Long Hot American Summer

The days have been long and hot this summer, but my work has been going well! I’ve been spending the first half of the vacation scoping out basketball courts around the city. Watching games and talking with kids has helped me get a feel for which courts kids use and what times they are most active during the day.

I’ve been busy meeting students and we’ve had great conversations about who they are, where they come from, and what they have been doing over the summer. These students tend to be from the areas around the courts that I’ve visited, and a lot of them attend public schools here in Cambridge. We’ve talked about their experiences in school, what they are up to this summer (a whoooole lot of video games), and of course basketball.

For the rest of the summer I plan to start spending more time at a few specific courts. I want to see if I can build relationships with these students to get a better feel for where they come from, what they are interested in, and how I can get them involved with programs here in Cambridge.

At the same time I have been working on developing my afterschool curriculum focused on basketball. These are all just jumping points (basketball pun intended), but below is a quick outline of some questions I hope to tackle with students.

  1. Math and basketball

    1. Statistics

      1. How do statistics work in basketball?

      2. How can using statistics improve your game?

  2. English and Basketball

    1. Poems about Basketball

      1. How does it feel when you play?

      2. Why do you play?

      3. What is the point of basketball?

  3. History and Basketball

    1. What is the history of basketball?

      1. When was it created?

      2. How has it evolved?

      3. Where is it going next?

    2. Basketballs’ impact on History

      1. What five players had the greatest impact on history?

One thing to note is that people are already doing a lot of amazing basketball-related work here in Cambridge. There is a plethora of nightly leagues and games happening at Riverside, Hoyt, and the area IV courts, to name a few. I’ve also come across the work of Kyle Morris of J.A.B. Step, who meets with students Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday mornings at Hoyt and Riverside courts to help train students with basketball drills and exercises.

As I said, the summer is halfway over, but I hope that going forward I am able to build meaningful relationships with the students and work towards building another model of how we can approach outreach as a city.


Outreach Programs Forum

On the second floor of Cambridge City hall, the room filled up with presenters, community members and public officials. I was getting ready to present my work along with three other program leaders about our strategies on community outreach. We were gathered for the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Art and Celebrations Committee meeting on the topic of community outreach.

 

It was exciting and nerve-wracking to be sitting side by side with so many truly great education leaders discussing these ideas. You could feel that this type of gathering had the potential to help maximize engagement and equity for all of the community. After brief introductions from Councillor Mazen, the presentations began.

 

First up was Bio Builder, a foundation that concentrates on creating STEM focused curriculum and teacher professional development. The program revolves around the concept of synthetic biology, which is the idea of adding engineering principles and techniques to biology. Krista Licata and Rebekah Ravgiala talked about the way the program works and how students are responding to it. They also spoke about how part of the process of biobuilder is to reach out to teachers directly to get them engaged in the program. Biobuilder offers lesson and activities for both students and teachers, as a set of synthetic biology experiments. From playing games with senses to learning about yeast and bread, there are many opportunities for young budding scientist to explore.

 

Inner city weightlifting, introduced by Jon Feinman, is a nonprofit that started in Boston and recently opened a new site in Kendall Square. They work with at risk young adults who may have had trouble with the law either in their past or present.  By helping program participants to become personal trainers, the program aims to provide both a safe environment and a job opportunity in the community. Jon, co-founder of the organization, presented on their approach to outreach, their successes so far, and their plans for the future. Not only do the most at risk and court-involved youth get respect, a good wage, and a supportive community, they also see incredible networking opportunities through the Inner City Weightlifting personal training client base. Many are executives and tech professionals, looking for ways to get trainers involved in other types of careers outside of training. Contact Inner City Weightlifting here if you would be interested in helping.

 

Next was my time to shine, but I’ll get into those details after elaborating on the last presenter, the Agenda for Children. They do so much for the community ranging from professional development for OST workers to workshops that build a community of practice. Susan Richards, co-director of the program, spoke about the experiences of the upper school OST liaisons connecting middle school students with the vast opportunities in Cambridge. By being located directly in schools and building relationships with students, teachers, and families; the liaison were able to make great strides in strengthening OST involvement. You can read more about The Agenda for Children’s awesome work here.  

 

As for my presentation, I was excited to share all the work I had been doing within the community since the start of the new year. I updated the room on my project model: connecting Cambridge families to Out of School Time opportunities. I described my approach of working with teachers to identify families that had limited access to OST programs.

 

I then spoke about my experiences working with families and shared some insight on challenges families face. For example, many of the program applications were difficult for ESL families to complete, which may have prevented students’ participation in those said programs. Also, transportation to programs and dissemination of information tended to be some of the other problems facing families. In addition, both teachers and families mentioned how crucial it was to have an actual person in place, that is able to meet them wherever necessary to accomplish this work. Finally I summarized these observations, experiences, and methods with goals and strategies for the starting school year in the fall.

 

We concluded the presentations with a Q&A open to the audience. I must say this catalyzed some great dialogue between the presenters and those in attendance. One audience member suggested using parents as a resource for program information, which I definitely want to implement in the future. Another part of this Q&A session touched on why it is so important for street outreach and meeting youth and families where they are, and how that help improves the success of access to the community.

 

All in all, this meeting created a forum to learn about some incredible community efforts and allowed us to garner feedback from Cambridge employees and residents. For me personally this meetings was a first great step in my work as well. The reason I am passionate about my job, is it gives me a chance to do something helpful to those in our community that need it most. I plan to be thinking about how we can feasibly take my efforts and scale it so it has a wider reach throughout the city.

However, this kind of expansion and improvement, for not only my projects but all Cambridge projects, needs meetings like this that includes the feedback of the community to really benefit Cambridge. This will hopefully be one of many meetings that will continue to educate us and improve Cambridge outreach programs. If you have any ideas on programs or outreach approaches that should be shared in future meetings, please contact either myself at Jake@nadeemtron.com or Councillor Mazen at nmazen@cambridgema.gov


summer programs

The days are sunny, the schools are out, and with the summer getting into full swing the goals of my position will be shifting. I’ll be writing up a reflection of my first six month of the job in my next blog to look back on what was accomplished and learned, but until then today’s blog post will be focused on the future. So what’s next?

 

With students out of school we’ve decided to shift the approach of my work for the summer. Starting next week I’ll be going out into the community to get a better understanding of why some students are not involved in programs during their summer. I’ll be visiting local basketball courts and parks across the city to try and learn from the students I may happen to come across. I’m honestly not quite sure what I will find, but my hope is to engage with youth and listen to any of their reasons on why they are currently not in a summer program.

 

At the same time, I will be developing an afterschool school class that’s a little bit different. My goal is to create a curriculum that revolves around basketball, but involves teaching all the subjects. For example, getting kids to think about simple statistics by tracking their shooting percentages throughout the summer.

 

Ideally, the same students that are in the basketball courts could help me craft this afterschool class and shape the way it runs. That way, we might be able to approach programs in the fall with a student created class that might be able to get more students to enroll in their program.

 

Another part of my work this summer will be to help organize a weekly civics meeting every week or two. These meetings will include a discussion about different topics that affect our community and a brainstorming session of “homework” we can do to give back to the community around that topic.

 

For example the last meeting was about how the city can collaborate with universities to improve sexual assault policies and education prevention methods under title ix. And some of the things we decided to do was write a letter to the editor of the Chronicle and contact the public schools Know Your Body program about introducing prevention methods to male middle and high school students. Our next meeting is planned for this upcoming Monday night at 8 PM, and will be focused on how food can bring together a community.

 

We are in for an exciting summer! Whether it be involving students into summer afterschool programs or engaging the community in important civic topics, I think there is some great work ahead.


If you are interested in being added to the email list for our civic meetings please contact me at Jake@nadeemtron.com  


Field Trip Learning

The last week of after school classes ended a week ago. This is a bit of a sad time for me because it means I’ll no longer have the pleasure of walking students home after school. Walking students home is a great time for me to connect with students. It even turns out the participation of one student I helped place in an after school program depended on my walking him home. 

Our walks became a great time for us to bond and talk about a wide range of topics. Our conversations varied from his time in school, to his thoughts on the afterschool class I taught, to life in general. I truly valued the time we spent walking together. I often wonder if participants in after school programs that pick up and drop off students experience these same moments of bonding.

Reflecting on our time together made me think of an old blog post I once wrote for a now defunct fieldtrip website.

I thought for this week's blog I would share that old post to show how something as simple as walking can impact how we interact with students. And that if we approach something like walking creativity we have the chance to learn some really great things, not just from the world around us, but about our walking companions too. I hope you enjoy!

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When planning a field trip I find there generally tends to be two kinds of people: those who live for the destination and those who live for the journey. Similarly, there are also two types of learning that happen on a field trip: the expected and unexpected lessons.

There is nothing wrong with either of these types of people or either type of lesson. In fact I think any effective field trip includes some of both. Although, those who go on a trip for the destination tend to be people who prefer expected learning. People like me though? I’m personally someone who prefers the journey.

I prefer the unexpected learning.

The reason I prefer unexpected learning is it allows me to find opportunities to learn everywhere. While destinations and expected learning are great because they provide a depth of knowledge, they are usually limited to one particular type of discipline.

The history class goes to the Museum of Fine Arts to study the history of art. The science class visits the local creek to see an ecosystem in action. The English class goes to the local library to see an author speak.

Now let me give you an example of journey learning, It can be as simple as taking a walk, because in something as simple as a walk I see opportunities to learn about every subject.

Lets go through the usual suspects!

Science: That’s teeball easy. Record the type of trees you pass. Diagram the environment around you. Study the ecosystems that exist. Analyze the weather outside, and the clouds in the sky. You could do this on you walk to an art museum! Who said an art field trip couldn’t include science?

Social studies:  Map the route we took to our destination. Learn the topography of the surrounding area. Determine the origin of the local stores you pass. Research historical relevance of streets you pass.

Math: Well, there is the simple stuff to start. Add up the addresses of the houses you pass. Categorize the number of street signs you pass. List the types of cars you see. But it really starts getting fun when you create math problems based on your walk. How long is the total distance of the walk? How long will it take if we walk at 5 mph? What about 10?

Art: Draw the world around you. Anything--as large as a landscape to as small as a leaf. This is a little bit more difficult to do while walking, but perfect for a five minute rest.

Music: How can you use things you find while walking to make an instrument. What’s the sound of two sticks tapping? What about the sound of leaves crumbling? How about an empty soda bottle we find lying around? (Not that I’m saying pick up every piece of trash you see, but what’s the harm in helping clean up a bit?)

Phys ed: Well outside of the walk itself, there are ample opportunities to exercise. Create a game to play while walking. Maybe trying skipping instead of walking? Try having short races. Maybe go a little out of your way to find an extra set of stairs to climb.

English: And English….. Well this is it right here: write about your walk, your thoughts, what you see, what you wish you’d see, what you are going to see, what you just saw. Write about anything you want. Just write.

So next time you find yourself taking your students on a field trip, I suggest you take a second and think about the journey ahead of your class. And then smile when you think of all the ways you can encourage your students to learn on the way there and maybe learn something about them too.

 


After School Programs

 

Over the past few months while doing my work and investigating the landscape of after school programs in Cambridge, I’ve come across some excellent examples of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) focused programs. I thought I would use this week’s blog to highlight some of those programs, and share some insight of what’s going on in Cambridge.

CCC Minecraft

The first program I’d like to talk about is the Minecraft classes at the Cambridge Community Center. For those of you not familiar, Minecraft is a computer game that allows students to deconstruct the world around them, process the materials they gather, and build any kind of structure their mind can imagine. For example students can spend time building their own dream house, or a whole cities worth of buildings.

One of the things I like most about this class is that it introduces many concepts of engineering to students at a very young age. Think of it like old school block play with a modern twist. Also what’s great about using Minecraft as an education tool is since so many students love playing the game on their own time, it’s easy to have them spend time playing with an educational focus.

The Minecraft class at the CCC is taught by Connie Cann, who speaks in more detail about the class here.

K-LO Makerspace

The second program I want to mention, the Makerspace at the Kennedy Longfellow school, is not specifically focused in after school per se, but offers a wealth of curriculum that other programs could model. The Makerspace at K-LO was built in collaboration with Lesley University and focuses on introducing students in the school to computer science, robotics, and engineering lessons.

What’s really awesome about the work being done at the K-LO Makerspace is they do such a great job of making it accessible to teachers. They’ve created easy to understand lesson plans like this one here about using scratch to teach students how to use maps to learn about the neighborhood around them. By making these lesson plans open to the community, the K-LO Makerspace gives afterschool teachers an opportunity to include S.T.E.A.M. related lessons to their programs and students.

You can read more about the program led by Sue Cusack, Anne Larson, Kreg Hanning, and Jacy Edelman, and what it offers here.

Possible Project

Finally I wanted to write about the Possible Project. The Possible Project is an after school program aimed at high school that works on teaching them entrepreneurship and business skills by having them create their own businesses.

While the age of students involved with the Possible Project is a little bit older then the students of my work, it serves as a wonderful model of how to think outside of the box with programming. Introducing students to the concept of starting a business is a great way to teach kids the importance of creating a budget. And even though a lot of the businesses that are created at the Possible Project may be difficult for younger kids to think of, there might be a way to scale down the model to work with younger children.

Here is an article that highlights the Possible Projects recent makerspace that just opened.

I should note that what I’m writing about here just scratches the surface on what is going on in the city, and In the upcoming months I plan on writing similar blog posts to this to help share all of the amazing offerings in the city.


Community Thoughts on STEAM

 

Over the past few months while doing my work and investigating the landscape of after school programs in Cambridge, I’ve come across some excellent examples of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) focused programs. I thought I would use this weeks blog to highlight some of those programs, and share some insight of what’s going on in Cambridge.

CCC Minecraft
The first program I’d like to talk about is the Minecraft classes at the Cambridge Community Center. For those of you not familiar, Minecraft is a computer game that allows students to deconstruct the world around them, process the materials they gather, and build any kind of structure their mind can imagine. For example students can spend time building their own dream house, or a whole cities worth of buildings.

One of the things I like most about this class is that it introduces many concepts of engineering to students at a very young age. Think of it like old school block play with a modern twist. Also what’s great about using Minecraft as an education tool is since so many students love playing the game on their own time, it’s easy to have them spend time playing with an educational focus.

The Minecraft class at the CCC is taught by Connie Cann, who speaks in more detail about the class here.

K-LO Makerspace
The second program I want to mention, the Makerspace at the Kennedy Longfellow school, is not specifically focused in afterschool per say, but offers a wealth of curriculum that other programs could model. The Makerspace at K-LO was built in collaboration with Lesley University and focuses on introducing students in the school to computer science, robotics, and engineering lessons.

What’s really awesome about the work being done at the K-LO Makerspace is they do such a great job of making it accessible to teachers. They’ve created easy to understand lesson plans like this one here about using scratch to teach students how to use maps to learn about the neighborhood around them. By making these lesson plans open to the community, the K-LO Makerspace gives afterschool teachers an opportunity to include S.T.E.A.M. related lessons to their programs and students.

You can read more about the program led by Sue Cusack, Anne Larson, Kreg Hanning, and Jacy Edelman, and what it offers here.

Possible Project
Finally I wanted to write about the Possible Project. The Possible Project is an after school program aimed at high school that works on teaching them entrepreneurship and business skills by having them create their own businesses.

While the age of students involved with the Possible Project is a little bit older then the students of my work, it serves as a wonderful model of how to think outside of the box with programming. Introducing students to the concept of starting a business is a great way to teach kids the importance of creating a budget. And even though a lot of the businesses that are created at the Possible Project may be difficult for younger kids to think of, there might be a way to scale down the model to work with younger children.

Here is an article that highlights the Possible Projects recent maker space that just opened.

I should note that what I’m writing about here just scratches the surface on what is going on in the city, and In the upcoming months I plan on writing similar blog posts to this to help share all of the amazing offerings in the city.

 



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