Reflections on the FUSE 3.0 Institute: Cultivating Curiosity and SEL through Informal and Formal Collaboration

by Sabrina Gomez

 

“As you were walking, what are some things you notice about the conference room, its arrangements, its contents, what physical structure or behaviors would be necessary for insects to survive here?,” asked Olga Feingold, Program Director, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center in Boston. Olga was leading FUSE 3.0 Winter Institute participants in Nashville.

The Institute brought together forty leaders in youth development, education, and informal science from six cities who came together to share their thinking on using social-emotional learning (SEL) skill-building to strengthen STEM learning in- and out-of-school. Lead organizations included ExpandED Schools in New York City, the Providence After School Alliance, Boston After School & Beyond, the Nashville After Zone Alliance, Prime Time Palm Beach County, and Collective for Youth in Omaha. The group was joined by Ron Ottinger, Director of STEM Next, and leaders in the field of science and social emotional learning; Senior Research Scientist Dr. Sue Allen, who heads a national, Noyce-funded project that provides online professional development for afterschool providers; Dr. Cary Sneider, Associate Professor at Portland State University, leader of the engineering group on the NGSS writing team, and science consultant to STEM Next; and Dr. Nick Yoder, Senior Technical Assistance Consultant, American Institutes for Research.

Olga’s activity is routinely employed by Thompson Island informal educators, and is aimed at having students think purposefully about how structures and behaviors increase survival of the population. The activity sparked enthusiasm around the room as we explored how activities rooted in the Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices could be brought to life in an interactive, fun way led by informal educators.

The presentation also allowed us to step into the educators’ shoes to experience how they might assess the extent to which students are engaging deeply with the practices. We used observation, critical thinking, communication, and team work skills to make claims about the function of an adaptation by recording observed evidence and then presenting our individual organisms to the larger group, which fostered further idea-sharing among peers. We quickly realized that we were also relying on the same SEL to answer Ms. Feingold’s series of questions.

Olga’s presentation embodied the spirit of inquiry, assessment, and the intersection of youth development principles, STEM, and SEL that fueled January’s two-day Institute. Underlying this spirit was also a practical exploration of how teams could use formative assessments rooted in Next Generation Science Standards’ practices of scientists and engineers to create a solid foundation for this work.

Accordingly, Dr. Allen and Dr. Sneider co-led a discussion around how teams could incorporate formative assessments in out-of-school time in order to increase opportunities for youth to practice and strengthen their understanding of the science and engineering practices. To support this work, Dr. Yoder, who also leads the focal area on safe and supportive classrooms, and social and emotional learning (SEL) for the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, facilitated a discussion about strategies for creating educator professional development experiences that connect STEM and SEL skills. Together, Institute teams learned from other cities’ professional development types and series they facilitate with staff. Ann Durham and Brittany Sandbergen, from the Providence After Zone Alliance, shared their work around designing and leading professional development experiences for formal and informal educators involved in FUSE 3.0.  

Combined, Institute’s discussions and activities highlighted the key theme of FUSE 3.0: Expanded learning time can be a time for youth to engage with Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices, and for educators to assess their growth in those Practices while still holding true to youth development principles that help cultivate curiosity.

Boston, Providence, New York City and Omaha are also part of the STEM Ecosystems Initiative, supported by STEM Next and the STEM Funders Network. The ecosystems work—intentionally connecting STEM learning experiences for kids across a full range of settings in- and out-of-school, at home, in community-based settings, online and in the workforce—aligns with the FUSE 3.0 strategy.

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Bringing STEM Education from Niche to Necessary: the Every Hour Counts FUSE 3.0 Institute

This post originally appeared on STEM Next, a national leader in increasing opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning for youth across communities both in and out of school.

Editor’s Note: In 2010, ExpandED Schools and Every Hour Counts launched the Frontiers in Urban Science Education project with support from the Noyce Foundation. The project aims to scale access to high-quality STEM learning for kids in out-of-school time programs, building off lessons piloted in New York City by ExpandED Schools. In 2014, the FUSE project published a resource guide of strategies to advance informal science education in after-school, and is now leading six organizations from across the country in connecting out-of-school and in-school STEM learning with the Next Generation Science Standards.

“What variable do you think students were testing during the Rockin’ Rockets Design Challenge?” Jasmine Maldonado, Science Coach Supervisor from the New York Hall of Science, asked FUSE 3.0 Winter Institute participants before testing the rockets in the video above. The question sparked a buzz of conversation around the room as participants explored how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) can be applied to expanded learning.

The presentation allowed us to step into students’ shoes to experience learning rooted in NGSS firsthand. We used our observation, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills to analyze the design variables students tested in the rocket challenge. We quickly realized that we were flexing the same social-emotional skills (SEL) to answer Maldonado’s question that students must use to be successful in the Challenge. The exercise highlighted a key FUSE theme: there are many ways to integrate both content acquisition and youth development in high-quality STEM learning.

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New Measurement Framework Offers a Blueprint for Expanded Learning Systems to Improve and Measure their Progress

Data can be a powerful tool, but only if you know how to use it.

For too long, the expanded learning field has struggled with the complex and elusive process of developing and adopting a common framework for measuring youth outcomes and the program and system practices that may influence them. In a webinar last week, MF graphicwe unveiled a new Measurement Framework, a tool to help communities set goals for their expanded learning systems and to help them assess their progress and make data-driven improvements.

How can the Measurement Framework help you? The Measurement Framework offers practitioners:

•    A clear, simple set of outcomes that reflect priority measures of success for expanded learning systems. The Framework presents eight elements across the youth, program, and system levels that reflect high-priority focus areas for a thriving expanded learning system. Each element has corresponding outcomes designed to show whether systems and programs are functioning well. The Framework provides a description of measurement activities that can accompany each outcome, suggestions for how the data can be used, direction regarding how data on a given outcome may be linked to other levels within the Framework, and evidence on the value of each outcome.

•    Tips for how to use data to drive improvement. Do you collect data but need guidance in how you use it to change practice? The Framework offers “data use goals” for each outcome to help improve the efficiency of your quality improvement and assessment efforts.

•    A handful of social, and emotional “power skills” that are likely to drive student success. Education leaders, practitioners, and researchers are increasingly recognizing the importance of social and emotional skills in driving students’ long-term success. The Framework offers practitioners a variety of tools to evaluate the degree to which students are developing positive youth development skills like persistence and collaboration. Continue reading

Helping Kids Grow Up Healthy: More than Diet and Exercise

National Public Health Week is coming to a close, but summer is on its way and with it come heightened risks to kids’ health (especially for kids from low-income families); during the summer, lack of activity combined with limited access to nutritious foods leaves many students at an increased risk for unhealthy weight gain.

Licensed under creative commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that kids get 60 minutes of vigorous to moderate-intensity physical activity per day in order to stay healthy, but it is estimated that fewer than half of US youth meet this recommendation. TASC’s study of students in their NYC ExpandED programs revealed this estimate to be perhaps too optimistic, finding that fewer than 20% of their students reached the 9,100 daily steps considered necessary to constitute an hour of vigorous activity.

Expanded learning and summer programs can and are increasingly called upon to help students reach benchmarks of healthy living by incorporating better nutrition and more physical activity into their days. But there are other factors in play: a recent study showed that social and emotional variables such as perceived social class, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem—all of which disproportionately affect low-income youth—contribute to higher risks of obesity in children.

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Research Round-Up: Exciting Outcomes

The latest research from Deborah Lowe Vandell and her colleagues at UC Irvine suggests that consistent participation in high-quality after-school programming by elementary school students (K-5) vastly narrows the achievement gap between students from low-income and high-income families by the fifth grade (see infographic). Vandell’s study did not describe the content of the afterschool programs in her study, but several other recent studies have shown that similar outcomes may result from a variety of program models:

Research round-up Feb. 2014 image

  • A YMCA study published earlier this year found that students who participated actively in their High School Youth Initiative program—a summer and after-school program focused on technology skills, leadership, and homework help—had higher grades and test scores in math and language arts, as well as improved overall GPAs and higher attendance as they progressed in school. Participating youth came from low-income families and diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • A study of youth development in minority boys who participated in the Sport Hartford Boys (SHB) program indicated that involvement in the program positively influenced the participants emotionally and socially, as gauged by their development in the “6 C’s”— competence, character, caring, confidence, connection, and contribution. The “6 C’s” are a set of characteristics identified by developmental scientists as indicators of positive youth development and future success.
  • A case-study series of four California schools found that implementing “student-centered” practices, such as connecting learning to real-world experiences and assigning student-directed research projects, dramatically improved the college readiness of low-income and minority students as compared to their peers in traditional schools in the same districts and across the state.

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Creating Learning Systems to Serve Youth: What Are the Game-Changers?

“We are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong.”

That’s the message students in the Berklee City Music High School Academy delivered at the opening of the 2013 PEAR Leadership Conference, co-hosted by Boston After School & Beyond in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary Art on March 11. Performing James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light,” the students demonstrated remarkable poise and confidence—tangible evidence of what Boston has accomplished over the past decade to strengthen students’ learning opportunities and development both in and out of school.

Their performance was a fitting beginning to the day-long conference, Learning, It’s Personal!, which focused on transitioning from innovative stand-alone programs to youth-serving systems that cut across the education, youth development, and mental health sectors. As Boston Beyond Executive Director Chris Smith pointed out, “No one entity, even if it’s as big as a school system, can do this work alone.” Conference participants ran the gamut, from public school officials and after-school providers, to policemen, counselors, and representatives of faith communities.GilChrisRahnDaphne-PEARConf2013 Continue reading