Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers
  1. Contact Us
  2. Join
  3. Sign In

Navigation

April 19, 2022

A multi-ethnic group of elementary school children are outdoors on a sunny day. They are wearing casual clothing. They are learning about nature in science class. A girl is using a magnifying glass to look for bugs.Have students noticed new weeds growing in the schoolyard? Does a bridge across the street have support beams at an unusual angle? Is there an odd discoloration of a highway retaining wall where water seeps through? There are lessons in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) all around us! Solving mysteries in their own backyards helps students discover how relevant science is to their own lives. It’s not just for college professors and lab techs in white coats — though you may put students on the path to becoming one through meaningful experiences!

The Future of Science Starts With History

Students might not realize how much science is about history — natural history. What are the past and present geological and biological features of your region? If there are radical differences among the natural environments around your state (like deserts, grasslands, mountains, lakes, and beaches), what’s the significance of those differences?  What’s their effect on your state’s social, political, and economic development? Learning about the natural history of your region can be exciting for students, and it can lead to rich exploration. You might have a museum of natural history in your area where students can see replicas of the ice caps that once covered your part of the country not so very long ago, or of wooly mammoths or even dinosaurs that once stood in the very place where they are standing. Also consider partnering with your local park services, private-practice environmental scientists, university extension offices, geological societies, and publicly and privately maintained hiking trails, waterways, campgrounds, and other outdoor venues. Each of these likely has professionals who are eager to share their knowledge of local natural history. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s course on strategic partnerships and related tools if forming new partnerships is uncharted territory for your program. A few of the most relevant tools are called out in a companion blog post this month: Place-Based Learning in Career Pathways.

Remember to communicate with school-day educators so your efforts are supporting their science curriculum. Here are just a few examples of natural history learning that can be supported with place-based exploration in your area:

  • Plant reproduction: Take a walk right outside your program door. Are weeds growing in unusual places, such as gutters or cracks in the sidewalk? If nowhere near a parent plant, how might the seeds have traveled to those locations? Are the plants native or invasive? Who decides if something’s a plant vs. a weed? What might students guess about how much water is available in the area, now and in the past? Considering the biological future of your region, how important is it for these species of plants that the same level of water be consistently available? Is anything threatening that?
  • Geology: Is there any new construction happening in your area? With appropriate permissions and safety precautions, can you visit a construction site where the earth has been dug away? What do the students notice about changes in color as the hole deepens, and what does that mean about the history of that place? Do you have hills or mountains in the area that can be seen on a short walk? Ask students to imagine what the ground beneath their feet might have looked like millions of years ago before the tectonic plates collided. Once they’ve gained that personal observation of the results of tectonic plate movement, what do they imagine the place will look like in another million years?
  • Climate change: Yes, climate change is as old as the earth itself. But is it possible that humans are speeding it up? What do your students notice about the air quality today? How about yesterday? Try taking a photo of the same spot on the horizon each day at the same time, and ask students to judge if it looks the same from day to day, week to week. They can also use the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection’s AirNow.gov website to check the daily Air Quality Index for their zip code.

Putting the TEM in STEM

Science is just one quarter of STEM learning. Rural programs might have an edge over urban programs in terms of access to nature, but urban programs may be surrounded by wonders of human engineering! Potential partners for direct learning and activity ideas include engineering firms, your local government planning department, technology companies, technical schools, and a host of professional organizations. Here are just a few examples of place-based exploration and activity ideas you can consider in either rural or urban programs:

  • Follow the rainwater: Ask students if they’ve ever watched rainwater collect along the road and flow in what direction? Downhill, of course. (Hello gravity!) How far apart are grates placed? Do students think they might be more or less spaced out in the desert? In Seattle? Have they ever noticed that all roads are concave? All of that was engineered intentionally! What would happen if it hadn’t been?
  • Parking problems: Try measuring an unused section of your program parking lot and counting the parking spots. Are lines at right angles or at diagonals? Do students believe the designer could have gotten more or fewer spaces by laying it out the opposite way? Can you find a formula online for improving your parking lot? So much math! Check out Y4Y’s resources for project-based learning as you set out on this activity!
  • Green means go: Stand at your nearest traffic light and have a pair of students time and record the lights in opposing directions. Have other students count how many cars go through each light, and how many “get stuck.” Ask them to look closely at the lights to see if they can tell whether they might have sensors to help traffic flow in a logical way. Invite your city technology planners to explain the system and allow students to discuss their guesswork and offer their ideas on how to improve the system!

As you plan for place-based STEM learning in your program through these and even more ambitious ideas, be sure to access Y4Y’s STEAM course and course resources. The design thinking framework will have greater impact on students when they identify STEM-related problems and propose solutions for them in the very place where they live and learn.

As Paul Gruchow writes in Discovering the Universe of Home, “The great spectacles of nature, of fire and wind, of rain and ice, of heat and cold, of metamorphosis, of birth and death, of struggle and decay, of quiet and beauty visit alike the prairies of southwestern Minnesota and the boroughs of New York City…. What happens when you apply the imaginations of history to the events of any place, however small, is that its connections with all the rest of the universe then come into view.”



March 10, 2022

As humans, our psychological need for closure is so well documented that a scale was developed to measure this need. Culminating events are an important element in 21st CCLC programs — whether you’re wrapping up a big STEAM or problem-based learning project or inviting families to celebrate a successful in-person year. Bear in mind, though, that some students could be heartbroken at losing the constancy of their time in your program. Consider these tips and tools for addressing the end of the program year in a way that enables everyone to enjoy healthy closure.

As you’re planning, keep these goals and benefits of a culminating event in mind:

  • Involve students. This needs to be their event. So much has been outside their control, especially this year. Be sure their voice is loud and proud in decisions around your culminating event.
  • Everyone loves a surprise. Just because you’ve handed over the reins on most aspects of planning doesn’t mean you can’t surprise students and families with a special guest, a small giveaway, or a performance. A surprise amplifies the festive atmosphere and tells everyone involved you think they’re special.
  • You’re tying accomplishment to celebration. Young people need every possible opportunity to reinforce that their hard work will pay off. Sometimes that hard work is just sticking with something or showing up. But even that effort deserves recognition.
  • Whenever a door closes, another opens. If your students are sad about the end of the program year, remind them that every ending is also a new beginning. You can ask them to remember some of their favorite beginnings in the past — even the first day of this program year — to demonstrate that new beginnings can lead in exciting directions.

Y4Y offers tools to help you plan for your culminating event because this is such an important step in programming. See this month’s Topical Tool Kit for other aspects of your planning.

You can visit the last strategy in each course for more ideas that relate to the focus of your programming. For example:

  • Have you been exploring career pathways with your elementary students? Have them dress as their favorite professional. (See more tips by selecting the drop-down Menu in the course and jumping to slide 107, “Celebrate Peaks and Summits.”)
  • Is supporting English learners your emphasis? Explore your students’ cultural traditions around celebrations and ask them how they’d like to bring those traditions to your event. (See more tips by going to the course and jumping to slide 119, “How Will You Celebrate?”)
  • Are you celebrating something smaller, like completing a project in civic learning and engagement? Arrange for students to attend a school board meeting and give an official report on the work they accomplished in their community. (See more tips by jumping to slide 73, “Example Celebration,” in that course.)
  • Visit other Y4Y courses like Literacy, STEAM, Financial Literacy, Social and Emotional Learning, and Family Engagement for other targeted celebration ideas.

In celebrating the 20th anniversary of Human Resources Development Quarterly, Tim Hatcher makes a poignant observation: “Celebration is an ancient ritual. It gives us a way to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments. When we celebrate we are reinforcing something important to us. Without it we simply maintain the status quo and candidly have a lot less fun.” There are so many things you want for your students in your 21st CCLC program: academic growth, a safe space with caring adults, meaningful connections with their peers, and exposure to new and exciting opportunities. Happily, each of these can go hand in hand with celebrating and having fun!



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.



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!