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Explore It! Science Investigations in Out-of-School Programs

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Tom Bromage

Explore It! is a set of thirteen activity guides created by the Education Development Center in collaboration with various science centers and children's museums. Each exploration focuses on a few basic scientific concepts. The method is hands-on, exploratory learning and the results are curricula that build scientific concepts and a sense of teamwork. This review focuses on the explorations Wiring a House, Colliding Balls, and Balancing Toys. Each guide is designed to engage participants in activities that make learning fun, and with a capable instructor, they will succeed. Explorations provide experiential learning opportunities for the development of concepts aligned with national standards that are addressed in public school curricula. Simple concepts build sequentially. With easy-to-use activities, engaging instructors will able to create a fun learning environment in many afterschool settings.
Full Review:
Explore It! (Wiring a House; Colliding Balls; Balancing Toys)

Explore It! is a set of activity guides created by the Education Development Center in collaboration with various science centers and children's museums. There are thirteen extended explorations in the affordable Explore It! series. Exploration Guides can be ordered online for $9.95 and the additional cost of required materials is minimal. Each exploration focuses on a few basic scientific concepts. The method is hands-on, exploratory learning and the results are curricula that build scientific concepts and a sense of teamwork. This review focuses on the explorations Wiring a House, Colliding Balls and Balancing Toys.

Explorations are designed to engage participants in activities that make learning fun and, with a capable instructor, they will succeed. Explore It! is challenging, easy-to-understand and has real world applications. Explorations provide experiential learning opportunities for the development of concepts aligned with national standards addressed in public schools. Simple concepts build sequentially. Instructors lead children towards conclusions in 6 to 8 explorations per guide.

An important consideration for numerous afterschool programs is preparation time, or lack thereof. In order to achieve the desired goals, the explorations will need competent instructors with sufficient preparation time. It is likely that an instructor with limited teaching experience could conduct these experiments and achieve learning goals given minimal preparation time. With minimal prior knowledge or professional development and ample preparation time, instructors with less experience should be sufficiently equipped to direct experiments.

Another important consideration for afterschool programs is budget. At $9.95 per guide, the cost per curriculum is low. Explore It! uses readily available, inexpensive materials. For those unsure where to acquire them, there is an easy-to-understand template Materials Shopping List. With a little imagination, these materials could be reused to conduct extensions activities or other experiments.

As with all afterschool educational activities, bringing them to life will be a determining factor of the explorations' success. Wiring a House deals with electricity. Lights flash and fans whirl, as participants learn about circuits and how electricity travels. This exploration definitely has a buzz and will have the instructor working on preparation, but enjoying illuminating activities. Colliding Balls has slightly less illuminating explorations. This guide could have the unprepared or lackluster instructor running for cover as students launch balls of varying substances on plastic tracks. In other words, the activities require more guidance and imagination. Balancing Toys should have little difficulty maintaining the attention of young scientists, as the emphasis is on construction and manipulation of toys. To sum it up; momentum, collisions and kinetic energy just don't light up kids' faces the way flashing lights and toys do.

An outstanding aspect that commands acknowledgment is the fact that Explore It! activities necessitate teamwork. In order to achieve success, these explorations require participants to work cooperatively. This important ability is developed naturally in the structure of the explorations and is an explicit goal of the guides. Teamwork evolves fluidly and can easily lead into a kids-teaching-kids learning-rich environment.

In conclusion, Explore It! is fun, challenging and easy-to-understand. With easy-to-use curricula, engaging instructors will able to create a fun learning environment in many afterschool settings.