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Showing posts from June, 2014

Online learning and Rube Goldberg

This summer, we are very excited to have 16 teams of young people from across the state competing in our engineering design challenge, "Build a Rube Goldberg Machine." These third to eighth graders work together and learn the principles of physics to build a working machine that they can take to their county fairs.

When planning this challenge, I really wanted to know, "What role can an out-of-school, project-based contest play in building and transferring STEM knowledge and skills?


To address this, our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) team has integrated a number of strategies. These teams of 3-10 youth in 10 counties have formed, adopted team names, and each has one or two adult volunteer leaders. Along with building the machine at face-to-face club meetings, the teams use online learning spaces -- team journals, a portfolio, and an "ask an expert" chat -- to support their learning. From these online records, we can also study their learning …

Is program design an art or a science?

On the one hand, there's data. On the other hand, there's your gut. As I branch out and begin to truly understand the programs I work for and grasp their impact and begin to plant some of my own programmatic seeds, I am thinking about youth development program design. In a recent experience, I had a positive outcome that sparked me to ask this question: Is what we do an art or a science?

My answer? I think there's a healthy tension between the two that goes unnoticed. I am finding tools for program design that bring out both sides.

Many youth workers, teachers, and volunteers don't have time to critically analyze each lesson or activity on a daily basis. We often rely on quick improvements on quality, feedback, and our own "guts" to improve our practice. In my previous role as a teacher, I remember making quick modifications before class, making notes for next year on what worked, and often-times throwing out the entire lesson plan because I felt it didn'…

Rethinking youth program sustainability

Is program sustainability all about money?

Grants can offer new resources and opportunities to youth programs and the communities in which they take place. The Minnesota Sustainable Community Project (MN SCP), funded by the USDA from 2008 to 2013, helped us to create eight new youth programs throughout the state. In these programs, youth developed leadership skills, gained new mastery and expertise in a subject area and made plans to meet their long-term goals in education.

We knew the benefits to these communities could not be fleeting. To sustain them beyond the life of the grant, we worked within a research-backed conceptual framework.

Mancini and Marek's research says that sustainability is not synonymous with securing more funds. Rather, it refers to the capacity of a program to sustain the benefits it provides. They identified seven factors critical to program sustainability:
Leadership competenceEffective collaborationUnderstanding the communityDemonstrating program resultsS…

21st century learning stories

What lessons do you take from a story about two best friends graduating from Stillwater High School this week -- one of them an artist with autism who seldom speaks, the other headed for a local community college? Their steady and unwavering lifelong friendship across their differences bridged them through childhood to their walk across the graduation stage this month.

This story by Mary Divine of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press centers on two young men who formed a bond that has seen them through the years and over many successful "outcomes".

Youth-serving professionals wanting to make a difference by advancing "21st century learning" can take a lesson directly from young people like these boys. According to Robert Sternberg of Cornell University,
"Successful individuals are those who have "creative skills to produce a vision for how they intend to make the world a better place for everyone; analytical intellectual skills, to assess their vision and those o…