Master Civics to Graduate

By Deborah Williams

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Many stakeholders have pushed for more civics education, and the state of Arizona has responded to the call by becoming “the first state in the nation…to enact a law requiring high school students to pass the U. S. citizenship test on civics before graduation.”  Bob Christie, writer for The Huffington Post, reports that students must  correctly answer 60 out of 100 questions that are the same as those on the civics portion of the test that new citizens have to pass.  The Joe Foss Institute of Arizona is leading the effort to have all 50 states adopt this test by 2017.

This measure inspires both criticism and acceptance.  Some critics believe that it relies on memorization, and that does not engage students in civics.  Proponents believe that this is a good way to ensure that students have a basic knowledge of government.

What kind of questions are on the Civics (History and Government) Questions for the Naturalization Test?  Try a few of these questions from the test (Answers appear at the end.):

  1. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
  2. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
  3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
  4. How many U.S. Senators are there?
  5. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Computer Science, The Next Job Wave

By Deborah Williams

Alison DeNisco, writer for District Administration, reports that even though there will be 1.4 million computing jobs in the United States in 2020, there are only 400,000 students studying computer science.  The 2013 AP computer science exam results show the following:

Remarkably, outreach manager for, Jake Baskin explains that there are fewer students in computer science now than 15 years ago.  A K12 decline in the computer science field—programming, website development, software engineering, and binary coding—is partly due to a decline in qualified teachers in several areas of the country.  Additionally, the instructional focus has been on standards in math and English, but Baskin asserts, “…the critical thinking and problem-solving skills learned through computer science can boost student performance in other subjects.”

School officials are implementing changes to help meet this imminent need.  Some states counts computer science as a credit toward graduation.   Charles County Public Schools in Maryland has partnered with to include computer science curriculum in K12 classes.  This includes principles such as “critical thinking, working in groups, and breaking problems down into smaller parts.”

Since most jobs will fall into this category over the next 10 to 20 years, more school officials across the country will probably take similar actions.

Topics: Building a Career, College Preparation and Advice | No Comments »

Improving Learning With Rest

By Deborah Williams

The results of a new study suggests that students can improve their learning by allowing their minds to rest and reflecting on things they’ve learned before.  An article on the Science Daily website reports that in addition to the previously-established finding that resting the mind—as in daydreaming–, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin found “that the right kind of mental rest, which strengthens and consolidates memories from recent learning tasks, helps boost future learning.”

The study’s participants were given two learning tasks.  Participants rested between the tasks and were allowed to think about whatever they wished.  Brain scans showed that participants who had used the resting time to reflect on the two learning tasks did better on tests of what they learned later.  It seems that this is enhanced when participants were able to connect small threads of information between the two tasks overlapped.  “Participants seemed to be making connections that helped them absorb information later on, even if it was only loosely related to something they learned before.”

Researcher Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, explains, “When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that new information. In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge.”

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Study Smarter

By Deborah Williams

In a recent post on The New York Times’ Well Column blog, Tara Parker-Pope reviewed tips gleaned from the new book, How We Learn:  The Surprising Truth About, When, Where, and Why It Happens, by The New York Times science reporter, Benedict Carey.  Carey’s tips are based on brain science, memory tests, and learning studies, and they disregard the traditional notions for effective study sessions.

Carey provides the following suggestions for better studying:

Hear more from Benedict Carey by viewing this video:

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Changing a Bullying Culture

By Deborah Williams

The Internet has proven to be an infinite wellspring of knowledge and global access, but its use in social media also has enhanced the long-standing problem of bullying.  Websites and apps are being used to bully other students.  One such app, After School, was used to bully students at Montpelier, Vermont’s Rutland High School, but a group of students took a stand to turn things around.

Writing for The Huffington Post, Dave Gram reports that Rutland students were supposed to use Apple’s After School app to make announcements that would be of interest to Rutland students; however, some students used the app to post negative comments about some other students.

A few other students decided to change things:  First, they asked the After School app creators to take the message board down.  Then, they launched a new campaign, Positive Post-it.  This campaign encouraged students to post on bulletin boards and windows around the school small notes of praise and encouragement.  Finally, the students asked Apple to remove After School from its App Store, and Apple agreed.  The proactive actions of these students was praised by Vermont’s governor Peter Shumlin and present a wonderful example to encourage anti-bullying behavior among other students.

See how this works in one high school:

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Student Reading Habits Out of Line

By Deborah Williams

A report by Dian Schaffhauser, writer for The Journal, highlights a troubling find:  “As new learning standards put more emphasis on getting students to be able to read and analyze non-fiction text, this year’s annual “What Kids Are Reading and Why It Matters” report from Renaissance Learning suggests that classrooms have a long way to go.”  Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader program produces reading comprehension quizzes for 165,000 books for students in grades 1 to 12.  Data from the 9.8 million students’ quizzes are aggregated and used to create its annual report.

Renaissance Learning found that students are reading lots of books—330 million.  The problem, however, is that they are not reading much non-fiction. Currently, nonfiction reading is between 20 and 31% for boys and between 13 and 21% for girls.  The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has established new goals for students that will increase non-fiction reading over time:

Not only are students not reading enough non-fiction, they are reading books that are too easy for them.  Renaissance Learning’s survey found that after fifth grade, students are reading text that is below their grade levels.  The report encourages educators and parents to guide students to read “increasingly more complex texts” as long as they understand what they are reading,

Do these requirements mean the end of classic literature?   View this clip that explores this question:

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Snow Day Virtual Makeup Program

By Deborah Williams

The advent of winter means inclement weather for much of the country.  Many localities have over 30 snow days that have to be made up during the summer.  Some school districts are considering what to do when there is too much snow to open school buildings.

Nichole Dobo, writer for The Hechinger Report, reports that some districts and states are creating virtual learning options for their students that will be used to make up snow days.  Some school districts in Kentucky are refining plans to ensure that all students have devices and high-speed Internet access.  In some cases, they are deciding on the content for an extra 30-day course (such as a computer or art course) that will be taught on snow days.  Virtual schools that will count as makeup days for emergency days are being planned in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and New Jersey; however, current laws will need to be changed.   In New Jersey, for example, “the law says that school days don’t count if the buildings are not open.”  Fortunately, most state officials see the value of programs like this, so school officials anticipate that the law will change to allow the virtual school days to count toward the required 180 days of an instructional year.

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Single Sex Classes on the Rise

By Deborah Williams

Except for their physical education classes, many parents who attended public school may have had all co-ed classes.  Enlightened thinkers believed that there was no justifiable reason to continue this practice because it promoted gender stereotypes.  New thinkers are re-visiting the idea of single-sex classes in light of improvements in academic performance where it has been tried.  New York Times reporter, Motoko Rich, reports that public schools across the country have created some single-sex courses based “on the theory that differences between boys and girls can affect how they learn and behave.”  Is there such a difference between boys and girls that they should be educated separately?

Despite being discounted by social scientists, educators across the country have noted improvements, especially in schools with disadvantaged student populations.  Because of those successes, many other districts have followed suit.  “The federal Education Department says there are about 750 public schools around the country with at least one single-sex class and 850 entirely single-sex public schools.”  In the 2004-2005 school year, only 122 public schools offered at least one single-sex course, and 34  public schools were for one sex only.

Why are critics dismissing the improvements?  Some do not acknowledge brain differences between boys and girls, and they believe separating by gender “can reinforce entrenched stereotypes.”

Advocates note that single-sex offerings may help boys:  When compared to girls, boys demonstrate poor performance in reading comprehension, have more disciplinary problems, and are more likely to dropout of school.  Girls tend to underperform in science when compared to boys.  Proponents believe that co-educational classes create more distractions than single-sex classes do.

Topics: College Preparation and Advice | No Comments »

Developing Early Literacy in Young Children

By Deborah Williams

Today’s youth were born into a high technology world; they have always been around electronic screens and had instant access to information.  It is not surprising, then, that many children have been exposed to sophisticated graphics and animations at a very young age, but a recent report on the Science Daily website explains that a new study shows,  “…early writing, preceding any formal education, plays an instrumental role in improving a child’s literacy level, vocabulary, and fine motor skills.”  These findings suggest that parents probably should shift from teaching letters of the alphabet to also helping their children to connect the sounds to the letters on paper.

The study was conducted by Professor Dorit Aram of the Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education of Tel Aviv University and with Professor Samantha W. Bindman of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other US colleagues.  Professor Aram studied adult support of young children’s writing.  One type of support, “grapho-phonemic mediation,” involves the adult being “actively involved in helping a child break down a word into segments to connect sounds to corresponding letters.”  Professor Aram studied the levels of parental support for 135 ethnically-diverse, middle-income preschool children during a writing activity at a semi-structured birthday party.

Researchers found that parental support was most useful in developing early literacy skills in young children.   “The thing is to encourage children to write, but to remember that in writing, there is a right and a wrong,” said Prof. Aram. “We have found that scaffolding is a particularly beneficial activity, because the parent guides the child. And, if that parent guides the child and also demands precision in a sensitive and thoughtful way — i.e. ‘what did you mean to write here? Let me help you’ — this definitely develops the child’s literary skill set.”

Topics: Child Development, Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Learning from Mistakes

By Deborah Williams

“It’s okay to make mistakes.  Just learn from them!”  The results of  a new study from researchers with the Baycrest Rotman Research Institute and the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto reinforce that notion.  Andrée-Ann Cyr, led the study that reports benefits of making mistakes for both younger and older adults.

Cyr and her team studied two groups of participants—65 younger adults (average age: 22) and 64 older adults (average age:72).  Participants were given learning and memory tests.  Cyr shared the results in a report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

The researchers found that making mistakes while learning may help memory.  All types of mistakes do not help, however.  Researchers found that random guesses do not enhance memory; trial-and-error learning helps memory if those mistakes “are meaningfully related to the answer.”   When they are not meaningfully related, those mistakes can actually hurt memory.   This was true for both groups.

College students can use this information to retain information better and to foster lifelong learning later in life.

Topics: Lifelong Learning | No Comments »

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