Quality Summer Learning in Action: It All Adds Up

August 24, 2018

Math on chalkboardBy Judy Chin, NIOST Project Assistant

It is 8:30am on a Wednesday morning, an hour into this pre-calculus summer preparatory class. There is a buzz and excitement going on inside this particular classroom that can be heard from the other side of the door. Not the behavior I was expecting from rising 11th and 12th graders this early on a summer morning in late July as I visit  this program as part of their continuous quality improvement process.

As I enter, the teacher is encouraging the students to gather at the chalkboard for their gallery walk, an activity where they display and explain their work for others. Taped along the chalkboard are laminated word problem cards. Underneath are trigonometry diagrams, equations, and graphs. The students worked in pairs to select a problem card, determine their approach to the problem, and solve the problem. Now they will present to the class. I sneak a peek at a card that wasn’t selected and sits on a table nearby. The word problem outlines a real-life example and asks to solve for a variable.

The gallery walk starts at the left side of the chalkboard, and the teacher asks the team that worked on the leftmost problem to come to the front of the room. Some students talk about growth rate of cells, others talk about sunlight exposure. The teacher follows each presentation with questions about whether the numbers make sense in terms of their problem, why they chose the approach they selected, and about the relationship between the numbers.

In the 25 minutes I spent in this classroom, I was impressed by how the activity engaged youth in learning, stimulated thinking, and provided opportunities to collaborate and practice communication skills.

These activities exemplify many of the best practices measured by research-based quality practices that we know work and are measured by field-tested tools (the APT Observation Tool, for example).

Some of the best practices in this classroom were:

  • The activity was challenging – youth were required to apply skills and solve problems. Each word problem needed to be translated to an equation that was solved and then explained to classmates.
  • The activity offered an opportunity to collaborate – youth were required to work toward a common goal and make joint decisions. In pairs, youth selected a problem that interested them, determined the approach, then solved the equation.
  • Staff asked open-ended questions – the teacher asked a series of questions to extend youths’ thinking. By asking questions that start with why, asking youth to explain their thought process, and asking how the relationship between the numbers worked, this teacher not only sustain students’ interest and extended their thinking, but gathered feedback on youths’ understanding of the concepts.

By employing these best-practices for quality programing, which help youth be successful in school, work and life, this teacher turned a pre-calculus class into an interactive learning experience that felt unlike the more static and sedentary math lectures I remember from my own high school days.


    "NIOST has been an anchor for numerous school age care projects we do, including ASQ (After-School Quality) and Links to Learning. They are a nationally respected organization that Pennsylvania has partnered with for over 20 years."

    – Betsy O. Saatman, TA Specialist/SAC Initiatives, Pennsylvania Key

    "NIOST was a core partner in supporting the development of quality improvement systems across the nine cities that participated in The Wallace Foundation Next Generation Afterschool System-Building Initiative. The NIOST team worked well with other technical assistance partners in the initiative, always willing to pitch in and collaborate with others to make our professional learning community meetings a team effort. I truly hope the Foundation has an opportunity to partner with them in the future."

    – Priscilla M. Little, Initiative Manager, The Wallace Foundation


    "NIOST has been a leader in the out-of-school time field for as long as I can remember, and I have relied on their research, tools, and advice to improve my practice throughout my career. Their staff members are good partners and good listeners, and their influence across the country is palpable."

    – Jane Quinn, Vice President and Director of National Center for Community Schools, Children's Aid Society

    "Georgia Hall, Ellen Gannett, and the NIOST team have been instrumental in driving the healthy afterschool movement. Their dedication to quality practice, informed policy, and collective impact is instrumental in our effort to create healthier communities."

    – Daniel W. Hatcher, Director, Community Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

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The National Institute on Out-of-School Time

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