Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers


How can you extend science knowledge and skills in afterschool? Through fun, hands-on, innovative activities that explore science through inquiry-based learning and real-world problems and projects.

Principles of Quality Afterschool Science

The most effective afterschool science programs incorporate the following eight principles. Quality afterschool science programs and enrichment:

  • are for all students;
  • are intentional and standards-based;
  • are active, interesting, and relevant to students;
  • reflect current research and practices;
  • are age-level appropriate;
  • integrate skills from different subjects;
  • incorporate staff training in science teaching; and
  • are based on ongoing assessment of student needs and progress.

Getting Started: Implementation Considerations

Before you begin any practice, consider your program, the background of your staff, and how you can enhance the science content knowledge and teach strategies of your staff.

Considerations for Programming

The best afterschool science programs provide instructors with professional development learning experiences to better understand and teach science through inquiry. Professional development is available through regional and national afterschool training events. Consider online courses or inviting master teachers from a local high school, university, or community college to mentor afterschool instructors as they implement science programs.

Considerations for Curriculum

Always begin by connecting with the school-day teacher to learn more about specific grade-level skills and standards in science. Every state has science standards that school-day teachers and afterschool staff should be familiar with. For more information on each state's science standards, see the Resources section. School-day teachers can also help in selecting age-appropriate materials and books.

Considerations for the Afterschool Environment

Research shows that children excel when they are in a safe and respectful environment that honors the culture, race, and ability of all students. Visual displays, texts, and other materials should represent the children in the class, and portray men and women from a variety of cultures in science careers.

Safety is always a consideration for any science program, and afterschool science is no exception. Students should always have adequate adult supervision—a good rule of thumb is 1 adult for 5 to 10 children. When working on projects outside of the school, pair up students and always have them within your sight. Remind students to wash their hands before their fingers end up in their mouths or eyes and to always use eye protection. Safety goggles or spectacles are available from any science materials vendor. Most importantly, anticipate the worst that could happen and plan for it. Have a first-aid kit available and follow center guidelines for emergencies. For more information on safety, look for safety reference books from the National Science Teachers Association.

Storage and Materials Management

Consider your storage needs. Large, clear plastic storage boxes, with contents clearly labeled, and an up-to-date inventory can help organize equipment for all afterschool staff to use. Carts are also useful in transporting science materials. Trays and baskets are useful in organizing all materials needed by a set of students. Instructors can make students responsible for collecting and returning supplies. One way to organize students is to assign them to cooperative groups and assign rotating roles such as materials gatherer, chief investigator, recorder, and timekeeper and safety inspector. All students should have the opportunity to experience each of these roles over time. The roles are described below.

  • Materials Gatherer—is responsible for obtaining and returning materials to a central location.
  • Chief Investigator—is responsible for leading and conducting the investigation, manipulating the equipment, or assigning others to do so.
  • Recorder—is responsible for creating or completing data charts and sharing the information with everyone in the group.
  • Timekeeper and Safety Inspector—is responsible for keeping track of the time and making sure everyone is using time wisely so that investigations can be completed in the time allowed. This person may also be responsible for helping to ensure that the group wears goggles and adheres to the safety instructions given by the instructor.

Finally, have fun! The afterschool environment lends itself to discovery through hands-on activities that extend science learning. Make the most of the afterschool hours and the resources available to you.