Afterschool Focus: Investigating Science in Afterschool

Science and 21st CCLC programs were made for one another. Afterschool is an ideal environment for hands-on, investigative learning, which forms the foundation of science education. Afterschool can also show that science is fun and for everyone: students can make a mess (and learn the importance of cleaning it up), test a hypothesis, and discover that you can learn from a project even if it fails. At the same time, afterschool professionals can help students explore science concepts and skills in a way that builds on their interests, prior experience, cultural background, and community connections. High-quality science enrichment can do more than improve students’ academic outcomes. It can help students understand the role of science in career pathways that interest them.1 

Next Generation Science Standards2

As we do with all academic enrichment, we encourage afterschool practitioners to align their science programming with state standards. This not only helps your program support school-day learning and student academic achievement, but there are also crosscutting practices and interdisciplinary concepts that are suited to the afterschool environment. 

Illinois adopted the Illinois Learning Standards in science in 2014. These standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which are built on three dimensions: (1) crosscutting concepts, (2) science and engineering practices, and (3) disciplinary domains. 

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect
  • Scale, proportion, and quantity
  • Systems and system models
  • Energy and matter
  • Structure and function
  • Stability and change

Science and Engineering Practices

  • Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Four Disciplinary Domains

  • Physical Science
  • Life Science
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Engineering


Learning Science Through Investigation

The NGSS practices go beyond teaching key scientific facts to asking students to learn and work the way scientists do.3 Collectively, these practices help students master different aspects of scientific inquiry, from posing questions, planning and carrying out investigations, and analyzing and interpreting data, to constructing explanations and evaluating and communicating information. These practices are powerful because they involve students in their own learning and connect science to their daily lives. Simple afterschool investigations can include determining what types of objects will sink and float and then determining why, discovering what plants need to grow, or observing what happens to the weight and volume of water when it freezes.

If you are new to scientific inquiry, begin by connecting with a school-day science teacher to find out what science concepts, skills, activities, and standards students are working on in school and what kinds of activities lend themselves to afterschool enrichment. You can also ask students about their interests and see if there are any topics or problems they would like to explore. The key is to allow students’ questions and curiosities to drive activities.

Connecting Science to Other Disciplines

NGSS reflect the ways that scientific practices overlap with other disciplines by embedding interdisciplinary connections within the standards framework. Specifically, math, engineering, and technology are core components, as the NGSS practices include defining problems and solutions in engineering and using mathematics and computational thinking. The connections reflect how most science careers are interdisciplinary and few require knowledge of only a single content area. For example, an auto mechanic might need to know engineering, technology, and science; a dental hygienist, science and technology; and an electrician, science and mathematics.

Hands-on, interdisciplinary learning is a natural part of afterschool enrichment, and many of the science activities and professional development resources advanced by the afterschool field are embedded in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. The U.S. Department of Education’s Y4Y web portal for 21st CCLC practitioners, Afterschool Alliance, and Click2Science (a professional development site for afterschool) all support science learning within the context of STEM. This interdisciplinary approach can help students see their learning as part of a whole, rather than an isolated subject. 4 If your 21st CCLC team chooses to take an interdisciplinary approach to science enrichment, be sure, again, to consult with academic content teachers so that activities are grounded in school-day learning goals and the standards for the different academic topics.  

Next Steps for 21st CCLC Science Enrichment

  • Become familiar with the NGSS and their role in afterschool.
  • Reflect on how your program goals can support students mastering NGSS.
    • Look at your 21st CCLC goals and STEM activities. What connections do you see?
    • Talk to school-day teachers and leaders about supporting school-day science goals.
  • Provide professional development for your staff.



Next Generation Science Standards

Science Teachers in Action 

Bozeman Science 


Afterschool Resources


  • Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Citizen Science
  • STEM - Includes introduction, implementation strategies, professional development resources, and tools
  • STEM Initiatives - Links to NASA, National Park Service, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Afterschool Alliance - Afterschool & STEM Learning Resources

Click2Science - STEM Professional Development for Out-of-School Time Program Providers



Afterschool Alliance. (n.d.) Getting started with the Next Generation Science Standards: A primer and resource guide for afterschool educators. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: Three Dimensional Learning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from

SEDL. (2008). Afterschool Training Toolkit for Science. Austin, TX: Author. Retrieved from



1 Afterschool Alliance, n.d.

2 NGSS Lead States, 2013.

3 NGSS Lead States, 2013; SEDL, 2008.

4 SEDL, 2008.