March 18, 2020
It doesn’t take a microscope to find good summer STEM programming ideas at Y4Y. Perhaps you wanted to attend Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series in January but simply couldn’t fit it in your schedule. Well, don’t worry: Y4Y recorded the entire series with you in mind! It guides 21st CCLC program directors and practitioners through nine steps to plan ahead for a summer filled with enriching, engaging, real-life opportunities for students. Making sure young brains stay “turned on” during those “off months” while school’s out will help them retain what they’ve already learned — and provide new experiences for students to build on when school starts up again.
The webinar series has three objectives: (1) Engage in the steps for planning, designing, implementing and assessing a summer learning program; (2) Develop strategies to implement components of a successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program; and (3) Identify Y4Y resources that assist with STEM in summer learning.
Providing summer enrichment experiences is especially important to students from low-income families served by 21st CCLC programs. With each year of education, there’s a growing gap in learning between students from lower-income families, who often have limited access to enriching experiences, and their middle- and higher-income counterparts, who usually have more opportunities to visit libraries, museums and interesting vacation locales during out-of-school time. Those with more opportunities are less likely to experience a loss of academic skills and knowledge (sometimes called the “summer slide”). The impact is seen not only in students’ reading and math scores, but also in their future career interests and prospects. In fact, only 16% of graduating U.S. seniors are proficient in math and have an interest in a career in STEM.
In addition to closing learning gaps and reducing the summer slide, 21st CCLC summer STEM programming has the power to truly inspire excitement in STEM areas by offering hands-on, authentic learning opportunities free of the time constraints that classrooms operate under. Activities that are real, active and local will be most meaningful to students and carry the longest-lasting benefits.
Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series will stimulate your thinking about what’s possible and how to plan for it. For example, you’ll be asked to draw a simple figure to represent each of the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Webinar leaders explain that this activity mirrors how you can set students up for success by meeting them at the most elemental level of STEM understanding, and building from there.
The webinar walks you through nine crucial steps to intentional program development:
Step 1: Build a Program Team
Now is the time to think about how best to use the staff you currently have, and where you might consider making additions to your program for the summer. Keep communication the centerpiece of your staffing as you develop programming and clarify roles and expectations. What new partnerships can be forged to fill remaining or anticipated holes in optimal STEM activities? A great tool to use during this step is the Y4Y Program Team Communication Process Form.
Step 2: Assess Needs and Map Assets
A needs assessment will always bring you right to data’s doorstep. Remember the universal 21st CCLC data sources: school-level data, student-level data, and student voice and choice. Reflect not just on the data, but also on what could be behind it. For example, if school-level data show a considerable disparity in state assessment scores among ABC Elementary third-graders, does a break-out show that one classroom outperformed others? If so, that classroom teacher may be the perfect resource to help you develop summer STEM activities to close learning gaps. With student-level data, review the Next Generation Science Standards to gauge where your students are. Use this as your starting point to meet them with summer STEM activities. Finally, don’t forget those student voice surveys, available in Y4Y’s 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet. Knowing how to tailor projects to student interests is the best insurance policy for engagement.
Step 3: Set SMART Goals
Be sure to consult your school-day sources on the sorts of growth benchmarks they use so that your SMART goals are consistent with your data. To brush up on SMART goals (that is, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) see Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool. Summer offers a lot of latitude in planning activities, and you’ll be off to a great start when you align with students’ school-year STEM learning and build from there. Make the most of the elbow room and reach for the stars. Don’t forget the Y4Y 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet to help you bring student voice and choice into your goal setting.
Step 4: Logistics: Map Your Resources
Bring all your assets to the table and think about what you can achieve. What does your schedule look like? What does your facility look like? What materials are at your disposal? What about current and potential partners? What does “STEM-expert staffing” look like, and what changes can or should be made now while you have the luxury of (a little) time? A good thing to keep in mind around resources is back-up planning. If you suddenly don’t have access to the usual space, is there somewhere else you can still carry on the day’s activity with just a few tweaks? Outdoors can be a great option in summer, depending on where you’re located. What about substitute materials? And is there good cross-team communication in case you have to make staffing substitutions? Take all of these factors into consideration as you do your logistics planning.
Step 5: Intentionally Design Activities
Time to get creative! First, you may want to give thought to the best framework for your STEM activities. Does a club structure make sense? Theme weeks? A party planning format? Next, remember those key elements of activity design: real, active and local. Many colorful resources are available to help connect students to STEM principles. For example, computational fairy tales relate familiar stories to computer science, which can whet students’ appetites for STEM learning. Check out the Learn More Library in the Y4Y STEM course, especially resources like Get the Math that draw a clear relationship between real-life activities and numbers. Y4Y’s STEM Activity Center Planner and STEM Program Goals are good tools to get you thinking about other activity structures and types.
Step 6: Motivate, Engage and Retain Students
Over time, your program will build a reputation, which will help you draw in more students each year, but getting a strong start can be challenging. For summer STEM programs, especially, keep in mind that attendance may not be mandatory, and student buy-in is crucial. Teacher referrals are a great place to start, but you can also ask current and prospective students to help recruit their friends. This way, they’ll feel a commitment to each other in attending. Expand on that principle by giving students voice and choice in your planning of activities to give them a sense of ownership, and offer them leadership roles throughout the summer. Finally, the foundation of any strong 21st CCLC program is a positive learning environment. Y4Y offers a brand-new course on how your organization can leverage all aspects of positivity to energize students and staff.
Step 7: Engage Families
A summer STEM program may be a unique opportunity to engage families in new and exciting ways. You know the challenges such as scheduling, transportation and language barriers that any 21st CCLC program may face. Y4Y’s Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement tool can walk you through solutions, with flexibility at the heart of your efforts. Moving into the realm of proactive engagement in summer STEM could include take-home experiment kits, having families upload photos of their in-home experimenting, or skill-based or enrichment group events that build on the whole family’s understanding and excitement about STEM, such as a STEM-focused game day. Solicit input and leadership from parents throughout the program to expand their sense of ownership. Guest speakers from any job or profession — whether they’re retail cashiers, restaurant managers, bricklayers, nurses, lawyers, electricians or sanitation workers — can provide firsthand examples to show how STEM basics impact every job and every profession.
Step 8: Celebrate and Reflect
Celebrations can and should be an ongoing part of any 21st CCLC program. You might highlight a learner of the week, month or summer. Naming a family of the week, month or summer could encourage family engagement and boost student excitement for their STEM learning. A culminating event allows any program to end on a high note, and a summer STEM event could be extra special. Offer students the chance to put on a science fair or tech expo, stage a good old-fashioned barbeque, or maybe some combination with STEM-focused, carnival-style games. Broaden the tent and get those partners involved!
Step 9: Assess and Continuously Improve
Good analysis is key to the continuous improvement cycle, so be sure to consult solid resources as you strive for the best in your program. Special education teachers excel at offering a myriad of growth metrics to determine student progress. Y4Y’s STEM Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist will help you focus on special staffing considerations for summer STEM initiatives, and Y4Y’s customizable Activity Observation Checklists will help you examine and fine-tune activities. Above all, collect as much feedback as you can from your participants and families because program improvement depends so much on shared ownership.