RI STEM Center hosts STEM/inquiry after-school conference

A March 16 conference for after-school program providers featured workshops in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) learning and inquiry exploration as well as training and youth development practice for effective hands-on programming.

The half-day conference, attended by 120 afterschool educators, was held at the RI STEM Center at RIC.

Attendees participate in hands-on activities during the conference.
Event sponsors included the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIASPA), Providence After School Alliance (PASA), Rhode Island Department of Education‘s 21st Century Community Learning Center Initiative, and the STEM Center.

“The afterschool learning community makes important contributions to student learning and development,” said Mary M. Sullivan, director of the STEM Center. “RIASPA and PASA recognize the importance of professional development and we support their endeavors in raising the level of inquiry in programming.”

Keynote speaker was Maryann Stimmer, coordinator of the After-School Inclusive Math and Great Science for Girls in New York.

Stimmer spoke about the value of informal inquiry learning for students in after-school programs, and why the out-of-school time field is positioned to be at the forefront of innovative and creative practices.

She presented research studies that found the benefits of STEM and inquiry in after-school for attendance, achievement and attitudes toward science and mathematics.

Joseph Morra, project manager of quality initiatives at RIASPA, distributed the organization’s latest position paper, “STEM and Afterschool,” in which the STEM Center was cited as a resource for after-school providers.

Among the RIC attendees were Ron Pitt, vice president for academic affairs, who brought greetings from the college; Alexander “Sasha” Sidorkin, dean of the Feinstein School of Education and Human Development; Liz Garofalo, coordinator of special projects for FSEHD; and Constance Horton, FSEHD faculty member in instructional technology and STEM Center associate.

Participants selected from a menu of workshops that included pedagogical strategies for effective STEM inquiry in the outdoors; a theory-based instructional format based on the 5Es (engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate); connecting outside-school time programming to formal classroom instruction content through content and pedagogy for elementary students; and activities in STEM that added an arts component, thus creating STEAM, to support development of “Habits of Mind” such as creating, persisting, and risk-taking, in youth.

RIC preservice teachers in FSEHD attending the conference included Amanda Hannon, Kerren Buote, Jeffrey Sargent, Yusupha Auber, Anna Carnevale, Catherine Wagner, Nikhol Bentley, Veronica Gomez, Dawn Lancellotti and Corinne Sollecito.

The workshop portion of the conference featured several group projects, including one with spaghetti and marshmallows.
Preservice teachers Kristin Fox and Alexandra Braga, members of the Everyday Explorers AmeriCorps Team in PASA’s AfterZone program for middle school students, as well as Jessica Mandeville and Kevin Marin from CCRI, engaged attendees at their workshop in STEM activities.”

Participants in that session built marshmallow and spaghetti structures, engaged in a milk tie-die experiment, experienced how blubber allows whales and other arctic water mammals to stay warm, and discovered how polymers in disposable diapers absorb liquid.

“I value the opportunity for our preservice educators to be involved with PASA's AfterZone and gain experience developing a creative pedagogical style,” Sullivan said. “We hope they will bring the PASA experiences to their future positions in traditional classrooms.”

Following the workshops, Sullivan facilitated a discussion on ways to deepen inquiry and creative practice in the activities.

The Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIASPA) works to envision a Rhode Island that maximizes how, when and where children and youth learn to ensure their success.

The Providence After School Alliance is a public-private venture to develop a citywide system to substantially increase high quality, affordable, out-of-school enrichment opportunities for Providence's children and youth.

Both RIASPA and PASA receive funding through Rhode Island’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers Initiative, a federally funded program to develop and sustain high quality after-school and summer programs.