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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.



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.