Learning Goals for Science Learning Programs
There is an ongoing debate about the goals of out-of-school programs and appropriate measures for evaluating them. On one side of the debate are those who view out-of-school time as an extension of regular school time. They argue that, in an age of accountability, when many students are failing to meet state and national academic standards, out-of-school time should be used to further the academic goals of schools.
On the other side of the debate are those who view out-of-school time as part of the broader realm of development. In their view, out-of-school programs should ensure healthy development and well-being for participants by developing personal and social assets in physical, intellectual, psychological, emotional, and social development domains (Institute of Medicine, 2002). The focus in programming is less on the acquisition of specific academic skills and knowledge and much more on providing a physically and psychologically safe environment with supportive relationships and a sense of belonging. Adding a science focus does not conflict with these nonacademic outcomes. Learners
informal education, such as learner choice and low-stakes assessment, shape the program and evaluation agenda in out-of-school settings?
In many cases, the dominance of a youth development, academic accountability, or science-specific perspective is evident in program goals and outcome measures. In an effort to integrate the findings and identify patterns of strong evidence with respect to science-specific outcomes across studies, we integrate the evidence across these varied perspectives. We examine evidence in light of the strands of science learning—some but not all of which are evident in the research base on out-of-school-time programs.
Promoting interest in science is a common goal of out-of-school science programs (e.g., Brenner et al., 2001; Building Science and Engineering Talent, 2004; Gibson and Chase, 2002; Archer et al., 2003; Project Exploration, 2006). A number of evaluations that have examined this outcome suggest that sustained engagement in out-of-school science programs can promote science interest.
For example, a comparison study by Gibson and Chase (2002) exam-