Professional Development

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Giving Youth More Voice and Choice: Simple Strategies, Significant Results

What happens when educators and leaders give youth the opportunity to use their voices and make choices? Perrin Chick, STEM Education Specialist and ACRES Project Manager for Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, offers her perspective.

Educators, like you, desire to give youth the skills necessary to become leaders. Through my work with Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance on the ACRES project, I'm lucky to work with OST providers on STEM professional development.

I often ask workshop participants: Do we want to create cooks (people who follow specific recipes to achieve consistent end products) or do we want to create chefs (people who creatively use a wide range of ingredients to create a range of options)?

The answer is always the same: We want to create critical thinkers.

At the heart of that answer is the idea that we should give youth more voice as well as choice. Giving youth the opportunity to direct and manage their own learning is the essence of this skill. Voice and choice happens when youths' ideas are meaningfully incorporated into as many aspects of your programming as possible. Youth are actively consulted, involved in planning and take on leadership roles during activities and projects. Involving youth in this way empowers and motivates them, heightens interest and engagement and sets the stage for lasting learning.

Strategies for increasing voice and choice:

  •  Let youth decide the timing for moving on to the next part of an activity.
  •  Let youth choose which and how much of each material they need.
  • Let youth take turns leading an activity of their choosing within a group.

One of our ACRES participants shared her success with giving youth more voice and choice.

"I used voice and choice to have students choose the amounts within a certain range of ingredients to create bioplastic bowls. Since each group had a different recipe, it was interesting to contrast them. My students certainly enjoyed having a choice and I had more opportunities to understand their thinking."


When do you extend voice and choice?

NAA would love to hear your stories about empowering youth through voice and choice. Share them at

Want to learn about including more opportunities for youth voice and choice in your programs or coaching staff to include more youth and voice? Visit the ACRES Project.

Written by Perrin Chick, STEM Education Specialist and ACRES Project Manager for Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance.