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March 16, 2016

Teaching and learning are so complex that reducing them to “thinking + doing + differentiation = improved learning” oversimplifies things. Still, it’s a useful formula for moving students to higher levels of learning. Let’s look at how attention to thinking, doing and differentiation can improve learning in out-of-school time.

Thinking. Bloom’s Taxonomy names six levels of thinking. From lowest to highest, they are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. All levels are important, but students generally have fewer opportunities to call on the higher levels. This is where your 21st CCLC program can step up to the plate. (Download and listen to our 10-minute podcast, Using Bloom’s Taxonomy in Afterschool). To actively engage students in ways that call on more mental muscle, try project-based learning. Growing a flower garden and using the blooms to create bouquets for a community event will produce knowledge, skills and attitudes in a way that “book learning” alone can’t match.

Doing. Wait a minute, you might say. Creating is doing, so why is “creating” listed above as a level of thinking? Glad you asked! The technical answer is that Bloom’s Taxonomy actually calls the six levels “learning domains” instead of “levels of thinking.” So creating is a “learning domain.” But a more useful answer is that acting on what you know makes it real. For example, memorizing and understanding tips on parallel parking is not the same as applying that knowledge. You have to apply the tips behind the wheel before you or anyone else can analyze and evaluate your performance. Application of knowledge yields new understandings that can, in turn, improve performance (“next time, I’ll pull up farther before I back into the parking space”). Hands-on, minds-on learning creates a feedback loop that engages the whole child and keeps the learning going. 

Differentiation. The students in your program probably vary in age, interests and skill levels. You can adjust content, activities or the environment to ensure that every child stays engaged and benefits from participation. For the flower garden project mentioned earlier, a raised garden bed could accommodate the needs of a wheelchair-bound student. If a student is just starting to learn English, pairing him or her with a bilingual student can help. Here are some simple ways to meet diverse needs: Survey students about what they would like to learn and do, use pictures in addition to verbal instructions, give options for doing an activity (“work alone or with your group”), and create quiet spaces and activity areas where students can choose to go if they finish early or need a break. Activities should stretch students’ minds and abilities, but not overwhelm them. Observe what does and doesn’t work for each child.

In short, to facilitate learning for all students, make sure you can answer “yes” to these questions:
•    Do the students in your program have opportunities to analyze, evaluate and create? 
•    Are they asked to apply what they have learned? 
•    Do the content and activities keep them challenged but not overwhelmed?
These questions are relevant for all content, but they are a natural fit for activities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Get inspired by a 2-minute video (from the Y4Y STEM Learn More Library) and see students and teachers describe what excites them about hands-on science.



January 21, 2016

Guest blogger: Patrick Duhon, consultant and former director of the Providence After School Alliance

This is the second of two articles on planning for summer programming. See part 1, on budgeting, in the December 2015 newsletter.

Now that you’ve lined up funding, you can start planning your summer learning activities. Focus on these five Rs: Leverage and deepen your relationships with students by providing relevant and rigorous programs that get them more excited about learning, which will also help you recruit and retain youth throughout the summer.

Blend the best of informal and formal education to deepen summer learning:

Positive youth development: Make this your starting point. Establish a primary focus to get positive impacts on social, emotional and academic outcomes. Think about how to develop the whole child through recreation, civic engagement, service and leadership opportunities, academics, creativity and fun. 

Inquiry and “habits of mind”: Consider which of the state’s college- and career-ready learning standards you can advance. Your best targets are probably the habits of mind, which you can support through project-based learning and activities that help youth apply and extend their academic skills. Discuss these with school and district instructional leaders to determine how your program can build in essential 21st century skills.

The “sweet spots” for out-of-school time: Some areas are especially suited to the relaxed, hands-on learning environment of summer and afterschool settings (watch the video “This Is Dan”).

STEM learning: Helping youth explore their interests through hands-on inquiry can unleash amazing potential. Science and math move from just “subjects” to critical tools for understanding the world. Integrating art and design into activities can engage youth and wrap the learning in fun. Connecting applied mathematics and literacy to activities in STEM, the arts and other areas expands learning rather than replicating the school day.

Career and technical education: Exposing students to these areas helps them explore careers they probably didn’t know about. Give them a taste of work in science and technology to add relevance and motivation to those academic areas.

Students with special needs: English learners, students with IEPs and students who struggle with other issues can all build skills and experience success through hands-on learning. Providing tailored, expanded learning activities for these and other students makes learning more fun and relevant.

Partnerships between formal and informal educators: Many certified teachers who work in summer programs say they have built new pedagogical practices through partnering with community-based experiential educators. Have your summer program staff lead cross-training sessions. Perhaps district staff can help build shared understanding around learning standards, and informal educators can lead sessions on hands-on ways to meet standards. This supports more collaboration, and helps to shape effective school-community alignment for summer and year-round partnerships. For resources and videos from programs that have strong models for summer learning, see the Providence After School Alliance and Boston AfterSchool & Beyond.

Data and measurement: Work with staff and partners to review your data from past summers and discuss how to build stronger this year. To measure the impacts of your summer program, use tools that address a broad set of youth outcomes, including development of 21st century skills. The Every Hour Counts network, the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and Harvard University’s PEAR program offer resources and tools that can provide guidance.



December 8, 2015

Guest blogger: Patrick Duhon, consultant and former director of the Providence After School Alliance

This is the first of two articles on planning for summer programming. January’s entry will look at program themes, staff preparation, and program outcomes and measurement.

While some school districts wait until spring to start summer planning, 21st CCLC and other out-of-school time providers need to plan early. Start between now and the new year, and you’ll be ready to deliver a robust program next summer.

Why so early? Your first step is getting the major players and pieces, including funding, in place. Here are the basics that deserve your immediate attention.                                                               

First, do advance planning with school and district leaders: 

Start by strengthening alliances with your advocates in the school system. Help them understand your program’s contribution to stemming summer learning loss.

Reach out to new partners in your district and demonstrate how your summer learning goals align with important academic outcomes and social and emotional learning.

Provide as much data as possible — pre/post test results, youth development outcomes, grades, test scores, independent reports or evaluations — anything that underscores the quality of your program.

Estimate your program capacity and the costs for scaling up your program; show your partners the largest number of students you could serve and the full costs for you to deliver that program. Determine the cost for the most robust program possible — but also know what you could be cut and still offer a high-quality program.

Once you’ve aligned your champions and determined the costs, identify the funding sources, know when you can tap them and secure the funding:

It’s important to note that summer programs usually run over two fiscal years. That’s true for Title I funding, a major potential source from schools, as the fiscal year is July 1-June 30. Show the district and partner principals the wisdom of funding some upfront costs, such as planning, training and supplies, before June 30. This will put a smaller portion of summer program costs in the next fiscal year. Ask soon, because schools usually submit Title I reallocation plans to states by January.

Considering both fiscal years might help you with other funding sources, too. Be mindful of this when budgeting and fundraising.

Research on high-yield out-of-school time programs — in the summer and year round — shows significant youth outcomes. Combine information on research with data from your program to connect to funding from other potential sources, including these:

Career and technical education funds: Work with your district to incorporate career awareness and exploration into your summer activities, and make a case for getting support from federal Perkins grant and local workforce development funds. Districts often struggle to provide these mandatory activities for elementary and middle school students, so may appreciate having your summer program connect youth with a variety of professional fields.

Other federal title funding for special populations: Your program can provide opportunities for English language learners and students with IEPs and special needs to thrive through hands-on, experiential learning. Districts often want more opportunities to offer these students.

Private sources: Align your summer program with STEM learning or another focus area of private and family foundations. Be creative by asking funders for “matching grants,” and use these to get district funds. Foundations win with new investments, and districts win by showing school boards they leveraged private funding.



April 28, 2015

These videos provide glimpses into 21st CCLC programs that are proud to share their successes, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with students from elementary to high school. In the videos, directors, site coordinators and teachers share their advice on program development; content, methods and approaches; staffing; partnerships; and continuous improvement. So put up your feet, grab some popcorn — and be sure to log-in to use the “My Notebook” feature to jot down new ideas and inspirations to apply to your program.

Here are some narrative “trailers” to get you thinking before you watch. Follow the links to go into the modules and watch the videos.

Aligning With the School Day

At Schuylkill Achieve Pennsylvania, STEMovation is designed to excite students about STEM. The program experiences some challenges that come with a rural setting but staff have instilled principles and practices that strengthen the program. For example, they’re resourceful, drawing creatively on what’s available in the community and thinking about how to tie STEM to any type of lesson. School-day connections are critical, too, especially for staffing, and Barbara Naradko in the school district emphasizes that, “An afterschool program is not a stand-alone program. It takes a team, and that team needs to work together.” 

Strengthening Partnerships

In New Jersey, Sister Jude Boyce, the principal of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Academy, also stresses teamwork as a key to success, and the 21st CCLC team unifies around the one goal of providing students with the best possible STEM program. Partnerships with local business and other sources of STEM expertise expose students to new skills and real-world examples of how to apply their school-day curriculum standards. What students see is that “STEM is everywhere. Science is in everything,” says project director Sowmiya Thirumoorthy. Staff get this message, too, through consistent professional development sessions that help them blend the curriculum standards with fun and engaging afterschool activities. 

STEM

Robots, CAD software and fabrication are the norm for 21st CCLC students in Oregon’s McMinnville School District, where these and other STEM activities give students ways to try out new things to see what they like and don’t like. Tony Vicknair, the district STEM Director, recommends taking youth voice and choice a step further: survey the students and their parents. “Don’t be afraid of the survey results, because they will help you better your program,” he says.

And, we all want a better program, right? Matt Finkinger, a Schuykill instructor, reminds us to look at our STEM programming and ask, “What will this mean in the real world? What will the students be able to do when they leave this place? … That’s the challenge of education.” One more showcase video will help you frame a plan: High-Quality STEM: Features, Practices, and Tips From the Field summarizes the key ideas to building a strong STEM afterschool program for your students. 



January 22, 2015

STEM concepts—science, technology, engineering and math—are important concepts to tackle complex local and global challenges. Whether you’re new to STEM or ready to raise the bar, Y4Y resources can help you build STEM knowledge and practice to support student learning. 

Your activities and projects can help close the STEM gap by encouraging student interest in related topics and careers. Here’s one simple strategy: reinforce a way of thinking called the scientific method. You don’t need to be a STEM whiz to do this — Y4Y provides guidance on developing scientific habits of mind, fitting STEM into program schedules, and adding scientific processes throughout the program day with the STEM Vocabulary Builder.

Start with something your staff members already know well — your students! What do your youth like to do? What interests get them fired up? This page on Y4Y shows how to transform student interests into STEM activities. If your students enjoy creative expression, check out our STEAM resources.

STEM offers endless possibilities, and Y4Y can help you deliver them. If you’d like to dig deeper, visit the Learn More Library. You may also want to use Y4Y’s Teach resources to equip staff with the skills and knowledge to implement fun and effective STEM activities. Use the STEM Strategies and Techniques tool to infuse STEM into all aspects of your program.