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Showing posts from 2017

'I want to be a doctor' may not mean what you think

By Joanna Tzenis

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"Police officer!"
"Basketball player!"
"Elsa!" (That was what my 3.5 year old told her preschool teacher when asked.)

It's a common question to ask youth. But what does the answer really mean?

Can our programs foster societal change?

By Joshua Kukowski

I've had the privilege of teaching some sessions to some local youth program managers.  At the end of each session, many want to know if they are actually making a difference.  I always answer "yes", because they of course are! I tell them that their work is important and each of them is a key person in a young person's life. But it doesn't seem to resonate with them and I can't quite figure out why.  It may be because they want to make an impact beyond the individuals they serve.

The importance of imagination and play

By Brian McNeill

Taking a break from our technology-driven society has given me new opportunity to think about my growing up years. It was a time of very few school opportunities and of family financial struggles. It was also a time where I developed creativity and imagination.

Getting back to youth work basics

By Kari Robideau

Recently I have been reviewing our Youth Work Matters curriculum with a team of colleagues. This process has caused me to review the basics of the positive youth development approach to youth work. It's reminding me why we do what we do - and why we do it the way we do it.

Clean up your charts in five easy steps

By Samantha Grant

Evaluators spend a lot of time creating reports and presentations to share data with stakeholders. In the last decade, we've become much more aware of the way in which we package our data to get audiences to pay attention. We know that dense reports with no charts or pictures get filed in the "will read someday" pile, so evaluators focus on making reports that people will actually read.

One way to do that is to add charts for variety, color and emphasis. You've probably created a report or presentation with a chart. Chances are that when you did, you inserted the default Excel chart. But the Excel default doesn't make well designed charts. I have created the following video with five easy steps to help you to clean up your charts and to make your reports and presentations more readable.

The power of storytelling to foster understanding

By Jessica Pierson Russo

We all want to feel a sense of harmony, but when prejudice and intolerance prevails within a group, harmony can seem impossible. The reasons for intercultural conflict are complex, and the task of working on solutions is daunting. But … do they have to be? What if we spent more time listening to others’ stories? What if we spent more time learning to tell our own? Would we then care more about each other’s well being?

Improve your program by including youth voice in evaluation

By Betsy Olson

Research continues to confirm what we youth workers have known for years – that youth voice is critical for high-quality youth development programming. An important part of this picture – one that is often overlooked – is evaluation.

The Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality offers three strategies to ensure youth have a voice in your program.

Youth can positively influence citizen science, research and stewardship

By Rebecca Meyer

Summer is a fantastic time to support learning. Often, it occurs in informal settings like summer camp or family vacations. These opportunities can be structured or unstructured. They may not always be unique but afford greater flexibility than school classes.

In 4-H, we are uniquely positioned to offer these rich learning opportunities across contexts and topics. I have written before about the importance of building science and failure into youth learning, referencing a project, Driven to Discover: Enabling student inquiry through citizen science (D2D), in which I worked with a group of Extension faculty to develop a program model with two important attributes for using citizen science as a setting for STEM education.

Healthy competition -- It's a thing, right?

By Trisha Sheehan

We all want our youth to succeed. We want them to win in the show ring or on the field or court.  But what does that win look like to you? Is it winning the game, or is it learning a new skill or improving their performance? Being competitive and developing mastery can go hand in hand but there are times when that balance might need to be equalized.

Competition is natural. Research shows that kids as young as four and five start to compare themselves to others. They start to develop the drive to compete. Competition is everywhere. Whether in sports, jobs, school or 4-H, we find opportunities to compete with others.

Build a culture of healthy risk taking

By Karen Beranek

We know that young people take risks. An image of a group of teens drinking, smoking or skipping school may instantly form in your mind when you think about risky behavior. But risk-taking is not necessarily something to avoid. Teen brains are programmed for experimentation.

We must build a culture of healthy risk-taking for youth. Research shows us that young people need to reach outside their comfort zones to try new things in order to reach their potential. Taking healthy risks is a normal part of positive youth development.

Cohort learning takes a 'front yard' approach

By Amber Shanahan

I read a wonderful article in our local paper last week about the resurgence of front-yard patios; the idea is that positioning yourself in the front yard rather than the back generates an atmosphere of camaraderie and community.

Learning environments can be seen in the same way. Online learning platforms take the back yard approach. They can be meaningful and convenient for busy professionals and offer lots of privacy. They can also feel isolating. Cohort learning environments, on the other hand, take the front yard approach.

How to connect with young people through books

By Samantha Grant

Years ago, I worked in a youth program with a group of young people who kept me at arm's length. Accustomed to a constant turnover of staff, they didn't want to get close. One day, a girl in the group came in bubbling about a book. Luckily, it was the latest Twilight novel, which I had just finished reading. We had a deep conversation about the merits of being Team Edward or Team Jacob, and this opened up a connection in our group.

As a youth worker, you can build connections with youth through books. Here are some ways to do that.

Caring adults enable summer-long experiential learning

By Nancy Hegland

In June, kids say goodbye to the school year and are ready for summer vacation.  For many of them, this doesn't mean a break from learning, but a chance to learn in different settings, with different teachers and mentors, and to direct their own learning to an extent. These lucky ones will learn all summer long, and may not even realize it.

In summer, and with the presence of a caring adult, their learning can change to be more experiential -- focused on experiencing, sharing, processing, generalizing, and applying what they have learned. Research has shown that youth learn best when doing. This is a basic concept in youth development programs.

The power of the camp counselor experience: Social-emotional learning at its best

By Nicole Pokorney

I recently had the privilege of working with 16 teen counselors for our 4-H regional camp. These youth applied for, were selected, and then trained to deliver high-quality youth programming and nurture younger campers. Their training introduced them to social emotional learning, specifically The Power of Empathy. They learned the difference between empathy and sympathy, and how to show genuine empathy toward campers.

The one-week camp was great, but the really amazing part was what happened after the campers had gone home. The teen counselors stayed one more night to clean up and reflect. What came through were the SEL skills that the counselors had gained.

Becoming a trauma-informed youth program

By Kyra Paitrick

"Sam" is an American Indian youth in one of the 4-H clubs that I help lead. He doesn't participate in every meeting, but has stayed involved for two years. Sam is a natural leader. He has great ideas and has helped the club plan and carry out a meaningful service project.

Sometimes, Sam comes in agitated and rambunctious, talking over others and derailing the meeting. Sam lives with his grandmother and younger sister. He has occasionally blurted out that his mother is in treatment and his dad died a couple years ago. Clearly, Sam is dealing with trauma. He is trying to cope with the loss of his father and separation from his mother.

How to foster youth independence

By Jessica Pierson Russo

Thinking about this week's national holiday, it occurs to me how important it is for youth to develop a sense of independence and agency. An article that explores how youth develop agency says, "The challenging issue for how to support a developmental process in which youth are the central protagonists and agents of change." How can we build structures within youth programming that better support youth authoring their own lives?

Tips on writing surveys for youth

By Betsy Olson

Collecting opinions from the youth in your program can be as easy as asking the right question. But in surveys, asking the right question can be tricky. The questions can be too complex, the responses can be mismatched or the vocabulary can be confusing.

Don't go through all the hard work of collecting survey data from a group of young people without ensuring the responses measure what you intend to measure and accurately reflect their experiences. Research into how young people respond to survey items is a topic that has gotten more attention as researchers and evaluators have begun to understand the value of collecting data directly from youth. Here are some tips:

To be an effective leader, think like a gardener

By Karyn Santl

At the recent National Extension Conference on Volunteerism,Jones Loflin gave a keynote speech in which he asked, "How will you grow it when you return home?" Jones speaks globally about innovative yet practical solutions to workplace challenges.

An author whose books include "Always Growing", Jones made me think about leadership and how to move change forward - even in small ways. He said, "To be an effective leader, think like a gardener." I'm not much of a gardener, but his message stuck with me.

Podcasting is a great teaching tool!

By Kari Robideau
Do you listen to podcasts?  The number of people who do is exploding.

Last year Edison Research found that one in four Americans aged 12-54 had listened to a podcast within the last month.  And podcast listening grew 23% between 2015 and 2016. So the audience for podcasts is bigger than you think! To help provide context..the percentage of Americans who listen to podcasts is the same as those who use Twitter.

Safe spaces matter more than labels for LGBT youth

By Joseph Rand

In grad school, I often heard the term "queer" used to describe LGBT youth - without any negative connotation, just as a neutral term. I also have vivid memories from my younger days of being called queer as an insult.

So when this word is used to describe the community I belong to, it often often trips me up.  Furthermore, in my rural context, "queer" is not a term that has been effective or comfortable, compared with terms like LGBT, gay or lesbian.

What do all those acronyms and terms mean? How much do they matter?

Make change with a cultural exchange

By Kathryn Sharpe

Do you want to create an exchange opportunity for youth that goes beyond a "tourist" experience? Or maybe you want to bring together diverse groups within your community for a meaningful encounter? The 4-H Cultural Exchange model provides an avenue to fulfill these goals.

Having facilitated multiple cross-cultural experiences with young people, I've seen the transformative potential, as well as the big challenges that they can bring. I've learned that it's critical to provide intentional preparation for these experiences so that the young people can dive beyond the surface level - where stereotypes can sometimes be reinforced - and get to the deeper conversations and help them dismantle stereotypes. How do we do that?

Moving an experiential learning program online

By Ann Nordby

Next week I'll co-present at the National Urban Extension Conference about 4-H online adventures. It's a model we're developing for delivering hands-on experiential learning online.

The seemingly opposite ideas of "hands-on" and "online" are actually very compatible.

How to shatter the stereotypes that hold back Somali youth

By Joanna Tzenis

Before you read this, type "Somali youth Minnesota" into your Google search engine. Take a look at the stories that populate and see if you see a pattern.

Did you do it?  What did you notice? What did you learn?

I'm not trying to direct you to other sources of information about the Minnesota's biggest immigrant group. Instead, I want to draw your attention to an issue hindering the positive development of Somali American youth in Minnesota.

How to guide parents considering summer camp for their child

By Brian McNeill

Summer is approaching and families are thinking about summer camp. Camps can be a great experience for children and come in a variety of formats. Let’s talk about how you can promote age-appropriate camp experiences when parents ask, “Is my child ready for camp? How might she benefit from it?

Try an engineering design approach to program planning

By Margo Bowerman

Let’s be honest – program planning is hard work. Program planning tools help, but they can be downright overwhelming to use!

There are as many ways to do program planning as there are programs. In Cooperative Extension organizations around the country, the logic model is a well used and vetted system. The University of Wisconsin has excellent resources for how to use logic models in program planning. Public health organizations offer some excellent models – the Centers for Disease Control and the Rand Corporation have some great resources. And all these models vary in the number of steps they include and how they are described.

Top 10 things you need to know about the Journal of Youth Development

By Kate Walker

I am the new editor of the Journal of Youth Development (JYD) which is dedicated to advancing youth development practice and research.  JYD serves applied researchers and evaluators as well as practitioners who work in youth-serving organizations or the intermediaries that support them.

Learners take control online

By Ann Nordby

Anyone who has been around teenagers in the last five years knows that they are constantly online. 91% of them use smart phones daily. These devices are like extensions of their bodies. How should youth workers respond? Your impulse might be to ask youth to put their devices away to avoid distraction but what if you harnessed them as learning tools?

For LGBT youth, safe spaces can be hard to find

By Joseph Rand

About two years ago, students at Becker High School in rural Minnesota created a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). These students wanted a space where they could be themselves, connect and feel safe in a town where they often feel they don't fit in and can't express their true identities. For adolescents, access to safe spaces is a crucial part of development and exploring self-identity. For youth programs, this is a fundamental concern.

Practical ways to connect children to nature

By Cathy Jordan

More and more parents, health care providers, and educators, in both formal and informal settings, are recognizing the value of connecting children to nature. It's good for their physical and mental health and academic success.  It's also good for the planet - children with meaningful, frequent nature-based experiences develop attachments to nature that lead to a desire to take care of the environment.

The question is: How can we best provide these nature-based experiences? The answer depends on the age of the child and the benefits you desire.

Should we measure social and emotional learning skills?

By Samantha Grant

My oldest child is in a classroom that gives students points for good deeds done throughout the day. My guess is that the teacher is trying to encourage social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. Every day I check in to see how my child did, and every day I think about how this would have gone for me. I was the kid in class who could never stop talking, so my daily points for "works quietly" and "on task" would have been abysmal. I wanted to talk- and was willing to talk about learning or my new shoes or what we were going to do at recess- the topic didn't matter. It did matter that learning for me was a social activity.

Social and Emotional Learning in Practice: A Toolkit of Practical Strategies and Resources

By Kate Walker

For several years now, our center has been digging into social and emotional learning (SEL). We've studied it, hosted a series of public symposia about it, and developed trainings to support it. Now I am delighted to announce a free online resource to help practitioners bolster SEL into their programs.

This toolkit is a flexible set of practical tools, templates and activities that can be used with staff and youth to increase intentional practices that support social and emotional learning.

What does it mean to make a difference?

By Karyn Santl

Like me, you probably decided back in college that you wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. I've been fortunate to work in the field of nonformal education for the past 20-plus years (and have three daughters), so I've thought a lot about this mission. And the way to make a difference in the lives of youth is pretty well defined.

We can prepare youth for college, but not in the way you think

By Joanna Tzenis

“College prep” programs that stoke youth college aspirations and scholarship programs to make college affordable are great, but they're not enough. They leave out something important -- the young person herself!

As I've written about previously, laudable efforts to instill in youth the desire to go to college and the hard skills to qualify do help.