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.

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.

Brief Educational Session Recaps: Saturday, October 13

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

(Session recaps provided by Jeremy Riga, ASTC 2012 communications volunteer from COSI)

We Love Science: Wonderful Discoveries about Our Wondrous World
“I love science. Do our visitors?” A 2010 poll of online readers asked, who do people trust when it comes to science? Scientists are mostly trusted, but that changes depending on the topic. People trust museums as sources of information. Nearly 30% of one museum’s visitors did not share the museum’s view of climate change. A speaker from another institution noticed that some visitors use the evolution display as a platform for teaching creationism. The point is that many visitors love science, but love it in different ways.

Creating Learning Spaces for Young Visitors
COSI wants to document and make visible the impact their work has had. Growing research partners to allow everyone access to the data. From early childhood perspective: height of visuals are important, taking into account kids riding in strollers. Adding small child elements to bigger museum pieces helps the younger audience engage. Dramatic play spaces have enhanced the visit for families. Young imaginations enjoy and appreciate the extra effort.
“My classroom is the museum.”

Communicating Climate Change: Building Global Awareness through Local Citizen Science
One institution uses “citizen scientists” that help them get temperature readings in the sand by having students and families collect data for them outside the museum. They give these people the GPS coordinates of the sensors and can then go locate the sites, download the data, and learn about temperature change and feel part of the process.

Product Demo: Increasing Revenue at Your Venue from a 3D Theater
3D growth: Theatrical, home consumer, aquariums, amusement parks, zoos, science centers, planetariums. 3D increases capture rate an average of 30%, but changes widely by geographical area. Raising revenue means mixing it up: moms and strollers, school groups, families.

Intel futurist Brian David Johnson kicks off ASTC 2012 opening…

October 13th, 2012 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

Intel futurist Brian David Johnson helped officially launch ASTC’s 2012 Annual Conference earlier today, as the keynote speaker at the Opening General Session held in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Johnson, who made a point of explaining to the crowd that as a futurist he does not predict the future, is a self-proclaimed “geek” and a fan of science centers. So much so, in fact, that he disclosed he and his wife were married in the planetarium at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland.

Johnson explained that one of the main objectives of his job is to determine what it will feel like to be a human 10-20 years from now. He took umbrage with the vision of the future put forth in so many movies and books—the vision of a person in a stark, sterile room with the sleekest of electronic devices surrounding them. As he put it, “If we’re going to envision the future, we need to envision a future for people, one that is comfortable.”

“We are all fire hydrants of data,” Johnson said. “We spew data—financial data, social networking data—all over the place. Yet data only has meaning when it comes back and touches the lives of humans. Humans make data and all technology meaningful.”

In his presentation, Waking the Algorithm, Johnson explained that algorithms are imbued with humanity and are, essentially, a story.

He urged the audience not to be passive about the future. “Don’t sit back and let the future happen to you,” he explained. “The future will be awesome because we’re going to build it; why would we build a future that is negative?”

Johnson emphasized the power of science centers and museums in building the future. “You will build the future in the minds of people who come to your science centers,” he said. “You put the visions of science and technology in people’s minds and let them touch it.”

We can change the future, he explained, by changing the story people tell themselves about the future they will live in. We need to focus on making the lives of people better.

“You have an incredible opportunity to shape the future through the work you do,” Johnson concluded. A worthy message to kick off four days of learning, sharing, connecting, and being inspired.

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