CAS Expanded Learning Opportunities Reinforce Common Core Standards

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By Drema Brown, CAS Vice President and Director, School Age Division

The typical school day is designed with a focus on helping youth acquire grade level concepts and skills in the core academic subjects- reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) at The Children’s Aid Society’s (CAS) community schools aim to bridge in-school and out-of-school learning. Our vision for ELOs is about more than delivering after school or summer enrichment programming.  It is about ensuring that each young person and his/her family members are connected to others in their community while being engaged in new and meaningful experiences, giving each the chance to explore new things inside and outside of their schools and communities, and develop the skills to manage and solve challenges within the context of the 21st century.

At CAS, ELOs cover a wide range of activities and experiences from five areas of enrichment and exploration: literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), social-emotional learning, fitness and nutrition. CAS youth workers or specialists plan and deliver these experiences when possible.  At other times, we partner with outside organizations to plan and deliver these experiences.  Some of our greatest partnerships over the years have been with cultural institutions such as Alvin Ailey and local museums like the NY Historical Society or the Bronx Museum. We also partner with programs that may provide college or university experience to our youth, or with graduate students who have particular expertise to serve as teachers and mentors for our young people.

We are in the process of building our staff’s capacity to understand and implement the Common Core Standards (CCS), so that our expanded learning opportunities truly reinforce and complement student learning, as measured by the CCS.

In 1987, Laura Resnick from the University of Pittsburgh described four major differences between in-school and out-of-school learning as follows:

  1. Individual cognition in school versus shared cognition outside,
  2. Pure mental activity in school versus tool manipulation outside,
  3. Symbol manipulation in school versus contextualized reasoning outside school,
  4. Generalized learning in school versus situation-specific competencies outside.

Real life is unpredictable and any situation can produce a range of variables that require either situation-specific competencies or the ability to think adaptively in order to solve new and unanticipated problems.  As a result, our young people must possess both the skills and ways of thinking typically taught in school (e.g. general, transferable skills and concepts), and the capacity to work with others and to think adaptively.  Almost 30 years ago, Resnick proposed several shifts in what schools do that would adjust their civic and cultural functions, so that schooling includes more of the characteristics of out-of-school life and better equips our youth with skills fitted for the 21st century by creating more opportunities for the following:

  1. Socially shared intellectual work organized around joint accomplishment of tasks,
  2. Apprenticeships that allow novices to observe and practice under the direction of a master of skill or industry,
  3. Allowing skills to build bit-by-bit while also allowing full participation of everyone involved. Therefore, requiring the time needed for regular practice by everyone so no one is left out of the process of acquiring new skills and knowledge,
  4. Organizing learning experiences around particular bodies of knowledge and interpretations – subject matters rather than general abilities.

Because mastery of the Common Core should be a strong indication of a young person’s readiness for the rigors of college and 21st century careers, our ELOs give us a chance to design learning experiences that allow for the shifts Resnick describes and for youth to develop the skills recommended by The Center for 21st Century Skills:  information literacy, collaboration, communication, creativity and innovation, problem-solving and responsible citizenship.

21st Century Skill

Definition

Information literacy

  • Appropriate applied research to any given challenge. The ability to find useful and reliable information.

CAS  ELOs:  Young people spend several months in a Food Justice program organized by students from Hunter College. They conduct research in their neighborhood and present a video and a photo exhibit of their findings about food disparities in their community while offering solutions.

Collaboration

  • Working together to share, advocate and compromise on issues critical to team’s success.

CAS  ELOs: Students in an after school food and nutrition program plan their menu for an upcoming GoChefs! competition modeled after the popular “Iron Chef” competitions.

Communication

  • The ability to properly read, write, present and comprehend ideas between a variety of mediums and audiences.

CAS ELOs:  Young people write and produce their own poetry to share with live audiences, as a collection of poems in a group poetry book for distribution to the community, or as a part of a school newsletter.

Creativity and innovation

  • Exploration of imagination. Refining and improving original ideas.

CAS ELOs: During the summer, students complete a group challenge on the adventure course at Wagon Road camp.

Problem-solving

  • Experimentation of new and familiar concepts while processing information until a viable solution is reached.

CAS ELOs: Students participating in a robotics program use a New York City map to design a course that a robot will travel from their Bronx neighborhood to Brooklyn.

Responsible citizenship

  • Demonstration of proper technology use, global awareness, and moral capacity in and outside of the classroom.

CAS ELOs:  The youth council in the Bronx video tapes “on-the-street” interviews of other youth asking them to describe the personal  impact of violence in their community.  Then they hold a community forum to which they invite local elected officials; they show their video and host a panel discussion on the topic of violence in their community.