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Extension > Youth Development Insight > August 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

To help youth succeed, allow them to fail

Samantha-Grant.jpgWhy 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 the way of helping youth cope with failure.

youth-presenting.jpgWhat does that have to do with youth development? A lot. According to Paul Tough the author of How Children Succeed. Grit, curiosity, and other character traits are important predictors of future success. Check out an interview with Paul Tough on Minnesota Public Radio. An underlying theme throughout his book is that youth need to have experiences in failing in order to grow and learn to succeed. If we are constantly letting youth explore only in "safe zones," we are stunting their ability to grow and build important resiliency skills.

Youth programs are great places to allow youth to fail and be supported. As Tough writes about a chess coach who was a prime example, "Her job was not to prevent them from failing; it was to teach them how to learn from each failure, how to stare at their failures with unblinking honesty, how to confront exactly why they had messed up." How cool would it be if youth learned all of that in their after-school programs?! I think it's a reasonable goal.

How can youth programs help youth to learn to cope with failure? Can youth programs help youth to develop grit and other important character traits? How can you as a youth worker help young people to learn when they fail?

-- Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

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

Rebecca-Meyer.jpgWhen 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 it over, I believe that the two are different, but inherently linked.

Leonardo da Vinci said "Learning never exhausts the mind." It is from this notion that we strive to create intentional, ongoing learning opportunities for youth and adults in the Minnesota 4-H Program. I work closely with the Minnesota 4-H Science/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to create these sustained learning experiences. In this capacity, I focus time and energy on our investment in facilitating inquiry learning through hands-on activities.

youth_outdoor_science.jpgI think in informal education it is critical that we keep inventiveness in our aim. The National Academies of Engineering in K-12 Education stipulate as one of three core principles that education "should promote engineering habits of mind," including systems thinking, creativity, and optimism. It calls on the value of engineering education and technology to improve student motivation and achievement.

As my colleague, Hui-Hui Wang, pointed out in an earlier post, we clearly need to teach STEM content knowledge through our learning opportunities to help youth apply the engineering design process.

However, I am more inclined to emphasize an aim toward inventiveness to motivate youth toward habits of mind that build 21st century learning skills (e.g. critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity). I think that invention provides the real world context to make engineering education relevant, fun for our youth participants in informal programs.

I know that others are thinking about this question. What do you think? Is it more important to facilitate learning for content knowledge or creativity?

-- Rebecca Meyer, 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, August 7, 2013

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

Deborah-Moore.jpgI 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 from the Afterschool Alliance gives her take on the diversion of afterschool policy by the current administration in "The secret war on afterschool programs."

What the policy revisions left me wondering was this: Where are the voices for the kids and practitioners in our community who know the distinct value of youth programs and can go head-to head with the politicos and expose how our children only lose more ground in this new scenario? Who needs to talk to whom? And how do we change the debate in this particular policy and the many other similar debates that pit after school and school day against each other?

palestine girls.jpgI would argue that until we see after-school learning as distinct and of equal importance, any policy that connects the two will continually favor the education giant -- K-12 schools.
For me, school and after-school, in spite of the words shared in their titles, do not represent the same kind of learning. Each has distinct purposes that are important to the development and learning of our young people. There is a great deal of literature and research that supports those distinctions and it is faulty thinking to confuse the two as one and the same.

Formal education (aka school) has a tremendous amount of research, policy, resources, infrastructure and public support and yes, it still has enormous challenges. The nonformal learning environments (aka afterschool) also have a great deal of research. What after school does not have is significant federal support, state and federal infrastructure, consistent local, state and federal policy - and unsurprisingly it also has challenges.

But they are very different challenges. One of the biggest challenges in after school is access for youth who want and need it. The current 21st Century policy gives children access to programs that need it most. So why do we have to pit school against after school in our choices for federal funding by further blurring the lines? Placing these very different learning environments in the same policy makes it impossible not to do so.

The Washington Post has a blog and an article on the issue - I have posted my thoughts, what will you post? Last month, two of my colleagues here at Minnesota Extension spoke at a US Senate briefing on afterschool in rural communities and the benefits of 4-H. Who else do we need to talk to? Let's speak up about this! Perhaps if we blow up a blog with comments, Washington will notice that this is an issue we pay attention to in Minnesota.

-- Deborah Moore, state educator, program quality


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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