Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Making the Connection

There is an old quote that states, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”  This is such a true sentiment and certainly applies to the connections we have and continue to make.  Whether those connections are with other people, ideas, content knowledge, or experiences, it is that ability to make connections and links that support our learning and habits. 
Consider this—if you as a small child had not made the connection between the feeling of heat and being burned, you would continue to go around and touch every hot thing (often getting burned in the process) because you did not get the connection between the feeling of heat and getting burned.  Hollywood has made several films on this inability to make connections.  50 First Dates is one of them.  The Drew Barrymore character had no ability to transfer short term memory experiences into long term memory.  As a result, she was trapped reliving the same day over and over.  Her family, trying to save her from the daily trauma of realizing she can’t remember the day before, played along and relived the same day over and over along with her.  Another film is Groundhog Day.  In this film the Bill Murray character, a weatherman, finds himself living the same day over and over, much to his dismay.  The Family Man with Nicholas Cage was another take on the notion of connection and had a fast-lane Cage make a connection with being a family man in an alternative life, and the ever-popular It’s A Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart allowed the main character to view the world had he not been there. 
Making connections—in reality or through vicarious means—is important.  Helping youth see how things are connected is important as they are preparing to participate in a global environment and community.  Looking for common ground will become an essential skill as we connect with people from other countries, religions, cultures, and points of view.  One strategy you can use on a regular basis to help youth make connections is debriefing.  Debriefing helps youth see how the experience connects to other experiences and attach that learning in the brain—making the learning, sticky. 

Too often we view learning in silos.  How can you connect what you do in the afterschool space with the school day , the community, and the family?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Building Background Knowledge

What is background knowledge and why is it important?  Background knowledge is defined as the information that is critical for you to have in order to understand a situation or particular information.  When it comes to reading, according to PBA (Atlanta-based public broadcasting), “Research suggests that, aside from socio-economic factors, one of the best predictors of student learning is what the student already knows before studying new material, or how much background knowledge they have.” 
Background knowledge provides the learner with context and a frame of reference that is invaluable in understanding the topic.  Recently it was discovered that the U.S. government was monitoring cell phone activity of “regular” Americans.  There has been outrage on both sides of the issue.  In fact, Senator McCain supported this monitoring by putting the action in terms of September 11.  He said, “If this were September 12, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”    For most of the young people in our afterschool program, they were either very young or not yet born when 9-11 occurred.  It is history to them, not part of the fabric of their experience.  In order to make that event more “real” to them, we take the time to share the context of the event, the shock that we all felt, and how this has changed not only the way air travel in this country works, but the way government agencies collaborate.  If youth understand the context of McCain’s statement, it makes it easier to understand his point of view—not that they will agree with it, but that is not the point.  The point is to understand the context that was a critical part of his point of view.
In afterschool programs we have an opportunity to intentionally build background knowledge with youth if we know what they are going to be studying in school.  If the concepts being introduced are new to youth, frontloading that introduction with hands-on experiences that build background knowledge will help them to learn the new information. “For example, if a child is going to begin a lesson about the respiratory system, you can build his background knowledge by helping him connect the term respiratory system with the lungs and the act of breathing by showing him pictures of the respiratory system, or by reviewing new vocabulary words and their meanings.”  In our program we might take the “telling” a step further by actually going outdoors, playing an active game and then discussing what is happening in the youth’s respiratory system and identifying the importance of easy breathing and what happens when we have asthma, allergies, or a cold.  By building this knowledge, the students will be more ready to comprehend the lesson on the respiratory system. 

Building Background knowledge requires thought and intentionality.  What are the best practices that you have in place to do this?

Friday, July 26, 2013

What Does Humor Tell Us?

Have you ever heard or used the expression, “If I weren’t laughing I would be crying?”  If you think about it, laughing and crying are both strong emotions and when we have an experience, especially one that doesn’t go well, these emotions are very close together.  Some folks believe that if you are laughing you are not taking things seriously.  I’m not sure that this is the case.  I think that laughter, like crying is often used as a way to release the tension that is building up inside of a person. 
Take for example the video I recently viewed entitled,
"I Choose C"
“Why We Need Common Core:  IChoose C”. 
This video for me is the perfect example of the statement, “If I weren’t laughing I would be crying.”  When I first watched it I laughed and found a great deal of humor in the way this very serious topic was presented.  The girl in the video has been schooled, but she certainly has been educated.  Her comment, “I don’t think my public education prepared me…” is, in my opinion, right on the money.  Since my first viewing I’ve probably watched it another 15 times in different contexts.  Each time I chuckle, but each time I am reminded of how ineffective our standardized test system has been in preparing our young people for the world.  So the humor in the video relieves the tension, allows us to acknowledge the point of view, laugh at ourselves (certainly no one intentionally wanted youth to be unprepared for the world of college and career), regroup, and figure out a different approach and path.
The ability to find humor in situations is also a way to appreciate the whimsical, the seemingly unimportant,  that will, like all other experiences, either confirm what we already believe to be true, adjust our point of view, or provide for us an AHA moment.  Humor can certainly bring us to laughter and help us see things more clearly.

Let us know what you think about humor, “I Choose C”, or the last seemingly whimsical experience that has impacted your life.   

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sticky Learning

The most concrete way we can experience the world is through our five senses:  sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. 
"Five Senses"
In fact, the more of our senses that are intentionally or unintentionally involved in an experience the more profound our memory.  To prove my point, think back on a poignant childhood memory—the one that is still very vivid in your mind.  What about that event made it so memorable?  What were the images, the noises, the aromas, the sensations, and the savor?  How did the experience make you feel?  Sir Ken Robinson reminds us that aesthetic experiences are ones that we experience fully and my guess is that the experience you recall was an aesthetic experience. 

So the question becomes, how do we help youth have learning experiences that require them to use as many of the five sense as possible?  Certainly if we embrace the LIAS (Learning in Afterschool and Summer) principles—learning that is active, collaborative, meaningful, supports mastery, and broadens horizons—we have a formula for creating learning opportunities that will be memorable for youth.  As you are planning your enrichment activities have these five principles serve as a checklist and be sure to consider them in the plan. 
Another quick litmus test is to ask yourself about the level of involvement for each youth in the activities you are planning.  If you have youth involved in partner work, you can be sure that at least 50% of the time both youth are involved.  Small team work with 3-4 students reduces the percentage of involvement.  Our goal should be to set up our activities to ensure that youth are actively engaged.  This means that while we may demonstrate a portion of the activity, we understand that engagement is not a spectator sport—youth must be actively involved in the learning.  The more intentional we are in planning our learning opportunities, including debriefing the experience, the more we can ensure that the learning will stick.

What are the things that you are doing to make learning sticky?  What are the best practices that are making a difference?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Are Questions So Important?

The Four C’s—Communication, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity
Here we are midway through 2013—13 years into the 21st Century.  As we moved into the 21st Century educators realized that the skills needed to be successful had changed dramatically and that it was essential  we identify these critical skills and embed them in K-12 education.  The National Education Association (NEA) helped to establish a Partnership for 21st Century Skills eleven years ago and the group created a 
Framework for 21stCentury Learning which identified 18 different skills that would be critical for youth to master to be successful. 

The group soon discovered that the Framework was too long and after many conversations with educators across the county identified the Four C’s:  critical thinking, communication, collaborations, and creativity.  The challenge, of course, is how to build these four critical skills into K-12 education.  I would say that these skills are also ones that we should support in the afterschool program as well.  Certainly the hands-on, experiential learning opportunities we offer support creativity, critical thinking and collaboration as we challenge youth to create a roller coaster from pipe insulation, plan an advocacy campaign for healthy food choice, or any number of other projects that youth are encouraged to work on.  We can promote communication by ensuring that youth continue to lead program activities, share information with one another about the projects they have completed, and simply speak to the way program is run during such town hall experiences as “What’s Up?”
Afterschool is well-positioned to promote the Four C’s, and with a minimal shift of intention to focus on these four key skills, we can do our part to prepare youth for life beyond school and our program.

To read more about the 4 C’s, “Google” the topic, check out the information, and then let us know what you think.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Does It Mean To Be An Afterschool Professional?

An afterschool professional is a person who understands that he is a role model and mentor for the youth he works with.  As that role model, the afterschool professional is a learner—a person who understands that every experience does one of three things for the learner:  confirms what the learner already knew or believed to be true, helped the learned adjust what he or she already knew—expand the horizon so to speak, or provide an “AHA” moment when something new was learned.  When an afterschool professional embraces the learning and reflects on how that learning influences him and change his way of doing things, he gives permission to youth to be a learner and to change when it makes sense to change.  The afterschool professional models the behaviors of a learner.

The afterschool professional learns how to build relationships with youth, families, fellow staff members, school day staff and the community.  She learns how to communicate both formally and informally to ensure that everyone is “up to speed” and well informed.  She also knows how to acknowledge and celebrate success with her students and her colleagues.  The big three—build relationships, communicate formally and informally, and acknowledge and recognize others—is essential for the afterschool professional to understand and do.

The afterschool professional understands that while she is always friendly to youth she is not their friend and continues to coach, facilitate learning, guide, and when necessary hold the youth accountable for the behavior they exhibit—both positive and negative. 

Being an afterschool professional means giving the best of yourself each and every day which will ultimately give youth permission to do the same. Share with us how you achieve professionalism every day.  We’re interested in hearing from you.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Keeping Kids Safe

Keeping kids safe, physically and emotionally is part of our everyday work in afterschool programs.  While events like Sandy Hook and Columbine serve to remind us that we cannot protect youth from people determined to harm them, when we look at the world more holistically, we realize that fortunately these catastrophic events are not everyday occurrences and we do have some control over those everyday situations.

I was talking with a young man who pointed this out to me in clear terms.  I was expressing my concern for his well-being because I realized he spent the weekends with a brother who was heavily involved in gang activity.  He looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You don’t get it.  I am dying every day in inches.  With my brother, it would be over quickly.”  Needless to say, this took me aback.  So I talked more with him and he shared how he was made fun of, mocked and sometimes bullied.  We talked about how older youth took out their frustrations on younger kids because they couldn’t fight back effectively.  We talked about how he yearned for a place that felt safe, and sadly, although school was somewhat better than the neighborhood and apartment complex he lived in, school was not that safe place for him either. 

We need to take a stand.  While we may not be able to control every aspect of a youth’s life, we can be sure that during the time the youth is in our afterschool program he or she feels safe—both physically and emotionally.  To find out some practical ways to do this, check out the Nifty 9 e-Book on Safety. 

What are some of the challenges that you are facing keeping youth safe?  Are you struggling balancing heightened safety regulations (lock outs and gate opening) with running a successful program?  Weigh in on this topic.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Donate Change Today!

The difference between yesterday and today’s youth is that today, many youths lack the positive role models to help them recognize their unique potential. I’m sure sometime in your life, you have had a mentor of some sort guide you to the successful adult that you are today. Why not continue this trend of guidance with today’s youth?

Entrusted Legacy, a non-profit dedicated to finding the necessary resources to help adults become mentor’s to today’s youth, wants to ensure that every youth has someone they can look up to. And not just someone who makes a brief appearance in their lives, but rather, somebody who will invest in today’s youth by helping them recognize their potential and guiding them so they can grow into successful adults.

There are many ways that you, a reader of this article, can help Entrusted Legacy fulfill our commitment to today’s youth. Some of the ways that you can help might be to just share this article with colleagues. You can also inform somebody about the cause by directing them to our Facebook Page and help us raise 250 likes, follow us on Twitter and help us gain 200 followers, volunteer your time, OR you can donate on our Indiegogo's Donor Page or our Website's Donor Page.

Because there are so many different ways to get involved, you are in no way obliged to donate any monetary items to our non-profit organization. But, I feel motivated to tell you that the monetary donation we ask from you will neither bankrupt nor burden you. Rather, the donation we ask for is just this, a donation. If you feel inspired, motivated, interested, or driven to donate, let it be from your own volition. If you are drawing blanks as to what is “appropriate” for a donation, allow me to help you by informing you how your donation invests in the success of youths.

·         $50 donation allows 1 staff member a full year’s worth of curriculum. This is the equivalent to $4.57/month OR 1 Venti Starbuck’s Latte/month!
·         $200 provides a staff member with access to the staff development training program for the year
·         $500 provides an entire school site staff with the staff development program and curriculum for the year.  

During these past few years alone, education across the nation has experienced many drawbacks. The decline in funding for education has come with many disadvantages such as: fewer staff members, cutting after-school programs, getting rid of art programs, an inability to offer necessary school supplies, and even forcing some schools to shut down completely. While your donation to Entrusted Legacy will not solve the education crisis in America, it will help.

Entrusted Legacy, as previously stated, has a commitment to make a positive impact on the youth in California and programs across the nation. Your donation, therefore, would help Entrusted Legacy by funding training and supporting the adults who work with today’s youths in these programs. If you are not convinced of our purpose yet, think of this—local after-school programs provide youth with a safe place to be after they have been released from school.

When a school experiences a budget cut, the first programs to go are usually after-school programs. In order to operate at a high capacity and have a strong sustainable program, staff development implementation is paramount to making an after-school program into a long lasting, thriving, legacy. We can't do it alone. With your help, you can support this mission to provide youth with well-equipped, positive adult role model.

Entrusted Legacy-IRS Tax #27-2049633

Friday, July 5, 2013

Is Common Core a Game Changer?

I read an article recently by Mike Kirst, President of the California State Board of Education entitled Common Coreand State Policy:  It Changes AlmostEverything.  He begins this article by saying that the implications of Common Core are just “beginning to unfold” and that it is incumbent upon policymakers to eliminate “conflicts between policies, look for gaps where there is no policy, and ensure that newly aligned polices have sufficient breadth and depth.” 

Common Core is designed to drive learning deeper and turn-around the current trend to memorize facts and regurgitate those facts on a standardized test.  It is expected that the Common Core will transform the learning silos that are common today.  Common Core is not a new curriculum, it is an approach to learning that is focused on relevance, application, transfer of knowledge to new situations, communication, collaboration in problem solving, and continuing the quest to learn how to learn more effectively.  It will not be enough for youth to simply give an answer—correct or not.  The learner will need to explain the strategies used and the thinking that was involved to arrive at the answer. 

Common Core standards can be naturally included in project-based learning, service learning, and community service—three options often found in afterschool programs.  The Three R’s of afterschool—relationship building, relevance, and rigor—fit perfectly with the Common Core mind set.  If you haven’t been reading about these game changing standards, go on line and you can find a plethora of material to help inform your thinking.

Where are you in your knowledge and understanding of the Common Core Standards?  What are you doing to embed the Habits of the Mind in your program?  Let us know what you’ve got going on.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, America

It’s hard to believe that it has been 37 years since America had its 200th birthday, but this 4th of July, America will be 237 years old.  The experiment in democracy that is America is still working and every year we learn how challenging it is to be a “good citizen” in a country that expects much of its people.  When America was born, character defined leaders.  The emphasis was on doing right, being principle-centered, and giving back to the country which had given so much to you. 

When you visit Mt. Vernon (home of George Washington) and Monticello (home of Thomas Jefferson), you get a sense of the men who willingly risked it all to make this country a reality.  Washington was not interested in being another King George, he was interested in getting the country started and then returning to his home in Mount Vernon and tending to his land.  Jefferson was not only the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, he was an inventor, a scientist, a farmer who donated his tremendous library to the Library of Congress to “jump start” its collection.  These were humble men in many ways, yet able to lead because of the principle-centered roots they planted to provide them a foundation to dream the “impossible dream”. 

In Kennedy’s inaugural he stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”  So the question is this—“What can you and I do for our country?”  It seems clear to me that as
Americans we need to seriously consider this question so we can ensure that America celebrates its 300th birthday, 63 years from now. 
What are some of the things that you are doing to support our country?  Share your activities with us. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Welcome Summer!

Summer is the time for learning.  We have all heard about the tragedy of summer learning loss, but too often we translate that into thinking youth have to be engaged in “school” to be learning.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Summer learning could certainly include traditional “school” things like reading, doing a science investigation, or learning about the neighborhood, but it can also include things like Cuisine 101 and Travel Agent classes, volunteering at the library or a preschool center, creating a scavenger hunt to familiarize yourself and others with historical sites in your community, or even going on a virtual tour of natural history museums around the world. 

Summer is the time for a different kind of learning, one that captures the interest of the youth involved and that will lead the youth to a deeper understanding of the topic selected.  In a Cuisine 101 class you might help youth create dishes they could easily replicate at home. For example, if you created a “Chopped” episode, you could ask youth to prepare pizza using bread, catsup, oregano and cheese and cook it in a solar oven that they made.  You could also have them experience a “beach barbecue” by having them roast hot dogs in a Pringle’s can.  Or perhaps you will let them make ice cream in a bag by becoming the “external” dasher.  All of these experiences will help the youth gain confidence in him or herself and could have a practical application when it comes time to fix a snack or dinner at home. 

Summer is time for you to learn something new as well.  What would you like to learn about?  Would you like to read a book a week, travel to a nearby attraction, volunteer at a homeless center, take a calligraphy class through the city parks and rec department, or walk every day for an hour, going somewhere different every day.  Whatever it is—giving yourself time to reflect and think uninterrupted, learning something new, or indulging one of your learning wishes—give yourself permission to be a summer learner.  Open your mind, take it all in, and consider what you want to learn next.

What are your summer plans?  Let us know—respond to this blog and share your plans with us.