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We are honored to share this blog post provided by the National Youth Leadership Council. The original blog post is written by: Dr. Robert Shumer, NYLC Board Member, University of Minnesota, and Tiveeda Stovall, University of San Diego. 

America is in its second decade of the 21st century. While the situation is improving in areas of employment rates, health coverage, and increased graduation rates, there are major changes occurring in the US culture and landscape.

The impact of technology, global economy, and apparent deterioration of civic engagement and political participation (American Civic Forum, 1994; Lipset, 1995; Putnam, 1995; Putnam, 2000) has fundamentally altered life. Worse, there is a renewed increase in both income and social inequality that has altered the opportunities for racial/national minorities to experience social justice and improved quality of life.

With these impending challenges, there is good news. We have opportunities, through well researched educational and social practices, to improve conditions all across the country, especially for youth in schools and colleges. The overriding effort is offered through programs that increase engagement in all aspects of life, from social engagement, to educational engagement, to civic engagement. Programs that embrace service- learning, volunteerism, and experiential learning provide the activities that allow young people to connect with their communities and their social environments to becomeactive contributors to the improvement of the quality of life for others, and as a result, improve the quality of life for themselves. Service-learning, volunteerism, and community involvement provide the opportunities to reclaim the democratic, humane principles that honor the values and traditions of America.

Research on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement

The modern service-learning movement has been around since the 1960s. Programs have developed in schools and colleges for decades, accelerating in the 1990s and 2000s with the infusion of funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service and several philanthropic foundations. Yet, with the CNCS loss of funding after 2011, the expansion of service and civic efforts in schools and colleges has stalled a bit. Hopefully, legislators and educational professionals will realize the great need to support and expand efforts so we can effectively address the great challenges faced by youth and our country in making democracy and social justice thrive again.

Service-learning has been shown to be a critical element in addressing issues of educational success and improved opportunity for minorities and all students who suffer from lack of engagement in school and society. Two major studies and reports, The Silent Epidemic (Bridgeland, et al 2006) and Engaged for Success (Bridgeland,et al,2008) have shown that service-learning, work-based learning, and apprenticeships are identified by more than 80% of the participants as being the kind of educational programs that would keep students in school. In addition, they demonstrate that the strength of service- learning and these other related active learning programs is found in its ability to engage youth in pro-social activities that allow them to contribute to the well-being of others and as a result, helps to improve their own personal well-being and sense of value and efficacy. This strength addresses the primary reason students drop out of school:

Nearly half (47 percent) said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting. These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school. Almost as many (42 percent) spent time with people who were not interested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by those with high GPAs and by those who said they were motivated to work hard. (Bridgeland, et al, 2006).

Thus, by addressing the issues of boredom and disengagement service- learning can and does produce the kind of connections necessary to both keep students in school and increase their motivation to actually do interesting projects that lead to substantial learning and connection with community.

Engagement issues increase the longer students remain in school. In fact, by the time students reach high school, more than half report being disengaged from school.

A parallel stream of research and practice focuses not just on the impact of civic engagement on the recipients of services, but rather the benefits for those who engage. The theory and practice of Positive Youth Development (PYD) provides considerable evidence that young people develop in healthier ways when they are given opportunities—or even mandates—to be civically engaged (Eccles and Gootman 2002; Lerner 2004). Longitudinal studies show that young people who serve their communities and join civic associations succeed in school and life better than their peers who do not engage. (Dávila and Mora 2007). Those findings are supported by experiments using PYD programs (e.g., Hahn, Leavitt, and Aaron 1994). 


NYLC Schools

Issues of boredom and disengagement begin to increase the longer students remain in school. More than half of high school students report being disengaged from school.

In studies of adolescents and young adults, volunteerism and collective action are directly connected to various areas of social well-being. These include self- efficacy, hope, and optimism (Uslaner, 2002).Other work has shown impact on collective efficacy and self-confidence (Astin and Sax, 1998). and self-esteem (Thoits and Hewitt, 2001). Specific studies of service-learning in high school and college have found relationships with students' feelings of agency, efficacy, purpose and meaning in life, interpersonal skills, and living up to one's potential (Astin, et al. 2000; Markus, Howard, and King, 1993; and Youniss and Yates, 1999).

Studies show that young people who serve their communities and join civic associations succeed in school and life better than their peers who do not engage.

The above mentioned concern for dropout prevention does not just affect school completion. It influences all aspects of civic involvement, from voting, to participating in all areas of community life. The Silent Epidemic report suggests: The most dramatic divides in civic health related to levels of education. College graduates outperform their less educated peers in every civic category, from volunteering and work on community projects, to attending meetings and voting. For the most part, high school dropouts are no longer even a part of the civil society that would enable them to be effective advocates in their communities and states for efforts to reform high schools. They suffer both from a lack of learning and a lack of service.

Thus, anyone concerned with the preservation of democracy and healthy communities must attend to issues of educational success. The fact that only about 20% of the 18-29 year olds in the US voted in the 2014 election should be great cause for concern about the health of our democracy (CIRCLE, 2015). This was the lowest turnout for this age group ever recorded. Clearly developing programs such as service-learning and other efforts to actively engage students in their communities is of critical importance.

Research confirms that doing classroom- based civic education makes a difference in producing knowledgeable and connected students. A major study of the Chicago schools (Kahne and Sporte, 2007) reported that classroom-based civic learning opportunities mattered. 

Kahne and Sporte find that students' racial and ethnic backgrounds have very little impact on their civic commitments, once other factors are taken into account. The civic engagement of their families and neighborhoods do matter, but the impact of service-learning and other classroom- based civic learning opportunities is substantially larger. Being required by teachers to keep up with politics and government and learning how to improve the community, for example, are highly effective forms of civic education. There are also statistically significant effects from other teaching methods, such as exposing students to civic role models. Kahne and Sporte find positive effects from participating in afterschool programs, but the effect sizes are smaller than those attributed to civically oriented classroom activities such as service-learning and classroom discussions of current issues.

So, service-learning is not only important for helping students to graduate and get connected to community, it is a documented approach to improving civic learning and participation in democratic society.

This notion of engagement and interest is not just limited to potential dropouts. It, according to the Engaged for Success report, actually affects all students. Results from both regular students and those at-risk of dropping out report that making academic learning more interesting, making it more relevant to their lives, and providing more hands-on learning is what is needed to improve the quality of education in all schools.

Thus, programs that make classes more interesting, more relevant, and more experiential in format are the ones that will make schooling more engaging and more educational. Service-learning clearly contains all these elements and is/ should be a model effort to address all the challenges of the educational system. Implementation of service-learning in schools will go a long way to addressing issues of deterioration of community, decline of civic engagement, improved academic performance, and improved involvement of young people in the principles and actions of democracy. Service-learning should be considered by every policy group that is concerned with the conditions of education and society today.


Service Learning


Making learning more interesting and relevant to everyday life is important for quality education and keeping high school students in school.

Engagement, School Climate, and Academic Achievement

Engaged students have to show up to school to be engaged. You cannot do well in school if you do not show up (Fisher, Frey, and Lapp, 2011).

It's a simple enough premise but disengaged and sometimes, disenfranchised students of color and other marginalized students are not present at the table of academic aspirations. Fisher (2011) explored closing the achievement gap by looking at student attendance and engagement. The high school population in their study was comprised of 72% students of color, 60% Title I eligible, and 70% spoke English as a second language.

Fisher et al. (2011) reviewed student attendance at the onset of the study and found that the lowest-performing students missed an average of 6.5 days of school per month while the highest performing students missed an average of 1.8 days per month. Researchers employed an intervention where students were allowed an increased amount of international, open exchange discussions among students in the classroom. At the same time, the amount of teacher "talk" to students decreased in the classroom thereby highlighting more student voice. The study results showed the interventions increased attendance by 5.3% and had significant improvements on standardized tests scores post interventions by as much as a 19% improvement (Fisher, et al., 2011).

Drawing from Purkey and Novak's 1996 theoretical framework of invitational education, where everyone in the school climate is invited to experience success, Vega and Miranda (2015) examined African American and Latino high school students' perceptions of educational barriers to positive experiences in school. The study represented six high-poverty schools in Florida where students, teachers, counselors, and peers completed questionnaires and interviews based on the invitational education's five "P"s: people, policies, programs, processes, and places. These five "P"s serve to inform school settings on the messages transferred to students which impact their perceptions of learning. Vega et al. (2015) discussed "places" results from the study which noted how participant students felt safe at school, the feeling of safety did not carry over to the neighborhood in which they lived. The researchers noted a study in which community violence associated with decreased math and reading scores. Herein lies an opportunity. An opportunity to engage students, districts, teachers, parents, and community in social justice, social change, and academic advancement.




Critical Service-Learning and Social Justice            

"Many activities in life, including education, become difficult undertakings for students constrained by severe social injustices. When these social injustices are engaged and critiqued, students begin to clear intellectual and emotional space for education. They become further engaged in learning when their education becomes a means by which they may challenge oppressive forces within their social contexts." (Cammarota, 2007)

In 2007, Tania Mitchell linked the concept of service-learning and social justice education to illuminate the pedagogy of critical service-learning to engage students in transformative service with communities. Critical service- learning focuses on social justice outcomes by having students analyze the root causes of injustice and the imbalance of power structures while promoting student agency in the ability to create social change (Mitchell, 2008). The tenets of social justice education and critical service-learning can serve as a motivator to engage marginalized students toward academic engagement and success. Social justice education launches from students' lived experiences and acknowledges student viewpoints on the most pressing problems they face and which face their communities (Wade, 2001).

Julio Cammarota (2007), piloted and researched a social science curriculum, the Social Justice Education Project (SJEP), targeting Latina/o students and their perspectives on their potential to graduate high school and advance to college. SJEP engaged students in participatory action research to think critically about the social issues which impeded their progress. Within the first cohort of students, many students were labeled "at-risk" of dropping out. The students developed and participated in action research around four topics: (1) cultural assimilation, (2) critical thinking vs. passivity in education, (3) racial and gender stereotypes of students, and (4) media representations of students of color (Cammarota, 20007). Students investigated topics with peers, school members, and community. Students then presented recommendations to both school officials and community members on areas focused on 1) better media relations with students of color, 2) improving multicultural education, 3) expanding critical thinking in education, and 4) ways to prevent racism and stereotyping (Cammarota, 2007). Although Cammarota noted that many of the recommendations were not taken up by officials, the positive impact of the social justice curriculum and critical service-learning led 15 of the 17 student participants to graduate while the other two prepared for taking the GED.

The Stanford CEPA Working Paper

"When students' lives and experiences connect with the curriculum, they become more invested in their education (Trueba, 1991)."

With the makings of becoming a seminal work of research, Stanford's Center for Education Policy Analysis published "The Casual Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from Ethnic Studies Curriculum" (Dee and Penner, 2016). The paper reports data over a five-year span on 1,405 students during their 9th-grade year in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). Participating students were identified as "at-risk" of dropping out of school, with GPAs below 2.0. Students assigned to take an Ethnic Studies course incorporated culturally relevant pedagogy, as social justice education, and critical service-learning pedagogy as tools to support marginalized students of color.

"The course also encouraged students 'to explore their individual identity, their family history, and their community history' and required students to design and implement service-learning projects based on their study of their local community. The designers of this curriculum hoped that these lessons and projects would increase students' commitment to social justice and improve self-esteem." – (Dee et al., 2016, p.10)

The ethnic studies project piloted in the 2010-2011 academic year with five high schools in SFUSD with the explicit statement that the Ethnic Studies course and components would contribute to closing achievement gaps. The SFUSD school board voted to expand the Ethnic Studies course to all 19 high schools by the end of 2014. Findings from the study revealed positive gains. Student GPAs increased an average of 1.4 points. Students earned an increase of 23 credits and attendance at school improved by 21 percentage points (Dee et al, 2016).

Social Justice Curriculum

"This is not a moment, It's a movement" – Black Lives Matter

An important note was made in the Stanford CEPA paper on the significance of its findings. The degree to which this study might be replicated is dependent on applying the amount of preparation, planning, duration of the course, and integrity that went into this program intervention. The study did illuminate "proof of concept" that academic gains can be made by engaging students in curriculum and activities which reflect their lives (Dee et al, 2016).

Though scalability seen at SFUSD may not be available to most schools or districts, there are accessible resources to begin the development of social justice education and critical service- learning through online resources. In January 2012, the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful) Education Act went into effect in the state of California. Free standards-based curriculum to support educators in the law is available on the FAIR Education Act website at http://www. The Fair Education Act amends the California Education Code to require courses of study and instructional materials:

"51204.5. Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society."

Social justice curriculum has been developed on specific topics ranging from combating human trafficking from the Fredrick Douglass Family Foundation to environmental justice in Flint, Michigan from Discovering Place. When five school librarians came together to compile online
#BlackLivesMatter curriculum for the San Francisco Public Libraries and local school district, they validate youth voices, to engage and connect in classrooms, on what they were experiencing in their neighborhoods and national communities. These tools for engagement, with thoughtful and authentic application, could ignite increased academic achievement for marginalized students.


  • Astin, A. W., and L. J. Sax. 1998. "How Undergraduates Are Affected by Service Participation." Journal of College Student Development 39 (3): 251–63.
  • Astin, A. W., L. J. Vogelgesang, E. K. Ikeda, and J. A. Yee. 2000. How Service Learning Affects Students. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute.
  • Bridgeland, J., Dilulio, J., and Morison, K. (2006). The silent epidemic: perspectives of high school dropouts. Civic Enterprises, in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Bridgeland, J., Dilulio, J., Wulsin, S. (2008). Engaged for success: service-learning as a tool for high school dropout prevention.Civic Enterprises, in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the National Conference on Citizenship.
  • Cammarota, J. (2007). A social justice approach to achievement: Guiding latina/o students toward educational attainment with a challenging, socially relevant curriculum. Equity & Excellence in Education, 40:1, 87-96, DOI: 10.1080/10665680601015153
  • Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). Quick Facts from voting. Tufts University. 2016.
  • Dávila, A., and M. T. Mora. 2007. "Civic Engagement and High School Academic Progress: An Analysis Using NELS Data." CIRCLE working paper 52, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, Tufts University, Medford, MA. WorkingPapers/WP52Mora.pdf.  
  • Dee, T., & Penner, E. (2016). The casual effects of cultural relevance: Evidence from an ethnic studies curriculum (CEPA Working Paper No.16-01). Retrieved from Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis: http://cepa.stanford. edu/wp16-01
  • Eccles, J., and J. A. Gootman, eds. 2002. Community Programs to Promote Youth Development. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  • Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2011). Focusing on the participation and engagement gap: A case study on closing the achievement gap. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 16(1), 56-64.
  • Hahn, A., T. Leavitt, and P. Aaron. 1994. Evaluation of the Quantum Opportunities Program (QOP): Did the Program Work? Waltham, MA: Brandeis University.
  • Kahne, J. and Sporte, S. (2008). Developing citizens: the impact of civic learning opportunities on students' commitment to civic participation. Civic Engagement Research Group. American Educational Research Journal, September 2008, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 738-766.
  • Lerner, R. M. 2004. Liberty: Thriving and Civic Engagement among America's Youth. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Markus, G. B., J. P. F. Howard, and D. C. King. 1993. "Integrating Community Service and Classroom Instruction Enhances Learning: Results from an Experiment." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 15 (4): 410–19.
  • Metz, E. and Youniss, J. (2003). "A demonstration that school-based required service does not deter, but heightens, volunteerism. PS: Political Science & Politics 36 (2): 281-6.
  • Thoits, P. A. and L. N. Hewitt. 2001. "Volunteer Work and Well-Being." Journal of Health and Social Behavior 42 (June): 115–31.
  • Trueba, H. T. (1991). From failure to success: The roles of culture and cultural conflict in the academic achievement of Chicano students. In R. R. Valencia (Ed.), Chicano school failure and success: Research and policy agendas for the 1990s (pp. 151-163). New York: Falmer
  • Uslaner, E. M. 2002. The Moral Foundation of Trust. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Vega, D., Moore III, J.L., & Miranda A. H. (2015). In their own words: Perceived barriers to achievement by african american and latino high school students. American Secondary Education, 43(3), 36.
  • Wade, R. (2007). Service-learning for social justice in the elementary classroom: can we get there from here?, Equity & Excellence in Education, 40:2, 156-165, DOI: 10.1080/10665680701221313
  • Youniss, J., and M. Yates. 1999. "Youth Service and Moral-Civic Identity: A Case for Everyday Morality." Educational Psychology Review 11 (4): 363–78.



Published in Breakfast Club

Community gardens serve as a place-based tool for connection, empowerment, and cultural identity. Today, more gardens are popping up in school yards, in vacant lots, nonprofits, and housing developments. Educators are using gardens as creative and holistic tools for teaching beyond the walls of the classroom.

In 2014, I wrote the piece, Using Gardens as Classrooms and shared how educators can use garden-based learning in formal and informal education settings with resources related to academic enrichment, family and community connections, storytelling, intergenerational relationships, and ecological sustainability. As I continue in my work with community gardens and youth programs in my own community, I came across this article by Margaret Lamar from the Children and Nature Network. She eloquently shares that, “natural green spaces are only part of a very complex set of solutions to our divisions, but perhaps they can provide some of the conditions for our coming together–to know one another, to see each other, to tell our stories, and to learn to live and thrive together.” She next poses ten questions for educators to consider as we use nature as a tool for change. Today, I will use two of her questions to shape the resources shared in this post:

Question 4: How can we use nature or outdoor programming to encourage cross-cultural exchange and community-based youth leadership?

Question 9: How can the smallest community gardens and the largest botanical gardens foster connections among cultural traditions, food, and multi-generational wisdom? 


Neighborhood Engagement

Because gardens produce vibrant and tasteful foods, one idea to celebrate the diversity of your community is to hold a garden feast. During this event, you can invite members community garden feastof your community to bring a fresh dish from their culture. Provide conversation starters on tables that encourage cross-cultural exchange. In addition to the meal, you can plan music, art, or wellness activities that connect to different heritages. The Regional Park District in Oakland, CA set a good example for the intentionality of bringing community groups together by holding multicultural wellness walks and trail days.

Or, if you are doing a garden feast as a part of your school or out-of-school program, here a few ideas to try:
  • Design a cooking club and have students work together to prepare a menu with fresh ingredients from the garden with the culminating event being a community feast.
  • Take a field trip to an ethnic market. Have students record foods and products that they are unaware of and later research how the different plants and foods they discovered are used in different cultures. Design a list of questions that can be used to spark conversation with shop owners.
  • Finally, have students sample foods. If you don’t have access to a local ethnic food market, utilize a virtual field trip or use Google Maps to explore markets from around the world.
  • A great resource to use, especially if your youth program does not have a garden, is Nature Works Everywhere’s Community Garden video and lesson plan.  This plan will guide you through community engagement steps. 
Garden Mosaics
Garden Mosaics, a recognized best practice for connecting youth with the natural world, is a program that incorporates science and cultural and generational traditions. The premise of this program is that the gardeners represent a mosaic of cultures around the world and the plants that they harvest become the mosaic. The four core values of this program are science, people, cultures, and actions. Educators could use some or all of the content in this program manual to engage students in garden-based learning through storytelling, science, project-based learning, and civic engagement.  It is important to note that the Garden Mosaics program from Cornell is no longer active but there is still free access to the program online that can be found here.
Food and Nutrition/Food Security
Unfortunately, access to food and nutrition does not come readily to everyone, and millions of children and adults stare into the face of food insecurity every year. According to Feeding America, giving children proper nutrition and access to food can impact "physical and mental health, academic achievement, and future economic prosperity." Gardens can be an integral part of providing nutrition to children. Consider these activities:
  • Create partnerships between schools and out-of-school-time programs so that the food gap is filled for low-income families when school is out.
  • Visit these programs - Real Food Rising, Urban Roots Austin, and The Food Project - for examples of how communities are combining youth leadership and food access.
  • Additional resources for Garden-Enhanced Nutrition Education (GENE) can be found at the Collective School Garden Network.


Global ArgiBusiness
Global AgriBusiness is the business of agriculture production in the global world. Agriculture itself can be understood as a coming together of science and art. Teaching students the complexities and their role in food systems can be valuable. Engaging students in a garden club during the afterschool hours can have significant impact on their interest in ongoing projects, environmental responsibility, and potential future careers. In Qunu, Africa leaders have taken on the task of teaching their youth about food security issues through community gardens. There are several ways that educators can teach about global agribusiness and here a few examples:
  • Ask students to visually track where a specific food product comes from when they purchase it from the grocery store.
  • Use the story Westlandia as a starting point for a lesson about how agriculture connects with development, jobs, and community roles.  
The garden provides an abundance of natural materials and resources for learning and practicing art. 
Teaching Tolerance gives a great idea: “Explore plant images and references in works of art, music and literature. Discuss what you can infer from the pieces about each culture's relationship with the depicted plants.”
  • Do you know that you can grow your own instrument? You can! This blog shares multiple ways to use a gourd to create musical instruments from around the world. Invite students to make an instrument and then learn some rhythms together.
  • Read the book, The Global Garden, and have students create their own pop-up book, using each page to showcase foods from around the world.
  • Paint a mural with a peace theme, using different languages and images.


My hope is that these resources can empower your education community to use gardens as a place where the exchange of culture comes to life and participants continue to see the world through all lenses. The ideas are endless! Everything from a pumpkin exchange to a community garden feast can build social connection and capital, increase skills and knowledge, improve our mental and physical welfare, and can be a positive tool for change.


For breakfast, I had hard boiled eggs, a banana, and iced coffee.


Image Credits:
Community Feast: Seedstock
Published in Breakfast Club

Observing. Critical Thinking. Accurate Recording. Reflection.

These are much needed skills for living in the complexities of today's world. Developing these skills helps round out youths' abilities to navigate in and contribute to a better world, whether as a concerned person or a student looking towards a future career in science or technology.

You can support your students to have fun, learn the habits of mind of scientists, and gain some real skills observing and contributing data to aid NASA scientists in understanding the Earth! Youth can be "on watch" to keep track of the world around them, making observations outdoors, and contributing those observations so that scientists can use them in their research.

NASA has easy-to-use "no-tech" (hands-on, and outdoor observations) and "low-tech" resources (for example, taking observations and uploading photos) available to after school citizen scientists. NASA's GLOBE program (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) invites after school youth and leaders to make environmental observations that complement NASA satellite observations to help scientists studying Earth.

The GLOBE Observer application focuses on capturing cloud observations that help NASA scientists understand clouds from below (the ground) and above (from space). Clouds are easy to observe from most afterschool sites, and not only tell us about the weather from day to day, but play an important driving role in what the weather and climate are like. Clouds can change quickly – so what's happening at your site during your afterschool time is important for scientists to know, since they need frequent observations from citizen scientists to keep up with current conditions.

Macintosh HD:Users:lllowes:Desktop:Cu2.jpgNot only can youth spend time outdoors (or observe the outdoors if it's too hot, cold, or rainy to be out), but they get to learn about how to classify things, and complement their imagination ("cotton-ball rabbits", "horse tails", or even "elephants" in the sky) with accurate observations, noting layers of clouds with different shapes at different heights and learning the names scientists use to classify them. GLOBE Observer provides a step-by-step process for observing and reporting the type of data scientists need. You can report via a free App, email, desktop computer, or mail in a paper form. [photo taken by Dr. Bruce Wielicki, NASA's Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System" Principal Investigator]

Give your students 21st Century observing skills and have fun doing it!. Hear from a NASA scientist about why cloud observations matter in this short video: GLOBE Observer Cloud Science.

For those wanting to dig deeper into contributions that students can make, or to encourage your students' teachers to learn more, visit the Globe Program.   

Macintosh HD:Users:lllowes:Desktop:Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 3.51.28 PM.png

[view of clouds from the International Space Station]

In honor of the great outdoors, this morning for breakfast I had a seasonal fresh-made dish of my amazing home-made apple sauce, cooked in a crock-pot with only cinnamon added!

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 Kantor Swerdlow. In her new book, Global Activism in an American School from Empathy to Action, Linda shares an example of how students can take action and use their own agency to make a difference in the world. 

I first met seventh grade English teacher Ron Adams and two of his students, Kristin and Tom, from Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts when they presented at a two-day seminar on Global Child Labor for educators, that included noble prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi and the top curriculum writers in the field. The middle school students captured our hearts by their passionate appeal to end child labor. They had a strong sense of social justice—something unusual for most middle school students.

A History of Global Activism

Ron shared with me the story of global activism at his school. When twelve-year-old Iqbal Masih, a former bonded child laborer turned anti child labor activist from Pakistan, came to Boston in 1994 to receive Reebok's Youth in Action Award, he asked to meet youth his own age. Reebok award organizers selected Broad Meadows Middle School because of its human rights curriculum and history of student activism.

Iqbal's inspirational visit and untimely murder five months later on his return to Pakistan inspired the Broad Meadows students to take action and build a school in his memory. The middle school students started a grassroots activist movement called The Kid's Campaign to Build a School for Iqbal. The campaign's success led to Broad Meadow's selection as a pilot school for Operation Day's Work-USA (ODW-USA), an American adaptation of Norway's popular youth global social action program. ODW has been operating as a highly successful afterschool program at Broad Meadows since 1996.

Linda Swerdlow.jpeg

A Student-Centered Program

Operation Day's Work-USA is a student-centered, global education afterschool program based on the idea of youth helping youth. Its aim is to help participants develop global understanding and democratic practice. Each year, all seven of the member middle and high schools solicit proposals from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide services for youth in the developing world. US students research the issues and learn how to assess the proposals. After considerable discussion and debate, each school votes and the students develop a year-long educational and funding campaign for the program that receives the most votes. The campaign ends with the students either working for a day to make a contribution of that day's pay or by developing a community service project and finding sponsors who pledge to contribute for each hour of community service the students perform.

At Broad Meadows, the educational campaign has a dual focus: self-education and community education. Each year before the proposals arrive, Ron provides incoming students with a general understanding of global inequality through a series of hands-on simulations and research activities. The returning students take on the role of mentor and teaching assistants.

Once the proposals have been evaluated and the vote is in, the students need to develop education programs to accompany their fundraising efforts in both the school and the community. They must develop an understanding of the country, the culture(s) of its inhabitants, and the problem the NGO is attempting to address. Over the years, the middle school students have worked to fund a wide range of programs. They have partnered with Goodweave to provide education and healthcare for rescued child laborers in Nepal and India; Partners in Health to provide vaccinations and scholarships for children in rural Haiti; and Selamta Family Project to build group homes from AIDs orphans in Ethiopia. The list goes on and on.

Global Partnerships

One of the unique aspects of ODW is the educational role played by the NGO partners. Students learn about the organization's activities through in-person and Skype meetings with agency officials. They have the opportunity to speak with their peers overseas who are beneficiaries of these programs.

The fundraising and educational campaigns are student-run according to student-generated rules that enforce democratic practice. After the proposals are in, Ron gradually transfers the leadership roles to the veterans—eighth graders who have been in the program for one or two years. As program facilitator, he encourages democratic practice and decision-making but will jump in to assist when needed, especially with tasks that require academic guidance.

Outcomes for Students

The student-run nature of the program allows students to experiment with adult work roles and exposes them to career options they might not otherwise have known about. They also develop a wide range of real-world skills, including research, writing, public speaking, critical thinking, ability to work collaboratively, fundraising, publicity, and the ability to facilitate meetings and make professional presentations.

Most importantly, participation in ODW enhances students' awareness and understanding of the global community. This is essential if we want American students to solve complex global problems and to succeed in the increasingly globalized economy of the 21st century.

As Ron Adams notes, "Each campaign is an attempt to provide students with real-world experiences, meaningful to the students and to apply skills learned in class. Ironically, application, a true sense of learning is not measured by high stakes state testing nor by teacher evaluations. Still it is the right thing to do. As teachers, we need to always save room for student voice."

If you are a middle or high school teacher interested in starting an ODW chapter at your school, please contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Image courtesy of Ron Adams.

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.

arab women post 2

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

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 Muslima Niyozmamadova, a high school student at Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa in Kenya.

Global citizenship means an awareness of the issues in my community as well as those faced by the world. My role as a global citizen is to promote positive change by trying to solve global problems. I am responsible for my city, country, and the world.

When I was six years old, my family moved to accommodate construction of the University of Central Asia in Khorog, Tajikistan. My family talked about how the university would become one of the best in the world. I was proud that the new university was being built where my family had lived. Even as a young child, education was important to me. I decided that I would one day become the head of the University of Central Asia. At the age of seven, I attended the only school in Badakhshan, the eastern part of Tajikistan. The school offered all subjects in English. I felt that learning the language was my first step towards achieving my dream.

A few years later, I was accepted to the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa (AKA), one of the best secondary schools in the world, with a full scholarship. I applied to the school as it gave me the opportunity to become globally competent and prepare me better as a leader. While a student at AKA, I began studying the education system in Tajikistan. I was surprised to learn that Tajikistan's literacy rate is 98%. However, few Tajiks qualify for professional jobs outside of Tajikistan because students learn basic proficiency in reading, but do not hone other skills needed to be successful workers, such as internationally qualified doctors, engineers, lawyers etc. I began to connect how poverty is linked to the quality of education.

As a participant at the Global Citizens Youth Summit in Cambridge, MA, I had the unique opportunity to engage in conversations with peers from around the world on issues of education and poverty. This experience helped me to build the global skills and confidence necessary to work toward a solution to these issues in my community. With my peers, I developed an initiative called YOUTHeory, which strives to ensure that children from low-income communities thrive in their early years of development. Our mission is to empower young people to exceed their circumstances through self-discovery and identifying their passions in life. We believe that education is the means of breaking the cycle of poverty. For children to thrive, they need resources, direction, and purpose. Together, my peers and I strive to provide these resources to children in different parts of the world.

education action project

Since I attend school in Kenya, I decided to implement my project in the local community in Mombasa. I began working with a government school in the lower income area of the city. Eight of my peers from AKA support my work. My group and I have led workshop based sessions with the 140 students at their school on topics like the importance of education, effective study techniques, goal setting, good hygiene, and water conservation. We either go to their school after our classes to spend about two hours with them every two weeks, or we bring them to our school in groups of 50 over the weekends. Aside from academic sessions, we try and engage the students in sports, crochet, and board games. In addition, we raised money for the school to replace a broken water pump, which will give students access to clean water. We also held a clothing drive at AKA and shared these donations with the students in need at the school. My group also works with students to identify their passions through sports and games. In the future, I plan to donate solar panels to provide sustainable and reliable energy to the school. I am also working to identify sponsors who might donate breakfast to the kindergarten students (200 students) every morning. Without these donations, the students go hungry.

Over the coming summer, a leadership camp, Global Encounters (GE), will take place in my school. Because the camp aims to encourage students to engage in community service, I have handed my project to them to continue the work that I have done, as I believe it is crucial to have sustainability to really make a difference. My school falls under the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) which has done several development projects across Kenya. The Service Coordinator of GE has been able to connect with the Ministry of Education of the country and has communicated YOUTHeory vision to him. He was highly impressed by what we do, and therefore, wants us to be the bridge between the government and the individual schools. Many of our visions are similar to the plans of the government, like the focus on Early Childhood Development (ECD) and giving students motivation and support to continue with their education up to secondary school and university. One of the other focuses of the ministry of education is encouraging environmental awareness in the country, and he is trying to achieve this through the youth in schools. We are looking forward to making both our and the country's visions for education a reality, and with the support of the government, we will reach great heights with this project.

During the Celebration of Service Day in school, I will be advertising my project to get younger students to join so that the project can be continued even when I leave in 2017 to go university. After a few years, I see myself launching YOUTheory in Tajikistan for children from low-income families. I want to continue empowering children to succeed against the odds. Moving forward, I will continue to work towards my goal of serving as the head for the University of Central Asia. Education is a basic right for children, whether they live in Kenya or Tajikistan or elsewhere. If we want a more equitable and harmonious world, we must all consider how we can help a child to learn how to act as a global citizen.

For all the youth across the world who wish to make a difference in the world, I want to tell you that it all starts from identifying the issues in your community and taking an initiative to contribute to the prevention or solution of the problem. It is important to go deep into the issue and find the root causes first, as this is the best way to tackle the issue, although it might take the longest time. Base your project mainly on sustainable development instead of on giving aid or charity. I believe the moment you plan to make a difference in your community you will be on the right path to becoming global citizens.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Follow Global Citizen's Initiative, Asia Society, and BOOST Collaborative on Twitter.


Published in Breakfast Club

How might we encourage our students to become global leaders? How might we create agency, or a mindset of action, in 21st century kids?

Our students are passive. They are used to "sitting and getting" information. Even as we talk about preparing students for the 21st century, the pressures of college acceptance and testing make it difficult to change students' (and parents') mindsets. How might we create a bias towards action in our students so that they understand their own power and ability to change their world? The answer is simple: start small, make it relevant and local, and use Design Thinking to manage the process.

I see it everyday in my own classroom. Ask students to get up and move and they groan, 'Do we have to?' or 'I'm so tired.' And in truth, most of them are exhausted by jumping through the seemingly endless hoops required of them for acceptance to "that" college. Creating a generation of 'doers' is possible if you start small and get them hooked by changing something local.

Look around you for inspiration. What do students complain about? What affects their lives?  Starting small, scaffolding skills and building creative confidence is imperative. It would be paralyzing for a 14 year old to be asked to solve a real world problem right off the bat, but by starting 'local' and using Design Thinking as process, anything is possible.

design thinking 1

Start Here
Start with a simple design challenge that anyone can do. Redesign the gift giving experience is an easy one that students can relate to. Experiencing the design cycle is the only way to learn it. The outcome can be anything, but the important thing is that students truly follow the process without jumping to solutions. Using Design Thinking allows students to become comfortable with the "not-knowing" and iterative parts of the creative process.

Find a Local Challenge
Once students have practiced, look for a local challenge. My students have proposed new design solutions for our school library, cafeteria, as well as our local public library's young adult and children's rooms, and made furniture for our Learning Commons. Ask your students to be on the lookout for "bad" design or opportunities for improvement. This helps shift students' mindset from consumers to a bias towards action.

design thinking 3

Dig Deeper
Once you have identified a local challenge, dive into the design process. The first step: research and empathy. This can be difficult for students who are used to finding the "right" answer fairly quickly. Ask them to hold off looking for solutions while they explore others' perspectives and all aspects of the problem.  I create a design 'parking lot' where students can put solutions they've thought of, this way it's easier to let go of them and embrace the process. With each challenge, we map the stakeholders and then require students to interview someone from each group.

What skill do global citizens need more than empathy? And what better way to learn it than by unpacking a complex problem and looking at it from different perspectives? Empathy needs to be part of our children's decision-making process and Design Thinking is an effective way to teach it.

As children struggle with real life problems, even ones that are in their own schools and communities, they learn to put themselves in others' shoes and consider the issue from other vantage points. Following the design process allows students to consider multiple solutions as they brainstorm. They gain insight from making rough prototypes, testing them and reiterating based on feedback. And when, finally, they propose solutions and real people listen, they learn that their ideas and solutions are valued. They begin to see the world as a place where they can affect change.

We need to foster a mindset of action and nurture students who are ready and equipped to take on the tough, complex problems of the world. So even though students begin by solving small, local problems, they develop a mindset of doing. Design Thinking gives them a process and allows them to practice vitally important skills for life.

design thinking 4

Here are further ideas and resources for global scale Design Thinking projects:

  • Extreme By Design: An interactive experience designed for 4th through 12th grade students, to be completed after watching the Extreme By Design documentary. Learning Episode 1 ("Being an Innovator") will help students think and act like innovators using the design thinking approach.
  • "A Design Challenge to Students: Solve a Real-World Problem!" Blog Article: Provides a couple of design challenge ideas to use with elementary and high school students.
  • The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School: This innovative program will bring teams of educators and students from schools across the metro-New York area to the Kent Place School campus to develop new approaches and solutions to complex real-world issues within their respective school communities using methods adapted from the Ethical Decision-Making Model and Design Thinking.
  • "Empathy on the Edge": An essay on exploring how design empathy thinking works.
  • "Design Thinking, Making, and Learning from the Heart": A blog highlighting the process of design thinking to redesign high school social studies curriculum.


For breakfast I had an English Breakfast Tea in a big mug with milk and sugar, a few slices of cheese, and an apple.  

Image credit: Lisa Yokana, Emily Block, and Fallon Plunkett

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
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