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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.


December 18, 2017

Y4Y’s online courses, archived webinars, and other professional learning resources are always free and available 24/7 to 21st CCLC leaders and practitioners. So please forgive the use of “marketing lingo” in the headline. Here are some highlights of new content added to Y4Y in 2017, just to make sure you don’t miss out:

Citizen Science

By working with professional scientists on real-world problems, students hone their research skills by gathering and analyzing data. Check out the new Y4Y course for ideas that will get you fired up about the potential of citizen science. For a guided tour of course tools, resources and strategies, see this archived webinar. The Y4Y STEM Initiatives page includes links to a range of activities that engage students in the scientific process. You’ll find engineering design activities from NASA, making and tinkering activities from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and watershed-focused citizen science activities from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For a deeper dive, set aside an hour or two to go through the updated STEM course. Meanwhile, you and your students can get a taste of citizen science by taking part in Audubon’s 118th Christmas Bird Count (Dec. 14, 2017, through Jan. 5, 2018).

Summer Learning

Stem the tide of summer learning loss with fun activities that target student needs. Another new Y4Y course, Summer Learning, gives step-by-step guidance on designing a high-impact program that students will enjoy. You can use Y4Y’s ready-made Trainings to Go to get others talking and planning for summer. You can also sign up for “The Right Stuff” Summer Learning Series webinars (the next one will be Feb. 7). Looking for ways to get families involved to prevent summer learning loss? There’s a blog post on that topic.

Virtual Institute for New Grantees

If the fall season was so busy that you missed the four-part virtual institute for new grantees, Y4Y understands! The institute’s webinars, PowerPoints and resources are archived and ready when you are. The virtual institute covers four topics: conducting a needs assessment, intentionally designing activities, implementing with fidelity and engaging partners for sustainability.

There’s more to explore! Bookmark the Y4Y website so you can browse the menus whenever you have some free time. If you haven’t visited in a while, you’ll notice an updated look and other improvements.

P.S. Happy New Year from the Y4Y Team!



November 20, 2017

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

Business, government and education professionals often use videoconferences for training and collaboration. If you’ve attended an online Y4Y Showcase, virtual training or webinar, you’ve participated in a videoconference. It’s a great way to connect people to peers and subject matter experts.

But have you ever used videoconferencing with students?

I recently raised this question with staff from various 21st CCLC programs around the country. Only a few said yes. Others cited possible drawbacks such as the time it takes to organize a videoconference, not having the equipment or skills to organize one, and not knowing how to use videoconferencing to support program activities or student interests.   

These concerns are understandable. However, in my 20 years as a technology facilitator for various education projects, I’ve often used teleconferencing to connect students to professionals and to students in other locations. I’ve seen the benefits, and I think the pros outweigh the cons.

Intrigued by the possibilities? Here are some ideas for overcoming common concerns:

Concern #1: Technology is mysterious.

If you don’t have confidence in your technology skills, or if you’ve never set up a videoconference, you might be hesitant or not know where to start. Fear not. Students know a lot more about technology than most of us, and they usually enjoy being the “tech person.” Plus it gives them a chance to develop real-world skills! Friends and colleagues who enjoy technology are another good resource. If your school or program has a technology specialist, make sure to give that person a call!

There are many types of software you can use for videoconferencing, and some are free. For example, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom all have free versions that you can download and use for two-way audio and video. They are simple to use. You’ll need a laptop with a built-in camera and microphone. You’ll also need an internet connection. Wireless networks can be used, but for the best results, have that laptop hardwired to the network. Get in touch with the internet provider for your school or program site, and let the provider know what you want to do. The provider might have tips or suggestions that will make your life easier.  

Concern #2: Organizing a teleconference seems time consuming.

No one says you have to organize a teleconference overnight. Start small, plan ahead and take it one step at a time. Your to-do list for getting your feet wet might look like this:

  • Check your hardware and internet connection to make sure you have what you need.
  • Look online for short videos that demonstrate free videoconferencing software like Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom.
  • Ask colleagues and students for suggestions about software programs to use, and possible ways to make videoconferencing part of an upcoming project or activity. They might have suggestions, or offer to help.
  • Download a software program you like; play around with it; and practice with a tech-savvy colleague, friend or student.
  • Plan a simple videoconference activity (like using Zoom to connect to a staff member or volunteer at home or down the hall for a virtual game of Simon Says).

Concern #3: It’s hard to think of ways videoconferencing could be truly useful.

Don’t worry. Once you get comfortable with videoconferencing, you’ll come up with more ideas than you need! For starters, try a virtual career exploration project. Videoconferencing can connect students virtually with people who do different jobs in the public and private sectors. Your virtual guests can tell how their school and community experiences prepared them for their careers. (This is a good way to involve students’ parents and other family members, as well as local companies and community partners.) Local companies could do a virtual tour of their businesses. The mayor might Skype in to tell how she prepared for the job and what her workday is like. Parks and museums are also great sources for content that could fit your needs. 

Set Yourself Up for Success

Remember, if videoconferencing is new to you and your site, it will also be new for the students. If you’re using a videoconference to bring a guest speaker to your program, share a short bio about the speaker, make sure students know why the speaker was invited and what topic will be covered, and tell them about “videoconferencing etiquette” (such as paying attention, not interrupting and holding questions until the end, unless instructed otherwise). Be prepared to introduce the speaker, and prepare a few questions in advance for students to ask. Having these questions makes for a smooth start and will reduce the reluctance of the students to ask the first questions.

Look for Ways to Collaborate

Projects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are a natural place to start using videoconferencing. Students in different sites can exchange ideas, work on a project together, and demonstrate their learning. If you have a large group of students, connect your laptop to a larger monitor, if possible, so that everyone can see more easily. Also, connecting external speakers to your laptop will make it easier to hear presenters.  

Don’t Be Surprised if Students Ask for More!

Teleconferencing can be a terrific tool for engaging students and holding their interest. As you get better at using it in your program, don’t be surprised to hear students ask, “When can we do this again?”

Share What You Know

Y4Y is always here to offer help and guidance, and we’d be happy to answer your questions as you begin. We’d also like to hear about your experiences in using videoconferencing with students. What did you do? How did it go? How did your students respond? Please share your ideas and experiences in our online discussion space.

Happy videoconferencing!

Y4Y Resources

Here are a few project ideas from Y4Y to jump-start your thinking about videoconferencing as a gateway to a world of learning:

NASA STEM Challenges. Videoconferencing could connect students to scientists in your community — and to students in other locations who are involved in the NASA STEM Challenges.

Gathering and Sharing Information. This little package of ideas, templates, and a sample activity plan shows how you can connect videoconferencing and other online activities with what students are learning in school.   

Learning in Virtual Spaces. Virtual field trips can enhance learning in social studies, history, science, the arts and more!