With the newly enacted Elementary and Secondary Education Act authorizing a record $1 billion for after-school programs, a new resource from the Morino Institute and the Education Development Center Inc. provides timely advice for creating and implementing high-quality, technology-rich programs for kids after school.

Although “The YouthLearn Guide: A Creative Approach to Working with Youth and Technology” was designed as a field guide for associations and nonprofit organizations that support after-school activities, it’s also applicable to school districts looking to integrate technology into their after-school or in-school programs, its authors say.

“We are witnessing an explosion of technology-based programs in both after-school and in-school settings,” said Mario Morino, chairman of the Morino Institute. “The leaders and instructors of these programs are in great need of quality materials to help them enrich these learning programs and introduce new ones. We believe The ‘YouthLearn Guide’ will go a long way toward fulfilling this important need.”

The guide is a 160-page handbook—complete with dozens of hands-on lessons, worksheets, and sample activities. It covers how to set up a new after-school learning program or enhance an existing one. The guide is designed to help combine new technologies with proven teaching techniques in ways that will make after-school programs more rewarding for students.

The “YouthLearn Guide” covers everything from planning, staffing, and managing an after-school program, to developing project-based learning strategies and effective techniques for teaching with technology. It concludes with two sample projects for varying age groups, “The Soil Around Us” and “Civil Rights Through a Lens.”

The guide is rooted in seven years of work by the Morino Institute to help community organizations use new technologies to strengthen their youth programs.

The most intensive of these efforts began in 1998, when the institute joined with four community organizations in Washington, D.C., to launch a two-year pilot project designed to establish high-quality, technology-based learning centers as core components of youth development programs. The project was called the Youth Development Collaborative.

“Basically, we did knowledge-capture,” said Tracy Gray, vice president of youth services at the Morino Institute. Her group worked with the four D.C. organizations, Calvary Bilingual Multicultural Learning Center, Friendship House, Community Preservation and Development Center, and Perry School Community Services Center. The “YouthLearn” report is based on the insights gained from working with these learning centers.

During the Youth Development Collaborative, Morino employees worked with local staff to develop content, provide training, and support the four organizations in setting up state-of-the-art networked learning centers.

“The emphasis was not on teaching technology, but on using technology to spark project-based learning—collaborative activities that inspire students to connect their work with real-life experiences,” said Gray.

Gray’s group was charged with identifying the critical issues for teachers and staff members working with kids and technology.

“These include what type of software to use, how to configure the computers, and how to organize kids so they can make the best use of the technology,” she said.

The results were captured on the YouthLearn Initiative web site, and from that the institute created the “YouthLearn Guide.”

According to Gray, participants soon realized that the issues are the same whether the technology is used inside or outside the classroom. “The guide is clearly relevant for teachers who are interested in using technology to engage kids in their inquiry skills,” she said.

In the coming months, the Morino Institute will continue its efforts in an advisory role as the Education Development Center expands the YouthLearn program’s offerings, including new training sessions for practitioners.

“The Morino Institute built YouthLearn into a highly valuable online source for quality materials and inspiration for out-of-school professionals and teachers,” said Janet Whitla, president and chief executive of the Education Development Center. “Ultimately, we hope to establish a national center of excellence on youth, learning, and technology anchored around YouthLearn’s unique approach.”

The YouthLearn Guide’s release is well-timed to coincide with the recent passage of the newly reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a sweeping education reform measure expected to shape education policy over the next five years.

“The legislation is a step in ensuring that teachers and staff have the strategies they need to use technology to work with kids,” Gray said. “We do feel fortunate in terms of timing, because now people are turning more attention to out-of-school time. They realize that kids need to be engaged and challenged during that time.”

Gray added that she believes parents are more concerned than ever with how kids are spending their time out of school since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The guide costs $24.95 for schools and nonprofit organizations. Members of the YouthLearn Initiative can receive the guide for $19.95.


YouthLearn Initiative