Summer offers a unique opportunity for students to connect with content in ways that may be very different from school. With such a short period of time to generate impact, programs need to maximize their time and keep youth actively engaged in learning. We spoke with Neil Naftzger, a principal researcher at American Institutes for Research working on afterschool and expanded learning initiatives, to learn more about a recent study examining how interest and engagement develop in STEM-oriented summer learning programs serving middle-school aged youth.

About the study:

WHAT GOT YOU INTO THIS WORK?

I spent the early years of my career in afterschool collecting performance data for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and grew interested in what quality looks like across the many variations of out-of-school time programs. Although there has been lots of research on quality, I wanted to know more about how youth experiences intersect with program characteristics, to further our understanding of how quality practices engender youth having certain types of experiences that promote their development. In this particular study, we sought to understand the relationship between individual youth experiences and the manner in which activity leaders went about designing and delivering STEM-oriented programming. Key to the study was measuring youth in-the-moment interest and engagement while participating in the STEM activities being offered.

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