Monday, February 24, 2014

How Out-of-School Programs Can Effect Academic Outcomes

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
While educators wring their hands about low test scores and educational reformers struggle to show improved academic outcomes, another study has recently been released that shows how out-of-school programs that do not focus on remediation, can lead to improved school outcomes. 

Effects of an Out-of-School Program on Urban High School Youth’s Grades,” which was just published in the Journal of Community Psychology, examined the effect of the YMCA High School Youth Institute (YI) on grades, test scores and school attendance using a randomly selected matched comparison group. YI youth had significantly higher English-Language and Math test scores and somewhat fewer absences than the comparison group. Active YI participants had significantly higher academic GPAs and math test scores as well as somewhat higher total GPA. The findings suggest that high quality, comprehensive out-of-school programs can positively influence the academic performance of low-income youth. 

Below, we ask Bob Cabeza a number of questions about this study (Bob is the Vice President of Community Development, YMCA of Greater Long Beach and Founder of the Youth Institute).  

Bob Cabeza, How Kids Learn Conference
Q: Can you briefly describe what you think are the most important findings of this study? 
A: The most important findings in the study are the increases in GPA and grades as compared with the control group. Also, the real eye-opener was that the greater duration of the youth's involvement with the program, the more positive their grades and GPA became. Clearly showing that not just academic interventions, but learning engagement coupled with social supports in an out-of-school program makes a difference in a youth's in-school academic outcomes.

Q: What are you most excited about? 
A:  I am most excited about the fact that we knew that we were making a positive difference in young peoples' academic success and future, anecdotally and qualitatively, but now we really have some indisputable, quantifiable evidence to that fact. I am also excited that this article supports greatly what all of us in the high school afterschool field believe and are doing.

Q: You have spent much of your career defending youth development over pure remediation in afterschool as a way to promote school and life success. What in your program design and implementation would you point to that resulted in these findings? 
Photo Credit: Youth Institute, Long Beach
A: When youth are bonded to a pro-social adult who supports them academically and hold high expectations of them, they want to do well intuitively. And when those relationships are strong and long-term, young people feel cared for. They open themselves to academic and social interventions, as well as positive messages that they need. As a result, they try harder and do better academically. I also think that when young people are engaged in learning activities that they see as relevant to their lives and futures, they gain other skills that are transferable in academic environments - things like 21st Century skills. We are talking about abstract thinking, sequential thinking, problem solving, group work, and critical thinking. We see them use their love of learning, which all young people have, and they sometimes challenge the academic environment if it lacks relevance.

Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project has stressed the importance of learning – we believe that learning IS development. How do you view and how do you use the LIAS principles in your program? 
A: Our whole programmatic philosophy is based on the LIAS principles. We design all of our curriculum and teaching approaches to these principles. For instance, we budget unique field trips to cities and national parks and do unique activities and bonding in these spaces to help young people become exposed to different environments. These experiences develop independent living skills, appreciation of their natural world, life sciences, cultural experiences, and different artistic as well as architectural environments. This experience directly relates to learning that expands horizons and connects a real world experience to an abstract exercise in school such as reading about the natural environment or studying about a city or culture. 

Photo Credit: Youth Institute, Long Beach

All of our creative digital arts assignments are project-based and require problem solving, exploration, group work, and an end product and celebration. Moving through a multi-dimensional activity where it's both research-based and active-based supports multiple learning principles. These approaches support learning that is collaborative, active, meaningful, supports mastery, and expand horizons.

Q: How important are the LIAS principles to achieving the kind of findings that your study showed?
A: We need to get young people excited about learning. We need to get them engaged in the learning process and we need to activate their innate developmental curiosity, passion, and intellect. That is what the LIAS principles do when approached correctly. When youth have a positive learning experience, it provides for the development of new skills and a greater sense of agency, which effects their performance in the academic environment.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

We Knew That...

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The covers of two national magazines serve as a good reminder for those of us who work with young people in afterschool and summer programs. The results of a recent poll also reinforces the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles. 

1. The cover of the most recent TIME magazine features a story on the "Mindful Revolution". It states, "Educators are turning to mindfulness with increasing frequency--perhaps a good thing, considering how digital technology is splitting kids' attention spans too."

We have been promoting the value of Mindfulness in Afterschool, both as a wellness strategy for adult workers as well as a program for young people. We now have a 16-week curriculum and training that we offer to afterschool programs (now with matching funds from a local foundation). We hope to spread the practice of engaging young people in mindfulness exercises throughout the field of afterschool and summer programming. Below are a few quotes from afterschool practitioners (in Delano and Oakland, CA) who received our Mindfulness in Afterschool training:

- "Mindfulness has helped me in my life as a de-stressor when I’m overwhelmed." 

- "When I’m having a bad day, I realize that there may just be a bad situation or two but that actually there were more good situations than bad ones. It’s helping me focus on the good ones, which is making me happier and less sad."

- "We’ve starting doing mindfulness with the kids for 20 minutes. Doing a body scan and having them focus on their breath. The parents sit down and watch them and they are surprised because they’ve never seen the kids so quiet. It’s working really well."

Photo Credit: Mindful Impact

- "Before P.E., the instructor does mindful breathing. She also relayed that the Kindergarten school-day teacher had started to implement mindfulness when she saw the impact of it on her students. Co-incidentally, this same teacher stopped us in the hallway mid-program to let us know that the school-day teachers were talking about the positive effects of mindfulness on their 1st and 2nd graders who were having a particularly difficult year. When I inquired further to ask what specifically they were seeing as different, this teacher said that the youth were less volatile and less confrontational."

- "Mindfulness is effective in changing student behavior in a short amount of time. Students tell us that they enjoy it and will continue to use it in the future."  

2. The latest cover of National Geographic serves as a reminder that our growing understanding of the brain and how we learn can shape our practices in youth programs. With the help of Youth Radio (Oakland, CA), we conducted two brief interviews with neurologist and classroom teacher, Judy Willis, on how we can use new learnings in brain research in our youth programs. You can view the two videos on our website by clicking here

- “As the neuroimaging evidence has shown, the more a student is engaged in a learning activity, especially one with multiple sensory modalities, the more parts of his/her brain are actively stimulated. When this occurs in a positive emotional setting, without stress and anxiety, the result is greater long-term, relational, and retrievable learning.”

- Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed. , Board-Certified Neurologist, 
           Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara



3. "A new survey finds that getting physically involved in learning something trumps reading about it. The results paint a picture of a very different kind of learning than what is typically found in most classrooms. The survey conducted for Everest College by Harris Interactive asked 1,000 adults what methods of learning worked best for them. Here's how the responses break down:" (Article written by Catherine Gewertz, Education Week)




Monday, February 10, 2014

More Resources on the Role of "Grit" in Learning

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha
Over the past year, we have dedicated several blog posts and portions of our last two How Kids Learn conferences to explore the importance of "grit" and persistence in young people's learning. According to research, grit is a strong indicator of GPA and graduation rates. And as we have noted in our exploration of grit, it is something that can be cultivated and taught. Part of this is developing in young people a "growth mindset", which Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck, claims is highly correlated with success. Below are some valuable resources that will help our readers continue their learning about grit and how to teach it. 


Carol Dweck, Author, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success 

True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It: A blog post from Edutopia, January 9, 2014. This post lists several other resources about "grit".

TED Video: Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit: In this TED Talk, Ms. Duckworth discusses her experience regarding the role of grit in learning.  

Angela Lee Duckworth - TED Talk










Grit Scale: This survey, developed by Angela Duckworth and Chris Peterson, attempts to measure a person's "grit" and ability to persevere when challenged.

Resilience and Grit - Resource Roundup: This listing was assembled and published by Edutopia. It is a "curated collection of blogs, articles, interviews, and videos with information for parents and educators about the associated concepts of resilience and grit."


Monday, February 3, 2014

The New Quality Standards for Expanded Learning

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
I was honored to join a group of afterschool leaders to develop a set of quality standards for expanded learning on behalf of the CDE After School Division. This group was selected through a competitive application process and met several times over the past year to complete its recommendations. After the quality standards were reviewed by stakeholders across the state, they were submitted to the After School Division in June 2013. 

CDE approved the recommendations for the 12 Quality Standards for Expanded Learning and have released them in a full report. 


The Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles (below in bold) are fully reflected in the following standards: 

- Active and engaged learning 
Program design and activities reflect active, meaningful and engaging learning methods that promote collaboration and expand student horizons.

- Skill building 
The program maintains high expectations for all students, intentionally links program goals and curricula with 21st-century skills and provides activities to help students achieve mastery.

There are 12 standards in all. You can view a full copy of the report here. A second quality committee is being formed to consider the terms that require further definition, the need for a self-reflection tool, and other tools to help field leaders make good use of the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning.