What is a Teen Science Café?
Teen Science Café programs are a free, fun way for teens to engage in lively conversations with STEM experts that explore the advances in science and technology that affect their lives.
In these events, teens socialize over teen-friendly food and drink and have a lively conversation with local scientists and engineers about current cutting-edge developments in their fields, all in a relaxed and informal out-of-school setting.
Teen Science Cafés are for teens, by teens. A core group of Teen Leaders, with the committed mentorship of an Adult Leader, plan and run the café programs. They welcome as diverse of a teen crowd as possible—diverse in ethnicity, culture, gender, and motivations for learning about science. Teen Science Cafés are not just for the science geeks; they are for all curious teens. Along the way, teen organizers gain a host of leadership skills.
Cafés are typically run about an hour and a half once per month during the school year, with an additional Teen Leader planning meeting before each café, though some sites choose to have events on weekends or during the summer.
What is the Teen Science Café Network?
The Teen Science Café Network is a web of interconnected organizations that offer teen café programs, such as libraries | museums | 4-H clubs | colleges | STEM education organizations |Boys & Girls Clubs | aquariums & zoos | after school clubs | and committed individuals.
It is a community of practice that provides the highest quality resources, guidance, and support to individuals and organizations that wish to implement a teen science café. Its members are committed to help one another continually improve the teen café experiences and their impacts.
All Network programs are organized around a set of seven Core Design Principles, which provide the guiding foundation of the teen café model.
Origins of the Teen Science Café Network
Science Cafés for adults have been engaging people from all walks of life with scientists in conversation on interesting science topics in social settings since they were established in England in the 1990s. Their instant popularity led to rapid spread throughout the world.
In 2007, Science Education Solutions, based in Los Alamos, New Mexico, received a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to conduct an experiment to see if the adult science café model could be adapted to appeal to high school teens. The program, Café Scientifique New Mexico, became very popular with teens in four towns of highly diverse character across northern New Mexico. The blend of conversing with scientists about interesting science topics in an out-of-school social setting and digging deeper with hands on activities was the hook.
The Teen Science Café Network was formed in 2012 with new NSF funding to expand the reach of the model and allow other organizations to start their own versions adapted to their local institutions and demographics. Five founding member organizations around the United States formed the initial Network and each began creating their own programs. From there it expanded rapidly and continues to expand today.
The teen café model was refined through trial and error and formal evaluation over several years. Today it continues to provide teens with a new perspective on the nature of science and a picture of scientists as real people leading interesting lives. The program has proven to be a rich—and fun—complement to the science they learn in the classroom.
The Network free membership and to any organization wishing to start a teen café program. Organizations in other nations are welcome to join!