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February 23, 2018

Driving Students Toward Success: Project-Based Learning! That’s the title of the next Y4Y Showcase webinar. It’s free, as always, so register now to get it on your calendar. You’ll get insights from frontline 21st CCLC practitioners as Y4Y walks you through the newly updated Project-Based Learning course. You’ll learn about the three phases of a project (introduce and prepare; design and implement; and celebrate, reflect and assess), steps for facilitating an authentic experience that students will enjoy and ways to deal with common challenges.

But wait. Why not invite a colleague (or your entire team) to attend with you? Participating with others is a great way to get more out of the experience. Before the webinar, tell your teammate(s) you’d like to huddle briefly after the webinar to discuss the following questions:  

  • What was new or surprising?
  • What idea would you like to try?
  • What would you like to know more about?

Having these questions up front, and knowing each team member will be called on to contribute to a postwebinar discussion, encourages active listening. That means your team will be more likely to pay attention, take notes and ask their own questions during the webinar. It also sets the expectation that team members will act on what they learn. That 10-minute discussion after the webinar could be the most important part of the experience, as information gets translated into action steps. Like this one, for example (hint, hint):

So yes, register now for the Showcase, but also forward the webinar invitation to your team, along with the three questions listed above, and invite them to join you. After all, driving students toward success is what it’s all about, and project-based learning is a terrific way to do it!



February 23, 2018

Every discovery or invention of our time started with a question: When an apple falls from a tree, what makes it fall down instead of sideways or up? Is there a way to use this weak glue I accidentally created while trying to create a strong adhesive? (The answer to the latter question was yes, and if you’ve ever used a Post-it note, you’ve seen the result!)

“The important thing,” Albert Einstein said, is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

What are you curious about? What are your students curious about? Y4Y’s newly updated Project-Based Learning course shows, step-by-step, how to tap into students’ natural curiosity by awakening a sense of wonder about people, places and things in the world (indeed, the universe) where they live.

Chapter 1, “Introduce and Prepare,” provides a proven strategy for tapping into students’ questions or “wonders” to get them excited and prepared for project-based learning. Here’s a quick snapshot of the strategy:

  • Mind mapping helps students identify what they already know about a topic (for example, zoo animals).
  • Brainstorming helps them identify things they wonder about (for example, whether putting endangered species in zoos helps the species survive, or where zoos get food for all the different animals). Even if your students’ curiosity seems as dormant as an inactive volcano, this activity can get their thoughts flowing. As their questions or “wonders” erupt, don’t be surprised if they overflow the whiteboard or chart paper as they write them down!
  • Voting is a democratic approach for agreeing on a topic or issue to explore.
  • Discussing the topic helps students drill deeper into why they selected the topic and what aspects they’d like to explore through a project. Guiding questions such as “What interests you about…? Have you ever…? Why do you think it’s important to…?” facilitate the conversation and help students connect their “wonders” to real-life experiences.

That’s the strategy, in a nutshell, for preparing students to write a strong driving question that will focus inquiry throughout the project. The course walks you through the strategy with an example to show exactly how it works.

 

Curious about other strategies for using project-based learning to awaken an Einstein-like sense of wonder in your students? Check out the updated course. You and your students will be glad you did!



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!



January 19, 2018

As you select and plan student activities, what guidelines help you decide what to do, and how? Hopefully your answer isn’t “Whatever I can pull together in the next five minutes!”

Designing effective program activities requires a clear understanding of what you hope to accomplish. That means asking four questions:

  • Does the activity align with program goals?
  • Does it target student needs?
  • Does it build skills and knowledge that will help students succeed?
  • Will it engage students?

Addressing these questions during the activity design phase can make the difference between an activity that “fills up time” and one that moves students toward meaningful goals. The questions help you focus on the purpose or intent behind the activity.

Here’s how Y4Y defines an intentional approach to activity design:

intentional activity design: The process of designing engaging activities that align with program goals and target identified student needs to help students build the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

Intentional design of activities fits within the larger framework of intentional program design:

intentional program design: The process of assessing student needs; designing a set of delivery strategies, interventions and activities that will engage those students while helping them build skills and knowledge they need to succeed; and recruiting the targeted students for which the program activities were designed.

The Y4Y Intentional Activity Design Diagram reminds you to consider data sources, overarching program goals, and strategies for aligning student needs and program goals as you plan activities. You might decide to develop a similar diagram based on your particular program goals and student needs to help guide staff as they plan and implement activities.

For a deeper dive into intentional activity design, go to the Y4Y Virtual Institute for New Grantees and see the webinar and PowerPoint for Week 2: Intentionally Designing Activities.


January 19, 2018

Let’s say you come across an activity on Pinterest for middle school students called Time Budget. The description says

“Students enter data into spreadsheets about the time they spend on different activities, such as sleeping, eating, grooming, attending school, doing homework, playing, reading, spending time with family, watching TV, engaging in social media, and so forth. Then they generate pie charts to show what percentage of time they spend on these activities each day, week, month and year.”

Sounds cool! The description says the activity is “Ready to use!” But is it?

Before you ink this activity into your program schedule, here are some things to consider:

Is the activity a good fit for the students in your program? Asking the following questions will help you decide if the activity is right for your 21st CCLC program and its students, or what tweaks might be needed to make it a good fit:

  • Does the activity align with program goals?
  • Does it target student needs?
  • Does it build skills and knowledge that will help students succeed?
  • Will it engage students?

These questions pertain to designing activities that will help move students toward meaningful goals. Learn more about intentional activity design here.

Is the activity student centered? The Time Budget activity certainly seems to be student centered, as students will be using their own data to generate personalized pie charts. If some students aren’t familiar with the spreadsheet software, however, the activity could be challenging for them. If you take the time to teach how the software works, those who already know how to use it might get bored. You need a strategy for meeting the needs of all students. Maybe you’ll decide to walk everyone through the process together one step at a time, or have the students who know the software team with those who don’t. Student-centered activities meet students where they are, meet their needs and build on their strengths.

How can the activity connect to school-day learning? The math teacher might think of ways to connect the activity to the academic curriculum. Or maybe the English teacher is worried that students are spending very little time reading on their own, and he could challenge students to budget an additional 30 minutes to reading over the next week. If students are having a tough time finishing homework on time, the activity might spark a discussion of ways to budget their time to meet important goals.      

These are just a few of the opportunities and challenges to consider when adapting a “ready-made” activity from third-party sources for use in your program. Other things to consider are student interests, cultural relevance and accuracy of information. If an activity you find online sparks your imagination, customizing it to fit your program and your students is worth the effort. It might be the difference between good and great.