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JUN
23
2016

STEM
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Guest Blog: Eight tips for facilitating maker activities with youth

By Guest Blogger

By Emily McLeod, Director of Curriculum at Techbridge, with contributions from Mia Shaw, Dolores Toledo, and Renny Talianchich, all Program Coordinators.

At Techbridge, making is a big part of the afterschool and summer STEM programming we deliver to more than 600 girls from underserved communities in the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about what high-quality making looks like and what staff can do to ensure that all participants are engaged and learning. Here’s our eight best practices for facilitating maker activities with youth.

1. Take time to build a community of makers

It is essential to take the time to create a culture and supportive space where it’s OK try new things, ask for help when you need it, and dream big. At the beginning of our Summer Academy, girls decided together what they wanted their community to look like. Every day, there were icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities, a practice we carry over into our afterschool programs.

2. Encourage youth choice

Youth are more invested in projects when they have ownership and seeing their own ideas come to life is a strong motivator. Youth choice also fosters equity, empowering youth to bring in their expertise, background, and personal interests. Therefore, most of our projects give youth meaningful choices about the direction they will take their work. In our high school programs, girls spend much of the year building projects of their own design to take to the local Maker Faire. With younger students, we often start with a prompt, concept, or design challenge (e.g. “make a robot that can interact with humans”) which provides focus, while allowing room for creativity.

3. Build peer and near-peer leadership

Taking on the role of an expert helps empower youth. To develop peer leadership, identify participants with more experience and actively encourage them to support their peers and share knowledge. During our Summer Academy, we invited girls from Techbridge’s high school programs to act as group leaders for middle school participants. This allowed older girls to develop leadership skills, provided younger girls role models and support, and gave program coordinators assistance in facilitating complex projects. You can try this model with college students as well!

4. Acknowledge challenges and focus on process, not product

Making can be challenging and projects may not turn out the way we intended. Acknowledge this! We make time to share our “Glorious Goofs” and talk about girls’ work as prototyping, rather than setting an expectation of creating polished products. Our facilitators encourage girls to think about the skills they are gaining, and the ideas they are developing, as the most important things they’ll take away from the project. For more information about addressing and reframing failure, see this blog post and this paper.

5. Share models and your own making experiences

We often share samples made by facilitators or girls in other programs. Youth love to see and play with physical examples, which can spark ideas for those who may be struggling to get started. If you can, make a variety of models; we’ve found that if there’s just one kind, youth may be tempted to copy it. Making models ahead of time also gives facilitators direct experience with the project and can help them see potential challenges youth might face and develop troubleshooting strategies.

6. Don’t forget aesthetics

Although Making encompasses a variety of interests and skills, the spotlight is often turned on projects that are tech-heavy, with focus on function over form. These projects don’t always appeal to everyone. For some youth, the way a project looks is just as important as what it does, and we make sure to build in time for visual design alongside the coding and engineering. Although it’s tempting to think of art-making or decoration as things to do if there’s extra time, for some youth, it can be the difference between engaging wholeheartedly with a project and tuning out.

7. You won’t know everything and that’s OK

Sometimes, youth will ask questions that facilitators don't know how to answer or ask for help with something they don't know how to fix. That's OK. We take a co-learning approach to our maker projects, and are upfront about the fact that we don’t have all of the answers. In these situations, model how a maker should address challenges—ask a peer; use a variety of resources (e.g., online guides, role models, fellow staff members, books); or be willing to try something that might not work. Taking risks and being vulnerable shows youth that it’s OK for them to do the same.

8. Celebrate successes along the way and share with others

You can help youth celebrate all kinds of success, not just completed projects. Use opportunities such as group shout-outs, gallery walks, and one-on-one feedback to appreciate youth for their progress along the way. At the end of a project, give youth opportunities to share their work through presentations to peers, at a science fair, or family event. It teaches them how to communicate with others and act as STEM experts within their own communities.

JUN
20
2016

STEM
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Making and equity: how a successful program integrated the two

By Erin Murphy

As part of our ongoing celebration of the National Week of Making, we are excited to announce the release of a new STEM program profile highlighting the wonderful work of the California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN). The goal of our STEM program profiles is to share models of successful STEM programs and provide information about high-quality STEM learning experiences, professional development, funding, building partnerships and impressive outcomes for youth success.

CTAN is unique among our program profiles in that it is not an individual afterschool program, but was a partnership that brought together the expertise of afterschool directors, facilitators, and researchers. The network included two out-of-school time organizations—the Community Science Workshop Network (Fresno and Watsonville, CA) and Techbridge (Oakland, CA)—along with two science museums: Discovery Cube (Santa Ana, CA) and the Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA). Together, this group designed and implemented STEM-rich afterschool tinkering/making programs to serve youth from low-income, historically marginalized communities. These making and tinkering programs focus on learning STEM skills through the process of creating, building, or re-designing.

Check out the CTAN profile to learn more about:

  • Key characteristics of high-quality making/tinkering programs.
  • Youth outcomes related to high-quality, STEM-rich making/tinkering programs.
  • Building effective, and equitable partnerships with STEM-rich institutes and researchers.
  • Creating equitable programs that have positive outcomes for youth regardless of gender, ability, socioeconomic status, or community of origin.
  • Professional development strategies to support high-quality making/tinkering.

For more information on a variety of ways to approach STEM learning, check out our STEM Program Profiles!

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learn more about: Robotics Science Community Partners
JUN
17
2016

STEM
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Turn concepts into creations for the National Week of Making!

By Erin Murphy

The act of "making" is to use the process of creating, building or re-designing to learn new things about our world.

Join us in celebrating making this week by participating in the White House’s 2016 National Week of Making, June 17-23. The focus of this year’s event is to highlight the diversity of makers: young and old, experienced and novice, rural and urban. Afterschool programs have long focused on providing hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that allow kids to explore and discover creatively. This week, we will showcase how afterschool is helping kids from various communities and backgrounds become makers!

As part of this campaign, we will be releasing a new program profile for the California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN), a partnership of two museums and three afterschool programs focused on studying and implementing STEM-rich making in the afterschool space. Additionally, we will be participating in the Growing a Nation of Makers tweetchat, hosted by Design Squad. During the tweetchat on June 21 at 12 p.m. ET, we'll join a discussion on how we can help #GrowMakers. Finally, we will be sharing a guest blog from Techbridge, an afterschool program focused on introducing girls to science and engineering, in which the program's leaders will share their best-practices and teaching strategies for making in afterschool.

Get involved with the National Week of Making:

  • Tweet your Making experiences @afterschool4all with the hashtag #NationOfMakers or #WeekofMaking
  • Stay tuned for more blogs, tweets and Facebook posts from us to learn more about making in afterschool
  • Participate in the Growing a Nation of Makers #GrowMakers tweetchat where participants will share their knowledge and expertise around making. Tune in on June 21 at 12 p.m. ET with @Designsquad, @SWEtalk, @TheConnectory and @ngcproject.
  • Attend an event in your community

Respond to the White House’s call to action and make a commitment to helping spread the maker movement

JUN
9
2016

NEWS ROUNDUP
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Weekly Media Roundup: June 9, 2016

By Luci Manning

Underwater Robotics Team Comes Up a Winner (Petoskey News-Review, Michigan)

After months of research and hard work, the East Jordan afterschool underwater robotics club’s vehicle came out on top at the Great Lakes Regional Competition. In addition to developing a remotely operated underwater robot designed to collect and analyze spilled oil samples, each team in the competition created a fictitious company to market their product and services. “This competition is very real, as there are deadlines, teamwork, collaboration, communication skills, and innovative engineering challenges,” team coach and STEM instructor John Twichel told the Petoskey News-Review.

State Schools Chief Richard Woods Promotes Summer Reading in Macon (Macon Telegraph, Georgia)

Georgia school superintendent Richard Woods joined local librarians and superintendents last week to promote the Middle Georgia Regional Library System’s summer reading program. The state education department has partnered with several organizations to donate more than 100,000 books to children this summer, and the reading program is trying to encourage students to read at least 25 hours this summer. “Reading doesn’t just stop at the end of school,” Woods told the Macon Telegraph. “It needs to continue during the summer.”

Taking Afterschool on the Road (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York)

Afterschool Ambassador Marcel Braithwaite discusses the importance of federal and local funding for afterschool programs in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Last week, I joined more than 150 afterschool advocates from 36 states… to send a message to Congress that we need to make afterschool a priority…. Lawmakers must resist efforts to balance the budget on the backs of schoolchildren. Securing funding for the afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families is vital for our neighborhoods and our communities. It was a message our lawmakers needed to hear, and we were proud to deliver it!”

Education for Homeless Kids Gets a Boost (Deseret Morning News, Utah)

The Utah State Board of Education recently approved funding to make sure summer education for homeless children starts on time this year. The board unanimously approved $15,000 to fund the Road Home’s Midvale Center’s summer program, which serves about 50 homeless students, according to the Deseret Morning News. The all-day program includes meals, academic instruction, field trips and other fun activities. “Children experiencing homelessness can lose an estimated three to six months of educational attainment with each episode of homelessness,” said State Rep. Steve Eliason, who secured the appropriation. “This funding will help mitigate this issue for some of the most at-risk students in the state of Utah.” 

APR
13
2016

NEWS ROUNDUP
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Weekly Media Roundup: April 13, 2016

By Luci Manning

It Feels Great to Help Young Refugees Succeed (Buffalo News, New York)

Child refugees face a lot of obstacles when they arrive in the United States, including language barriers that can keep them from succeeding in school. Thankfully, an afterschool program in Buffalo is trying to help kids overcome their English difficulties and perform at grade level. ENERGY pairs children with adult mentors three times a week to work on reading and writing comprehension, enjoy a meal and play games. According to volunteer Clark Sykes, the program gives him hope at a time when the country is politically polarized by immigration issues. “I know the reality of children who want to learn so that they can be like everyone else in their grade and make their families proud,” he said in a Buffalo News column.

Columbus High to Start Talk Show (Commercial Dispatch, Mississippi)

A group of Columbus High School students had their television debut this weekend thanks to a new talk show filmed and produced by the students themselves. The kids are producing Falcon Talk as part of an afterschool program that aims to give young people a taste of what a future in television or journalism would be like. Additionally, the program gives students an academic boost and teaches many useful skills for their future careers, like learning how to debate and act like a professional. “I’d love to be able to see them have a legitimate talk show with a live audience,” faculty sponsor Andrew Nation told the Commercial Dispatch. “It’s amazing to watch the kids have fun with it.”

A Young Entrepreneur Shows Low-Income Teens How to Launch a Business (Christian Science Monitor, Massachusetts)

Daquan Oliver didn’t have many opportunities growing up, but that never stopped his entrepreneurial spirit. By his sophomore year of college, he had formed an entrepreneurship-focused mentoring program for low-income teens just like himself. WeThrive trains college students on how to be mentors, then pairs the students with local kids using an 11-week curriculum developed by the program. Through WeThrive, students develop confidence, leadership and teamwork skills as they put together business ideas and pitch them to adult funders. “I want them to be the next generation of social-change leaders,” Oliver told the Christian Science Monitor.

Robotics Team’s Project Helps Woodford County Girl (Associated Press, Illinois)

The Metamora Area Robotics Students and Woodford Area Robotics Students, or MARS WARS, have taken on a special mission: developing customized robotic vehicles for children with disabilities. The afterschool robotics team spends its six-week regular season creating complex robots for FIRST Robotics competitions, then spends the off-season developing cars for kids like four-year-old Emily Heflin, who has a rare genetic disorder that has kept her from being able to walk or talk throughout her life. “I’m just completely blown away with how intelligent and how talented these high school kids are,” Emily’s mom Jodi told the Associated Press. “They are going to change the world someday.” The program helps students see the real-world applications of the technical skills they’re learning while programming robots.

OCT
21
2015

STEM
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Need help speaking afterschool STEM-ish?

By Anita Krishnamurthi

Do you think afterschool programs are a great place to engage kids in learning about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)? Do you have trouble sometimes convincing others to share your enthusiasm for it? If so, check out our new website: the Afterschool STEM Hub! Not only do we think it’s gorgeous, it has LOTS of tools you might find useful to tell a compelling story and inspire enthusiasm for STEM in afterschool.

The site offers compelling talking points you can download, Powerpoint slides you can present, and infographics you can print, share, post, pin, and tweet. It even features an animation you can use to show why afterschool programs are such crucial partners in STEM education. All of these resources are rooted in research and developed with guidance from the Frameworks Institute, an organization with great expertise in communications and messaging. So you can be assured: we have tested the words, values and metaphors we suggest you use to make a compelling case for afterschool STEM programs. 

The afterschool STEM Hub is a collaboration among afterschool leaders and stakeholders to provide coordinated messaging that impacts advocacy and policy, and that helps ensure the important place of afterschool programs in the STEM learning ecosystem. Led by the Afterschool Alliance, the STEM Hub is funded by the Noyce Foundation and includes the following organizations: 4-H, Association of Science-Technology Centers, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Cornell lab of Ornithology, Every Hour Counts, Exploratorium, Girls Inc., National Afterschool Association, National Girls Collaborative Project, Program in Education, Afterschool & Resiliency (PEAR), Statewide Afterschool Networks (represented by Oregon After School for Kids and Indiana Afterschool Network), Techbridge, The After-School Corporation, University of Virginia, and the YMCA of the USA.

Though the site has just been released, we will continue to update it with new resources through the coming months—so remember to look out for any announcements posted on Afterschool Alliance publications. For now, feel free to click your way to www.afterschoolstemhub.org, grab the resources that work best for you and start speaking STEM-ish today! 

AUG
13
2015

STEM
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Guest blog: Afterschool robotics, down under

By Guest Blogger

Photo via Camdenton 4-H FIRST LASER 3284 Robotics.

Sherry Comer is an Afterschool Ambassador Emeritus and Director of Afterschool Services in Camdenton, Missouri.

It was a “g’day” for the Camdenton R-III Afterschool Services department when they were notified that one of their five FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics teams had been selected to be the Missouri FTC team representing FIRST® Robotics at an international level at the Asia Pacific tournament in Sydney, Australia, in July. Their selection was even more special because this small group of students was made up of 7th and 8th graders, even though most FTC teams are made up of 9-12th graders.

Camdenton is located in central Missouri in the heart of Lake of the Ozarks. This small town of 3,200 is tucked away in the hills where little industry exists and the economy relies heavily on tourism dollars earned in the summer to survive the winter months. The Camdenton R-III School system covers a massive area of 372 square miles. Bus rides to and from school can be more than 45 minutes one way. Camdenton founded an afterschool program 16 years ago after being awarded a federal 21st CCLC grant. The program has grown significantly over the years and now serves almost a quarter of the 4,200 K-12 student population through its innovative afterschool programs. About 7 percent of our afterschool children participate on one of the LASER (Laker Afterschool Science Engineering and Robotics) FIRST® teams in grades 2-12. 

As the Director of Afterschool Services, I was thrilled that students were able to experience new cultures, and that they worked hard to figure out how to communicate with international teams whose members didn’t speak English, so that they could work in alliances to compete. It was definitely a culture shock for the majority of our students. Several of them had never flown and only one had traveled outside the United States. Students had to quickly adapt to learn to exchange money, to walk on the opposite side of the sidewalk, and to find ways to communicate. They quickly realized food looks and tastes different around the world. 

JUN
3
2015

NEWS ROUNDUP
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Weekly Media Roundup  June 3, 2015

By Luci Manning

Council Members Complain, and Summer School Money Is Restored (New York Times, New York)

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed his recent decision to cut 17,000 slots in summer programs for middle school students. The $28 million saved by cutting the programs was meant to be redirected to low-performing schools, but in a hearing on Thursday New York City Council members said that was not reason enough to deprive other children, many of them low-income as well, of opportunities to attend summer programs. City officials announced Thursday afternoon that the administration would restore program money “after hearing from parents and kids,” according to the New York Times.

After-School Robotics Program Creates ‘Success Story’ for Middle-Schoolers (Deseret Morning News, Utah)

A new district-wide afterschool robotics program culminated last week with seventh- through ninth-grade students from three schools sending their robots into battle against one another in everything from tug-of-war to sumo-style combat. The program is one of several overseen by the Utah STEM Action Center, an effort led by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to coordinate STEM opportunities for students. The campaign specifically targets girls and kids from low-income families, two of the populations least likely to pursue careers in STEM fields, to get them excited about computer programming. And it seems to be working. “I absolutely love this program,” ninth-grader Joshua Herman told the Deseret Morning News. “I get to be creative every day after school and be able to learn more and create new ways of solving simple problems.”

Reading Can Be Hard, but Reading Rangers Ride to the Rescue (Huntsville Times, Alabama)

For some students, reading aloud in front of a group can be daunting. But at the Reading Rangers afterschool program, eight- to 12-year-old boys are gaining confidence and improving their reading skills with help from their leader, long-time library supervisor Geoffrey Jolly. At their weekly sessions, the boys elect a leader, select a book, then read and discuss, according to the Huntsville Times. They take turn reading out loud, two pages each, and they don’t have to worry about mispronouncing unfamiliar words – they have a dictionary on hand for reference. If the boys decide they like a book enough to recommend it to others, the library puts it on a shelf with a special bookmark. Jolly wants the boys to come to understand how essential reading is, because, as he always tells them: “When you read, you succeed.”

York County Elementary Students Learning Languages Early (York Dispatch, Pennsylvania)

At Delta-Peach Bottom Elementary School’s afterschool language program, kids play Twister to learn colors in German, sing songs in French and make snacks while reciting food names in Spanish. The students receive these creative, hands-on language lessons from the school’s language teachers and from older students, who also act as mentors to the kids. The free nine-week course is the only afterschool language program for elementary-age students in York County. According to German teacher Joanna Kapinos these young students are at the perfect age to learn a new language, “It’s actually the best time because they learn so quickly,” she told the York Dispatch. “Their accents are better, they’re still developing their critical thinking, they’re really able to pick it up, and it’s great.” 

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learn more about: Robotics Summer Learning Literacy