STEM Beyond the Classroom

Kim Moldofsky is the publisher of The Maker Mom and STEM Kids Chicago.

Imagine you are leading a group of eager students, brimming with curiosity and bursting with discovery, laughing in pleasure every so often. It’s a joy when it happens, but necessary constraints like homework and tests, along with tight schedules, sober the tone of many classrooms. However, the mood is a bit more relaxed in the world of extracurricular STEM. Also known as OST (Out-of-School Time) STEM, such programs tend be more flexible, hands-on and inviting.

A Sense of Wonder

The tone of OST STEM programs tends to be lighter because they have more freedom to capture the spirit that noted environmentalist Rachel Carson called a sense of wonder. By focusing on engagement and enthusiasm, some programs have been shown to captivate student interest to the extent that years later, many of those students pursue more formal STEM education and even careers.

Extracurricular STEM programs have additional benefits. For example, when extracurricular programs are hosted or sponsored by a public school, they tend to attract students from underrepresented groups. Additionally, because they are generally a bit more flexible than traditional classroom lessons, the programs can tie activities to local concerns.

OST STEM can take place before or after school. Programs can take place on the weekends or even over the summer. In my community, libraries host a range of creative STEM and STEAM programs all year round. Which is to say that programs needn’t be school-based, either.

DO Try This at Home

At my son’s urging, I created “the potion club” when he was in elementary school. A small group of parents and kids gathered in the name of science to concoct "potions" (think: slime). Everyone had such a good time that other parents volunteered to host and plan activities, so that it wasn’t much work for any one family. Give a family science club a try!

Parents can find free ideas to kick off a club of their own right here on the Young Scientist Lab or follow along with programs like the Museum of Science and Industry’s Summer Brain Games or the STEAM-focused Maker Camp.

Or During Recess

As challenging as it might be challenging to fit a science club into your already packed schedule, it can be worth it because you can plan activities around your interests and passions. This will energize you even as it stretches your schedule. Plus, the casual club-like atmosphere will help you get to know the students on a new level. And just as they don’t have to take tests in an extracurricular STEM program, you don’t need to find extra time to grade them.

Get Inspired

Whether you're a parent, teacher, or both, be sure to check back on this site throughout the summer. The finalists for the 2017 Top Young Scientist Challenge will share blog posts and video diaries as they work with their 3M mentors to create an innovative solution to pressing problems and try to earn the top title, along with $25,000 and other prizes.