Our Vision for Afterschool & Technology
At YouthLearn, we approach technology both as a set of skills to be mastered and as a powerful tool to be used in everyday activities such as doing homework, communicating with friends, and researching interests. The best curriculum frameworks embrace both perspectives.
State technology standards include descriptions of technology skills (such as formatting a document or creating a spreadsheet), and they describe the application of those skills to support learning and creativity. Research has demonstrated that using technology appropriately can enhance motivation, productivity, and learning across grade levels (Schacter, 1999). However, using technology appropriately requires special skills and equipment that may not be available in every afterschool program. Therefore, programs benefit from assistance both in determining their readiness to incorporate technology into their activities and in using technology to enhance learning.
Young people are often enthusiastic users of technology, and learning with technology is engaging and stimulating for them. Technology can bring "live," real-world issues and information into learning, and allow young people to interact globally with peers, scientists, explorers, and others (Bransford, 2000). Technology holds special promise in reaching children who have learning difficulties (Anderson-Inman , 1999). In a range of afterschool activities, from homework help (using web sites designed for that purpose) to service learning (e.g., using publishing software to create flyers announcing a community event), technology adds depth and efficiency. Other examples include:
- writing online in the early grades (when hand-writing and correcting work can be very burdensome),
- using math visualization software to illustrate patterns and changes over time,
- conducting research online using NASA resources,
- creating multimedia art, and
- interacting with online mentors in science, the arts, or engineering.
Group work with technology is of special importance, since it can support development of SCANS (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) skills such as teamwork, problem solving, planning, and communication.
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Many business and industry groups, such as Microsoft and Intel, have joined with after-school and youth-serving programs to help develop technology-rich activities for out-of-school time. The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship offers a web-based curriculum aligned to curriculum standards for middle and high school students in how to start and run a business. These and other real-world activities can inspire and motivate youth while improving academic skills.
Technology is particularly useful in fueling project-based learning, an exciting arena in which children and young people work together to solve problems, meet challenges, and create products and artifacts. Project-based learning is especially well suited to the less structured, more heterogeneous nature of after-school time, and is appropriate for students of all ages and abilities. Because project-based learning allows children to set their own tasks and goals, it is intrinsically motivating for them. It also enhances critical thinking and problem-solving skills and fosters academic achievement. This is especially true when technology is used as a tool to support student learning.