Monday, May 23, 2016

Report Finds School Segregation Increasing

A report issued last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found a significant increase in the number of public K-12 schools in the U.S. with students who are poor and mostly Black or Hispanic.

 The report, requested by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, was released on the 62nd anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education which determined that "separate but equal" education based upon race was a violation of the Constitution and established the principle that access to public education is a right that must be made available to all on equal terms.

The GAO looked at data from the U.S. Department of Education for the school years from 2000-01 to 2013-14 (the most recent data available), and found that the percentage of  K-12 public schools that had large numbers of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from 9 percent (7,009 schools) to 16 percent (15,089 schools) during that time. In addition, these schools, where 75 to 100 percent of the students were Black or Hispanic and were also eligible for free or reduced lunch (a commonly used indicator of poverty), offered fewer math, science, and college prep courses compared to other schools and had higher rates of students being retained in ninth grade, suspended, or expelled. 

When viewed in terms of individual students impacted, the number of students attending such schools more than doubled during the period the GAO examined, increasing by about 4.3 million students, from about 4.1 million to 8.4 million students.

One goal of the GAO study was to determine whether the data compiled by the Department of Education and by the Justice Department, which reviews discrimination claims and monitors and enforces close to 200 open federal desegregation court cases to which it is a party, is collected and used in ways that effectively enable these agencies to identify and address issues related to racial discrimination in schools. The answer to that question is best found in the title of the GAO report: Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination.

Friday, May 20, 2016

EdSurge

Here at The Yellin Center, we share our professional insights for parents, teachers, and students through this blog. In addition, from time to time, your blogger shares ideas with fellow educators over at EdSurge. EdSurge is an online resource and community of edTech minded educators. It is a site that helps parents and teachers stay abreast of the latest research and news in the educational technology field. It also provides a collaborative platform for teachers and parents to share their insights and ideas on what works and what doesn’t when teaching 21st century learners.


We do a lot of app reviews here on the Yellin Center Blog, but there are still many areas under the ed Tech umbrella that we have yet to write about. So, if there is a topic you can’t find on our blog, please let us know and we will be happy to research your area of interest. If you have a burning question, the odds are many of our other readers do as well.

However, in the short term while you wait for our review, you could head over to the EdSurge Product Index to see if you can locate tools for your specific need. They have been developing a treasure trove of resources that are helpful for parents, teachers and students. EdSurge breaks down their resource lists into categories; there are tools for learning, teaching, school operations, and higher education needs. Within each category you can often limit the search parameters to age, tech requirements (e.g. iPad, iPhone, computer etc.) and cost. Reviews often provide a detailed overview, pricing, teaching methods/characteristic of the product, and videos or images. If you are looking for a specific resource or looking to compare differing tools, EdSurge has an Edtech Concierge service that can help you in your search. Throughout my career as a teacher and learning specialist, EdSurge has helped me locate and evaluate several exceptional tools to meet my students’ unique needs.

EdSurge provides a great collaborative space where you can ask questions and read reviews by real-world educators. It provides a platform to connect with other educators who are grappling with the same 21st century learning concerns. If you are looking to connect in a deeper way with the edTech community, EdSurge also shares professional development and learning events going on in several cities in North America. So, whether you are scouring their databases for a specific tool or using them to find a local learning event, EdSurge is always a great resource to help you connect to the diverse community of educational technology minded educators.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gifted Kids

It’s not easy to be the parent of kid who struggles in school. But parents of gifted kids have difficult decisions to make, too. Some moms and dads with exceptionally talented children have limited financial means for lessons and activities. Others live in areas with scarce resources. Many worry about balance: how to nurture a child’s proclivities but maintain a “normal” childhood experience? Here are some ideas and resources that can help gifted children and teenagers pursue their passions and improve their knowledge and skill set:

General Enrichment

Look into community groups where there is no age limit, like an astronomy group or chess club. Gifted young people often enjoy discussing their interests with, and learning from, like-minded adults. There may be local lectures in your area, too, and authors often visit bookstores to discuss their work.

Talk to your child’s teacher about special projects in school that will allow your child to pursue her affinity. She might like to "check in" with her classmates once week by talking to the class for five minutes or so to share her progress and ask for their feedback. And she should be invited to set up a display or do a presentation for the class when she is finished. Teaching others is one of the best ways to learn.

Consider finding a tutor. Children who don't need remediation can still benefit from a knowledgeable instructor who can provide him with the extra challenge and stimulation he likely craves.

Podcasts like This American Life (a grab-bag of general culture, math, science, psychology, current events, and more), RadioLab (science), The Naked Scientists (science and medicine), The New Yorker Fiction podcast (the writing craft), Intelligence Squared (current events, policy, and ethics), Planet Money and Freakanomics (economics and statistics) are all (free) goldmines for curious young people. Since all of these podcasts were created with adult listeners in mind, parents may want to preview them first.

The Great Courses – Purchase high-quality lecture series by eminent experts in just about every field imaginable. Here is a sampling of titles: “The Inexplicable Universe,” “Understanding the Inventions that Changed the World,” “Latin 101,” “Lost Worlds of South America,” “Masters of War: Histories Greatest Strategic Thinkers,” “King Arthur: History and Legend,” “How to Look at and Understand Great Art,” and “Shakespeare: The Word and the Action.”

STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

The Art of Problem Solving – This site contains numerous math resources for students in 6th-12th grades, including book recommendations, online courses, and even an online community so students can connect with other math-lovers around the world.

Math Forum – Users can access a new math problem each week, play KenKen, connect with other young mathematicians by joining the Virtual Math Team, and more.

Tech Literacy – Visit our dedicated resource page for information about opportunities to learn coding, tinker with robotics, and more.

Writing

Stone Soup – Contributions to this international English literary magazine come from young writers and artists between the ages of 8 to 13. The magazine features stories, poems, illustrations, art, and book reviews.

New Moon Girls - New Moon Girls is an online community and print magazine where girls create and share poetry, artwork, videos, and more; chat together; and learn.

Teen Ink – This organization offers a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos and forums. Students must be between the ages of 13 and 19 to participate, register, and/or submit work.

The Young Idealist – Everyone who writes for and runs this quarterly journal is under the age of 21. Content in The Young Idealist aims to encourage the next generation of thinkers, policymakers, and leaders through the peer review and publication of political, social, and environmental ideas. Essays proposing positive change are critiqued and developed by an editorial board and an active readership.

The Concord Review – This periodical publishes the academic research papers of students in the secondary grades.

Performing and Visual Arts

Look for local performance opportunities. Community theater companies and musical performance groups are great places for kids to gain experience. Those not yet in high school might be able to volunteer to work behind the scenes in high school or college productions, giving them valuable experience about the world of theater. Try taking kids to open mic nights at venues that allow all ages; even those not yet ready to perform in public will learn from watching other performers.

Young Composers - Upload compositions of all genres for feedback from forum participants, or simply read and learn from reading discussion threads and listening to others’ work.

Composition Competitions – This compilation of competitions around the country may inspire young composers to develop and polish a piece they can enter.

Online Course: Photography for Kids - For serious young photographers, consider an online, project-based course from the online learning marketplace Udemy. The course, which consists of 20 video lectures, teaches kids the basics of photography and gets them thinking as they work through assignments. First-time Udemy users will pay only $24 for access to the series.

Photography Competitions – High school students may want to enter their own best shots in some of the competitions listed here, and they can learn a lot from looking at winning images, too.

Film Competitions – Those interested in film can submit their work to The All American High School Film Festival, and filmmakers seeking to spread a social message should investigate the Teen Truth competition. The National Film Festival for Talented Youth accepts both film and screenplay submissions.

One more quick, but important, note: Remember that even the brightest kids need time to be kids. Be sure that their after-school agenda is composed mostly of activities they've chosen, and give them plenty of free, unstructured time to spend letting their imaginations run wild.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

ADHD Treatments for Young Children - A New Study

A new study just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that while more than 75% of young children (ages 2-5) with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are prescribed medication, only about half receive behavior therapy* to address their attention difficulties.

 
This preference for medicating young children runs counter to the clinical guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in 2011 recommended:

"For preschool-aged children (4–5 years of age), the primary care clinician should prescribe evidence-based … behavior therapy as the first line of treatment and may prescribe [medication] if the behavior interventions do not provide significant improvement and there is moderate-to-severe continuing disturbance in the child's function."

The AAP guidelines go on to caution that, “…in areas where evidence-based behavioral treatments are not available, the clinician needs to weigh the risks of starting medication at an early age against the harm of delaying diagnosis and treatment.” The AAP noted that even students whose attention difficulties do not rise to the diagnostic criteria of ADHD may benefit from a behavioral approach to their attention issues.


The CDC study observed that approximately 6.4 million U.S. children ages 4-17 years had a diagnosis of ADHD in 2011-12, which was an increase of 42% increase compared to 2003. The study used insurance claims for psychological services (which includes behavior therapy) and ADHD medication from both Medicaid and private insurance to determine the frequency with which each approach was utilized. 

The CDC reported that the strength of evidence for behavior therapy exceeds that for ADHD medications. It noted that behavior therapy might require more time to impact child behavior and might require more resources but that the impact lasts longer relative to ADHD medication and does not have the side effects associated with these medications. Most of these side effects are minor but they are experienced by approximately 30% of children aged 3–5 years who take ADHD medications and more than 10 % of the children in this group stopped medication treatment because of such side effects.

Here at The Yellin Center we always recommend behavioral strategies for school and home when dealing with attention issues. When appropriate, we can also provide consultation and ongoing prescription management for medications, but we strongly believe that medication should only be considered in the context of a student's overall educational plan, and never thought of as a "quick fix" for school difficulties.


*Behavior therapy in this context includes any psychological interventions that are designed to change problem behaviors, including ADHD symptoms, by modifying the physical or social contexts in which the behavior occurs and can be delivered to the child by a therapist, teacher, parent, or other provider.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Brain Dictionary

“Words, words, words,” says Hamlet. “What’s in a name?” asks Juliet. Shakespeare had his characters musing on language, as their author dove deeply into the English dictionary, pulling out words, connecting them in novel ways, and even coining some of his own. Shakespeare is not unique in his interest in words. Many neuroscientists have shared in a fascination with language, and much research has gone into the topic.

One of the latest studies on language was done by a team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who set out to explore which parts of the brain are active in processing which particular words. While their subjects listened to hours of narratives, they used functional MRI scans to monitor the subjects’ brain activity, e.g. blood flow, in response to particular words. What they found was activity that spanned many brain regions, and both brain hemispheres, with patterns being highly consistent across the participants. Certain areas were activated in response to words in similar categories. For example, words having to do with appearance tended to be found near the visual cortex. Based on the results, the researchers were able to map the brain’s semantic systems in previously unknown detail.




The study findings highlight that language comprehension, rather than being specific to just one part of the brain, is a process that involves a wide variety of brain regions, depending on the type of meaning of the language involved. This parallels what we know about other cognitive functions, such as memory, that involve various parts of the brain. If you were to go looking for a memory, it is not as if turning a key to a singular “Memory Center” would unlock the area that you need for sorting through them all. Similarly, there is no singular “Language Comprehension Zone” but rather an assortment of involved areas linked to particular categories of meaning.

It is pretty exciting to live in a time when we cannot only read a Shakespeare play but can view the map of a mind responding to its words. What’s in a name? We are learning more and more about the answer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Really Appreciating Teachers

We are in the midst of Teacher Appreciation Week, and whether it is the educators featured on Jeopardy or the luncheon at your child's school, there seem to be lots of activities that commemorate the important role that teachers play -- and have played -- in all of our lives.

There are many ways that parents and students can thank and support teachers. The nonprofit Donors Choose lists supplies that public school teachers need for their students or classrooms and donors can select a project and provide some or all of the funding for it. To date, Donors Choose has helped fulfill over 700,000 projects for teachers all over the country, impacting more than 18 million students.

But there are other, less tangible ways to let teachers know how much they are appreciated. Write a thank you note to your child's teacher or to a teacher who affected your own life. Let him or her know how their kindness or skill made an impact and maybe even changed the trajectory of your child's (or your) life. It may seem outdated and downright corny, but we've known teachers who pull out their folder of just such notes, many years after they were received, and warmly remember the students and parents who took the time to write their appreciation.

Give the gift of your time, something that is admittedly in short supply for most busy parents. Policies vary from school to school, but most schools welcome parents for scheduled visits for everything from reading stories to teaching a lesson on a special area of expertise. Are you a chef, a carpenter, an artist? And don't forget more mundane ways to help, things like setting up a classroom closet, sorting books, and helping out at school events. These kinds of activities offer a real benefit for parent volunteers, too. You will get to know your child's teacher better, meet other parents of students in his or her class, and possibly even see your own child in a new light, since kids can behave much differently at school than they do at home.

Of course, many teachers would echo the sentiment noted in a piece by education reporter Valerie Strauss that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post, in which she notes,  "many teachers ... say that what they really need isn’t free food and a once-a-year exercise in flattery. What they want, they say, is for their profession to be respected in a way that accepts educators as experts in their field. They want adequate funding for schools, decent pay, valid assessment, job protections and a true voice in policy making." That would be a great way to say thank you to these dedicated professionals.




Friday, April 29, 2016

How to Achieve Transfer

Transfer, the ability to apply learning to a novel situation, is a tricky thing. It’s not so hard for students to memorize, say, the definition of “subject” and “predicate” when working in a grammar textbook. Grammar exercises, however, are futile if students continue to produce incorrect sentences in their own writing because don’t know how to apply what they learned on a worksheet. Without being shown how to use new knowledge in other contexts, many students struggle to recognize how a concept can be applied to a slightly different problem or task. This is a very inefficient way to learn. Students who don’t understand how to transfer what they learn must memorize hundreds and hundreds of discrete skills rather than just a few core ones.

In response to the excellent publication from Deans for Impact, The Science of Learning, we have a few ideas about how to ensure that students can transfer what they’re learning to solve problems in all kinds of contexts.


Find Similarities Between Tasks that Appear Different on the Surface

In our own practice, we’ve observed that findings by Richland, Zur, and Holyoak (2007) hold true: students can transfer their knowledge and skills to new situations if they’re able to figure out what the new situation has in common with tasks they’ve already navigated successfully. For example, some kids would have a tough time determining what the following word problems have in common:
  • Ryan sells 14 candy bars that cost $1.25 each. How much money does he collect?
  • If each of the 5 players on a basketball team scores 8 points in the game, how many points does the team score altogether?
  • A baker can decorate 40 cookies each hour. How many will he frost during a four-hour shift?
Many students struggle to know which operation to use in word problems because each scenario seems completely different. The problems above may seem disparate because one is about money, one about baskets, and one about cookies. In fact, though, each can be solved through multiplication. Comparing the problems can help students find similarities. Observant students, for example, might notice that “each” is repeated in all of the problems above. This word often signals multiplication. Students may find it useful to keep a sheet of notes on key words and the operations they often indicate.

Identify the Steps in a Multi-Step Procedure

Catrambone (1996 and 1998) suggests that students label the steps in multi-step procedures, such as conducing experiments, solving complex math problems, or writing. Such labels make it easier to compare the approach needed to work through similar tasks that appear different on the surface.

Producing a piece of academic writing is one of the most complex multi-step tasks asked of students. Generally the student must establish an argument, provide and explain evidence, rebut conflicting arguments, and all the while relate each point to the main point. Comparing one essay with another, though, might confuse some students. If one piece is about the use of allusion in a poem and another about the merits of recycling, what could the essays possibly have in common? Challenging students to label the steps each author conducted (stating thesis, referring back to thesis with each topic sentence, providing evidence, explaining evidence, etc.) makes it apparent that good essays, no matter the topic, have a lot more in common than might appear. Identifying the steps used to complete a task make the similarities between different tasks stand out, helping students to recognize how they can use the steps they already know to accomplish novel outcomes.

Provide Both Concrete Examples and Abstract Representations

Students often understand concrete examples best, but concrete examples can be hard to generalize so that the principles in them can be applied to other scenarios. Goldstone and Son (2005) found that learning is maximized when students are given a combination of concrete examples and abstract representations. The best learning outcomes occurred when students were exposed to concrete examples first, then gradually introduced to the abstract principle. Deans for Impact states that a combination of concrete examples and abstract representations “help students recognize the underlying structure of problems.”

To use this principle in a physics class, an instructor might begin teaching the concept of momentum by assigning the following word problems (i.e. concrete examples) and asking students to find the answers:
  • Find the momentum of a 7-kilogram bowling ball traveling 17 MPH.
  • Find the momentum of an 85-gram marble traveling 17 MPH.
  • Find the momentum of a 450-kilogram car traveling 20 MPH.
  • Find the momentum of a 283-ounce matchbox car traveling 20 MPH.
Next, the teacher should provide the following definition and formula:

“Momentum is determined by the mass of an object and its speed. The formula for calculating momentum at a given moment is p=(m)(v), where m=mass and v=velocity.”

Most textbooks provide concrete examples and formulas, but few ask students to do the work of defining the relationship between the two. This is where lasting, transferable understanding is formed.

In our example of the physics class, the instructor must help the students to see the relationship between their answers to the concrete scenarios and the abstract principle that defines momentum. Ideally, students will come up with a statement defining the relationship between the two, such as, “More mass and/or higher velocity results in more momentum. When mass, velocity, or both are decreased, momentum decreases.” That is transfer at work.