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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!



January 24, 2019

Do your students think of scientists as loners in lab coats? Citizen science can change their minds and spark new interests — especially when you add social media to the mix.

Citizen science enlists people of all ages in collecting and sharing data for research purposes. It’s nothing new. In fact, the first Farmers’ Almanac more than 200 years ago relied on the general population for data, although they didn’t call it crowdsourcing at that time. It’s a way for your students to work and learn with others, either virtually or in real time, on authentic science projects. For some, the experience could be a game changer. It might even spark an interest in subjects and careers that previously seemed beyond their reach.

There’s a citizen science project to match just about every interest area, and several involve social media:

  • Fascinated by creepy-crawly things? Do a bioblitz! It’s a species inventory that involves observing, recording and documenting living things in a well-defined area in a short period of time. This group project will get students working and talking together in real time — plus they can use apps like iNaturalist and Fieldscope to share and discuss their findings with other citizen scientists across the world. Get instructions for a do-it-yourself bioblitz from National Geographic. Watch this 2.5-minute video to hear what students and organizers say about their schoolyard bioblitz experience.
  • Enjoy word games? The VerbCorner website collects data from humans as they play word games to help computers better understand the nuances of the English language. The site includes an online discussion forum.
  • Are you a cloud watcher? Download NASA’s GLOBE Observer app, contribute your observation data, and connect to the project’s worldwide community of cloud observers via Facebook and Twitter.    
  • Interested in innovation? Visit citizenscience.gov for a U.S. government-wide listing of citizen science and crowdsourcing projects designed to help local, state and federal agencies accelerate innovation through public participation.
  • Want more options? Citisci.org lets you participate in projects created by other citizen scientists or create your own. SciStarter lets you search for projects that match your interests and track your contributions. Scientific American features a variety of real science projects to join. Zooniverse has citizen science projects in medicine, history, literature, social science, the arts and more. Also try searching on #citizenscience.

For links to more citizen science projects, see the Introduction section of Y4Y’s Citizen Science course. The Coaching My Staff section of the course has resources to help train staff and students. See this Y4Y blog post for pointers on integrating technology into activities.

If you haven’t yet dipped your toes into citizen science activities, take a look! Then bring your planning team together to consider what might fit into your spring and summer sessions.

Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for crowdsourcing, feel free to share your own citizen science stories and ideas; just look for Leave a Reply below. Your 21st CCLC colleagues will thank you.  



December 11, 2018

As winter arrives, longer nights and cooler temperatures might have you and your 21st CCLC team wishing for summer already. Take advantage of “summer fever” to make sure your plan for summer programming is on track. Take five minutes right now to visit the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative page and do a quick gut check. Here’s how:

  • Get motivated. The Implementation Planner page gives four reasons to plan now instead of later. The Research page describes eight ways summer learning programs matter for student success, and what practices matter most. (Hint: Number 8 says good planning gets results!)
  • Get organized. The Plan a Program page lays out seven sequential steps for planning an effective summer program. You can see all seven at a glance and note steps that might need attention, like inviting a community member to join the program team or planning logistics for local field trips.
  • Get tools. Tools are listed for each planning step. All the lists are on one screen, so you can quickly see what’s available for the steps that need the attention in your program.
  • Get started. Bookmark the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative site now so you can benefit from the experiences of 40 Summer Learning Initiative grantees across seven states who received in-depth coaching and professional learning to build their summer programs.
  • Get others engaged. Forward the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative link to your team with a short personal message like this: “This cold weather has me thinking about summer. Here’s a good resource from the U.S. Department of Education. Let’s talk about this in our next meeting.”
An ounce of planning now can save a ton of last-minute problem solving next summer.


December 11, 2018

Dedicated 21st CCLC practitioners like you have three things on their wish list for the coming year:

✔ Activities that target student needs.

✔ Activities that advance program goals.

✔ Activities that students love.

Fortunately, a magic wand called “data” can help you make these wishes come true. You can use data to assess where you are versus where you want to be and make targeted changes. It doesn’t have to be painful or time consuming. Here’s a fun way to do it as the calendar year winds down:

Make a red wand:

  • Gather your program team around the fireplace and provide hot cocoa.
  • Pull out the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) goals you set earlier for your program and for specific activities.
  • Review the goals and, together, rate your success in reaching them.
  • For each goal you didn’t reach, ask the team, “What’s one thing can we do differently in the coming year to reach this goal?” If you did reach a goal, decide whether to set a new one.
  • Write your red-hot ideas on red paper, and wrap the paper around a stick. You can use this “data wand” in future planning meetings.

Make a green wand:

  • Survey students and families on what they liked about the fall session and what they want in the future.
  • Review the responses with your team, and put results in categories like “student choice,” “outdoor activities” and “social skills.”
  • Write your green-for-growth ideas on green paper, and wrap the paper around a stick. Use this “data wand” along with the red one as you plan your spring activity schedule.

You can pull out your data wands in the coming months to remind the team of their findings and conclusions. This “data magic” can help them focus their talents and efforts on making a positive difference for students. Best wishes in making your 21st CCLC wish list reality in the coming year!

P.S. Consider setting a date in January for Y4Y’s Training to Go, Identifying and Addressing Program Strengths and Weaknesses. This customizable training can take your team deeper into program improvement.



November 16, 2018

In 60 seconds or less, can you explain what your 21st CCLC program does and why it matters? To make sure you’ll always have the right words on the tip of your tongue, create an elevator pitch. That’s a ready-made speech short enough to give on an elevator ride. You can use it to persuade your veterinarian to take part in your program’s career exploration day, to get a youth counselor to join your planning team, or to tell Aunt Aggie about your work when she visits during the holidays.

Here’s an example of an elevator pitch for Y4Y:

The U.S. Department of Education created You for Youth to help people working in 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs deliver quality out-of-school time education and enrichment to more than 1.6 million students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. You for Youth provides free online professional learning resources on topics like program management and summer learning. We also collaborate with other federal agencies like NASA to expand staff and student learning opportunities. This work is important because research shows students who attend high-quality out-of-school time programs are more likely to do better in school and beyond.

Customize your pitch for different purposes. If you’re talking with parents, you might emphasize student benefits. If you’re recruiting community partners, you’ll want to mention “what’s in it for them.” If a reporter gives you the microphone for 10 seconds, you’ll have to strip things down to the basics: “The U.S. Department of Education’s You for Youth initiative provides professional learning experiences for 21st Century Community Learning Centers program staff to help young people succeed in school and beyond.” If you’re lucky enough to keep the microphone longer, cite data or tell a story to support your point.

Resist the urge to say too much, and practice your pitch on family and friends. When we tested our Y4Y elevator pitch, someone asked, “What’s a 21st CCLC program?” So we added “out-of-school time.” It gets the idea across without a lot of extra words.    

For tips on creating and using an elevator pitch, download Y4Y’s Creating a Program Elevator Pitch. This one-page tool makes it easy for you and your team to get the job done. Aunt Aggie will be impressed.