As young people move into adolescence, they tend to express a desire to pursue activities independently of adults.10 This does not necessarily mean that relationships with parents grow more distant,11 but young people do spend less time with parents or other adult relatives and more time with peers or alone.12 Attachment to teachers also wanes across adolescence.13 With these shifts, new opportunities for science learning become available that are not as closely tied to adult (especially parental) resources and activities. Young people gain greater access to school- and community-sponsored extracurricular activities (e.g., clubs or hobby groups) and, through part-time employment, may have more disposable income that can be devoted to hobbies or personal interests, including science-oriented activities.14 Adolescents generally have greater mobility, especially with the advent of driving privileges, that allows them broader reach into the surrounding community to pursue their personal interests. School systems tend to provide increasing levels of choice in course work with each advancing grade, allowing those with a penchant for science, mathematics, or technology to expand their exposure to science-related learning in formal contexts.
Community- and school-based programs are settings that are receiving increasing attention as a support for science learning among children and youth. Programs, especially during out-of-school time, afford a special opportunity to expand science learning experiences for millions of children and youth. Out-of-school-time programs allow sustained experiences with science and reach a large audience, including a significant population of individuals from nondominant groups.
A range of evaluation studies shows that these programs can have positive effects on participants’ attitudes toward science, as well as on grades, test scores, graduation rates, and specific science knowledge and skills. However, the body of research as a whole is difficult to make sense of because programs are focused on a variety of goals. Some place greatest emphasis on social or emotional well-being, such as developing positive attitudes, self-confidence, life skills, and social relationships. Others are more concerned with academic skills and improved academic achievement, as measured by standardized test scores, grades, graduation rates, and continued involvement in school science. Many are a blend of both. Because of these different emphases, along with the limitations of traditional academic assessments to measure the kind of learning that takes place in informal settings, it becomes difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the learning that is likely to occur. However, the full potential of these programs for supporting science learning has not been tapped.