Our Approach

Youth-Science Pathway Programs

Project Exploration’s out-of-school-time (OST) programs are organized into a framework called Youth-Science Pathways (YSP). Structured around three phases of scientific inquiry (Discover, Explore, and Pursue), Youth-Science Pathways is a set of fluid, non-linear programs that reflect students’ emerging skills, curiosity, and ambition; and encourages them to take ownership of their learning, become active members of the STEM community, and invest in a lifelong practice of inquiry.

The “Discover” phase sparks interest and engagement and introduces students to a broad range of scientific and engineering disciplines and topics, as well as the basics of the Nature of Science, scientific inquiry and engineering design process. The “Explore” phase focuses more on specific disciplines and inquiry methods, while reinforcing critical thinking skills and investigative approaches. The “Pursue” phase provides an in-depth investigation in a researched-based setting to equip students with the competencies and experiences needed to pursue science in higher education and the workforce.

Historically Project Exploration has served students 5th through 12th grade; however, the SLC, a place-based community STEM hub presented a unique opportunity to develop Launch programs that served siblings of participants that were in K-3. The Launch phase serves as a precursor to the Discover phase as it creates opportunities for K-3 participants to build from their natural curiosity by having a STEM mentor help foster, guide, moreover, build on their interests to ensure positive early STEM experiences.  Additionally, programs use visualization to promote STEM learning that leads to a generalization of essential concepts and practices. It also builds children’s self-efficacy around their ability to learn and do STEM.  The founding participants ultimately named the K-3, Launch program as the Building Block Club.

Goals of Youth-Science Pathway Programs:

  • Strengthen students’ connection to learning by engaging them in a community of practice that includes STEM Professionals, educators, and each other;
  • Build scientific skills, fuel curiosity, and encourage students to identify themselves as scientists with hands-on science experiments that demonstrate the power and versatility of scientific inquiry;
  • Equip students for long-term achievement by challenging them to develop their perseverance, emotional resilience, interpersonal skills, and leadership ability;
  • Work with communities to create a more equitable, authentic, and engaging STEM environments, in school and out.

As a result of participating in our programs, students report:

  • Increased self-confidence in STEM competencies, skills, and abilities.
  • Increased self-confidence in critical 21st century skills, such as leadership, communication, and collaboration. 
  • Increased STEM aspirations or pursuits, including careers. 

Key features of Launch, Discover, Explore, and Pursue programs along the Youth-Science Pathways are described in the figure below.

Across all four levels of programs, we have identified 14 core competencies that students develop over time in STEM and 21st-century skills:

  • Building Models
  • Building Scientific Knowledge
  • Using Math
  • Investigating
  • Understanding Science as a Social Endeavor
  • Observing
  • Reflecting
  • Collaborating
  • Taking Personal Initiative
  • Being Curious
  • Communicating
  • Being Part of a Community
  • Developing Leadership
  • Developing Self-Identity

In each of these 14 core competencies, we have drawn upon research in STEM education, informal science learning, and youth development to identify specific skills that youth are developing. We have written about our unique model to engage at-risk youth in STEM out-of-school time learning in the Afterschool Matters Journal (2012, Volume 12). 

By focusing on, and showing success with, these populations Project Exploration is addressing critical issues facing STEM education today: inequality of opportunity, lack of diversity, and workforce development. 

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