Engaging Families and Communities
The key goal of Engaging Families and Communities is to increase student achievement, aptitude, and interest in science by involving families in the learning process and making the most of community resources. Specific content goals will vary depending on the activity.
Practice in Action
What Is It?
Engaging Families and Communities involves parents in afterschool and makes the most of community-based partnerships and resources. Actively engaging families in science learning fosters positive attitudes and enhances science literacy. Community partnerships help build innovative curriculum through local and relevant science activities. When afterschool programs collaborate with families and community partners, they promote social, emotional, cultural, and academic growth.
What Do I Do?
Engage families in afterschool science projects, family science nights, and career fairs. Family events can engage parents and students in a typical afterschool science activity, or can be led by a science expert in the community. Keep in mind that some parents may need to be encouraged and welcomed more than others, based on their familiarity with science content. Consider parents who work in a science-related field; invite them to speak, or involve them in planning an event or project.
Plan activities that are realistic for your students to conduct, such as cleaning out a section of stream banks, collecting water for testing by local authorities, testing water with sensors or water-testing kits, removing non-native plants, and replanting native species. Begin with a small project; you can always expand the scope of the project as you and your students become more experienced and as you get additional resources.
Utilize community resources by contacting public relations officers or other key people at science museums, science centers, nature gardens, zoos, waste-treatment plants, parks and recycling centers, engineering organizations, chemical plants, power companies, or hospitals and other health agencies. Once you have a sense of parental and community resources, plan a project such as restoring a stream or natural habitat, recycling, improving county trails and parks, or a health project such as a nutrition and exercise fair. Be sure to include parents and community science experts as you plan, identify learning goals, and evaluate the event or activity afterwards.
Why Does It Work?
Children whose parents are involved in their education perform at higher levels than those whose parents are not involved. Parents pass on to their children their attitudes toward science and math. Positive science and math experiences can stimulate enthusiasm and curiosity in both parents and children. Using community resources engages students in real-world activities and emphasizes the relevance of learning science, and introduces students to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Planning Your Lesson
Great afterschool lessons start with having a clear intention about who your students are, what they are learning or need to work on, and crafting activities that engage students while supporting their academic growth. Great afterschool lessons also require planning and preparation, as there is a lot of work involved in successfully managing kids, materials, and time.
Below are suggested questions to consider while preparing your afterschool lessons. The questions are grouped into topics that correspond to the Lesson Planning Template. You can print out the template and use it as a worksheet to plan and refine your afterschool lessons, to share lesson ideas with colleagues, or to help in professional development sessions with staff.
Lesson Planning Template Questions
What grade level(s) is this lesson geared to?
How long will it take to complete the lesson? One hour? One and a half hours? Will it be divided into two or more parts, over a week, or over several weeks?
What do you want students to learn or be able to do after completing this activity? What skills do you want students to develop or hone? What tasks do they need to accomplish?
List all of the materials needed that will be needed to complete the activity. Include materials that each student will need, as well as materials that students may need to share (such as books or a computer). Also include any materials that students or instructors will need for record keeping or evaluation. Will you need to store materials for future sessions? If so, how will you do this?
What do you need to do to prepare for this activity? Will you need to gather materials? Will the materials need to be sorted for students or will you assign students to be "materials managers"? Are there any books or instructions that you need to read in order to prepare? Do you need a refresher in a content area? Are there questions you need to develop to help students explore or discuss the activity? Are there props that you need to have assembled in advance of the activity? Do you need to enlist another adult to help run the activity?
Think about how you might divide up groups―who works well together? Which students could assist other peers? What roles will you assign to different members of the group so that each student participates?
Now, think about the Practice that you are basing your lesson on. Reread the Practice. Are there ways in which you need to amend your lesson plan to better address the key goal(s) of the Practice? If this is your first time doing the activity, consider doing a "run through" with friends or colleagues to see what works and what you may need to change. Alternatively, you could ask a colleague to read over your lesson plan and give you feedback and suggestions for revisions.
What to Do
Think about the progression of the activity from start to finish. One model that might be useful—and which was originally developed for science education—is the 5E's instructional model. Each phrase of the learning sequence can be described using five words that begin with "E": engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate. For more information, see the 5E's Instructional Model.
Outcomes to Look For
How will you know that students learned what you intended them to learn through this activity? What will be your signs or benchmarks of learning? What questions might you ask to assess their understanding? What, if any, product will they produce?
After you conduct the activity, take a few minutes to reflect on what took place. How do you think the lesson went? Are there things that you wish you had done differently? What will you change next time? Would you do this activity again?
Family Science Night (K-2)
Students and parents work together with different materials to investigate what makes a good bubble-blower.
Duration: 1-2 hours
- Practice scientific inquiry: question, hypothesize, observe, record, analyze, communicate results, and plan further investigations
- Keep journals or records of scientific investigations
- Compare results from multiple groups and draw conclusions
- Parents and students work together to understand the relevance of science in their lives
- Gallon of bubble solution (1 gallon of water with 1 cup of water removed, 1 cup of dishwashing liquid, 50 to 60 drops of glycerin)
- Plastic table cloths or large trash bags
- Newspapers (to cover floor and tables)
- Bucket, squeegees, sponges, paper towels, and vinegar (for cleanup)
- Bubble-blower materials such as straws, wire mesh, strainers, scissors, spools, plastic/Styrofoam cups, funnels, slotted spoons, spatulas, paper towel and tissue rolls, wire of different gauges, pipe cleaners, different-sized washers, rubber bands, rubber rings for glass jars, turkey basters
- Aluminum pie pans or flat plastic containers (for bubble solution, 1 per table)
- Signs that say "Objects that work" and "Objects that don't work"
2-3 weeks before the event
- Work with parents and staff to plan the activity and create a program.
- Collect and organize materials.
- Write and distribute invitations to families or have students write personal invitations.
- Notify school-day teachers and administrators and ask them for support.
Day of the event
- Place containers of bubble solution, plastic table clothes (if necessary), and newspapers on each table.
- Have bubble blowers and clean-up materials in central area that's easy to access.
- Post signs on side tables or have two boxes with "Works" and "Doesn't work" signs.
- Participants may wear safety goggles or glasses to protect their eyes.
- Participants should wear clothing that can get wet and slip-resistant shoes.
- If solution gets in a participant's eyes, instructors should wash the eyes with clear water.
- Instructors should have a bottle of vinegar and a mop or towel handy to clean up any spills on the floor. Newspapers can also be used to clean up.
- After the investigations, participants should wash their hands to remove any soap solution.
What to Do
- Engage students and families by introducing the lesson and asking guiding questions: Who has blown bubbles? What makes a good bubble blower? Students should be encouraged to introduce and lead the investigations without giving away the answers if they have done this activity before. Distribute materials and explain that each table will have bubble solution and a set of materials so participants can see what makes a good bubble blower.
- Explore the various bubble blowers with students and parents. Once an object has been tried, it should go in the "Works" or "Doesn't work" box or area. Circulate among the teams to check in and ask questions. How do they determine what works and what doesn't? How many times do they try each bubble blower?
- Explain the results. After each team has had an opportunity to work with several blowers, assemble the whole group and ask each team to explain what makes a good bubble blower. Did every team find the same answer? How did they reach their conclusions? What do the most effective and least effective bubble blowers have in common?
- Extend learning if time allows. Students and parents may record their findings, write about what they learned, and draw pictures of the bubble blower that worked. Family teams can design and build a bubble-making machine or explore other objects in their home to find good bubble blowers.
- Evaluate (Outcomes to Look For)
- Parent involvement in planning
- Parent and student attendance and participation
- Answers and questions that reflect an understanding of inquiry and investigation
- Answers and questions that reflect an understanding of what materials make a good bubble blower and some ideas why, as well as what materials that don't and why
Learn more about the 5Es.
Creek Restoration Project (5-12)
Afterschool instructors and students work with community members and parents to understand the local environment and restore a creek.
Duration: Flexible (can be done in a couple of weeks or over the course of the year)
- Understand the local environment and issues that affect it
- Practice scientific inquiry through questioning, hypothesizing, observing and recording data, and analyzing and communicating results
- Use scientific tools to measure
- Keep journals or records of scientific investigations
- Work collaboratively to solve a problem
- Safety goggles or spectacles
- Collection bags
- Water-testing kits or computer/PDA probes (available at science-supply stores)
- Digital camera
- PDA or laptop with spreadsheet software
- Identify volunteer and local community personnel (environmental scientists, chemists, biologists, etc.) from the Environmental Protection Agency, city parks department, or the local water quality board to help plan and conduct the project.
- Plan project timeline and communicate with parents.
- Collect necessary materials.
- Adults must supervise all data collection and cleanup. Choose the area wisely, looking for the safest environment for students.
- Students must wear gloves for cleanup and use goggles when any water-testing chemicals are used.
- Do not collect data when a storm is forecast; observe the sky for rain showers and thunderstorms. Avoid streams in high water.
- Have a first-aid kit for all outings, sturdy shoes, and proper clothing, including protection from the sun.
What to Do
- Engage students by inviting a guest speaker to discuss and share pictures of local streams, or take students to a nearby stream to see the condition of the area. Consider taking students to a local meeting for creek restoration if one is available in your area. Discuss and plan your project with students and parents.
- Explore creeks. Have students research water resources in their area and creek restoration projects. Lead students in planning the restoration project. Have students clean a section of the creek/stream and document (using a journal and digital camera) the activities. Test water for pH, nitrates, dissolved oxygen, or other physical parameters. Collect, organize, and display data and any changes over time.
- Explain findings. Have students analyze and explain what they learned. This may take the form of large charts, drawings, digital pictures, or computer-generated spreadsheets and charts. Allow time for questions and answers, and probe students to explain what they learned as well as any questions they may have.
- Extend learning if time allows.
- Plan an art project about creek restoration.
- Plan student presentations before local environmental organizations or city parks department.
- Encourage students to enter projects in a science fair.
- Invite local or state environmental agencies to talk to students about careers in environmental sciences.
- Ask students to do follow-up research on local environmental issues.
- Expand the study with older students to include tracing energy flows in the creek ecosystem and researching and restoring native plants to the stream banks.
- Evaluate (Outcomes to Look For)
- Student participation and engagement
- An understanding of creeks in the local environment
- Questions and answers that reflect an ability to practice scientific inquiry (questioning, hypothesizing, observing and collecting data, and communicating results)
- Written answers or illustrations that reflect an understanding of environmental issues, how to measure chemicals in water, and how to display data
Learn more about the 5Es.
Explore these resources to assist in implementing the Engaging Families and Communities practice in your program.
Resources for Sample Lessons associated with this practice:
Creek Restoration Project
Bay Area Creek Restoration Project
San Francisco Bay Area Creek Restoration
Santa Clara Valley Water District, Adopt-A-Creek
Seattle Creek Restoration
Family Science Night
Barber, J. and C. Willard. Bubble Festival Teacher's Guide. Lawrence Hall of Science. University of California Berkeley. Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS). Berkeley, CA: University of California Berkeley, 1992. Available at www.carolinacurriculum.com/gems/
Barber, J. Bubble-ology Teacher's Guide. Lawrence Hall of Science. University of California Berkeley. Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS). Berkeley, CA: University of California Berkeley, 2001. Available at www.carolinacurriculum.com/gems/
Cothron, J. H., R.N. Giese, and R.J. Rezba. Students and Research. 3rd Edition. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 2000.
Hopkins, L. B. (1994). April, Bubbles, Chocolate: An ABC of Poetry. Books for Young Readers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Zubrowski, B. Bubbles: A Children's Museum Activity Book. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979.
Bring your afterschool community together by involving both children and adults in a "Get Fit" program. Use pedometers and good health as incentives for involvement as participants track their steps. An inexpensive technology, pedometers are fun to use and also afford opportunities for integrating health science into math, English, and social studies. Following are examples of successful efforts to use pedometers to get people walking and students learning:
Pedometer Activities to Enhance Cross-Curricular Learning (PDF)
PE Central's Pedometer Site
Safe Routes to Schools