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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.



May 20, 2021

Through the pandemic, 21st CCLC programs across the country learned just how valuable cooking lessons can be. Many plan to carry them on indefinitely. Discover point by point all of the skills and knowledge that you can build in your students with a good old-fashioned afternoon in the kitchen.

  • Build literacy skills. Reading a recipe expands your students’ vocabularies. Depending on the difficulty level of your selection, students might learn to distinguish between chop, mince, dice and cube. Putting these terms, and their differences, on their brain’s back burner can be an introduction to nuance. We know that extensive vocabulary building actually broadens thinking, self-expression and ultimately success. Check out the Y4Y Literacy Everywhere tool for more tips.
  • Exercise math skills. Cooking is a "textbook" lesson for working with fractions (e.g., “mix 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda”).
  • Learn about real-world science. Again, depending on the age of your students, there are concepts in chemistry and physics to explore in cooking. We’ve all heard the story about how the first chocolate chip cookies were supposed to be chocolate cookies but their baker misjudged how the chocolate would behave in the oven.
  • Collaborate. Too many chefs in the kitchen? No such thing in your 21st CCLC program! But each student needs to understand her or his role in each task, take turns and play to their strengths. The STEAM tool for Selecting Student Roles for Group Work is easily adapted to the kitchen.
  • Develop healthy eating habits. Preparing a simple soup in the kitchen instead of popping open a can means using fresh ingredients. You can also help students develop the habits of reading labels on packaged foods and making healthy choices. Does the recipe give the option of substituting whole milk for cream? How does the fat content compare? Every ingredient is a potential research project in healthfulness. Be sure to partner with school-day professionals for consistent messaging and to see what gaps they may be seeking to fill. For tips, see the Y4Y Click & Go on Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day.
  • Plan, budget and shop. Cooking is a great opportunity to exercise the planning process. Instead of starting your cooking lesson with a pile of ingredients and the needed equipment, start it with a recipe and a conversation around what you have and what you’ll need. Now that you can shop online together, go back to that cream soup and ask: how does the cost of cream compare to milk?
  • Honor history and cultures. Just as each ingredient is a research opportunity in healthfulness and cost, each recipe is a research opportunity in history and culture.

As your students increase their comfort in the kitchen, you can make recipe selection a group activity, honoring student voice and choice. Every parent of a picky eater knows that a dash of voice and thick slice of kitchen help can increase a child’s interest in the resulting product! Or, rather than seeking agreement for each recipe selection, if your program is small enough, you might assign each student a week to bring in their own favorite recipe from home. Beef up your family engagement and invite a family member to come in to help.

Afterschool educators across the country warmly invited students into their home kitchens (virtually) throughout school closures in a resourceful effort to keep them engaged. Just imagine how well loved those in-person cooking activities will be when students can take in those savory aromas from a delicious pot of soup simmering on the back burner while all their learning simmers in their bright young minds.



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!



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.