Over the course of my professional career, including college, I’ve learned a lot about how students are effected by out – of - school experiences. Some experiences positively impact our children’s well – being, while other experiences can have detrimental consequences. For example, I taught fourth grade for a few years prior to developing curriculum. I worked with several students daily that went home to empty houses and apartments. Several of these students struggled academically and hardly ever had homework completed accurately, if at all, the next day. It had no part to do with parental neglect, but on the fact that these students’ parents worked hard to provide the necessities for their children: shelter, food, and clothing.
The consequence, however, was that these students didn’t have the exposure to extra – curricular homework time or to additional STEAM lesson plans. If they had been exposed to such things, I’m sure their grades and confidence would have increased drastically. The opportunity to have peer help with homework, the availability of extra experiences to master fourth grade standards – these would have been invaluable for these students. However, after school programs that offer academic lessons and homework structure wouldn’t have only helped the struggling students, it would’ve helped all of my students.
The Alabama After School Alliance states, “Given our complex and changing world, we will need citizens who are critical thinkers and problem solvers to meet our modern challenges. Learning science, technology, engineering, and math – the subjects called ‘STEM’ – builds the knowledge and skills needed to tackle problems systematically, including the abilities to sift through information, draw reasonable conclusions, make decisions based on evidence, and come up with creative solutions.” Every student, regardless of academic level, benefits from STEM, or in my program’s case STEAM, curriculum. Allowing students a safe place to mess up, ask questions, design new methods of solving a problem, and construct their ideas is essential if we are to meet the statement provided by the Alliance.
In the Afterschool Labs program, I research, design, and write STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) curriculum that is executed twice a week. While the lessons are educational, they are also fun. There is no aspect of “Did I get the answer correct?” or “I’m afraid to raise my hand because I may be wrong.” These lessons provide students of all academic levels the opportunity to use design processes without the fear of assessments.
While working in the classroom environment, I wished thousands of times that I had time in my day to provide my students with this sort of atmosphere – no tests, all learning, and fun. Sadly, I barely had time to teach the science standards that I needed to in order for my students to progress to the next grade. Mathematics took up so much time, but it was stressful to meet all of the standards with students. Technology? Art? Engineering? Forget those concepts – there’s no time!
Well, guess what? There is time. It may be in an extra – curricular experience, such as Afterschool Labs, but we can provide students with the ideal atmosphere for learning how to “tackle problems.” There are many reasons parents may desire an after school program for their students: work, keeping students away from risky behaviors, and access to more learning opportunities. By bringing a STEAM – based program into a student’s life, the student can increase academic knowledge, learn how to work collaboratively with peers, acquire necessary problem – solving skills, and experience a structured but relaxed learning environment.
Abbey- Afterschool Labs Curriculum Development