Staving off the Summer Slide with Digital, Maker, and STEAM Learning

New partnerships offer teens a “summer of making and connecting” designed to promote summer learning.

Take a moment to remember the excitement that accompanied summer vacation back in middle, or even high school. The weather is getting warmer; the days feel longer; only a few more weeks of school and then freedom. Undoubtedly, this excitement is directly followed by the opportunity for students to lose all of the information gained throughout the past academic year—something that parents, experts, and teachers often refer to as the impending and unavoidable “summer slide.”

As the Huffington Post reported last year, studies by the National Summer Learning Association found that a three-month academic hiatus can result in significant learning loss, particularly in math and science as well as other specified areas. “Students regress in reading and spelling skills, widening the achievement gap between disadvantaged teens and their middle-class counterparts,” the Huffington Post reported.

Each year around this time, educators and parents struggle to find the solution for the proverbial brain drain, trying to strike a balance between unstructured play and educational learning. This year, however, a team of nonprofits and educational organizations are partnering to ensure that this summer will be one of “making and connecting,” spearheading a movement simultaneously dedicated to making the web a better place.

The movement starts at MakeSummer.org, a site sponsored by Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Writing Project, and others. It features a catalogue of events designed to engage youth not as passive consumers, but as the makers and producers of their worlds. “In the wonderful summer months, we have the spirit and leisure to play a bit,” the National Writing Project’s Elyse Eidman-Aadahl told New York Times reporter Suzie Boss. “Here’s a chance to try some new tools and find out what it’s like to be a creator and not a consumer.”

And the creating, or “making,” aspect of it is both hands-on and digital, encouraging students to build new web platforms or use any form of self-expression to make their environment better and kinder, both on and offline.

Many of the sponsored events are open to everyone. For example, one of the sponsored events includes the weekly Do Now Twitter Chat’s summer series designed to encourage youth from across the country to start a conversation about current issues in science, politics, and the arts.

For a more hands-on—and we don’t mean a keypad—type of event, in Pittsburgh we’re sponsoring Hive Days of Summer, a partnership between Hive Pittsburgh and various organizations dedicated to hosting events to channel youth’s energy and enthusiasm in their time out of school. “When schools close their doors for summer, Hive Pittsburgh will be there to ensure the continuity of learning,” organizers write.

“Hive Days of Summer programs will provide teens with opportunities to develop necessary twenty-first century skills and engage in learning that encourages them to explore their interests, create their own creative works, and share what they make with their peers.”

The Hive Days of Summer kicked off earlier this month at the Warhol Museum’s Youth Invasion, which allowed students to take over the museum for a night, but will continue with several events taking place each month. Be sure to check the calendar to stay updated or follow @hivepgh on Twitter.

Pittsburgh isn’t the only city to kick off a summer of learning and making. In New York, for example, Project:Connect, a banner name for the partnership between Mozilla, Facebook, the MacArthur Foundation to name a few, hosted a hackathon designed to make the web more “participatory,” the first of several events to come.

On June 15, the New York City Hive Learning Network will host their next event, a Hive Pop-Up. “Picture a food court for learning,” senior director of the Mozilla Webmaker Mentor Community Chris Lawrence the New York Times. “Different organizations will set up tables and bring their best interactive making and digital projects,” all under the unifying theme of individual-driven learning. “That’s the ethos,” said Lawrence: “learners decide what they want to make or do.” The Times reported that this pop-up is the first of several to be expected this summer, taking place in various locations across the country.

Whether it happens at a pop-up or via Twitter, summer learning is essential for youth to avoid losing all that they’ve gained throughout the school year. Be sure to check back for updates, as calendars will soon be filled with events for learners, makers, and innovators in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.


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