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The story of the year in afterschool STEM learning just might have come out this week in Washington, DC. At the National Press Club, people from all corners of the afterschool STEM world gathered to learn about STEM Ready America, a new report on afterschool STEM that effectively defines the national paradigm for activities in the field. Program leaders and policy thinkers, corporate and non-profit executives and funders, STEM educators and researchers from all levels discussed, reviewed, and enthused about the rich combination of research, examples from the field, and recommendations for action.

Stem Iverson

Funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, STEM Ready America is a project of STEM Next, a national leader in studying and promoting informal and out-of-school STEM learning housed at the University of California, San Diego. Researchers at Harvard University and Texas Tech University collaborated on the work, which involved over 1,600 participating students and 160 programs in 11 states.

Findings from STEM Ready America might mean exciting things for the learning and life prospects of students going through afterschool STEM programs.

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  • 72 percent of students reported an increase in their perseverance and critical thinking skills.
  • 73 percent reported an increase in their personal belief that they can succeed at science.
  • 78 percent reported a positive change in their interest in science.
  • 80 percent reported a positive gain in their science career knowledge.

The report features articles taking three general angles of approach to afterschool STEM learning: the evidence for what happens, how to create a constructive environment, and examples of effective programs.

The section about evidence documents the benefits and accomplishments of afterschool and summer STEM programs. Articles look at how and what kind of research is conducted, what the results say about effects of afterschool STEM programs, and implications for policy and funding decisions. Highlights include a discussion of how Next Generation Science Standards relate to out-of-school STEM curricula and learning and how informal STEM education positively influences students' opinions and achievement in their formal STEM classwork.

Different states and localities take different paths to afterschool STEM success. Surveying work in Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska, and New York, articles in the section on afterschool STEM learning environments highlight effective, large-scale approaches. Cross-sector partnerships are key, for example, in Oregon and Indiana, while Nebraska has focused more on community-based efforts. And "STEM ecosystems" have grown from California roots to a national phenomenon, demonstrating how important it is to ground programs in local needs and resources.

girls in stem Iverson

Exemplary programs show how adaptable and effective afterschool STEM programs can be. In descriptive, narrative, and analytical terms, these pieces showcase the variety of successful approaches educators have taken. From technology to girls in STEM to minorities and low-income groups to career guidance to STEM and the arts, these programs demonstrate the rich bounty of programming that is possible to deploy within afterschool STEM efforts.

As the report makes clear, STEM learning is a natural fit for out-of-school programs. Kids can get out of class and into real-world settings, whether natural or designed, where up-close encounters with STEM activities make them see the relevance of what they're learning. With lower stakes attached, kids can try far-out, unfamiliar tasks without fearing dire consequences for failure. And exercising their brains (and bodies) in summer STEM programs reduces the learning loss that can take place between school years.

minorities in Stem Iverson

These are all things people have seen and studied in local settings, but STEM Ready America amasses the evidence – quantitative and qualitative – to support these arguments in any afterschool context.

Take a look for yourself. You're sure to find something that speaks directly to your long-held hopes or actual efforts in informal STEM learning.

For breakfast today, I finished my daughter's bowl of multi-grain Cheerios and banana with peanut butter, then moved on to a bagel with cream cheese and the usual two cups of coffee.

Published in Breakfast Club

This Breakfast Club blog post is a follow-up to Afterschool Game Jams! which I wrote last August 2016. In it, I described what game jams are, including the "Moveable Game Jam" initiative. Much has happened since then, and I am excited to share it all with the BOOST community!

What Are Game Jams, Anyway?

Game jams typically take place over a weekend, and involve a theme, or specific content area. For example, this spring, NOAA is hosting an Arctic Climate Game Jam, in which participants meet to design games about issues affecting the polar regions of the Earth. Good games can be particularly adept at evoking emotions by putting players in experiences in which they must make meaningful choices. An example is EcoChains: Arctic Crisis, a card game where players build food chains on top of ice cards. If a carbon pollution card is played, you lose ice cards (symbolizing melting ice floes), which can threaten the species cards played. For more, check out this video.

student challenge farber

At a game jam, it can be helpful for participants to play games, like EcoChains: Arctic Crisis first. Then give small groups a chance to design their own games. The design and prototyping process is fun, and it teaches 21st-century skills, like design thinking and empathy. After all, when making games, you have to think about the experience you want the player to have! For free resources on game jams, check out this website, and this video.

Polar Farber

Moveable Game Jams

This school year I was helped organize a series of game jams for New York City Youth themed around social impact issues. It was supported by a grant from the HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust. I worked with Games for Change, a New York-based nonprofit organization that hosts an annual festival for social impact games each year. The core team was myself, Games for Change's Sara Cornish, and BrainPOP's Kevin Miklasz. The game jams also were linked to Games for Change's Student Challenge, an annual citywide competition.

Moveable Game Jams took place during Saturday afternoons over four different locations. This year, events were hosted at the historic Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, Brooklyn College Community Partnerships in Brooklyn, and at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan. At each, there were partner organizations that facilitated breakout sessions (more on this soon!). We worked with several digital media learning organizations at each location, including Mouse, Global Kids, Coderdojo NYC, Institute of PlaySpazecraft, and Museum of the Moving Image.

Code Farber

How It Works

Each Moveable Game Jam begins with a warm-up activity. Often, it is a whole group game. The goal is to get kids to be playful. At one event we had participants play the reverse charades party game HedBanz. To play, you have to guess what silly picture is stuck to your forehead. Next, everyone made cards based on that day's theme. Finally, I led the group in a discussion of parts of games.

The second half of the mornings featured guest speakers. We had three major themes for our Moveable Game Jams. The first theme was Future Communities, and it featured experts from Current by GE. The next event was a climate theme, and included educators from NOAA and NASA. The final game jam was themed on Local Stories and Immigrant Voices, and was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as guests from two different New York City historical museums. Click here to find out more about the themes we used.

After everyone learns content from experts, pizza is served! Then, after lunch, afternoon breakout sessions are selected to attend. Typically there are four choices, each running twice, for one-hour each. Participants choose two.

break out session kids

Organizing Your Own Moveable Game Jam

Moveable Game Jams can be planned with a just a small team of organizers. First, select an out-of-school location, like a museum or library space. Then choose themes and community experts to bring in as guests. Finally, look for local partners to run the breakout sessions.

We used a collaborative Google Doc to plan everything. Aside from keeping everyone on-task, it served to ensure that each event had a variety of game jam authoring tools to choose from. For example, we wanted to make sure that there was always a board game remix station.

For more on the Moveable Game Jam activities you can run in your out-of-school program, look for our free Moveable Game Jam Curriculum Guide, coming later this spring!

For breakfast, I had buckwheat pancakes and turkey bacon, with coffee. Lots of coffee!

Join us for Matt's engaging Masterclass: Thursday, April 20, 10:00am - 12:00pm, click here for more information.

Published in Breakfast Club

In the face of strong headwinds…

In Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive. In Lebanon, sexual harassment is legal. And even in the United Arab Emirates – relatively advanced on gender issues among predominantly Muslim countries – men can physically discipline their wives. Across all 22 states in the Arab world, women face legal and cultural obstacles unfamiliar to women in the United States.

Arab Women Push Ahead

One area, though, in which Arab women in fact face lesser obstacles and achieve at a higher rate than their U.S. counterparts is engineering. At a time when the rate of American women graduating from engineering programs has been stalled out at 20 percent for more than 10 years, Arab women have been flocking to the field.

What can burgeoning numbers of Arab women in engineering teach us about problems in the U.S. getting and keeping women in engineering programs? How does this phenomenon shed light on the reasons U.S. women make study and career choices that lead them away from engineering?

arab women post

The Numbers

For reasons as diverse as the countries themselves, Arab women exceed their U.S. counterparts in enrolling and completing engineering degrees, and it’s not even really close.

Among rich countries:

Developing countries do well, too:


For Arab women, the pathways into engineering are, in some ways, more defined and clearer than for American women.

Over three-quarters of Arab governments have taken steps towards developing knowledge-based economies, emphasizing STEM learning at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels.

Same-sex schooling, common in Arab countries, means girls study STEM topics in environments that often promote their achievement and satisfaction in these areas.

Test results often drive admissions to college, especially in public institutions. When girls test well in STEM areas, they move more reliably into post-secondary STEM studies than in the U.S., where more diverse areas of study are open to girls.

Engineering’s Appeal

For those girls with engineering aptitude, both cultural attitudes and the prospect of material rewards make the field more attractive to them than it is in the U.S.

Notes Tod Laursen, president of Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi and former Duke University faculty member, “The engineering profession in general holds a lot of prestige in the UAE and we find that the families of our female students are very highly supportive and proud of their daughters, wives, siblings studying these subjects.”

And especially in poorer Arab countries, engineering offers more career stability and better earning power than other paths open to women, such as teaching or public administration jobs. As consumer economies develop more fully at all levels of the Arab socioeconomic landscape, these calculations come to outweigh traditional views of women that would otherwise keep them at home.

engineering rings

How Engineering Works for Arab Women

In the workplace, Arab women can find meaningful opportunities in engineering and technology fields.

Making the Best of It

Of course, exactly Sa’d’s requirement to work from home points up one of the reasons that engineering and technology fields can work for Arab women. Women are still expected to run households and take care of children, parents, and husbands. As one Arab woman entrepreneur noted, “Well-educated women in Saudi Arabia want to work, but their family often objects … running an Internet start-up from home is the perfect compromise.”

Indeed, comparable professional paths can be shut off to women. Law and medicine, for example, remain overwhelmingly male because of gender-based prohibitions that preclude women from arguing cases against men in court or treating male patients.

The success of Arab women in engineering shows a few things:

  • Girls have all the natural ability they need to succeed in STEM fields.
  • Inclusive, supportive STEM pathways can help increase the numbers of girls entering engineering and technology fields.
  • Pay and career opportunity matter to women’s professional decisions and identities.

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Why Engineering Works More for Women in the Middle East than in the U.S.

It really seems to come down to the values and rewards attached to engineering. Terms like “geeky,” “nerdy,” “uncool,” and, crucially, “for boys only” do not attach themselves to the profession, as they do in the U.S.

Instead, engineering is seen as open, materially rewarding, and socially useful. As a result, Arab women are not departing from gender norms or broader cultural values when they study STEM fields in secondary school, opt into engineering and technology studies, and go to work in a technical field.

Rather, they accrue material and social capital for succeeding in a challenging field that is understood to reflect credit on their abilities, meet a family’s economic needs, and serve a country’s broader, shared interests. And, crucially, engineering offers them opportunities that other, comparable professions do not.

The Takeaway

The culture and meaning of engineering in the U.S. must change.

Bias in engineering is shown to motivate U.S. women to choose other fields or leave early. The field needs to become more inclusive from the inside and appealing from the outside before the rate of women’s participation in the U.S. can break out of its currently stagnant levels.

The example of Arab women’s enthusiastic response to an engineering field constructed to be inclusive, rewarding, and meaningful – even in the face of all the cultural and legal obstacles they face – suggests the ceiling for U.S. women in engineering should be as high as we want it to be. 

Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time. This blog entry was originally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog. This piece is written by Linda Rosenblum, Education Program Manager and Servicewide Teacher Ranger Teacher Coordinator, National Park Service.

National Park Service (NPS) parks and historic sites provide unique opportunities for students to study history, science, civics, culture, and global issues by providing access to primary historical resources, scientific data, subject matter experts and professionals, and community connections to local cultural heritage. As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday, increased attention has been focused on expanding its presence in the education community. Most people are familiar with the larger national parks that protect breathtaking natural areas like the Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, or Everglades National Park, but much of the public is unaware that fully two-thirds of the areas managed by the National Park Service are not natural resource parks but instead are cultural or historical preservation sites. The National Park Service is comprised of 413 protected areas that include national parks, national memorials, national monuments, national battlefields and cemeteries, national historic sites and historical parks, national recreation areas, scenic and wild rivers, natural and historical trails, national seashores and lakeshores, and national preserves. The variety of protected areas is broad and reflects the diverse range of resources that the National Park Service preserves and protects for the enjoyment of future generations.

NPS 2These special places offer a unique opportunity for educators to engage their students in place-based learning activities. Place-based learning is defined as an approach to education that focuses on the students' surrounding environment and community and often takes the form of engaging in immersive, project-based activities that address real-world issues. According to Janice L. Woodhouse and Clifford E. Knapp, place-based learning prepares students to "live and work to sustain the cultural and ecological integrity of the places they inhabit." They further argue that place-based learning prepares students to actively participate in civic society and the democratic process by providing knowledge of and experiences in real-life environmental and cultural issues. Educators can involve their students in problem solving and community engagement using National Park Service sites.

Teach Cultural Preservation

Cultural preservation can include many different aspects of maintaining and preserving both tangible and intangible human culture. Intangible culture includes religion, language, music, dance, literature, and other non-tangible characteristics of a group. Tangible culture includes the natural and created environments like architecture, art, cultural landscapes, and significant natural areas. The National Park Service and other preservation management organizations work to preserve and protect these treasures through land and resource management policies and procedures. Cultural preservation is one way to teach young people global competencies like critical thinking skills and cultural literacy through engagement in real-life problems and creation of solution strategies.

Teaching cultural preservation could include studying local architecture or historic neighborhoods and talking with local government officials and historical societies to learn about what is being done to protect these resources. Students could work with a nearby National Park Service site in a service learning project maintaining natural or historical resources in the park or their community. Teachers could invite a preservation professional from a local historical society, their state historic preservation office (SHPO), a local city planning office, or the National Park Service to speak to their class about how they help to preserve the cultural heritage of their neighborhood, town, or a nearby historic site and what the community can do to help.

Recently, a group of middle and high school students gathered in New Mexico to participate in a youth summit.  Over the course of four days, the students visited historic sites and museums and met with professionals in the fields of preservation, cultural resource interpretation, and heritage tourism. The students studied the importance of historical and cultural preservation and the challenges met by preservation professionals and local leaders who protect these special places. The youth then formed teams and brainstormed ideas to propose solutions to these challenges. Some proposals addressed ways to decrease vandalism at historical or cultural heritage sites. Other teams offered solutions on how to increase youth awareness and engagement in cultural resource stewardship. Still others offered suggestions on how local leadership could better connect with youth. One student described the experience this way, "We get to apply what we learned in real life and actually help people who are in government and help people make decisions. It kind of empowers youth to learn more about their culture and make an impact in their communities."

Promote Environmental Stewardship

Many schools look to the National Park Service to take their students outdoors to learn firsthand about environmental issues. Parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park offer field trips where middle school and high school students can monitor changes in the natural environment at the park and connect those changes to global issues like climate change. Other opportunities exist for students to engage in service learning projects either through their schools or youth organizations like
Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Educators can connect these on-site activities to their classroom learning units in earth science, weather, geology, biology, or through interdisciplinary approaches combining scientific data gathered at a park with a math project analyzing that data. Several national parks like North Cascades National Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site and Petroglyph National Monument are working with Bureau of Indian Education schools developing on-site citizen science programs where students do actual scientific data collection and analysis with National Park Service professionals. Students learn about climate change, erosion, wildlife management, and other natural resource management issues while implementing critical thinking and analysis skills in the program.


Engage in Historical Research

Many educators and students work with parks and historic sites in the development of National History Day projects by studying museum objects, buildings, photographs, maps, landscapes, and other historical resources preserved at National Park Service sites. Youth can choose topics related to the subject matter interpreted and preserved at the site or select a project based on the history of the National Park Service itself.  For example, the historian and education specialist at Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas often help students find information and connect with surviving children of plaintiffs from the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended racial segregation in the nation's public schools. Students are able to conduct interviews with the plaintiff's children to learn firsthand how the case and its aftermath affected the students who were represented by the NAACP lawyers.

Other NPS Resources

The National Park Service is often considered the world's largest informal education organization.  In addition to 413 natural, cultural, and historical sites preserved and protected by the NPS, there are many program and technical offices throughout the country that do work in cultural and natural resource preservation and education. There are many other resources provided for educators through the National Park Service:

Free Admission: Every Kid in a Park is a White House initiative designed to encourage every fourth grader in the United States to visit a federal land or water management area to participate in educational and recreational activities. The program offers a one-year, free pass into federal land and water management areas to fourth graders and their families. Educators can also register for their class to participate in the program. Many parks and historic sites provide hands-on education programs for fourth graders participating in Every Kid in a Park. Lesson plans on getting to know federal lands and waters, environmental stewardship, citizen science, and Native American cultures have been developed to help educators acquaint their students with Every Kid in a Park and the participating federal land and water management agencies.
Lesson Plans: The National Park Service also provides an online portal where lesson plans, field trips, distance learning programs, and other educational materials and resources can be found.  Searches can be conducted by keyword, subject, grade level, or Common Core standards. Over 250 featured lesson plans and materials are available from the main search page, but by clicking on "view archived lesson plans here" from the center of your search results page, you will have access to an additional 1,100 items from our archived content.
Professional Development: Opportunities for professional development in place-based learning are available at many NPS sites. Some parks, like Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, offer short-term workshops where educators can learn about the park's educational resources and programs and how to integrate historical and natural resources into learning activities and field trips. The NPS also offers a longer-term (4-6 weeks in the summer) professional development opportunity called the Teacher Ranger Teacher program. Participating educators spend their summers at NPS sites learning about the NPS educational resources and themes while taking an online course with University of Colorado, Denver in experiential learning. The NPS provides educators with new insights about the use of primary historical and scientific resources for use in their classrooms and programs so that they can bring their students back to the parks to conduct their own on-site learning experiences.

NPS sites provide many place-based learning opportunities where students and educators can engage in real-life problem solving activities, scientific data gathering and analysis, cultural heritage awareness, historic and environmental preservation, civic engagement, service learning, and global literacy. It is through these learning opportunities that youth can develop an understanding and appreciation for our environmental and cultural heritage and history and become the stewards of our global heritage in the future.

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.

Published in Breakfast Club

Game jams are like a game about making a game. Participants meet in out-of-school spaces to create a game in either one day or over a weekend. Often, game jams center on a theme. For example, in spring 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) organized a climate-themed game jams about water. The topic of water was part of a White House call to action regarding building a sustainable water future. I helped facilitate the climate jam held in New York City. Students met at BrainPOP's headquarters on a Saturday afternoon. While there, they created games using free design tools, like Scratch, from the MIT Media Lab. To learn more, visit Climate Game Jam.

Last year I began to volunteer with the Moveable Game Jam initiative, a series of student game jams that—as the name implies—move about different locations in the New York City area. The first Moveable Game Jam I attended was held on a Saturday afternoon at the Quest to Learn, a school in New York City co-founded by the Institute of Play. And this year we are teaming up with the nonprofit Games for Change, which will run the Moveable Game Jams as part of its Student Challenge program!

How to Host a Game Jam

In a game jam event, begin in a common space with all participants present. Start with a brief, whole-group warm-up. We often use one of the 3 activities in the Moveable Game Jam guide: 1) Hacking tic-tac-toe; 2) Using a part of your body as a game component; and 3) Using everyday objects—like cups and rubber bands—as playful objects. The idea is to get everyone familiar with the parts of a game's system: goal, rules, components, core mechanics—or actions of play, and the space games are played. In tic-tac-toe the goal is 3 X's or O's in a row; the rules include the game being turn-based, with one letter per space; the components are paper and pencil; the core mechanics are drawing X's and O's and blocking other moves; and the space is the grid. After this discussion we then ask students to add a rule or drop a rule to the tic-tac-toe, or to make it a 3-player game. The idea of the warm-up is to get everyone familiar with game-based literacy. A colleague of mine likened it to teaching the rule-of-thirds or lighting to a photography student. You wouldn't just give someone a camera and expect him or her to take perfect wedding photos!

Climate Game Jam pic

The main part of the game jam takes place in smaller groups. We create a menu of 3-4 activities, running a couple of hours each. Students self-select where to go, and then rotate at some point. You should have at least one facilitator per room, and each game design tool should be different. For example, try the free digital game application like Gamestar Mechanic, or the interactive fiction authoring tool Twine or inkleWriter. Also have an analog—or tabletop board game station. Or try a fully nondigital game station, like modding (changing the rules) of musical chairs.

At the conclusion of a game jam, every team should share-out their games. This helps focus students on a goal to complete a prototype in the allotted time. At Moveable Game Jams we find that students who arrive in the morning as strangers leave as friends! It is a fun day for all: students, facilitators, and educators. After all, play is what occurs within the structure of a game. For more on the Moveable Game Jam activities you can run in your out-of-school program, check out our Moveable Game Jam Guide.


For breakfast, I had french toast and turkey bacon, with coffee. Lots of coffee!

Published in Breakfast Club

The act of imagining other places, other worlds, is the stuff of explorers, adventurers, science fiction writers – and KIDS! Imagination is something that kids have naturally, and out-of-the-box thinking is a valued creative 21st century skill.

Encouraging the kids in your out-of-school program to imagine other worlds, places beyond Earth, can help grow this skill. Couple it with some thought experiments to engage with science – what if earth was closer to our sun, or further away? What if our sun was bigger, hotter, or cooler? What might planets orbiting other stars look like? What would it like to be there?

super earthDid you know that since 1995, scientists have been actively discovering exoplanets – planets around other sun-like stars? To date, over 3,200 of them have been confirmed, circling around more than 2,400 different stars in our Milky Way galaxy – with many more under consideration. And most of these discoveries have been made in the last few years by NASA's Kepler mission, which was launched in 2009 into an orbit around the sun and trailing behind the Earth, to stare at other, more distant suns and watch for their light to dim from a crossing planet.

So how big are those other planets? How long is their year, the orbit around their parent star? How do they compare to Earth, and to other planets in our solar system? What do they look like? Do they harbor life?

Curious kids AND curious scientists want to know! Scientists have a general idea about the size of the exoplanets they have found, how long they take to orbit their star (or stars in some cases), and what they are made of.

Kids can wonder about these worlds and use what we do know about them to imagine a totally different environment from what we know on earth – and think what a human would experience if they were able to travel there. A fun activity could be to have kids imagine a different planet and consider basic things about it – its size, gravity, atmosphere (or not), surface (or not), what its sun (star) looks like in the sky. Then make a travel poster for this distant place that is truly out of this world! People can't travel to these the exoplanets yet – they are too far away - but we can get a better sense for what it's like there using our imagination to transport us.

Some creative artists that work for NASA have done just that – created posters for an imaginary "Exoplanet Travel Bureau" featuring actual exoplanets that have been discovered, and using what scientists know about them to imagine what unique features might attract future visitors to come there.

Here are some great resources for your program: 

Learn more about the posters and information on the search for exoplanets. 

Young kids can imagine what the gravity might be like on other planets – which depends on the density and size of the planet – and how much they would weigh there. Younger kids might enjoy this fun thought-activity about gravity.

For out-of-school programs that need to connect to the school day, try these math activities!

For grades 3-5, your youth can use simple fraction arithmetic to determine the relative sizes of several new planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission, can compare these sizes to Earth and Jupiter.

planet sizes

Math-loving middle and high school students can do this activity to calculate the gravity of an Earth-like planet orbiting another star, and figure how much they would weigh there.

Enjoy sharing a NASA out-of-this-world experience with your kids!


For breakfast, I had greek yogurt, berries, and a cup of decaf coffee.

Published in Breakfast Club

I had the great opportunity, at this past BOOST Conference, to attend the BOOST Master Class Scannable Technology by EdTech expert, Monica Burns. Monica actually blogged about her class ahead of time (see BOOST Master Class: Program Transformation: Rethinking Scannables: Deeper Learning with QR Codes & Augmented Reality) which really spiked my interest before attending. You see, as a kid, I loved that scene in Star Wars where R2D2 projects a holographic image of Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan for help. Who could have imagined that the technology for that scene was just right around the corner! We still have a ways to go before we have an exact replica of the Princess Leia hologram, but Monica showed those of us who attended how amazing our world is right now. Even better, she linked her tech knowledge to solid educational methodology. In this post, I want to share some items I learned in her class and then go a little further.

We've all seen these barcode-like images plastered everywhere. I've even used them in training to link people to resources, but Monica took it to a different level in her class. When we walked in, she had created various learning stations along the room using QR Tags. We downloaded a QR Tag Reader and went around the room in pairs participating in the exercise. Some activities were linked to YouTube Videos, others to a Google Form, and others to documents that had us act out scenarios or discuss various items. She actually had to pull us back in because we were having too much fun...learning!

QR Tags are just hyperlinks expressed in visual format, but if used in an effective manner these little tags can open up a whole new world of learning for students simply because they are a different medium. The master class opened up my mind to new possibilities. When I got home, I found this board on Pinterest that gave me a ton of ideas to share with my programs. Maybe you can share some of your ideas in the comments at the end of this post!

qr coding

2) Augmented Reality (AR)
Remember Google Glass? This was an amazing initiative by Google to create glasses that were basically "ubiquitous computing" using augmented reality with other platforms. Unfortunately, Google Glass was halted in January 2015 for the general market but the ideas that it generated are fueling a new market of innovation including the use of AR in education.

Of course, one of the best uses of AR is in a gaming platform. Check out TaleBlazer by the MIT Game Lab. Not only is it an educational game using AR, but it is also a game designing program using a block code like SCRATCH. Worried about video games because they may not be very active? Well, check out the variety of Augmented Reality Sports Apps that allows the kids in your program to get up and be active. Introduce your students to the world of elements in an amazing fashion by using Elements 4D, or explore the human body system with Anatomy 4D. Touch the stars in an amazing AR Stargazing App called Star Walk or have your students color printouts that come to life in Quiver. There is even a special AR Magazine for education called BrainSpace. With AR, you can literally do almost anything and your students will love it.

augmented reality

3) Virtual Reality (VR)
QR Tags and Augment Reality are cool, but a technology that is over-the-top amazing is Virtual Reality. You've probably heard a lot about Oculus Rift or the Samsung Gear VR, but what have you heard about Google Cardboard? When I first saw a Google Cardboard Headset, I thought, "You must be kidding." It reminded me of those old Hasbro Viewfinders. Surely, Google was not serious! I am now eating my words as I have fallen in love with Google Cardboard and believe it is a serious tool that every afterschool program should have.

You can purchase a Google Cardboard headset from a variety of online dealers from $2 to a whopping $30. You can also download instructions on how to make your own. You put it together and then using your Android or iPhone you can do amazing things. Take a virtual field trip to almost anywhere, play a games that teaches Geometry while you destroy a supercomputer enemy, paint a masterpiece in 3D, or ride your own rollercoaster. There is an even an option to create your own virtual reality moments, games, or experiences. For various options for your Google Cardboard, check out UNIMERSIV, Discovery VR, or simply google around for Google Cardboard apps. More are appearing everyday.

google cardboard

We live in amazing times. Technology is growing at a pace that outstrips our ability to master it. While many fear technology, it is a fact of life and the youth we work with today will be surrounded with it. In the afterschool industry we have a great opportunity to use technology to create positive changes in youth. Let's see how far you can go with your program and thank goodness we have the BOOST Conference where we can learn more!

I started writing this post during my breakfast which was a bowl of strawberries with a little Splenda and a glass of orange juice (Spring Diet!).

Image credit: Flickr, Fun Educational Apps, YouTube

Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time. This blog entry was orginally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog. Documentaries and film can bring the world to students in very real ways. Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Education Director for Global Oneness Project, tells us how and shares resources and strategies.

Why do we need stories? Stories are universal and create connections across time, place, and cultures. Now more than ever, we need stories to help us understand and connect to our fast-changing world. Impactful stories—a book, a film, or an oral story passed down from generations—have the power to bring us closer to something much greater than ourselves.

Films, according to director Beeban Kidron in her 2012 TED talk, are the 20th century's most influential art form. Why? They tell universal stories across national boundaries and languages. Film helps us expand our world, introducing us to values, struggles, innovations, and beliefs beyond our daily experience.

Today, the short form documentary has filled an important role in education. Teacher and educational journalist Mark Phillips explains in his Edutopia blog "Film as a Great Motivator" that "this generation of students is film and video oriented; we should use this, not bewail it." We need to meet students where they are, and the continuously growing digital landscape is an important opportunity for educators.

How can teachers use short documentary films in a meaningful and compelling way for young people? The following strategies exemplify ways in which short documentaries can enhance classroom environments.

documentary blogBuild Social & Emotional Awareness
In his blog, Phillips writes that in order to grab and hold students' attention, educators need to reach them emotionally. Films are multi-sensory. A film has the potential to create an emotional connection to its subject matter and can provide a human experience. The impact of audio and visual components supports students' retention of information.

Documentaries are emotionally powerful vehicles that can transport students to other cultures and create an awareness of global issues from the inside out through feeling and empathy. When enhanced with written reflection, films help students develop social and emotional learning in ways not available from textbooks or lectures. Students can experience the world through real-life people as well as see and feel what it is like for a person living around the world. PBS LearningMedia has lesson plans that include reflection questions to help students process the feelings evoked from documentary films.

I recently talked to Jennifer Klein, a former high school English teacher for 19 years and now a National Faculty member for The Buck Institute. She believes in an authentic approach to global learning and has been using short documentary films in her international classrooms for years. "There is nothing more humanizing for students than short documentary films; they grab the heart, offer a window into the daily lives of real people, and allow students to see other cultures and places as populated by living, breathing human beings on a planet we need for our survival," Klein said.

Connect to Current Events
Students are exposed to a range of real-world problems in their daily lives, either through media or in their own backyards. Some of these issues include poverty, substance abuse, violence, consumerism, indigenous rights, immigration, modernization, and the effects of environmental changes. A short documentary can expose students to any number of global issues, reduce isolation, and allow students to connect to innovations and inspiration from sources beyond their immediate environment.

Film Club is a new teaching and discussion forum using short documentaries from the New York Times Learning Network. The platform complements classroom curricula and highlights issues that teenagers care about, such as technology and society, race and gender identity, and civil rights.

I met Mike Dunn, a history teacher turned college and career counselor at AIM Academy in Pennsylvania, this past June at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in Philadelphia. He said that students look at the past for relevancy and relationships. For example, students who may grapple with the idea of the French Revolution can relate to the more recent revolutionary actions in the Arab Spring and the Baltimore riots of 2015. He described that screening a short documentary film in a social studies class offers a vehicle for critical thinking and analysis of the historical events: "My goal is to encourage students to reflect on their own lives and scrutinize their actions/choices in meaningful ways. The combination of writing with film has resulted in more rich understanding for students and output options that encourage creative and critical communication." Take a look at Dunn's portfolio where he explores merging media in the social studies classroom.

Incorporate Reflective Writing Assignments
A short documentary story can increase students' literacy with connections to a source, to self, and to the world. Just as students use quotes from a book or text to prove an analytical thought, students use the film as a source to justify their reasoning.

After viewing and discussing a film, a writing prompt can provide a way to integrate knowledge from various points of view and apply newly learned ideas. An English or art teacher may use a short documentary to study character development or themes in writing such as identity, family values, or commitment. A science or history teacher may examine how the issues explored in a film relate to students' lives, such as the effects of environmental changes, immigration, the global economy, or consumer decision-making.

Global Oneness Project provides short documentary films that highlight global cultures and environmental issues, and related lesson plans contain reflective writing questions to accompany the stories. See the bottom of this page for a sample documentary.

By using film in a learning environment, educators can get the attention of young people and take them on a journey to experience the world. Global stories and issues become relevant to students' lives and can support truly meaningful classroom discussions and activities, allowing students to find their own voices, making them stronger global citizens in this fast changing world. Because short, global documentaries can transcend boundaries and cultures, they are powerful tools for integrating universal human values integral to global education.

Connect with Cleary, Global Oneness Project, and Asia Society on Twitter.

Image and video are courtesy of the author.

Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time. This blog entry was originally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog. This piece is written by guest bloggers Mitch Weisburgh and Marianne Malmstrom.

Marianne Malmstrom, has been using video games in the classroom for over eight years. She recently completed a 3-month professional development tour of New Zealand focused on investigating successful learning strategies including games. Mitch Weisburgh is co-founder of, a nonprofit that fosters collaborations between educators, policy makers, game developers, and researchers to increase the use of game-based learning in the US education system. Here is their recent conversation about the use of games in education.

Are games useful in education?

Mitch: Two-thirds of all households in the US have at least one video gamer, and 97% of kids ages 2-17 are already playing video games, with an average of over 11 hours a week. Video games are a $110B industry.

Child development pioneer Jean Piaget noted that humans use play to understand social dynamics, exercise imagination and creativity, and experiment with materials and resources. It's as if the human mind was deliberately wired to learn through games.

But do kids actually learn anything useful from playing games? Can video games be used in schools?

Marianne: New media is always subject to questions as to whether it will improve the human condition or be the source of our demise. Going back to the emergence of the written language, debates raged over concerns about the impact on thinking and memory. When I was a kid, I remember adults worrying that TV would deteriorate our vision and make us stupid. It's our nature to question that which is new. In spite of our parents' worst fears, we survived TV. I'm sure video games will endure as well.

game learningWhat is not new are games. They are one of the oldest recorded forms of human interaction. And games are not new to schools. Teachers have been using all kinds of games in the classroom since I was a kid. I think the fact that the emergence of digital games has taken the world by storm is at the heart our anxiety. We are simply riding that wave of concern that accompanies all transformative technology.

What puzzles me is not that we worry about the impact of games, but that we think games are intrinsically devoid of learning. Why do we think learning only happens if it is being dispensed by a teacher? I think this is at the core of what holds us back from understanding the kind of learning kids need today. Anne Collier makes this point eloquently in her article about what John Seely Brown has to say about the importance of play.

You asked if we are wired to learn through games. Actually, we are wired to learn through play, and games provide us an excellent vehicle to do that.

What do we learn through games?

Mitch: What do we learn through games? Or even more specifically, what do students learn from the video games that they use with their teachers? Let's start with academic skills and knowledge.

Research shows playing some games is a type of practice, so the more time playing, the greater the gain in skills and knowledge. Time on task is especially highly related to math proficiency. Spatial skills predict achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Action video games can enhance spatial skills in a relatively brief period, and the improvement lasts over an extended period of time and is transferable to other spatial tasks. Players of action video games show increased efficiency of neural processing.

Marianne: All excellent examples of different skills one can develop from playing video games. It makes sense that teachers are starting to use these games to hone skills across the curriculum. The ways in which teachers are using these games are as diverse and varied as the games themselves. Examples span games like iCivics, created expressly to teach students how our government works, to the creative use of World of Warcraft to help students make connections in their study of humanities. Of course, drill games, which are like dressed up quiz games, similar to the use of flash cards, remain a staple in many classrooms. The thing these games have in common is that they are all used to support traditional curricular goals.

Personally, I'm more curious about what games can teach us, as teachers, about learning and how to keep our curriculum relevant in a constantly changing world.

Firstly, a well-designed game is a perfect learning system, scaffolded to move a player successfully through increasingly difficult challenges. How can we more effectively emulate that in our own curriculum design?

Secondly, and the most fascinating aspect of games for me, how do kids intrinsically learn while playing games on their own? One of the best examples of that is Minecraft. Millions of children all over the world are playing this game without any instructions. What are they learning through their play? Educators and researchers alike are taking a much closer look, and what they are discovering is that kids are naturally learning an array of skills that have been identified as critical to "21st century" or modern learning, such as design thinking and programming.

I believe this is the true transformation that games offer as they provide us with clues about the skills we need to focus on to keep curriculum relevant for today's students.

What are some globally focused games?

Mitch: Can you think of some international examples? Fantasy Geopolitics is a game that pulls articles from the New York Times: Students participate in a competition, just like a fantasy sports league, but based on current events, culture, and history. Google has created Smarty Pins, which is a map-based trivia game. And GeoGuessr is a game that lets you explore the world.

Marianne: Yes, while this is still a largely untapped area, there are plenty of examples to demonstrate the power of games for connecting people across borders, both inside and outside of school.

Outside of the classroom, international game play has been taking place for years in virtual worldsand massively multiplayer online role-play games (MMORPGs) such as Second Life and World of Warcraft. Apps like Clash of Clans are providing new kinds of opportunities for groups to test their skills in strategy and teamwork. Ingress, a massive "Capture the Flag" style game, is played worldwide between just two teams: Enlightenment and Resistance. As I travel throughout New Zealand, I love playing Ingress as it guides me to discover points of interests that I would otherwise miss.

All of these commercial games give us important clues about what will work in connecting students.

Educators are already experimenting with these platforms. Quest Atlantis, was one of the earliest examples of a thoughtful multiplayer environment created exclusively for students around the world to collaboratively solve problems presented in the form of quests. Although it has since closed, it provided some valuable lessons as to the untapped potential of virtual worlds and MMORPGs to develop skills in problem solving, design thinking, computational thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and citizenship. JokaidiaGrid continues to offer virtual spaces for educators to connect, create, and experiment. Mine Class, the brainchild of Matt Richards, is a space where classes connect, collaborate, design, and build in Minecraft.

Creative teachers are connecting their classes by creating their own games. Mystery Skype is one such game. Teachers introduce their classes via Skype and students have to deduce the location of the other class through a series of questions requiring a "yes" or "no" response. Paul Darvasi (Canada) and John Fallon (USA) took collaboration to a whole new level when they co-created a live action role-play game (LARP) called Blind Protocol. Their game is specifically designed to connect both classes in the study of online surveillance. The work they did behind the scenes was massively complex, but it is an excellent example of the untapped potential of classes working together to understand issues we face on a global scale.

One of the most exciting ways in which students connect is through game design. Communities are forming around the world on platforms such as Scratch and Game Froot which allow kids of all ages to design, program, and publish their own games. Playing Mondo introduces an interesting twist by offering tools that utilize GPS coordinates and movement sensors to create physically interactive games similar to Ingress. As more schools develop game design programs, more classes will connect to play-test each other's games. Escape To Morrow, a game designed by my former students in New Jersey, was recently play-tested by Yvonne Harrison's students in Perth, Australia. It's this kind of collaborative design work that holds some of the most powerful opportunities for learning.

While playing and designing games is still in its infancy in respect to international collaboration, I believe there is enough evidence to predict that games will play a major role as we learn to work together globally.

Additional Resources:

EdTalk on Building Innovative Online Learning Spaces
If Vygotsky Played Minecraft

Follow MarianneMitchHeather, Asia Society, and BOOST Collaborative on Twitter.

Image courtesy of GraphicStock.

Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time.  This blog entry was originally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog. This entry was written by guest bloggers Natacha Meyer, Senior Curriculum Developer, and Tania Tauer, Senior Curriculum Developer, from the Museum of Science Boston.


Today's unprecedented push to train students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has been primarily motivated by the need to produce a workforce capable of addressing the global challenges of the 21st century. Besides preparing students to enter into these careers, research suggests that engaging youth in interactive STEM activities offers additional benefits. For example, hands-on, open-ended engineering challenges provide youth with a fun and meaningful way to develop the 21st century skills that are critical to their competency in today's interconnected global community. Below, we outline the top four 21st century skills you can promote in youth by facilitating engineering activities in your program.

Critical Thinking
engineeringSince there is not a predetermined answer to any engineering challenge, youth must use essential problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to develop new designs. By working through these challenges, youth engage in a series of steps known as the engineering design process (EDP). This process guides youth to identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, plan, create, and test a design, and then improve upon it. Each step of the process requires youth to think critically about the criteria and constraints of their challenges. Furthermore, the engineering design process is iterative and requires youth to continually assess their designs' ability to solve the problem. As one educator noted upon facilitating a water filtration engineering challenge, "I had one student that was so determined to make the filter work that he kept trying it over and over, even after class ended. It was great to see such interest in solving a problem." In addition to promoting critical-thinking skills, the engineering design process is a powerful tool youth can implement to solve not only engineering challenges, but also challenges in their everyday lives.

By their very nature, engineering challenges have more than one solution. The realization that there is more than one right answer can be liberating to youth and can activate their creativity as they develop their designs. As one educator commented, "I was amazed at some girls who started out each week looking helpless, hopeless, and lost, but quickly shook off their 'can't do' attitude and began to experiment creatively. The experimentation was open-ended so these girls did not have to worry about being wrong." As they work through the engineering design process, youth are encouraged to imagine multiple solutions to the challenge. By invoking this creativity early in the process, they are less likely to become overly focused on one particular solution and tend to remain open to the possibility of alternative designs. This produces a variety of unique design solutions, demonstrating to youth that there is always more than one way to solve a challenge, engineering or otherwise.

Effective collaboration skills are critical for success in the 21st century workplace, and are especially imperative in a world that demands global cooperation. Nevertheless, working in teams can often be a source of tension for youth. Engineering activities provide an opportunity for youth to practice these necessary cooperative skills as they work within diverse engineering teams. Members of the team must negotiate as they engineer their designs and identify areas for improvement. One educator described the collaboration that occurred during the engineering challenge she facilitated: "I was extremely impressed by the way the boys were engaged in the activities and how well they cooperated with one another...The boys were respectful of each other's feelings and were excellent about accepting and testing everyone's ideas in order to prevent anyone from having their feelings hurt. I think the activities in this unit helped the boys grasp the importance and benefit of teamwork." The collaborative experiences that are fostered during engineering challenges contribute to youth's ability to work with their peers in a respectful and productive manner. These are skills they can continue to utilize throughout their professional and personal lives.

When youth are engaged in authentic engineering challenges, they often have ideas that they're really excited about. This provides great intrinsic motivation for them to communicate clearly with their group members. They want their ideas to be heard, and they want to solve the engineering problem in an effective way. Once groups have tested their prototypes, they need to communicate ways in which their designs failed and identify targeted ways to improve them. Finally, an essential step of engineering is presenting work to others, empowering youth to take ownership of their designs and identify themselves as engineers. An educator recounted this transformation in a youth during a presentation, "[I overheard] one of our more quiet and seemingly often un-engaged youth clearly explaining the EDP process to a guest. When the guest moved on, one of the staff went up to her and gave her a spontaneous hug and said, 'Wow! That was perfect! You really ARE an engineer!' And she just beamed." The ability to coherently communicate their work is a critical skill for youth to master regardless of their projected career path.

The ability to think critically, be creative, collaborate with peers, and communicate effectively are fundamental to youth's engagement in our global society. Engineering challenges that are open-ended, globally relevant, and engaging provide compelling experiences for promoting these 21stcentury skills in youth. Below is a list of STEM resources that you can use in your program to foster these skills.


Engineering Everywhere is a free, out-of-school time engineering curriculum from the Museum of Science Boston that engages middle school youth in relevant, real-world challenges. Each unit contains seven to eight activities and focuses on a specific engineering challenge.
Engineering Adventures is a free engineering curriculum designed at the Museum of Science Boston for elementary school kids in out-of-school time programs. Each unit contains six to nine adventures and focuses on a specific field of engineering.
PBS's Design Squad ZOOM! website offers numerous free, hands-on design challenges based on the popular kids' TV series.
AfterSchool KidzScience is an inquiry-based, out-of-school time science program for youth in grades three through five. Choose to purchase one of 15 available kits to engage kids in a variety of science-based activities.
Boston Children's Museum's STEM Sprouts program offers a free STEM guidebook for teachers and parents, as well as STEM-based activities for young learners.
Click2Science is a free online STEM professional development resource for out-of-school providers. Find tips and tricks for leading engineering challenges as well as sample STEM activities.
Afterschool Alliance offers a database of numerous STEM-based curricula you can implement in your out-of-school time program.

Follow Engineering is Everywhere, the Museum of Science, Heather SingmasterAsia Society, and BOOST Collaborative on Twitter.

Photo: Students test their helmet designs during the Engineering Everywhere unit Put a Lid on It. Credit: Engineering is Elementary.



Published in Breakfast Club
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