Monday, May 18, 2015

Digital Badges in Expanded Learning Programs

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha
If the expanded learning movement is to continue to prosper, these programs must be recognized as important places of learning. The use and awarding of digital badges to recognize the learning that takes place within these programs represents an excellent strategy to accomplish this. Digital badges can be used to recognize exemplar programs, staff trainers, program staff, and volunteers who have completed professional development and youth who have acquired new knowledge and skills through participation in expanded learning activities. 

What is a Digital Badge?
“Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings, and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.”[1] 

What are the Benefits of Digital Badges?
The Center for Digital Badges (CDB) and our partners believe that by using digital badges to acknowledge the learning of staff and youth participants, these programs will benefit in the following ways: 
  • Because program leaders must think through and explicitly state what learning will take place in program activities or clubs that are to be recognized by a digital badge; this specificity raises the bar for learning accountability. 
  • The awarding of digital badges defines the learning that goes on within a program for outsiders, which is vital if expanded learning programs are to be recognized as important places of learning. Badges can become important, visible evidence that expanded learning programs take learning seriously and apply rigorous standards to learning outcomes. 
  • The adult program staff members often acquire important knowledge and skills through professional development and years of experience. Youth acquire valuable skills and knowledge through their participation in specific expanded learning activities. Both deserve an artifact that documents their learning and—importantly—can be shared with peers, future employers, and those allowing admittance to higher education. 

What are the Steps in Creating a Digital Badge System?
  1. Ask “why?”;
  2. Determine which activities will be included in the first round of digital badges;
  3. Determine the specifics - learning goals, criteria, and evidence;
  4. Determine how the badges will be awarded and managed;
  5. Determine who will create and how the badges will be created;
  6. Design the badge by considering image, shape, color, etc.;
  7. Deliver the digital badge to the recipient using a “digital backpack”; and
  8. How recipients can make use of the digital badges.
For more detailed information, go to

What Expanded Learning Programs Are Using Digital Badges?
California School-Age Consortium 
CalSAC awards digital badges to their trainers and the afterschool staff that participate in their professional development training and programs.

Given the breadth, scale and depth of training and leadership development opportunities that staff and programs access from CalSAC any given year, it seemed clear that there should be a way for them to capture the investment they’re making toward providing quality services for children and youth.” 
- CalSAC Executive Director, Ruth Obel-Jorgensen

Central Valley Digital Badge Project 
This group used digital badges to recognize high school afterschool programs that are exemplar in demonstrating the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles.

“Based on anecdotal evidence, the digital badge program assessments assisted program leaders and youth identify strengths and weaknesses in activity content and delivery.” - Lori Carr, Fresno County Office of Education

Youth Institute (YMCA of Greater Long Beach) and Replication Sites
 The use of digital badges by the Youth Institute acknowledges the learning of their program alumni and newer youth participants who complete program courses, projects and experiences.

“We saw digital badges as a perfect opportunity for our youth to be recognized for their knowledge and expertise in digital media and the ability to demonstrate mastery of skills in a workforce setting. Every activity in the summer and year-round is product-based; the youth need to show expertise of a subject matter by completing the project. Our program and curriculum model blend perfectly with the badge system.”  – Les Peters, Executive Director, Youth Institute

Other Expanded Learning Programs Awarding Digital Badges
The Center for Digital Badges serves as a clearinghouse for information and research on digital badges. It also offers a number of case studies on the use of digital badges by expanded learning programs. It was created by Temescal Associates and offers badge design and implementation support for expanded learning programs. 

[1] Digital Badges; MacArthur Foundation; []; April 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

HKL: Providing Thought-Provoking, Educational Opportunities

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) Project and Temescal Associates has sponsored an annual conference since 2012 under the banner of “How Kids Learn” (HKL). These gatherings were designed to provide youth workers and their educational stakeholders with thought-provoking, educational opportunities. 

We are happy to announce that we are expanding our “How Kids Learn” events. In addition to sponsoring an annual conference, we will also sponsor smaller, local events designed to offer access to national thinkers and researchers, innovative practitioners, and networking opportunities. Below, is preview of our upcoming How Kids Learn events scheduled to date. You can get more information on the HKL initiative by clicking here

HKL V: Preparing Youth for Work and Career Success
Our fifth How Kids Learn conference will focus on workforce readiness issues by offering presentations by experts in the field and from the business community. We will also feature practitioners who have developed innovative programs to prepare children and adolescents for the world of work. This conference will be conducted in the Bay Area on December 10, 2015 and in Los Angeles on January 21, 2016. Please save these dates and we will provide more information later. (To view video presentations from our previous conferences, click here.) 

Special, free screenings of Finding the Gold Within 
This feature film documentary had its world premiere recently at the Mill Valley California film festival. It features a program from Akron, OH named Alchemy, Inc. This group uses drumming, mythology, and journaling to promote the healthy development of inner city African-American children and youth. Following the film, we will host a Q&A session with the film director and young people who are featured in the film. To view a trailer of the film, click here.

These screenings are intended for Bay Area youth program providers and youth leaders from those programs, and will be conducted between May 17-19th in San Francisco and Berkeley. It is especially appropriate for programs that serve older youth. We also encourage program staff to bring youth representatives. For more details, visit

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dr. Tony Smith - Former OUSD Superintendent Now State Superintendent of Education, Illinois

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha

Oakland Unified School District lost a superb superintendent when Tony Smith left in 2013. He recently resurfaced as new State Superintendent of Education in Illinois this April 2015.

Below we share an interview we did with Dr. Smith when he was in Oakland. You can also view this interview in a 2-part video with Dr. Smith by clicking here and here

Q: The LIAS learning principles were not intended to apply to strictly afterschool settings. In your experience, how are these principles, when taken together, relevant to young people’s learning? 
Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of Education, Illinois
Photo Credit:
A: I think the principles about learning and afterschool time are really about engaging the whole child, which is what I think good educators do and good school systems should be thinking about all the time. The research that has been happening reminds us that young people are active learners in the larger world around them and that we, as adults and communities, must support young people in their learning as they become more pro-socially integrated into the life of our communities.

Q: How are these LIAS principles related to what we are doing in school reform efforts? 
A: The guiding principles that have been pushed forward recently in the afterschool time are helping us think more about the whole child, about community schools, and connecting the world that our young people and families live in with the school house. We have to get much more thoughtful by engaging with community. We want to advance reform so that it’s not just about school reform, its about changing our notions of learning, engaging and inviting a fuller experience for what learning can be. The afterschool time is really pushing that and helping change ideas about what we should be doing inside of school.  

Q: We are focusing our efforts on the idea of improving our approaches to how children learn. Do you see this as an important shift in how we talk about learning in afterschool and summer programs? 
A: The really exciting part of what’s coming from brain research and our knowledge of how young people learn is that we need to change the daily experience inside of school and also remember that kids are in school for only a very short amount of their time. So how are we supporting young people to know, learn, and be productive citizens? 

Photo Credit:
Adults  have to start thinking differently. All of us need to stay close to learning theory and realize that there is more to learn about learning. If we can continue to basically teach and help people who are responsible for education know that they have to be learners themselves, I think that helps us change the conversation. I think staying grounded in the research and talking about the ideas of learning help to change the conversation over time. Then, with more evidence, we can change our behaviors and begin saying, “Hey the whole community should be the learning environment”. We should have more structured opportunities for kids to take the lead on stuff and bring what they’re learning outside of the school back in. That way, I think educators can be the learners also.  

Q: Can you speak to one or more of the LIAS principles that most resonate for you when you think about creating learning environments and activities for kids? 
A: I think the guiding principles are essential. I think it’s so important to have a set of core ideas that you can work around. The way these principles have been compiled are really important. 

Obviously the work of being in a relationship with people, working deeply on stuff, really stuff you care about, matters.  The principle that is fundamentally important to me though is about expanding horizons, about the opportunity for young people to see possible futures. Sometimes, particularly in the urban setting or quite frankly in any setting, young people don’t have folks around them that are helping to expand the notions of what’s possible for them, who are looking into their eyes and saying, “I see greatness in you, and I see more than you see in yourself right now”. 

I think that afterschool time should offer those opportunities. Those in afterschool are less tethered to the school building, can do other stuff, can get further a field and actually get into some uncomfortable and different situations that provoke “huh, I never really thought about it like that”, or maybe “I could”, or “I really liked when we went there”. I think that when you have young people who only know a few square blocks, exposing them to new things can be fundamentally transformative. All of the other guiding principles are really important, but taking seriously that we have a responsibility to encourage, activate, and energize notions of possible futures, expanding horizons, that’s the one where I really think afterschool is uniquely and importantly positioned to do. 

Photo credit:
Q:What happens when we structure youth programs without paying attention to these learning principles? 
A: I think when we don’t pay attention to what really works for young people - about developing mastery, about caring about things, about working closely with others - then we create the conditions for young people to disengage.  This idea of young people dropping out of high school is a slow process of pushing kids out of the system.  If we don’t pay attention to what we know works for human beings, what we’re learning about human development, and all the learning research, then we’re responsible for making it less likely that young people realize their potential, that they’re connected, that they take leadership in positive ways.  

Young people are powerful and they want to have agency and exert energy on the world. Unless we’re helping them do that, working together, and helping with some boundaries,  I think we’re responsible for young people checking out and being outside of the system. 

Q: Which principle do you ultimately want every student to walk away with, more than any other principle?
A: At the end of the day, there’s no excuse for a young person or anybody not developing mastery over time. Many of these principles are facilitating conditions to develop mastery over time.  If in fact we don’t hold ourselves as a community, as adults, as educators, responsible for ensuring that people develop mastery, then we’ve failed in our responsibility. Having some sense of strength and agency is critical for every young person. It is not about seat time, it is about competence. It’s not about how long you did it, it’s about how well you do it. And we need to find ways to help every young person be great at something. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Youth Voice: A Perspective on Hiring Young People in Afterschool Programs

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha

One important way of affecting afterschool quality and its attractiveness to young people is to engage older youth and program alumni in the operation of the program. There are multiple benefits - both to the program and the young adults who are engaged as leaders or hired as staff. 

Who would know better about the benefits of hiring youth and program alumni than the young people who were granted this employment opportunity? Below are some of their statements regarding their experiences. 

Lorena Retano, Program Alumni, Youth Institute

Lorena Retano, Age 18
Youth Institute Program Alumni
Being a Youth Institute alumnus is probably one of the best things I’ve experienced. I’ve had the opportunity to work on multiple jobs teaching kids, younger than me, how to use movie and photograph editing software. The best example I have for what I experienced when being hired to work in an afterschool program was when I went to Richmond two summers ago to go teach iMovie, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. A team of three other people and myself spent about six hours a day teaching kids in middle school and high school how to use the different software. It was really exciting to share my knowledge with other people.

To work in an afterschool program you need to have confidence in what you are doing with your students so that you are not only successful but so that your students respect you. Supporting youth and program alumni in practicing different skills is definitely a great way to develop that confidence.

David Montoya, Age 20
arc Program Alumni

David Montoya, Program Alumni, arc 
I was a student of the after school program for 4 years. After I graduated, the program offered me a job. It was a great opportunity since I was pretty familiar with the program - I knew what was going on and what needed to happen. At the beginning, it was a bit weird since I went from being a student to a staff. The staff was very supportive, the students saw me as their friend. It took me a while to set myself aside from them and to build a line and to show them that I am a staff now.

Being hired allowed me to go to school, have a job, and do something that I love. I brought everything that I knew about the after school program. As a student participant, I gained leadership skills, which I used in my community, and most importantly at my school.

I think when people think of young adults they think of people who have no experience, who don’t know what they’re doing. But I think we are capable of taking on bigger responsibilities. We just need someone that would trust us and give us a chance.

Skhy Felder, Age 17
Youth Institute Program Alumni
Skhy Felder, Program Alumni, Youth Institute
Employing program alumni gives them the opportunity to grow and gives them the feeling of being an adult. They understand the younger youth better because they, in a way, know the struggle they go through.

From this experience, I have an advantage for future jobs. I can’t wait to be a full staff member, give back to the youth and give them my knowledge. I want to be that staff that a youth would say, "I remember when so and so helped me through this".

Jon Cabral, Age 18
Youth Institute Program Alumni
Jon Cabral, Program Alumni, Youth Institute 
The addition of older youth and program alumni into the team of afterschool professionals greatly affects the dynamic of the experience for both youth and staff alike. Working this past summer as technical instructor after finishing my third year as a high school program alumni student, it shifted from being the student inspired by mentors to the mentor inspiring students. Having been with the YMCA and its branches since sixth grade and having grown up with the program, I’ve definitely benefitted from having a young, relatable staff person, which I saw as my older sibling. Largely of who I am today is a result of the many young mentors I have had through the YMCA.

My responsibilities range from afterschool tutor assisting in homework questions and project help, to a mentor lending advice - a hand for help, a shoulder to cry on, or whatever else an adolescent teenager navigating through middle and high school would need. 

Coming back and being able to give back to the program that helped me grow gives me the gift of now being the person I needed when I was young. This job equipped me with technical, child development, and professional skill sets and provided me with advantages leading to my being a well-rounded person and professional.

Adriana Zuniga, Age 17
Youth Institute Program Alumni
Adriana Zuniga, Program Alumni, Youth Institute
While working as an intern for the program, I experienced many benefits. I was able to get hands-on training from the staff and also teach younger kids the basics of computer literacy and camera functions. It gave me a chance to learn technological skills and help develop my social skills. Having been involved with the program for four years, I already know how the program runs, what is expected and how to do certain things that incoming interns are not familiar with yet. Because I already have experience, I can lead my own group of people on projects or inform them on how to use a Canon camera or edit a photograph on Photoshop.

David Molina, Program Alumni, A World Fit For Kids! 
David Molina, Age 27
WFIT Program Alumni
I am an alumnus from A World Fit For Kids! Mentors In Motion (MIM) program at Belmont High School. I was a part of the program for 3 years. The Assistant Coach position was my first job that I held and I began to do it when I was 15 years old. The position was the dip of my toe in the water that is the real world. This position provided me my first professional experience that I ever had; it was a great learning platform.

When I graduated high school, I was fortunate enough to be asked to coach soccer at Lawrence Middle School, while I attended California State University Northridge. I was able to bring my 3 years of experience into the fields right off the bat. I knew the high standard of performance I had to deliver to the kids that I coached.

The wealth of knowledge that I gained was immense from the time I was a MIM. I always felt that the MIM program is a great resource to groom future coaches because the lessons taught are specific to the afterschool program and their expectations. These types of positions are usually entry level positions and they are usually a stepping stone to students’ eventual careers.

Jacob Reyes, Age 21
arc Program Alumni
Jacob Reyes, Program Alumni, arc
The impact we have made is amazing. Hiring older youth helps communicate more with the students because we know how it is to be a student, we understand their feelings, and we can help them in the best possible way that we can.

I think that hiring program alumni is an important practice because the communications between alumni and students are close and more responsive. Students can go up to us and talk. They don't have to fear oppression of what a teacher or an adult might give them. They feel a sense of trust in us, which is good for a student.