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September 8, 2020

Each year, a new variety of products shows up in stores, restaurants and TV commercials as marketers aim to capitalize on the pumpkin spice fad. But is enough enough already? Education has seen its own share of fads. New ideas present exciting possibilities, but there’s nothing wrong with “old ideas” that are working well. How can your 21st CCLC program keep pace with the latest school-day wisdom and separate true innovations from passing fads?

Just as pumpkin pie isn’t going away anytime soon but pumpkin spice shoe polish may be short-lived, consider these tips for recognizing which of your tried and true program elements are keepers, and which you can, and maybe should, bid farewell:

  • What’s the evidence base for the new idea, especially when it’s used in programs with student demographics like yours?
  • Reflect on all aspects of your student population. Does the fad/trend “fit” your students?
  • What are your resources and partners, and does the fad/trend make good use of these? Or, does it spread any of these too thin?
  • Is the new idea consistent with your mission, climate and culture?
  • Are you involving student and family voices in adopting new ideas? You can customize Y4Y tools to do so.
  • Make a good, old-fashioned pros and cons list!

Here are a few examples of current trends or fads in education with some points to consider.

Phasing Out Direct Instruction?

Sometimes it seems there’s a tug-of-war between advocates for the “guide on the side” approach and the “sage on the stage” instructional approach. To supplement and enrich the education efforts of the school day, your program might lean toward hands-on, self-guided learning experiences and the “guide on the side” approach.

Is there an argument to be made for keeping direct instruction in your program? Consider these benefits of direct instruction:

  • Sometimes direct instruction is the most efficient choice. Time is at a premium in your program. On less in-depth subjects, a few minutes of direct instruction, with opportunities for questions and discussion, can be the way to go.
  • Let the sage be a sage. You might have opportunities to bring in guest speakers like STEM professionals or business advisors with a wealth of content knowledge but no teaching experience. You wouldn’t want to miss opportunities to tap into their wisdom by overburdening them with instructional duties. But you can structure the experience to make it beneficial to the students and the sage. Y4Y’s College and Career Readiness course offers a tool for developing guiding questions for partnerships, which may be of use in this arena.
  • Different instructional strategies offer different opportunities. Small-group discussions and collaborative work, for example, call on students to use different skills than direct instruction. Using a variety of strategies can help you to learn more about students’ skill gaps and areas of strength.
  • Direct instruction gives students practice in exercising patience and attention. Self-management is one of five skill domains in social and emotional learning that’s addressed in the Y4Y course on the subject. The recent switch to virtual learning environments has been an eye-opener for most educators on the advantages of having students accustomed to focusing their attention on the leader, even if lessons have an interactive format.
  • Some students benefit from the clarity and structure that direct instruction provides. While the argument is made by some that direct instruction doesn’t accommodate different learning styles, eliminating it entirely could be a disservice to those students who benefit from its clarity and structure.

What arguments can be made for minimizing direct instruction in out-of-school time?

  • Other instructional strategies like project-based learning put 21st century skills in action. These are skills like critical thinking, initiative, self-direction, leadership, productivity, accountability, responsibility, communication and collaboration.
  • Direct instruction is difficult to individualize. It doesn’t accommodate all learning styles.
  • Student voice and choice are more difficult to incorporate into direct instruction. Approaches like project-based learning give students more options.
  • Variety engages students. Often when students arrive at your 21st CCLC program, they’ve spent their day receiving direct instruction. The less you rely on this method, the better your chance of keeping students engaged.

OUTCOME: Reducing (but not eliminating) direct instruction in your 21st CCLC program earns the pumpkin pie award: it’s a trend or “fad” that’s likely to become a tried and true practice. Many Y4Y courses give examples of appropriate use of direct (“explicit”) instruction alongside other approaches. Keep direct instruction as a spice in your drawer and use as needed.

BYOD?

BYOD, or bring your own device, is a trend toward encouraging students to bring their own devices to school and afterschool programs. If you search online, you’ll find long lists of advantages, ranging from cost savings to increasing interactivity to boosting student ownership of learning. But what about equity? In a best-case scenario, there’s some disparity in the socioeconomic levels of your students and the devices they own, IF they can afford devices at all. BYOD can draw attention to these disparities in a way that could make some students uncomfortable or put them at a disadvantage. Also, an array of different devices could lead to frontline staff spending more time as tech support than as activity leaders. A different stance could be adopted if your students are all loaned the same device from their school district, but in 21st CCLC programs, there are some rural districts where going to the expense of supplying devices is of limited use due to lack of internet access.

OUTCOME: BYOD is a fad in education that earns the pumpkin spice shoe polish award: enough is enough! Although we’ve made close friends with technology under current circumstances, requiring students to bring their own device to your program may not be the most equitable or practical choice.

Maker Lab or Computer Lab?

In many educational settings, the idea of a computer lab where technology is a stand-alone subject is giving way to maker labs (makerspaces) or design labs where students might make use of technology to create things, but the technology itself isn’t the central focus.

Your 21st CCLC program likely doesn’t have its own computer lab, but you probably have access to some technology. There might be excellent reasons to focus on the basics of using a computer in your program, such as

  • Students can’t access technology in their homes to augment their classroom learning or do homework assignments, and they need extra time to learn and practice technology skills.
  • A lack of funding in your district means limited school-day access to technology.
  • The primary concern of your student population is learning English, so computer instruction might need to begin with very basic technology terms and concepts.

Even if these circumstances describe your program, you can be looking to a long-term shift toward your program serving as more of a maker/design space. The arguments for this trend/fad include

  • You’ll build learning opportunities on the premise of real-world problem solving.
  • You’re allowing for design thinking and problem solving by broadening materials and devices to include items like Legos, art supplies, robotics components, a sewing machine or even woodworking equipment like scrap blocks with a hammer and nails.
  • You can customize Y4Y’s Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning tool and incorporate technology as one of many resources — particularly for conducting research — in your real-world problem-solving activities. Just plan to take a beat for those students needing basic instruction in technology.

OUTCOME: Moving from a computer lab to a makerspace or design lab is a trend/fad that earns the pumpkin pie award! This transition is an expansion of your current offerings, and can grow with the budget, partnership, staff and student census fluctuations your program experiences. Nothing is lost; instruction on technology basics is always at your disposal. But moving with the times and adopting a richer, creative, hands-on approach to learning is a winning idea.



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.



January 22, 2020

Fifty years ago, Mary Poppins advised that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and vitamin manufacturers took note. Before you knew it, kids were clamoring for their daily dose. Y4Y’s recently archived webinar, “College and Career Readiness (CCR): Elementary” explores benefits and practical ideas in introducing elementary students to planning for their futures. But the sugar and bright coloring in this arena is, quite simply, playtime!

You don’t need to think of CCR as something that demands dedicated time and resources. Rather, like a multivitamin, a CCR framework can be a tidy way of bringing together current program initiatives like literacy, STEM, social and emotional learning, and more. Here’s an overview of the kinds of structured thinking you can apply to your intentionally designed activities to start preparing young students for their future careers.

Stepping Stones: What’s the Connection?

Since elementary students love to imagine themselves in various adult roles, 21st CCLC programs are the perfect place to infuse the structure that will convert natural playtime into visible stepping stones to future careers. Y4Y offers a Career Station Planner, for example, to get those creative juices flowing. Studies show you’ll improve engagement when students can see how their learning builds on what they already know. Your job is not to push all seven-year-olds toward college, but to open their eyes to limitless career options, and to the types of skills and knowledge (stepping stones) they can gain along the way to make each option a reality.

Three goals should drive your intentional CCR activities for elementary and middle school students: connecting academic learning to higher education and careers, expanding student options and awareness of career options, and encouraging 21st century thinking skills. How do you think? What do you know or not know? What steps or actions are required? These are questions you can ask and explore with your students.

Employability Skills: Plays Well with Others?

The U.S. Department of Education has established nine critical skill areas for employment in any field. These skills are an important component of CCR. It’s never too early to be thinking about how growth in each of these can be woven into 21st CCLC activities.

Effective relationships:

  • Interpersonal skills: Give a less-than-natural leader a quiet leadership role, such as writing out rules for a new board game.
  • Personal qualities: Call out the value of honesty and propose that a specific student be named the banker in a game of “town.”

Workplace skills:

  • Technology use: Can the program’s computer be used for some new application?
  • Systems thinking: Empty your desk or cubby and reorganize!
  • Information use: Take five fun facts about dogs and suggest a new product.
  • Resource management (time, money, materials, people): Build a five-layer pyramid using all the clay in front of you. How much is needed for each level?
  • Communication skills: Charades!

Applied knowledge:

  • Applied academic skills: What did you learn in math today, and can you think of how you might use that lesson at the grocery store this weekend?
  • Critical thinking skills: Name some things a teacher, a firefighter, a doctor, a postal worker and a car salesperson have in common in their jobs.

Flavors of Activities: Grape, Cherry or Hands-on?

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the elements of possible 21st CCLC activities that could be structured to get young students thinking about future careers, consider to what degree the activity engages students. Time, student needs and abilities, and resources will demand that all of the following levels of engagement be incorporated into your program at different times:

  • Awareness: These activities are simple exposures to possible careers and educational paths. They help students connect academic learning to possible applications. This could be an introduction to various mentors and role models. For example, you could invite a local physician to be a guest speaker. You might ask her to talk about what it’s like to be a doctor, to share her experience with schooling, and to explain that there are many different specializations within the medical field. Check out Y4Y’s Awareness Activities tool for more ideas.
  • Preparation: These activities develop goals and outline steps to accomplish those goals, such as completing paperwork or practicing life skills. One example might be a show-and-tell career day that includes costumes. Students could be given a writing assignment that mimics the work, such as a scientist’s lab report or an attorney’s closing argument in the case of the missing jelly beans. Check out Y4Y’s Preparation Activities Planner to get started.
  • Exploration: These activities go beyond awareness and preparation activities to offer students more independence and a deeper exposure to careers in their areas of interest. More important, exploration activities start to connect student interests (such as sports, being outdoors or “becoming rich”) to a wealth of career options. One example might be touring a science lab and interviewing people in various job roles in that facility. For older students, be sure to consult Y4Y’s Exploration Toolkit (Grades 6-12).

Bring Those Partners Along

Families will play the crucial role in CCR activities that they always do in 21st CCLC programs. Offer families tips on exposing their young students to career options. Survey parents on their child’s interests, however unrelated to career options they might seem. Your parent base is always the best place to start for professional examples. Students’ family members may welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that skills and knowledge are needed in every job. Next, reach out to the community, bearing in mind that some of your students may not have access to professionals in STEM or finance careers, for example. Partners in institutions of higher learning, whether universities or trade schools, can help connect students’ favorite playtime activities to real careers.

Career Counselors à Gogo

Who knew when you signed up to work with elementary students in a 21st CCLC program that you’d be adding “career counselor” to your job description? Besides Ms. Poppins, be sure to get advice from Y4Y’s CCR Train Your Staff materials around building college and career readiness, engaging families and planning age-appropriate activities. You may not staff magical nannies, but as a well-trained team, you’re sure to create a happy head start for your students.



March 22, 2018

The  term “well-rounded education” occurs 24 times in federal education law (the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA). What does it mean, and how is it related to 21st CCLC activities? 
 
A Well-Rounded Education Includes Many Subjects and Experiences
First, let’s see how ESSA defines the term: 
 
"WELL-ROUNDED EDUCATION — The term ‘well-rounded education’ means courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience.’’ 
 
The ESSA list of subjects includes many that are already part of 21st CCLC programming, and it opens the door to potential areas of collaboration with schools. As you work with the school to identify high-priority student needs, look for ways to enhance what the school is already doing. Could your program use music and arts to explore mathematics, or use Reader’s Theater to expand students’ knowledge of history and other subjects? Could your students increase their own knowledge about exercise and nutrition by organizing a community health fair? Y4Y courses and resources offer many possibilities. Here are links to just a few:
Every Student Deserves a Well-Rounded Education
The title of the federal legislation (ESSA) refers to “every student,” and the definition of “well-rounded education” includes “all students.” That means every ethnicity, every socioeconomic group and every ability. An intentionally designed 21st CCLC program targets specific academic needs within specific grade levels. In many cases, students with disabilities will be among the students with the greatest needs and you can encourage these students to apply. They can benefit from the academic enrichment and social development experiences your program offers. Including students with disabilities can be easier and more rewarding than you might imagine. See these Y4Y resources: 

User-friendly, topic-focused guides and webinars provide strategies and best practices from experts and practitioners.

Start Planning Now
Add the above Y4Y resources to your current favorites, and use it as you plan student recruitment, projects and activities for your next program session.


February 23, 2018

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

Twitter, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, MapQuest, Snapchat Stories, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, Periscope, Vine, Peeks Social — these are a few of the many apps available today. I’m often asked, “Should we use these apps for educational activities?” It sounds like a yes-or-no question, but it’s not. Here are two important follow-up questions that can help you decide.

Will technology enhance your activity, or be a distraction?

The first thing to consider is whether technology is appropriate for the activity you’re planning. Sometimes it seems that young people, not to mention adults, stare at screens or use mobile devices day and night. On city sidewalks, it’s common to pass one person after another who’s texting or talking on their phone. Hopefully you’ve avoided getting run over by these distracted pedestrians! On elevators, have you ever responded to a “hello” only to realize the stranger next to you wasn’t talking to you, but was on a cell phone? In restaurants, have you noticed families or groups sitting together at a table but interacting with their devices instead of with each other?

Technology is part of our lives, but as these examples show, there are trade-offs. What are we missing when we bring technology along as we walk outdoors, engage in everyday activities, and visit with friends and family? You can apply this question as you consider whether to make technology part of any activity you’re planning for students. What benefits might technology bring to the activity? What might students miss by bringing technology along? Will it enhance your activity, or be a distraction?

If your goal is to have students learn about forest management, and you plan to engage a forest ranger from a remote location to provide expertise, the answer could be Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. (See this Y4Y blog post for ideas on videoconferencing.) If your activity is a walk in the forest, however, and the goal is to help students sharpen their observation skills, it might be best to leave technology behind and have them “take pictures” mentally.

What are the options for apps that will enhance the activity and be enjoyable for students to use?

A multitude of free apps are available, but if you don’t know about them or haven’t used them, how can you determine which ones might work well? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Ask around. You can always do a Google search to get started. First, though, ask family, friends, colleagues and students about their favorite apps and their uses. Most people love sharing their favorites. Asking students can help you learn about apps they already like and use. Here are a few of my favs for skywatching:

  • MyScript Calculator
  • Meteor Shower Calendar
  • Phases of the Moon
  • Sky Map
  • EQInfo

Play around. Start with a suggested app that looks interesting to you. Download it and spend some time playing with the app. Consider possible ways to integrate it into an activity. For example, could students use Facebook Live or Periscope to present a project they’ve done, or to let a homebound family member watch as they perform an original skit, song, dance or story?

Try it with your students! If your students are struggling with mathematical concepts, you might use Skype to have a local carpet installer show how they calculate the area of a room to make sure they order the right amount of carpet. Or an auto mechanic might show how they calculate angles for pipe bending. These examples show real-world applications of concepts taught in math classes. Skyping with experts from various fields can also introduce students to careers they otherwise might not consider.

I’d be happy to discuss more about using apps effectively with students. I’d also love to hear about your favorite apps and how you use them. Leave a reply below!