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After-school programs to use technology to supplement STEM subjects
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2014 12:45 PM

As school districts across the country continue to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), many parents are placing their children in after-school programs to supplement course material. Some of these programs have a special focus on technology, science and mathematics, which directly aligns with the goals and purpose of the Common Core. By fully immersing their children in the latest technology in a fun and interactive learning environment, parents help create a future where skilled adults will lead U.S. industries around the world.

Technology in after-school programs
According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 74 percent of Americans agree that computers and other devices significantly improve the quality of education. Most Americans believe that technology should be available to their children during after-school programs. In a 1997 survey of parents planning to enroll their children in such programs, an astounding 95 percent said they feel computer technology will positively affect their child's learning. Not much has changed since then. 

It is common knowledge that computers and access to the Internet provide a number of excellent learning opportunities that were previously unavailable to students. Various types of educational software can help reinforce reading comprehension, math and writing skills beyond the traditional classroom setting. Constant feedback allows students to immediately recognize operational mistakes and gives tutors a chance to identify recurring patterns as their students progress through course material.

Enriching the after-school experience
For some students, after-school education programs were not fun. It meant extra work, boring activities and less time with friends. However, many programs today aim to create an enriching experience for students that they can brag about to their family and friends.

One such after-school program is Zaniac, which recently opened a facility in Greenwich, Conn. Paul Pilzer, the founder of Zaniac, believes the key to learning for kids lies in producing a fun environment that nurtures a natural wonder of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topics.

"Zaniac is like school at its best, an active and inspiring place that is filled with friends and friends to be where real math and technology learning is fun," Pilzer told the Greenwich Post. "Zaniac delivers a math and technology experience that engages and motivates K-8 kids making parents feel proud to provide them with real academic advantage."

Pilzer and his team of educators and tutors provide a variety of programs that deal specifically with STEM: Zane math, computer programming, touch typing, LEGO robotics, homework center and Minecraft exploration. Over the course of six weeks, students will complete about nine hours of work, with each program designed to encourage further exploration into every topic covered. Parents have the opportunity to check in on their child's progress and can communicate regularly with program instructors via email.

Technology-based educational tools for after-school tutors
Although many tutors might not have the resources of an entire facility like Zaniac at their disposal, a number of educational tools exist that help foster a great after-school learning environment.

Dino Numbers is a Windows application designed for students ages 7 to 12 that provides simple math games. Individuals can save cows from dinosaurs in this educational video game while learning basic arithmetic principles.

Soccer Math provides an interactive experience in which users learn basic math, percentages, fractions and decimals. The interface utilizes a sophisticated display of graphics designed to educate students in a fun environment. Finding the right solution to a problem allows students to dribble past defenders, shoot a goal or pass to computerized teammates like real soccer pros.

As the programs and games become more sophisticated, more after-school initiatives and tutoring facilities will turn to educational software, computers and other devices. This technology will help establish a fun, interactive learning environment focused on raising kids to be successful in the 21st century.