Afterschool clubs can be a productive venue to introduce CS activities that enhance the K-12 experience for students. In addition to ventures into school day integration of CS (such as Code.org’s efforts), afterschool programs have many features/affordances that make them a promising venue whether or not CS is offered during the regular school day. In a webinar on Engineering and Computing in Afterschool (Feb 2014), the Afterschool Alliance recently highlighted three afterschool programs that feature computer science and engineering activities: Techbridge in Oakland, CA; Digital Harbor Foundation in Baltimore, MD; and Project GUTS: Growing Up Thinking Scientifically in Santa Fe, NM.
Directors of these programs provided insights into affordances of offering computing and engineering programs during afterschool hours:
– Afterschool programs engage and retain large numbers of students from diverse populations. According to Afterschool Alliance data, 24 percent of African American, 21 percent of Latino, and 16 percent of Native American children attend afterschool programs, above the national average of 15 percent.
– Students have time to build mastery of skills and new technologies. Often in an afterschool setting (that runs from 3pm – 6pm) students will have longer periods of time for project-based work than in a classroom.
– Afterschool programs offer more opportunity to build relationships with parent and guardians.
– STEM professionals and graduate students are often more available to come in or work as facilitators during the afterschool hours (near the end of the work day). Through using science graduate students and/or STEM professionals as mentors and role models, students get exposed to the variety of computing careers that exist. Subsequently, participants gain an increased awareness of career options.
– Afterschool programs can serve as a sandbox for teachers to try different content, approaches and pedagogy. With a less high-stakes environment, teachers have room to explore and learn.
While there are many potential benefits of working within after school hours, one recurring drawback is that afterschool programs do not reach all students and their families. Those who attend afterschool STEM and CS programs are often a self-selected group including many students who already have high STEM and computing interest. To attract a more diverse audience, significant effort needs to be put towards recruitment. For example, Project GUTS’ recruitment of diverse student populations has been achieved through reaching out to the local community at schools. A two-fold recruitment strategy was used. Family CS Nights were offered at a local elementary school to introduce families from underrepresented groups in CS (primarily Hispanic/Latino and low SES) to computer science through hands-on design and build activities in Scratch and StarLogo, and raising awareness of CS as a potential career track for their students. These evening events also served to prime students to look for Project GUTS clubs upon reaching middle schools throughout the city. At local middle schools, information booths were set up and presentations were made at back-to-school nights and school-wide assemblies. Older, near-peer Project GUTS student mentors served as recruiters, and middle school teachers were asked to refer students to Project GUTS. Further discussion of how to bridge from grassroots outreach, approaches to incorporate other methods to share information about CS programs, and resources with parents and students are issues to address in order to improve equity and access to CS programs during afterschool hours.
If others in the CSTA community are interested in or currently offering Afterschool Computer Science programs, we’d love to hear from you!
CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair
CSTA K-8 Task Force Member