Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Science of Learning and Development Part 1

By Sam Piha

There has been a great deal of effort in research, policy, and practice to promote systems and settings that support whole-child efforts, including the Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) Alliance. While many of these efforts are geared toward K–12 education, the youth development field is translating the learnings for afterschool systems and settings.

Dr. Deborah Moroney is the Managing Director at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and she recently authored a briefing paper entitled, “The Science of Learning and Development in Afterschool Systems and Settings.”

This brief includes:
Select findings from the SoLD Alliance’s efforts;
Relevant, actionable key takeaways for the youth development field in afterschool;
Suggestions for practical ways to support high-quality afterschool systems and settings; and
Outlines the elements of developmentally rich contexts that foster learning and healthy development.

Many of the practical applications of SoLD findings for afterschool systems and settings will be familiar to students of youth development frameworks (see the YD Guide 2.0). The emphasis on the need for systems to invest in professional development (PD) opportunities and tools is particularly important as funds for PD are drying up.

Dr. Moroney will serve as our featured speaker at an upcoming Speaker’s Forum. She will be joined by Jeff Davis (California Afterschool Network), Dr. Femi Vance (AIR), and a youth worker and an afterschool participant from the All Stars Project of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dr. Deborah Moroney
Below Dr. Moroney responded to some of our interview questions. In Part 2, our next blog post, we will share the rest of Dr. Moroney's responses to our questions.

Q: What can you tell us about SoLD?

A: The SoLD Alliance is a partnership of leading education research, practice, and policy organizations dedicated to using the lessons learned from SoLD to drive equity and excellence in the education system. The SoLD Alliance does this by identifying and translating key lessons from SoLD. The governing partner organizations of the SoLD Alliance include AIR (this is where I work), EducationCounsel, Forum for Youth Investment, Learning Policy Institute, Populace, and Turnaround for Children. The SoLD Alliance began working together in 2016 based on the hypothesis that the emerging lessons from SoLD could provide important insights on the best ways to educate and support young people. Since then the SoLD Alliance has convened leading scientists and education experts across fields to triangulate and translate those insights for education practice and policy.

It is a significant and important contribution to our field(s) and one that I am humble to have a peripheral role in my position in the youth development practice area where that work “lives” at AIR.  At AIR, we work together to ensure we are supporting the positive development of young people both in and out-of-school. As the SoLD work evolved, I was eager to ensure that the valuable contributions from the SoLD Alliance would be applied to the fields where young people live, play, and learn that are outside of the traditional school day- community based and summer programs, afterschool, juvenile justice, and child welfare to name a few.

Q: Why did you think it was important to focus on afterschool settings and systems?

A: The SoLD findings and related initiatives have the potential to meaningfully inform – and perhaps even change – the ways educators create conditions for teaching and learning. Children and youth spend more than 80% of their time outside of school (Afterschool Alliance, 2019)  – and we know that afterschool settings provide key developmental opportunities for young people. It only made sense to apply the SoLD learnings to afterschool. Plus, my afterschool friends were asking for it. They saw themselves in the work.

To be continued in Part 2.

The Science of Learning and Development Alliance
The Science of Learning and Development: Initial Findings 
The Science of Learning and Development (video)
Meet the Expert: Deborah Moroney
Afterschool and Expanded Learning at AIR

Dr. Deborah Moroney is the Managing Director, American Institutes of Research (AIR). She specializes in bridging research and practice, having worked as a staff member for out-of-school programs early in her career. She's written practitioner and organizational guides; co-authored the fourth edition of “Beyond the Bell®, A Toolkit for Creating High-Quality Afterschool and Expanded Learning Programs,” a seminal afterschool resource; and co-edited Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools: A Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Approach to Supporting Students and Social and Emotional Learning in Out-of-School Time Foundations and Futures.  Presently, Dr. Moroney serves as the principal investigator on national studies of afterschool initiatives. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Learning From a Monumental Philanthropic Leader: Bill White's Legacy to Advance Our Field

William S. White, addressing the European Foundation Centre in 2009

By Guest Blogger Terry K. Peterson

William S. White, the Chairman of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation passed away on October 9, 2019.  Bill was a monumental leader in the world of philanthropy. Working with many of you as well as many other foundations and organizations, he and the Mott Foundation have had and are continuing to have a tremendous positive impact on the afterschool and community learning center movement.

Collaborating with many partners, Bill and the C.S. Mott Foundation are helping us achieve big systems change with field engagement as an important part of the work. So, our work today is both top-down and bottom-up. As a result, there is a growing infrastructure on which to build. Several critical pillars of this infrastructure include:

The formation and enhancement of the nationwide Afterschool Alliance. Across America in this diverse and very decentralized field, the Alliance is connecting many groups with similar agendas ranging from those in education and youth development to community and cultural groups and from scientific, law enforcement groups to faith-based groups.

Building State Afterschool Networks. Starting with 8 state networks in 2002, we now have networks in 50 states. They and their allies inform and educate their state and local leaders about the potential and best practices of afterschool and summer learning and community schools. They encourage partnerships and more expanded learning opportunities to help solve a number of contemporary education and community issues.

Supporting research and sharing of best practices. This growing body of findings is critical to continually identify what is working well and to make needed improvements.  Also, the wide dissemination of the positive impacts is very important for both leaders and practitioners.

The initial rapid growth and continual strengthening of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). Today, this bipartisan initiative is in every state and administered by the state, but is federally funded. With a $1.4 billion current federal appropriation, the 21st CCLCs serve almost 2 million students and families and are in almost 13,000 schools and communities.

Together with this crucial infrastructure, Bill White’s style and insights also leave us an important legacy for all of us in this field to emulate.  Leaders from across America and the world recently described Bill in just a few words. A video of these powerful statements was presented during an award ceremony honoring Bill at the annual meeting of the Michigan Council of Foundations; he passed away a day later.  These powerful descriptors about Bill are terrific guides for our work: "Thought leader… on the ground and at the very top”; “Listener”; “Big Thinker”; “Willingness to take a risk”; “Persistent in seeing it through”; and “Staying power and loyalty to the work.”

Let me set the stage. In 1997, several bi-partisan leaders in the Congress and the Clinton Administration were looking for ways to fill the hours of 3-6 PM after school and summers with positive, safe, learning experiences.  Right after a huge conference on this topic in October, 1997, on the White House lawn, Bill White casually came over to U.S. Secretary of Education Dick Riley and me (as then Counselor to the US Secretary). Within minutes and a handshake, we launched a tremendous and continuing partnership with the CS Mott Foundation to rapidly grow the 21st CCLCs from 7 sites to 10,000 sites within just five years.  During that handshake, Bill’s instant multi-year, multimillion-dollar commitment was essential to launch this initiative and a massive effort to quickly go to scale.

The large and quick “scaling up” was successful because it captured another one of Bill’s other insights: “being a thought leader on the ground and at the very top.” From the beginning, the rollout of the 21st CCLC engaged hundreds of local people in planning, training and workshops. As the funding expanded, this quickly became thousands involved, and now in 2019 there are tens of thousands engaged in community learning centers and afterschool. Bill White and the Mott Foundation supported this rapid growth of the field every step of the way, and this continues today to both strengthen the field and the 21st CCLCs.

Another component of this initial rollout is very instructive, too. To increase the quality of the grant applications and expand access, the Mott Foundation helped support every state to hold bidder’s conferences that engaged those interested in locally funded afterschool and community education programs. This crucial action also brought many new players to the table. This generated applications for these new federal grants that far exceeded the funding that was available. This high demand “on the ground” in each state helped Congress and many Administrations to understand the bi-partisan value for increasing funding “at the very top” for afterschool, community-school partnerships and the 21st CCLCs.

Building on These Pillars and Bill’s Style

The commitment to community-school partnerships with family engagement was started by C. S. Mott in Flint in the 1930’s, continued and expanded by Bill White; and now is being brought into the next decade by Ridgway White.  From my vantage point, this commitment and core guiding principles have stayed consistent for literally decades, while always looking to the future.

These principles, our infrastructure, and Bill’s powerful legacy are a call for all of us to do much more to improve. I hope you will join-in on building on them by:

       Relentlessly keep working for children, youth and their families.
       Engaging the community in the work.
       Remembering the power of school-family community partnerships.
       Helping local people realize their dreams and potential.
       Thinking big and being persistent.

Terry K. Peterson
About Terry Peterson: Terry was the Chief Counselor for former US Secretary of Education and Governor, Dick Riley. During his decades-long tenure in public service, Terry held senior state- and federal-level positions in which he developed numerous education policies and funding streams, including at the U.S. Department of Education where he helped create the 21st CCLC initiative. Terry currently serves on the board of the Afterschool Alliance and is also the executive editor of, Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning. He is also featured in the History of Afterschool in America documentary.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Emotions, Learning and the Brain

By: Sam Piha

We used to think that emotions were separate from learning. We now know that both engagement and learning are deeply emotional and that young people's emotions drive their learning. Thanks to research, we also know that young people's culture and personal experience are important to learning.

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is a former classroom science teacher, who taught at a racially diverse school outside Boston. She is now a researcher at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute. She focuses on psychology, neuroscience and education, and is known internationally for her research on the critical role that emotion plays in learning. She recently published a new book entitled, Emotions, Learning and the Brain.

In partnership with LA’s BEST and THINK Together, we invited Dr. Immordino-Yang to share her thoughts at a Speaker’s Forum in Los Angeles (November 22, 2019) regarding her research and implications for learning in afterschool.

Speaker's Forum With Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

Below we share a few quotes from her and also some resources if people would like to learn more.

“People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but it doesn’t. Emotion steers our thinking; it’s the rudder that directs our mind and organizes what we do and think about.” (1
“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotion.” (2)
"The ability to feel passionate about something is a skill. What we need to teach kids is that feeling passionate about something doesn't just fall into your lap. Rather, students can learn how to take interest in subjects that aren't immediately entertaining."(3)
“…understanding emotions is also (and perhaps even more critically) about the meaning that students are making — that is, the ways in which students and teachers are experiencing or feeling their emotional reactions and how their feelings steer their thoughts and behavior, consciously or not. Emotions are not add-ons that are distinct from cognitive skills. Instead emotions, such as interest, anxiety, frustration, excitement or a sense of awe in beholding beauty, become a dimension of the skill itself.” (4)
"When I was teaching, I was struck by the differences in the ways kids came to the science I was teaching, but I didn’t really have good tools for managing that diversity or capitalizing on that strength in the classroom. Our current work highlights the really fundamental ways that culture shapes how a person makes meaning of the things they’re learning. If I were teaching now, I would try to find more ways to let kids own their curriculum and own their learning. I would focus even more on the sorts of project-based, community-oriented activities that really engage kids from the starting point of their own self and their own communities. I see teaching now as a process of facilitating kids building new understandings of their worlds, less than as a process of imparting information. I would see myself as much as a learner as the teacher." (5)

"And currently our education system does not take into account and does not allow for, or encourage, a culturally diverse way of making sense of, understanding, and thinking about the world ... Urban kids are really in the thick of it – they need to build resilience and a strong acculturated sense of identity. So this kind of research is key to helping us improve education and to getting rid of the achievement gap. We simply must stop wasting the potential among urban kids, so many of whom are not educated in ways that connect to their real lives and strengths." (6)

ABOUT MARY HELEN IMMORDINO-YANG: She is a Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, and a former urban public junior high-school science teacher. She studies the psychological and neurobiological development of emotion and self-awareness, and connections to social, cognitive and moral development in educational settings. Her work has a special focus on adolescents from low-SES communities, and she involves youths from these communities as junior scientists in her work. Dr. Immordino-Yang has received numerous awards for her research and for her impact on education and society.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Afterschool Workforce Data

We haven't had access to updated data on the afterschool workforce for some time. This data is very important for advocacy efforts. Please take the time to fill out this survey sponsored by the National Afterschool Association using the link below:

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Is Play a “Waste”?

Source: Joel deWaard

By Sam Piha

There is an inscription over a public school in northern Washington state that reads “Waste Not Thy Hour”. It reminds me of how young people’s play is often regarded as a waste. For many, play is the antithesis of learning time, however, there is growing evidence that there is a great deal of learning in play.
In an age of standardized testing and intense academic competition, it’s easy to believe that play is one more thing American children will have to do without. But free play encourages the development of the two skills that no robot can replace: creativity and teamwork. -The Secret Power of Play; Bethan Mooney for TIME (1)
Now is the time to reexamine the value of play, educate our stakeholders, and be unashamed to make play an important part of our afterschool programs. In this post we open the door to this reexamination by offering some information and definitions of terms you may find as you read about play. In a later blog post on play, we offer some additional  information and resources to encourage a reexamination of play. 
Many afterschool programs prioritize an extension of academics and homework completion over organized play, free play, and physical activity.  - The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (2)

The Move AWAY From Play 
Over the years, there has been a pronounced reduction in the time that children spend in play. According to the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (3), this is due to several factors: 
  1. Child supervision: Fewer families have available adult supervision in the home during the workday, which makes it necessary for children to be in settings in which they can be monitored by adults throughout the day.
  2. Afterschool program changes: Many afterschool programs prioritize an extension of academics and homework completion over organized play, free play, and physical activity. 
  3. Educational trends: There is a national trend to focus on the academic fundamentals of reading and arithmetic. This trend was spearheaded by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. One of the practical effects of the trend is decreased time left during the school day for other academic subjects, as well as recess, creative arts, and physical education. This trend may have implications for the social and emotional development of children and adolescents.
  4. Safety: In many communities, children cannot play safely outside of the home unless they are under close adult supervision and protection. This is particularly true in areas that are unsafe because of increased violence or other environmental dangers.
  5. Screentime: Children are increasingly being passively entertained through television or computer/video games. 
  6. Super-achieving children: Parents receive messages that good parents actively build every skill and aptitude their child might need to become super-achieving children, and if their children are not well prepared and high-achieving, they will not get a desired spot in higher education. 

There are many terms that one encounters when exploring the issues of play. Below are some definitions that may be helpful. 

Characteristics of play (4) 
  1. Active. During active play, children use their bodies and minds in play by interacting with the environment, materials and other people.
  2. Adventurous and risky. This type of play involves children exploring unknown or new concepts. When children engage in adventurous or risky pretend play, they are able to safely explore these concepts within the confines of a safety net.
  3. Communicative. Play presents a natural opportunity for children to share information and knowledge. Children can communicate verbally, using words or their bodies, postures and other non-verbal cues and these messages can be simple or more complicated.
  4. Enjoyable. Simply put, play is fun! When children play they should be enjoying themselves and they can often find excitement and humor in or through their play. If they aren’t having fun, it probably isn’t play. Instead of playing to win, children should be playing to play and have fun!
  5. Involved. Remember that play is a child’s work, and just like adults need to concentrate while working, children should concentrate during their play also. Children might become very involved while playing as they are actively thinking about what they are doing.
  6. Meaningful. Play provides opportunities for children to make sense of their world. Through play, children process the things they have seen and heard, what they know and what they don’t yet know. These experiences help children build upon their current knowledge, test out new theories and roles and grow their knowledge, understanding and skills.
  7. Sociable and interactive. While it is healthy and necessary for children to play independently, at least some of the time, play presents a unique and formative opportunity for children to engage in social interactions and build relationships with other children and adults.
  8. Symbolic. Children are able to test out roles, feelings, behaviors and relationships, replay things that have already happened in order to make sense of them. Symbolic play may just look like pretending, but it is actually laying the foundation for understanding of themselves and the larger world.
  9. Therapeutic. When play is fun, engaging and meaningful, it can be very therapeutic for children. Play can be a natural way for children to relieve stress and work through different emotions and experiences.
  10. Voluntary. Play is a self-chosen, spontaneous pursuit that children can change, alter and manipulate freely. Children should and will change the story, characters, materials, events, locations and purpose of their play at will.

Unstructured play is open-ended play that has no specific learning objective. Unstructured play is often informally referred to as simply "letting kids be kids" or "just play." At times, you may also hear it called "free play" or “self-play."(5

Unstructured play doesn't usually have any rules or instructions, and the possibilities tend to be unlimited! (6

Free play is unstructured, voluntary, child-initiated activity that allows children to develop their imaginations while exploring and experiencing the world around them. It is the spontaneous play that comes naturally from children's natural curiosity, love of discovery, and enthusiasm. (7)

Structured play is any type of activity that has a set of rules or instructions with a goal. For example, most games, puzzles, construction toys and organized sports are structured activities (8)

Organized play is ordered, overseen by rules, and managed or directed by another person. (9)

Source: Lapin Yliopisto University of Lapland

The Science of Learning and Development Part 1

By Sam Piha There has been a great deal of effort in research, policy, and practice to promote systems and settings that support whole-chi...