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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.



September 21, 2021

Many out-of-school time professionals confess that teaching or tutoring STEM subjects is their greatest fear. Well, the best weapon against fear is preparation! These resources from Y4Y around STEAM (STEM plus the arts) and citizen science will help alleviate those fears and make the most of STEM activities in your program.

Site coordinators can download and adapt Y4Y’s Training to Go PowerPoints for informal sessions in as little as 30 minutes. You can conduct them either in person, or virtually while staff are relaxing on their couch at home. With each title and link below are objectives of these trainings.

STEAM Trainings (also check out the Y4Y tool Everyday STEAM: Strategies for Staff).

Applying Design Thinking

Objectives: Describe the components, model design thinking and plan methods for the design thinking process.

Connecting to Real-World Challenges

Objectives: Use the design thinking process, identify real-world challenges facing your community, describe the relationship between STEAM projects and community partners, and prepare a specific ask for those partners.

Creating a Makerspace

Describe what a makerspace looks like and how it can support the STEAM approach to learning, plan key logistics (budget, schedule, materials and professional development), and describe ways to assess student learning in a makerspace.

Citizen Science Trainings (Also check out the many tools that accompany these trainings)

Assessing Citizen Science

Objectives: Understand the importance of assessment, explore the difference between informal and formal assessment, and learn how to build an observation rubric.

Facilitating Learning to Practice Inquiry and Science Process Skills

Objectives: Discuss how the science process skills are supported through citizen science, understand the importance of inquiry, and guide students in using science process skills.

Introduction to Citizen Science

Objectives: Understand the definition of citizen science, explain its benefits, and explore strategies to engage students in citizen science.

What’s that you say, site coordinators? You dread public speaking as much as anyone else? You have limited time to prepare? You’re looking for professional development for your frontline staff to learn about facilitating STEM activities when it’s convenient for them? Here’s a shortcut: Check out these archived webinars (and their objectives) to help you choose the right trainings. Y4Y certificates of participation are only available to those who participate in live events, but don’t let that stop you.

State Highlight: Minnesota Citizen Science Initiative

Y4Y highlights the great work out-of-school time programs can achieve through partnerships with state agencies and community partners. Minnesota’s out-of-school time programs have worked in tandem with the University of Minnesota’s Pollinator Initiative, whose mission is to develop a coordinated research, education, extension, and policy-driven effort to address issues related to pollinators and pollination in Minnesota. Youth across the state learned about local plants and insects, operating as citizen scientists. Hear from the Minnesota state coordinator, program directors, facilitators, and partners on how they organized, implemented, and assessed projects.

STEAM (Two-Part Series)

When did STEM become STEAM, and why? Incorporating the arts into traditional STEM learning means exploring the design thinking process that’s central to engineering and other innovating careers. How can you expand STEAM in your 21st CCLC programs with limited time, budget and content knowledge? Learn a concrete process for planning and implementing problem-based design thinking. Work through how you can prepare your mind and your environment to develop high-quality activities that will propel your students into careers of the future. No prior knowledge necessary! This session is for experts, newbies and those in between!

Learning Approaches to Science-Based Education

This session is focused on methods for facilitating hands-on science education. Explore best practices in the scientific method, design thinking and the engineering design process to get students thinking and doing. By developing your knowledge of these hands-on strategies, you’ll expand your instructional toolkit and be ready to implement STEAM in your out-of-school time program.

Bringing Students and STEM Professionals Together! 21st CCLC STEM Collaboration With NASA and IMLS

Beginning in 2013, the U.S. Department of Education created an interagency initiative to integrate high-quality STEM programming into 21st CCLC programs by partnering with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), then the National Park Service (NPS), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). How can your program tap into national STEM-based initiatives and the rich curriculum and resources these agencies have to offer? Check out this archived webinar!

Wherever your STEM fears stem from (rimshot), Y4Y is here to support you! The greatest pioneers in science, technology, engineering and math took risks. Made mistakes. So, if you wobble a bit in facilitating the highest quality STEAM/STEM activities, guess what? That, in itself, is an important lesson to your students!



August 6, 2021

A sense of purpose drives most success in life, whether that success is as a parent, a home health aide or president of the United States. By tapping into that human instinct in every one of your students, you can make an immeasurable impact on their lives. Two Y4Y courses, Citizen Science and Civic Learning and Engagement, offer ways to help students find a path to community participation that can give them a sense of greater purpose well beyond their years in your program.

Citizen science means that everyday members of the community can make impactful contributions to scientific advances. This crowdsourcing of information takes little training or even deep understanding of all the principles at work, though often participants in a citizen science project gain significant knowledge through their involvement. Have your students felt like bystanders for the last 18 months, helpless as a new virus wreaked havoc on the world? Biomedical scientists are always looking for volunteers to advance their work. CitizenScience.org has a full list of projects soliciting help in all aspects of COVID-19. Explore many other topics, ranging from studying water quality to space feature hunting, at CitizenScience.gov or through your own internet searching. Just keep these simple tips and tools at hand:

In a similar way, Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course offers helpful guidance for channeling students’ interest in their community into meaningful contribution. Youth of today are increasingly engaged in the world around them. Whether this is because of social media, cameras on cell phones that make more human experiences universally accessible, or a less tangible raising of collective consciousness, there’s no denying that young people today are aware of the problems around them and they’re eager to fix them. Public figures like climate change activist Greta Thunberg, education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and gun control activist David Hogg may very well reflect the passion and drive you see in the students in your program.

It’s never too early to start sowing those seeds of community purpose in your 21st CCLC program. Start by

Citizen science and civic engagement aren’t mutually exclusive. You may opt to offer both kinds of opportunities to your students to expand the breadth of your program. Studies tell us that they’ll expand their skills, feel empowered, grow into responsible and productive citizens, and even live longer by establishing the practice of being contributors. Most famously, the Harvard Grant study, now 83 years running, demonstrates that “people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier, they’re physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” according to Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger. Your program, along with the school-day, may be the first communities your students are experiencing. Help them expand that vision of community beyond your walls, your city and even the country. Your students will benefit, and so will the world.



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.