January 4, 2023

At first glance, it may be difficult to understand how creativity and the arts have a place in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Some students, especially those drawn to creative activities, may think STEM simply isn’t for them. That’s too bad, because creativity in STEM is the only way innovations come to fruition! Experiences that help students connect the dots are essential to growing new innovators.

Robotic Science — Without the Fun

Think back to the science classes you had in school. Did they mostly consist of robotically memorizing vocabulary words and formulas and watching passively as the teacher did weekly experiments at the front of the room? Or did you do exciting group science projects throughout the community on topics that interested you? What was great? What was missing? How did those classes make you feel about science — and about yourself? Be sure to pull from your own experiences, from boring to good to great, to help you design engaging STEM activities for your students. Remember: A basic need for children is to express themselves and be creative — so use that to your advantage!

Metaphorically Speaking…

According to Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, author of Save Our Science, creativity is less of a skill and more of a metaphor. This means that, just as metaphors create a link between two seemingly unrelated ideas, creativity in STEM consists of finding unlikely connections between two different concepts. For example, light waves aren’t actually waves, but they behave as such. Newton discovered how celestial bodies, the planets, and gravity were all interconnected, all because of a fallen apple. Dr. Ramirez explains that we “need to create scholars that can link the unlinkable. These scholars must be willing to try many combinations before finding the right answer.” Fostering creativity (connection-making) in STEM can give your students the superpower to think creatively in the career field of their choice! For example, a unique advertising campaign, an engaging website, and an aesthetically pleasing building all require a creative spark in addition to specialized skills and knowledge.

Somewhere Over the (Creativity) Rainbow

Now that you know how beneficial creative thinking through STEM can be, let’s explore the Y4Y courses that will get the gears turning for your staff and students:

  • Citizen Science gives students the opportunity to collaborate with professional scientists on real-world problems by gathering and analyzing data through hands-on research.
  • Math Without Fear allows students and staff to build math knowledge, skills, and understanding in ways that can be applied to real-world situations like baking and driving.
  • With Y4Y’s STEAM course, staff can dive into the interdisciplinary evolution of STEAM (STEM plus the arts) and its many benefits.

Here are some ways to encourage creativity:

  • Create a stimulating physical environment, one that’s inclusive and allows for a variety of arrangements to encourage collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, and communication.
  • Host a “task party.” This idea is based on a term coined by conceptual artist Oliver Herring. Let children think outside the box by having each student (a) write down a creative task, like “Write a poem about snails” or “Fold paper into a new shape”; (b) place their written task in a bucket; and (c) draw a different written task out of the bucket. Students can practice making connections and thinking creatively by completing the selected tasks in a given amount of time.
  • Combine maker activities and STEM lessons. This can help students create and invent while learning STEM fundamentals. If you want the rundown on creating a makerspace, Y4Y has a Click & Go to help you out!

Plant the seeds of creativity and watch the STEMs (and your students) grow!


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!


January 4, 2023

Do you ever feel like students and potential partners would line up around the block to be part of your program — if they just knew about the activities and opportunities you offer? It can feel like you’re shipwrecked on a vibrant island, waiting to be discovered.

Getting Off the Lone Island

Good news! There are simple ways to market your program to students and families, reach out to potential partners, and connect with the community. You don’t need a marketing degree — just some planning and creativity. And it won’t bust your budget, thanks to free or low-cost technology tools. Y4Y gathered the essential know-how and compiled it in an online professional learning module, along with a zip file of tools and templates for a quick start. Marketing and Outreach is our newest Quality Program Quickstarter (QPQ) module. In an hour or less, you’ll learn the basics of how to establish a social media presence, create eye-catching flyers, and more. Earn a Y4Y certificate of completion in the process! Keep reading for a taste of what you’ll learn.

Gathering Your Crew

To sail away from your lone island, connect, and grow your program, you’ll need to reach out and find the right crew to accompany you on your adventure. Here are some examples of how outreach strategies can help you achieve program goals:

Program goal 1: Recruit and retain staff

Outreach strategies:

  • Ask people you know, like a school principal or administrator, to help you recruit high-quality teachers.
  • Contact the education department at a local college or university to see if they have students who might want to work or volunteer in your program. Some colleges offer course credits for volunteer hours.

Program goal 2: Develop and strengthen relationships with community partners and organizations

Outreach strategies:

  • Ask partners to “donate” a guest speaker.
  • Perfect and practice an elevator speech, which is a short speech that explains your program in a compelling way and tells why a potential partner might want to join your crew.

Program goal 3: Intentionally design activities that provide what students and families need — and want.

Outreach strategies:

  • Have students and families complete an interest inventory. They’ll feel heard, and you’ll gain valuable information. Y4Y has surveys for elementary students, secondary students, and families.
  • Use a catchy title, logo, and color(s) to “brand” your program and make your marketing materials easy to recognize.

The Message in the Bottle

Outreach may help you engage a crew to help you get off the lone island, but marketing is the “message in a bottle” with a map that leads to brighter horizons. The message needs to convince people that your program has value. Here are some ways to “bottle” and deliver messages to market your program:

Social media

Email newsletters

  • Use newsletters to keep partners and families informed about program events and successes.
  • Keep it short and simple and include a “call to action” where appropriate, like “Sign up today!”

In-person events

  • Host an Invite-a-Friend Day. Encourage students to give someone a golden ticket and bring that person to your program.
  • Use an end-of-the-year awards banquet as an opportunity to show off the progress your students have made.


  • Use visual elements to tell your program’s mission, story, and accomplishments as you communicate data and information to families as well as school and community partners.
  • See the Y4Y Marketing and Outreach Tool Kit for templates and examples to get you started. If graphic design isn’t your strong suit, there are free programs and templates online, and some programs like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint have templates and graphics you can use.

On to Brighter Horizons

If you’re not sure which way to steer your ship off the lone island, make the Y4Y Marketing and Outreach module your compass. Download and customize the accompanying tools for a smooth journey. If you think marketing and outreach involves dozens of moving parts that you can’t quite pin down, don’t worry: The module breaks it down step-by-step. That means you can spend less time researching and more time putting your plan into action. On to brighter horizons!