Tips for building right-brain skills for 21st century thinking

As we explore what it takes to thrive in the 21st century, it is hard to ignore the growing amount of literature that suggests the right side of the brain is needed more than ever. Right-brain abilities – artistry, empathy, design, big-picture thinking, creating something that the world didn’t know was missing — are hard to outsource or automate and in high demand in workplace and community settings. Left-brain abilities — the logical, linear, analytical, spreadsheet kind of skills — are important but not sufficient for success. So what does this have to do with the field of youth development?… read more

Youth as partners in evaluation — an idea that is catching on

The American Evaluation Association (AEA) is holding its annual meeting in Minneapolis this week. AEA’s new Youth Focused Evaluation Topical Interest Group (YFE TIG) launches with an impressive series of sessions devoted to evaluation about youth, for youth and with youth. It is exciting to see all the evaluation and research that is being done in partnership with young people. For me, these sessions underscore the potential benefits and barriers to engaging youth in evaluation. As with other forms of participatory and action research, including youth in the process can:… read more

Top 10 ways to engage diverse communities

What does it take to build relationships with diverse audiences? I have thought a lot about this question in my work with University of Minnesota Extension. One of the things I enjoy the most about my work is the chance to act as bridge between my university and communities across our state. Often, immigrants and minorities haven’t had the opportunity to engage and participate in what Extension has to offer. Engaging them is different than what happens when working with communities who have had long-lasting, positive relationships with us…. read more

Youth programs designed for those who need them most

Did you know that time spent in youth programs is the most consistent predictor of youth thriving? Participation in them can enhance young people’s self-esteem, school performance and civic responsibility. But which youth benefit the most? While all youth can and do benefit from youth programs, they are disproportionately valuable to the welfare of low-income or marginalized youth.Those who have fewer resources — financial, cultural, and social — benefit disproportionately more from programs than youth who have plenty. Ironically, there is a severe shortage of youth programs designed for at-risk youth…. read more

Build your evaluation muscle to use it effectively in the program

Just when you thought that your youth program was doing well to DO evaluation at all, we evaluators want you to USE it, too! What does it take to make the report, and the entire evaluation process, an integral part of a youth organizations’ everyday work? I’ve learned that building capacity to use evaluation does not depend on having a lot of fancy bells and whistles. My experiences in the reporting stage of evaluation work with youth-serving organizations have taught me that successful use of evaluation has little to do with slick reports and branded slide presentations. It is more… read more

Who are the branches on your learning tree?

As fall starts, three unrelated events have caused me to wonder about how well we know and support our children’s learning throughout their lives. Event 1: Last night I was playing around on and saw my family tree filling in before me. I learned things about my family tree that I hadn’t known before. Event 2: My oldest granddaughter starts school this fall and her parents decided to home school her for kindergarten. Where are my son and his wife going to find 30 hours a week to devote to her learning and development, I wondered? Thinking about this… read more

Finding the balance in program design

Have you ever seen a youth program that tried to do too much in the time allotted? Or one that was all about engagement but lacked learning outcomes? Finding the balance between these is key to good program design. Here are two relevant examples from my own family: My twin 3-year-old boys participated in a day camp experience focused on camping. Each session was 90 minutes in length. During the first session, the instructor involved the children in learning about: each other, the instructors, basic components of a camp pack, how to put up a tent, how to prepare camp… read more

The power of reflection on learning

Have you seen the power of reflection in youth development? You can witness the power of reflection during the Minnesota State Fair. In the 4-H Building this week, more than 3,000 4-H’ers with general exhibits are going through conference judging, where they sit down with a judge and a group of peers to explain their project and be interviewed about it. Each exhibitor is asked to reflect on how they developed the project, along with technical details of the project area. Reflection is an essential part of learning. In fact, reflection actually influences brain development. One of the experts on… read more

What makes an evaluation report compelling? (or not)

Okay, time for true confessions here. How many research or evaluation reports do you have sitting on your desk? You know there was blood, sweat, and tears put into the creation of those documents, but somehow you don’t feel compelled to read them. Why not? I’m willing to guess that the answer is either: A. you don’t have time or B. the reports are way too boring. (By the way, reason A is just a disguise for reason B.) The truth is that many evaluation reports are dull, but there are also great ways to spice them up by focusing… read more

Olympic spirit: Motivation for inclusive learning environments

All eyes are on London this summer for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games. Like many people across the globe, I find the Games to be so inspiring. I am particularly drawn to the Olympic spirit of diversity and inclusion and that same spirit motivates me in my youth development profession. In fact, each time I build a youth program, I ask myself this question: How can I build an inclusive learning environment? We know from research that programs serve youth best when the learning environments in which they function are intentionally inclusive. But the word inclusive can be rather… read more