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April 20, 2018

As more people use mobile devices to stay connected, texting seems like a natural way to inform and engage families. If your 21st CCLC program is considering it, here are some things to keep in mind:
 
Have a plan. Meet with your program team to discuss whether texting might be a good tool for your communications toolbox. Discuss possible pros and cons. Who will be in charge of setting it up, creating and sending messages, and responding if a family member sends a message in return? 
 
Select a texting platform. A texting platform, also called a short message service or SMS, lets you send messages to multiple subscribers at once. With most platforms, you can import contact information from a spreadsheet, which makes messaging easy and quick. Some platforms let you store messages to be sent automatically. It’s smart to test the platform with team members to work out any kinks and to make sure everyone knows how to use it.
 
Get family members’ permission. On your program’s student enrollment form, where it asks for family members’ cell phone numbers, also ask for permission to send text messages from the program. Remind families about this option periodically in letters or newsletters, or in person.  
 
Use texting to remind about actions or deadlines. Texting works best for quick reminders like “We hope to see you Friday at 7 p.m. at the high school for the ABC Program’s student showcase!” Texting isn’t the best tool for explaining concepts like why it’s important for students to present their work to an audience.  
 
Keep it short. Messages that get to the point respect families’ time. Also, if your message is longer than 160 characters, some phone carriers will break it into two parts. Be specific, but not wordy. 
 
Limit the number of texts you send. If parents know you’ll send texts only to share important or useful messages, they are more likely to pay attention when you write. 
 
Personalize when possible. Some texting platforms enable you to personalize messages you send to a group. Also, sometimes, you might choose to send an individual message to just one or two families.   
 
Proofread before you send. Double-check times, dates, spelling and grammar. If you’re not sure about something, ask a colleague to take a look.  
 
Don’t over-rely on texting. Some families might not have a mobile device, and some might choose not to sign up for text messages from your program. So don’t make texting your only form of communication. Delivering a message multiple times in multiple formats is a good practice, no matter what you’re communicating. That’s why major companies often advertise their products in a variety of ways.       
 
Y4Y’s Family Engagement course points out the importance of making information available in a variety of formats and languages that families can understand. Texting is just one of many possible tools your staff can use to overcome common challenges in communicating with families. Also take a look at the recent Family Engagement Virtual Institute for a wealth of resources.
 
Does your 21st CCLC program use texting? What has the experience been like? What benefits and drawbacks have you seen? What other strategies have worked for you? Please share your ideas and strategies with peers on this Y4Y discussion board so that others may benefit from what you’ve learned!


February 23, 2018

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

Twitter, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, MapQuest, Snapchat Stories, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, Periscope, Vine, Peeks Social — these are a few of the many apps available today. I’m often asked, “Should we use these apps for educational activities?” It sounds like a yes-or-no question, but it’s not. Here are two important follow-up questions that can help you decide.

Will technology enhance your activity, or be a distraction?

The first thing to consider is whether technology is appropriate for the activity you’re planning. Sometimes it seems that young people, not to mention adults, stare at screens or use mobile devices day and night. On city sidewalks, it’s common to pass one person after another who’s texting or talking on their phone. Hopefully you’ve avoided getting run over by these distracted pedestrians! On elevators, have you ever responded to a “hello” only to realize the stranger next to you wasn’t talking to you, but was on a cell phone? In restaurants, have you noticed families or groups sitting together at a table but interacting with their devices instead of with each other?

Technology is part of our lives, but as these examples show, there are trade-offs. What are we missing when we bring technology along as we walk outdoors, engage in everyday activities, and visit with friends and family? You can apply this question as you consider whether to make technology part of any activity you’re planning for students. What benefits might technology bring to the activity? What might students miss by bringing technology along? Will it enhance your activity, or be a distraction?

If your goal is to have students learn about forest management, and you plan to engage a forest ranger from a remote location to provide expertise, the answer could be Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. (See this Y4Y blog post for ideas on videoconferencing.) If your activity is a walk in the forest, however, and the goal is to help students sharpen their observation skills, it might be best to leave technology behind and have them “take pictures” mentally.

What are the options for apps that will enhance the activity and be enjoyable for students to use?

A multitude of free apps are available, but if you don’t know about them or haven’t used them, how can you determine which ones might work well? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Ask around. You can always do a Google search to get started. First, though, ask family, friends, colleagues and students about their favorite apps and their uses. Most people love sharing their favorites. Asking students can help you learn about apps they already like and use. Here are a few of my favs for skywatching:

  • MyScript Calculator
  • Meteor Shower Calendar
  • Phases of the Moon
  • Sky Map
  • EQInfo

Play around. Start with a suggested app that looks interesting to you. Download it and spend some time playing with the app. Consider possible ways to integrate it into an activity. For example, could students use Facebook Live or Periscope to present a project they’ve done, or to let a homebound family member watch as they perform an original skit, song, dance or story?

Try it with your students! If your students are struggling with mathematical concepts, you might use Skype to have a local carpet installer show how they calculate the area of a room to make sure they order the right amount of carpet. Or an auto mechanic might show how they calculate angles for pipe bending. These examples show real-world applications of concepts taught in math classes. Skyping with experts from various fields can also introduce students to careers they otherwise might not consider.

I’d be happy to discuss more about using apps effectively with students. I’d also love to hear about your favorite apps and how you use them. Leave a reply below!



January 19, 2018

As you select and plan student activities, what guidelines help you decide what to do, and how? Hopefully your answer isn’t “Whatever I can pull together in the next five minutes!”

Designing effective program activities requires a clear understanding of what you hope to accomplish. That means asking four questions:

  • Does the activity align with program goals?
  • Does it target student needs?
  • Does it build skills and knowledge that will help students succeed?
  • Will it engage students?

Addressing these questions during the activity design phase can make the difference between an activity that “fills up time” and one that moves students toward meaningful goals. The questions help you focus on the purpose or intent behind the activity.

Here’s how Y4Y defines an intentional approach to activity design:

intentional activity design: The process of designing engaging activities that align with program goals and target identified student needs to help students build the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

Intentional design of activities fits within the larger framework of intentional program design:

intentional program design: The process of assessing student needs; designing a set of delivery strategies, interventions and activities that will engage those students while helping them build skills and knowledge they need to succeed; and recruiting the targeted students for which the program activities were designed.

The Y4Y Intentional Activity Design Diagram reminds you to consider data sources, overarching program goals, and strategies for aligning student needs and program goals as you plan activities. You might decide to develop a similar diagram based on your particular program goals and student needs to help guide staff as they plan and implement activities.

For a deeper dive into intentional activity design, go to the Y4Y Virtual Institute for New Grantees and see the webinar and PowerPoint for Week 2: Intentionally Designing Activities.


January 19, 2018

Let’s say you come across an activity on Pinterest for middle school students called Time Budget. The description says

“Students enter data into spreadsheets about the time they spend on different activities, such as sleeping, eating, grooming, attending school, doing homework, playing, reading, spending time with family, watching TV, engaging in social media, and so forth. Then they generate pie charts to show what percentage of time they spend on these activities each day, week, month and year.”

Sounds cool! The description says the activity is “Ready to use!” But is it?

Before you ink this activity into your program schedule, here are some things to consider:

Is the activity a good fit for the students in your program? Asking the following questions will help you decide if the activity is right for your 21st CCLC program and its students, or what tweaks might be needed to make it a good fit:

  • Does the activity align with program goals?
  • Does it target student needs?
  • Does it build skills and knowledge that will help students succeed?
  • Will it engage students?

These questions pertain to designing activities that will help move students toward meaningful goals. Learn more about intentional activity design here.

Is the activity student centered? The Time Budget activity certainly seems to be student centered, as students will be using their own data to generate personalized pie charts. If some students aren’t familiar with the spreadsheet software, however, the activity could be challenging for them. If you take the time to teach how the software works, those who already know how to use it might get bored. You need a strategy for meeting the needs of all students. Maybe you’ll decide to walk everyone through the process together one step at a time, or have the students who know the software team with those who don’t. Student-centered activities meet students where they are, meet their needs and build on their strengths.

How can the activity connect to school-day learning? The math teacher might think of ways to connect the activity to the academic curriculum. Or maybe the English teacher is worried that students are spending very little time reading on their own, and he could challenge students to budget an additional 30 minutes to reading over the next week. If students are having a tough time finishing homework on time, the activity might spark a discussion of ways to budget their time to meet important goals.      

These are just a few of the opportunities and challenges to consider when adapting a “ready-made” activity from third-party sources for use in your program. Other things to consider are student interests, cultural relevance and accuracy of information. If an activity you find online sparks your imagination, customizing it to fit your program and your students is worth the effort. It might be the difference between good and great.


January 19, 2018

When you think of data collection, do you picture an Excel spreadsheet with long rows of numbers? Yes, some information is collected and reported that way, such as student attendance and performance data. But other kinds of data are collected the old-fashioned way — through your senses!

Here are three examples of things you might learn simply by keeping your eyes and ears open:

  • Transition time was chaotic and took twice as long as expected.
  • Eric and Michael seemed bored during the “spring planting” activity.
  • Mika gave a terrific presentation at the student showcase event, but none of her family members were there to see it.   

These are things you might notice spontaneously, even if you’re not looking for them. After all, we humans are continually collecting data through our five senses. You’re a natural data collector! The question is: How can you make good use of your built-in ability to collect information? Try the ORDER method (observe, record, discuss, experiment and reflect):

Observe. First, start thinking of your spontaneous observations as data. If you notice that transition time is chaotic, don’t shrug it off as a passing thought.

Record. Make a note of your observation so you can reflect on it, discuss it with your team and look for patterns. Maybe it was just “one of those days.” But if it keeps happening, it might be time to take a closer look.

Discuss. Talk it over with your team. Do transition times often seem chaotic to them? Do they have ideas about possible causes? Does it seem worse on certain days or at certain times?

Experiment. Once your team has identified possible causes and solutions, it’s time to act. Do students seem confused about what to do and where to go when transition time starts? Maybe you need to establish routines and practice them with students. Does it take a long time to get students’ attention so you can start a new activity? Maybe you can ring a bell to signal the start of a new activity.

Reflect. Did your solution work? Do you want to make it part of your daily routine? Or do you need to try something else?

The ORDER method can help you make small improvements that can yield big payoffs. To get yourself in the data-collecting frame of mind, take a look at Y4Y’s Click & Go, Aim for Success: Developing a Needs Assessment.