Friday, May 31, 2013

Learning In today’s World

Recently I viewed a 2 hour archived presentation featuring Professor Eric Mazur.  Mazur, a Balanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard, had a great deal to share about the way we learn.  One of his comments really resonated with me.  He shared that years ago, when books were scare and only a few people had access to books, the lecture method “worked”.  The professor owned the book, read it, and shared the information with his students.  Listening to the professor was critical, because he was the one with the information.

Today, however, information is available on a person’s phone in an instant.  Actually, waiting an instant can seem like forever in today’s world.  Not only do you get one source, you can access tens and hundreds of articles, Wikis, pictures, and more.  In reality, the problem isn’t getting access to information, it is trying to figure out which information is relevant, which the most recent, which supports your views and which doesn’t.  The challenge is reading through pages of information quickly, identifying the main points, and then analyzing what you’ve read.  One of the identified skills for the 21st century is the ability to access and analyze information.  This includes the ability to understand what you know, what you don’t know, and how to determine what additional information you need.

So what do we need to do to promote learning if the traditional lecture method isn’t the ticket?  I would suggest that all learning needs to include hands-on experiential opportunities.  Program Leaders need to be comfortable with the role of facilitator or “guide by the side”, and realize that they don’t have to have all the answers and know all the facts.  We know that the Learning in Afterschool and Summer principles apply in all we do.  These principles include, learning should be active, collaborative, meaningful, support mastery and expand horizons.  When we replace the traditional lecture with this type of learning what we know is that learning deepens, youth are more engaged, and the learning is connected to ensure understanding of the content and how the information is applied. 

Check out the C4K video class for Site Coordinators entitled Project Based Learning

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Each May on the final Monday of the month, we experience a day for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  This federal holiday, Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day.  It originated after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the War Between the States.  It was not until the 20th Century that the day expanded to include all who had lost their lives to preserve the freedom that we all hold dear.
Remembrances can take several forms.  Some volunteers place American flags on the grave markers of soldiers in National Cemeteries.  Others participate in local community parades, and of course by getting together with family to share a meal and honor what it means to be an American.  Many enjoy the concert which is broadcast from the United States Capitol.  This celebration not only shares music but pays respect to the. American heroes who have died in past and current conflicts.

Another national event is the Indianapolis 500, an auto race held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911.  The Coca Cola 600 stock car race is held later the same day, and of course there is a Memorial Golf Tournament that’s been held since 1976.

In your afterschool program you might want to research local heroes who lost their lives in battle.  Unlike Veteran’s Day which honors Veterans both alive and dead, Memorial Day is usually reserved for fallen heroes.  You can do some local research and discover the names of local service men and women who died during their service, and then research the conflict they were in and share out a timeline with the community.

If you have the chance to be in Washington DC, you will want to visit the memorials honoring World War II combatants, causalities of the Vietnam War, and those who lost their lives in Korea.  And of course you will want to visit Arlington National Cemetery and watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown.  If you can’t visit Washington in person, take a virtual tour and share the memorials with your students that way. 
Sharing the past with your students will help them to build an appreciation for the sacrifices made for their freedom.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Building Literacy--Through Music, Menus, and Marketing Materials

Building literacy is certainly part of our efforts in afterschool, but it is not always easy to engage young people in this pursuit.  Several years ago I saw a young man reading a novel during a lunch recess.  I commented that he must love reading, to which he quickly responded with an emphatic, “NO!”  Needless to say this response did not connect to what I was seeing.  So I inquired a little more about his book and what it was about.  He excitedly told me how much he enjoyed it and what was happening with the characters.  I then stated again, you must like to read, to which he responded, “Yes, but I don’t like reading because that’s what you do at the table with the teacher and it’s not fun at all.” 

What an eye-opener!  Is it possible that it isn’t the reading students don’t enjoy, it’s the fact that reading appears irrelevant.  The question becomes, how can we help youth to practice literacy and have them enjoy the process--the classic disguised learning question.  I would suggest that you consider the possibilities of music, menus and marketing materials.
Lyrics to favorite songs can be easily downloaded by Googling lyrics and including the name of the song.  Certainly you will read through to be sure that the nuance of the language (as well as the specific words used) are appropriate and then have the youth practice reading the lyrics for accuracy and expression.  Also think about the discussion you could have around the words.  Consider these lines from:

                        "The Climb"

I can almost see it
That dream I am dreaming
But there’s a voice inside my head saying
“You’ll never reach it.”
Every step I’m taking
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking.
But I gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high...

Beyond lyrics, consider using menus, especially ones from exotic restaurants, and then have the youth research the dishes and write descriptions and read them to one another.  Or select the marketing and recruitment materials from a college, concert, or camping experience, and have kids read and then share what they found out--following up with additional research and writing.  You can read many things in the world around you, and capturing student interest in these print-rich environments is easier than you think.  Promote literacy whenever you can.  Remember that reading is step one and thinking about what you’ve read and analyzing it is part two. 

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

We Are Fam-i-ly

While on a site visit to an elementary program, it was abundantly clear that the youth attending the program were far more than “program-mates”, they thought of themselves as family.  The environment was calm, and yet youth were very engaged.  At this Kindergarten through 6th grade site, cross age support was available so that all youth could participate successfully in cross-age activities (Cups Up, Cups Down was the activity I observed); and they also had several “Buddy” programs in place--Homework Buddies, Reading Buddies, Math Buddies, and P.E. Buddies.  Having this additional support was very beneficial for the Program Leaders with younger students, but equally beneficial for the older youth who had the opportunity to “teach to learn”.

Of course when visiting a program the best way to find out what’s going on is to simply ask the kids.  In talking to one fourth grade student he told me, “Here, we are a family.  Everybody cares about everybody else.  We work together.  Everyone can share an opinion and your suggestions are listened to by the leaders.”  When asked why this was so he and his friends had three important insights.

First (although they didn’t use these words the thought was certainly expressed), it was expected that everyone would treat every other person, younger or older with respect and dignity.  This treatment included attitude and words, and when there were disagreements, they had a system of going to the Peace Table to work out the conflict.

Secondly they mentioned that while they participated in activities that were just with school day classmates, they had opportunities every day to work with kids who were younger (and in some cases older), which they really liked and looked forward to.  They commented that this is how it is in families, kids of all ages.

Finally they mentioned that the staff looked for opportunities to praise and celebrate with them when they worked together as family.  Announcements were made during opening commending students for being family, and everyone understood that this was important in the program.

In all our programs, when we create “family” we create a space that is safe for youth and we provide opportunities for youth to participate in active, meaningful, collaborative learning, that improves mastery and broadens horizons.  How do you create family in your program?  Let us know at .

Monday, May 20, 2013

Summer Learning Part II

Running a summer learning program can be expensive and if you are focused on supporting ASES and 21st Century programs that work closely with the school day with your fund raising efforts, it might be challenging to find the moneys needed to support summer.

So how can you support summer learning and help reduce the effects of summer learning loss on a shoestring?  Here are five things that you might consider suggesting in an end-of-the-year parent meeting.

  1. Invite the local librarian to come to your meeting and share the library’s summer reading program.  If you can, incentivize it by letting kids know you will celebrate with everyone who meets the library’s summer reading challenge.
  2. We all know that kids will watch TV in the summer.  Ask them to select a character that they like and write about what happens during each episode--3-5 sentences will be perfect.  They can bring their writing log back to you in the fall and you can celebrate together. 
  3. Check in with City Parks and Rec departments and see what events they have going on in the summer.  Just being around others and learning something new (even if it is how to swim) will be helpful.  Create a Summer Passport that the youth can get signed off by the Parks and Rec folks.  Have them return this to you in the fall—again joining in celebration of the accomplishment.
  4. Check in with local attractions--museums, zoos, book stores, etc. and find out what free things they have going on in the summer.  Create a calendar of these activities and share with youth and families. 
  5. Create a Summer Passport of activities that the youth can do while at home--learn how to make the bed, fix a snack, walk the dog, exercise for 15 minutes each day, read a magazine--anything that can keep them busy and learning.
It is important that you encourage youth to get outdoors, be active and keep their minds on full alert during the summer.  Don’t be surprised if your suggestions are implemented.  Many times parents simply haven’t “thought about” what activities are available. 

Check out Facts About Summer Learning Loss,  a C4K Module.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Summer Learning--Part I

Research tells us that the affects of Summer Learning loss actually supports the widening of the achievement gap.  If you have watched The Brian Williams SummerLearning , you have seen that by the end of fifth grade, kids without summer learning opportunities can fall 2.5-3 years behind their counterparts who have been engaged during the summer. 

Here are some sobering Summer Learning Loss Facts: 

  • Unequal summer learning opportunities during elementary school years are rampant across the country.
  • A study of five California cities revealed that nearly 75% of children and youth are not served by the most common providers of summer programming (NSLA, 2009)
  • Most children gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school for summer than during the school year when school is in session.  Summer [weight] gains are especially large for African American and Hispanic children (von Hippel et al., 2007)
  • In California, nearly a third (32%) of 5th graders are overweight or obese (; California Department of Education, 2009).
  • Research spanning 100 years show that children experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer (White, 1906; Entwisle & Alexander, 1992; Cooper et al., 1996; Downey et al., 2004)
If you want to learn more about summer learning and how to support the Partnership for Children and Youth’s powerful vision:  “All children and youth will enjoy an equal opportunity for a healthy, happy and successful future,” you can get more information at or

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Gathering Data Through All Your Senses

Generally, we each have 5 senses, although we predominately use our sight and hearing to interact with the world.  People who are denied these two senses tend to develop heightened senses of touch, smell and taste.  For example, Helen Keller who lost both her sight and hearing at a very early age, was able, with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan, overcome these two disadvantages to be able to communicate first through her sense of touch, and then ultimately translating that into speech.  One of Keller’s most famous quotes is, “Blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people.”  People who have worked with the blind and the deaf can appreciate the challenges that they must overcome--but overcome they do. 

Considering how important our senses are, isn’t it strange that day after day, we expect youth to voluntarily limit sensory input and focus almost strictly on listening to lectures or watching someone else do something?  It is essential that in our afterschool programs we help youth to unleash the power of all of their senses.

Sir Ken Robinson, in his YouTube presentation entitled RSA Animate Changing Education Paradigms, says that we live in the most aesthetic time in history and we should encourage youth to experience the world using all of their senses.  He goes on to say unfortunately, instead of promoting experiencing the world through all of our senses, we tend to anesthetize youth so they will sit still and cooperate as we lecture and share our wisdom and point of view. See here on link (RSA Animate Changing Education Paradigms)

In afterschool programs we have the opportunity to engage youth through hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that encourage and insist they use all of their senses.  Think about the science investigation to determine which medium creates the most friction--yarn, string, or fishing line, when it comes to propelling a balloon attached to a piece of straw.  This simple experiment encourages youth certainly to use their eyes, their sense of touch, their ability to hear what happens as they let go of the “balloon rocket”, and if prompted, youth can think about the “taste” of the balloon and the “smell” of the yarn, string, and fishing line when it comes to creating friction.

So whether you are doing science experiments, cooking food you’ve grown in the school garden, or having youth participate in vocabulary development through charades, you are not only giving permission to youth to utilize all their senses, you are encouraging them to do so.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Striving for Accuracy

Another habit of the mind is striving for accuracy.  This of course can be a double-edged sword.  The challenge is how can you pay attention to detail, check your work for accuracy, practice the adage “measure twice and cut once”, without becoming paralyzed by striving for perfection. 
It is important to keep things in perspective.  There are many things we can do to promote accuracy without going to the “dark side” and doing nothing for fear that our efforts will not be perfect.  Here are some tips that you can give to youth to promote accuracy:

  1. Take time to check your work--reread the email, the paragraph, the letter, and check the math problems.
  2. Try reading your answers aloud, sometimes this will slow you down enough to really listen to what you've written not what’s in your head.
  3. Ask someone else to check your work while you do theirs--we tend to be more careful with other people’s efforts than our own. 
  4. Learn to proofread and edit, rather than scrapping everything and starting over because your accuracy was challenged.
  5. Double check your “facts”, your sources, to be sure you have captured the information correctly.
  6. Remember:  everyone makes mistakes.  When you refuse to allow yourself to make a mistake, you squash all creativity. 
  7. If you were to find perfection, remember that it is transitory, and in a few years, months, weeks, hours, or minutes, your perfection will be obsolete.

Check out C4K’s video, Making Mistakes Is Okay, a mini for frontline staff.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

One of the habits of mind, applying past knowledge to new situations, appears to be such an obvious thing to do, but often in our programs we are not as intentional in activating prior knowledge as we should be.  Activating prior knowledge has long been accepted as a best practice when working with English Learners but in reality, I believe that it is a best practice for ALL learning. 

Young people are not blank slates.  They know things.  Sometimes the things they know are inaccurate.  A recent study asked 5th graders through college seniors to explain why seasons occur.  Unfortunately, they all seemed to have the same misinformation.  But the fact is this, if you don’t ask what people know and how they think things work, you can’t possibly find out what they understand accurately and what they are confused about or simply have no notion about. 

In designing lessons, one of the easiest things to do, each and every time we begin a lesson, is to first identify what we want young people to learn about during the lesson--in other words, state the objective, and then simply ask the question:  “What do you know about ---and then identify the topic?”  This simple question should help you to know what youth need help with and what they already understand.  You can record the information on a KWL or T Chart.
A KWL Chart looks like this:
Want to Know

In the column labeled “know” you write down what youth tell you they know.  If another youth disagrees with the statement--or if you believe the statement is inaccurate, simply record it under the “know” and then highlight it so you can check on the accuracy of the statement.  As a matter of course, you could explain to youth that they need to have evidence for everything that goes in the “know” column which you will gather over time as you work on the topic.  Under the “Want to Know” column you can ask youth to think about what else they would like to know, and of course the “Learned” column is completed at the end when you capture the key learnings of the group.

If the KWL Chart seems too cumbersome, try a simple T-chart.  On one side write what the youth believe to be true on a particular topic and on the other side, record the evidence that you find for that belief. 

Either way, you are helping youth understand that what they are learning today is building on information, knowledge, and experiences that they have had in the past.  You can help them to focus on the points of intersection and the connection to new experiences that are yet to come.
Check out C4K’s Class for Site Coordinators entitled English Learners

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


BOOST--the Best Out Of School Time conference beings today--May 1, with its fabulous pre-conference line-up.  For those of you who have never been to BOOST, it is truly a remarkable gathering of folks who are driven to make the afterschool program for the kids they serve the best they can be.  BOOST regular sessions begin on Thursday and participants will have an opportunity to hear from Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes and How Children Succeed.  The first is an up-close look at the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, and the second a look at the importance of grit, curiosity and the hidden power of character in defining success for youth. 
There will be two days packed with workshops that cover many aspects of afterschool programming.  You can also attend workshops that are a series such as the ones sponsored to support Summer Matters programming and information from the California Department of Education.  This year BOOST will be airing films--documentaries that focus on the challenges facing youth and families today.
C4K has a booth in the auditorium set aside to share the latest and greatest things for afterschool programs.  Stop by and see us and pick up information about our amazing staff development program--including our written and media presentations, training, lessons plans and more.
Stop by and say “Hello!”  Audrey and Liz look forward to meeting you.