands-on activities they’d like to do. It’s their center too.

Membership Best Practices Roundtable
It’s no news that members are an important part of any successful museum, but some of the ideas flying around the room today were certainly new ways of approaching those members. From installation payments instead of yearly payments to in-depth tracking of the unique ways each member uses their membership, the roundtable featured newly established practices, a few tales of development missteps, and a healthy dose of reminders to not reinvent the wheel. Members are special, and should be treated as such, but moving forward, shouldn’t we take every chance to personalize our approach to groups of similar members? Just how big of a role do the benefits play in a member’s perceived value of their relationship which your institution? (Hint: a big one.)

Bring the Noise: Doing Demonstrations with Sound
A demonstration doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be something you can only do in the safety of your home base. A series of glasses filled with varying levels of water. A popsicle stick with string, paper, pencil erasers, and a rubber band. A cheap, corrugated plastic tube. Any of these can be turned into a quick, cheap, hands-on demonstration appropriate for in-house or outreach efforts. You can acquire these simply supplies just about anywhere and what you can’t find in a store, you can order through science supply services. Noise demonstrations can be interesting, budget-friendly, and very interactive. A Slinky makes the invisible (sound waves) visible. PVC pipes, ethanol, and a lighter can make a fascinating visual display while coaching kids through observations about wavelength and pitch. If you’re really gutsy, you can even buy a bullwhip to show what happens when you break a sound wave. Just, please, for your safety and the viewers’, watch the training videos.

Born of Place: The Key to Institutional Sustainability

October 14th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

What does it take to make a science center sustainable, adopted by its community, and defended by its community? In Born of Place: The Key to Institutional Sustainability, a panel composed of Don Weinreich, partner, Ennead Architects; Sarah George, executive director, Natural History Museum of Utah; and Eric Siegel, director/chief content officer, New York Hall of Science, explored the proposition that a cultural institution’s success depends on its ability to define, understand, and root itself in its community. Museums can be a safe place for dangerous dialogue

George shared perspectives gleaned through the exploration, development, and founding of the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City. She mentioned the importance of developing constituencies by reaching out to schools, the business community, elected officials, donors, and electors. She also discussed the effectiveness of having others in the community speak on your institution’s behalf, particularly business leaders and key officials. Being ready for surprises, listening to those around you, and avoiding overpromising and/or raising expectations unrealistically are also lessons to be learned.

An institution must partner with its constituencies and develop programs and buildings that sustain relevance and grow increasingly vital over time. Siegel also discussed the renovation and reconstruction of the New York Hall of Science’s facility in Queens, New York, as some of the core buildings were built for the 1964 World’s Fair.

Both the Natural History Museum of Utah and the New York Hall of Science partnered with Ennead on their construction needs. Weinreich shared step-by-step explanation and analysis of the processes Ennead followed in the construction of a wholly new museum for NHMU and the reconstruction needs of New York Hall of Science. The insights he provided gave a much clearer picture into the full scope of these processes, from interview and presentation of ideas through to execution.

Reaching out to bring people in

October 14th, 2012 - Posted in Annual Conference by Christine Ruffo

On Sunday morning at ASTC 2012, attendees learned about strategies for using outreach programs that complement onsite exhibits and activities during Engaging Communities Outside Our Walls, Bringing Visitors In. Panelists shared how their science centers have used outreach programs to increase awareness of their centers, build relationships with people who have yet to visit, and establish themselves as an integral part of the community.

Steve Snyder from The Franklin Institute talked about their efforts to take science out to people where they are even before those people have come to the science center. Making digital connections is an important part of their plan—the center has, for example, begun offering Discovery Camps online as well as onsite. Their goal is to establish relationships through outreach and increase recognition of their brand and resources so that for many, actually visiting The Franklin comes later rather than an onsite visit being visitors’ introduction to all the center has to offer.

Eric Meyer described how Explora’s outreach programs have allowed them to reach new audiences and increase support for further outreach and school field trips. Projects such as holding family science festivals and sending outreach exhibits to libraries and community centers in rural areas have raised awareness of the center’s programs. That increased exposure has led to increased support and funding from communities for both school field trips and outreach programs.

OMSI has been successful in reaching new audiences through nontraditional outreach, including Star Parties held in spring and summer at two Oregon state parks. Tim Hecox described the benefits of the program to all involved: the program is free for attendees, the state parks see increased parking revenue those nights, and both OMSI and the astronomy clubs that volunteer to run the programs gain exposure for other programs they offer.

Catherine Paisley from Ontario Science Centre (OSC) shared several ways the center has worked to reach new and diverse audiences in Toronto. The center participates in several community festivals each year, including the Word on the Street literacy festival where their booth promotes science literacy. They also participate in a program that allows families to check out one-week passes to OSC from libraries in neighborhoods identified as “at risk,” as well as the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s Cultural Access Pass program, which gives new Canadian citizens free admission to cultural institutions across the nation for one year.

Michelle Kortenaar talked about Sciencenter outreach programs that have helped to boost onsite program participation. At Community Science Nights, participants are given free passes to visit the center itself. Staff have also found that afterschool enrichment drives attendance for Sciencenter’s summer camps.

All of the panelists stressed that onsite attendance, while a benefit of outreach, has not been the primary focus when designing outreach programs. Rather, the focus has been on building relationships and establishing strong community ties, which in turn, can encourage more people to visit the center.

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