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June 14, 2022

Multi-ethnic high school girls working on a project outdoors with laptopsFrom the youngest elementary kids up to high school seniors, all students can be building their executive functioning skills when you offer a long-term project in your school-year program. They’ll need those skills to plan and achieve their own goals, whether they want to earn a driver’s license, become a space explorer, or anything in between. Using Y4Y resources, you can hit the ground running in August with an engaging project that will help students gain knowledge and skills throughout the year. And the more you plan for it by setting important short-term goals, the more long-term success your students will enjoy! 

Bear in mind:

  1. Learning how to plan and to implement are as much “the lesson” as the material or outcome itself.
  2. Long-term projects provide opportunities to dive deeper into a subject.
  3. Collaboration can and should be a big part of your project.
  4. Budget plenty of time and resources for a culminating event to showcase student knowledge and projects — and to celebrate their hard work!

Short-Term Goal #1: Chart the Course
As the grown-up in the room, make sure you plan any long-term project around:

  1. A needs assessment. What content knowledge or skills do your students most need to develop? Ask school-day partners to weigh in so you can give students the most bang for their afterschool buck. Don’t be afraid to merge subjects! Literacy, STEAM, and civics, for example, have fascinating points of intersection. Check out Y4Y’s Developing a Needs Assessment Click & Go, STEAM Implementation Checklist, and Building School-Day Civics Into Out-of-School Time Projects for starter tips. 
  2. Student voice. Once you know which path you’re headed down, there’s still a lot of wiggle room for variety. Hold off until the fall to collect your student voice data, but have the Y4Y Activity Choice Form and student survey on how students learn best customized to your chosen topic (or topics).
  3. Available resources. Keep Y4Y’s sample procurement packet handy for standard materials, and community asset mapping tool for forging new partnerships as more unusual resources are needed.

Short-Term Goal #2: Consider Process vs. Product
Saving the “nature versus nurture” debate for another day, from a young age it’s easy to recognize whether a person is more process-driven or product-driven. Example: Madison yells “DONE!” whenever she finishes a task, no matter how many times you ask her not to. Madison is product-driven. Meanwhile, Manny is always the last to complete an art project that, let’s face it, was designed more as a decompression activity than an art lesson. If you find Manny deep in thought about “what’s missing” from his Play-Doh sculpture, chances are that Manny is a process-driven kid. The beauty of a long-term project is that it can appeal to both these types of students. In fact, pairing these students with each other, like you might an optimist and a pessimist, is a great way to strike balance for the best outcomes! You can even give each team a fun name, like Wonder Wizards, or invite them to create their own. Collaboration: CHECK!

Short-Term Goal #3: Gather Your Y4Y Tools
The “process” mentioned above is simply “planning” plus “implementing,” and you’re going to do cartwheels when you see how many tools Y4Y offers in both areas. Here are just a few:

Planning
Project-Based Learning Youth Participation Checklist
Project Planner
Project Timelines
Student Goal Setting and Reflection (tailored to appropriate grade levels)
Goal Setting Activities, Games and Templates

Implementing
Project-Based Learning Implementation Planning Checklist
STEAM Student Self-Monitoring Checklist for Project Work
Classroom Facilitator Packet
Service-Learning Toolbox

Short-Term Goal #4: Train, Train, Train!
You’re in luck! Whether you catch Implementing Project-Based Learning With Y4Y live this week or later in the Y4Y webinar archives, you’ll learn about long-term, student-driven projects in these interactive sessions. Looking to step it up a notch? Have staff engage with the full Project-Based Learning course, or present one of the scripted PowerPoint Trainings-to-Go, like How to Craft a Driving Question or Project-Based Learning in Action.

Areas of Student Support
If you’re still in doubt about the benefits of a long-term project, rest assured that in addition to academic support, you’ll be supporting students’:

Think back to your own formative years, and those long-term projects that might still take up space in your mother’s sewing room. Your unwillingness — or hers — to let them go tells you everything you need to know about the possible impact of those well-designed long-term projects.
 



May 13, 2022

Children playing with toy rocket and looking at the sky. Boy and girls make a wish by seeing a shooting star.At each stage of child development, there are new cognitive horizons to explore. Summer’s the perfect time to open young minds to different ways of thinking. With guidance from Y4Y’s course on stages of child and adolescent development, think about summer fun like going barefoot, stargazing, nature journaling, or hosting a lemonade stand to support healthy development in engaging ways.

The Little Guys

A recent study of academic pre-k programs in Tennessee revealed that early childhood settings with an academic emphasis may better prepare first graders for testing than their counterparts, but ultimately those students don’t perform as well and are more likely to display behavior issues. The importance of having the freedom to explore at young ages is promoted by a Y4Y Voices From the Field guest, Stacey Gummey, as the foundation of the Hickory Hill Nature School, a “Nature Kindergarten.” While 21st CCLC programs begin at the kindergarten level, these findings are a good reminder that “play” is a child’s work. Also, play nurtures creativity among people of all ages. That’s something to keep in mind as your team plans activities, especially during summer programming!

The Y4Y Child and Adolescent Development Matrix demonstrates that 4- to 6-year-old children are beginning to play cooperatively, are eager to show adults what they’ve learned or can do, are more attentive to details, and with an increased understanding of cause and effect, ask many questions. This summer, consider how your program can offer your youngest students the chance to explore new spaces as teams — whether indoors or out. Ask them the kinds of questions they might want to find answers for. Even if it’s a rainy day and the school cafeteria is the only space available for exploration, challenge them to see the space in a new way. What shapes can they find? How many tiles run along each wall? Are some surfaces more worn than other surfaces? Why might that be? Hopefully, you’ll have many new outside spaces to explore, with even richer discussions on tap.

You may be surprised at how much development can occur over a summer at this age! To ensure you’re meeting goals you’ve set for your summer program, download and customize Y4Y’s Individualized Observation Log for Early Childhood.

In the Middle

Returning to the Y4Y Child and Adolescent Development Matrix, you’ll see that students in middle childhood, ages 6-9, are transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” They’re becoming more interested in having special friends, can and should be tasked with more independence and responsibility, but still want to please adults and enjoy imaginative stories and play. While your summer programming will be a little more focused on academic recovery and reengagement for students in this age group, those academics can be imbedded in exciting play in your 21st CCLC environment.

What sort of continuing theme might you weave through your summer program to spark the imagination of your students in the lower grades? You could designate your 21st CCLC program as an old-fashioned newspaper office and put out a new issue each week with contributions from each student and their buddy on a topic of their choosing. (Be sure they research their subject!) Or maybe your program will become a space station or a candy factory. What roles need to be filled, and what are the responsibilities of each of those roles? Get serious about involving student voice with students in this age range. Y4Y offers student goal-setting tools for all grade levels (check out those for grades 2-3 and 4-6), and an activity choice form to get you started. And as with younger students, using the age-appropriate Individualized Observation Log to gauge student progress is essential.

What Summer Means to the Big Kids

Your summer program needs to be captivating to appeal to students in late childhood and adolescence. Through the end of elementary and on through middle school, students get better at planning. They usually experience a boost in self-esteem, though it quickly drops. They’re much more inclined to break into peer groups, and they have increasing awareness of linguistic and cultural nuances. Then on into high school, they struggle to gain more independence and develop greater anxiety about the future. High school students enjoy meaningful debates that demonstrate a greater awareness of the world around them. Most ultimately recover their self-esteem. They may even envision playing a crucial role in improving the world as they grasp complex problems.

Student voice is never more important than it is in your middle- and high school programs, so be sure to visit the tools that accompany the Y4Y course on student voice and choice and the Click & Go on recruiting and retaining high school students. For several years to come, your program will have to bear in mind that these are the students who missed some critical social and emotional development opportunities due to the pandemic. Despite the very great need for academic enrichment, evidence points to these students valuing the social aspects of your 21st CCLC program above all. Of course, when you’re active in capturing student voice, those social bonds might be forming over an interest in STEM, spikeball, or hip-hop dancing — or all of the above! Get them involved in new and interesting ways to imbed academics in these activities and take a leadership role in implementing them. Remember, the sky’s the limit in summer, so if students suggest writing research reports on the invention of spikeball, choreographing a hip-hop routine around principles in geometry, or developing a word cloud around cold fusion vocabulary, get comfortable with the words, “Sure, let’s put it to a vote!”



April 19, 2022

A picture of a city hall building.Citizens young and old are so focused on national politics, they often don’t realize that their neighborhood or town government officials make just as many decisions that impact daily life — or more! Taking tips from two Y4Y courses, Civic Learning and Engagement and Project-Based Learning, discover how even the youngest elementary students can meet their local representatives, learn about the problems impacting their community, and make a difference in the place where they live.

From the Rocks to the Politics

The significant role of local government is coming into sharper focus for communities around the country. From small-town courthouses to the governor’s office, what basic government functions can help students better understand their place? Sarah Johnson, an environmental educator and Y4Y Voices From the Field guest, colorfully describes “learning a place” as involving investigations, “from the rocks to the politics.” This illustrates that learning a place ranges from something as unchanging and objective as a rock to something as fluid and subjective as politics. That fluidity is a good place to start! Why are politics so fluid? Elections! To help students get to know about elections in your area:

  • Arrange to visit a polling place during school board, primary, or local elections. Have a polling official ready to answer student questions about what’s being voted on and what the different outcomes mean.
  • Invite elected officials to come and talk about what they did to be elected and why they decided it was important for them to serve. Start with your local school board members, who’ll likely tell your students it was to see them succeed!
  • Hold an election in your own program for a leadership position that carries some meaning. Even down to your youngest students, if you have a student role or responsibility that the students fight for, make it a monthly elected position and emphasize how important it is to change each month, and the value of having someone who’s an active participant in the program to serve in that role.

Beyond Politics: Governing!

Under that superficial layer of “politicians” — elected officials — lie many layers of government employees who work hard, often without recognition. Recognizing the essential role of these people is an important part of students’ civic learning and engagement. Y4Y developed the Civic Learning and Engagement course specifically to help your program involve students in local governing. Check out these Y4Y tools:

More broadly, you can tailor Y4Y Project-Based Learning course tools by working with partners such as state and local government, courthouse, urban planning, and law enforcement offices; organizations like the Bar Association and Women’s Council; and elected officials at all levels of government including school boards. Ask these professionals to help direct students to real work they can do to contribute as citizens. Check out Y4Y’s:

For additional ideas and guidance on directing students through place-based civics learning, check out Y4Y’s Voices From the Field podcast, The Smithsonian, Sustainable Communities, and Your 21st CCLC Program, with Heidi Gibson, a science curriculum developer. The Smithsonian community research guide for 8- to 17-year-old students, Sustainable Communities? How will we help our community thrive?, is a great, low-tech resource for helping your students gain a deep understanding of the place where they live. All of your students’ place-based learning — in the arts, literacy, human and natural history, STEM, and careers — will ideally culminate in their development as amazing, curious, and contributing citizens of the world. And maybe even more important: citizens of their own community.



April 19, 2022

New York City, USA - April 28, 2019: People study in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library's main building on Fifth Avenue (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building).Where did the street names in your neighborhood come from? Or park names? Or the names of bodies of water? Diving into local human history might lead you down the path of the language spoken by your city’s first European settlers or the Native Americans who once inhabited it. You might also discover surprising connections to other places and cultures all over the world! Who are the artists and writers influencing the local atmosphere today, and how are they themselves influenced by that atmosphere? Learning about the people, both past and present, who shaped and continue to shape your local culture will connect your students to their community on a whole new level!

Past Is Prologue

These famous words by William Shakespeare tell us to understand and learn from history. Of course, engaging students with dusty old facts can be challenging. Storytelling, however, is appreciated by people of all ages, and oral histories have been a key way for many cultures to pass along important knowledge. Who are some potential program partners in state and local historical societies and libraries? Local tribal elders, organizations like Freemasons, Shriners, and Daughters of the American Revolution? These are people with a passion for local history, and many have a gift for sharing that history in colorful story form.

Be sure to access Y4Y’s course on Student Voice and Choice to drive your place-based historical inquiry. You might work with your partners to draft a questionnaire on what interests your students most, then use the results to drive your activities. Here are some potential questions to explore:

  • What Native peoples lived in the region 500 years ago?
  • What was their lifestyle like?
  • What became of them?
  • What Europeans or other non-Native peoples first settled here?
  • What was their motivation for coming? Did they come here by choice?
  • What were they looking to “create” with the farms/towns/cities they established?
  • Who developed our specific neighborhood or community?
  • How does it differ historically from other neighborhoods or communities around town?

Keeping the ever-changing tapestry of American cities in mind, you can shift your place-based human history to the present by partnering with regional educational and city government officials. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Who are our largest immigrant populations today?
  • What are their motivations for coming?
  • What are they seeking from and for our community?

Effective place-based learning activities around your community’s human history can also help your students to realize that they are creating new history in that community, and that they have the potential to make an even greater impact into adulthood. For example, young people across the country are digging deeper into some historical facts that might not carry much pride in the modern era, and are pressing for school name changes. Although this concept may not sit well with community traditionalists, your partnerships can help your community grow and progress more smoothly through collaboration and mutual understanding.

Creative Influence

In an era of recorded music, audiobooks, online movie streaming, and mass production of art prints, how many adults, let alone young people, are tuned in to their local art and cultural scene? You don’t have to attend the philharmonic or exclusive art gallery openings to take an interest in your local creative culture and learn something about your community’s influencers, and neither do your students! Even more interesting, you can give students cultural and literacy experiences by discovering from local painters, potters, musicians, and authors how the community influences their work.

Start by again asking students what art forms appeal most to them. Then connect with your state and local art, music, and writers’ guilds; dedicated unions in any of these fields; privately operated performance companies such as local ballet, theater, and orchestra; and bookstores — especially independent stores — known to feature local authors:

  • Do any artisans have a studio in walking distance from your program? Why did they choose this neighborhood?
  • Perhaps a mural has been painted and you have an opportunity to connect with its creator to discuss how the piece came about.
  • Are the schools in your district aware of any alumni who have published? Would they be willing to work with you on a place-based literacy activity?
  • Summer street fairs are rich with local artisans of all forms. Maybe your summer program can connect with organizers to learn which artists are passionate about the region, and you can partner for a place-based art lesson.
  • Is there an accomplished local musician who can be found on the same corner of town on a regular basis, guitar in hand, their case open for contributions? Help students understand how accepting donations for performances (“busking”) differs from panhandling. Some may say street musicians or buskers enrich that neighborhood. What do nearby merchants and residents say about it?

Here are a few useful Y4Y tools to take on this place-based learning of human history and culture:

Author Paul Gruchow notes in Discovering the Universe of Home, “I read, in the course of 12 years of English instruction, many useful and stimulating books, but I never learned that someone who had won a National Book award for poetry… lived and worked on a farm 30 miles from my house…. I had not imagined, or been encouraged to imagine, that it was possible to live in the country, and to write books too…. I was left to unearth by my own devices, years later, the whole fine literature of my place.” Help your students to discover what rich human history and creative works have inspired and been inspired by the place in which they live.



April 19, 2022

A multi-ethnic group of elementary school children are outdoors on a sunny day. They are wearing casual clothing. They are learning about nature in science class. A girl is using a magnifying glass to look for bugs.Have students noticed new weeds growing in the schoolyard? Does a bridge across the street have support beams at an unusual angle? Is there an odd discoloration of a highway retaining wall where water seeps through? There are lessons in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) all around us! Solving mysteries in their own backyards helps students discover how relevant science is to their own lives. It’s not just for college professors and lab techs in white coats — though you may put students on the path to becoming one through meaningful experiences!

The Future of Science Starts With History

Students might not realize how much science is about history — natural history. What are the past and present geological and biological features of your region? If there are radical differences among the natural environments around your state (like deserts, grasslands, mountains, lakes, and beaches), what’s the significance of those differences?  What’s their effect on your state’s social, political, and economic development? Learning about the natural history of your region can be exciting for students, and it can lead to rich exploration. You might have a museum of natural history in your area where students can see replicas of the ice caps that once covered your part of the country not so very long ago, or of wooly mammoths or even dinosaurs that once stood in the very place where they are standing. Also consider partnering with your local park services, private-practice environmental scientists, university extension offices, geological societies, and publicly and privately maintained hiking trails, waterways, campgrounds, and other outdoor venues. Each of these likely has professionals who are eager to share their knowledge of local natural history. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s course on strategic partnerships and related tools if forming new partnerships is uncharted territory for your program. A few of the most relevant tools are called out in a companion blog post this month: Place-Based Learning in Career Pathways.

Remember to communicate with school-day educators so your efforts are supporting their science curriculum. Here are just a few examples of natural history learning that can be supported with place-based exploration in your area:

  • Plant reproduction: Take a walk right outside your program door. Are weeds growing in unusual places, such as gutters or cracks in the sidewalk? If nowhere near a parent plant, how might the seeds have traveled to those locations? Are the plants native or invasive? Who decides if something’s a plant vs. a weed? What might students guess about how much water is available in the area, now and in the past? Considering the biological future of your region, how important is it for these species of plants that the same level of water be consistently available? Is anything threatening that?
  • Geology: Is there any new construction happening in your area? With appropriate permissions and safety precautions, can you visit a construction site where the earth has been dug away? What do the students notice about changes in color as the hole deepens, and what does that mean about the history of that place? Do you have hills or mountains in the area that can be seen on a short walk? Ask students to imagine what the ground beneath their feet might have looked like millions of years ago before the tectonic plates collided. Once they’ve gained that personal observation of the results of tectonic plate movement, what do they imagine the place will look like in another million years?
  • Climate change: Yes, climate change is as old as the earth itself. But is it possible that humans are speeding it up? What do your students notice about the air quality today? How about yesterday? Try taking a photo of the same spot on the horizon each day at the same time, and ask students to judge if it looks the same from day to day, week to week. They can also use the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection’s AirNow.gov website to check the daily Air Quality Index for their zip code.

Putting the TEM in STEM

Science is just one quarter of STEM learning. Rural programs might have an edge over urban programs in terms of access to nature, but urban programs may be surrounded by wonders of human engineering! Potential partners for direct learning and activity ideas include engineering firms, your local government planning department, technology companies, technical schools, and a host of professional organizations. Here are just a few examples of place-based exploration and activity ideas you can consider in either rural or urban programs:

  • Follow the rainwater: Ask students if they’ve ever watched rainwater collect along the road and flow in what direction? Downhill, of course. (Hello gravity!) How far apart are grates placed? Do students think they might be more or less spaced out in the desert? In Seattle? Have they ever noticed that all roads are concave? All of that was engineered intentionally! What would happen if it hadn’t been?
  • Parking problems: Try measuring an unused section of your program parking lot and counting the parking spots. Are lines at right angles or at diagonals? Do students believe the designer could have gotten more or fewer spaces by laying it out the opposite way? Can you find a formula online for improving your parking lot? So much math! Check out Y4Y’s resources for project-based learning as you set out on this activity!
  • Green means go: Stand at your nearest traffic light and have a pair of students time and record the lights in opposing directions. Have other students count how many cars go through each light, and how many “get stuck.” Ask them to look closely at the lights to see if they can tell whether they might have sensors to help traffic flow in a logical way. Invite your city technology planners to explain the system and allow students to discuss their guesswork and offer their ideas on how to improve the system!

As you plan for place-based STEM learning in your program through these and even more ambitious ideas, be sure to access Y4Y’s STEAM course and course resources. The design thinking framework will have greater impact on students when they identify STEM-related problems and propose solutions for them in the very place where they live and learn.

As Paul Gruchow writes in Discovering the Universe of Home, “The great spectacles of nature, of fire and wind, of rain and ice, of heat and cold, of metamorphosis, of birth and death, of struggle and decay, of quiet and beauty visit alike the prairies of southwestern Minnesota and the boroughs of New York City…. What happens when you apply the imaginations of history to the events of any place, however small, is that its connections with all the rest of the universe then come into view.”