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

What Are Game Jams, Anyway?

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

student challenge farber

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

Polar Farber

Moveable Game Jams

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

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

Code Farber

How It Works

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

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

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

break out session kids

Organizing Your Own Moveable Game Jam

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Breakfast Club

Designing welcoming environments for children and families has never been more important.




Let's look at some statistics and then talk action!

When reading these statistics, it's easy to feel discouraged. But – AFTERSCHOOL IS POWERFUL.

Imagine if we energize the 10.2 million children attending afterschool programs to feel a greater sense of connectedness and responsibility for each other and their communities.

Inspired by a recent visit I made to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), below are four activities to try this month to foster inclusive and welcoming environments. I've also intentionally blended these activities with the National AfterSchool Association (NAA) Standards for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity because a healthy afterschool site should always be an inclusive site.




1. Lead a Site Walk-through

Gather staff and students to lead an inclusion-focused walk-through of your afterschool site. If you operate on school grounds, invite school administration to join you. If you're a recreation agency, invite someone from your city council to join you. Before a child or family member even walks through your front door, what small changes can you make to ensure they feel welcome?

What opportunities will you uncover on your walk? Here are some ideas:

One new solution might be to create a fun and active trail made with Alliance for a Healthier Generation task cards leading up to your front door. Print, laminate and post activities using paint sticks. It'll add color and movement to your site while making a statement that something fresh and engaging happens inside!

Why not ask teens to design an "all about me" welcome bulletin board that features site staff and their favorite physical activities or hobbies. Integrate this activity into new volunteer or staff on-boarding to reinforce that your program prioritizes healthy role-modeling.

Keep the creativity flowing and help new students feel included by providing clear and vibrant signage. Decorate water fountains, hang encouraging stairwell signs and make it the norm to dance from point A to point B. In a challenging world, filling our afterschool programs with art, music and movement can provide a much needed oasis for children who may not otherwise have it.

A site walk-through gives children the opportunity to express their creativity and take ownership of the physical space of their afterschool site where they can find places to "absorb, act and show". Invite in-school staff to collaborate with afterschool staff and work together, especially if you share space. Consider putting a shared use agreement in place to make your efforts more sustainable.

Invite maintenance staff to participate so they understand your program goals. Something as simple as requesting light bulbs to be replaced can make it easier for children with disabilities, brighten up dark corners and encourage stairwell usage. Why not partner with your local creative community to paint a mural with positive and healthy messages? Not sure how to get plugged in? Check out a Creative Mornings event. A service-learning grant could help make it happen and a local art store might donate supplies and talent.

Combine intentionality and spring-cleaning and who knows what inspired materials you'll find in your supply closet!

2. Make Daily Cooperative Physical Activity the Norm

It doesn't matter if your program is focused on STEM or homework help, starting your program day with an inclusive brain booster can help children get active, clear their mind and foster connectedness. Make rainy days cooperative days even if they catch you by surprise. Create your own collection of favorite energizers so it's easier for children to help staff select activities that meet best practices.

Make this practice sustainable by adopting a wellness policy that ensures all program time begins with physical activity. Add cooperative physical activities to staff meetings and family events too for consistent messaging and role-modeling.

Avoid games with elimination elements that might target children who are new or different. Never run out of ideas by hosting your own do-it-yourself brain booster activity. Commit to never playing games like dodgeball – ever.

Daily cooperative activities give children an opportunity to learn, practice and develop a life-long love of movement. Cooperative games also make it easier for children to share in leadership.

3. Build Community through Healthy Snacks and Meals

If you serve afterschool snacks, meals or summer meals, promote dialogue and discussion through intentional conversations and activities. Structured mealtimes prevent small cliques from forming. Pay attention to needs of children with physical disabilities who many need accommodations. As you plan for summer meals, consider how new partners can spread the word, such as healthcare providers, the faith community and social service agencies who can help you reach a broader audience.

Let shared food experiences show youth how to identify commonalities with their peers and community members. Taste tests and potlucks at family events create space for families to get to know each other, share culture and traditions of cooking, meal times or even food preservation.

4. Build a Movement through Partnerships with Purpose

From maintenance staff willing to replace your light bulb to a police officer who likes to Zumba, creating healthy inclusive communities requires all of us. Learning how to work together can be the most challenging part. Begin staff meetings with intentional icebreakers to help staff connect on a personal and professional level.

Identify partnerships and guest speakers that reflect your student's interests and backgrounds, but find opportunities to introduce your students to new experiences. Give yourself permission to not know all of the answers. If you're not sure how to adapt a brain booster to be inclusive, ask a local disability focused organization, special education or PE teacher or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . If you're going on a field trip or having a guest speaker, take time to educate the partner organization on the students and the families you serve.

Ensure your social media reflects families that you want to recruit into your program and depicts an inclusive environment.



Imagine the world we could create if we harnessed the power of the 10.2 million children who attend afterschool programs. That potential grows if we involve passionate staff, unconventional partners and extended families. We can accomplish a lot in afterschool, from health and wellness to STEM, but our impact will only be as strong as our ability to be inclusive and welcoming.

For breakfast I had a coffee and two clementines.

Published in Breakfast Club

Welcome to the place where I spend my mornings and afternoons. The place where I share laughs, and tears, and everyday moments with 90 kiddos each day. The place that each day challenges and helps me develop and to be the very best for the students that I get to serve.  


And this month's challenge? Engaging students during check in and announcements. Emphasis on engaging.

At my specific site, students in our program spend the first 20 minutes in our cafeteria before other spaces are also open for us to utilize. Now, 90 kiddos in one (not so large) room can be quite the hot mess. And if I'm honest, last year, was often the hardest part of our day. Trying to keep ninety kids seated and safe, felt like the biggest, never ending game of Whack-a-Mole – you'd get one kid seated, and ten more would pop up out of their seats.

This year, however, I'm DETERMINED that it is going to be the best part of our day.

So... how is this time best spent? This time, in these first twenty minutes, I wondered, can they help us build community, and grow as a group, while at the same time solving last year's problem of wandering kids and disengagement?


In these first few weeks, we have been using rotating table baskets. Each labeled for the grade they are meant for. Each stocked with a different activity. And, this simple yet effective change in our routine has done wonders for our little group of learners! Do I still have some wanderers? Absolutely. But it's no longer the norm.

The new norm is kids working together on their table activity.

      baskets1         baskets3         baskets2

 Some of them use whiteboards to draw and tell stories. Others use Legos to build and create. And others still create inspirational posters or read a new book.

I have such BIG plans for these table baskets. As our year continues, I can't wait to make baskets that share a common theme or teach to a certain topic. I can't wait to be able to differentiate activities based on age level or classroom teacher suggestions. I can't wait to throw in social skills lessons and team building activities. And more than anything, I can't wait to experience all of these things WITH my kiddos, because it's amazing how much more time you have when your students are engaged and the Whack-a-Mole problem is contained.

Is this your program too? How can you engage your kiddos during check in? Would table baskets work for you? 

For breakfast today I had coffee. Always coffee.

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

Due to the nature of my work as a researcher and evaluator, I do not work directly with students. My classroom and out-of-school time visits usually involve me sitting in the back as a non-obtrusive visitor noting the interactions between the teachers and students. Typically, I will note the types of questions students ask and how the teacher responds. At the end of the session, I thank the teacher for letting me observe the classroom, and that usually ends our interaction.

That being said, it is a real treat for me to be able to engage with students and hear from them about the work they are doing, what they learned from it, and how the experience ignited their passion for learning. I had such an opportunity when my sister, who is an International Baccalaureate English Language Arts (ELA) middle school teacher in Traverse City, Michigan, invited me to visit her classroom to see the products her students had made for National History Day (NHD), a national competition that allows students to showcase their learning through a variety of medium.

To meet NHD requirements, students must address a theme selected annually by NHD. They then must put a presentation together. Students may also choose to work collaboratively in groups or individually. The presentation can be a documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website. A process paper, which explains how the student put the presentation together and how the topic relates to the theme, must accompany each presentation.

Last year's topic was Leadership and Legacy. The projects evolved from the books students were reading in their ELA book clubs. The topics from the students who showed me their projects ranged from Catherine Rosamund Fitzgibbon, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Charles Lightoller, Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler, and Emmett Till. The projects were a mix of exhibits and websites.

My sister explained what she hoped the students got out of the experience:

I hoped they would develop the skills needed to comprehend informational text as well as skills required for argument writing. In addition, I hoped they achieved these skillsets through an authentic mechanism. Researching a topic in history and having it be displayed as an exhibit or website form hopefully made it more meaningful. The projects gave students a more authentic context for which to display their learning and show their engagement.

From my conversations with the students, they agreed. The group who presented Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. said they learned that "being nice and peaceful and not violent is definitely the way to live your life. If you ever become a leader, that's how you can lead."


Part of the Malcom X/Martin Luther King Exhibit representing picket lines and the Civil Rights Movement.

Students also learned that not everyone starts out as a natural leader. For example, the students who presented Oskar Schindler explained that Schindler "was not a good leader at first until he switched against the Nazi's." Taking their learning a step further, the students compared Schindler to one of their IB learner profiles, "He was a risk taker," they said. "He took the risk of helping so many Jews be safe and not be harmed."


Part of the Oskar Schindler Exhibit representing the Jews that Schindler saved.

Students also took the opportunity to use the exhibits to create symbolism for their projects. For example, the student who created the Nelson Mandela exhibit explained that he chose the fake wallpaper to represent a jail cell. He also used chains around the display because they did not use handcuffs.


Part of the Nelson Mandela representing symbolizing a jail cell and chains used on prisoners.

Some students also took the opportunity to discuss historical figures that may not be as well known. For example, Catherine Rosamund Fitzgibbon, who helped establish the New York Foundling Hospital, was highlighted by a student because "she was a girl who wasn't recognized as much as other people. I wanted to do something I could to let other people know about her."


Part of the Catherine Rosamund Fitzgibbon exhibit representing the New York Foundling Hospital.

After the students' exhibits were judged locally, some students were selected to go to the state competition. From the students I visited with, two were selected to go to the state competition. One student had an exhibit on Emmett Till and a pair of students submitted a website on Charles Lightoller, a survivor of the Titanic, who saved over 300 lives the night the Titanic sunk.


Part of the Emmett Till exhibit representing the fight to end segregation.

These finalists spoke about the preparation that went into the presentation. The student who created the Emmett Till project said that you need to "put all of your effort into it and eventually you'll come up with a really great product. Have fun with it."

For the students who created the Lightoller website, this was the first time they had created a website. When asked what advice they would give to other students, the group said,

We would tell them at first it seems like a big project you wouldn't want to do. It doesn't appeal to you. But really think hard about someone who left a huge legacy or whatever your topic is. Think about that and all the people you read about. Dig deep into the information and try your best. Try to find the best information, get credible information and do your best.

Another lesson that came across from all the students was to not procrastinate. Everyone agreed that planning ahead and not waiting until the last minute would result in a much better product than one thrown together at the last minute.

Through my conversations with these young students, I was also reminded of some valuable lessons. Students want to be engaged and challenged. These incredible projects emerged from books they were reading in their classes. The extra push came from asking them to find a subject that interested them and then dig deeper and create something meaningful to them. It does not need to be a competition to allow students this extra creativity. It is an interesting question for those who work regularly with students—how can I ignite their passion and creativity and fuel it into something meaningful?

This is just one example that I came across. I'd like to thank my sister and her students for allowing me the opportunity to visit and to share what they learned with all of you. I hope you found it as interesting as I did.


For breakfast I had key lime whipped yogurt, fresh strawberries, and orange juice.

Published in Breakfast Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some great resources for your program: 

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

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

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

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

planet sizes

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

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


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

Published in Breakfast Club

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

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

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

qr coding

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

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

augmented reality

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

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

google cardboard

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

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

Image credit: Flickr, Fun Educational Apps, YouTube

Published in Breakfast Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image and video are courtesy of the author.

Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time. This blog entry was orginally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog.  

It's December, which means the holidays are upon us—but how do educators best address them in the classroom? Kimberly Keiserman, Education Program Associate, Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, shares six strategies. And have your questions answered by Tanenbaum Center as well as Linda K. Wertheimer, author of Faith Ed: Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance, this Thursday, December 3 at 8pm Eastern on Twitter during #GlobalEdChat.

December is a joyful time for many Americans—and not just those who celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday or cultural event. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and cultures across the world celebrate the Winter Solstice.

For educators, however, the convergence of so many holidays can create the December dilemma: how to acknowledge and respect the wide variety of holidays and traditions their students hold dear without implying that some are more important than others.

For most of the 20th century, there was no recognition of a December dilemma. Schools routinely marked the coming of Christmas with religious pageants, nativity scenes, and organized prayer. Students of different faiths or no faith were marginalized and excluded. Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down school prayer in the 1960s, schools have abandoned such religious rituals, and many have struggled to develop more inclusive holiday programs.

Most teachers are well aware of the history surrounding holiday celebrations, including recent charges by some commentators that Christmas has been secularized and marginalized in pursuit of multiculturalism. During Tanenbaum's webinar, Addressing the December Dilemma in Schools, participants were asked what words and phrases came to mind when they heard "December dilemma." Responses included "crazy," "stress," "offend," "only acknowledging Christmas," and "children feeling left out"—conveying the apprehension teachers feel about celebrating the season without excluding any students or favoring any traditions.

Not all participant responses were negative, however. One said, "How to honor and recognize people's cultures and values without excluding anyone," and another said, "Uncomfortable, but an opportunity." These responses get to the heart of the matter. While the December dilemmapresents real challenges for educators, it also offers tremendous opportunities: to include a wider range of religious and cultural traditions in their teaching; to promote religious literacy and respect for differences; and to foster a culture of inclusion.

Here are six ways educators can embrace these opportunities:

holidays1. Move beyond Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. One way to solve the December dilemma is to focus less on December and more on the many holidays that take place throughout the year. For instance, Rosh Hashanah and Passover—two of the highest holidays in Judaism—are seldom discussed while greater attention is given to Hanukkah because it usually falls in December. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which occurs at varying times of the year, also tends to be overlooked when it doesn't fall in December. Learning more about these and other holidays deepens students' understanding of their classmates, their community, and the world.

Harvard's Pluralism Project offers a comprehensive multi-faith calendar, which can be used with Tanenbaum's holiday planning template, to create a yearlong schedule of holidays to explore in the classroom. Teachers can connect these diverse celebrations through a thematic framework of values common to different religious and secular traditions—such as peace, caring, thankfulness, forgiveness, and renewal. For more ideas, see Tanenbaum's Shared Visions.

For an elementary lesson that introduces a variety of winter holidays related to light, download Tanenbaum's Rituals and Traditions about Light: Hopefulness and Waiting.

2. Use holidays as an opportunity to dig deeper. Go beyond how, when, and where people celebrate to why they celebrate and the many different ways they celebrate, even within the same tradition. Avoid monolithic representations of groups by exposing students to the lived experiences of real people, allowing them to read personal narratives, interact with guest speakers, and interview community members. By exploring the diversity within diversity, students gain a deeper knowledge of culture, history, geography, literature, art, music, and more. Just as important, they begin to see religious and cultural differences as normal and interesting.

For information about a variety of holidays, go to the BBC's Directory of Religions. To learn more about the major world religions, read the World Religions Fact Sheet.

3. Encourage students to explore their own identities and traditions. Lessons that allow students to explore and share aspects of their identities—including their religious and cultural traditions—help them become cognizant of, and interested in, the similarities and differences that exist all around them. As they learn more about themselves, they become better prepared to learn about others.

For an elementary lesson that encourages students to explore their family traditions, download My Traditions.

4. Ensure a safe, respectful classroom environment. When discussing religious and cultural traditions in the classroom, it's crucial to establish and reinforce ground rules for respectful communication so that all students feel comfortable participating. Part of this is teaching students how to ask questions respectfully—for instance, "What holidays are important to you?" instead of, "Why don't you celebrate Christmas?"

Go to Respecting Each Other for a K-12 lesson in which students reflect on the meaning of respect and create a set of ground rules for how to treat one another.

5. Understand your responsibilities under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has made it clear that educators can teach about religious holidays, practices, and beliefs, but they may not celebrate, endorse, or denigrate any religious holidays, practices, or beliefs. All lessons about religion must be neutral, objective, and non-devotional.

The First Amendment Center's Finding Common Ground provides legal guidelines for addressing religious holidays in public school, including guidelines for holiday decorating, assemblies, and musical performances.

6. Communicate with parents about any plans to teach about religious holidays, practices, and beliefs. Explain the academic goals of these lessons, emphasizing that students will be learning about religious differences, not being indoctrinated in a different religion. Be prepared to answer questions and allay concerns. Some family members may be willing to speak to the class about their traditions and share primary sources such as photos or videos. Such presentations can bring the lesson to life and are entirely appropriate as long they are non-devotional and family members are asked to speak from their own experiences, not as spokespersons for a religious or cultural group.

With these strategies, educators can turn the December dilemma into an opportunity to promote religious literacy and respectful curiosity—important global competencies for the 21st century.

Connect with Tanenbaum and Asia Society on Twitter.

Photo credit: Joey Ramone

Published in Breakfast Club

In this season where longer nights outlast the daytime hours, many celebrations and legends abound. Most notably in our culture, Halloween and the Day of the Dead both reference passings, remembrances, and other worldliness. We honor and give symbolism to things that are unknown and powerful, perhaps unexplainable and mysterious, and sometimes dangerous. This can make things feel spooky and scary. This September's "super blood moon" – a total lunar eclipse during a time when our moon was closest to the earth – could seem like one of these "spooky" moments, if we didn't know it was coming and why it happens. But through science, we can predict it. And we understand that it's caused by the moon passing through the shadow of the earth, and that the light scattered by the earth's atmosphere gives the moon a rusty red color.


Photo credit: NASA/Rami Daud

Now, imagine you're with a team that has ventured beyond Earth, beyond the Moon, and on to the next planet further from the sun – our neighbor the rusty red planet Mars. Things on the surface get out of control, your team must lift of the planet without you, and now you are suddenly left stranded with no hope for a rescue. Now that's scary stuff!

That is the story behind the film "The Martian", which takes the work NASA and others have done exploring Mars and extends it into fiction set in the 2030s, when NASA astronauts are regularly traveling to Mars and living on the surface.


Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

In the story, astronaut Mark Watney is stranded alone on Mars after his team's mission must suddenly be aborted. He has only supplies for 30 days, yet any rescue mission from Earth could take years. How does he face such a gravely scary situation? With grit. Smarts. Determination. Imagination. And science! Mark has paid attention to his surroundings, had good relationships with people, and knows how deeply important communication is. What situations do kids in your program face that require these skills?

We can turn some "spooky", scary moments into positive learning experiences by developing knowledge about them, and growing skills to deal with new situations, building on what we already know. Across NASA, dozens of people are already working on the technologies humans will need when they begin to explore Mars. Learn about them at here.

How do you help your kids explore their potential, and grow beyond their fears?

imagine marYou can take your kids on an afterschool exploration in bringing aspects of community, science, and art to imagine and design a community on Mars. The "Imagine Mars" project is a hands-on, STEM-based project that asks students to work with NASA scientists and engineers in their design, and express their ideas through the arts and humanities, integrating 21st Century skills. Sponsored by NASA and the National Endowment for the Arts, Imagine Mars is designed for out-of-school time project-based learning.

You can also beat the spooks this time of year with some out of this world, uplifting inspiration - check out the music video "Drag Me Down" from the pop band "One Direction":

With grit, smarts, determination, imagination - and science, we can build a future with our kids that is based less on fear and more on inspiration. Let's make it so!


For breakfast today, I powered my inspiration with a healthy, hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, cooked in a little olive oil, and a big glass of OJ.

Published in Breakfast Club
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