In a past blog entry, I used the capabilities approach as a framework to understand the various conditions that may influence whether or not a youth may translate his or her STEM knowledge into a STEM career. I offered that scenario as an example, but this doesn't mean we expect all youth in STEM clubs to pursue STEM professions. If we measured the effectiveness of STEM programs by the number of engineers we produced, we'd be painting an incomplete picture.
In a prior blog post, Mark Haugen challenged us to improve our programs by changing a habit. I'm taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called Creative Problem Solving. It's a way to learn more about sparking creativity in our youth, (a 21st century skill) and maybe to become more creative myself.
Reflection is essential for learning. Creating opportunities for young people to reflect on their experiences is a critical component to strengthening program quality, yet is often the most challenging to implement.
So why is it so hard to do in our programs?
- We fall into the trap of thinking of reflection as something that can only be done at the end of a program session, and we often run short of time to finish an activity, let alone reflection.
- Most of us are not taught to be reflective learners nor are young people offered much opportunity to pause and reflect as part of their typical day or out-of-school program schedule.
Recently I've attended several events about children, families and outdoor play and learning. I noticed that, whether it was a professional event held in a conference room or a family event in a park, most of the attendees looked like me. This observation is borne out by research. Though some advances in gender diversity have been made within the "green workforce", racial diversity lags far behind.
Minnesota's educational achievement gap between whites and students of color has been narrowing, but remains one of the highest in the nation. To more fully address youth's learning and gaps in academic performance, we need to redefine educational excellence in a global society.
To be successful in school now and ready for college and careers later, young people need to develop a range of skills that extends beyond traditional academics. Content knowledge and academic skills are important, but it is also critical that youth learn how to work well with others, persevere when faced with challenges, and recognize when a new strategy is needed to solve a problem. These social and emotional factors are critical to young people's success, and they can be developed through diverse life experiences and overcoming hardships or struggles.
"How could we know as much as we do, spend as much as we do, care as much as we say we do and accomplish so little for so many kids over so long a period of time?"
That is one powerful statement by Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. For anyone interested in the achievement gap, I encourage you to listen to his speech during this year's Ready by 21 National meeting. You will ride the wave of deep sadness to hope all in this 30-minute presentation. He had me at the first line, but the whole speech is thought provoking.
Will you try an unidentified "healthy" food item because someone tells you it's good for you? Most likely not. The same is true for young people. But if you involve youth in preparing a menu item using some not-so-familiar "healthy" food ingredients, they'll probably taste it. They may even learn to like it!
Engaging youth in cooking can get them interested in trying healthy foods they might otherwise disdain, according to Susan Moores, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (Magee, 2014).
What does children's mental health (CMH) have to do with social and emotional learning (SEL)? How can we draw connections between these two areas of work so that children learn better and are healthier?
Viewing children's mental health as a public health issue brings common ground to this conversation. Public health encourages us to look beyond a child and a specific diagnosis toward dynamic, ecological systems in which both CMH and SEL are influenced.
The more I research and study the facets of teaching, the more I am aware that we as educators don't always apply the same methods of reflection on ourselves as we do to the youth we serve. Do we study to be scholarly teachers? Do we understand the scholarship of teaching as it pertains to our professional development and promotion? Do we take the time to dive deep into reflection to become experts in our teaching?
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..."