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Extension > Youth Development Insight > April 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Integrated STEM learning - the Lady Gaga of education

Hui-Hui-Wang.jpgDepartments of Education in Minnesota and in many other states have taken the position that learning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) should be integrated. In other words, science and engineering should be taught together, or math and technology taught together. Now it is up to us as educators to decide how to integrate them.

Surprisingly, how to integrate STEM integration is a topic as controversial as Lady Gaga! Some people adore her as new queen of pop music, but some people think that she belittles the value of music and has a bad influence on people who listen to it.

Likewise, some people think that integrating STEM can provide a real-world, hands-on learning experience for youth. On the other hand, some educators and researchers believe that integrated STEM programs cannot comprehensively include the essential knowledge and skills from each STEM subject that youth should learn.

For example, robotics projects integrate science and engineering learning. But what exactly should the youth be learning when they do robotics? A good robotics program should involve such science concepts as force and torque, some engineering design, and some programming (mathematics). But the youth leader must have a clear learning outcome in mind. For the learner, without knowing all the content behind why and how a robot works, assembling a robot and making it to work is just a series of trials and errors. This is like a gambler throwing dice -- after enough throws, the gambler will eventually get lucky and hit the jackpot, without learning anything about math.

What is learned by this trial and error if learners have no idea why and how the robot works? We need to take a minute to think about the meaning of our STEM programs. What do we really want our STEM programs to achieve?

youth-robotics.jpgIn my opinion, program designers and educators need to know what STEM knowledge and/or skills that they want to integrate in STEM programs before designing an activity. Otherwise, learners may seem to have learned something but actually learn nothing. If we don't carefully design and identify the integrated STEM knowledge and/or skills for a specific learning outcome, we could have a program that addresses only one of the STEM areas, or none of them.

Much of my research focuses on how to integrate STEM learning. So I am very interested in your opinion on this evolving question. I am also interested in how nonformal learning should complement the formal learning environment, which departments of education in many states have mandated be integrated.

What do you think? Should nonformal learning programs be integrated or focus on one of the STEM areas? Does experiential learning necessitate an integrated approach? How are we preparing ourselves to do this?

-- Hui-Hui Wang, assistant professor and Extension educator, STEM education

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Arming parents with the tools to gauge program quality

Samantha-Grant.jpgOut-of-school time providers beware! I'm a parent and know a lot about program quality. Last week as my daughter pirouetted her way into her preschool dance class, I found her dance teacher looking at forms instead of greeting the students. As a youth worker myself, I understand the demands of balancing 20 things at once. But I couldn't help thinking about how this non-greeting affects the learning environment.

I get it that I'm not the typical parent -- I'm the one who grills potential daycare providers on their use of developmentally appropriate practice, because I understand what that is. But I am interested to study more about how the average parent can become a better consumer of learning opportunities for their children. I know that my knowledge has impacted the decisions that I make for my children, and I believe the same would hold true for other parents.

There is a battery of program quality observation tools that demonstrate that not only do we know what makes a high-quality learning environment, but we can observe it. If parents knew more about how to identify quality in youth programs, would they choose differently? Would parents start to demand quality and support efforts to better train youth workers?

youth-parent-snake.jpgIn Exploring the Supply and Demand for Community Learning Opportunities in Minnesota, researchers from the University of Minnesota examined more about parents and their ability to find and access youth programs. From this we learned more about:
  • What is the perceived quality of youth programs?
  • What do parents and youth want and value in youth programs?
  • How difficult is it for families to find learning opportunities?

I would love to extend this research by digging into the idea of program quality to learn more about what parents consider to be high quality, and how that influences their decision making. Maybe it's just a pipe dream of mine, but I hope we can create a demand for high-quality programming that comes from all fronts: youth, parents, and youth professionals.
Are you interested in the role parents play in accessing quality learning opportunities for their children? How can we help parents become better consumers of quality?

-- Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ways to adapt youth programs for the outdoors

Ok, I love incorporating new technology tools into my teaching. I also love nature and being outdoors. For me, what's even better than each of these is finding ways to incorporate technology into the design of an outdoor learning experience. This combination gets me -- and many youth, too -- caught up in the flow of learning. What program activities would you like to take outside?

The Children & Nature Network has designated April as Let's G.O.! (Get Outside) month where people of all ages are encouraged to play, serve and celebrate together in nature. With the spring weather upon us, it is the perfect time to move our learning environments into the outdoors. Regardless of the topic and teaching tools you are utilizing - low or high tech - with a little creative thinking most experiences can be transferred to the outdoor environment.

Here are five simple steps to remember when moving your indoor learning experience outside:
    youth-adult-nature.jpg
  1. Review your youth program quality indicators, as they are still vital to the success of the experience: safe environment, supportive environment, interaction and engagement.
  2. Use this opportunity to do things on a bigger scale.
  3. Incorporate physical activity and opportunity to engage large motor muscles. Remember, youth need at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Can you build a few minutes into your learning environment?
  4. Encourage the use of all five senses and offer the freedom to explore.
  5. Build upon real ways of interacting, tending and caring for the natural environment.

If you need a few ideas, check out Nature Rocks - Let's Go Explore list of simple activities to enhance your outdoor learning adventure.

I agree with the way Richard Louv describes it in his recent blog post: the "daily, monthly, yearly, lifelong electronic immersion, without a force to balance it, can drain our ability to pay attention, to think clearly, to be productive and creative".

We all need doses of natural information for balance. How do you take your indoor learning experiences outside? How do you design your learning experiences for balance?

-- Carrie Ann Olson
Extension educator & associate Extension professor, educational design & development

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Planning the future of the Next Generation Youth Work Coalition

Margo-Herman.jpgAs key partners of the Next Generation Youth Work Coalition explored the next phase of this organization last week in Dallas, it's a prime time for the broader youth development field to be aware of this important organization. Its purpose is to bring together individuals and organizations dedicated to developing a strong, diverse after-school and youth development workforce that is stable, prepared, supported and committed to the well being and empowerment of children and youth. We want your opinion on our proposed action plan.

Next Gen partners (nearly 3100 now) have three primary roles:
  1. "Provide thought leadership around cutting-edge practices, research and policy.
  2. Generating lively discussion and exchange of ideas about the field of youth work.
  3. Sharing resources to inform and educate youth work professionals.
(You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter for more information.)

Last week 50 people attended the opening session of the Next Gen track at the National Afterschool Association (NAA) Annual Convention in Dallas. Ellen Gannett from National Institute on Out-of-school Time (NIOST) opened the conference track of seven Next Gen workshops with a discussion about the mission, history, and accomplishments over the past several years. Dana Fusco, editor of the newly released book Advancing Youth Work, discussed the workforce trends that shaped the Next Gen conference track. The opening session was predominantly a brainstorming opportunity about the future focus of the coalition.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for nextgen-main-logo.jpg
The key theme that emerged about future focus was "collaboration across stakeholders". Stakeholders include youth workers, youth work sectors (families of practice), youth, higher education, intermediaries, government officials, funders, and international partners. Collaborations would reinforce networking of youth workers through regional or local meetings, prompt coordination with government officials, spark interactions with students who are enrolled in youth studies programs in higher education, build upon international connections, and promote collaborations across sectors of youth work.

To move this vision forward, five actions emerged from discussions within the conference track:
  1. review the makeup and functions of the coalition's advisory board to assure representation across our stakeholder groups;
  2. build an online presence through social media and a more interactive Next Gen Website. (You can do this now! Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!);
  3. organize a fundraiser such as a Kickstarter to raise funds to support the work;
  4. advance the higher education committee work; and

  5. develop a strategy for advocacy that includes follow up on the idea of promoting youth-led media spots.

What are your thoughts? If you were at NAA in Dallas, what sparked your energy and interest throughout the workshop sessions? If you weren't, what reactions do you have to the actions identified?

Margo Herman, Extension educator

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hopes and fears for the use of evidence

Dale-Blyth.jpgIn March and April my schedule has me in multiple conversations about evidence. What is the evidence for the impact of out of school time programs? How do we generate better evidence? How does one organize evidence to make it useful? How do we invest in creating, gathering, and using evidence? How should evidence guide further investments in our field? To what extent does money flow to where evidence is strong or stop when evidence is weak?

At the recent Mayoral Summit here in Minnesota, mayors and others learned about the evidence that youth opportunities work, to what extent young people are participating, and the nature of the opportunity gap as a supply problem, not a demand problem. Many attendees wanted more evidence about opportunities in their communities, evidence that what mayors can do will matter, and evidence that if we build it, youth will come.

evidence.jpgAt a forum discussing program accreditation last week the group explored the ways we use evidence - whether from Consumer Reports or Trip Advisor on line reviews - before we invest. The more authoritative, simple and aligned with our values and questions the evidence is, the more useful. Questions here were about whether accreditation provides useful evidence and how the evidence would be gathered if there were an accreditation process. Also, what is the evidence that accreditation of programs improve quality or increase outcomes? What is the evidence that accreditation systems generate investments in a field and improve quality?

I put this question into historical perspective in a recent issue of the Journal of Youth Development (jump to page 167). This week I am in a work group of academic researchers examining how prevention science and developmental science can create a better evaluation model for youth programs and how we increase investments in the creation and use of such evidence. This summer, I will be in Ireland reviewing the evidence they have gathered to inform their new youth development and youth services national policy. What evidence will make the cut as strong enough? What will the evidence say or be unable to say? What impact will it have in their current political, economic, and practice contexts? All these opportunities to examine the role of evidence give me pause.

What do you worry about when it comes to the use of evidence in our field?
What do you hope evidence can do for our field?


You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
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