Evaluation of the California Afterschool Tinkering Network | SRI International

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young boy student tinkering on a project

Evaluation of the California Afterschool Tinkering Network

SRI studied the pilot year of a program to promote expansion of high-quality STEM-rich tinkering activities into afterschool programs serving children from low-income communities.

SRI Education conducted an evaluation of the pilot year of the California Afterschool Tinkering Network. Launched in 2012 by the Exploratorium with funding from the Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the network aims to promote the expansion of high-quality STEM-rich tinkering activities into afterschool programs serving children from low-income communities. The network includes five key collaborating organizations that worked in partnership with over 20 afterschool or summer programs in their local communities to serve more than 2,000 children, extending the reach of the network through a hub and spoke system across the state. All five hub organizations participated in three two-day professional development workshops organized by the Exploratorium to provide resources for implementing programs and building capacity at partner sites.

The Network Developed a Shared Vision for High-Quality Making and Tinkering Programming

One of the goals of the California Afterschool Tinkering Network in the pilot year was to begin to develop a shared vision for tinkering activities in afterschool programming. From prior research, collaborative discussion, and documentation of network hub activities, network members worked to articulate how tinkering activities best promote learningand development in the afterschool setting. In conjunction, drawing on evidence from network activities and site observations, the evaluation team constructed a candidate model that illustrates features of high-quality programming and links these features to several of the STEM practices and learner dispositions they support (see figure). Several STEM practices in our model align with Science and Engineering Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards.

The Network Offered Professional Development for Hub Staff That Developed Local Capacity

The pilot year focused on professional development for hub leadership and staff to both build local capacity to implement high-quality tinkering programs and identify local strengths as well as needs that could guide future activity. The Exploratorium hosted three professional development workshops, identified and posted online resources, sponsored intervisitation among sites, supported program documentation, and co-developed a Phase Two plan, all of which served to expand the reach of high-quality afterschool STEM programming in localities throughout California.

Hubs Partnered Locally to Offer a Variety of Learner Programs in Each Region

The pilot year activities described in this report include numerous examples from successful learner programming supported by hubs working with local partners serving low-income communities. These examples illustrate the diversity of approaches, partners, and participants across programs, indicating the relevance the network has to a wide range of afterschool settings and the potential for the network’s impact on a larger scale.

The Network Has Established a Strong Basis and Promise for Expansion Beyond the Pilot Year

The network holds promise going forward and has several areas for potential expansion based on results from network activities and needs identified during the pilot year. We recommend that, in the future, network activity include (1) drawing on experiences across sites to refine the vision for tinkering in afterschool settings, (2) distributing critical resources for providing high-quality opportunities in low-income communities, (3) developing documentation processes that provide evidence of the value of tinkering in out of school time, and (4) sustainably expanding the network to broaden the reach of programming for children and youth.