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November 18, 2019

Some students find school-day learning about government and civics to be dry as dust, and it’s no wonder. Studying the three branches of the U.S. government, the Electoral College and tariffs on trade with other countries can seem pretty remote from young people’s everyday lives. They might not know how federal, state, and local policies are made, or how those policies can affect things that matter to them, like social justice, clean air, and the price of groceries and video games. Also, they might not know how to make their voices heard. Here are some ideas to help you brush the dust off to make civics interesting.

Use Y4Y resources. See the Introduction section of the Project-Based Learning course and the Introduction to Civic Learning and Engagement Training to Go for ideas on connecting with local civics activities. Service learning and citizen science also offer entries into local, real-world policies in action. See the Citizen Science course and the Service-Learning Toolbox.

Engage students in virtual-hands-on activities. Take advantage of game-based activities to introduce cross-disciplinary learning and thinking as students encounter and grapple with problems related to science, ecology, history, agriculture and government. Choose from a group of virtual environments funded by grants from the Institute of Education Sciences. You can also explore civics, social activism and world governments through virtual tours, primary documents, and connections with students from around the world. Common Sense Education has collected links to 30 Best Government and Civics Websites and Games, all created by government, education and civic sponsors.

Recruit local partners and experts to bring civics to your site. Start by gathering student voice data on social issues that interest them. The Student Voice podcast in Y4Y’s Developing a Needs Assessment Click & Go offers tips on this step. Then find experts to help students explore one or more of these issues. The local chapter of the American Bar Association, a nearby law school or professors at a local college might help conduct a mock trial. Local advocacy organizations or individuals might help students explore an issue or event and conduct a reenactment. Local writers and theater groups might help facilitate student development of a play, video or other event related to a social issue or historical event. When it comes to civics, your neighborhood is a real-world textbook that offers plenty of teachable moments.



October 10, 2019

“Before you become a leader, success is all about growing yourself. After you become a leader, success is about growing others.” As a 21st CCLC program leader, you no doubt see the wisdom in this insight from business leader Jack Welch. After all, supporting and acknowledging your team’s professional growth benefits your program as well as individual staff members. It also helps you retain staff because it shows you’re invested in their success and treasure their contributions.

Y4Y’s new online Human Resources course walks you through nine key strategies you can use to manage and develop your staff. It covers everything from hiring to training to building a positive work environment to managing staff performance. Here are three tips you can start using right away:

Help staff members find their sweet spot. If Natalie loves to plan, enlist her to help plan the next Family Literacy Event or Citizen Science Experience. Once she’s had success, provide opportunities for her to grow her skills and use them in new ways. For example, ask her to lead a planning team, create an event planning checklist for staff, train others in event planning, or join a strategic planning session. If these tasks seem to take her out of her comfort zone, provide encouragement and support. Helping her find the “sweet spot” between current and potential abilities will help her grow.

Provide feedback to focus and inspire your staff. Let’s say Natalie loves planning so much that she offers to help students plan their culminating project presentations. As you observe her interact with students, you hear her say things like “Let’s do it this way” and “Here’s a better idea.” Should you call her aside and say, “Natalie, you’re making too many decisions for students instead of letting them make their own. I’d like to see you improve in this area.” Or should you say, “Natalie, I’d love for our students to develop their project planning and decision-making skills. Would you be willing to team with Linda to plan some coaching strategies to help students learn and practice these skills?” Which feedback is more likely to inspire and support Natalie in changing her approach? For most people, the second approach works best. See the Coaching My Staff section of Y4Y’s Human Resources course for ways to coach your staff (especially site coordinators) to program gold!

Recognize good work. Use formal and informal strategies to tell staff members their contributions are noticed and valued. For example, during employee reviews, be specific and give examples of what employees do well. Implement an employee recognition system to spotlight effort, innovation, problem solving and results. Recognize individual and team efforts. See Y4Y’s Employee Retention Training to Go for ideas you and other program leaders can use to keep staff engaged.

For more ideas on ways to treasure your staff and help them grow, see Y4Y’s new Human Resources course. To share your own ideas and success stories, leave a comment below. 



July 16, 2019

The featured link in this month’s Y4Y newsletter, Teaching and Learning STEM in 21st CCLC Programs, takes you to a thought-provoking webinar. The content helps out-of-school time educators think about the bright future they can open for students who have traditionally had little access to the broad spectrum of STEM-related careers. Let’s consider these gleaming rays of sunshine:

What Is My STEM Identity?

Every student has a “STEM identity” — a term gaining traction in research and educational communities — which means the degree to which a student relates to science, technology, engineering and math, and how they see themselves as STEM learners. This will start at home, depending on the careers of family members and friends a student has been exposed to. But good news! It won’t end there. The sooner educators offer fun and exciting learning opportunities to students, the healthier their STEM identity will become.

What Are the Advantages of STEM Education in 21st CCLC Programs?

There is so much flexibility in STEM curriculum in 21st CCLC programs that school-day teachers can’t take advantage of. Use student voice to determine what your students are most interested in. If it seems like favorite topics are unrelated to STEM, get creative! Even fashion design, football and finance have traceable roots in STEM, and you can help students seek them out. When students can connect STEM experiences to their own lives, the lessons are more meaningful to them. Another great idea is to tie student interests to the STEM lessons of their school day. Out-of-school time programs often involve students from several grades; consider this an asset, not a liability. Projects can be scaffolded to give smaller tasks to smaller students and help them feel like they are a part of something bigger; meanwhile older students reap the intellectual and social rewards of teaching and helping. And while you might be measuring their progress, students know they don’t have a school-day grade hanging in the balance.

Where Is This Headed? Citizen Science Is the Wave of the Future!

Speaking of waves, did you know that centuries-old “tsunami stones” pepper the Japanese coastline to warn future generations about flood dangers if they build too close to the shoreline? The spirit of sharing scientific observation for the good of all has a rich history, and citizen science captures this practice by asking everyday citizens to report observations on water quality, bird migrations and everything between. Engaging students in citizen science is the fastest way to develop their STEM identity, partly because projects — whether local, national or international — provide a learning opportunity. These projects, many of which are found readily online, also provide students a contributing opportunity.

Pioneering Partners: Where Would Doc Brown Be Without Marty McFly?

Absurd science fiction or not, Doc Brown’s vision took a curious, adventurous Marty McFly to visit the future. So, don’t worry about “bothering” the local botanist at the university extension office, engineer at the power company, or chemist at a nearby manufacturer when you want someone to partner in an educational opportunity for your students. Remember three things: (1) an adult in every STEM professional’s student life helped build their STEM identity, and they’ll be gratified to do the same; (2) these are not careers one stumbles into, so STEM professionals tend to be passionate about and eager to share their work; and (3) real-world practitioners are your best source for ideas about hands-on learning projects and tying STEM subjects to career paths.

No One Knows the Future Like NASA!

As the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Y4Y wants to recognize one of the U.S. Department of Education’s partners in STEM education and the future, NASA. All 21st CCLC professionals are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the incredible real-world design challenges NASA has created. Are you running a summer program? Want to get involved with NASA? Click here to view creative ideas on how to get involved with the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the Moon!

For more great tips on making the most of your STEM education programs, check out the Y4Y webinar series Unlocking Possibilities: Bringing STEM to Life, which includes an event dedicated to citizen science.



May 22, 2019

A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 17 percent of teens “often” or “sometimes” can’t complete homework assignments because they don’t have access to a computer or the internet. This situation is so common that it has a name: the homework gap. The students most likely to have this challenge are Black teens and those from lower-income households.

Students with no computer or internet access at home might depend on your 21st CCLC program for access. Here are three ways your program can help bridge the homework gap:

  • Pinpoint technology needs. Survey students and teachers to identify technology needs. Computers, a printer and internet access are “givens.” But what if a biology assignment calls for an original, illustrated presentation? Can your program provide access to presentation software and a digital camera? What if a future engineer wants to join a live online study group moderated by a NASA scientist? Do you have an internet-connected computer in a quiet area so the student can fully participate? There may be other needs, like access to a graphing calculator or a handheld GPS unit.
  • Use strategy and collaboration to meet identified needs. If you find technology needs beyond the reach of the program budget and resources, look elsewhere. Might the school provide access to its technology lab? Have you checked your local library? Some libraries loan digital cameras, video cameras, tripods, telescopes, microscopes and other hardware. Might a local business or community organization loan or donate new or used items to your program? You might be surprised at people’s willingness to help, once you tell them what you need and why.
  • Make technology part of your program activities. Make sure your students don’t “sit on the sidelines” when it comes to technology. If you have limited tech abilities yourself, invite a tech-savvy parent, college student or volunteer to coach. Your students will love watching you make mistakes as you learn along with them! Robotics and coding are popular activities in many 21st CCLC programs. Creating a blog or a podcast is a great way to integrate technology into project-based learning. Maybe your students can help you set up a videoconference with a professional geologist or weather forecaster as part of a citizen science project. Building skills and confidence with technology is important to students’ future success.

Visit the Y4Y website for more ideas on making technology part of your program and providing homework help.

 

Reference

Anderson, M., & Perrin, A. (2018, October 26). Nearly one-in-five teens can’t always finish their homework because of the digital divide. Pew Research Center Fact Tank.



January 24, 2019

Do your students think of scientists as loners in lab coats? Citizen science can change their minds and spark new interests — especially when you add social media to the mix.

Citizen science enlists people of all ages in collecting and sharing data for research purposes. It’s nothing new. In fact, the first Farmers’ Almanac more than 200 years ago relied on the general population for data, although they didn’t call it crowdsourcing at that time. It’s a way for your students to work and learn with others, either virtually or in real time, on authentic science projects. For some, the experience could be a game changer. It might even spark an interest in subjects and careers that previously seemed beyond their reach.

There’s a citizen science project to match just about every interest area, and several involve social media:

  • Fascinated by creepy-crawly things? Do a bioblitz! It’s a species inventory that involves observing, recording and documenting living things in a well-defined area in a short period of time. This group project will get students working and talking together in real time — plus they can use apps like iNaturalist and Fieldscope to share and discuss their findings with other citizen scientists across the world. Get instructions for a do-it-yourself bioblitz from National Geographic. Watch this 2.5-minute video to hear what students and organizers say about their schoolyard bioblitz experience.
  • Enjoy word games? The VerbCorner website collects data from humans as they play word games to help computers better understand the nuances of the English language. The site includes an online discussion forum.
  • Are you a cloud watcher? Download NASA’s GLOBE Observer app, contribute your observation data, and connect to the project’s worldwide community of cloud observers via Facebook and Twitter.    
  • Interested in innovation? Visit citizenscience.gov for a U.S. government-wide listing of citizen science and crowdsourcing projects designed to help local, state and federal agencies accelerate innovation through public participation.
  • Want more options? Citisci.org lets you participate in projects created by other citizen scientists or create your own. SciStarter lets you search for projects that match your interests and track your contributions. Scientific American features a variety of real science projects to join. Zooniverse has citizen science projects in medicine, history, literature, social science, the arts and more. Also try searching on #citizenscience.

For links to more citizen science projects, see the Introduction section of Y4Y’s Citizen Science course. The Coaching My Staff section of the course has resources to help train staff and students. See this Y4Y blog post for pointers on integrating technology into activities.

If you haven’t yet dipped your toes into citizen science activities, take a look! Then bring your planning team together to consider what might fit into your spring and summer sessions.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for crowdsourcing, feel free to share your own citizen science stories and ideas; just look for Leave a Reply below. Your 21st CCLC colleagues will thank you.