Pass Civics Test to Graduate

By Deborah Williams

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Washington Post writer Reid Wilson reports that Arizona legislators have passed a law that requires high school students to pass the same citizenship test that immigrants must pass in order to graduate from high school.  Students  must answer correctly 60 of the 100 questions on United States government and history.  Even though the Civics Education Initiative is seeking to have similar legislation in several states, Arizona is the first to make this requirement.

The Initiative is trying to change the woeful lack of knowledge about civics among most Americans.  A 2011 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center noted the following examples in its findings:

Here are some of the questions on the test:

  1. How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have?
    1. 26
    2. 28
    3. 27
    4. 29
    5. If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?
      1. The Secretary of the Treasury
      2. The President Pro Tempore of the Senate
      3. The Secretary of State
      4. The Speaker of the House
      5. Under our Constitution, some powers belong to the federal government.  What is one power of the federal government?
        1. To provide schooling and education
        2. To make treaties
        3. To issue driver’s licenses
        4. To build roads
        5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
          1. Benjamin Franklin
          2. Thomas Jefferson
          3. John Jay
          4. John Adams
          5. How long is a U.S. Senator’s term?
            1. 2 years
            2. 6 years
            3. 4 years
            4. 8 years

Answers:  1) c   2) d   3) b    4) b   5) b

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Why Children Need to Study Music

By Deborah Williams

A recent article on the Science Daily website reinforces proponents of maintaining arts programs in schools.  Researchers from Northwestern University “found that children who regularly attended music classes and actively participated showed larger improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers after two years.”  Sitting passively in music classes does not seem to be as beneficial as actively participating.

Researchers found that the type of music classes was important.  “Students who played instruments in class improved more than the children who attended the music appreciation group.”  This type of engagement strengthened students’ neural processing in the brain.  Lead author Nina Kraus, professor of communication sciences in the School of Communication and of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, explained, “Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain.”

Researchers from Northwestern also looked at data from the Harmony Project, which looks for scientific evidence of academic success of some of its students.  Northwestern researchers found that “two years of music training—but not one—improved the brains’ ability to distinguish similar-sounding syllables, a skill linked to literacy.”

Topics: Child Development | No Comments »

Digitally Savvy Young Children

By Deborah Williams

Today’s preschoolers don’t know a world without electronic media.  Understandably, they are drawn to tablets, smart phones, and computers.  As a matter of fact, much software and apps are devoted to this group.  In a recent NPR interview with Eric Westervelt, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, explains that, while he is not completely against digital education tool for young children,  young children need appropriate ones.  He is concerned, however, “that Americans  are overcharging their infants’ developing brains.”

Dr. Christakis explained that the overstimulation of the brain is caused by fast paced media.  Young children are not learning the way previous generations did.  Previous generations played with things like blocks that allowed them to “interact with the environment and with adults.”  Those children learned in real time with activities that often are displaced when young children engage in digital activities.  He argues that today’s fast paced digital interactions are so fast that it taxes the young child’s brain.  “Watching such fast-paced programs diminishes what we call ‘executive function’ immediately afterwards.  It tires the mind out and makes it not function as well immediately after viewing it.”

So, what are some of these real time activities?  Dr. Christakis explained that playing with blocks, drawing, reading are examples.  The results of his randomized study of 200 children from a low-income environment who engaged with various forms of block play: stack the blocks, sort the blocks, divide the blocks by color, etc.  He found that those who engaged in block play scored “slightly above average and significantly and clinically different from the control group” in language development.

Topics: Child Development, Parenting | No Comments »

Getting Kids to Read More

By Deborah Williams

Parents know how important reading is to their children’s academic achievement, but sometimes, it is quite a challenge, especially as the children get older.  Writing for The Boston Globe, Ami Albernaz explains that the results from a report from Scholastic, a publishing company for children’s books, might help parents to intervene more effectively to get their children to read more.

The results of the 2014 biannual Kids & Family Reading Report are based on a survey of more than 2,500 parents and children.  Among its findings are the following:

Even though parents and children acknowledge the importance of reading, children spend more time viewing screens:

Fortunately, some screen time can enhance a child’s reading skills.  Assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Lianna Pizzo explains, “Searching the Web and being online still give kids practice reading—they’re part of a broader scope of reading.”  She further explained that reading many kinds of writing is useful in helping children to compare and use those sources.

The report suggests the following ways to help parents to foster more reading by their children:

Topics: Lifelong Learning, Parenting | No Comments »

Keys to Reading Well

By Deborah Williams

Educators often identify students early who will be proficient readers and who will have reading difficulties, but specific information about how students learn to read eludes them.  Having information like that could offer clues about precise interventions that could help weaker students become better readers.  Writing for The New Yorker, psychology and science blogger Maria Konnikova reports on a study led by Fumiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.

She and her colleagues studied five- and six-year old children for three years to learn where reading ability originates.   The researchers performed brain scans, surveyed the parents, and tested the children on general cognitive ability , and several other factors (e.g. how well they followed directions and how well they expressed themselves).  The children were scanned and tested again on reading and phonological tests three years later.

Hoeft and her team found one consistent predictor of reading ability:  white matter in the brain.  More precisely, it was not the amount of white matter that a child had when he or she arrived in kindergarten; it was the change in the amount of white matter between kindergarten and third grade.  White matter is the part of the brain that houses the “neural highway” of electrical signals.  These signals allow for “communication between the different parts of the brain:  you see something, you give it meaning, you interpret that meaning.”  Hoeft saw an increase in the area that is “central in phonological processing, speech, and reading.”  It seems that if the increase does not happen at a certain time in the child’s life, she or he will have difficulty making meaning of letters that form words.  She points to “the home environment, the school environment, the kind of reading instruction they’re getting” between kindergarten and third grade.

Hoeft believes that those three years must be established to develop executive function in the brain by using self-regulation instruction beginning in kindergarten.  She explains,   “That might mean that, in the earliest stages, we need to pay attention to that executive function,” she says. “We need to start not just giving flashcards, letters, and sounds the way we now do, but, especially if we know someone might be a problem reader, look at these other skills, at cognitive control and self-regulation.”

Topics: Child Development, Parenting | No Comments »

Improving the Retention of New Vocabulary

By Deborah Williams

The results of a recent study suggest that there is a better way to remember things like new vocabulary than the widely-used rote memorization.  An article on the Science Daily website reports that scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany completed a study of how people learn vocabulary from another language.

The researchers found that people are more likely to remember new vocabulary if they engage more of the senses.  They conclude that  use of the motor system is important for learning.  Actually, the article reveals, “Learning methods that involve several senses, and in particular those that use gestures, are therefore superior to those based only on listening or reading.”  Educators are more likely to help their students learn new vocabulary if new words are presented with gestures; however, students could improve retention if they relate new vocabulary to an image and/or a gesture.  This could be a useful study tool for students.

Parents of young children might help their young ones to acquire more vocabulary if they present new words while using as many senses as possible.  For example, when presenting a food such as “banana,” the parent could show a picture at the minimum, but letting the child see an actual banana is better.  Eating one engages even more of the child’s senses.

Topics: Lifelong Learning | No Comments »

The Right Time to Take the SAT

By Deborah Williams

Traditionally, high school juniors take the SAT for the first time at the beginning of the second semester.  A major reason for this is because they have had enough math instruction to tackle that part of the test.  Many will take the test at least one more time, and they typically see an increase in their scores.  There is some disagreement, however, about the best time to take the SAT.  Writing for the Education Life column of The New York Times, Laura Pappano reports that the recommendations are varied and inconclusive.

Some advise that to be competitive, students should take the test in middle school.  some schools like those in one Long Island, New York school district have SAT words and their definitions “at all elementary and middle schools.  Even kindergarteners draw the meanings of the “word of the week” in their journals.  Administrators believe that early instruction in SAT vocabulary should make students so comfortable that their anxiety about taking the test should diminish.  The school officials believe that this early intervention makes their students more competitive.

Most advisers seem to discourage taking the SAT early.  Even the Long Island officials do not advocate that their students take the test in middle school.  Others acknowledge that it is not easy to do well that early because students have not had enough math instruction.  Even though scores for tests taken before high school are taken out of student records, officials fear that a poor performance might make students even more anxious when they take the real test—or, worse yet, they might not take the test at all.

So, how should students prepare for  this test?  With the new SAT redesign coming in 2016, one adviser suggests that current tenth graders should think about taking the old test this spring and in the fall since there are no prep materials available for the new SAT.  Current ninth graders might consider taking the ACT, which will change as well—though not as drastically as the SAT redesign.  The PAT is another option.  One adviser suggests that freshmen take it and then take it again in their sophomore year.

View this video for suggestions about when to take this test: :

Topics: College Preparation and Advice | No Comments »

Snow Days and the Disadvantaged

By Deborah Williams

Many students in parts of the United States are missing many days of school due to snow.  While this is a welcome interruption for most of those students (and their teachers), an article by Matt Collette on The Hechinger Report website reports that it has serious ramifications for some students.  Too many snow days “are most harmful to low-income students and their families, who education experts say are already more likely to be behind academically and rely more on the social services public school provide.”

The following services or outcomes are affected when low-income students miss too many days from school due to snow:

  1. Widening of academic achievement gaps
  2. Elimination of two meals per day
  3. Lack of adequate heat
  4. Supervised childcare during and after school hours

School districts across the country are doing what they can to help these students to keep up—or not lose more ground:  virtual snow makeup days, texting students, etc.

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

College Graduates Guaranteed Minimum Salaries

By Deborah Williams

Almost everyone agrees that the rising cost of college  tuition is of great concern for most American families.  Well, a new program in Michigan is creating quite a buzz  as a way for students to handle their student loans.  An article in the USA Today reports that this program guarantees “every graduate would make more than $37,000 or get some or all student loans reimbursed.”  The program is not new.  It has been used for years at Yale Law School and for seminary and social work degrees.

Made possible by the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, the program is made available when colleges take out policies on a certain number of students.  Repayment at Adrian College in Michigan would be based on the following income levels:

Topics: College Preparation and Advice, Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Personality vs. Intellect

By Deborah Williams

The results of a new study shed light on the reason that people who are of average intellect become successful.  An article on the Science Daily website reports on the findings of Dr. Arthur Poropat from Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology.  Dr. Poropat reviewed the fundamental personality factors—Conscientiousness,   Openness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Extraversion—along with academic performance.   Dr. Poropat’s review showed that “Conscientiousness and Openness have the biggest influence on academic success.”

Because of this outcome, Dr. Poropat advises educational institutions to shift their focus from students’ intellect and to focus on their personalities.  He explains, “In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.  And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard.”

This is a departure from the previous notion that if you are smart, you will do well in school.  Poropat found that students with certain personality traits are the most successful.  Parents and educators can improve students’ capacity to learn by teaching certain aspects of Conscientiousness and Openness.

Topics: Lifelong Learning | No Comments »

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