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August 25, 2022

Young students sitting around a table drawingAs a close second after the fear of public speaking, most of us have at least a little fear of putting our creative selves out there. But the willingness to share our literary or scientific ideas, or our artistic creations — even if we feel vulnerable — is what keeps us moving forward. Y4Y’s new Click & Go on makerspaces can help you guide students as they discover the risks and rewards of “making.” Y4Y resources on creative teamwork, design thinking, and problem-based learning will also support your efforts. Did your program participate in this month’s Date to Create? Whether it happens on August 8 or any other day of the year, show students how to support each other’s creativity.

Mission: Makerspace

Makerspaces began as an adult practice in the most forward-thinking companies, but they’ve since been adapted to educational settings for students of all ages. Makerspaces recognize and celebrate all that can be learned through tinkering and play, especially thinking critically, collaborating, and communicating. Are you considering a makerspace in your program? If so, congratulations on shifting to a “maker culture” where you encourage students to explore and innovate as you put student interests at the center of everything you do.

The Creating a Makerspace Click & Go mini-lesson introduces you to potential outcomes and simple steps for developing your makerspace based on evidence-based practices. It walks you through:

  1. Understanding your learners
  2. Evaluating existing program offerings and school-day curricula
  3. Considering global trends and best practices
  4. Developing a theme
  5. Gathering your resources

These steps are accompanied by new Y4Y podcasts and tools — with just a few linked above — to turn the idea of a makerspace into a reality that suits your program needs. After spending just 30 minutes with this content, you’ll gain key takeaways for supporting creativity, like:

  • A culture that rejects “right-answer thinking” in favor of different-answer thinking builds confidence.
  • There are no mistakes, only opportunities to discover ways to improve (a central idea in the design thinking framework).
  • Establishing student roles for group work in a makerspace can foster mutual support of creativity by developing interdependence.
  • Emphasizing questions over answers grows excitement for exploring possibilities rather than simply arriving at a destination.

Creativity Comes in Many Forms

Fostering creativity doesn’t just mean putting a paintbrush in everyone’s hand and saying, “Now get to work!” Instead, you’re encouraging students to act on their unique creative impulses. For example, some students might want a pen, musical instrument, or dance floor instead of a paintbrush! By laying the groundwork for your tailor-made makerspace — consisting of anything from popsicle sticks to computer software and many things in between ­— your program can support creativity year-round.



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.
 



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.



November 22, 2021

The world of business offers a lot more research on the value of gut-level decision-making than the world of education, but your students may well find themselves in that world one day. Trusting your gut takes a unique kind of confidence. Young people can learn how to develop and trust their instincts by matching their cultural learning with self-awareness and self-management, social awareness, leadership opportunities, and more. Tools from Y4Y courses can help you build student intuition and confidence through a variety of strategies so they’ll be ready for times when snap judgments — and trusting those snap judgments — are a must.

It Starts With a Positive Learning Environment

Creating a positive learning environment opens the door to everything from baby steps to giant leaps in each of your 21st CCLC initiatives. Consult the Y4Y list of strategies for creating a positive learning environment to make sure that door is wide open. Simple practices around how you interact with your students and your stakeholders — like one-on-one exchanges, focused listening and appropriate personal openness — ensure the safety and trust that lead to strong work in confidence building.

The Role of Social and Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning (SEL) gives students the tools needed to become well-adjusted adults. The Y4Y research brief on this subject expands on how the emotional competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making build on one another. An effective, evidence-based SEL curriculum can help this process. It might be tempting to consider “responsible decision-making” only those decisions that have been deliberated with a textbook list of pros and cons. But researchers are finding that sometimes responsible decision-making means knowing when to abandon that method.

An effective SEL program should be “SAFE” (sequenced, active, focused and explicit) and provide (1) purposeful design that leads to skill development; (2) opportunities for practice; (3) time devoted to developing one or more social and emotional skills; and (4) a plan that targets specific skills. A few Y4Y tools to get you started are the SEL Competencies Matching Game to get to know the competencies, and the Delivery Methods for SEL and SEL Learning Activity Intentional Design Planner to implement your focused practice of those competencies. Researchers advocating for the benefits of snap decisions note, “Another interesting finding in this study is that intuition can be improved over time, suggesting that the mechanisms of intuition can be improved with practice.” Your program might consider self-awareness skills the perfect place to begin a focused practice. After all, solid self-awareness is the foundation for all emotional competencies and the best assurance of trusting your gut!

The Art of Reflection

Y4Y offers many more opportunities outside of the SEL course for students to build their self-awareness skills, and reflection is at the heart of them. The course on student voice and choice includes tools for middle and high school students to reflect on what they’re learning, how they learn and how to connect that learning with their lives. The full set of voice and choice course tools contains tools specific to grades K-1, 2-3, 4-6, middle school and high school that help connect reflection and goal setting. It’s easy to see how a lifetime of reflection and goal setting could develop a strong neurological pathway for making quick, outcome-oriented decisions!

Put Confidence to the Test

Once you’ve invested time in building student confidence on the inside, there are plenty of opportunities to put that confidence to the test in your 21st CCLC program space. Help students grow into leadership with tools from the Recruiting and Retaining High School Students Click & Go, such as the Youth Leadership Roles ideas. Group brainstorming calls for quick, free-flowing ideas, as does the Concentric Circles Discussion Format. These practices are ideal for out-of-school time to prepare students for the professional world and to exercise emotional competencies beyond self-awareness, such as social awareness and relationship skills. More broadly, these group activities are essential for design thinking (at the center of the Y4Y STEAM course) and other kinds of project-based learning.

The Future of Intuition?

The linked article suggests that “the ability to quantitively measure intuition could be a boon to many different fields, especially when it comes to workplace hiring.” It cites research on a growing ability to scientifically measure intuition, which could lead to hiring practices based more on those measurements than on candidate questionnaires that merely “test people’s opinions about their own feelings of intuition.” Your 21st CCLC programs are the perfect environment to help students develop strong intuition through self-awareness and reflection exercises, and just as important, to trust that intuition as you help them build their confidence through leadership and collaboration.



October 21, 2021

Did you know that recent research suggests the best teams are made up of both optimists and pessimists? Are you strategic in placing students together for team projects? Using tools in Y4Y’s STEAM and Project-Based Learning courses, and a strengths-based approach, consider how you can be intentional in your team building for the best creative outcomes, and how these lessons can also inform staffing.

Let’s start by identifying the strengths of both optimists and pessimists.

What can “optimists” bring to the table?

  • Broader acceptance of information
  • Flexible thinking
  • Enthusiasm
  • Relationship building
  • Strategies for dealing with unnecessary negativity
  • Energy
  • A strength-based lens

What can “pessimists” bring to the table?

  • Persistent pursuit of details
  • Critical thinking
  • Caution and planning
  • Realism
  • Strategies for dealing with disappointment
  • Delight over small victories (even if it’s because they’re unexpected)
  • Stress management

If you’re a frontline worker or site coordinator, you might be thinking about students in each of these categories. If you’re a program director (and again, site coordinator), you might be thinking about staff. To begin with, don’t worry that you might have labeled someone in your head as a pessimist. Instead, celebrate the strengths of that person, like the ones listed above, and keep those strengths in mind as you’re team building.

Building Those Teams

The research cited above says that when you group only optimists together, you might get amazing, big ideas, with very little thought as to how those ideas might carry challenges. Even if some of your optimists envision challenges, they may not voice them in an effort to always be positive and supportive of their team. By the same token, a team made of up of only pessimists can stifle each other. They may be less likely to have big, imaginative ideas to begin with, but even when or if they have them, they’ll be less confident about voicing them, for fear that their fellow pessimists will only poke holes in them. This is the basis for the theory that with some big-thinking optimists, balanced with some challenge-minded pessimists, the best outcomes can result.

Depending on how deep you are in recovery mode, ambitious design thinking STEAM projects or months-long civic problem-based undertakings might not be on your radar. But that doesn’t mean you’re not finding ways to group students for cooperative activities in your catch-up efforts. Today and going forward, you can think about how to group students (and staff) to allow for the most balanced groups (or teams) and the best outcomes. Grab tips from Y4Y’s

  • Ice Breaker Activities list to better understand each student or staff member’s perspective on the world. A rousing game of “this or that” could do it!
  • Selecting Student Roles for Group Work tool to reflect on how different personalities work best in different roles that need fulfilling. Brainstorm about what those roles might be for any given project or activity, and adapt this tool accordingly.
  • Team-Building Activities list for ideas on how you can use a low-stakes environment to help a new grouping of students or staff find their collective rhythm.
  • Group Discussion Guidelines to ensure that these conflicting approaches keep conversations respectful.
  • Working With Groups Training Starter to train staff on navigating group dynamics.

Opposites attract. Yin and Yang. The good with the bad. Offense and defense. Language is rich with expressions that illustrate exactly what these researchers have discovered: We shouldn’t isolate ourselves from people who think differently from us if we’re to ensure balance and best outcomes. What a great message to send young people during an era of great division. After all, there is no “I” in TEAM.