Tag Archives: problem-solving

Relevant research: Combining service-learning and technology fosters positive youth development

In an ongoing effort to promote youth empowerment in education, we’d like to offer this research synopsis. This one pulls together several of our favorite subjects: youth development, project-based learning, and technology.

Best Practices for Integrating Technology and Service-Learning in a Youth Development Program by JoAnn R. Coe-Regan, PhD and Julie O’Donnell, PhD, MSW.

Community-based programs that are meant to promote youth development have been around for quite awhile. Numerous studies indicate that youths benefit from these programs in many ways: a more positive self-image, a reduction in risk taking behavior, improved school behavior, etc. Because research illustrates the success of after-school programs, federal funding has increased from $40 million to $1 billion in recent years. A ubiquitous and recurring challenge these programs face is how to recruit and retain teens despite the potential barriers of boredom, family responsibilities, and spending social time with their friends.

In 2006 the YMCA Youth Institute of Long Beach, California developed a service-learning program to help overcome these barriers which “…uses technology as an integral mechanism for promoting positive youth development and enhancing the academic success and career readiness of low-income, culturally-diverse high school students.” (Coe-Regan & O’Donnell, 2006)

The YMCA Youth Institute research is unique in the fact that it focuses on the mutually supportive benefits of technology and service-learning. It also supports the idea that effective technology learning is more than skill acquisition, but is built into collaborative, authentic projects.

Overall, the study found that service-learning which emphasizes technology not only increases positive youth development, it also retains and sustains the service-learning program. Participants were particularly attracted to learning new technology skills and saw this as increasing the likelihood of being successful in life.

The participants spent the entire year working in teams to develop projects including digital storytelling, graphic design, 3D animation, and how to troubleshoot and use computer networks. Additionally, curriculum was developed to link the project content to school content standards.

Coe-Regan and O’Donnell identified five best practices to implementing a service-learning program that emphasizes technology to enhance positive youth development.

  1. Focus on under-served youth. The study found that ‘nesting’ such programs in low-income, diverse communities helped youth connect with a wide range of other cultures as well as helping reduce the ‘digital divide’ that many youths must overcome to be competitive in the 21st Century job market.
  2. Use collaborative, project-based techniques to teach technology. The study found that using projects to teach technology not only increased interest, but participants also gained better planning and problem-solving skills than traditional, specific skill acquisition. Youth also gained more confidence by learning from ‘trial and error’ and from working in teams to develop ‘real world’ solutions to problems as they arose.
  3. Emphasize the usefulness of technology skills in the workplace/higher education. It was found that many youths are well aware of the expectations teachers and employers have in regards to technology competency. Therefore, participants had an authentic desire to learn about new technology. It was found that the program retention increased due to the youth’s determination to succeed in college and the marketplace by developing their 21st century skills.
  4. Stress the importance of service to the community. The study found that 90% of participants found their service learning experience to be positive. Many of the youths continued their service learning beyond the program by participating in internships, volunteering, or helping teachers in their school with technology.
  5. Focus on personal growth and development. “The data suggested that this technology program appeared to have the ability to do more than simply influence technology outcomes. Many participants mentioned the technology skills when asked about the overall general knowledge and skills, but the majority of participants talked about other things they learned about themselves and life skills that went beyond technology skills and knowledge. These included: developing leadership skills, making friends, getting along with others, speaking in front of others and voicing their opinions, balancing life and gaining the motivation to continue with their career goals.” (Coe-Regan & O’Donnell, 2006).

Overall, the study found that service-learning which emphasizes technology not only increases positive youth development, it also retains and sustains the service-learning program. Participants were particularly attracted to learning new technology skills and saw this as increasing the likelihood of being successful in life.

Reference: Coe-Regan, JoAnn R, & O’Donnell, Julie. (2006). Best Practices for Integrating Technology and Service Learning in a Youth Development Program. Journal of Evidenced-Based Social Work, 3, 210-220. Retrieved from EBSCO Host Database.

(This synopsis was written by Steven Hicks, Generation YES grants and special projects coordinator.)

Tinkering as a mode of knowledge production in a Digital Age

From the “Carnegie Commons” – Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age. Tip of the hat to Steve Spaeth, a TechYES Advisor in Maine for this link.

The MacArthur Foundation brought together educators, “tinkerers,” curators, artists, performers and “makers” to grapple with questions around ensuring that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully and creatively in public, community, and economic life.

These interviews from five of the participants were produced to provide some insights into the thoughtful and passionate conversations from that convening.


Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge Production in a Digital Age: John Seely Brown from carnegie commons on Vimeo.

These videos make connections between tinkering, innovative ideas, the idea of making work public as in a studio, creativity and collaboration, the ability to incorporate criticism, and more. Well worth watching!

I posted my own thoughts about students having “tinkering time” with technology a few weeks ago and it’s quickly risen to be one of the most looked at articles on this blog. It’s especially important as educators work hard to figure out how to make education more relevant to students and to connect to the real world.

Seymour Papert, the father of educational computing, often used the French word bricolage to describe the kind of playful attitude both children and scientists use to tinker, build, test, and rebuild their way to solving problems. Bricolage has the additional advantage (besides being cool sounding) of implying that you are using materials that you find around you – a very eco-green idea!

Problem-solving in schools is typically taught as an analytical process with clear plans and steps, like the “scientific method.” But bricolage is clearly closer to the way real scientists, mathematicians and engineers solve problems. Sure, they make plans. But they also follow hunches, iterate, make mistakes, re-think, start over, argue, sleep on it, collaborate, and have a cup of tea. Bricolage encourages making connections, whereas School tends to like “clean” disconnected problems with clear, unambiguous step-by-step solutions.

“For planners, mistakes are steps in the wrong direction; bricoleurs navigate through midcourse corrections. Bricoleurs approach problem-solving by entering into a conversation with their work materials that has more the flavor of a conversation than a monologue. ” – Papert & Turkle

For more on the concept of bricolage and computers, Papert’s book, The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer is the one to read. If you want to get a taste, the Math Forum has a nice synopsis of it on their website.

Sylvia

* Note: the Papert & Turkle quote is from their seminal paper, Epistemological pluralism and the revaluation of the concrete. I found this on the Edutech Wiki, hosted by the University of Geneva.

Games that encourage student teamwork and collaboration

Freechild Article | “Why Play Games…” By Adam Fletcher.

Here’s another fabulous article and set of resources from Adam Fletcher of The Freechild Project. The article is about playing games with students and youth groups to encourage teamwork, model constructive, collaborative behavior, and develop a shared sense of mission.

Games can be a catalyst that brings both cohesion and energy to any group, and a welcome addition to a teacher’s “bag of tricks”. Two categories of games are especially helpful in setting a tone of collaboration and teamwork for students.

Cooperative games emphasize participation, challenge, and fun, rather than sorting out winners and losers. These kinds of games teach teamwork, empathy, and trust.

Initiative games have players attack a problem and solve it. They teach leadership, problem solving, and collaboration.

“Why Play Games…” is more than just a list of games. It includes practical information about how to choose them, how to introduce them, how to create reflective activities that further magnify the impact of the game itself, and tons of additional resources.

Teachers who lead student tech clubs know that the success of the group depends on much more than tech skills. Teamwork and a sense of mission result in the “we” being more than the “me” and can take a student tech team to the next level.

This isn’t just for student clubs either. If you want students to unlearn the competitive habits that have been drilled into them and work cooperatively, these games will work in classroom situations too. Collaboration and communication may be “21st century skills” but having students play them out in game situations is a timeless idea.

Give this short article a read and I guarantee you will learn one new thing today! “Why Play Games…” By Adam Fletcher

Selected additional resources (there’s a lot more if you click on the article link):

  • Brand-new (and free) guide, So, You Wanna Be A Playa? The Freechild Project Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change by A. Fletcher with K. Kunst. “This insightful new guide will help community workers, teachers, activists, and all kinds of people find fun, engaging, and powerful activities that promote teamwork, communication, and social justice.Click here for a free download.

Have fun!

Sylvia

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