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March 18, 2021

Y4Y is excited to roll out its updated STEM (now STEAM) course to familiarize your 21st CCLC program staff with the design thinking process and how your students can apply collaboration and creativity to compelling STEM learning.

Your navigator, Sean, will blast off with you into the universe of STEAM with a first stop in the Enterprise Briefing Room. As a cadette, you’ll earn a Basic Level certificate of completion when you soar through Chapters 1 and 2 of the Introduction section of the STEAM course, learning how to

  • Define STEAM as an approach to learning.
  • Describe the evolution of STEAM.
  • Describe how STEAM benefits students, 21st CCLC programs and schools.
  • Explain how STEAM can help students prepare for future careers.
  • Describe the variations and characteristics of STEAM projects and activities.
  • Identify the required tasks for planning and implementing high-quality STEAM projects and activities.

But your STEAM mission doesn’t end there! Earn an Advanced Level certificate of completion when you sign on to the six tasks of STEAM implementation:

  • Consider STEAM education variation and characteristics.
  • Activate the power of design thinking and makerspaces.
  • Plan to mitigate risks.
  • Choose your mission and implement your STEAM activity.
  • Ensure a smooth link to program goals by implementing with fidelity.
  • Assess, reflect and celebrate.

Your STEAM adventures won’t come to a full stop until you’ve earned your Leadership Level certificate of completion by rocketing through the Coaching My Staff section of the STEAM course. You’ll find support for training staff as they integrate the elements of STEAM to promote student learning, especially when it comes to

  • Applying design thinking.
  • Creating a makerspace.
  • Connecting STEAM to real-world challenges.

Sign into your Y4Y account today and discover how vast your and your students’ opportunities are as you develop collaboration, innovative thinking and limitless professional paths in your 21st CCLC program, using the new Y4Y STEAM course as your guide.



February 26, 2021

You can learn about design thinking in Y4Y’s new course on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). Design thinking is a problem-solving learning approach that acknowledges the role of creativity and the arts in STEM learning. It’s similar to the engineering design process NASA engineers use, as well as the creative process you see in the arts. You might remember that classic scene in Apollo 13 when the engineering team is presented with a list of materials at the astronauts’ disposal and asked to devise a way to make a “square peg to fit into a round hole.” The engineers had to use their imaginations, being flexible in their perceptions of what materials serve what purpose, in order to save the lives of their space-going counterparts. That scene perfectly illustrates design thinking.

An activity that taps into design thinking leads students to develop a product that solves a real-world problem or create something meaningful or of value. These activities ask students to

  • Research users' needs.
  • Clearly state the needs of users.
  • Challenge their assumptions and document their ideas.
  • Create solutions through brainstorming, collaboration and experimentation.
  • Test and refine solutions.

Since 1978, schools around the world have offered Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) competitive clubs, promoting collaborative, creative problem-solving activities. Explore the design thinking that’s at the heart of this organization, the benefits and outcomes for students who’ve participated over the decades, and how these globally relevant lessons can be brought into 21st CCLC programs.

OotM problems, both long-term and spontaneous, ask students to combine their knowledge and their imaginations in a team environment to build, fix or create something in a new way. A small but statistically significant 2019 study that surveyed coaches and judges in the organization found that 10 core competencies were built through participation: teamwork, creativity, problem solving, planning and organizing, time management, public speaking, leadership, compromise, oral communication and adhering to constraints or parameters. Noted, also, in a 2017 study, participation in OotM helps students “learn, develop, and create highly transferable skills, experiences, and competencies, helping them become more career-ready and better prepared to engage into the global workforce.” So, what is OotM’s magic formula?

OotM teams are guided by adult coaches who might aid in developing discrete skills needed to solve a problem, but do not assist in forming actual solutions. Reflecting the importance of student voice and choice, teams can choose from several different types of problems, from mechanical to literary or musical. Long-term problem-solving involves student-planned use of time and material resources according to a list of criteria that must be met. These principles also come into play in the solving of spontaneous problems which are, as the name suggests, on-the-spot activities.

But the key element of imagination, to young minds, translates to a sense of “play,” even when rigorous structure and goals define an activity. Any veteran coach will tell you that preparation for an OotM team is a textbook makerspace, complete with generic materials such as rubber bands and Popsicle sticks with endless possible uses. While the students’ “arts and crafts” experience will offer them some proficiency with using these materials, formal curriculum and hands-on experience will help them understand nuances such as how you can best orient a Popsicle stick to maximize its strength, or what conditions and forces dictate the limits of a rubber band.

OotM’s popularity speaks to how much students enjoy creative problem solving together because it taps into their natural love of play. In fact, another way to describe design thinking is “play with a purpose!” With tools such as the Activity Center Planner, Student Self-Monitoring Checklist for Project Work, and STEAM Activity Example, the new Y4Y STEAM course will inspire you to reimagine how to support your students’ school-day STEM learning. Incorporating design thinking means that not even the sky is the limit when it comes to also giving your students the many career-readiness skills that OotM participants have enjoyed for decades. Truly, you can place the universe at their fingertips by helping your students to learn through play.



October 1, 2020

Like so many people around the world, your program staff may be looking for ways to make the most of social distancing. Citizen science has enjoyed a tremendous uptick as people turn to the outdoors for many more types of experiences. Citizen science is an exciting addition to STEM programming, but where should you begin? Review the basics of Y4Y’s Citizen Science course to make the right project choices and fit them into your program schedule. Armed with a list of criteria that matter to you, you can make a SMART perusal of reputable online resources.

As time permits, you and your staff can mine other Y4Y citizen science tools to make the most of your program’s offerings.

Not sure where to start your project hunt? In 2016, Y4Y compiled an annotated list of citizen science resources, and many are still active. Here are some other projects that are hot today:

  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes that through its eBird webpage, “your sightings contribute to hundreds of conservation decisions and peer-reviewed papers, thousands of student projects and help inform bird research worldwide.”
  • NestWatch, also hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “is a nationwide nest-monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds. Participating in NestWatch is easy and anyone can do it.”
  • SciStarter is a clearinghouse of “science we can do together.” To locate the perfect project, visit its Project Finder, enter a word or phrase in the Search box, and include your location, the kinds of environments available to you, and the age group of your scientists.
  • National Geographic’s iNaturalist webpage “helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over a million scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature.”

Remember, citizen science does more than expose your students to STEM activities. Young people get to experience firsthand what it’s like to “act locally and think globally” as they contribute to national or international projects to help achieve a greater goal. Citizen science reinforces the notion that we are citizens not just of our city or town, but of the planet.



August 7, 2020

Every day, your students make choices that affect their future. You want them to understand that their choices matter — and enlarge their view of what’s possible. Here’s some valuable information you can use to make sure they consider career options that involve science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

Let students know that

New opportunities are opening up. Cultural shifts and initiatives to offer equal opportunities in STEM careers mean greater gender and ethnic diversity than in the past. “Increase diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM” is a goal in America’s Strategy for STEM Education. Outdated ideas like “girls aren’t good at math” and “science isn’t for everyone” have been exposed as myths. Increasingly, STEM fields are attracting more people like Shuri, the fearless young woman who’s the chief science and technology officer of the high-tech nation Wakanda in the movie Black Panther.

STEM is opening up. You might have a student with the potential to create a new tool or product that will benefit humanity. But if no one in his family has gone to college, he doesn’t know any scientists or engineers, and he’s struggling in math class, he might think a STEM career is beyond his reach. Leaders in STEM education, however, say STEM is much more than the sum of its parts. Modern STEM education also incorporates the arts and design as well as skills like problem solving and behaviors like perseverance and cooperation. Students can tap into their strengths and interests to create their entry point. In his book Curious, for example, Ian Leslie says Apple founder Steve Jobs was “a merely competent technician” but it was his broad range of interests (including music), combined with a drive to succeed, that led his company to launch the first successful MP3 player.

Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect place for students to explore STEM because you can

  • Introduce interesting STEM experiences in a low-stress, high-support environment.
  • Tap into student voice and choice and give young people time to play or “tinker” with STEM ideas and materials.
  • Use project-based learning to help students connect STEM topics they’re learning in school with real-life problem-solving opportunities.
  • Engage local organizations and people with STEM connections so that students see that STEM is all around them — and is a possible career pathway for people like them.  

Y4Y is your “go-to” for STEM because it has resources like

These days, STEM is at the forefront as the world looks to research scientists for a vaccine that will end the coronavirus pandemic. Take advantage of this moment to gather students (virtually, if need be) around the idea of STEM as something that’s relevant to their lives — and a career path filled with as much potential as they are.



March 18, 2020

It doesn’t take a microscope to find good summer STEM programming ideas at Y4Y. Perhaps you wanted to attend Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series in January but simply couldn’t fit it in your schedule. Well, don’t worry: Y4Y recorded the entire series with you in mind! It guides 21st CCLC program directors and practitioners through nine steps to plan ahead for a summer filled with enriching, engaging, real-life opportunities for students. Making sure young brains stay “turned on” during those “off months” while school’s out will help them retain what they’ve already learned — and provide new experiences for students to build on when school starts up again.

The webinar series has three objectives: (1) Engage in the steps for planning, designing, implementing and assessing a summer learning program; (2) Develop strategies to implement components of a successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program; and (3) Identify Y4Y resources that assist with STEM in summer learning.

Providing summer enrichment experiences is especially important to students from low-income families served by 21st CCLC programs. With each year of education, there’s a growing gap in learning between students from lower-income families, who often have limited access to enriching experiences, and their middle- and higher-income counterparts, who usually have more opportunities to visit libraries, museums and interesting vacation locales during out-of-school time. Those with more opportunities are less likely to experience a loss of academic skills and knowledge (sometimes called the “summer slide”). The impact is seen not only in students’ reading and math scores, but also in their future career interests and prospects. In fact, only 16% of graduating U.S. seniors are proficient in math and have an interest in a career in STEM.

In addition to closing learning gaps and reducing the summer slide, 21st CCLC summer STEM programming has the power to truly inspire excitement in STEM areas by offering hands-on, authentic learning opportunities free of the time constraints that classrooms operate under. Activities that are real, active and local will be most meaningful to students and carry the longest-lasting benefits.

Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series will stimulate your thinking about what’s possible and how to plan for it. For example, you’ll be asked to draw a simple figure to represent each of the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Webinar leaders explain that this activity mirrors how you can set students up for success by meeting them at the most elemental level of STEM understanding, and building from there.

The webinar walks you through nine crucial steps to intentional program development:

Step 1: Build a Program Team

Now is the time to think about how best to use the staff you currently have, and where you might consider making additions to your program for the summer. Keep communication the centerpiece of your staffing as you develop programming and clarify roles and expectations. What new partnerships can be forged to fill remaining or anticipated holes in optimal STEM activities? A great tool to use during this step is the Y4Y Program Team Communication Process Form.

Step 2: Assess Needs and Map Assets

A needs assessment will always bring you right to data’s doorstep. Remember the universal 21st CCLC data sources: school-level data, student-level data, and student voice and choice. Reflect not just on the data, but also on what could be behind it. For example, if school-level data show a considerable disparity in state assessment scores among ABC Elementary third-graders, does a break-out show that one classroom outperformed others? If so, that classroom teacher may be the perfect resource to help you develop summer STEM activities to close learning gaps. With student-level data, review the Next Generation Science Standards to gauge where your students are. Use this as your starting point to meet them with summer STEM activities. Finally, don’t forget those student voice surveys, available in Y4Y’s 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet. Knowing how to tailor projects to student interests is the best insurance policy for engagement.

Step 3: Set SMART Goals

Be sure to consult your school-day sources on the sorts of growth benchmarks they use so that your SMART goals are consistent with your data. To brush up on SMART goals (that is, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) see Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool. Summer offers a lot of latitude in planning activities, and you’ll be off to a great start when you align with students’ school-year STEM learning and build from there. Make the most of the elbow room and reach for the stars. Don’t forget the Y4Y 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet to help you bring student voice and choice into your goal setting.

Step 4: Logistics: Map Your Resources

Bring all your assets to the table and think about what you can achieve. What does your schedule look like? What does your facility look like? What materials are at your disposal? What about current and potential partners? What does “STEM-expert staffing” look like, and what changes can or should be made now while you have the luxury of (a little) time? A good thing to keep in mind around resources is back-up planning. If you suddenly don’t have access to the usual space, is there somewhere else you can still carry on the day’s activity with just a few tweaks? Outdoors can be a great option in summer, depending on where you’re located. What about substitute materials? And is there good cross-team communication in case you have to make staffing substitutions? Take all of these factors into consideration as you do your logistics planning.

Step 5: Intentionally Design Activities

Time to get creative! First, you may want to give thought to the best framework for your STEM activities. Does a club structure make sense? Theme weeks? A party planning format? Next, remember those key elements of activity design: real, active and local. Many colorful resources are available to help connect students to STEM principles. For example, computational fairy tales relate familiar stories to computer science, which can whet students’ appetites for STEM learning. Check out the Learn More Library in the Y4Y STEM course, especially resources like Get the Math that draw a clear relationship between real-life activities and numbers. Y4Y’s STEM Activity Center Planner and STEM Program Goals are good tools to get you thinking about other activity structures and types.

Step 6: Motivate, Engage and Retain Students

Over time, your program will build a reputation, which will help you draw in more students each year, but getting a strong start can be challenging. For summer STEM programs, especially, keep in mind that attendance may not be mandatory, and student buy-in is crucial. Teacher referrals are a great place to start, but you can also ask current and prospective students to help recruit their friends. This way, they’ll feel a commitment to each other in attending. Expand on that principle by giving students voice and choice in your planning of activities to give them a sense of ownership, and offer them leadership roles throughout the summer. Finally, the foundation of any strong 21st CCLC program is a positive learning environment. Y4Y offers a brand-new course on how your organization can leverage all aspects of positivity to energize students and staff.

Step 7: Engage Families

A summer STEM program may be a unique opportunity to engage families in new and exciting ways. You know the challenges such as scheduling, transportation and language barriers that any 21st CCLC program may face. Y4Y’s Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement tool can walk you through solutions, with flexibility at the heart of your efforts. Moving into the realm of proactive engagement in summer STEM could include take-home experiment kits, having families upload photos of their in-home experimenting, or skill-based or enrichment group events that build on the whole family’s understanding and excitement about STEM, such as a STEM-focused game day. Solicit input and leadership from parents throughout the program to expand their sense of ownership. Guest speakers from any job or profession — whether they’re retail cashiers, restaurant managers, bricklayers, nurses, lawyers, electricians or sanitation workers — can provide firsthand examples to show how STEM basics impact every job and every profession.

Step 8: Celebrate and Reflect

Celebrations can and should be an ongoing part of any 21st CCLC program. You might highlight a learner of the week, month or summer. Naming a family of the week, month or summer could encourage family engagement and boost student excitement for their STEM learning. A culminating event allows any program to end on a high note, and a summer STEM event could be extra special. Offer students the chance to put on a science fair or tech expo, stage a good old-fashioned barbeque, or maybe some combination with STEM-focused, carnival-style games. Broaden the tent and get those partners involved!

Step 9: Assess and Continuously Improve

Good analysis is key to the continuous improvement cycle, so be sure to consult solid resources as you strive for the best in your program. Special education teachers excel at offering a myriad of growth metrics to determine student progress. Y4Y’s STEM Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist will help you focus on special staffing considerations for summer STEM initiatives, and Y4Y’s customizable Activity Observation Checklists will help you examine and fine-tune activities. Above all, collect as much feedback as you can from your participants and families because program improvement depends so much on shared ownership.