Monday, January 27, 2014

Digital Learning Day Challenge: #Make4DLDay

By Guest Blogger Jennifer Rinehart, Vice President, Research & Policy at the Afterschool Alliance

Jennifer Rinehart
On Feb. 5, thousands of educators will take part in the third annual Digital Learning Day, a nationwide celebration of common sense, effective applications of digital learning that support educators, improve learning and provide opportunities for students to achieve at their highest potential.  As part of this celebration, we’re excited to announce the #Make4DLDay challenge and want you to join the fun!

Thanks to digital media and technology, our
education system is undergoing a major shift in how, where and what students are learning.  The organizations collaborating in this challenge—the Afterschool AllianceEdutopia, and the National Writing Project (via its Educator Innovator Initiative and Digital Is platform)—share a common belief that this shift should reflect connected learning principles, including interest-driven, production-centered learning opportunities for youth, in school and out.  These principles allow youth to collaborate with peers and mentors in person and via the Web as they become producers of digital artifacts and not just consumers.


 To that end, we’re inviting you to join us in accepting the #Make4DLDay challenge—a set of digital storytelling activities that allow youth and adults to be makers for Digital Learning Day.  

So, what exactly are we making?  From remixing important historical events to educating peers about issues in their communities, we’re encouraging young people everywhere to create and share digital stories that reflect what interests them.

The #Make4DLDay challenge allows you to “level up” and participate in a number of ways, based on your familiarity with digital tools and access to technology.  All you have to do is choose your level, pick your topic and share your work on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ or other social media platforms using the hashtag #Make4DLDay.

Check out the Digital Learning Day website for more details about the #make4DLDay challenge or browse the resources below to help familiarize you with the power of storytelling as a digital learning strategy. We can't wait to see what you come up with!

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Jen Rinehart joined the Afterschool Alliance in September 2002 and established the Afterschool Alliance's WashingtonD.C. office.  Jen takes a primary role in the Afterschool Alliance's coalition building, policy and research efforts, and serves as a spokesperson for the organization.  Recent projects include America After 3 PM: A Household Survey on Afterschool in America and Kids Deserve Better, a campaign to get voters and candidates thinking and talking about children's issues, particularly afterschool. Jen also served as Interim Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance from December 2004 through June 2005.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

Leading the Pack in Future Afterschool Trends

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Recently the National Afterschool Association (NAA) published an article calling out the 10 most important trends in afterschool for 2014. The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project and Temescal Associates led efforts in 2013 relating to these trends. Below we cite the trends from the above article and offer a brief summary of our work in 2013. 

Dale Dougherty
"1. With the mission of creating more opportunities for young people to develop confidence, creativity, and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering, math and the arts, the 'maker movement' and afterschool are natural allies in promoting learning thru making." - How Kids Learn III featured a keynote address from Dale Dougherty, Founder of the Maker Movement, and a hands-on workshop from MakerEd. Temescal Associates will look to expand our efforts to promote "maker spaces" in afterschool programs.

"2. While STEM will continue to be a focus for the afterschool field, I predict 2014 will be a year when we go deeper on STEM instructional training for the afterschool workforce." - The LIAS project promoted five important learning principles that STEM programs should draw upon to ensure that they truly engage young people.

"3. Until recently, it's often been difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements gained outside of school. Digital badges provide a way for young people to get recognition for the skills and experiences they gain in afterschool programs.  Potential employers, community members, and even college admissions staff can go to a student's online profile to see their portfolio of badges—linked to the work and projects done to achieve the badges—to get a holistic understanding of the student that goes beyond the classroom and beyond grades." - LIAS and Temescal Associates, in partnership with Public Profit and Youtopia, launched a major badging effort with afterschool groups across California. Badges will be awarded to exemplar programs, staff who receive certain professional development training, and youth who participate in and gain skills through their afterschool programs. We have been a leader in this area and will share more information soon.

Joseph Durlak
"6. Because conventional schooling in most places has not been able to focus productively on social and emotional learning and development, and because its benefits are so well demonstrated and wide-ranging, the afterschool field has a huge opportunity to fill a crucial need. I predict much attention will be given to the role of afterschool programs in promoting the skills necessary for success in school and in life." - LIAS and Temescal Associates has been promoting the importance of social emotional skills for several years through their blogs, including an interview with Joseph Durlak, and speakers at the How Kids Learn II and III conferences.

Dr. Jeff Borden, Vice President of Academic Strategy & Instruction in Pearson's Research and Innovation Network, published a similar article in eSchool News entitled Are these 8 trends the future of K-12?. Below, we quote from this article and share the work of LIAS and Temescal Associates.

Judy Willis
"6. Neuroscience & Learning Design: 2014 will see more and more assimilation of brain science into the culture of teaching. With liaisons like Judy Willis, neuroscientist and elementary school teacher, or even brain-science ‘navigators’ whose job it is to report on findings from the cognitive science world, it is becoming easier to digest information that used to be overly scientific and jargon-based. Soon, what we know about the brain will finally start to ‘move the needle’ in education. Imagine a learning ecosystem that enables the best memory techniques while boosting processing power, all the while controlling for variables like sleep, exercise, and food. That is what happens when teachers invite neuroscientists to conferences." - The LIAS project featured relevant findings from neuroscience and brain-based learning in our How Kids Learn I conference with our keynote by Dr. Michael Merzenich (UCSF), from Judy Willis, a video address, blog interviews, video interviews for training purposes, and resources posted on our website. 

"8. Constructivism Will Flourish: Along with neuroscience and learning design above, more and more 'movements' have emerged out of and around constructivist teaching and learning. From the veteran project-based learning to up-and-comers like the Maker Movement, flipped learning, challenge-based learning, entrepreneurial linked education, etc., people are realizing that the old apprenticeship model is again possible, at scale, thanks to technology. Learning by creating is fostering connections between the learner and real products, services, or ideas and is, to many, a fundamental 'missing link' with most education today." - The LIAS project promoted these ideas in our project position statement and through our training offerings and speakers featured at our How Kids Learn I, II, and III conferences.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Progressive Education and the World of Afterschool

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
I recently had the opportunity to hear a talk by Consulting Head of School, Tom Little, from Park Day School. Tom and I were co-teachers for two years back in the day, and he went on to serve as the Head of School for 28 years. Tom recently completed a sabbatical in which he visited progressive schools across the country. In this talk at Berkeley Rep, he shared some of his insights, which will be the focus of a book that he is currently working on. At a recent lunch, I asked Tom a couple questions about progressive education and afterschool. 



Q: How do you define progressive education?
Tom Little - Photo by Benjamin Smith
A: I define it in three parts. Progressive education starts with the notion that we are preparing students for their active participation in their democratic society. To me, that is really fundamental to students' experience in school and throughout their whole educational experience in afterschool. That to me is primary. The second component of progressive education is that it starts with the experience of the student - that comes under the category of student centered or child centered approach where instead of having the curriculum and the subject matter as the center of gravity in an educational setting, what you have are the interests, abilities, capabilities, and strengths of the student. This is what should define the material and curriculum content that is going to be administered in an educational setting. It's a different center of gravity where the interests and proclivities of the child should direct where the learning will go. Third, is the historic abiding commitment to social justice. Progressive education is, at its heart, a part of a movement that holds dearly that there are injustices that occur in the world and that is the responsibility of our educational establishment to be exposing students to the realities that exist in their society and the world. Further, to make a commitment, within their educational program, to consider how we resolve these injustices. 

Roof Playground - Irene Kaufman Settlement - 1924
Photo credit: Jewish Women's Archive
Q: Does early afterschool have roots from progressive education?
A: The progressive education arose during a time when the progressive political movement in this country was underway. The legacy goes back into the late 1800s. Settlement houses in Chicago and NY, even some of the west coast as well, were built upon a social justice mission and an abiding commitment to resolve them. And, we all know that the settlement houses offered important out-of-school experiences for young people.

The inextricable link between the political movement and progressive educational movement has sometimes been at the heart of its glory and sometimes been its achilles heel. I think over the century the progressive educational movement has tried to extricate itself at times from the association with the political movement. But we know that its foundation is really in the philosophy of the political system. At the heart of it, it seeks to be a full ranging approach to education well beyond the school site, well beyond the curriculum. So even today in the Harlem Children's project, we can look at it as a progressive movement - even though some of the pedagogy may be traditional. If you look at those efforts, they bring together health care, afterschool care, and prenatal care. There have been times in its history that the progressive education movement could have paid a little more attention to learning outside of school. It became more tied to the curriculum and attached to schools. But true progressive education speaks to learning more far reaching - learning beyond the school house. 

Q: Can you recommend three books that better help us understand progressive education?
A: To understand the early history, Transformation of the School by Lawrence Cremin, offers a definitive history between 1870 and the 1950s when the progressive education association met its demise. It is a very accessible book written in the 1960s. Second, What to Look for in a Classroom by Alfie Kohn, is a very practical book for a teacher as it lays out a nice template of what you would find in a classroom or school. Third, Schools Where Children Learn by Joseph Featherstone. A classic, beautifully written book that outlines some of the history of progressive education but talks more in depth of the nature of child-rearing and how the ancient philosophers embraced this philosophy. 



Q: Are the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles aligned with the principles of progressive education? 
A: The new era of 21st century learning which combines the LIAS principles - analytical thinking, collaboration, communication - first I think they find a lot of their historical roots in the philosophy and in the pedagogy of progressive education. In some ways its a new vocabulary that we're finding, and I think it really nicely defines where education has to go. It puts education in a new context that is more palatable I think for people. "Progressive Education" can be alienating for some. 

When you're talking about expanding horizons, looking at students differently and thinking about how they'll be engaged, I think that's where education is going nowadays. This is at the heart of the new common core standards. But I think the common core pedagogy is far from being implemented because it is likely to take years to train teachers and fully implement the curriculum and programs. The whole mindset of education is being switched around. I do believe that the LIAS principles are aligned with those of progressive education.
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Tom Little is a founding teacher and the Consulting Head of School at Park Day School in Oakland, Ca., and the current President of the Board of the Progressive Education Network. During the months of February and March, 2013, Tom toured the country visiting over 40 progressive schools and studying the current state of Progressive Education in America.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Federal Study on Grit: An Interview with Researcher, Nikki Shechtman (Part 2)

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. 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: There are some who say these things are important, but they are inherent traits that can’t be taught. How do you respond to this?

A: I think that is not only inaccurate, but it’s also a potentially damaging perspective. There is overwhelming evidence that how persistent an individual is will depend to a great extent on the circumstances. We found research to suggest that important factors in the environment can have a huge influence on whether or not a student will persist in the face of challenges and setbacks—whether the goals are important to them, how much support they have from others around them, and whether they have the appropriate tools and skills to deal with challenges. For example, it happens all the time that the same student will persistent in one class but not another because of the way teachers make a topic interesting or connected to real life.
Nikki Shechtman

There are also many skills and psychological resources that contribute to grit, tenacity, and perseverance that can be learned and cultivated. For example, how students learn to deal with failures and what skills they have for monitoring progress and changing course when necessary, these can strongly influence how they’ll fair when the going gets tough. One of the most important research areas is around the “growth mindset,” the belief that intelligence grows with effort. There is wonderful research by Carol Dweck at Stanford University, and others, to show that not only does having a growth mindset make students more likely to persist when work gets difficult, but it’s also a mindset that can be learned.

It’s potentially damaging to look at grit, tenacity, and perseverance as inherent traits that can’t be taught. If teachers or parents believe that children are not persisting because they are just inherently lacking grit, there’s little motivation to try to understand what’s going on with the student and what changes, big or small, to the learning environment or particularly new skills might promote a different way for the student to interact with the environment. Even worse, if the child herself starts believing she just doesn’t have grit in general, it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Who wants to try to persevere in the face of challenge when they think they just aren’t capable of doing so? That’s not a good position to put a human being in.

Q: Do you think informal learning settings like afterschool and summer programs are well-suited to promote these traits? If so, why?

A: Absolutely. In Chapter 2, we lay out a model for the kinds of factors in a learning environment that can promote grit, tenacity, and perseverance. Two factors that our research suggested were important were that students have opportunities to take on worthwhile long-term goals and that they have a rigorous and supportive place to pursue them. Many informal learning settings do exactly this—whether the goal is to do something like a complex programming project, make a film, get into college, or a wide variety of others. These settings can also provide the means to help students actually accomplish these goals—through materials supports such as technologies or workspaces, human supports such as peer-based communities or adult mentors, and time to work through difficult tasks. When students have the opportunities to take on and accomplish big goals, not only do they get the satisfaction of the achievement, they also take with them the knowledge that they can do it.

A major theme that came up in our research was that informal setting can support these factors in ways that might be limited in formal settings that have more constraints (e.g., accountability and limited resources to give students individualized attention).

Q: Can you give us an example of practices that encourage the development of grit, tenacity, and/or perseverance that is relevant to afterschool workers?

A: We made some specific recommendations for practitioners based on the research. And just to be clear, we consider these promising but not proven; evidence of impact at scale is still limited. These recommendations are:

a. Educators should provide students with opportunities to take on worthwhile long-term or higher-order goals that are optimally challenging (i.e., not too easy, not too difficult) and/or aligned with the students’ own interests or values.

b. Educators should provide students with a rigorous and supportive context for pursuing these goals. They should have high expectations for students and provide encouragement and resources. They should promote collaboration and social support among students.

c. To the extent possible, educators should provide the tangible resources—materials, human support, and time—necessary to overcome challenges and accomplish their goals.

Educators can also support students in developing the psychological resources that can promote grit, tenacity, and perseverance. We found three broad categories:

a. Academic mindsets. These are how students frame themselves as learners, their learning environment, and their relationships to the learning environment. They include beliefs, attitudes, dispositions, values, and ways of perceiving oneself. There are important examples of short-term interventions that are being developed to “teach” and cultivate the most productive mindsets. Educators should first make sure that they themselves have productive mindsets, and they can learn to apply good strategies to foster them in their students.

b. Effortful control. Students are constantly faced with tasks that are important for long-term goals but that in the short term do not feel desirable or intrinsically motivating. Successful students marshal willpower and regulate their attention during such tasks and in the face of distractions. Although this can seem austere or no fun, research shows that students stronger in these skills are happier and better able to handle stress. Educators can look to examples of research and practice for how to foster these. Mindfulness practices are one example (see the question below).

c. Strategies and tactics. Students are also more likely to persevere when they can draw on specific strategies and tactics to deal with challenges and setbacks. They need actionable skills for taking responsibility and initiative and for being productive under conditions of uncertainty—for example, defining tasks, planning, monitoring, changing course of action, and dealing with specific obstacles. Educators can intentionally teach these skills as part of the work they do with students.

By the way, we also recommend that practitioners be mindful of potential risks or costs for students of pushing them in ways inappropriate for their needs. For example, persevering in the face of challenges or setbacks to accomplish goals that are extrinsically motivated, unimportant to the student, or in some way inappropriate for the student can potentially have detrimental impacts on students’ long-term retention in school, conceptual learning, and psychological well-being.

Q: Your study mentions mindfulness practice as useful. Can you say more?

A: Interesting that you should ask, because it only got one sentence in the brief but it’s actually an area of particular interest to me. In fact, I worked on a project a few years ago in which we taught mindfulness to students in an afterschool academic program.

Here’s my take. Mindfulness is a practice of learning to pay attention in the present moment nonjudgmentally. Why would you want to do that? Well, there is a huge body of research showing that people who cultivate mindfulness through practices such as meditation and yoga are better able to pay attention in the face of distraction (i.e., effortful control), are happier, are less prone to depression and anxiety, have a stronger immune system, get along with people better, and cope with serious life stresses more easily. Mindfulness helps people take difficulties in stride, to step back and problem-solve without getting as stressed out, to pause and think before engaging in conflict, and to approach challenges with curiosity instead of defeat. You can imagine the potential of these types of benefits for promoting grit, tenacity, and perseverance in the face of all kinds of challenges and setbacks!

What’s also important is that these skills are completely learnable by almost everyone, as far as I can see in the research. There are research-based programs coming out of many prestigious universities, like Stanford and Harvard, that teach these life-changing skills in a very short period of time. There are also several organizations around the country going into schools and teaching them to children at all ages and settings. Many are taking very seriously the potential of mindfulness to help develop resiliency for underserved students.
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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.