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Extension > Youth Development Insight > July 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The question of youth program accreditation

Kate-Walker.jpgA youth program funder posed this question: Should Minnesota funders require accreditation of out-of-school programs to ensure implementation of high quality learning opportunities? While accreditation systems to endorse after-school programs exist at the state and national levels, there is no widespread consensus for support in Minnesota.

To explore the implications of youth program accreditation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Minnesota Department of Education, and the Extension Center for Youth Development sponsored three invitational forums with a cross-section of field leaders that resulted in an issue brief on the topic.

So why this conversation, and why now?
  • First, accreditation systems exist in early childhood education, school-aged care programs and formal education to guide investments and provide a common framework for improvement. As these systems are being widely implemented in Minnesota, it would seem reasonable that funders, policy-makers and even the public might expect a similar process in the out-of-school time field.
  • Second, youth program accreditation efforts and conversations are underway nationally and a proactive Minnesota-based conversation could inform how that plays out and ensure that any movement toward accreditation in Minnesota strengthens the field.
  • Finally, given the public funds that support many youth programs, could accreditation help funders and policy makers better define high-quality out-of-school-time opportunities and provide additional justification for increased investments
Both the literature review and the forums brought to the surface a range of potential benefits and limitations associated with youth program accreditation as well as different stakeholder perspectives. Often these values and risks represent two sides of the same coin:


value-and-risks-of-program-.jpg
I invite you to read the issue brief and weigh in here with your comments. What do you see as potential benefits or arguments against pursuing youth program accreditation in Minnesota?
-- Kate Walker, research associate

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

STEM learning = inquiry + content

Hui-Hui-Wang.jpgSTEM education programs need both inquiry/process and content. Most programs that I am familiar with do inquiry well. They do content less well. In fact, some programs are all inquiry and no content. This is a critical flaw. However, it is relatively easy to fix, because even small elements of content can make a complete STEM learning experience.

Recently a colleague and I had an enlightening discussion with some nonformal STEM educators at the Colloquium on p-12 STEM Education Research. We asked them "What do you want youth to learn in your program?"

The key words for their answers were: inquiry-based learning, learner-directed learning, less content, fun, hands-on activities, lifelong learning, real-world context, collaborative, and technology literacy.

These are great responses and fit very well with two important framing documents for STEM learning today: Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) and the soon-to-be-published Next Generation Science Standard (2013), both from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Science.

However, we need to make sure that skills and practices (the inquiry, or process) are balanced by content knowledge. Engaging in science requires both of these.

For example, a youth could succeed at building a robot by following instructions (thereby learning a skill). But without an understanding of how robots are used in the real world (content), she might never apply that skill, or know what it is for.

A science program needs to have a broad vision to help youth practice both skills and content knowledge to do empirical investigation and inquiry. In other words, focusing on inquiry only addresses one part of the national science education guideline. We need to add more content into non-formal STEM program design.

boy-science.jpgWhen designing a STEM program, you can start with a small content goal. For example, if you only have 45 minutes to deliver a robotics program, the content knowledge that we want youth to take home after the program can be as small as understanding what a robot is. The program can aim to help youth to see that real-world robots are not characters in science-fiction movies like R2D2, but in the automatic door at Walmart and in the thermostat in their house that senses temperature in the room to adjust heating and cooling automatically.

Don't be afraid to add content to program design. Only small steps are needed. Helping youth to practice their skills and content knowledge in a STEM program should be the new goal for us when we design non-formal STEM program.

Can you see the need for more content in STEM learning? Do you see obstacles to doing so? How have you incorporated content into science learning?

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

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Positive youth development through gaming

Trudy-Dunham.jpgI was in New York City recently for the Games for Change Summit, where keynote presenter Jane McGonigal reminded us how computer games can change our lives through enhancing our personal development, helping us learn and adding years to our lives. Heady claims.

Yes, we know that games are engaging and get us moving at twitch speed. We've heard they can change how our brains are wired and how we learn. But did you know that games make us happier, that they enhance our emotional resiliency? That they can help us build the mental resilience we need to trust, to take risks and to fail? That they can increase our confidence in self, our sense of self-efficacy?

McGonigal backs her claims with evidence from the fields of psychology and neurology. She makes a strong case for the role of gaming in positive youth development. For example:
    kids-computer-gaming.jpg
  • Young cancer patients who play Re-Mission learn why painful treatments make a difference in their health, and become more treatment compliant, even if they only play once. That's because game play where we take actions and overcome challenges follows through to life experience and feelings of self-efficacy.
  • Youth who play DoJo learn strategies and techniques (breathing, self-talk, relaxing muscles, etc.) to control their emotions and calm themselves. Then they advance to stressful game situations where remaining calm is essential to mastering the challenge. Biofeedback tools shown on the computer screen monitor reactions to stress and challenges as you play, and the actions needed to win can only be accomplished if your muscles are relaxed and your breathing slow.
  • Haiti is a role-play computer game developed for the Red Cross for the purpose of getting people to stay at home and send money instead of things to disaster victims. Using real video from the aftermath of the earthquake, players take on the role of survivor or aid worker and mimic the "rationalizing mental chatter" that can lead to poor decision making. The player learns to first do no harm.
Increasingly, games are becoming a platform for learning. If we need the facts and skills to master the game challenge, we learn them because they have utility. But game-based learning is going far beyond what we often think about - the content of science, math and history. Games are also helping us develop as humans. We can become better people, happier and more adept in all areas of our life by playing games.

It's summer, traditionally, a time to play. What games are you playing? For some ideas, check out this list of 100 games that everyone should play.

After you have tried a few, share what you learned from these games. Have they made you happier, improved a relationship with a friend, or made you feel differently about what you can accomplish? How can 4-H, and other out-of-school venues for youth development, take advantage of games to promote youth learning and development?
-- Trudy Dunham, research fellow

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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