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The National Center for Quality Afterschool

Science After School (SAS) Consumers Guide  

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APEX Science

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  Afterschool Expert   Science Expert  

Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Emilio De Torre

The Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium's APEX Science is a good fit for any afterschool center. Combining science fact and fun in a logical and systematic fashion, each of the eight topic areas is divided into four related activities called "expeditions." The clear and sturdy layout requires little to moderate set up time for each activity involves very few additional expenses, yet is engaging AND educational. The team that designed this well laid out curriculum featured science and education specialists, as well as afterschool program staff. This combined input shows in the clear and descriptive way the expedition cards and activities are constructed. Regardless of the prior experience of the facilitators, staff should have very few obstacles using this curriculum to implement a fun, engaging and informative science program in their center. If I had to find a criticism it would be that the curricula includes too much well designed information and doesn't quite fit in the binders properly. If every curriculum had this as their only significant flaw, our staff and young people would be very lucky. I wholeheartedly recommend this curriculum.
Full Review:
The Miami Museum of Science and Planetarium has a fantastic and engaging science curriculum entitled APEX Science. And truth be told, for afterschool program needs, APEX lives up to its name. The program is divided into eight separate topic areas, each attractively arranged in a separate binder. Each of the topics: A Bird's Eye View; Design and Construct It; Water Works!; Can You Hear Me?; Let's Rock!; You Are What You Eat; Up, Up And Away; The Sun, Our Star, is subdivided into four activity focus areas, preceded by a trainer's materials and explanation chapter. Importantly, these 32 activities, called "expeditions" in this set of materials, were designed with the feedback of various afterschool program staff as well as the input from specialists, consultants and educators. It's this important bit of chemistry that really makes this science curriculum educational AND approachable.

After reviewing Design and Construct It! and Let's Rock!, it's clear that great consideration to different learning environments was taken in designing materials that are inquiry-based, fun, and inexpensive to use. These are activities that can be conducted either in doors or outside. Each binder begins with a 10-page introduction that offers web-based support, suggestions and updates, an overview of the National Science Education Standards broken and the objectives of each activity. This important introduction clearly and concisely explains the background and objects, employing language designed to make the facilitator or teacher for this program feel at ease with these expeditions, regardless of their prior relationship with science instruction. Each activity clearly defines the roles for the activity leader as well as the children and carefully details what background information, key concepts or supplemental materials are needed in order to present the activities. Not only are text, grid and outline explanations provided for the activity leader, but also there is a graphic chart that provides an overview of the complete expedition. It couldn't be easier or clearer!

Another helpful feature of the APEX Science is that each Trainer's Guide (the binder containing the four theme-based activities) contains a special section on the practical and philosophical importance of creating a science center in your afterschool site. It guides the facilitator to prepare the science center so that it may be used for the APEX Science projects and other science adventures, which may be appropriate if your program has a dedicated space, but is not necessary if space is an issue.

The expeditions are easy to follow, non-threatening for those who have no experience in the matter, yet full of fun and informative activities that young people can explore. The chapters each contain sturdy and glossy activity cards (2-sided about 8.5" x 11") that can be used by students and facilitators over and over again. There is one Activity Leader's Guide Glossy and 6 Expedition Learning Cards in each section.

The Activity Leader's Guide names the activity at the top, group size (usually four to six children) and time (usually 45 minutes). It features a clear Set Up the Expedition column that identifies what materials and sheets are needed and how many per child/group, how to prepare the demonstration and how to prepare the science center for each project. From there it has 4 additional sections, each of which includes introduction and leading questions that encourage the young people to begin focusing on the topic area. The ENGAGE section introduces concepts and new vocabulary (full of prompts for the Activity Leader). EXPLORE directs the young people to do just that, yet in an organized fashion that parallels real life science practices. This section is usually where they would complete the WONDER, EXPLORE, RECORD and CONCLUDE sections of their own learning cards. The CONCLUDE section on this sheet however, allows for the regrouping of our young scientists and the sharing of observations, results, etc...Finally, there is a section for EXPAND which includes further related activities or opportunities for examination. After it's been completed, our bold scientists earn the activity's corresponding stamp.

The Expedition Learning Cards are for the youth to use. They are intended to be used in conjunction with the Activity Leader's Guide since there are prompts on that card that systematically direct the students through their cards. The cards guide them to complete observations, experiments, data sheets, list new vocabulary, outline the expedition's objectives, record their findings and continue experimenting.