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July 19, 2021

Many programs are concerned that creating a more inclusive program means having to give up some favorite activities, but this isn’t the case. Discover in your program how inclusion means addition, not subtraction.

Located in Boston, the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) developed the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. The idea is to build enough flexibility into goals, assessments, methods and materials to minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students. By adopting UDL in your program, you can address your students’ diverse cultural and linguistic needs; disabilities; and differences in privilege — not with numerous, complicated initiatives, but a single overarching program design approach, summarized in this brief video. Greater equity is the result.

Consider the basics of the UDL guidelines, and what this design approach means in your 21st CCLC program for adding opportunities for inclusion of students with disabilities, without subtracting any opportunities from students without disabilities. In all you do, you should provide multiple means of the below elements.

Engagement — The “Why” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “why” choices by

Representation — The “What” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “what” choices by

  • Taking advantage of any existing documentation that can help you develop viable choices. Y4Y’s tool for interpreting common Individualized Education Program (IEP) sections can help.
  • Expanding activities with Y4Y’s tool that steps you through a sample opportunity to implement UDL.
  • Understanding a range of abilities from a neurological development standpoint, as addressed in Y4Y’s Developmental Stages of Reading Tool. The full Literacy Toolkit offers expert guidance that can help you apply UDL to literacy.
  • Remaining faithful to your needs assessments as established in your RFP and each program year. Y4Y’s Mapping Needs to Activities tool can guide you to address the academic subjects requiring your program’s focus, and the depth and breadth of that need. Just as a high rate of English learners in your program will drive fundamental literacy activities, a high rate of learning disabilities in your community impacts other types of academic supports.

Action & Expression — The “How” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “how” choices by

  • Considering universal accessibility to make program activities authentic and relevant to each student. Check out Y4Y’s Environmental Checklist to get you started.
  • Embracing group work that gives everyone an important role and plays to each student’s strengths. Y4Y’s Selecting Student Roles for Group Work can help.
  • Recognizing the value of project-based learning (PBL) as an instrument for student-driven achievement at many levels. Y4Y’s PBL Diagram and Classroom Facilitator Packet can set you on this path.
  • Adopting the design thinking process in your STEAM enrichment activities. This process expands on PBL by putting students behind the wheel of problem discovery. This accommodates more complete inclusion by promoting both agency and collaboration. Learn more about this approach with Y4Y’s Design Thinking Framework: Project Planning Template.

Horace Mann said, “Every addition to human knowledge is an addition to human power.” When you add inclusion by way of UDL, you’re adding to your program’s power. The only things you’re subtracting are feelings of exclusion and isolation.



June 16, 2021

You’ve probably noticed that no matter how many strategies for success a Y4Y course offers, the final one is always to celebrate! That’s because celebrating is fundamental to impactful educational experiences. From STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) to civic learning and engagement, check out these ideas of what successful celebrations might look like, both virtually and in person.

  • Shout from the rooftops. If your program just wrapped up a successful project or met a milestone you’ve been looking forward to (like enrolling your 1,000th student), don’t keep it to yourself! Share the news on social media and in your regular communications with partners.
  • Don’t forget student voice and choice! Your students are bound to have their own thoughts about how they’d like to celebrate. In fact, you can use their favorite reward, whether it’s a pizza party, dance party or trip to the park, as an incentive to meet an attendance goal, for example.
  • It’s all in the family. Your celebrations are a natural fit for family involvement. Get the most bang for your family engagement buck by listening to students’ ideas about how to engage each of their family members in attendance.
  • Have a backup plan. If your celebration is a culminating event for a design-thinking project in STEAM or a problem-based solution to a community concern, have a backup illustration of your students’ successes, such as printed photos or short write-ups, in case technology or prototypes malfunction. Never waste an opportunity to show off your program or your students!
  • Play it safe. Virtual celebrations with a mix of adults and children online demand a little extra vigilance. Have staff rotate the assignment of gauging appropriate internet etiquette and being prepared to mute or turn off cameras if needed. If in person, be sure to follow your host facility’s guidelines for gatherings, such as making sure any snacks are individually wrapped, avoiding crowded spaces and masking.
  • Have fun! It doesn’t really need to be said, but don’t forget that your staff sets the tone. It can be stressful to aim for perfection in your celebration. Remember: Perfection isn’t your goal — a happy vibe is.

For more ideas, see these Y4Y tools: Tips and Tricks: Plan a Successful Culminating Event and Demonstrating and Documenting Learning.



May 20, 2021

Have you thought about incorporating a long-term, project-based curriculum into your summer or next program year? Consider asking students to think about a need or frustration in their lives or the lives of others, something they’d like to do something about. Tell them to let their ideas “simmer” on their mind’s back burner for a while. You might even give them a full week to ponder a real-world problem before you tell them why you’re asking (i.e., to prepare them for a project where they’ll invent a possible solution). By blending the benefits of Y4Y resources on student voice and choice, design thinking and project-based learning, you can help your students discover how necessity is the mother of invention. Imagine their excitement when they experience their Eureka moment!

Let’s start by unpacking the steps of design thinking, with a spotlight on diffuse (“back-burner”) thinking and just how valuable it can be when it comes to innovation. The Y4Y Design Thinking Framework: Project Planning Template can help.

  • As a problem-solving approach, design thinking places human users at the center of all design. The first step in design thinking is to empathize with the people experiencing the problem so you can identify their needs. It may be a new concept to bring an emotionally charged word like empathy into STEM learning, but ultimately designers want to market their products, and the better their products match users’ needs, the more successful the product will be. Empathizing with users demands focused inquiry to collect data on user needs, but also contemplation of those data. What IS the necessity that will drive your students’ invention?
  • Next, students define the specific real-world problem their design will address. Borrowing from the Student Goal Setting and Reflection tools in the Y4Y Student Voice and Choice course, you can help students set goals for their project and reflect. That way, they can experience firsthand the value of both focused thinking (the kind required for things like organization and planning) and diffuse thinking (letting their minds work on the problem they want to solve when they’re not working on it directly).
  • In the next step of design thinking, students ideate. The architects of the design thinking process encourage a broad, big-picture approach to running every possible solution up that collaborative flagpole. Budget plenty of time for this step, and remind students of the kind of open-ended thinking that drove their original simmering on a frustration of their own or others.
  • Prototype is the step where students roll up their sleeves and build a solution. This is where design thinking and project-based learning overlap. Consult Y4Y’s Planner for Brainstorming, Project-Based Learning Budgeting tool and Group Discussion Guidelines for tips to complement the STEAM Activity Center Planner and STEAM Implementation Checklist. Building a prototype demands the most focused thinking yet, so help your students to understand the relationships between all the diffuse (back-burner) thinking that got them here, and how to develop the skill needed to shift gears to more concentrated work.
  • Finally, students test their solution. They also consider improvements as needed. As a hybrid of the “ideate” and “prototype” steps, this step requires flexibility. Students may need to alternate between focused thinking (to assess their solution) and diffuse thinking (to open their minds to new strategies for improvement). The Five Whys Questioning Technique tool can be used to challenge assumptions and identify root causes during the “ideate” and “test” steps of design thinking.

Invention myths about “Eureka” moments are popular, but remember: They’re myths. Sir Isaac Newton didn’t “discover” gravity simply by sitting under an apple tree; rather, when his university studies were interrupted by an outbreak of the plague, he observed the consistent pattern of apples falling directly toward the earth when breaking off a tree, and this inspired his intellectual, open-ended search for explanations. Benjamin Franklin didn’t stumble onto electricity while randomly flying a kite in a thunderstorm; rather, much was already understood about static electricity, and he was testing a hypothesis that lightning was also electrical in nature.

Dispelling myths that discovery only comes to superhuman scientific geniuses is one more way you can arm your students with the confidence to embark on their own discoveries and successes. Those innovators built on their prior knowledge, approached the world around them with open-minded curiosity and didn’t restrict their thinking to focused “in-the-box” structures. In other words, their “superpower” was a combination of focused and diffuse thinking. That same superpower is available to each and every 21st CCLC student — with your guidance, encouragement and reminder that simple necessity is the true mother of invention.



April 22, 2021

Pablo Picasso was 12 years old when he sketched Plaster Male Torso with the technical skill few artists master in a lifetime. Yet he became best known for his cubist and surrealist works that challenged the boundaries of the art world and even set new ones. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators can take a lesson from Picasso’s journey in recognizing that innovation is born of understanding the basics, then envisioning new horizons with an open mind to boundless creativity. When STEM education is combined with the creativity of the arts, you get the design thinking approach that underpins Y4Y’s newly updated STEAM course. In this overview of last month’s LIVE With Y4Y event, Learning Approaches to Science-Based Education, you’ll come to appreciate how art and STEM actually do make a fine pair.

This LIVE event was designed to

  • Define and demonstrate experiential learning approaches: the scientific method, design thinking and the engineering design process.
  • Connect experiential education to academic skill building, particularly in science and mathematics.
  • Provide examples of experiential learning in out-of-school time.

Dr. David Coffey, Director of the Design Thinking Academy at Grand Valley State University, offered key takeaways, including these:

  • Making meaning of mathematics through experiential learning can offer reluctant students a new opportunity to understand material.
  • Reflection at the end of a problem-solving experience can counteract the “learned helplessness” many students have around math.
  • Educators need to shift traditional “I do” practices to “we do” and “I do” by guiding student learning rather than always directly instructing on concepts.
  • Facilitators don’t have to have perfect content knowledge as long as they’re willing to be a fellow explorer with their students and open to their own learning. This can also be referred to as radical collaboration.
  • The act of teaching, itself, reflects the scientific method, as teachers make revisions based on experimentation.
  • Think of “failure” as an acronym: “First Attempt In Learning Unless Reflection Exists.” In other words, reflecting on failure propels learning forward.
  • Design thinking is also called “human-centered design.” Staff facilitating these kinds of projects need to be curious about people, and convey that curiosity to students. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to. Remember: Curiosity is contagious.

Teaching the scientific method has been central to scientific education and practices. This process involves these steps:

  • Determine a question.
  • Research the question.
  • Develop a hypothesis.
  • Test a hypothesis through experimentation.
  • Collect data.
  • Draw conclusions based on the data collected.

Design thinking, an educational tool to solve real-world problems, is gaining traction in STEM education today. To employ design thinking, the student will chunk problem-solving into these steps:

  • Empathize with the community you’re seeking to serve.
  • Define and understand the problem or challenge.
  • Ideate potential solutions.
  • Create a prototype.
  • Test the effectiveness of the prototype.

Mr. Ariel Raz, head of Learning Collaborations at the Stanford d.school, shared his organization’s views and practices around design thinking:

  • Simply put: Design thinking is a creative pedagogy that means “make something that matters.”
  • The liberal arts and the sciences intersect through design thinking because empathy and understanding of user needs drive the scientifically based making.
  • Giving students a creative challenge is difficult to reconcile in a system that’s too heavily standardized. As educators and learners themselves, facilitators need to grow comfortable with failure.
  • A fundamental departure of design thinking teaching from problem-based teaching is having no preconceived problem or project in mind. This is the empathy step.
  • A backward-mapping skill is important to use in the design thinking process, like the “project zero thinking routine.” The thinker might examine and analyze a known tool and identify its parts, purposes and complexities. Commercial fabricating demands this kind of inquiry.
  • A Stanford study of average-achieving middle school students demonstrated that teaching them design thinking techniques allowed them to apply creative problem-solving strategies in new contexts.
  • A growth mindset is baked into design thinking; failure is necessary to success. Perseverance and grit go hand in hand with the philosophy of failing early and failing often to achieve the best outcomes using design thinking.

Ms. Deborah Parizek, Executive Director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), shared insights on STEM education:

  • HFLI is dedicated to reimagining and redesigning learning, teaching and leading to better impact the experiences that students, their families and educators have to the greater good of underserved communities.
  • Having a teacher who’s a partner in learning enriches a student’s experience.
  • Design thinking builds academic skills like collaboration, critical thinking, data collection and analysis, and communication. All of these skills will add to a student’s academic and professional success.
  • HFLI strives to help students become confident and independent learners, and describes learning to navigate obstacles as an orientation of innovation. This skill building fosters inner motivation for students to commit and contribute to the world around them.
  • Ms. Parizek shared project examples ranging from kindergartners proposing improved pet environment prototypes to college-bound students tasked with redesigning equity access to higher education opportunities for Hispanic youth. Each went through similar design thinking processes.
  • In out-of-school time intervention, 21st CCLC programs have the opportunity to help students identify their unique strengths to build confidence in their part of team collaboration, then use that confidence to challenge them in areas of need.

A final STEM approach discussed was the engineering design process. Partnerships between 21st CCLCs and national agencies use this vehicle to help students explore a myriad of STEM professions.

Ms. Jamie Lacktman, Robert K. Shafer 21st CCLC Program, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, described the engineering design process her program exposes students to in partnership with NASA:

  • Students should understand from the beginning that they are driving research and design decisions.
  • This initiative has led students to appreciate the layers of research that go into a design challenge; often understanding one concept demands researching numerous others.
  • Effective designing means ensuring that everything adds up — both budgetarily and physically.
  • Asking “why” is central to innovation.
  • The NASA design challenge has improved student perceptions around gender and ethnic diversity in STEM professions.
  • This year’s hybrid format lent itself to a friendly competition between two prototype teams that has amplified enthusiasm.
  • Although a rubric is available to measure the project success, there are many other measures — like students adapting, committing, rising to challenges and recognizing the long-term benefits — that are every bit as meaningful.

A common thread in all of these STEM education approaches is the role of students in their own learning. These principles can be applied in 21st CCLC programs to large-scale challenges as well as day-to-day problem-solving. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s newly updated course on STEAM to help you implement design thinking in your program today!



September 28, 2020

This election season marks 100 years of the vote for women. What actions did Susan B. Anthony and her contemporaries take to achieve this goal, and how can 21st CCLC students continue that legacy of working toward equality, whether for themselves or others? Drawing on basic lessons and tools in the Civic Learning and Engagement Course, discover how your students can take up the torch of civic action today and work toward equity for all.

Consider these eight strategies set forth in Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement Implementation Checklist, and how remarkably they track with the suffrage movement!

Strategy 1: Identify and Engage Stakeholders

As early as 1850, the suffrage movement had a strong alliance with the abolitionist movement.

Whatever priorities you settle on for your civic learning and engagement activities, there will be partners in your community that share your common goals. These may be educators in your school district or at your local university. What about nonprofit organizations in your area dedicated to ensuring equity? These potential partners are probably just as eager to form partnerships as your 21st CCLC program is. Sit your program team down to discuss who those potential partners could be. Don’t be afraid to involve families in this search — they may already have community connections you haven’t established. Y4Y’s Involving Community Partners Checklist can guide these efforts.

Strategy 2: Define Needs, Goals and Assets

In 1848, the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. “The Declaration of Sentiments,” written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, set a long-term agenda for suffragists.

There will be many elements that factor into your needs and goals. Is your civic learning and engagement primarily intended to meet the social and emotional needs of your students? To support learning in their school day? The Y4Y tool for Brainstorming Civic Engagement Topics can help you systematically weigh the needs of your students and your community to direct you toward worthy initiatives.

Strategy 3: Prepare for Civic Learning and Engagement Activities

From 1866-68, when members were able to refocus after the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) and began publication of a weekly newspaper, The Revolution, to re-formalize their structure and message.

Just as team-building and leadership were crucial in the suffrage movement, so, too, do you need to foster these in your program to succeed in civic engagement. A good place to start is the Y4Y tool on Team-Building Activities.

Strategy 4: Set the Foundation for Civic Learning and Engagement Activities

In 1869, national suffrage was divided on logistics: The National Women’s Suffrage Association replaced the AERA and continued to press for a constitutional amendment, while the American Woman Suffrage Association worked on a smaller scale to affect state constitutions.

One goal can have different pathways to achievement. When you establish your foundation for civic learning and engagement activities, you’re giving thought to the learning approach that best suits your students and to logistics such as budget, schedule and materials. Look to the Y4Y Committee and Club Planning Worksheet to ensure that your efforts are defined early.

Strategy 5: Intentionally Design Activities

Susan B. Anthony and many like her remained unmarried throughout their lives just to ensure their rights around property ownership and autonomy. To further their cause, many were arrested, tried and jailed for voting illegally.

Intentionality demands SMART goals. Y4Y’s Service Learning Toolbox and Intentional Activity Design: Mapping Needs to Activities tool can help you shape the best activities to achieve your civic learning and engagement goals. They’re unlikely to be as drastic as the activities of the suffragists, but tailored to impact the lives of your students and their community in a constructive way.

Strategy 6: Use Best Practices for Student Engagement

The Progressive Era played out from the 1890s through 1925. The increasingly public role of all women brought the suffrage movement to the front and center of American politics.

The women and men of the suffrage movement understood that engagement was key for their mission to maintain momentum through adversity. How will you keep your students engaged in their civic initiatives? You’ll map their knowledge and wonders on relevant topics, and capture and account for student voice and choice in all you do, especially as you foster student interest in promoting equity in the world around them.

Strategy 7: Implement With Fidelity

In 1915, Mabel Vernon and Sara Bard Field collected over half a million petition signatures around the country, but states like New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania continued to reject women’s suffrage. In 1917, dedication to the movement even led to hunger strikes by jailed picketers.

Implementing with fidelity is doing what you said you’d do, and that’s exactly what leaders of the suffrage movement did. You have all your pieces in place to implement an engaging and impactful experience for your students to play an active role in shaping their community. Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide can help you ensure that your adherence, dosage, engagement and delivery are all on target.

Strategy 8: Celebrate and Sustain Your Initiatives

In 1919, the 19th Amendment was finally passed, and it was ratified on Aug. 26, 1920. Women legally cast their ballots across the country for the first time in the 1920 general election. But the fight for women’s rights had only just begun.

The success of the suffrage movement is a perfect illustration for your students to appreciate the slow rate of progress, but the importance of persevering. Your 21st CCLC initiatives in civic learning and engagement, on a smaller scale, should have successes to celebrate, but leave your students wanting more. More learning. More equity. More engagement. More success.