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October 1, 2020

Like so many people around the world, your program staff may be looking for ways to make the most of social distancing. Citizen science has enjoyed a tremendous uptick as people turn to the outdoors for many more types of experiences. Citizen science is an exciting addition to STEM programming, but where should you begin? Review the basics of Y4Y’s Citizen Science course to make the right project choices and fit them into your program schedule. Armed with a list of criteria that matter to you, you can make a SMART perusal of reputable online resources.

As time permits, you and your staff can mine other Y4Y citizen science tools to make the most of your program’s offerings.

Not sure where to start your project hunt? In 2016, Y4Y compiled an annotated list of citizen science resources, and many are still active. Here are some other projects that are hot today:

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that through its eBird webpage, “your sightings contribute to hundreds of conservation decisions and peer-reviewed papers, thousands of student projects and help inform bird research worldwide.”
  • NestWatch, also hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “is a nationwide nest-monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds. Participating in NestWatch is easy and anyone can do it.”
  • SciStarter is a clearinghouse of “science we can do together.” To locate the perfect project, visit its Project Finder, enter a word or phrase in the Search box, and include your location, the kinds of environments available to you, and the age group of your scientists.
  • National Geographic’s iNaturalist webpage “helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over a million scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature.”

Remember, citizen science does more than expose your students to STEM activities. Young people get to experience firsthand what it’s like to “act locally and think globally” as they contribute to national or international projects to help achieve a greater goal. Citizen science reinforces the notion that we are citizens not just of our city or town, but of the planet.



August 7, 2020

Every day, your students make choices that affect their future. You want them to understand that their choices matter — and enlarge their view of what’s possible. Here’s some valuable information you can use to make sure they consider career options that involve science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

Let students know that

New opportunities are opening up. Cultural shifts and initiatives to offer equal opportunities in STEM careers mean greater gender and ethnic diversity than in the past. “Increase diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM” is a goal in America’s Strategy for STEM Education. Outdated ideas like “girls aren’t good at math” and “science isn’t for everyone” have been exposed as myths. Increasingly, STEM fields are attracting more people like Shuri, the fearless young woman who’s the chief science and technology officer of the high-tech nation Wakanda in the movie Black Panther.

STEM is opening up. You might have a student with the potential to create a new tool or product that will benefit humanity. But if no one in his family has gone to college, he doesn’t know any scientists or engineers, and he’s struggling in math class, he might think a STEM career is beyond his reach. Leaders in STEM education, however, say STEM is much more than the sum of its parts. Modern STEM education also incorporates the arts and design as well as skills like problem solving and behaviors like perseverance and cooperation. Students can tap into their strengths and interests to create their entry point. In his book Curious, for example, Ian Leslie says Apple founder Steve Jobs was “a merely competent technician” but it was his broad range of interests (including music), combined with a drive to succeed, that led his company to launch the first successful MP3 player.

Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect place for students to explore STEM because you can

  • Introduce interesting STEM experiences in a low-stress, high-support environment.
  • Tap into student voice and choice and give young people time to play or “tinker” with STEM ideas and materials.
  • Use project-based learning to help students connect STEM topics they’re learning in school with real-life problem-solving opportunities.
  • Engage local organizations and people with STEM connections so that students see that STEM is all around them — and is a possible career pathway for people like them.  

Y4Y is your “go-to” for STEM because it has resources like

These days, STEM is at the forefront as the world looks to research scientists for a vaccine that will end the coronavirus pandemic. Take advantage of this moment to gather students (virtually, if need be) around the idea of STEM as something that’s relevant to their lives — and a career path filled with as much potential as they are.



May 19, 2020

Gratitude, put simply, is thankfulness in your heart and mind — a sentiment that often leads to a desire to give. We see this everywhere today. People, including students, want to give something back to those who are doing the most. Frontline medical professionals and grocery workers are receiving an avalanche of gratitude through signs and songs, ad campaigns and social media blitzes. How can 21st CCLC programs “give back” right now? One answer: citizen science.

Citizen science is a form of crowdsourcing in which everyday people give their time and energy to help scientists conduct real science experiments that could make the world a better place. Check out Y4Y’s Citizen Science course to learn how to incorporate citizen science into your afterschool or summer program. The course will inspire you to use virtual learning to get your students started on a meaningful adventure in learning and giving.

There are many resources on the internet to connect your students to global citizen science projects. Currently at the forefront of people’s desire to give back is how they can help combat COVID-19. Citizenscience.org compiled a number of resources and suggestions on how to contribute. The University of California, San Francisco is performing a citizen science project around the disease. They’re asking for adult participants, so this is a great way to engage families.

Concerned that this topic might be too much for your younger students? Never fear! There are many citizen science projects to choose from. Zooniverse asks volunteers to observe animals in the wild. Scientists have developed an online game to speed a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. Scistarter.org (website may not load in some browsers) has a searchable bank of projects, many of which are feasible during quarantine.

Y4Y course tools that may be of great use while you’re interacting with students virtually include the Student Engagement Tips for Grades K-12, More Citizen Science Resource Links, and the Family Participation in Citizen Science tool. One of the most important things you can do for students is give them opportunities to contribute. Citizen science is an ideal way to do just that.



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.