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April 22, 2021

Pablo Picasso was 12 years old when he sketched Plaster Male Torso with the technical skill few artists master in a lifetime. Yet he became best known for his cubist and surrealist works that challenged the boundaries of the art world and even set new ones. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators can take a lesson from Picasso’s journey in recognizing that innovation is born of understanding the basics, then envisioning new horizons with an open mind to boundless creativity. When STEM education is combined with the creativity of the arts, you get the design thinking approach that underpins Y4Y’s newly updated STEAM course. In this overview of last month’s LIVE With Y4Y event, Learning Approaches to Science-Based Education, you’ll come to appreciate how art and STEM actually do make a fine pair.

This LIVE event was designed to

  • Define and demonstrate experiential learning approaches: the scientific method, design thinking and the engineering design process.
  • Connect experiential education to academic skill building, particularly in science and mathematics.
  • Provide examples of experiential learning in out-of-school time.

Dr. David Coffey, Director of the Design Thinking Academy at Grand Valley State University, offered key takeaways, including these:

  • Making meaning of mathematics through experiential learning can offer reluctant students a new opportunity to understand material.
  • Reflection at the end of a problem-solving experience can counteract the “learned helplessness” many students have around math.
  • Educators need to shift traditional “I do” practices to “we do” and “I do” by guiding student learning rather than always directly instructing on concepts.
  • Facilitators don’t have to have perfect content knowledge as long as they’re willing to be a fellow explorer with their students and open to their own learning. This can also be referred to as radical collaboration.
  • The act of teaching, itself, reflects the scientific method, as teachers make revisions based on experimentation.
  • Think of “failure” as an acronym: “First Attempt In Learning Unless Reflection Exists.” In other words, reflecting on failure propels learning forward.
  • Design thinking is also called “human-centered design.” Staff facilitating these kinds of projects need to be curious about people, and convey that curiosity to students. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to. Remember: Curiosity is contagious.

Teaching the scientific method has been central to scientific education and practices. This process involves these steps:

  • Determine a question.
  • Research the question.
  • Develop a hypothesis.
  • Test a hypothesis through experimentation.
  • Collect data.
  • Draw conclusions based on the data collected.

Design thinking, an educational tool to solve real-world problems, is gaining traction in STEM education today. To employ design thinking, the student will chunk problem-solving into these steps:

  • Empathize with the community you’re seeking to serve.
  • Define and understand the problem or challenge.
  • Ideate potential solutions.
  • Create a prototype.
  • Test the effectiveness of the prototype.

Mr. Ariel Raz, head of Learning Collaborations at the Stanford d.school, shared his organization’s views and practices around design thinking:

  • Simply put: Design thinking is a creative pedagogy that means “make something that matters.”
  • The liberal arts and the sciences intersect through design thinking because empathy and understanding of user needs drive the scientifically based making.
  • Giving students a creative challenge is difficult to reconcile in a system that’s too heavily standardized. As educators and learners themselves, facilitators need to grow comfortable with failure.
  • A fundamental departure of design thinking teaching from problem-based teaching is having no preconceived problem or project in mind. This is the empathy step.
  • A backward-mapping skill is important to use in the design thinking process, like the “project zero thinking routine.” The thinker might examine and analyze a known tool and identify its parts, purposes and complexities. Commercial fabricating demands this kind of inquiry.
  • A Stanford study of average-achieving middle school students demonstrated that teaching them design thinking techniques allowed them to apply creative problem-solving strategies in new contexts.
  • A growth mindset is baked into design thinking; failure is necessary to success. Perseverance and grit go hand in hand with the philosophy of failing early and failing often to achieve the best outcomes using design thinking.

Ms. Deborah Parizek, Executive Director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), shared insights on STEM education:

  • HFLI is dedicated to reimagining and redesigning learning, teaching and leading to better impact the experiences that students, their families and educators have to the greater good of underserved communities.
  • Having a teacher who’s a partner in learning enriches a student’s experience.
  • Design thinking builds academic skills like collaboration, critical thinking, data collection and analysis, and communication. All of these skills will add to a student’s academic and professional success.
  • HFLI strives to help students become confident and independent learners, and describes learning to navigate obstacles as an orientation of innovation. This skill building fosters inner motivation for students to commit and contribute to the world around them.
  • Ms. Parizek shared project examples ranging from kindergartners proposing improved pet environment prototypes to college-bound students tasked with redesigning equity access to higher education opportunities for Hispanic youth. Each went through similar design thinking processes.
  • In out-of-school time intervention, 21st CCLC programs have the opportunity to help students identify their unique strengths to build confidence in their part of team collaboration, then use that confidence to challenge them in areas of need.

A final STEM approach discussed was the engineering design process. Partnerships between 21st CCLCs and national agencies use this vehicle to help students explore a myriad of STEM professions.

Ms. Jamie Lacktman, Robert K. Shafer 21st CCLC Program, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, described the engineering design process her program exposes students to in partnership with NASA:

  • Students should understand from the beginning that they are driving research and design decisions.
  • This initiative has led students to appreciate the layers of research that go into a design challenge; often understanding one concept demands researching numerous others.
  • Effective designing means ensuring that everything adds up — both budgetarily and physically.
  • Asking “why” is central to innovation.
  • The NASA design challenge has improved student perceptions around gender and ethnic diversity in STEM professions.
  • This year’s hybrid format lent itself to a friendly competition between two prototype teams that has amplified enthusiasm.
  • Although a rubric is available to measure the project success, there are many other measures — like students adapting, committing, rising to challenges and recognizing the long-term benefits — that are every bit as meaningful.

A common thread in all of these STEM education approaches is the role of students in their own learning. These principles can be applied in 21st CCLC programs to large-scale challenges as well as day-to-day problem-solving. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s newly updated course on STEAM to help you implement design thinking in your program today!



April 7, 2021

The school day is the protein-rich foundation in your students’ day. Your 21st CCLC program is the light and sweet finish. When you align your efforts, everyone leaves the table satisfied. Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day, has simple tips on forming a delicious pairing.

We’re Hungry! (The Why)

This spring is an important time to commit to intentional collaboration with your school-day counterparts. This collaboration can and should intersect with staff at every level of your program.

  • School-day teachers are taking an inventory of the academic recovery each student is facing. Students’ circumstances and their responses to virtual and hybrid education during the pandemic can vary widely, even within a single virtual classroom. Students’ academic gains and losses through this academic year are also likely to vary widely.
  • Student health and wellness have suffered universally as well, but schools may be spread thin, given the high priority on academic recovery. Your program can play a key role in supporting students’ health and wellness.
  • Funds are available! The Afterschool Alliance produced a webinar, “$122 Billion for Education in American Rescue Plan: What It Means for OST Programs,” on how out-of-school time programs like yours can boost their role in recovery. Your school-day partners will be hungry to work with you to maximize access to this funding on behalf of your mutual students.
  • Most districts can’t follow their students through the summer, but your program can. Jointly, you can decide the best approach for each student.

Spread Generously. (The How)

Developing or strengthening partnerships with the school day doesn’t have to be complicated. Just intentional.

Delish PB&J. (The What)

Get ready to implement the best activities your creative, mouth-watering programming juices can muster!

Unless you’re allergic to peanut butter, the idea of the PB&J pairing of the school day and your program should strike just the right tone. Each is made better with the other right there for balance. And each nourishes students in different but important ways. “Spread” the word!



January 21, 2021

Even before the pandemic struck last year, 21st CCLC professionals were asking for more guidance on incorporating health and wellness initiatives into their programs to address that glacier of stress their students face. Needless to say, that need has only grown throughout the past year. School districts across the country have been developing their own standards and goals around practices, both big and small, to improve health and wellness. With tips from Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Partnering With the School Day: Health and Wellness, you can team up with your district to give students the tools they’ll need to break away those glaciers of stress and send them out to sea.

Don’t get a cold start. Out-of-school time programs have the great advantage of already having a certain amount of physical activity built into programming. You’re used to thinking about your academic goals, and how they’re being met, but have you taken the same kind of structured approach to setting goals around health and wellness? The Program Self-Assessment of Health and Wellness Offerings tool offers the warm-up you’ll need to start off on the right foot.

Every strong partnership is locked in with strong communication. You’ve set your goals for health and wellness; now, what are your goals for a related partnership? Check out Y4Y tools like the Quick Guide to Initiating a Health and Wellness Partnership With the School Day and Conversation Starters for Partnering With the School Day Around Health and Wellness to get you and your team thinking about key factors to cover with your school-day counterparts. Because you aren’t held to the same academic structures, your district is likely to jump at the chance to join forces and resources to help students concentrate more on exercise and mindfulness in the hours they spend with you.

Not just movin’ and chillin’. Adopting a health and wellness initiative in your program is going to take more than just padding your playground time and adding a daily two-minute meditation. Y4Y offers several new tools to help you develop appropriate activities. Check out the Activity Selection Guide to Support Health and Wellness tool, the Walking Scavenger Hunt Activity Planner, and the podcast, “Planning Health and Wellness Activities,” to jump-start your creative juices once all those goals have been identified.

The big picture. Speaking of podcasts, don’t forget that you can download and listen to Y4Y podcasts while you’re performing your own de-stressing activities, such as cleaning out those closets at home or even watching snowflakes fall. The podcasts in this new Click & Go offer a big-picture perspective, with ideas on how you might connect with school-day staff or take health and wellness on the go. The adults need just as much guidance in this department as students. See the podcast on caring for your staff for pointers.

The beginning of the year is a time when most Americans resolve to be more aware of their health and wellness. By using Y4Y’s new Click & Go to help build self-care into your professional day, every day, you can carry that resolution through the whole year to slowly melt away that glacier of stress for your students and yourself!



December 14, 2020

Just as the COVID-19 virus itself is unlikely to be fully understood for many years to come, so too might the pandemic’s full impact on our youth. While unexpected upsides do exist in some communities, it has been speculated that in the country’s most impoverished communities, the disparity in access and opportunity has only grown. Some districts even report high percentages of families that have been completely unreachable since the pandemic began eight months ago. 21st CCLC programs need to expect to up their family engagement game across the board, and many Y4Y tools can help.

To begin with, programs should consider familiarizing themselves with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit. While you could simply share the link with families, wading through the resources could be a difficult task for them. Some families may be neglecting their children’s primary care medical needs like vaccinations, or oral care, out of fear of visiting a doctor’s or dentist’s office. Others could be facing dramatic financial insecurity. How can your program help to condense information about available resources, and be a support to your families most in need?

You can offer anonymous family surveys to discover areas of greatest need among your families. Consider customizing Y4Y’s Family Satisfaction Survey to include more questions about their basic needs. For example:

What community resources does your family need assistance connecting with?

  • Primary health care for children
  • Primary health care for adults
  • Food pantries
  • Employment assistance
  • Child care
  • Housing

Next, be sure to be on the same page with your school district regarding all your program’s efforts. School administrators are pursuing many of the same resources on behalf of families, but don’t have the manpower to adequately advocate for every family needing assistance. Use Y4Y’s Partnering With Schools Rubric to consider where your outreach and alignment is most needed. Explore other tools for continuous education, with particular focus on those nonacademic pieces that families need most, like the Responsibility Checklist for Principal and Program Director, bearing in mind that you can customize these tools to reflect the greatest needs of the day.

Finally, get serious about partnerships you might not have ever even envisioned. Some will be in concert with the school district, but your program might have smaller-scale partnership opportunities that aren’t accessible to the district, like with smaller grocery store chains or thrift shops. Customize Y4Y’s Community Asset Mapping tool to brainstorm with your program team about what businesses might actually be flourishing in the current circumstances. Also, begin relationship building with social services in your area, including those that don’t relate directly to children. You can use the Y4Y Collaborative Partner Request Letter to help get the ball rolling, but be sure to check out all the tools available for establishing strategic partnerships in your town.

A great reflection piece is Y4Y’s September Voices From the Field, in which subject matter expert Stacey Owens-Howard addresses the poverty mindset. “The poverty mindset can lead to the belief that it is the responsibility of others to take care of their basic needs.” By working with families, expect your engagement, alignment and partnership efforts to raise your families up throughout the pandemic and deliver them to a promising recovery on the other side.



December 14, 2020

Whether in your program or through previous experiences, every member of your staff is likely to have had the opportunity to know and work with a student with a disability. But one or two experiences, while they may provide some valuable perspective, don’t provide enough knowledge to help you establish a truly inclusive program culture. Y4Y’s new course, Including Students With Disabilities, can help your program lay the foundation for a welcoming environment for all.

The host, Gail, will take you around the “All-In” Playground, where there’s something for everyone. Each jungle gym or playing field presents a different learning opportunity to build your program’s inclusion efforts. You’ll learn about six implementation strategies:

  1. Embrace inclusion as a core value.
  2. Know federal laws and guidelines on inclusion.
  3. Build a foundation for including students with disabilities.
  4. Build relationships with families and students.
  5. Design an inclusive program.
  6. Implement with fidelity.

Watch for helpful features throughout the course, such as a glossary, help line, menu, resources, inclusion guides and tips.

For more advanced learning, complete the Coaching My Staff section of the new course. Discover the three fundamental reasons for professional development around inclusion and advance your knowledge of the mechanics of developing or improving your inclusion efforts.

Don’t forget to peruse the comprehensive tools that accompany the new course. Just a few highlights include

As with any Y4Y course, you’ll earn a certificate of completion for each section, but be sure you’re logged into your account to save your progress! Besides that piece of paper, you’ll come away with confidence in your ability to make all students feel welcome in your program, a better understanding of how and why that’s possible, and best of all, the warm feeling of doing right by each and every student in your program.