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Empowering Young Minds: ACT Now STEM Clubs

By: Kim Turnbull

In today’s rapidly evolving world, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have become the driving forces behind innovation and progress. As the demand for STEM professionals continues to rise, it is crucial to lay a strong foundation for the next generation’s success. While formal education plays a vital role, afterschool programs offer a unique opportunity to further ignite the spark of curiosity and passion for STEM. 

This year, nearly 300 youth across the state of Illinois in 11 programs spanning from Carbondale to Waukegan, participated in the ACT Now STEM Club Initiative. In the fall, youth applied their math skills to calculate the probability of making a penalty kick in soccer and then prove the accuracy of the prediction. They also used their problem-solving skills to design a ball retrieving device for adaptive volleyball players. In the winter and spring, clubs explored chemistry topics and related these topics to everyday uses and careers. Youth learned about thermochemistry by creating a hot pack and then using that hot pack to build a snake incubator to save snake eggs from a building site. They also used their new knowledge of chemical reactions to solve the mystery of the unknown white powder found in the bakery. 

To assist programs with implementation, ACT Now provided 2 in-person facilitator trainings.  These trainings allowed facilitators to be hands-on with the activities in the curriculum to gain comfort and work out any unknowns.  All programs received materials from ACT Now for the curriculum so they could leave the training, go back to their programs and start implementation the next day. Even after the training program, programs received ongoing support from our Afterschool STEM Specialist through program visits, video explanations and regular communication. 

Over the past nine months, it has been exciting to see youth across the state experimenting, collecting data, and working collaboratively to solve problems. 76% of the young people report that they have strengthened their relationships with peers after completing the program.  74% felt that they had grown in their critical thinking skills, and another 73% felt that their perseverance to complete a task or solve a problem had improved. In addition, 28% report having more or much more interest in a STEM job in the future. These results are encouraging that Illinois is growing stronger in STEM and expanding opportunities for young people!

Afterschool programs that incorporate STEM education provide a fertile ground for nurturing the talents and potential of future innovators, problem solvers, and leaders. By fostering creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and digital literacy, these programs equip young minds with the necessary tools to thrive in a world driven by scientific and technological advancements. As educators, parents, and policymakers, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that every child has access to high-quality STEM education in their afterschool experiences, enabling them to shape a brighter and more prosperous future for themselves and society as a whole.

ACT Now will continue the STEM Club Initiative and expand it to more programs in the upcoming school year!  Clubs will be exploring engineering and the engineering mindset in the fall and preparing for a trip to the moon and solar eclipse in the winter/spring.  There is no STEM experience needed to facilitate these activities and you will be provided all the materials you need.  Want to be part of the fun and learn some STEM at the same time? Apply to be a part of this experience to advance STEM to the youth in your program. Applications are due Wednesday, July 12, 2023. All programs will be notified by August 1, 2023, of their participation status.