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January 24, 2019

Happy new year! Chances are, you already have several program activities, meetings, appointments, deadlines and to-do lists on your new calendar. Before all the blank space is filled, here’s a reminder: Don’t forget to put yourself on the calendar! Taking time for personal and professional renewal is important to your success and well-being. Here’s some advice:

Look both ways. As a child, you probably heard this line often from the crossing guard and from Mom as you approached busy intersections. It’s also good advice for crossing into the new year. First, look back at the past year, and reflect: What went well? What didn’t? Which habits, activities and goals do you want to keep? Which will you ditch? Then look forward and consider what you’d like to have, do and be in the coming year. What habits, activities and goals will get you there? A SWOT analysis can help you “look both ways” and consider your options. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Put on your own oxygen mask first. This pre-takeoff advice from flight attendants reminds us we can’t help others if we ignore our own needs. Sure, you’d love to spark students’ interest in reading and math, and help them prepare for successful college and career experiences. But maybe you first need to build your skills through training and tools in those areas. The links in this paragraph can help. See Y4Y’s professionalization resources for other ideas you can use to build your skills and your resume.

Keep your balance. The examples above focus on professional renewal, but time for personal goals and interests is equally important. Maybe you love nature photography or trips with family or friends but haven’t taken a photo or a trip for months. Or maybe you daydream about an afternoon of downtime. Decide what you need, and put yourself on the calendar. Seeking work-life balance and taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. It’s essential.



January 24, 2019

Now that reindeer games and year-end holidays are over, it’s time to get serious — about fun and games! With forethought, games can be a terrific way to engage students in meaningful learning in a relaxed and supportive environment. Here are three ideas:

Play with numbers. Some students feel anxious just thinking about math. Structured play with numbers might be just what they need! Y4Y’s Afterschool Training Toolkit has math game tips, templates and examples for targeting areas where your students could use extra help, whether it’s fractions, problem-solving skills, or big ideas like symbols and patterns. Math games can be competitive or cooperative, single-player or multiplayer. Math play could be part of a treasure hunt (reading x and y coordinates on a treasure map), a foot race (timing the race and ranking the finishers), a bake-off (measuring ingredients and using a rating scale) or an art project (finding geometric shapes in paintings). Finding math in everyday activities isn’t hard, once you know where to look! Considering an online math game, or a game related to financial literacy? Guidelines in the Afterschool Training Toolkit can help you choose wisely.

Play with words. Creating and performing poems, raps, riddles, jokes and jingles feels like play, but these activities build mental muscle. It’s OK to start small: Let’s see how many words your team can list in 60 seconds that rhyme with “hat.” The Y4Y Literacy course has ideas for playing with sounds. It also has ideas for improving vocabulary. For example, you could award points to students “caught” using a word of the day in conversation or in writing. You could start by introducing words they might hear on TV (like endgame) or at school (like theory), and everyday words with multiple meanings (like cloud). Look for opportunities to make this a natural part of regular program activities, such as homework time and field trips. You could also check with school-day teachers for vocabulary ideas. Be sure to play along by using the word of the day yourself!           

Play “what if.” Scientists and researchers play the “what if” game for a living. For example, what if you’re landing a spacecraft on another planet, and you need to slow down to avoid a crash landing? If you’re a NASA engineer, solving problems like this is part of your job. NASA’s “Parachuting Onto Mars” engineering design challenge invites students to think like an engineer by creating and testing possible solutions. Working in teams, they’ll practice problem-solving, math and collaboration skills as they compete against other teams for the honor of saying “We did it!”

Purposeful play can build students’ confidence and skills. It can offer new angles on subjects they’re learning about in school. It’s easy to get started. Many of the ideas described above can add an element of fun to what you’re already doing. Talk it over with your team, and see what they think!



October 24, 2018

Some days, planning and running a 21st CCLC program can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to do everything alone! Community partners can add resources and expertise to your tool box and provide diverse experiences for students, ranging from drug and alcohol prevention to dance lessons. It’s important to build partnerships thoughtfully, however, so they benefit everyone involved.

Map your community assets.

Start by listing your program needs and your current resources. Then expand your list by brainstorming additional community resources available through institutions, organizations, businesses and individuals. This process is called asset mapping. Be sure to involve others! Ask colleagues, parents, friends and youth for ideas. A staff member’s spouse might work at a local bank that provides financial literacy activities for all ages. A parent who works in the science department of your local university might know about resources for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities. Expand your search to the online community if you can’t find local assets related to a program need.

Identify and recruit potential partners.

Potential partners might include schools and universities, libraries, museums, businesses, nonprofit organizations, professional societies, government agencies, media outlets, clubs or special interest groups, family members and other individuals. Brainstorm all possibilities before prioritizing the list and recruiting partners who are willing and able to work with your program to address a specific topic or need.

Communicate and collaborate with partners.

Once you connect with a potential partner, you’ll want to create a compelling shared vision. How will students benefit? How will the partners benefit? How will the larger community benefit? At a kickoff meeting, discuss your shared vision for why the partnership matters, and define roles and responsibilities. After that, schedule weekly or monthly check-in meetings. Include partners in program events such as end-of-year celebrations, and publicly acknowledge their contributions.

Use free Y4Y resources to help you build and strengthen partnerships.

The Y4Y Strengthening Partnerships course will help you learn how to identify partners, develop an effective memorandum of understanding, establish a shared vision, and communicate roles and responsibilities. The Y4Y Mapping Community Assets tool from the Summer Learning Initiative webpage can help you think about what your community has to offer. 


May 4, 2018

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

If someone mentions summer vacation, do you picture yourself on a sandy beach with an adventure story in hand? Nothing wrong with that! But the laid-back days of summer can also be a time for online adventures in professional learning. Here are four ways technology can make professional learning feel like play.  

Easy listening. Podcasts let you explore topics and perspectives without investing a lot of time. TED Talks, for example, last 18 minutes or less. Plus, podcasts are free and available on demand, so you can listen as you pack your bags and head out for that beach vacation. New to podcasts and not sure where to start? Google topics of interest (e.g., afterschool, youth development, education, teaching, career development) plus “podcast.” Hint: Try the short podcasts in each Y4Y Click & Go for professional learning specific to 21st CCLC programs.

Social hour. You can use social media to connect with educators from around the world. If you’re on Twitter, search the hashtag #MTBoS, and you’ll find the MathTwitterBlogosphere. Thousands of math teachers follow the site, contribute ideas, share resources and suggest activities. It’s a terrific place to ask questions, swap stories and get inspired. If math isn’t your thing, use Twitter’s search feature to find sites related to your professional interests, from art to productivity to zoology. 

App time. Downtime? Download an app you’re curious about. Some have interesting features with multiple uses. For example, you could try using SurveyMonkey to poll family members on where to meet for dinner. If you like the way it works, maybe you’ll decide to survey your colleagues on which professional development book or class to try next. Could the app be useful on the job — for example, to poll students about their interests? Experimentation is the gateway to ideas and expertise!

Virtual expeditions. Stuck at home? Broaden your knowledge of science, culture, history and more with a virtual tour of a city, beach, mountaintop, museum or campus. Speaking of campuses, the Y4Y professionalization resources page has a clickable map of higher education opportunities relevant to out-of-school time careers and ongoing professional development. Free Y4Y courses are available anytime you want to explore topics like citizen science, continuous education or project-based learning. Take a virtual expedition on Y4Y and explore the possibilities.

Skywriting. Unless you and your colleagues are all on the same beach, here’s one more way to use technology for summer learning — to stay in touch via your favorite messaging platform. Keep one another revved up about learning by sharing tidbits of interest from books you’re reading, messages of encouragement and links to blog posts like this one (hint, hint). Happy summer!



April 20, 2018

One of the many benefits of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects is the opportunity for students to decide how and what they’ll learn. Here are some of the choices STEM projects can offer: 
  • Which project to do, either individually or with a group.
  • What role to take in a collaborative group.
  • How to design a product for a specific purpose.
  • How to structure the work in to make sure the project is done on time and within budget.
  • How to share the product or results with others.
 
These options for incorporating student voice and choice are “cooked into the stew” of project ideas offered through the U.S. Department of Education STEM initiatives. Through this work, the U.S. Department of Education partners with other federal agencies to offer STEM projects that engage 21st CCLC students in thinking and acting like real scientists and engineers.
 
In NASA’s engineering design challenges, for example, students might work in groups to design miniature space exploration equipment, such as a parachute for a Mars landing or a crew exploration vehicle. Given the goal of, say, safely transporting two (Lego) astronauts and a tank of fuel in a vehicle of a given size and weight, students choose how to solve the challenge. How will they keep the astronauts in their seats? How will they design the hatch so it opens when needed but not when the vehicle lands? Students also can choose their roles on the project team: design engineer, technical engineer, operations engineer, technical writer or videographer.
 
The Institute of Museum and Library Services offers six progressively more complex Making projects. Each project takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Though every child will make the same project — such as a light-up name tag, wearable electronics or a scribble bot — the design possibilities are endless. Students can indulge their creativity to personalize their products.
 
NASA and the National Park Service also offer opportunities for students to engage in authentic citizen science. The data students collect will be compiled with the findings of other citizen scientists to shed light on climate change and other issues that affect us all. 
 
The STEM initiative activities provide instructions for all these project ideas and more. Your 21st CCLC program can download them from the Y4Y website for free and start using them right away. On the website, you’ll also find ideas from the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for designing your own STEM projects that offer students meaningful choices in their learning. If your budding scientists have experience in project-based learning, they might even be ready design their own experiments and challenges — the ultimate in student voice!