Monday, December 16, 2013

Happy Holidays from the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Project!

By Sam Piha

From all of us at the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Project, including the staff and work group members,  we wish you all happy holidays and the best in 2014!

We will be taking a holiday break and returning on January 6th with part 2 of our blog post, "A Federal Study on Grit: An Interview with Researcher, Nikki Shechtman". 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Federal Study on Grit: An Interview with Researcher, Nikki Shechtman (Part 1)

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Nikki Shechtman is a researcher at SRI International. She recently led a study for the Department of Education on the influence of grit, tenacity, and perseverance on learning. In addition to presenting at the How Kids Learn III conference, Nikki was interviewed for this blog. In part 1, we asked for a clear definition of terms, why study grit, and asked Nikki for a brief overview of her study. Practitioners should also view The 7 Habits of Happy Kids

In part 2, we asked how these traits can be taught, the value of informal learning within afterschool and summer programs, examples of useful practices, and the role of mindfulness. 

Q: First, can you give us a rough definition of grit, tenacity, and perseverance? And describe if and how they are different from one another. 

A: When we first started out to do our research for the Grit Brief, the first challenge we ran into was that there were so many different terms that are similar or overlapping in meaning. Researchers have actually come up with a term for this phenomenon—it’s called the “Jingle/Jangle” Problem. “Jingle” is when the same term is used to refer to different concepts, and “jangle” is when different terms are used for the same concept. And it’s actually deeper than just words, because each term comes from a particular community of practice and speaks to their needs and culture. Many terms have long traditions of research or practice behind them. Are we talking about grit, tenacity, persistence, perseverance? Or other very closely related terms like conscientiousness, engagement, agency, and resilience?
Nikki Shechtman

What we decided to do was synthesize what we saw as key facets of these terms together to develop our own working definition of “grit” that we would use throughout the brief:

Perseverance to accomplish long-term or higher-order goals in the face of challenges and setbacks, engaging students’ psychological resources, such as their academic mindsets, effortful control, and strategies and tactics.

For folks who are interested, in Chapter 2 of the brief we have a table of all these different terms and how people have defined them. It’s very interesting to look at them next to each other to see what’s similar and different. I think what they all have in common is the notion of carrying on to success in the face of challenge.

Q: Why is it important to study grit, tenacity, and perseverance?

A: This has become an important and popular focus in education. All over the country, educational, research, professional, technical, and policy communities are recognizing that children and adolescents simply must have stronger preparation for the challenges of 21st century life. Learning about the content of the disciplines is necessary, but it’s not sufficient for success in school and life. Children need skills to deal with the difficulties and challenges they face as students and will face as adults, and they need support to take on and achieve big and meaningful goals in their academic and professional lives. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this has arisen so prominently in the public discourse at a time of intense economic volatility and rapidly changing workforce needs. I also think the opportunities afforded by new and emerging technologies are opening new doors of possibility for this.

A critical need in our country, of course, is to support underserved student populations. Students dealing with conditions of poverty are especially in need of support—they can face acute challenges of stress, limited social support, lack of critical resources, and psychological disempowerment and disenfranchisement. Educators can play an important role in closing unacceptable achievement gaps and helping these students get on a positive track and hold the course to succeed at school and beyond.

But kids across the socioeconomic spectrum need to develop mature ways of dealing with challenges. All kids need to learn conceptually complex material that takes time and attention, they need to learn to persist through academic assignments that are important but not necessarily intrinsically interesting to them, and they need to be able to manage competing demands across coursework from multiple classes and extracurricular activities. Students need to learn skills for the 21st-century workplace that require complex knowledge work and collaboration. Lots of students will be preparing for STEM careers that require complicated training pathways over many years and mastery of extensive and difficult disciplinary material. And, of course, nobody is exempt from life’s random and unexpected challenges and setbacks—from illness to financial trouble to interpersonal conflict—that often need to be dealt with at the same time.

It’s an exciting and promising time. There’s growing recognition that educators can play an important role in promoting these factors for students. There’s already been a tremendous amount of research in this area. A broad range of programs in different educational settings have been implementing a variety of approaches to promoting these factors. Many foundations and federal agencies are investing resources in figuring out the best ways to do this. Also, there are many new technologies that are providing opportunities to significantly advance our capability to address these issues—there is great potential in technologies, for example, that are adaptive to student needs, help students manage their lives better, and provide access to a wealth of material and human resources over the internet. Having these resources can help students get past typical “stuck” points and move toward much bigger goals.

Q: Could you summarize your report? 

A: Here’s a quick overview of what we cover. For a summary of the major findings in each, I’d recommend reading the Executive Summary—it’s pretty short!

Chapter 1. This introductory chapter provides the broad context for what’s going on in the field right now and discusses the research methods used to develop the brief.

Chapter 2. This chapter addresses questions around theory: What are grit, tenacity, and perseverance? What are the key components of these competencies? What psychological and contextual factors support and promote them?

Chapter 3. This chapter addresses questions around measurement: How are these factors measured currently? How can they be measured in the future? How can technology provide new tools and strategies?

Chapter 4. This chapter addresses questions around existing approaches: What types of programs, approaches, and technologies have been developed to promote these factors for a wide variety of learners?

Chapter 5. This culminating chapter addresses the needs of practitioners, researchers, and policymakers: What are key conclusions and recommendations for practice, research, and policy?

Nikki Shechtman, Ph.D. is Senior Educational Researcher at SRI International, Center for Technology in Learning. Nikki explores research-based, theory-driven approaches to understanding and improving engagement, teaching, and learning in mathematics—particularly for the most disadvantaged students. Her work has focused on productive dispositions for teaching and learning, mathematical argumentation, use of dynamic representational technology, and introducing productive playfulness into serious classrooms. Among several other projects, Nikki led a team to lead a Department of Education study entitled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century”. Her work has been published in journals in educational research, learning sciences, mathematics education, educational technology design, psychology, human-computer interaction, and play studies.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Our Youth Need is Much More than School Day Reform

By Guest Bloggers, David Kakishiba and Jennifer Peck (Originally posted on Inside Bay Area Opinion)

Every fall, households around the East Bay are busy with the shuffle of back-to-school activities and the shift
Jennifer Peck
 in routine that the season brings. A lot of preparation goes into getting students ready for the new school year, and working parents begin sorting through weekly schedules, including after-school arrangements.

Just as critical as being ready for the school day is being ready for the times outside of school -- having a plan to keep students safe, learning and healthy. What do children need for social, emotional and learning development all day long?

The hours after school and during the summer -- increasingly known as "expanded learning time" -- are critical to building the skills and character students need to be successful, not only in school but in life.

High-quality after-school programs are expanding students' horizons and learning capabilities through activities that are active, collaborative, meaningful and fun. These are the strategies we know best support children's learning.

David Kakishiba
Research shows that these expanded learning programs are removing barriers to success for students, with participating students showing improved achievement in math, increased school attendance and more positive attitudes toward learning.

Many factors outside the school day play a significant role in whether a student will succeed or fail academically.

The East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), a community-based organization that runs expanded learning programs and partners with Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) on community-school efforts, is working with the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) to identify all the needs children and youth have, putting into place the right solutions to meet those needs.

We've found that the hours after school and in the summer hold enormous potential to create environments that offer young people the supports and the opportunities they need most. A wide range of learning activities that are project-based, interactive and collaborative provides students the chance to directly apply what they've learned during the school day.

At EBAYC, this means young people have a safe place to be outside of school, the power to design and choose programming and access to specialized learning supports often needed by English learners.

We know that the skills of a teacher matter in the quality of education and learning opportunities a child receives, and in the same way, the skills of all staff working with children and youth matter -- including after-school and summer program staff.

Every adult supporting youth directly needs strong professional development to make sure kids are learning and benefiting to the fullest. EBAYC and PCY partner to provide staff with coaching, tools and ongoing support to make sure students are getting the most from their experiences.

East Bay Asian Youth Center 

Our commitment to ever improving our services offered to students and their families is a hallmark of EBAYC's impact on the broader community. The investment provides young people high-quality learning opportunities to increase their productivity, build healthy connections with others and safely and effectively navigate their changing environment.

The hours after school and during the summer occupy a powerful space that sets our children and youth on a course for the future.

We know through decades of research that impacting what happens during these hours is essential to every student's success. It is through collaboration, leadership and a commitment to continuous improvement that communities will be able to provide the support our children need.

Ultimately, we know that these efforts move us closer to a world where every young person has the opportunity to thrive.
David Kakishiba is executive director for the East Bay Asian Youth Center, a community-based organization partnering with Oakland Unified School District, and Jennifer Peck is executive director for Partnership for Children and Youth.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mindfulness on the Move

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
There is new information and growing evidence that confirms that mindfulness exercises within school and afterschool settings are excellent ways to promote the health and well-being of adult staff and increase impulse control and ability to stay focused among youth who participate in the exercises. In response, we created a two-day training, a written 16-week curriculum guide, along with 50 additional exercises that represent over one year of Mindfulness in Afterschool activities.

We are very excited about this out-of-the-box approach that resulted in great outcomes at a pilot in Oakland Unified School District and 10 afterschool sites in Delano Union School District. Please contact Temescal Associates if you would like more information.  

Below are a list of new resources on mindfulness. Click on them to view. 

Mindfulness in Afterschool is a training and curriculum offered by Temescal Associates in collaboration with Mindful Impact. For more information, contact Temescal Associates by clicking here

Thursday, November 7, 2013

How Kids Learn III: Play, Creativity, Tinkering, and the Arts

By Sam Piha

Two weeks ago we hosted our third How Kids Learn conference, which drew nearly 300 participants from the California Department of Education (CDE), local funders, and a bevy of afterschool and school day leaders. This conference focused on play, creativity, tinkering, and the arts. It was led by emcee, Lynn Johnson from Glitter & Razz Productions and featured opening remarks by Michael Funk, Director of the After School Division at CDE.  

All were inspired by the words from Dale Dougherty, Founder of the Maker Movement, who encouraged OST providers to offer activities that allow children to learn through taking things apart and build things from their imaginations. Elizabeth Rieke from the Center for Childhood Creativity cited the importance of activities that foster young people's creativity. Nikki Shechtman of SRI International shared the findings of a DOE study on grit and perseverance and talked about how programs can promote these traits. Shirin Vossoughi from the Exploratorium and Stanford  shared examples that highlight the ways educators can leverage the developmental potential of play, integrate students’ cultural and intellectual histories, and expand the meaning and purposes of STEM learning. 

There were other excellent speakers whose presentations will be available on the How Kids Learn YouTube channel in the near future. There were also six hands-on workshops that participants could choose from. Thanks to all of those that contributed to a very successful event and we look forward to our next How Kids Learn conference. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Intersection of Afterschool and Dropout Prevention

By Guest Blogger, Usha Chidamber (Published by the Afterschool Alliance)

Usha Chidamber
In support of September being Attendance Awareness Month, the Afterschool Alliance is releasing the issue brief, Preventing Dropouts: The Important Role of Afterschool that shines a light on the national dropout problem and the increasingly important role of afterschool in helping kids stay in school.   
While encouraging progress has been made on increasing the national graduation rate over the last decade (now 78.2 percent), graduation gaps remain among racial minorities and socio-economically disadvantaged students.  Dropping out, first and foremost, represents a significant loss for the individual who drops out.  And for the nation, dropping out represents lost productivity, taxes, earnings, savings, and increased costs due to unemployment and crime.

For the individuals and the nation, how can we intervene to prevent dropouts? 

First, we can focus on the approximately 1,400 schools that produce 40 percent of the dropouts. 

Second, we can use the right tools—early indicators of attendance, behavior and coursework—the ABC’s—to identify potential dropouts as early as elementary school and use targeted intervention strategies such as school-community collaboration, safe learning environments, mentoring, afterschool programs and career training.

Research shows that afterschool is effective in mitigating dropout rates by focusing on the ABC’s.
  • meta-analysis of 68 studies of afterschool programs showed that participating students attended school more regularly, showed improved behavior and received higher grades.
  • study of 3,000 low-income, ethnically diverse students enrolled in high-quality afterschool programs displayed a reduction in aggressive behavior with peers and in risky behaviors like drug and alcohol use.
  • meta-analysis of 35 out-of-school-time studies funded by the Department of Education found that students at risk of failure in reading and math who participated in afterschool programs had positive results on reading achievement in lower elementary grades, and positive effects on math achievement in middle and high school.
Third, recognize and put to work what psychologists and parents know.  We are all familiar with the power of immediate feedback to incentivize child behavior, as in “you can have dessert if you eat your vegetables.”  

Afterschool activities such as drama, debate and chess have a quick “effort-performance-success” feedback loop in contrast to traditional learning.  A shorter psychological gratification time-cycle can be a powerful motivator for further success. Afterschool programs may be the dessert that keeps at-risk students in school.  

We can fix this problem.  We have the knowledge, tools and know how.  But…it calls for collective action by all constituents.  We need policy makers—federal, state, local—and private and philanthropic organizations to invest in increased student access to afterschool programs and we need coordinated programming between schools and afterschool programs that ensures regular student participation and groundwork for academic success.
This week, as Attendance Awareness Month comes to a close, let’s decide to get it done for all of the kids. Now.

This guest blog is by Usha Chidamber, a D.C. Schools certified educator and management consultant working on education research and policy issues.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Homework Help: A Service to Parents and Families

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Many school-linked afterschool programs spend about a third of their time and effort to help participants with their homework. While this is a service to the school, it is more importantly a service to parents and guardians. Past surveys have revealed that helping their kid with homework is one of the leading reasons that parents enroll their kids in afterschool programs. This is reinforced by a recent survey that found that 50% of parents and guardians struggle with their children's homework. Nearly 22% say they are too busy; 31% say their kids do not want their help; and 46% say they do not understand the material. For a full copy of the study, click hereTo read one parent's experience of homework, published in The Atlantic Monthly, click here

Homework help can be more than a study hall. It is an excellent time to teach study skills such as organizational skills, time management, how to prioritize, etc. And the use of young homework helpers, college and high school aged youth, is very popular with afterschool participants. It is also helpful to have a credentialed teacher on board who can serve as a liaison with the school day teaching staff, offer strategies for children with learning difficulties, and help identify youth who need tutoring support, which is different than homework help. For more information, click here. For a complete literature review regarding homework help in afterschool programs, click here

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bringing Mindfulness into Afterschool

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We first met Ken Dyar through training his staff in Mindfulness in Afterschool. We were very impressed with his enthusiasm and wisdom. It made sense when we learned that he was named California Teacher of the Year in 2006. Below is an interview about his past history and perceived benefits of bringing mindfulness into afterschool.

Q: You were named a California Teacher of the Year in 2006. Can you tell us what teaching attributes or methods were cited that influenced this honor? 

Ken Dyar, Delano Union
School District

A: It was our commitment to improving children's health & fitness in our school and our community.  We were making Physical Education relevant and critical to our student's lives.  We also pushed the link to increased student academic achievement through student wellness.  Healthy children learn better.  I was relentless in my advocacy for quality, daily physical education.  I wanted my content area, which is so frequently marginalized by school districts who consider it "non-essential", to be considered "core content" in the same way that math and language arts are considered core.  My passion for my community and for physical education put us on the map, and it got the attention of the CA Department of Education.  Simply, I love my kids.  I grew up in Delano.  I used to be one of those students who walked through a classroom (or gym) door every day hoping that my teachers would take an interest in me and help guide me toward my best life.  I understand my community.  So I pushed hard to make my community and my students healthier.  We're not there yet, but we've come a long way.

Q: You are now overseeing Delano Union School District afterschool programs. What influenced your interest in afterschool programs?

A: I got involved completely by accident!  My superintendent asked me to work at a district level to improve PE for all of our campuses (instead of just the one in which I was teaching).  After I move over to the district office, he gave me the after school program as well and said, "I need you to fix this."  I had no idea what a quality after school program looked like or what I was getting myself into.  But again, I knew that Delano kids needed this program, and they needed it to be great.  So I started reading and learning about after school.  I also visited another program that was near Delano that had a state-wide reputation for excellence in after school.  What an eye-opener!  After that visit, I had a clear picture in my mind of what after school should be and what we needed to do to improve the quality of our program. 

Kids go to after school for 3 hours every day for 180 days a year.  If we do the math, that equals an extra 90 days, or an extra HALF YEAR, of school for our kids.  Who wouldn't benefit from that if we do it right?  So we committed to making Delano's after school program great.  One of the first things we did was re-brand the program as POWER (Powerful Outcomes in Wellness, Education, & Recreation), including a logo and t-shirts.  We needed to present a fresh image to our community and let them know this was a safe and effective place for parents to enroll their children.  We sold it well (seems like I'm always selling!).  POWER has since expanded from 4 sites to 10, and we are serving over 830 children.  Every year has been an improvement over the previous year.

Q: You recently introduced Mindfulness in Afterschool as a strategy to promote self-care for your afterschool staff and for your afterschool program participants. Why did you make this decision?

A: I saw a presentation at one of our regional after school meetings called "Fighting the Bear."  Children who are fighting the bear are in survival mode when they come to school.  Fighting the bear has to do with children at the base level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  They may not know where they are going to sleep on a given night.  They may not be eating regularly.  They may be dealing with family problems or substance abuse in the home.  They are in survival mode.  Unfortunately, this is an all-too common occurrence in my town.  When a child is just trying to survive, he or she is not capable of learning. 

I needed something to help get these kids "out of their head," feeling safe, feeling cared for, and more ready to learn.  Mindfulness was presented to us at this same regional meeting.  I did some research, learned a lot, and decided that this is exactly what my kids need in their lives.  Of course, the stress and demands placed on our after school staff also cried out for some type of tool that they could use to manage their emotions and their stressors effectively.  Mindfulness fit the bill for our staff as well.  Additionally, as Laurie Grossman (Temescal Associate) so aptly stated, "You can't teach someone to play the piano if you can't play the piano."  So in order for our staff to effectively bring Mindfulness to our kids, they had to learn about it and practice it themselves.  In the short time we've been practicing Mindfulness, I can tell you that I already know it's one of the best decisions we've made...professionally, programmatically, and personally.

Q: Have you seen a positive impact of introducing mindfulness training for your staff? Can you describe?

A: I have seen a positive impact.  Staff have already shared stories of how their Mindfulness training has helped them through stressful situations - upset parents, demanding bosses (not me of course!), difficulties with students.  They've also shared how Mindfulness has aided them in their personal lives.  I expect these types of stories to become even more evident as we continue this journey.

Q: Have you seen a positive impact of introducing mindfulness exercises for program participants? Can you describe?

A: Our student's LOVE Mindfulness!  They are responding in such a positive manner!  I've had a few students stop and talk to me when I visit sites and tell me how Mindfulness has helped them focus, or in their words, "it just calms me down."  Staff report seeing less student impulsiveness in class, and more openness to differences among their peers.  They are learning to be more patient and tolerant.  They are learning kindness.  And this all comes out of their Mindful practice.  I truly believe the potential for this program is limitless.  I think it will be a game-changer for Delano children.
Ken Dyar was named a California Teacher of the Year in 2006.  He is currently the Director of Physical Education & After School Programs, including DUSD's after school program - POWER.  He taught for 18 years prior to this assignment, teaching 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades (13 of those years as a physical educator and department chair at Cecil Avenue Middle School in Delano).

He graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1989 with a B.S. in Physical Education.  Ken has led more than 200 PE workshops throughout California, and has done presentations for delegations across the western United States and in Boston and Washington DC.

Mindfulness in Afterschool is a training and curriculum offered by Temescal Associates. For more information, write to 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Exploring Creativity

Sam Piha

By Sam Piha

In her recent blog entitled "Creativity is the Secret Sauce in STEM" published by Edutopia, Ainissa Ramirez wrote, "Creativity is the secret sauce to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It is a STEM virtue. While most scientists and engineers might be reluctant to admit that, and to accept the concept of STEAM (where A is for Art), I’ve witnessed that the best of the best are the most creative. 

So how do we make our children more creative? 

Ainissa Ramirez
Researchers have found that play is important for productive thought.Playing with ideas also increases learning. We must encourage playing with concepts to nurture creativity in students." 

To explore this notion of creativity, I interviewed several people in the arts, including Judith Leinen, a young adult sculptor from Germany and Sheri Simons, an art professor at Chico State University. Below are some of their responses to my questions.

How would you define creativity for yourself?

Sheri: Curiosity. Looking and listening, paying attention, willingness to risk.

Judith: There's one thing I can often see in creative processes. It's a paradox interplay between knowledge and forgetting knowledge. Every decision is made in a system with laws of nature and general principles or even with the knowledge of common ways to do something or to solve a problem. A creative way of working would often ignore or overcome these contexts but with the knowledge about all of these rules in mind. Maybe a definition for creativity could be "a flexible mind".

How important is creativity in your life?
Judith Leinen

Judith: I think creativity is important for everybody's personal life and also for every society itself. To me, its the key to development and also to critical thinking. To me it's much more than a floating skill in a context of art but a general ability and a part of thinking in general. I would consider creativity as a very important thing in my life.

When you were young, how was creativity supported?

Judith: I think the biggest influence in my life was my father and my grandmother, who lived in the same house. My grandmother always challenged, questioned and tried out a fact or a rule before she accepted it. She did this with small things, for example, instructions in any recipe. “No we'll do this different and take cream instead of milk....” I think this had an effect on me. It made me act in a similar way and led me to experiment in my daily life. As I grew up I had nearly no access to contemporary culture like exhibitions or theatre. But I always wanted to build something. My parents would provide me with tools and craft supplies, would always involve me in hands-on projects around the house, and also encouraged me and my siblings to invent self made gifts.

In public school, I had art as a subject from the age of 6 to 18. Looking back,  I think this was a giant support for creativity and also an intense influence on all the other subjects. 

As an art instructor, how have creative endeavors benefitted your students? 

Sheri Simons
Sheri: By allowing them to practice divergent thinking, not settling for the first thirty ideas that slide off of the top of the brain easily; and accepting trial and error as a methodology.

Do you find that creative endeavors are easy, fun, or hard and challenging?  

Sheri: Both, neither and all. In sculpture we say, “Everything works on paper”… meaning you have to take the idea into the world. Easier said than done. There are many searches involved in that activity: materials, ideas, gravity, and reality. So even more than the fun or easy or hard or challenging, there’s the simple satisfaction of TRYING things out, which means you interface between the thoughts in your mind and the real world. The learning quotient is somewhere between what you think and what you do.

How did engaging in creativity when you were young shape your adult life?

Judith: I think it shaped my approach to a lot of small daily life decisions, figuring out daily decisions and logical problems. But also in a more general way, it shaped my skills and access to my environment. It provided a pool of personal experiences. I was able to collect these experiences that included simple insights about the world and my engagement with it. I was always encouraged to act in a creative way.  

Is there a reason why we should keep the arts as part of the educational experience? 

Sheri: Dubuffet said, “Art is to disturb”. To make waves might mean beauty amid the ugly. It may redefine both terms. It calls for constant awakening. If we stop teaching visual thinking, how long might it take before we become art somnambulists? Lazy in our eyes, clumsy fingers, lost in our problem solving abilities, and ultimately prone to submissive living?

Do you think the typical child in schools is given enough support and access to creative expression?

Judith: I don't think so. From my point of view, creative activities in public schools are often not as appreciated as they should be. My experience is that the arts are usually the first subjects to be cut in tight financial times. Creative expression should be supported as it can lead to successful results in scientific subjects or even help to formulate one's own opinion in social, philosophical or linguistic subjects. A specialty of public schools is that their curriculum is accessible in a very democratic way and to all children independent of their economic background. But if creative education at school is replaced by other programs, it will only be accessible by privileged children. Thus, public education would not comply with its responsibilities.  

Do you have any thoughts you would care to share on the link between creativity and learning?

Judith: I think creativity is fundamental for any kind of learning and thinking. Learning is more than just acquiring knowledge - it includes a way of thinking. It includes the ability to use this knowledge in our daily lives, making connections between different fields of information, linking facts in a logical way, and in transferring our knowledge from one context to another. Without the ability to use cognition with creativity, most of the learned content would just be empty information. The practice of tackling projects that require creative thinking has a large influence on our ability to find solutions and solve problems. It allows us to apply theoretical knowledge to practical life. 


Judith Leinen was born in 1985 in a village close to the German- Belgian Border.  After her Abitur degree she studied fine arts, mathematics and pedagogics in Mainz, Germany. Since 2007 she has participated continuously in solo- and group-exhibitions. With the art-group Upper Bleistein, she realized several art projects, interactive sculptures and space- related installations  revolving around issues like public space, imagination and reality, parallel worlds, participation and communication. In 2010 a catalog documenting the work of Upper Bleistein was published by Gonzo-Verlag. Her first public commission was installed in summer 2013 at a school in Mainz, Germany. Judith Leinen worked freelancing as a pedagogic for different organizations and directed Media projects with youth. Judith Leinen is currently enrolled in a postgraduate program at California State University Chico as a guest scholar. 

Sheri Simons is interested in sculpture as an instrument, broadly defined as something that aids in or causes an action or a reaction. Working in wood, sound, and movement for the last eleven years has led to solo and group exhibitions at museums and galleries in the U.S., Canada and South America.  

She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The California Arts Council and The Michigan Council for the Arts. Public arts commissions in California, Ohio, and Washington have provided the opportunity to think large, incorporate pedestrians in art, and experiment with varied media. Her commissions include public installations for three libraries, a juvenile court, and an administration building for the Water Board. In addition to maintaining a studio practice, Sheri is a professor in the sculpture area of the Department of Art and Art History at California State University, Chico. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Think Outside the Classroom

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
It wasn't long ago when we had to defend afterschool programs if they didn't raise test scores. We were told that "if it doesn't raise the test score, learning didn't happen". Some stood in opposition to this reductionistic thinking while others cowered with fear of losing funding.

Today, the clouds are parting and the pendulum has swung the other way, as educators better appreciate what afterschool and summer programs can do. This is due in part because of the failures of No Child Left Behind and new studies on the importance of social emotional skills, 21st Century learning skills, findings from neuroscience, and many other areas that show that learning is more than a test score. And the willingness to take risks, make mistakes, persevere in the face of a challenge are all important parts of learning. 

The upcoming How Kids Learn conference in October is a celebration of these developments as it focuses on the importance of play, creativity, tinkering, and the arts in children's learning. In the conference, participants can hear from the founder of the Maker Movement, educators and researchers from the Center for Childhood Creativity and the Exploratorium, and new research sponsored by the DOE on the importance of grit, perseverance, and tenacity. The conference will also sponsor breakout groups led by innovative practitioners and allowing participants to experience their techniques in a hands-on way. For more information and to register, click here

Moving away from the old API score and a single standardized test score to evaluate schools will be tricky. The California Board of Education and legislators in Sacramento will have to name the multiple measures that will take the place of the API ranking. For a detailed description of what has to be done and who has to do it, see this EdSource briefing here. Meanwhile, it is important that we declare what afterschool can do, hold our positions when pressure returns, and be sure that we have the quality programs that can fulfill the logical promise of afterschool and summer learning experiences. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

School’s Starting: Are Students Ready? The Benefits of Summer Learning for Kids’ Physical and Academic Fitness

By Guest Bloggers Patrice Chamberlain, Director of the California Summer Meal Coalition & Jennifer Peck, Summer Matters Campaign Co-Chair   

Patrice Chamberlain
It’s almost time to head back to school– but are students ready? One telling sign of a student’s physical health and academic readiness for the year ahead is whether they had access to a high quality summer learning program.

It is well documented that a lack of summer learning opportunities leads to “summer learning loss” – the loss of skills and knowledge that causes teachers to spend valuable fall classroom time re-teaching students who need catching up. 

According to the National Summer Learning Association, the cost of re-teaching material that students forget due to summer learning loss is four to six weeks of school time, or $1,500 per student. 

Jennifer Peck
It's not just academics that suffer when students miss out on summer learning, but their physical health may suffer as well. Low-income and rural communities often have fewer supermarkets and retail outlets offering healthy food; they may also lack safe places to play. For many children living in those neighborhoods, school’s summer closure means disrupted access to a consistent source of healthy food and fewer opportunities for physical activity. Without that access, children may become sedentary and eat junk food or skip meals. 

A UC Irvine study found that low-income children are more likely to fall into these unhealthy habits due to a lack of opportunity to participate in organized activities. Without access to summer learning activities, students may gain weight two to three times faster during the summer than during the school year. 

As part of a nationwide effort to prevent summer learning loss, a growing number of school districts are recognizing the need to make providing equal access to high-quality summer learning programs a priority because they offer an unparalleled opportunity for children to learn while having fun, with nutritious meals and health and wellness education blended into engaging projects and activities.

In addition to the summer learning activities taking place in schools, there are also community-based organizations across California that are partnering in new and innovative ways – and opening their doors to students and their families – to make sure summer matters. 

In Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, for example, local libraries have joined the efforts to keep kids healthy by jointly launching Summer Lunch at the Library programs to combat summer learning loss and summer hunger – offering summer reading programs along with free, healthy lunches through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer nutrition programs.

Summertime is an untapped resource; when students are free from homework and other stresses associated with the school year, they are free to learn and participate in new ways. In addition, summer programs can help promote healthy eating and active living by incorporating physical activity and nutrition education. Introducing students to summer’s agricultural abundance through summer programs is a great way to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables (not to mention it helps California farmers too). 

Although the onset of the school year will soon leave summer as a distant memory, we must continue to advocate for a coordinated and year-round approach to student health and learning that includes summer—it’s an investment in our students’ future. Parents, government agencies, community organizations, businesses, and school districts all play a role in setting students up for success. They are, after all, our future leaders and workforce that will help sustain our communities. 

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

Source: Reed Larson, The Youth Development Experience Kate Walker By Guest Blogger Kate Walker, Extension Specialist, Youth Development, Uni...