By: Sam Piha
We used to think that emotions were separate from learning. We now know that both engagement and learning are deeply emotional and that young people's emotions drive their learning. Thanks to research, we also know that young people's culture and personal experience are important to learning.
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang is a former classroom science teacher, who taught at a racially diverse school outside Boston. She is now a researcher at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute. She focuses on psychology, neuroscience and education, and is known internationally for her research on the critical role that emotion plays in learning. She recently published a new book entitled, Emotions, Learning and the Brain.
In partnership with LA’s BEST and THINK Together, we invited Dr. Immordino-Yang to share her thoughts at a Speaker’s Forum in Los Angeles (November 22, 2019) regarding her research and implications for learning in afterschool.
Below we share a few quotes from her and also some resources if people would like to learn more.
ABOUT EMOTION AND LEARNING:
People think of emotion getting in the way of cognition, but it doesn’t. Emotion steers our thinking; it’s the rudder that directs our mind and organizes what we do and think about.” (1)
ABOUT HOW HER RESEARCH WOULD CHANGE HER CLASSROOM TEACHING:
When I was teaching, I was struck by the differences in the ways kids came to the science I was teaching, but I didn’t really have good tools for managing that diversity or capitalizing on that strength in the classroom. Our current work highlights the really fundamental ways that culture shapes how a person makes meaning of the things they’re learning. If I were teaching now, I would try to find more ways to let kids own their curriculum and own their learning. I would focus even more on the sorts of project-based, community-oriented activities that really engage kids from the starting point of their own self and their own communities. I see teaching now as a process of facilitating kids building new understandings of their worlds, less than as a process of imparting information. I would see myself as much as a learner as the teacher." (5)
ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF HER RESEARCH FOR URBAN KIDS:
And currently our education system does not take into account and does not allow for, or encourage, a culturally diverse way of making sense of, understanding, and thinking about the world ... Urban kids are really in the thick of it – they need to build resilience and a strong acculturated sense of identity. So this kind of research is key to helping us improve education and to getting rid of the achievement gap. We simply must stop wasting the potential among urban kids, so many of whom are not educated in ways that connect to their real lives and strengths." (6)
ABOUT MARY HELEN IMMORDINO-YANG: She is a Professor of Education, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, and a former urban public junior high-school science teacher. She studies the psychological and neurobiological development of emotion and self-awareness, and connections to social, cognitive and moral development in educational settings. Her work has a special focus on adolescents from low-SES communities, and she involves youths from these communities as junior scientists in her work. Dr. Immordino-Yang has received numerous awards for her research and for her impact on education and society.
By Sam Piha
There is an inscription over a public school in northern Washington state that reads “Waste Not Thy Hour”. It reminds me of how young people’s play is often regarded as a waste. For many, play is the antithesis of learning time, however, there is growing evidence that there is a great deal of learning in play.
In an age of standardized testing and intense academic competition, it’s easy to believe that play is one more thing American children will have to do without. But free play encourages the development of the two skills that no robot can replace: creativity and teamwork. -The Secret Power of Play; Bethan Mooney for TIME (1)
Now is the time to reexamine the value of play, educate our stakeholders, and be unashamed to make play an important part of our afterschool programs. In this post we open the door to this reexamination by offering some information and definitions of terms you may find as you read about play. In a later blog post on play, we offer some additional information and resources to encourage a reexamination of play.
Many afterschool programs prioritize an extension of academics and homework completion over organized play, free play, and physical activity. - The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (2)
The Move AWAY From Play
Over the years, there has been a pronounced reduction in the time that children spend in play. According to the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (3), this is due to several factors:
There are many terms that one encounters when exploring the issues of play. Below are some definitions that may be helpful.
Characteristics of play (4)
Unstructured play is open-ended play that has no specific learning objective. Unstructured play is often informally referred to as simply "letting kids be kids" or "just play." At times, you may also hear it called "free play" or “self-play."(5)
Unstructured play doesn't usually have any rules or instructions, and the possibilities tend to be unlimited! (6)
Free play is unstructured, voluntary, child-initiated activity that allows children to develop their imaginations while exploring and experiencing the world around them. It is the spontaneous play that comes naturally from children's natural curiosity, love of discovery, and enthusiasm. (7)
Structured play is any type of activity that has a set of rules or instructions with a goal. For example, most games, puzzles, construction toys and organized sports are structured activities (8)
Organized play is ordered, overseen by rules, and managed or directed by another person. (9)
By Guest Blogger Jason Wyman
The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture has been convening and organizing an intergenerational network of youth media practitioners for over 20 years, and in 2019 we are more uncertain than ever what exactly youth media actually is. We've spoken with Youth Filmmakers, Teen Librarians, Teaching Artists, Museum Educators, Executive Directors, Musicians, Youth Organizers, Public School Teachers, Poets and Storytellers and each one has a different understanding of what makes and is youth media. It's beautifully messy and complex. Join The Alliance in an engaging conversation and inquiry into what exactly is youth media on Friday, October 25. Share your voice and shift your perspective.
ABOUT MEDIA LITERACY WEEK
Inspired by Canada’s Media Literacy Week, the 5th annual U.S. Media Literacy Week, October 21-25, 2019, is hosted by the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). The mission is to highlight the power of media literacy education and its essential role in education all across the country. Each U.S. Media Literacy Week event calls attention to media literacy education by bringing together hundreds of partners for events and activities around the country.
Whether you are an individual teacher, an employee at an organization, or a researcher, you can get involved with Media Literacy Week by hosting a media literacy event or activity between October 21 and 25. It’s up to you to decide what, when, where, and how you want to execute your Media Literacy Week plans, but NAMLE has put together a list of resources if you need help getting started.
ABOUT THE ALLIANCE
The Alliance Youth Media Network convenes, connects, nurtures and sustains strategic development in the broad Youth Media field. We support innovative and emerging models of practice within the fields of youth media, creative youth development, and media literacy. We do this through the collaborative production of a youth media magazine, ongoing Collective Action work, hosting national Video Roundtable conversations, designing and producing youth media conference content with global partners, and through the leadership of an international network of youth media organizations.
All of the programs of our Youth Media Initiative use an intergenerational, co-creative approach as a means to demonstrate the possibilities and impact of a range of youth and elders working collaboratively and inclusively, interrogating power and privilege across program areas. To learn more click here.
By: Sam Piha
When I managed afterschool programs in the SF Bay area, we learned that many of the kids we served had never been on the bay, seen the ocean, planted a seed and experienced it grow into a real plant, walked in a forest or camped outside overnight. Many had never been beyond their neighborhood, owned a swimsuit or knew how to swim. Was this an equity issue? Yes.
In response, we conducted nature outings, camping trips, and swimming lessons. We even purchased swimsuits for those that didn’t have them. Because one of our lead agencies was the YMCA, we had resources for this. But every afterschool program can contribute by incorporating nature into their program.
Recent studies focus not so much on what is lost when nature experience fades, but on what is gained through more exposure to natural settings, including nearby nature in urban places. - Richard Louv
In two previous blog posts, we reviewed the power of nature in afterschool programs. Richard Louv, author and Co-Founder of the Children & Nature Network, has written a lot about the intersection between access to nature and development. He was recently interviewed by the Greater Good Science Center. We share an excerpt and link to the full interview below.
Q: How will this trend impact pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors in kids?
RL: If nature experiences continue to fade from the current generation of young people, and the next, and the ones to follow, where will future stewards of the earth come from?
Past research has shown that adults who identify themselves as environmentalists or conservationists almost always had some transcendent experiences in the natural world. What happens if that personal experience virtually disappears?
Q: Are there particular kinds of experiences in nature that seem to have the most impact on kids?
RL: The quality of the nature experience depends on how direct the experience with nature is. Are kids getting their hands wet and their feet muddy? These types of activities can help kids learn to have confidence in themselves and power to make independent decisions.
One reason for this is the risk-taking inherent in outdoor play, which plays an important role in child development. Without independent play, the critical cognitive skill called executive function is at risk. Executive function is a complex process, but at its core is the ability to exert self-control, to control and direct emotion and behavior. Children develop executive function in large part through make-believe play. The function is aptly named: When you make up your own world, you’re the executive. A child’s executive function, as it turns out, is a better predictor of success in school than IQ.
See full interview here.
Richard also gave us permission to share some of his interview with youth development guru, Karen Pittman.
RL: Did you have experiences in nature that helped form who you are today? As a child or an adult?
KP: I grew up in a working class, urban neighborhood in a family that emphasized the value of sending children outdoors to play. We did not, however, do any organized outdoor activities beyond family picnics. So it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized that you could walk the length of Washington D.C. through Rock Creek Park, or stand on the waterfront of the Potomac River. Learning this was liberating. To this day, I seek nature to calm, inspire, reflect, and marvel at the intricacy of life.
RL: How does a lack of access to nature factor into the challenges that youth face?
KP: The Chicago Consortium for School Research defines successful young adults as those who have an integrated identity, a sense of agency, and a range of competencies. Getting to these end states requires young people to have access to safe, supportive, relationship-rich opportunities to act and reflect while being challenged to learn and master new things.
Nature is an ideal setting for young people to learn new content, try new things, apply their skills in different ways and fail safely. Nature is a new environment for many young people – one that they haven’t explored. One of the challenges many young people face is that they don’t have comfortable opportunities to be in a group of young people in which they won’t be immediately judged for what they don’t know.
We learned, at High Scope Camp, the importance of challenging groups to learn and do things that none, or few, youth had done (e.g. folk dancing). These are “clean slate” learning opportunities in which some will shine, some will struggle, but it is not clear who will fall into which camp. Beyond exploration, nature also provides young people with ample opportunities to have a sense of agency, to achieve mastery and to flesh out and expand their sense of identity.
RL: Can you share any stories about the benefits of nature for opportunity youth?
KP: I believe that there are studies on the importance of programs like the Fresh Air Fund. But I’ll quickly share a High Scope story. The camp was billed as an educational camp for teenagers. Their jobs, for about 4 hours a day, were to participate in one or two short exploratory classes and longer workshop experience that culminated in a product or presentation. The setting for all of this learning, however, was several hundred acres that included trails, a small lake, and a working farm. In addition, all youth participated in overnight camping or canoeing trips. These were powerful experiences for all of the young people.
But for young people from more distressed communities or stressful situations, the main impact was that they had the experience of learning that nature can be a safe place. One that, unlike their communities, has challenges that you can predict and prepare for. Then, as noted, the second important learning for these young people is that they could become leaders in a broader learning setting in which academics is not the main measure of success.
See full interview here.
There are many resources and articles on development and nature as well as program ideas. Many can be found by doing a web search of “nature and children”. There are also resources listed in the full interviews cited above. We also urge readers to take a look at the Children & Nature website.
Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book, "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.
Karen J. Pittman is president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan “action tank” that combines thought leadership on youth development, youth policy, cross-system/cross-sector partnerships and developmental youth practice with on-the-ground training, technical assistance and support. Karen is a respected sociologist and leader in youth development. Prior to co-founding the Forum in 1998, she launched adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives at the Children’s Defense Fund, started the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, and served as senior vice president at the International Youth Foundation. Karen was involved in the founding of America’s Promise and directed the President’s Crime Prevention Council during the William Clinton administration.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.