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Afterschool programs have a huge challenge on their hands. When students have already been at school for six or more hours, how can afterschool providers teach them valuable skills while keeping them engaged and on task? The answer, according to Shawn C. Petty, a training manager at Westat and a former CASE for Kids program coordinator, falls under two categories: making and coding.
“The great thing about making is that it can be instruction-based or totally open,” Petty said at a recent workshop held at Harris County Department of Education. He added that students in third grade and younger tend to do better with structured frameworks, while fourth-graders and older youth thrive in more open environments.
Hold on a minute. What’s making, exactly?
“It’s basically learning through doing,” Petty said, “or experiential learning.” He added that it addresses many challenges afterschool programs face, including student engagement, STEM, computational thinking and workforce skills.
Making is more than just arts and crafts, Petty said. It’s a movement. Specifically, it’s “a social movement with an artisan spirit in which methods of digital fabrication have become accessible on a personal scale.”
“The actual product is secondary to how you go about making it,” Jeremy Ashley, vice president of software company Oracle, said in a video that was part of Petty’s presentation.
The same could be said about coding, which is also often referred to as programming or hacking. Petty introduced workshop participants to a variety of no-cost or low-cost resources that can be used to get students learning through something they’re almost certainly already interested in: computer technology.
Some adults, however, express reservations about allowing students too much time with technology, especially since many kids seem to prefer using electronics over going outdoors or engaging with peers.
“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but with each new generation, they seem to rely more on technology and less on imagination,” said Jennifer Gilbert, an afterschool professional from Pearland ISD.
Petty agreed that these concerns are part of the discussion. “You can put parameters around student maker and coding activities,” he offered, as a way to make sure students still get a shot at other types of learning activities.
“We have to educate children to use technology appropriately,” said Amy Codney, of Jameson Middle School.
Petty emphasized the importance of this trend. Citing evidence that demand for computational thinking skills is growing while supply remains stagnant, he argued that the world needs coders just as badly as students need afterschool activities that both instruct and stimulate them.
“We need coders – more than any other STEM field,” Petty said.
All kids need safe, supervised environments throughout the day with opportunities to help prepare them for the future. To learn more about CASE for Kids, call 713-696-1331 or visit www.afterschoolzone.org.