John Barell, in his book Developing More Curious Minds, tells stories of how the adults in his life nurtured curiosity: his mother, who at the close of a day always asked him not "What did you learn at school today?" but rather: "Did you ask a good question today?" His grandfather often began a sentence with the words: "Johnny, have you ever wondered..."
Rather than delivering a separate SEL curriculum, a recent issue of Social Policy Report proposes that schools integrate the teaching and reinforcement of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills into educators' daily interactions and practices.
Using a food metaphor, the authors describe this as a shift "from a focus on packaged, branded product (curriculum) to the essential ingredients like vitamins and minerals (essential and beneficial strategies)." I think a strategies approach is more in sync with how SEL ought to be framed in out-of-school settings as well.
This summer, we are very excited to have 16 teams of young people from across the state competing in our engineering design challenge, "Build a Rube Goldberg Machine." These third to eighth graders work together and learn the principles of physics to build a working machine that they can take to their county fairs.
When planning this challenge, I really wanted to know, "What role can an out-of-school, project-based contest play in building and transferring STEM knowledge and skills?
On the one hand, there's data. On the other hand, there's your gut. As I branch out and begin to truly understand the programs I work for and grasp their impact and begin to plant some of my own programmatic seeds, I am thinking about youth development program design. In a recent experience, I had a positive outcome that sparked me to ask this question: Is what we do an art or a science?
My answer? I think there's a healthy tension between the two that goes unnoticed. I am finding tools for program design that bring out both sides.
Grants can offer new resources and opportunities to youth programs and the communities in which they take place. The Minnesota Sustainable Community Project (MN SCP), funded by the USDA from 2008 to 2013, helped us to create eight new youth programs throughout the state. In these programs, youth developed leadership skills, gained new mastery and expertise in a subject area and made plans to meet their long-term goals in education.
We knew the benefits to these communities could not be fleeting. To sustain them beyond the life of the grant, we worked within a research-backed conceptual framework.
What lessons do you take from a story about two best friends graduating from Stillwater High School this week -- one of them an artist with autism who seldom speaks, the other headed for a local community college? Their steady and unwavering lifelong friendship across their differences bridged them through childhood to their walk across the graduation stage this month.
This story by Mary Divine of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press centers on two young men who formed a bond that has seen them through the years and over many successful "outcomes".
Last month a New York elementary school cancelled its annual kindergarten spring play because the kids needed to continue working to be college and career ready. Really?
I was saddened and frustrated to read about this. I have fond memories of kindergarten. I remember the academic part - learning to count to 100, memorizing colors, learning sound-letter combinations, learning to print letters and numbers, etc. I also remember the "fun" stuff - songs, games, story time, playing dress up, creating skits, and playing "house" and other role-playing games in the maze of boulders and trees along the edge of the playground. Those "fun" activities were seen as critical parts of our school day.
Much of our everyday life is done by habit. In 2006 a Duke researcher found that more than 40% of our everyday actions are habits, not decisions. How can we use knowledge about our work habits to make programs and organizations better?
We are what we do. Our programs are what we as leaders do. A habit is fairly easy to understand with a few minutes of reflection; we all have them! I challenge you, the champions of youth programs; use your habits to make your program better.
Psychologist Louis Cozolino describes the brain as a "social organ," saying there is no such thing as an individual human being, because we are so fundamentally shaped and co-created by our relationships. He explains that human relationships actually sculpt brain tissue: Our positive relationships trigger our brain chemistry to be more plastic, enabling us to learn more easily. Traumatic experiences, on the other hand, negatively alter the brain and can shut down learning. Our brains and bodies are constantly being shaped at a cellular and genetic level by our environments as we live. Our brains are constantly evolving through our interactions with each other.
4-H is changing. A couple of weeks ago at our annual staff development conference, the theme was "Building on traditions and inviting transformation." A few short months from now, we will host the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA) National Conference, where the theme will be "Tradition and Transformation".