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January 4, 2023

In the spirit of setting new resolutions, take this opportunity to break any old habits that have crept in over the years and wipe the slate clean with positive alternatives to problematic teaching practices.

The “Theory of Learning Styles” Is “Outta” Style

If you’re in the education world, chances are, you’ve heard about the theory of learning styles. Often, it’s (mis)interpreted like this: Auditory learners? They learn best from recorded lectures, so don’t give them a graphic organizer. Visual learners? They always remember information best through charts or diagrams. Kinesthetic or tactile learners? The only way they can learn is to touch, build, or draw something.

The problem with this approach? While it’s true that individuals may prefer to learn in certain ways, we may shortchange students if we classify them as being only one kind of learner: auditory, visual, or tactile. The “learning styles habit” can send the untrue message that students can only ever learn in one way. It may also discourage them from trying new things and “learning to learn” outside their comfort zones.

Out With the Old

In addition to the learning styles habit, have you or your staff picked up other habits that aren’t necessarily productive? For example:

  • Asking empty questions like “Does everyone understand?” or “Is anyone confused?” No doubt, you’re asking these questions in good faith. But how likely are students to voluntarily say, “I don’t get it”? Chances are, most will stay silent rather than risk embarrassment. Try replacing the empty questions habit with the guiding questions habit, where you say things like, “What do you think about…?” or “How is this different from…?” Or what might happen if you adopt the coaching habit, where you observe students during individual or group tasks — and use guiding questions or the five whys to help them clarify fuzzy thinking or solve a problem? Give it a try and let us know what happens!
  • Using behavior charts to motivate positive behaviors. The hope may be that using behavior charts will steer students away from infractions. In reality, these charts can publicly shame and discourage some students while prompting others to mock their peers. Some students end up settling into the destructive patterns the behavior chart is putting on display. Kick the behavior chart habit and replace it with the little victories habit: Make sure each student goes home with a “little victory” to share with their parent or guardian, such as completing a homework assignment or learning a new science concept (Hey Mom, did you know baby frogs are called tadpoles?!).

In With the New

Back to the question of learning styles. What can you do to ensure that every student benefits from the activities you and your staff work so hard to plan? Consider replacing the learning styles habit with the multimodal learning habit. Research shows that multimodal learning, which combines all the learning styles, is much more effective.

According to the authors of Why Are We Still Doing That? Positive Alternatives to Problematic Teaching Practices, multimodal learning combines words, images, and demonstrations into a single lesson, thus activating multiple sensory systems and creating “more tightly integrated networks of memory and meaning.” Additionally, when a concept is presented in more than one way, students exercise the mental muscles needed for real-world interactions. Everyday life, after all, rarely presents one-dimensional problems! Multimodal learning opportunities mirror students’ experiences outside the classroom and prepare them to apply their knowledge “in the moment” as they encounter various situations.

Lost on how to incorporate multimodal learning into your program? Here are three things to try:

  • Present familiar content in a new light by incorporating graphs, charts, or artwork.
  • Get buy-in from students by administering student interest surveys, like the ones from Y4Y for elementary and secondary students. Use the results to design activities they’ll love!
  • Bring in mixed media like podcasts, games, and videos to broaden students’ perceptions of everyday concepts.

Bonus points: Y4Y has a Multimodal Literacy Tool Kit that offers quick-use tools for reinforcing all modes of written language in out-of-school time.

There’s no guarantee that every student will absorb every lesson you embed into program activities. However, by kicking old teaching habits and providing diverse learning experiences, replacing empty questions with guiding questions, and sending students home with “little victories” to share, you’re building confident, well-rounded, creative young thinkers!

November 23, 2022

There are countless ways (no pun intended) to help students experience math as something interesting and useful instead of boring and irrelevant. And it doesn’t always require elaborate planning. You can use what you already know to create Mathbuster Moments “on the fly” to bust through students’ dislike or fear of math. How? By watching for ways to bring fun math experiences into whatever’s happening in your program right now. Here are some ideas:

  • Student Interest Survey: Students are interested in music. Let them pick a favorite song, have them search for the score (musical notation) online, and teach the relationship between the song’s rhythm and quarter notes, half notes, and so on.
  • Student Choice: If you present a “problem of the day” or a math project, provide options and let students choose.
  • Movement: Have student teams use various units of measure (e.g., feet, yards, meters, steps, pencils) to describe the length of a wall or fence line. Challenge them to invent a new measure and explain its pros and cons.

Here’s an example that involves number lines, a concept that students learn and apply to different situations in math classes (and everyday life), beginning as early as third grade.

Crash course on number lines: A “real number” is any number that can be plotted on a number line. It can be a whole number or a fraction, and either positive or negative (or zero). Every real number can be associated with its own point on the number line. Here’s what a number line looks like:


What you already know: You use number lines every day, but you might not call them that. Examples are rulers, tape measures, some bathroom scales, thermometers, barometers, and measuring cups. Many measuring tools use the “number line” concept, especially if they don’t have a digital display. Number lines don’t have to be horizontal. For example, the number line on a measuring cup is vertical — and the measurement marks show only the positive numbers, not the negative numbers. The bottom of the cup is the “zero” on this number line.

What you can do: Explain the concept of “number lines” the next time you use a measuring device during an activity, like:

  • A measuring cup when you’re cooking
  • A ruler during an art project
  • A thermometer to see if it’s warm enough to sprout seeds in your classroom window
    Note: The negative numbers are visible on a thermometer (to indicate “below zero”), but not on a measuring cup.

Make it relevant: If a student says, “Our family’s going on a road trip,” blow their minds with this travel trivia:

  • Watch for the green mile markers the next time you travel an interstate. They show the number of miles from where the interstate route enters the state you’re traveling in.
  • The counting always starts at the state line in the south (for north-south routes like I‑95) and in the west (for east-west routes like I-90). So if you cross a state line, the point where you enter a new state is like the zero on a number line. The mile marker numbers get larger as you travel east or north.
  • Each interstate exit is numbered according to the nearest mile marker.
  • The interstates that run east and west are even numbers, and most end in zero, from I‑10 in the south to I-90 in the north. The interstates that run north to south are odd numbers, and most end in 5, from I-5 in the west to I-95 in the east.

You can probably think of other math skills and concepts you know about and can share with students, like comparison shopping, estimating how far you’ll go if you take 10 big steps, measuring the dimensions of a room, and recognizing patterns in art and nature. Download the Y4Y Mathbusters Handbook for more ideas. Then challenge yourself to create a Mathbuster Moment this week. You might just surprise yourself!

November 23, 2022

Math is often considered the most universal language on the planet. Nearly as universal (or so it may seem) is the fear of math. Trust us — Y4Y gets it! That’s why we’re proud to introduce our newest course, Math Without Fear, designed to put educators and students alike at ease if they experience math anxiety. After all, math is essential to so many professions — and dreams!

Math Anxiety: The Silent Villain

Think back to the last time you did a math assignment or took a math test. Did you take one look at the first problem and notice your heart started beating faster? Perhaps your palms became sweaty, your stomach suddenly felt uneasy, or your mind went blank. If these symptoms sound familiar to you, it’s likely that you’ve experienced math anxiety. Math anxiety in children and adults is a very real and serious issue, and it can inhibit success in a multitude of areas. With this in mind, we’re overjoyed to dedicate an entire Y4Y course to overcoming math anxiety, along with tools to bust math myths and fears — for yourself, your peers, and students!

The Mathbuster MUSTs 

There are many tools you can use to take charge and put math anxiety in its place, from deep breathing to debunking myths like “mistakes mean you’re not good at math” and “boys are better at this than girls” and “being anxious about math means I don’t have math ability.” MUST is an acronym for the four main tools mathbusters use to fight math anxiety and nurture a can-do attitude:

  • M is for the messages students get about math and their ability to learn it.
  • U is for understanding math concepts and how thoughts and emotions affect learning.
  • S is for skills that help you learn and use math — and manage anxiety, if it’s an issue.
  • T is for thrills because students need positive experiences to help them discover the magic and satisfaction of math in a way that’s meaningful to them.

It Starts With Awareness

Believe it or not, awareness of math anxiety within yourself and your students is one of the most valuable strategies “mathbusters” can have in their tool kit! You can use the Y4Y Math Anxiety Self-Assessment/Autobiography tool to gauge your own level of math anxiety before inviting students to do the same. Research indicates math anxiety is contagious, so if you have it yourself, you can pass it along to your students without even knowing it. If you do have it, don’t despair! The Y4Y Math Without Fear tools will help you take a deep breath and discover that doing math is not only possible — it can even be enjoyable!

Plant the Seed — and Watch It Grow!

One of the most empowering aspects of overcoming math anxiety is fostering growth within your students. There are ways to boost students’ confidence through enrichment activities, homework help, and tutoring. Helping students realize the many ways they already use math in their everyday lives can make it seem less intimidating. Fun experiences in your relaxed program environment can develop students’ conceptual understanding (“know-why”) to complement the math procedures (“know-how”) they learn in school. It isn’t surprising that a good deal of math anxiety stems from a fear of the unknown, so learning ways to demystify math will put you and your students on a rosier “math path.”

Let Us Help You Open Those Doors

Math is integral to understanding so many real-world concepts. For too long, metaphorical doors have been deadbolted due to math anxiety. The good news? With the strategies in Y4Y’s Math Without Fear course and supplemental tools, you and your staff have the power to pick that lock, throw those doors wide open, and lead students to a world of opportunities.

November 17, 2022

“October” and “scary” go hand-in-hand, whether you’re talking about Halloween or horror movies. One thing that doesn’t have to be scary, though? Encouraging your students to create a mental health tool kit! This tool kit can equip your students with ways to manage stress and anxiety while also reminding them of daily habits that are essential to mental as well as physical health and well-being.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Mental health among children and young adults is a growing concern for parents, and it has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five adolescents ages 12-17 have experienced a major depressive episode, and seven in 10 parents agree that the pandemic has taken a toll on their child’s mental health. It’s important to teach your students that attaining and maintaining good mental health is an ongoing process. It’s seldom a smooth road; it’s more akin to a journey with a few stop signs, roadblocks, and detours. The good news is that with the right map, the road is drivable, and the journey is achievable! What would this “map” look like in real life? Let’s explore.

Getting Introspective

Start with these guiding questions to help students focus on their thoughts and feelings:

  • Think of a time when you felt stressed or anxious.
  • How did your body respond to this feeling? Maybe your heart rate increased, your mouth or throat became dry, or your hands felt clammy.
  • Have you noticed certain events that cause you to feel this way? Perhaps it’s presenting to the class, meeting strangers, or taking an exam.

Once your students can pinpoint their feelings, symptoms, and potential triggers, it’s easier for them to handpick tools that can deescalate the situation. There are a multitude of ways to de-stress, and it can look different for everyone! Have your students try the following strategies:

  • Breathe in, breathe out: Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in for four counts. Then exhale slowly through the nose for four counts. Pay attention only to the rise and fall of your belly and chest.
  • Music therapy: If you’re able to, listen to a song that makes you feel calm or happy. Many music streaming services have playlists specifically designed to curb anxiety.
  • Muscle relaxation: Stress and anxiety often cause pain and tension in certain muscles, so tensing and releasing those muscles can provide relief. Try squeezing the muscles in your face, shoulders, hands, legs, and toes for 10 seconds at a time and then releasing, making sure to breathe through it. The goal is to pay extra attention to how loose your muscles feel after the exercise.

Can your students think of other exercises or strategies to alleviate stress? Ask for ideas, and try them out as a group! Students can decide individually which ones belong in their personal tool kits.

Supplementation Minimizes Frustration

Along with healthy exercises that can decrease feelings of stress and anxiety, arm your students with strategies they can use in their everyday lives to keep stress at bay. Engage students in an open conversation about things they already do to lessen stress, and also discuss activities and behaviors that might not be helpful. Here are some topics you may cover:

  • Physical activity is a proven stress reliever. Need some ideas for incorporating it into your program? Y4Y’s Health and Wellness Click & Go can get the ball rolling — literally and figuratively!
  • Do your students’ parents or guardians limit screentime (maybe to the student’s dismay)? Research shows that this can actually fight off anxiety symptoms over time, making it a perfect tool for students to include in their mental health tool kits. Express to your students that, while they may not love time away from their devices, it’s important to let their minds focus on other stimulating activities.
  • Something as simple as combing your hair and brushing your teeth can be supplements in a mental health tool kit. Keeping up with your personal hygiene is a little reminder that you deserve attention and care!

I’ve Got the Power!

Let your students know that having a mental health tool kit packed with handpicked strategies that work for them is a powerful thing. It gives them the confidence and  know-how to regulate their own feelings and emotions. Model key strategies for your students. The next time you or your staff are feeling overwhelmed, doing something as simple as a breathing exercise can show your students that destressing doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s something that we can all benefit from, so why not start young?

November 17, 2022

The Little Laptop That Barely Could

Imagine a broken laptop. Maybe the charge doesn’t last very long. The screen is slowly dimming over time, and it glitches now and then. Sure, it might (barely) work, but if the laptop continues to be used in this condition, it will eventually stop working. What the laptop needs is a good repair. But a one-time fix will be temporary without proper care and maintenance from that point forward.

We humans aren’t machines, but we do have something in common with that little laptop: We may be able to operate if we’re tired or stressed, but it’s only a matter of time before we’re in desperate need of repair. The way to avoid this situation is to implement and maintain a healthy self-care routine.

Self-care is often confused with self-indulgence, but the truth is that taking care of yourself enables you to present the best version of yourself as you go about doing your work in the world. That’s why Y4Y’s newest Click & Go, Self-Care Matters, has tools and tips to help everyone in your program improve their well-being, work together harmoniously, and effectively serve youth.

War and (Hopefully) Peace

We get it — when your to-do list rivals a Tolstoy novel, self-care might be the last thing on your mind. But take heart: Self-care doesn’t demand hours of your time. There are strategies you can fit into your daily routine, like putting your phone in “do not disturb” mode after work hours or breathing deeply any time you feel yourself becoming frustrated or anxious. The Self-Care Matters Click & Go offers many suggestions. It also illustrates how to create an out-of-school time environment that prioritizes mindfulness for staff as well as students.

A Tale of Three Coworkers

The Click & Go includes four mini-podcasts that follow three coworkers as they embark on their journey to self-care. The podcast miniseries maps out a game plan for how to incorporate self-care into your program in ways that are both realistic and effective. The first podcast introduces the coworkers as feeling stressed and burned out — emotions that may seem familiar to you and your colleagues. At first, the three coworkers believe “self-care” is too frivolous and unattainable to integrate in their schedules, but they soon find how necessary it is. The miniseries is chock-full of practical tips and tricks. Experiment to find what works for you.

A Tool Kit Fit for Zen Royalty

What’s better than learning a few self-care tricks? Having an entire tool kit to share with your staff! The Self-Care Matters Click & Go has 10 customizable tools to help you and your staff with issues like learning healthy coping mechanisms, balancing self-care with care for others, developing healthy boundaries, and coming to terms with obstacles you simply cannot control. A staff that has the know-how to cope with stress and anxiety is one that can better support one another, stay on the job, and serve students and families. There’s a hidden bonus, too: As you and your colleagues practice, model, and teach self-care, your students become more likely to develop healthy habits of their own. Self-care isn’t selfish.

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