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Extension > Youth Development Insight > July 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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

carrie-ann-olson.jpgWhat 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 group-4h-boys-cooking.jpg
  • understand food terminology
  • predict 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 cooking. In addition, cooking programs with youth can be just as beneficial to a young person's decision making skills as with the long-term impact of healthier food choices they will make.

Our Chef for a Day program starts with some basic nutrition and cooking skill safety, and provides a basic recipe for a stir-fry or a salad that uses terms like protein, liquid and vegetables. Youth teams craft their own variations on these dishes, recording their tweaks to the ingredients or cooking methods as they go. This method of thinking, problem solving and tinkering is the basis of all science research and engineering, and provides a foundation for food and cooking literacy.

Chef for a Day will culminate at the Minnesota State Fair in a cook-off for youth. Thousands of visitors to our 4-H building will be able to watch these demonstrations. Participants will be evaluated on their knowledge of safe food preparation, nutrition, meat preparation and importance of protein in the diet. The 2013 cook-off is a one-day event, but like everything in 4-H, future programming will be youth-driven, and could be expanded.

Are you using cooking as a way to teach healthy living, science or life skills? Can you share your ideas here? And please come and see us at the fair!

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

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, July 24, 2013

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

Jessica-Russo-2013.jpgAt 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 Vygotsky, and ‎Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who described the "flow" of learning) have shown that not only is play physically good for the brain (by stimulating nerve growth), but it also teaches us valuable social-emotional skills and actually makes it easier for us to solve problems.

group-of-youth-in-circle.jpgWith the current emphasis on test scores and the achievement gap, many formal educators and school administrators are understandably reluctant to make a concerted effort to prioritize play over straight academic support. This is where nonformal learning organizations like 4-H can help, because they have the flexibility to incorporate play into a focused learning experience.

Nonformal learning offers real-life, meaningful opportunities that can appropriately challenge youth in an environment that encourages active reflection as a way to turn failures into lessons about persistence in learning.

In fact, one of the best ways to close the achievement gap may actually be to help steer youth away from a belief that achievement is about natural talent or abilities (a fixed mindset), to the realization that everyone can learn, change, and develop the skills they need. Research has shown that this "growth mind-set," as Dr. Carol Dweck calls it, helps narrow the racial achievement gap. In one particular study, three times as many students who were taught this growth mindset showed improvement in effort, engagement, and grades, compared with the control group, which received no information about the growth mindset and continued to show declining grades. Few people are motivated to work hard if they think their efforts will be wasted. This fixed mind-set causes people to shy away from challenges and criticism, give up easily, and feel threatened by the success of others.

But as Dweck explains, "If you target that belief, you can see more benefit than you have any reason to hope for." Because people with a growth mindset believe that they can develop the skills they need, they tend to welcome and are better prepared to tackle and persist through challenges, they learn from criticism, and they are inspired by the success of others. This allows them to achieve more.
So, what can nonformal learning environments do to cultivate this growth mindset? And how can play help strengthen the learning experience? Here are a few tips:
  • Explicitly teach that the brain is like a muscle that can get stronger. Show them the research! Once they understand, they will begin to see themselves differently and open up to the possibility of improvement.
  • Praise their effort in attempting a challenge. No one loves to fail, but we can all learn to love a challenge when we can see it as a puzzle to solve and not an impossible obstacle.
  • Don't praise them for something they seem to do easily, since according to the research, this will cause them to equate intelligence with quick and easy success, and they will learn to fear a challenge. Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson presents a wonderfully simple article with three helpful tips for giving feedback.
  • Help them equate challenge with fun. We want them to learn that persistence pays off. Give them a puzzle to solve. Praise their effort. Encourage them to watch others to learn new strategies. Help them figure out what went wrong. Teach them to try again.
  • Make the effort fun! If a challenge gets too hard, stop and play a random game. Research shows that a playful mindset improves our ability to creatively solve problems.
How do you incorporate play into the learning environment? What do you see as the benefit of teaching and encouraging a growth mindset?

-- Jessica Russo, assistant Extension professor and director, Urban 4-H Youth Development Office

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, July 17, 2013

Coaching for best results

margo-herman.jpgWhat 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 coaching-grow.jpg from the International Coach Federation provide a sense of how and why coaching can be a helpful practice for ourselves and with youth, colleagues and employees.
  • "Coaching is a highly personalized learning process designed to bring about effective action, performance improvement and/or personal growth for the individual"
  • "Coaching builds the client's awareness and responsibility and provides the client with structure, support and feedback"
John Whitmore unfolds some essential skills in his book Coaching For Performance, including: active listening, asking effective questions, and reflecting back to the client. He also proposes a model called GROW. This model suggests developing a sequence of questions focused on the following four stages:
  • Goal setting for the session as well as short and long term
  • Reality checking to explore the current situation
  • Options and alternative strategies or courses of action
  • What is to be done, When, by Whom, and the Will to do it
When it comes to coaching, what works? To me, whether formal or informal, with colleagues, youth or employees, the essence lies in clients building awareness, taking responsibility for learning, and nurturing self belief. Coaching requires a refinement of skills to achieve good results.

What do you think? Which of these skills or perspectives do you most successful in your environment? Can you share any favorite resources for effective coaching?

Margo Herman, Extension educator, educational design & development

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, July 10, 2013

Top 10 tech tools for our work, redux

Kate-Walker.jpgWhat 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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Audience poll. Use Poll Everywhere to poll your audience by having them send their responses via text message on their mobile phones. Response graphs update in real time and may be embedded in a PowerPoint. Free for audiences up to 40 people.

  4. Recorder. The Voice Record Pro app allows you to record interviews, meetings or voice memos on you iPhone or iPad. You can even pause recordings, convert to MP3, and trim or append your recordings afterwards.

  5. File Share. I'm a big fan of Dropbox for sharing files online and across computers and phone. Another great online collaboration site is Box. I'm part of a research team with staff across multiple states and we use Box as a simple, secure way to share files.

  6. PDF reader. With GoodReader, you can download or convert documents to an editable PDF file on your iPad or iPhone that you can then highlight, underline, or make notes. You can then save your annotated version of the file. This app is not free, but $5 well spent.

  7. Conference Call. Conduct free conference calls anytime without scheduling in advance with FreeConferenceCall.com. There is no fee, callers just pay their standard long-distance rate (this is not a toll-free number). The free version limits call to six hours and 96 participants.

  8. Timeline. Create timelines with Office Timeline, a free add-in for PowerPoint. The easy-to-use wizard walks you through the process of creating a timeline to track project milestones and intervals. I've often imported these timelines into evaluation reports in Word, but if you keep them in PowerPoint they update automatically.
    pixton_comic_tech_tools_by_walke067.jpg

  9. Comic. Create your own comics with Pixton's easy-to-use customizable templates. For this comic, I just selected a template and characters, changed their poses, emotions and colors and added text to the speech bubbles. A creative and engaging way to present information!

  10. Word Cloud. If you like Wordle, you'll love Tagxedo for creating word clouds, those visual displays of text. You can create shapes out of your word clouds and even upload your own image and wrap text around that image

So, what tools would you add to this list? And how do you stay up-to-date or find out about the latest and greatest technology tools, apps or resources?

-- Kate Walker, Assistant Extension professor and Extension specialist, youth work practice

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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