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Exploratorium Afterschool Activities

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  Afterschool Expert   Science Expert  

Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Judy Caplan

San Francisco's Exploratorium museum has created a set of on-line science activities http://www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/ for use in afterschool settings. The site contains eight easy to lead activities each of which incorporate science learning, opportunities to be creative, and fun. They are designed for students in grades three to eight, and can easily be completed in one typical afterschool session. Each activity includes videoclips, which introduce the activity, provide step-by-step instructions for doing the activity, and offer a short explanation of the science involved in the activity. Also available are a downloadable PDF copy of the instructions and a concept map of the activity. There is also a link that provides variations on an activity and provides links to relevant resources. The activities are engaging and the site provides enough information and support necessary to enable a typical afterschool instructor to present them with ease.
Full Review:
San Francisco's Exploratorium museum has created a set of on-line science activities http://www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/ for use in afterschool settings. The site contains eight easy to lead activities, each of which incorporate science learning, opportunities to be creative, and fun. Each activity includes videoclips, which introduce the activity, provide step-by-step instructions for doing the activity, and offer a short explanation of the science involved in the activity. Also available are a downloadable PDF copy of the instructions and a concept map of the activity. The site provides electronic links that suggest variations on the activities and provide links to additional resources

The activities are best suited for children in grades 3-5 or middle schoolers. Four of the activities deal with the science of sound and give students the chance to create their own musical instrument/sound maker (Bee Hummer, Cuica, Sound Sandwich, and Water Bottle Membranophone). By making a Whirling Watcher, students can begin to understand animation and learn how the brain augments vision to create moving pictures. By building a simple Stripped Down Motor or a wobbling Jitterbug, students learn about circuits, electrical currents, and rotational vibration. In the Bottle Blast-Off activity, students can build a rocket launcher and rocket and learn about flight and acceleration.

Almost all of the activities can be completed in a little more than 30 minutes and so fit well into the schedule of many afterschool programs. The activities use easy to obtain materials although providing all the materials for a large number of students is something that one should investigate because the activities cannot be completed without the materials.

Afterschool program staff can view the activity in its entirety before attempting it with participants. The videos offer excellent suggestions that can spell the difference between success and failure, e.g., simple tips like, make sure you have all the needed supplies on hand before beginning the activity, try the activity yourself before leading it, anticipate potential challenges and come up with solutions, pay attention to safety concerns. I would have suggested including prompts for encouraging students to think about why "things are happening," though this advice is not part of the format of these activities. Many afterschool staff could use help developing questions that encourage making guesses, formulating theories, or carefully observing what is happening. A program could boost staff confidence in doing science activities by showing the video at a staff meeting or training session, having staff do the activities themselves and then discussing, as a group, how they might use the activity with students. Without such preparation, staff might just do the activity and miss the opportunity to underscore the science principles.

Afterschool staff will welcome the short video clip explaining the science principle illustrated by the activity. Activity leaders with limited science knowledge could show these clips to their group. Access to these materials requires an active Internet connection for downloading the videoclips. These clips offer a simple explanation of the involved science without turning the project into a "school-like" science lesson. Viewing the clips might stimulate the kind of discussion that could result in brainstorming of ideas to promote extensions that enhance the topics addressed in the videoclips.

I think this site could benefit by having some type of general overview or explanation that includes suggestions about how to best use the videoclips. The concept maps included with each activity would benefit from suggestions about how staff might integrate them into their respective programs.

Despite these drawbacks, the Exploratorium Afterschool Activities website provides afterschool program staff with a good set of engaging activities that students will enjoy.