STEM and the Summer Opportunity

Written by :

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) & Jennifer Peck, Executive Director, Partnership for Children and Youth

This week, when the California School Boards Association convenes for its annual education conference, school board members and superintendents will meet to discuss innovations and best practices to advance student achievement.

Some of these innovations come from a successful pilot program demonstrating the effectiveness of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning during the summer months, and how out-of-school time programs are well-suited for engaging students in STEM curriculum.

This summer, the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) and Techbridge, in collaboration with the Oakland Unified and Mt. Diablo Unified School Districts, piloted a new curriculum with 623 youth at 10 elementary schools in the Oakland and Mount Diablo districts.

Using hands-on activities around the theme of energy conservation, the pilot engaged students in introductory lessons on electrical energy and the environmental impact of energy consumption, as well as hands-on activities like conducting an energy audit to assess their own classroom’s energy efficiency and developing suggestions for making it more energy efficient, creating a public service announcement about energy conservation and a science fair for students’ families.

The program tested the hypothesis that engaging, activity-based curriculum delivered in a summer learning setting would be effective in educating students and catalyzing student interest in science.

The result?

Almost all students reported increased interest and engagement with science, reporting that the program taught them new things (94%), made science more  interesting (93%) and more fun (92%), and made them more excited to do science activities (86%), and want to learn more about science (85%).  A solid majority even reported that the program made them more interested in a pursuing a career in science.

These results make evident that integrating STEM curriculum into after school and summer learning programs is a vital way to bolster STEM education year-round. The nature of STEM learning is experiential and requires a dynamic and interactive learning environment that out-of-school-time programs are particularly well-positioned to provide.

With growing investment in STEM education in classrooms across California and the country, it’s important to support STEM in after school and summertime learning programs as well. These programs offer flexibility and learning spaces that contribute to STEM learning by complementing the school-day and providing hands-on context to make STEM relevant to young people’s lives. This powerful approach promises to set our children up for academic and professional success in STEM fields.

With Proposition 30’s recent passage, California voters clearly stated their commitment to boosting our children’s access to quality education. Now is the time to make sure that we are investing wisely in education programs that deliver results year-round.

4 thoughts on “STEM and the Summer Opportunity

  1. Brian

    As a chemist who earned a PhD in the UC system, I saw just how poorly the average CA high school graduate is prepared for science education.  The results are misleading in the fact that you have twisted the statistics to your own end.  Let me elaborate.
    First, any summer program is VOLUNTARY and the resulting students most likely had a predisposition toward STEM programs.  That ninety plus percent of the students liked the program is not surprising.  This approach, though it has merit, doesn’t begin to deal with the true problems in CA schools.
    Lets take for example Mt. Diablo High School, a school that boasts a 15% competency rate for math (most recent SAR report).  If 85% of your students can’t handle algebra, then 85% of your students are not qualified for STEM jobs or college programs.
    Prop. 30 is a band-aid that does nothing to address the real problems in the CA education system.  It only throws good money into a bad investment.  Government run and funded schools can’t (don’t) graduate competent students.  The problem goes much deeper than funding.

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  2. Stephanie Dingman

    I agree with Brian that the statistics were twisted and that doing a voluntary summer school program skewed the results.  As a  lifelong resident of  California (with a Master’s  degree in education and 30 years of teaching experience) the problems in our schools begin years before a child attends high school.  By the age of seven, development  of the neocortex has been ignored by most schools and children have been set upon a limited pathway to future learning.
    Our preschools must be universal and should be renamed ” play school” because that is the mode in which our youngest ones learn.  We need to refocus on providing rich, broad, hands-on, self-directed learning experiences that 3-5 year-olds can participate in without prescriptive lessons and standardized tests.  Put learning back in the control of the learner.  Using programs leads to programmed kids.  The brain needs nourishment it does not usually get in a classroom.
    By the age of 7, children with brain-based learning foundations  can do incredible things:  algebra, scientific exploration, writing, reading, speaking, geometry, problem solving, divergent thinking,art, dance, music, critical thinking.  Most of this is  missing from the regimen in our standardized classrooms.  This is one reason kids have decided, by second grade, that school is not a place they want to be.

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  3. Cynthia Altamirano

    Gee, Brian, I wish you had re-read your post, too.
    Although, I’m not in any way, shape, or form STEM proficient, I did take a research methods class in college. Everyone/Anyone can, “twist” statistics to get the results they wish for. Perhaps it would have been kinder to have indicated that the results are, “weighted” when a program is voluntary, and most likely populated by those who are already interested in these subjects. They are also most likely populated by the students of families that are not in economically distressed regions of the county. If so, that’s too bad – the cream should have a chance to rise to the top.
    Nonetheless, this is a very good start, and Prop 30 is also. I agree that the issues in California public education are too deeply seated, and too numerous, to be healed by one Proposition. We must still stop the bleeding and attempt to stabilize the States financial resources that are directed at education. I don’t agree at all that State government is incapable of managing public education. Perhaps we should have more Charter schools, but privatizing education overall won’t solve the problems. It may be that some good old fashioned competition between Public and Charter for funding might set the ship upright.

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  4. Steven

    As a new school board member, STEM trained teacher,  and also UC trained science guy, I also understand Brian’s frustrations.  If the metric is “I liked it” “I liked it even MORE” then the metrics are pretty useless for policy decisions.  I hope PCY realizes that their metrics do meed to follow Economically Disadvantaged through several post-program years (and a control group of ED non-program kids) and see what relative improvement the program kids have in the MATH portion of STEM achievement.
    I love hands-on.  I drove 300 mi. to Sacramento to testify before the SBE that it needed to be kept in the Science Curriculum (at more than 25% time).  But many programs don’t tie strongly to the Math at their grade level.  A shame – many more people do Math in their careers than do Science, Technology, or Engineering. (Though I’ve done portions of all three in my own R&D professional career).

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