A series of free, fun, out-of-school events in which teens socialize over food and refreshments…perhaps with background music and a fun icebreaker activity…before engaging with a STEM professional in conversation about cutting-edge science or technology that is impacting our world. Great conversation about the scientist or engineer’s subject and story is often mixed with or followed by an activity to more deeply explore the topic, all in a relaxed and informal setting. Teen Science Cafés are for teens, by teens. A core group of Teen Leaders, with the committed mentorship of an adult, plan and run the café themselves. They make 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 1-1.5 hours, once per each month during the school year, with an additional Teen Leader planning meeting before each café.
There is no ‘one right way’ to run a Teen Science Café. Make it local! Seek out all types of professionals in your community who use science and technology in their jobs. Great conversation and interactivity is key to success.
- Solve a case using forensic evidence
- Visit a scientist where they work. Sometimes equipment can’t move, but people can!
- Use zombies as a theme for teaching about neuroscience or infectious disease
- Examine specimens before, during or after a scientist’s presentation
- Bring a live animal to presentations about live animals
- Use a computer challenge to explore cyber-security
- Use a gorilla chasing humans to simulate how to flock like birds
- Have teens help scientists with their research by prepping specimens or experiments
- Use music as a theme for discussing neuroscience
- Build balsa wood bridges to support a conversation about engineering
Teens consider their Teen Café program to be interesting and fun, but thorough formal evaluations demonstrate that Teen Science Café programs significantly increase teens’ understanding of the nature of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Teens gain a new understanding of how all the science and technology around them affects their lives now and will continue to do so in the future. The basic science they learn in school becomes enriched; teens gain a real-world perspective of what science is, how it is carried out, and what enormous impacts it has. They may become aware of the possibility of a life in science and technology for themselves.
Teens also develop a much more realistic and positive perception of scientists and engineers, get a glimpse of the interesting lives they lead, and learn that they are real, complex, multidimensional humans, like them.
Scientists typically value participation in a Teen Café program because they learn to better communicate their science to the public, they gain a new perspective on their own science, and because it is fun.
The Teen Science Café model has certain key elements that members agree to incorporate into their programs: highly engaging and interactive programs, vetted presenters coached in communicating with teens, teen leadership and ownership of their program, a committed adult to guide the teen leaders, a focus on attracting a highly diverse and curious audience of teenagers (not the usual suspects), and community awareness and support. Teen Science Café programs can be organized in a rich variety of ways, while adhering faithfully to the six Core Design Principles.
Any organization that wants to start a Teen Café program can join the Teen Science Café Network and become part of a vibrant, mutually supporting community. There are three simple requirements for membership: members agree to 1) construct their program around six Core Design Principles, 2) annually share a progress report of their program with the Network, and 3) annually provide some basic evaluation data including numbers and demographics compiled from attendance information you collect at each Café.
Apply for membership via this online membership application form!
The Resource Center will contact you promptly to clarify any points and assist you with your plans. We will mentor you through the start up process and beyond.
Want to chat with us about the idea of starting a Teen Science Café program? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a phone or video chat with someone from the TSCN National Resource Center.
The Teen Science Café Network is a nation-wide web of organizations that offer Teen Science Café programs.
Examples: libraries | museums | 4-H clubs | aquariums & zoos | colleges | STEM education organizations | Boys & Girls Clubs | after school clubs | committed individuals
Members are passionate about creating opportunities for teens and experts to explore through stories, conversation, and activities how science and technology innovations are changing our world.
The Network is also a community of practice. Network members agree to support each other by sharing their Café expertise and resources, including those related to positive youth development and working with teen leaders, preparing scientists and engineers to effectively interact with a teenage audience, how to best craft and use café evaluation tools, and other café logistics. Members may also collaborate on research projects and new initiatives to understand the impacts of the program and improve upon the Teen Science Café model.
- Support of the TSCN Resource Center – contact us via TeenScienceCafe.org or email info at TeenScienceCafe.org.
The service is funded by the National Science Foundation to help organizations adopt the teen café model and to support the growing community.
- An annual in-person TSCN Member’s Workshop.
- Free webinars, individual support, and professional development opportunities.
- The opportunity for new members in need of assistance to apply to the Resource Center for a one-time startup grant of up to USD$3,000.
- Access to the Member’s Forum, idea-rich Blog, and extensive print and video resources submitted by café programs from across the country.
There are many templates and exemplars available to give you a step up. Examples of resources available:
- Methods for mentoring teens to take ownership of their program and make it a welcoming, fun, and interesting experience;
- Materials and methods for vetting and preparing scientists & engineers to interact effectively with a teenage audience.
Your first café can start on any date, and recur according to your schedule.
There are no rules for how frequently or at what times Cafés are held, but typically Teen Science Cafés are offered once per month during the academic year with the exception of December and the last month of the academic year. These two times are typically so busy for the teens that you will have a hard time getting their attention. Some organizations do offer Cafés as part of their summer programming.
In addition to the Café event, most programs have one to two additional meetings to plan it. The planning generally includes two elements: 1) a dry run with the presenter, and 2) time for the teens to organize the roles and responsibilities they commit to carry out before and during the upcoming Café. A meeting might be in person, or be held via video conferencing. It takes about an hour for each of these 2 pre-work elements. Try to set up a steady schedule so the teen leaders get used to fitting planning meetings into their schedules. Survey the teen leaders to find out what days and times will consistently work for them to meet.
The three primary activities that the adult leader undertakes are identifying and preparing high quality presenters who can talk about science interesting to the teens, hosting a meeting for the teens leaders to plan the café event, and ensuring that the café venue is booked. This should not be more than 20 hours a month.
The TSCNetwork website shares example templates for organizing and assigning roles and responsibilities to the leadership group teens regarding the planning and running of the café. The adult’s time commitment is going to vary by their ability to be a coach and guide rather than a director and the person who picks up the pieces if some of the teens drop the ball. The more the teen leaders know what they are individually responsible for, and the more the adult leader makes it clear to them that they are in charge and responsible, the less work left for the adult. The planning and running of the café becomes a smooth process when the teen leaders take ownership of it.
There are a number of variables that affect the size of your teen leadership team and your attendance at Café events. The size of your teen leadership team can influence the attendance because teen leaders tend to bring their friends. So, a larger teen leadership team can sometimes mean larger attendance, though some Member café programs with a small core of extremely marketing-savvy teens can be effective at bringing in lots of people as well. Depending on the size of your community and when you schedule your programs (be aware of school /sports events), your attendance can range from 10 – 100. It depends on your marketing.
There is no “right” size for a café audience–quality over quantity should be considered–though if you are doing any kind of complex hands-on activity, a good size for a café audience is 10-50. If you have audiences larger than that, you should plan ahead for ways to coach your presenter so that individual teen audience members don’t get lost in the crowd–your café’s aim should be to have every person in the room interacting rather than passively sitting and listening. Consider breaking up the audience into groups tasked with answering a question posed by the presenter, arranging your room in a way that promotes interaction, and working with the presenter on an activity format that will allow every individual in the room to get involved.
Of course! Teen Science Cafés are for all curious teens. There are currently many homeschoolers on our members’ teen leader committees. Your local home schooling organizations might be wonderful groups to reach out to as a source of potential teen leaders and café attendees.
The Teen Science Café Network website has abundant resources related to leading a Teen Café program. Our blog provides community perspectives on issues and ideas. The best way to start to get a feeling for the nature of Teen Science Cafés is by reading the Guide to Getting Started with a Teen Science Café. Contact the Teen Science Café Resource Center staff at any time via email – info at TeenScienceCafe.org.