It's always good to see students in afterschool happily engaged in hands-on science and engineering projects. But until we look closely, and over time, it can be hard to distinguish between just “ok” science, and afterschool science in its  truly excellent form. There is a temptation to assume that if a program is well organized and the kids look interested, then they are probably learning valuable science skills.

Front line staff want to know exactly what they are supposed to do – step by methodical step – when the kids show up for science class. And when they have given it their best shot, they ask “How am I doing?” To give them an honest and useful answer, they need guidance, tips, modeling and even a checklist of habits and skills to evaluate themselves and each other. A checklist is never enough on its own, but it can be useful for self evaluation and as the basis for supervision and training.

   Best Practices for Leading Afterschool Science
  1. Practice the activities ahead of time. Set clear objectives for each session.

  2. Prepare the space and materials before the students arrive.

  3. Set an engaging and meaningful challenge for each session.

  4. Establish equitable learning teams, and model (and insist on) respectful and safe behavior and discussion.

  5. Stay connected to the children as they work. Ask questions. Show interest and enthusiasm.

  6. Give just enough help. Offer answers and solutions when needed, but sparingly.

  7. Praise effort, not results. Avoid judging or evaluating ideas or solutions—positively or negatively.

  8. Gather for reflection, report-out every 20 minutes or so—away from the materials. Encourage sharing of ideas.

  9. Have extra challenges ready for students who get ahead of the rest of the group

  10. Bring closure. Help students share findings, products, and results with one another and with others.

Kids and teachers in afterschool can understand the science practices better if they are boiled down to a few easily recognisable behaviors and habits. In this image there is a progression towards the center of increasing sophistication for each practice.


But ALL of them are important and almost ANY school aged child can use ALL of them at their own developmental level. For example, guessing is fine (encouraged) so long as it is followed by thoughtful (age-appropriate) testing and reasoning. And play is vital at all ages so long as it is followed by more controlled investigation, observation and data collection.