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Showing posts from 2013

Why does everyone ask, "Are you satisfied?"

If you are like me, you are often asked to rate your level of satisfaction with quality -- at the doctor's office, at restaurants, at the service station, while shopping online. This practice takes extra time and resources both on the part of the provider AND on the part of the participant.

So why do so many businesses and organizations want to know our opinions about their service, product or program?

The answer is deceptively simple. High satisfaction is a key sign that program participants will continue their participation in the program.

As youth development professionals, we understand that program retention increases the chances that young people will reap the benefits - also known as program outcomes - from a high-quality program.

So, a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation approach for a youth development program has, at its foundation, a system for measuring participant satisfaction. In the case of youth programs, Caller, Betts, Carter & Marczak outlined three group…

Learning in place: Thoughts about place-based education

What difference does it make where a child is, when he is learning?

Last year I had the opportunity to bring David Sobel of the Center for Place-based Education at Antioch College New England in New Hampshire to my children's K-8 school for a staff development workshop and public forum on placed-based education (PBE). What I learned from Sobel got me thinking about three things:

What are the benefits of learning in place to its multiple stakeholders? Can youth out-of-school time programs make use of the principles of PBE?Do diverse youth have equal access to PBE? According to Promise of Place, a public-private partnership in Vermont, PBE has its roots in environmental education, community development and service learning. PBE:
Immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiencesUses these as a foundation for the interdisciplinary study of language arts, math, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum; andEmphasizes learning …

Adventures in social and emotional learning

The Voyageur Outward Bound School is an example of a program that fosters social and emotional learning (SEL). After our recent SEL symposium, I spoke with Poppy Potter, the director of operations and master educator at VOBS, a program that works to bring out these skills in young people.

KATE WALKER: Tell me about the Voyageur Outward Bound School.
POPPY POTTER: Our mission is to change lives through challenge and discovery. We use experiential programs to impact our students' lives. Whether a 28-day canoe expedition, or a High Ropes Insight Program, our programs are designed to demonstrate to our students that "they can do more than they ever thought possible." Our founder Kurt Hahn talked about teaching "through" rather than "for" and this philosophy is still present in all of our courses today.

KW: What are the program's goals? What SEL competencies or skills does your program develop?

PP: We hope our students look back on their course and discove…

Turning STEM skills into STEM capabilities

What real opportunities do youth have to pursue STEM-related professions? Learning engineering skills is one thing, but knowing how to become an engineer is something else.

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has emerged has an educational buzzword over the last few years. K-12 schools, higher education and non-formal educational programs alike have all increased their efforts to improve STEM learning and outcomes.

This effort comes in direct response to President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, launched in 2009. The national problem this campaign addresses is twofold: American students are lagging behind other countries in achievement measures in these subjects. Further, U.S. Department of Labor data show that of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation, but our young people lack the skills and training to fill these jobs.

Most STEM educational initiatives take a human c…

Bringing the social and emotional learning to after-school programs

Why is social and emotional learning important to youth development? I thought about this recently when I attended our symposium on this subject.

The symposium was a wonderful opportunity for more than 400 people who work with and on behalf of children, youth and families to learn about social and emotional learning (SEL) and identify ways to help young people thrive. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Roger Weissberg, defined social and emotional learning as a process through which children, youth, and adults learn to recognize and manage emotions, demonstrate care and concern for others, develop positive relationships, make good decisions, and behave ethically, respectfully, and responsibility.

As I reflected on his definition, I thought about why social and emotional learning is important to youth development. I see SEL as a foundation in which a strong sense of self can be built. With that stability, young people are better able to thrive in everyday life, while standing up to social press…

A map through the jungle of social and emotional learning

How do we navigate through the SEL jungle? Having agreed that now is the time to make this journey I can recommend these valuable resources from Strive Together and its Minnesota network partner, Generation Next.

Strive Together

Strive is fostering a network of communities building the civic infrastructure necessary to support the success of every child from cradle to career. It has developed a Student Roadmap to Success -- a framework to guide communities in supporting the development of young people from cradle to career to improve youth outcomes and eliminate the achievement gap.

The upper half of the visual representation of this roadmap is focused on academic benchmarks, and the lower half on student and family support benchmarks - including the development of social and emotional competence.

The problem for many communities using the road map, however, was getting a better sense of how to more explicitly name social and emotional competencies and effectively move them to the leve…

Teen Facebook posts can now be public. Does it matter?

Facebook changed its policy for teens last week. In the past, teens' posts could only be seen by "friends" and "friends of friends". Now, they can designate their posts for public viewing.

Does this matter? Should teens have the same privacy, or lack of privacy, rights as adults?

There are concerns about what this will mean for teens. Will this policy change further compromise their online safety? Will the impact of cyber bullying, its frequency or severity, increase? Will more young people jeopardize their educational and career futures by "unwise" posting of images, opinions and links? Will marketing become even more focused on youth, as information about their likes and activities are harvested for more specific ad targeting?

And does it matter?

All these are possible and may even be likely outcomes of this Facebook change in policy. It raises the risks to youth who use social media, and youth who just know teens who do. But it also places their Fa…

Start seeing youth with incarcerated parents

How does incarceration affect the youth and families that you work with every day? Chances are, more than you know. You don't have to play too many rounds of six degrees of separation to find someone who's affected by incarceration. In 2011, 6.98 million people were incarcerated in the U.S -- about 1 out of 34 adults.

How many of those 6.98 million people have children? Sixty-one percent of women and 53% of men who are incarcerated are parents. In 2007, an estimated 1.75 million children under age 18 had a parent in a state or federal prison in the U.S. An estimated 1 in 15 African American children in the U.S. have a parent who is incarcerated.

In fact, there are more children with an incarcerated parent than there are with autism or juvenile diabetes.

Despite the shockingly high prevalence of parental incarceration, their children remain largely invisible as such. That's unfortunate, because they could use some extra help. We know that they are at higher risk for behavio…

Tough choice? Youth voice!

Change presents adult coaches, mentors, club leaders and other youth educators with a chance to involve youth in the decision-making process. These opportunities arise all the time.

For example, every year thousands of young people compete in First Lego League, an annual challenge to design and build robots to solve a given problem. There is a different type of challenge every time and elaborate rules for participation. Among them are the equipment specifications -- software, sensors, programming. In January, First Lego League organizers announced the availability of a new robotic platform. More than 480 youth team leaders then faced the choice of whether to spend upwards of $500 to upgrade their equipment, and thus learn new software and skills, or use the equipment they already had and save precious team resources.

Would the benefits of upgrading outweigh the cost? Each adult leader faced this question. I wonder how many of the teams struggled with this decision and whether program …

How does out-of-school time foster social emotional learning?

Recently, the Extension Center for Youth Development launched a three-year initiative to explore social emotional learning (SEL) and its role in positive youth development.

Colleagues of mine have blogged about the importance of SEL, the need to build understanding around common language and measures, and why the time is right to try and make a difference in how we think about, assess, and work to improve policy and practice.

This week, I ask you to think about the following important question: HOW do out-of-school time programs help youth acquire these skills?

A New York Times article on Sept. 11, 2013 "Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?" was the second most emailed article for the paper that day. The author states "noncognitive skills -- attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness -- might actually be better predictors of a person's life trajectory than standard academic measures".

Based on extensive research by the Collaborative for A…

Why enter the social and emotional "jungle" now?

Over the years, I have seen fads come and go in our field. I would argue that the evidence is there and the time is right to tackle the "jingle jangle jungle" of social and emotional factors Kate blogged about last week.

Now is the right time to undertake an initiative aimed at making a difference in how we think about, assess, and work to improve policy and practice based on these factors.

We must:
Move social and emotional factors into the mainstream of what we seek for our youth.Expand how we seek to close gaps.Change how we assess what is important for youth to succeed.Change how we focus our efforts on the learning and development of our young people -- not only on tests but in school, life, college, careers and as citizens. Why now, you may ask? The conditions that make a significant effort not only the right thing to do but also the right time to move ahead tend to share three characteristics:


Social and emotional factors provide a possible strategy to addres…

The jingle jangle jungle of social and emotional learning

Sung to the tune of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off":

You say non-cognitive and I say socio-emotional,
You say initiative and I say self-direction,
Engagement, motivation,
Problem solving, critical thinking,
Let's call the whole thing off!

To be successful in school now and ready for college and careers later, young people need to develop a range of skills variously referred to as social-emotional, non-cognitive, soft or 21st century skills. In this basket of skills, you may think of self-confidence, perseverance, empathy, teamwork or critical thinking. There is increasing evidence that these skills are critical to success, but little agreement about how to label and measure them.

We have different terms for similar concepts, such as initiative and self-direction. We use the same term, like engagement, to mean different things, like motivation and participation. A recent report reminds us that "21st century skills" have been valuable for centuries. Another repo…

To help youth succeed, allow them to fail

Why do we shy away from letting young people try and fail?

When I first started my work at the University of Minnesota, 4-H was new to me. I can remember attending a day of judging at the local county fair. I sat in awe of this experience and was envious that I had never had it.

I remember in that county fair judging experience that one youth brought an arts and craft project that was less than stellar. Rather than hyping up the project, the judge got the boy to reflect on what went wrong. In the 10 minutes that they spent together, this young person was able to take constructive feedback, and I honestly think that he walked away knowing how to improve.

People will often tell you that judging is a place for youth to reflect on their learning with the support of a caring adult. True. What they won't tell you is it's a place where failure is okay.

What?! Failure is okay. That might seem like an odd thing to associate with learning, but I would argue that we have to do more in th…

STEM learning: Which is more important, creativity or content?

When it comes to program goals, what is the relationship between inventiveness and engineering content? I am working on strategies to engage youth audiences in engineering education. While searching for effective curricula to facilitate inquiry learning through hands-on activities, I reviewed the Design Squad Invent It, Build It curriculum. It suggests that invention is about "making the world a better place." Struck by this definition, I started to wonder if or how "invention" is different from or related to the engineering process.

Digging a little, I find that engineering is the systematic process of solving problems (using science and math skills). Invention, on the other hand, is the creative act of making something new - the critical step that actually solves problems. The "necessity," that is often cited as the "mother of invention" sparks the engineering process. Likewise, the engineering process feeds creative invention. After mulling …

Is there a "secret war" on after school at the federal level?

I listened with interest during the recent National League of Cities webinar about the federal financing proposals to revise use of the 21st Century funds. During the webinar, the Afterschool Alliance and state representatives from after-school networks, including homegrown City of St. Paul Sprockets leaders, held a discussion on the revision of the current 21st Century funds policy and how these changes could affect after school programs here in our community.

My recap of the proposed policy: "How do we open as many doors as possible for schools to access the funds currently designated for after school programs?" My conclusion - if passed in any iteration being considered, community youth programs will have even less access to public support than they have now.

Harsh criticism I know, but it is hard not to get angry when the only specified source of federal funding through education for community youth programs is being compromised. In a Washington Post blog, Jodi Grant fro…

Chef for a day, science and decision-making skills for life

What youth program activity combines math, chemistry and decision-making skills? Cooking!

Healthy living is one of the national 4-H mission mandates, and here in Minnesota we are using the Chef for a Day program to get youth involved in eating more healthfully and gaining science and decision-making skills at the same time.

We know that eating habits are established early in life. Studies tell us that kids who are involved in meal preparation and cooking are better at making healthy food choices.

Beyond healthy diets, we also know that cooking programs can teach youth about doing science, by learning how to:
follow directions understand food terminologypredict the chemical reactions from mixing ingredients They can also take learning a step further and encourage youth to make their own science experiment. Research has shown that youth can be sufficiently motivated and empowered to come up with their own research questions and design proper experiments to test their hypotheses through…

To narrow the achievement gap, don't forget to play

At a recent event, I was inspired by the story of a high school principal who turned a failing school around by focusing on making the students happy. Poor achievement, low attendance, and general naughtiness caused by poverty, hunger, domestic violence, you name it, had resulted in high levels of stress in students, parents, teachers, administration. Quite simply, the kids were unhappy. But what to do -- More math class?

Rather than hiring more reading and math specialists, this principal hired more art and gym teachers. He brought in partners and other resources that would to help provide a safe environment for youth to play, get dirty, and explore, through programs such as Extension's 4-H and Master Gardeners. Students liked it. They got more interested in school and test scores improved dramatically.

This story reminded me what decades of research has confirmed--that play is essential to learning (for adults too, by the way). Classic psychologists such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygo…

Coaching for best results

What is coaching? The variety of contexts and definitions people have for it is surprising. Coaching has surfaced in a surprising number of conversations in the past few weeks:

A colleague shared how she sees coaching as guiding employees on performance plans for poor performance.

I recently coached colleagues toward high-quality youth programming by using the Discovery Process, following a YPQA observation at a 4-H youth camp.

This week, at a county fair judging event, I coached a staff member on the Youth Program Quality Assessment "YPQA on a Stick" tool.

We are planning a professional development session for the Collaborative Leadership Fellows cohort next month in Rochester for fellows to learn how to coach and be coached for personal growth and goal setting.

A program conference planning team that I am on is considering including a coaching workshop under the theme "balancing professional and personal life."

The following definitions of coaching from the Inte…

Top 10 tech tools for our work, redux

What online tools do you use for collecting data, collaborating, and creating presentations? Two years ago I shared a top ten list of tech resources. Some of you shared yours too.

Since then I've been introduced to more (mostly) free tools that are both useful and user-friendly. I use them for research, but can imagine lots of programmatic uses, as well.

Online Survey. Use Google Forms -- part of the suite of apps in Google Drive -- to easily create an online survey embedded in your email message. A Google form is linked to a spreadsheet and sent out via email, and recipients' responses are automatically collected in that spreadsheet.
Face-to-face survey. Use Quicktap Survey on your tablet (iPad or Android) to create and collect information quickly and easily. Just pass around your tablet to collect data, then export to Excel to analyze results. The free version allows for one survey at a time, but you can have 50 questions and up to 150 responses.
Audience poll. Use Poll Everyw…

Stories of diversity and inclusion

If you had a chance to tell your diversity and inclusion story, what would you say? What themes would emerge?

I am asking this because I am on a team that is putting together a digital media campaign about our efforts to reach new and under-served communities, our engagement with diversity, and how we've overcome barriers. To do this, I want to engage everyone in 4-H and beyond to help us tell our diversity and inclusion story.

We are thrilled to have this grant-funded opportunity; to share a diverse narrative of our work in youth development and we can do so by engaging staff, volunteers, youth, and partners! One of the reasons for sharing a diverse narrative is to overcome the opposite kind -- the "single story" that lumps many people into one, or many cultures into one.

The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Life is about the journey, not the destination". In youth development we are often reminded of this. We often find ourselves caught up in the end go…