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't work. This is the art of experience-informed improvisation.
On the other hand, school administrators and program leaders often rely on data (or create the data) to drive programs and program needs. As I improvised in the classroom, part of what drove my decisions was data -- the science side of education.
The healthy, positive tension between art and science in our program design or improvement often goes unrecognized or unappreciated in all education levels as we strive through for the same goal of making the best for our youth.
In some recent work with a small sub-group of the Minnesota State 4-H Ambassadors who were tasked with planning the service-learning project at their annual state leadership conference, a little bit of data mixed with the untouched canvas of ideas. We asked young people to design a program. They held dual roles by wearing the administrator hat (equipped with data) and teacher hat (armed with their passion). We armed them with elements of a technique called smallify in which they made "small bets" on their ideas, merging art with science.
Smallify is similar to another familiar program design improvement technique called Cloud-Bursting. Both of these techniques involve thinking about data and doing exercises to promote creativity in planning. These techniques create a space that promote the highest levels of youth engagement.
The outcome was important (and successful), but the process was equally weighted between art and science. I believe that equal weighting is key to this discussion.
Smallify and Cloud-Bursting are two simple exercises that can help expose the art and science in your program design. I am certain there are many more. How do you create the space that permits this healthy tension? Can you share some examples of how you champion the art of teaching with the logical aspects of science?
-- Joshua Kukowski, Extension educator
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