We have been interested in informal learning for many years and developed several outreach initiatives working with Girl Scouts, Home Schooling, and Boys & Girls Clubs. After initial projects with the Boys & Girls Clubs, we collaborated with local clubs in putting together the winning Wise Guys and Gals project. The roots for this project extended further back to the Wisengineering project with the Paterson school district with Gates funding. The local Boys & Girls Club was actively engaged with schools and increased our awareness of the great potential they held, and the need they had for engaging STEM projects. The dynamics of after school programs are very different from formal education, and creating formal projects does not work well as youth can vote with their feet in selecting, or deselecting, what they want to do. Further, the people who oversee learning activities, we call them Learning Facilitators, in general have no background in teaching. Often the facilities where learning activities occur are multi-purpose, and indeed, different locations may be used on different days or for different activities. Time is always an issue, just as in formal education, so activities need to typically be created that fit within a 75 minute time slot. There are tremendous benefits, the activities do not need to be tied to a given curriculum, we can introduce STEM careers, query Learners as to what they are thinking because of using the WISEngineering learning environment. And the youth are engaged and begin to view themselves in a new STEM light.
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