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Extension > Youth Development Insight > October 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When times are bad


Nicole-Pokorney.jpgThis blog post isn't going to be research-filled or one of great insight and wisdom, but one that comes from my heart. As I sit to write this week, I am reminded that ten years ago, a student I worked with passed away in a sudden accident. He was a senior in high school. I was six years into full-time youth ministry and had been in the youth development field for over ten years. I was on a bus full of youth headed back to the church from a service project when I received the call. Nothing had prepared me for having to break the news to the high school students on the bus. When we arrived at the church, youth had started to gather and within two hours, over 200 youth congregated in the basement of the church.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WeConnect: A global youth citizenship curriculum


Jennifer-Skuza.jpgCitizenship is a concept commonly used in the field of youth development. It typically refers to young people being positively engaged in their communities. But what happens when you add global to citizenship?

By adding this word, the scope of youth citizenship grows vastly and helps us re-imagine the arena in which youth live, learn, work and play. Global citizenship has been described as a continuum that ranges from being aware of the interdependent nature of our world, to understanding how local and global issues affect the lives of people around the world, to taking action to create a more equitable world. We see global citizenship as an outlook on life, a belief that people can make a difference, and a way of behaving that follows suit.

Jessica we-connect-cropped.jpgPierson Russo and I have developed a resource for youth-serving organizations and schools entitled WeConnect: A Global Youth Citizenship Curriculum. It's a program model and curriculum designed to show youth that they are participants in a global society, inspiring a sense of understanding and confidence in relating and connecting to other people.

WeConnect was developed with middle school-aged youth (grades 6-8 and ages 11-14) in mind but can be adapted to suit both younger and older age groups. The program model is designed for nonformal education settings such as after-school programs or clubs. It includes a coordinated series of experiential and interactive exercises that prepare youth to thrive in culturally diverse settings--whether these settings are part of their school day, home life, social life, or workplace--by giving them the opportunity to learn and use culturally responsive skills and knowledge that stem from international education, which is one specific form of cultural education. The curriculum presents lessons that will help guide youth beyond knowing that we are citizens of the globe to an acknowledgement of our responsibilities to each other and the world around us. They help youth examine their everyday lives and move them to take action that leads toward positive change.

The exercises are organized into four phases of building cultural knowledge and skills:
  • Phase 1: Exploring
  • Phase 2: Stretching
  • Phase 3: Challenging
  • Phase 4: Connecting
Youth can and do play an active role in creating a culture of global citizenship, which is a vital aspect of developing a peaceful and prosperous human civilization and nurturing the growth and development of young people.

Our publication, WeConnect: A Global Youth Citizenship Curriculum is for sale on the National 4-H website. Thank you to the Minnesota 4-H Foundation for funding this publication.

-- Jennifer A. Skuza, PhD, assistant dean

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.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Your source for youth development research

I want you to know about a valuable educational resource. We have a new trove of research papers, presentation recordings, and analysis about youth development research available on our website. These resources are curated by our Extension faculty specialists in youth development, STEM education, program quality, culture and diversity, program evaluation, citizenship and leadership and much more.

It's valuable for:
  • practitioners
  • researchers
  • university of college students
  • supporters and stakeholders
If you are practitioner, you can use this collection in your scholarship, to keep informed about program quality, find seminal works about positive youth development or identify studies that show how youth programs make a difference in young people's lives. This resource may also help support your goal of becoming a more actively engaged scholarly practitioner.

Researchers may use this site to stay abreast of current literature in the field and to see what types of issues practitioners are addressing through their work.

If you are a college or university student, you can use this collection to inform your research base when writing papers, when carrying out scholarly projects or to inform your community work. You will find credible print materials and videos that can be applied to your education.

Youth development supporters or stakeholders may use this collection to stay on top of youth development trends while staying anchored in the research that informs the foundation of our field.
Each page also contains a feed of "What we're reading" - a constantly changing list of news and journal articles that we come across in our daily work, curated by our faculty.

To keep these pages fresh, we welcome your feedback. Please tell us what you think! And feel free to suggest new works to include, by clicking on the feedback button on every page, or contacting our faculty expert, whose name appears on each page.

We hope you enjoy this resource!

-- Jennifer A. Skuza, PhD, assistant dean

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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Skills development should not be our primary goal


Joanna-Tzenis.jpgTo what extent does skill development matter for youth and their futures? What else do they need to follow their dreams in education?

In a past blog entry, I used the capabilities approach as a framework to understand the various conditions that may influence whether or not a youth may translate his or her STEM knowledge into a STEM career. I offered that scenario as an example, but this doesn't mean we expect all youth in STEM clubs to pursue STEM professions. If we measured the effectiveness of STEM programs by the number of engineers we produced, we'd be painting an incomplete picture.

When I talk about capabilities, I'm referring to the freedom young people have to make choices to achieve their goals and accomplish something that's important to them. I think it's more important for them to be able to address and overcome obstacles than it is to learn marketable job skills. This is particularly so for youth who face additional constraints on their freedom on account of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, etc.

Research shows that there are various constraints that keep young people from being able to choose a positive educational trajectory:

Material and physical constraints
Adequate food, access to
youth-working-on-stem-project.jpgpublic transportation, a quiet place to study at home

Sociocultural constraints
Norms about gender and racial equality, lack of support, language barriers

Psychological constraints
Issues of mental health, trauma, feelings of safety and belonging

STEM skills are important academically, but are they truly the primary goal of non-formal STEM programs? I would argue that they are not. For instance, in this case of the Urban 4-H STEM program design, the practice of goal-setting and reflection may or may not lead youth to become engineers. More importantly, it promotes them to reflection and awareness of their capabilities.

My colleague Kate Walker wrote about the importance of developing social and emotional skills, which I believe play a critical role in developing youth capabilities. For example, a youth learning to effectively handle emotions that arise in her STEM projects may help her handle emotions at home. This might be just the skill she needs to be happier in a non-academic context and in present time. It might also free her to pursue opportunities in sports, the arts, or yes, STEM. The capabilities approach allows young people to be full participants in the improvement of their current social life, while also allowing them to aspire to achieve future valued outcomes.

What do you think? To what extent might non-formal STEM education programs create conditions that influence youth's freedoms to choose to follow their dreams? Do they need skills to succeed?

-- Joanna Tzenis, assistant Extension professor, Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR)

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.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Breaking habits and building creativity

Rebecca-Meyer.jpgCreativity is on the decline in the U.S. I am learning that creativity takes practice--actually, it takes a LOT of practice--and that sharing ideas is a far better strategy than holding ideas close.

In a prior blog post, Mark Haugen challenged us to improve our programs by changing a habit. I'm taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called Creative Problem Solving. It's a way to learn more about sparking creativity in our youth, (a 21st century skill) and maybe to become more creative myself.

The notion of change is inherent in the course syllabus. Each week, an assignment calls on us to do something different -- in other words change a habit. These Do Something Different (DSDs) assignments (e.g., talk to someone different, or eat something different) tug at something inside, a deep exploration of my core habits and values. Although relatively simple in design, they push me outside of my comfort zone. While in certain moments it can be very uncomfortable, the experiences are quite profound - especially through the interactions with the thousands of other students in the course.

My interest in creativity is centered around designing STEM programs for youth. I've written a number of blog posts about developing 21st century skills like creativity.

The MOOC has me thinking more about how to change and improve specific program habits to intentionally target creativity and innovation. For instance, my 52,000 fellow students are on every continent, from the largest cities in the world to remote jungles. I wonder what would happen if we could design our STEM youth programs to interconnect so many youth across programs and countries in the rich work of STEM and design, specifically engaging youth globally in practices of creativity doing things different and outside their comforts. Opportunities like Maker Camps hint at the possibilities.

coral-reef.jpgIn his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation Steven Johnson focuses on "the space of innovation" and the environments that can spur or curb it. He describes Darwin's paradox of the diversity of life in ocean reefs surrounded by nutrient-poor waters. Like the oasis in the desert, it is rich in innovation and complexity, different from everything around it. What causes an oasis or a reef to form? Could a "creativity reef" be created through our own effort? Could a youth program be such a place?

Methods like the MOOC put us at the frontiers of youth program design and can be a generative space for creativity. It's exciting and will require us to be both courageous and take risks.

So, how can we do a better job of interconnecting youth in our programs to become the rich "reefs" where innovation is truly developed?

-- 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.
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