Thursday, December 23, 2010

American Kids aren't creative?

As a teacher that has only been teaching for less than ten years, I don't think I have enough experience to back this up with anecdotal evidence from my own teaching as the article, but I definitely have worried about the impact that technology will have on creativity. Hopefully now with the capabilities to create on the internet (see: aviary, a free set of web based tools meant to replace photoshop style programs) this concern over lack of creativity will slowly recede as technology tools catch up with how fast imaginations can work.

"Americans' scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group, says Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The finding is based on a study of 300,000 Americans' scores from 1966 to 2008 on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a standardized test that's considered a benchmark for creative thinking. (Dr. Kim's results are currently undergoing peer review to determine whether they will be published in a scholarly journal.)"

from the article A Box? Or a Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative by Sue Shellenbarger

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Minority Rights from Will Kymlicha and Philosophy Bites

Philosophy Bites is a podcast by Nigel Warburton that interviews philosophers on specific topics. As a former philosophy student, this is kind of like candy to me.

His interview[listen] of Will Kymlicha speaks particularly to the issues facing education. He states that it is necessary to grant specific rights to minority groups, which might seem at odd with the equality that most liberal western democracies might be founded on.

He divides minority groups up into three broad types and determines that each group has grounds for requesting different sorts of rights.

1. Indigenous groups
2. Immigrant groups
3. Language groups

The reasons he states for needing these special rights are to right historic wrongs and to recognize the inherent advantages the dominant groups receive in society and government. This interview creates the theoretical basis for discussing minority group rights in schools.

These minority rights are incredibly important when thinking about education. We must recognize that students do not come to school with the same set of experiences, skills and expectations. Our schools are beginning the process of providing additional support for specific groups. The St. Louis Park High School has been particularly successful with this, with a number of support groups to help African-American students succeed and challenge themselves in school. There is still a lot of room to grow though. We have to continue to show and argue that minority groups require additional support in an educational system that favors the dominant white culture here in the United States.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Choice engages students

From a new study at the University of Texas, students who have a say on what assignment to complete are more engaged. I think that is something that many teachers know, but don't realize how valuable it can be for student engagement.

Giving Students a Say May Spur Engagement and Achievement:

"Call it DIY differentiated learning: A new study at the University of Texas at Austin suggests students are more invested and learn more when they get a say in class assignments.

In one group, students were assigned one of two homework assignments that were in different modes but covered 'essentially identical content,' Ms. Patall said. In the other group, students were allowed to choose which of the two assignments to complete. For each homework option chosen, a similar student in the 'no-choice' group would be assigned the same homework to create matched pairs.

Two weeks later, in the following unit, the two groups were switched, with students who chose being assigned homework and the assigned students getting a choice of the next two homework options.

'When students were given choices, they reported feeling more interested in their homework, felt more confident about their homework and they scored higher on their unit tests,' Ms. Patall told me. Students who chose their assignments also turned them in more often, but this finding was not significant."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Feds give Minneapolis schools funds to help Indian students

Feds give Minneapolis schools funds to help Indian students: "The Minneapolis School District is getting more than $1 million from the federal government to create a mentoring program aimed at American Indian students."

Provides for a real need in Minnesota. Hopefully we'll get to see reports on how this grant has actually impacted the learning of American Indian Students.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How do we make smart cool?

Recently, I was watching the Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus on
C-span. This panel based discussion made up of emerging black political leaders, many of whom have roles in the Obama administration. I was drawn in quickly by the program and was struck by Michael Blake,
Associate White House Director for the Office of Public Engagement's thoughts on motivating students. He speaks of a paradigm shift and the idea that especially leaders in the black community need to help set the tone for making 'smart cool.' Teaching students to reach beyond just sports and entertainment.

What can we do in our own communities, schools and classrooms to push this shift along, all the while recognizing the many kind of smarts a student can be gifted with? Can smart be col?

Mr. Blake's talking points begin at minute 53:00.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Study: Higher STEM 'Dose' May Lead to Adult Achievement

From Study: Higher STEM 'Dose' May Lead to Adult Achievement:

The United States may be damned with faint praise this morning, as the newly released 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show American 15-year-olds have improved to perform in the middle of the pack of 34 industrialized countries in science, while their math performance remained below the average. The results are apt to goad an already-urgent debate about how to move scientifically talented youngsters from science and math classrooms to economy-spurring science careers.

Yet a new 25-year longitudinal study of America's top-performing students suggests even a natural interest in or talent for science doesn't guarantee a student will become an accomplished scientist as an adult. Rather, students who received early and strong 'doses' of both STEM courses and enrichment were more likely than their academic peers to become advanced scientists as adults.

I really believe in STEM, and it's clear that we can't assume that students who are interested in science still need to be encouraged in school.

School: Everyone begins on a different starting line

I see it every year in my classroom. I can tell you on the first day of school a lot about a child just by spending a short amount of time with them. Usually it is evident which children have summer birthdays and which went to a pre-K program and which have older siblings. No one likes to prejudge, but it is a social cue that comes with our innate humanness.

We do not all begin school in the same place, therefore even just at the end of the first full year of public school many black and brown children are already at an extraordinary disadvantage from their white peers because the experiences, language and styles of parenting they may have had, has influenced their abilities in school. The Harlem Children's Zone recognizes this race through school that leave many kids never able to catch up and continually fall behind grade level expectations. They are embracing education in a ground breaking way and following the 17,000 children in the 100 block radius of Harlem from birth to college graduation. Their offerings of formal education for each step, along with social services outreach, parenting classes and health and nutrition services. Even with such services the Geoffrey Canada, director and CEO of the program, still notes the disparity of achievement and a fight against a nationwide race through school which leads to the eventual drop-out of students of color that cannot keep up.

Clearly early childhood support is critical in eliminating the racially predictable achievement gap. This means reforming many of the ways that early childhood education and the primary years grade K-3 are taught. Giving up unethical practices that may be "fun" or something that has "always been done" but is not directly tied to student learning certainly should be the first step. Being creative with our time and integrating social curriculum and combining it with literacy and math skills has become a norm. What are the next steps that we can take to set the tone for amping up the early years so that our black and brown students may begin to align in a more parallel way with their peers of other races?

Monday, December 6, 2010

5(3) ways to close the achievement gap

Even though this blog post actually only has 3 ways to close the achievement gap, it is still an interesting discussion, based on two of the people involved, Valeria Silva and Bernadeia Johnson, the superintendents of St. Paul Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools respectively.

"Silva: I’d require more time and more days per student in academic programs. That’s not the same thing as saying we need a longer school year. That isn’t necessary for every student. But for kids who are struggling, summer school and community education programs should be a must, not an option."

Having taught summer school, I question whether our current model can truly close the achievement gap, but I agree wholeheartedly with her assessment, we cannot close the achievement gap without increasing contact days and hours with teachers. As a staunch union member, I understand the difficulties with increasing the number of days teachers work, but when you compare us to other countries, we lag behind in contact hours and days.

5 Ways to Close the Achievement Gap
from the nytimes...

BROCKTON, Mass. — A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

A great article on a school turning around their students performance by doing something as simple, but hard as incorporating reading and writing into every subject.

4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Learning Network: Creative State of Mind: Focusing on the Writing Process

From the new york times...

"Overview | How can using writer’s notebooks and practicing the use of literary elements help writers develop ideas? In this lesson, students examine the lyrics of rap artist Jay-Z for literary elements including rhyme, metaphor, puns and allusions, then consider what he says about his own writing process. Finally, they analyze additional lyrics and apply lessons from Jay-Z’s process to their own reading and writing. "

What a great idea to go beyond the simple "rap is a form of poetry" to actually analyzing a popular rap artist's lyrics for literary elements and also to look at the process it takes to actually produce lyrics. Very cool.

Creative State of Mind: Focusing on the Writing Process

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It is unfortunate that Jonathan Kozol's book, Savage Inequalities, now seems like a timeless classic

I first read Kozol in 1995, as an undergraduate in education. Four years later, I lived his writing while teaching an a large but ill-equipped and strapped for money school. I was the the only white face in my classroom and learned to deal with roaches the length of a deck of cards. Many of my third graders did not read beyond a kindergarten level. Years later, Savage Inequalities, as it was published first in 1991, I am struck by what Mr. Kozol says right at the top of page 4.

" What seems unmistakable, but, oddly enough, is rarely said in public settings nowadays, is that the nation, for all practice and intent has turned its back upon the moral implications, if not the legal ramifications, of the Brown decision. The struggle being waged at all, is closer to the one that was addressed in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the court accepted segregated institutions for black people, stipulation only that they must be equal to those open to white people. The dual society, at least in public education, seems in general to be unquestioned."

By what means as educators are we beginning to question this dual society when we know that black and brown students are not being reached in the same manner as their white peers?