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June 20, 2018

Do you wake up each morning with a new brilliant idea for your program? That’s wonderful! But when was the last time you encouraged your program team to bring their ideas to the table? Try these strategies to bolster professional learning this fall, and you’ll set the stage for teamwork and creativity.

  1. The spontaneous yes. The next time you hear a team member introduce a good idea with “I wish…” or “If only…,” respond with an enthusiastic “Yes! Terrific idea!” Follow up by asking them to start thinking of ways to make it happen. Offer to put the idea on the agenda for a future team meeting so they can get input from others and develop the idea further. Your encouragement and support might be just the push they need to get the ball rolling.
  2. Virtual brainstorming. These sessions often start in real time during team meetings and move to a virtual (online) space with a "ticking clock" deadline (usually 1 to 5 days). This approach gets even the most shy or reluctant team member to participate. Team members can add to one another's ideas during the virtual brainstorming session but refrain from evaluating or criticizing ideas. No decisions are made until after the deadline.
  3. The “what if” game. Invite your team to reflect on this question: “If money and resources were not an issue, what program practice would you add, change or get rid of, and why do you think it would make a positive difference?” Once everyone’s ideas are on the table, challenge the team to “think outside the box” about possible ways to make their best ideas come true. (You could use the “virtual brainstorming” process to play this game.) 


May 4, 2018

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

If someone mentions summer vacation, do you picture yourself on a sandy beach with an adventure story in hand? Nothing wrong with that! But the laid-back days of summer can also be a time for online adventures in professional learning. Here are four ways technology can make professional learning feel like play.  

Easy listening. Podcasts let you explore topics and perspectives without investing a lot of time. TED Talks, for example, last 18 minutes or less. Plus, podcasts are free and available on demand, so you can listen as you pack your bags and head out for that beach vacation. New to podcasts and not sure where to start? Google topics of interest (e.g., afterschool, youth development, education, teaching, career development) plus “podcast.” Hint: Try the short podcasts in each Y4Y Click & Go for professional learning specific to 21st CCLC programs.

Social hour. You can use social media to connect with educators from around the world. If you’re on Twitter, search the hashtag #MTBoS, and you’ll find the MathTwitterBlogosphere. Thousands of math teachers follow the site, contribute ideas, share resources and suggest activities. It’s a terrific place to ask questions, swap stories and get inspired. If math isn’t your thing, use Twitter’s search feature to find sites related to your professional interests, from art to productivity to zoology. 

App time. Downtime? Download an app you’re curious about. Some have interesting features with multiple uses. For example, you could try using SurveyMonkey to poll family members on where to meet for dinner. If you like the way it works, maybe you’ll decide to survey your colleagues on which professional development book or class to try next. Could the app be useful on the job — for example, to poll students about their interests? Experimentation is the gateway to ideas and expertise!

Virtual expeditions. Stuck at home? Broaden your knowledge of science, culture, history and more with a virtual tour of a city, beach, mountaintop, museum or campus. Speaking of campuses, the Y4Y professionalization resources page has a clickable map of higher education opportunities relevant to out-of-school time careers and ongoing professional development. Free Y4Y courses are available anytime you want to explore topics like citizen science, continuous education or project-based learning. Take a virtual expedition on Y4Y and explore the possibilities.

Skywriting. Unless you and your colleagues are all on the same beach, here’s one more way to use technology for summer learning — to stay in touch via your favorite messaging platform. Keep one another revved up about learning by sharing tidbits of interest from books you’re reading, messages of encouragement and links to blog posts like this one (hint, hint). Happy summer!



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.