I run an after school STEM club that involves many projects and activities. Students build robots for FIRST Robotics, race RC cars, use 3D printers, and build underwater vehicles. They dissect specimens, and create biodiesel from vegetable oil. So why would I bring this up on the Chemed Xchange? Our science club does chemistry activities, we are an ACS Chem Clubs, but I think there are many other benefits to this kind of club. Here are a few:
Creating excitement for the sciences.
It used to bother me that students did not seem to be as excited about science in high school as they were in elementary school. I now believe that it is not a lack of interest or excitement. Instead it is a lack of a venue to show it. There is a lot of social pressure to be cool in high school. This makes showing enthusiasm for anything a risk for students. A science club represents a place where students know that their excitement will be shared and supported by the people around them. More importantly I have found that the excitement spills over into my regular classes and becomes infectious.
Building relationships with students.
We all work very hard to build relationships with our students. Those relationships are difficult to form with 30 students at a time and while covering classroom material. It is hard not to form those relationships when you work on a difficult and unique challenge with a student. I defy you to build a working robot from scratch with a group of students without getting to know them. This may seem obvious but what might be less obvious is the times that the club has helped me to build relationships with students who do not participate in it.
Students walk into my room and see robots, RC cars, and 3D printers. It is easy to start a conversation when you see them staring at something they are interested in. During that conversation I get to know what interests them and they get to see my passion for science. The best part of those conversations is when I get to offer them a chance to drive the car or robot or print something for themselves. I get one of two reactions. The first possible reaction is excitement. That is fun to see and gives me a new way to relate to that student.. The second type of reaction is disbelief that I would want/let them participate. The second reaction is fun because I get a chance to convince a student that they are “smart enough” to work on a science project. It may be the only opportunity they have to hear that and it definitely has an impact.
Build general science skills in students.
Given the recent focus on cross cutting concepts in the NGSS we have spent a lot of time talking about the skills and topics that are common to all branches of science. I cannot think of a better way to demonstrate these concepts than to have students working with a robot next a another group dissecting a shark!
All of our projects are student led. They must ask the questions, propose solutions, test those solutions, and change based on their evidence. If that isn’t practicing science skills I don’t know what is. I have told many people that I only need two things to teach science: A problem that students can’t google the answer too and time to let them fail a few times while finding the answer. These are two things I do not always have in my classroom, but I can exposed students to everyday in science club.
Build community support for science education.
Our science club has a website, two twitter accounts, and two instagram accounts. We also post updates on our communities facebook page. This year we were in the homecoming parade and were asked to present to the school board. All of these things allow us to be present in our community in a way that builds support for science education. I could write many pages about how great the support from our community has been but the best example that I can give is how regularly I get stopped by parents who want to know how their students can get involved in our activities, or to express support for the club. The club is slowly but surely getting to the level of interest that rivals sports teams. This level of community awareness can come in really handy when you are trying to convince an administrator to approve spending for a new class or to replace aging equipment.
Allow students to showcase their skills and interests.
I personally have the most fun when I can get a student to teach me something. I have one student who is currently teaching me how to build objects in SolidWorks CAD software, another who is teaching me and others how to write code to control our robot, and yet another who regularly teaches me new things about our 3D printers. It is a great day when a group of students shows off their understanding of molecular geometries by creating molecular models and and orbitals in a 3D CAD program and then showing you how those files can be printed off of your 3D printers!
I believe our science club has had a huge positive impact on my students, my classroom, and my teaching. I hope that you will consider having one of your own. It is not nearly as difficult or expensive as you might think. I would love to provide any information and guidance that I can and would love to hear about the projects you already undertake.