Community Partnership Mediated Science Clubs: Supporting Young People in Transition from Elementary School to High School

An Action Research Project

Video: Biodegradable Plastic

Flash St-Henri video story

Supporting Ethnically Diverse Youth Living in Underserved Communities

 

Globalization, vast immigration and movement across cultures and geographies have led to a very diverse student body whose needs far exceed the resources of schools. Equity in terms of access to quality education and a network of support systems for students from nondominant communities remains a huge challenge.

 

To respond to these issues, we initated the development of quality afterschool science clubs mediated and supported through community-based partnerships and action research assumed by its key players – teachers, students and community partners, including teacher educators in universities.

 

Engaging Youth with Science in Ways Meaningful to Them, Building on their Interests and Questions

 

The first two years of the project, participants were engaged in the production of video documentaries on topics of science of interest to them. Students engaged in research on their topic of interest, exchanged with scientists and other experts about the topic they wanted to document, while they also visited informal science venues (e.g., Science Center, Center of Biodiversity, Botanical Garden) to gain a deeper understanding of the science they were interested in. Those exchanges and explorations were documented by youth through pictures and video footage. Through dialogue, filiming, editing and brainstorming, we engaged in the video productions together, a process that was as important as the final product.

 

 

A University-Community-School Partnership Model

 

The project entailed a University-Community-School Partnership Model in three ways:

 

1. Students from the University with backgrounds in science, media and education mediated the club activities. That relationship led some youth visit the University and learn more about its many educational opportunities and possibilities for careers in science and other areas.

 

2. The Fifth Dimension Model (Cole) also inspired the project in that students from the University not simply mediated the activities but the clubs themselves became a space for their own education. Some preservice teachers had opportunities to participate in the clubs as part of a course assignment and activity and thereby gathered new insights into the role of afterschool activities in schools and the manner afterschool activities play a complementary role to formal education. It also helped them develop rich relationships with youth with whom they had few opportunities to interact with otherwise.

 

3. Through partnerships with other institutions such as the Botanic Garden of Montreal and GUEPE, we could offer youth from the clubs a two-week summer internship  at the Botanic Garden, a one-week internship at Folie Technique, and have animators from GUEPE visit the clubs and offer some hands-on activities tied to environmental education and biodiversity.

 

 

The animation in the clubs were assumed by Folie Technique the third year of the project, entailing projects in engineering and design such as the creation of wire cars with a lighting system or the construction of and programming of robots next to other design challenges.

 

Use of Media in Science Education

 

The project offered participants an opportunity to become designers with technology. The project was heavily inspired by the Computer Clubhouse Movement and the Connected Learning Research Network, and the idea to offer youth with a space where they could own, create and critique their ways into science through the co-construction and joint creation process, with guidance by students from the University who were mentors and role models in that process.

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Next Steps: Community Schools at the High School Level

 

The action-research project helped us gain deep insights into the challenges yet also unique opportunities of a community school model that brings together the ressources in and outside of the school to support youths' learning for life. It implies partnerships at many levels, in our case among a University, community organizations and informal science venues, next to the high school, its directors, teachers and youth.

 

It made us realize also how few opportunities there are for many high school students to become engaged more deeply with science, technology and pursue other interests of theirs, after school, or during the summer months. How to facilitate youths' movements in this vast educational ecology that is out there yet not always known to them or accessible, became an important question for us.

 

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Walk in Forest
Walk in Forest
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How to bring schools, universities and communities together to engage in the development of a community school model at the high school level is our next challenge.

 

How to integrate opportunities for University students currently in the teacher education program to observe, participate in and learn from engagement in afterschool and community programs is another challenge. We know that schools alone cannot respond to the needs of youth today. We also know that teacher education needs to move beyond the school context into the community and thereby help teachers develop the skills needed to tap into those ressources to support meaningful and empowering learning for life in their classrooms. How we can all engage in the development of such rich and stimulating learning communities is our next challenge.