Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Like Father, Like Daughter

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

My dad is an English teacher. He’s been teaching since the day I was born. When my dad started his career, things were different for both teachers and students. After nearly 30 years as the Andover High School English Department Head (yes, the very high school I attended), a move across the country and a short-lived “retirement phase,” my dad began teaching again. This time, it was “part-time,” at an online high school in Arizona.

When he started his new part-time job the hours weren’t exactly part-time. Once he added in teacher training, administering AIMS tests, 24-7 student interaction on Blackboard and supplying a highly-experienced, well-used shoulder to lean on (or cry on), he was back to 40+ hours a week.

A notable change is evident in what my dad and I talk about when it comes to our careers. For years, he wasn’t exactly sure what I did. Graphic design, desktop publishing, printing and “all of that stuff” he’d say. It wasn’t until he started working at the online high school that we really started talking about curriculum, assessment tests, psychometrics and the changes that today’s students and teachers are facing. My dad left Massachusetts before standardized testing and graduation tests were in place. He arrived in Arizona to find standardized testing staring him square in the eye – and his daughter behind the curtain creating the tests.

State-specific standards and the newly adopted Common Core State Standards have changed what both of us do. For me and my company, it’s finding creative ways to leverage existing, proven curriculum and assessments for use within the CCSS mandates without losing the state specific connections. Many of the publishers with whom we work still plan to provide both CCSS and state-specific assessment products, so we need to keep track of both alignments. For my dad, it’s a little harder. As a state, Arizona is generally under-performing in both math and language arts, which means that he, and his fellow teachers throughout the state in virtual schools and “brick-and-mortar” schools, have quite a bit of work ahead of them. Arizona teachers, like others across the country, need to evaluate the alignments among their state, the CCSS, and their curriculum to determine where the differences lie, dedicate professional and curriculum development hours to these programs, and then implement effective programs to increase student learning.

And, being active in the development of these systems at the local level, he should help provide some of the answers too. We won’t know the full impact of CCSS for some time, but I’m sure that my dad and I will have plenty to talk about along this journey.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Classroom Response Clickers

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

Classroom response systems (CRS), otherwise known as “clickers”, are gaining popularity in the K-12 market place. When they first hit the market, the higher ed space was targeted and textbook publishers bundled the clickers with individual textbooks. Now, these systems are being sold as site licenses and other custom arrangements to make it affordable for K-12 classrooms.

Clickers are promoted as a way to create equal opportunity for all students to participate anonymously and contribute in the classroom. Through the use of a receiving station, software, and a multimedia projector, students respond to questions by clicking their answers on the CRS pad. The results are instantaneous, and teachers can observe in real time responses to material that has just been presented. If “clickers” are a part of your technology plans for 2010, give us a call. Our trained experts at PSG can help you create presentations for Classroom Response Systems that meet your specific content needs.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

University Press Launches Facebook Serials

By Jordan Koluch, Intern

Serializing novels is an age-old method of reaching an extended readership, but University of Michigan Press is bringing the concept into the twenty-first century through the use of Facebook. Between July 18 and Labor Day 2011, the press will serialize chapters of two newly-published novels set in Michigan: A Spell on the Water (May) by Marjorie Kowalski Cole, a coming-of-age story; and Faithful Unto Death (June) by Becky Thacker, a historical mystery.

Each week, the press will post one chapter from each novel on its Facebook page, and Facebook fans of the press will be able to read for free. Heather Newman, the press’s marketing manager, says that the posts will be enough to give readers “a taste of these books” and will also entice them to purchase the whole novel. Newman hopes that the posts will go viral, gaining more visibility for the novels but also for UM Press itself.

Marketing budgets for university presses are notoriously small, and with budgets shrinking at even large trade houses, creative (and free) marketing goes a long way toward selling a book. As a result of this belt-tightening, lesser-known authors often receive little, if any, media visibility. Luckily for small presses, social media has shifted control of online content to users. And UM Press is taking full advantage. In this case, Cole and Thacker are authors “people might not recognize,” according to Newman, but of whom the press is “especially proud.” And it’s worked before. The Penguin Group took Internet sensation LOLcats, a website on which people post pictures of their cats and add witty captions, and turned it into a popular series of books.

While neither of these novels may become the next Harry Potter, a little exposure can’t hurt. When University of Michigan Press announced the campaign on July 14, it had 550 fans. By Wednesday, July 27, it had 1,148. Whether this serialization will increase sales or not, it’s too soon to tell. But with comments like, “Good for you UMP. Great idea!” and “good experiment,” it seems like readers are enjoying the new format.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is Social Networking Bad for Grades?

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Management

Is social networking harming students’ grades? The quick answer might be yes, because it distracts students from studying. And in fact, a 2009 study at The Ohio State University found that students who admitted logging onto Facebook several times a day to check status updates, correspond with friends and relatives, or join common-interest groups, had a GPA as much as a grade lower than non-users.

But a recent study at the University of New Hampshire tracked the site usage and grades of students using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn and found “no correlation between the amount of time students spend using social media and their grades.” This study seemed to support similar findings from another study done at Northwestern University. Chuck Martin, an adjunct professor at UNH contends that social media is being integrated with rather than interfering with students’ academic lives. Could it be that college students who have grown up with Facebook have become accustomed to taking short spurts to the site without derailing concentration on other tasks?

What are the affects—positive or negative—of social media sites like Facebook? Users contend it connects them with friends and family. Companies, groups, and charities with established pages say it brings in more customers, members, and donations. And we’ve seen in recent news reports that Facebook and Twitter have been used by citizens in countries with repressive governments to organize protests and spread news of government repression to the outside world.

Whatever your feelings about the growing popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, all must agree that these technologies are becoming part of the everyday tools of our students in all levels of our education system.

If you’d like to learn more about reaching your customers, call us at PSG. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter by searching Publishing Solutions Group.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is the "Glee Effect" Saving Music Programs in Schools?

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

A recent phenomenon known as the "Glee Effect" is taking this country’s school music programs by storm. Show choirs—song-and-dance troupes that saw their beginnings in the Midwest years ago—are quickly becoming the new groups in schools that everyone (or almost everyone) wants to join. These music groups have been gaining in popularity at many high schools across the country as a result of the popular FOX TV show “Glee,” now in its third season. This revitalized interest in musical groups comes at a time when most school administrators are trying to find programs to cut rather than finding new programs to support.

Before the show aired it was estimated that there were about 200 high schools with show choirs, and as any high school student could tell you, students who participated in the groups were considered “nerds.” Recent estimates put the number of schools with show choirs at 600 and climbing. Christopher Landis, a director of the show choir at Waltham High School in Massachusetts, says he had a record number of freshmen students trying out for his show choir groups at last year's auditions. Landis credits the "Glee" television show in helping to discourage the negative stereotypes that typically followed students who participate in bands and choirs.

While we can all agree on the show choir’s recent growth in popularity, is there evidence that school music programs are an essential part of a child’s education? The evidence may be anecdotal, but it’s strong nonetheless. Even before the popularity of “Glee” was being felt in school music programs, school administrators claimed that music programs improved the academic success of students. A study in 2006 conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that 96% of public school principals polled believed that students who participated in school music programs were motivated to stay in school longer, and 89% of the principals polled were in agreement that the programs led to higher graduation rates.

A recent report from the National Association for Music Education showed that participation in music programs has been shown to have a strong, positive correlation to higher academic achievement. The schools with active music programs experience higher graduation rates and standardized test scores.

Is this enough evidence to convince school administrators (and local taxpayers) to keep and support their music programs, or even start NEW programs? Perhaps. We’ll need to watch and see if the “Glee Effect” is as strong and positive as the performers on the TV show.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Hunger Games

By Annette Cinelli Trossello, Project Manager

I just finished reading the first book in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy. In this futuristic society, North America is now known as Panem and consists of a controlling government and 12 districts that each year, in punishment for their revolt 74 years ago, must choose a boy and girl to be sent to fight to the death; the last one alive is the winner. The children must fight for food, water, and supplies while their families and the rest of Panem watch in horror or delight.

The main character is Katniss Everdeen of district 12, a resilient teen who has helped her family survive by illegally hunting with a homemade bow and arrow. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games, taking her younger sister's place, and is dismayed that the male tribute is Peeta, a fellow classmate who once saved Katniss and her family. Things get more complicated when he declares to the world his unrequited love for Katniss.

One of the most interesting things about Hunger Games is that the games are aired as a reality TV show. With reality TV hitting new lows every season (I'm sure in the '90s The Swan, a show where women undergo plastic surgery to look more like society's definition of beautiful and then compete against one another in a pageant only to be told, "nope, you're still not good enough," would seem more like something from a futuristic society than an actual TV show on Fox), the idea of a cruel government televising the murder of its children doesn't give me as much pause as it once might have.

A refreshing aspect of the book is its heroine. I appreciate seeing a strong, independent female character, especially in a young-adult novel. Even in adult fiction there is a plethora of mindless female characters preoccupied with Gucci, guys, and going out. Katniss has sharp wits, courage, and a survival instinct that just may save her. With its social commentary, three-dimensional characters you will root for, and a plot that doesn't slow down, Hunger Games is a must read.

Working late and don't have time to read any new books? Let PSG take some of the load off!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer Reading

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

I can still remember the packets elementary teachers handed out to us on the last day of school. Along with our report card, we were each given a long list of books, separated by grade level with a cover page: “Suggested Summer Reading.” Although other kids usually threw theirs into the garbage, or onto the floor of the bus, or simply left them in their desks for the janitors to clean out, I would take the list, circle the titles that sounded good, and beg my mom to take me to the library to check out as many as possible.

In middle school, the suggested summer reading list shrunk, but attached was a letter explaining that anyone who read over the summer and completed a five-paragraph book report would earn extra credit on their English grade. But in high school, there was no longer the word “suggested” before summer reading. Each grade was given a choice of two or three books along with the warning that there would be a test given the first week of school. The books were usually boring, but I always got through them (although I will always remember struggling through both the text and the test of Robert Peck’s A Day No Pigs Would Die).

Currently, there are thousands of students out there who don’t have structured summer reading programs of any kind. During vacations, many students fall into what is known as the “summer slide”; without schools, many students lose access to books and therefore go at least two months without using their reading, writing, and comprehension skills. Although it’s common for students to snap back into the routine once the new school year begins, research shows that much of the reading achievement gap in high school results from unbalanced access to opportunities for summer learning.

With recent budget cuts to libraries and summer school programs, it’s difficult to find ways to keep kids learning when school isn’t in session. Public libraries often have excellent summer reading programs that include reading discussion groups, storytelling, music, performances, and other creative ways to get kids thinking during the summer. As a native New Yorker, I’m familiar with Summer Reading at New York Libraries, which is a program that brought over one million children and teens to libraries in 2008 and 2009. Programs like this, ones that instill a love of reading and learning in children that doesn’t disappear once the calendar flips to June, are becoming more and more important. Instituting structured year-round learning, even if it isn’t in schools, is necessary for ensuring that all kids grow up to have bright futures.

Monday, August 8, 2011

As State Revenues Decrease, Class Sizes Increase

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

The dip in the U.S. economy is having an effect on class sizes. As state revenues go down, the number of students in an average classroom is going up. As a result, classrooms across the country will be more crowded when school starts in the fall. A recent survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that 44 percent of school districts expected to increase class size.

For the 2009-2010 school year, classes in Los Angeles are expected to grow by two students in 4th through 12th grades. Middle school classes will have 35 students on average; juniors and seniors will have about 43 students in each class. Kindergarten through 3rd-grade classes will rise by four students to 24.

Very large classes can keep teachers from teaching because their time is spent keeping order. Crowded classrooms also increase the chance that struggling students may fall through the cracks. There is evidence that being in small classes early on improves a student's chance of graduating from high school or taking the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.

As a former teacher, research and statistics meant very little to me when I had 31 second graders who needed to learn how to read. I had to manage my classroom and give as much time as possible so I could work with every child every day. It is no small task, especially with today’s classrooms where teachers are expected to do so much more than just teach the 3 Rs. Many publishers are making classroom management procedures a significant part of the teacher materials to help teachers effectively manage the learning environment. At PSG, we take care in creating effective teacher materials. Your clients are OUR clients, too.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Studying Abroad in an Uncertain World

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

Natural disasters, terrorism, political upheaval: all things that continue to populate our newspapers and telecasts each day. Areas where these situations are most prevalent are often referred to as “hot spots,” and are often avoided by tourists, who take their cameras and guidebooks to tamer nations.

But for the thousands of American students studying abroad in hot spot countries when tragedy strikes, they have the often-difficult decision of choosing between retreating to the safety of their home soil or staying among the tough times to witness history and receive an education they hadn’t planned on.

After the September 11th attacks, the Institute of International Education predicted that enrollment in study abroad programs in Islamic nations would decline. However, between 2002 and 2006, it actually rose 127 percent. In early 2011, when the State Department issued an advisory of non-essential travel to Egypt, the American University in Cairo suspended its program. But many of the 325 American students asked to stay to witness history first-hand.

Obviously the risks in these situations are high, but do they equal the rewards? Students studying in Islamic countries in a post-9/11 world are able to see the effects of terrorism on nations outside of the US and also learn about a culture that has developed many misconceptions about America. Those who were in Egypt around the time of the revolution saw the power of the people and how anyone can inspire change. And more recently, students studying in Japan when the tsunami hit learned disaster prevention, protocol, and recovery. These are the kinds of lessons that cannot be taught from a textbook or in a classroom.

That’s not to say that all students should put themselves at risk in order to be present at these historical events. But sometimes, it can be hard to speak about these important and complex situations without having had any actual experience living in them. It’s important that study abroad programs continue for college students so that they can expand their learning to not only outside the classroom, but outside the nation as well.

Monday, August 1, 2011

New 21st Century Skills Guide

By Lori Becker, President & CEO

I was reading eSchool News recently and ran across an article that said the new 21st Century skills guide is available. It hasn’t been updated for six years, so it might be worth getting a copy to scan to see what the Partnership for 21st Century Skills organization views as relevant changes.

A revision worth noting in the guide is the Self-Assessment Tool which helps districts evaluate where they are today and set a plan for the integration of 21st century skills into their curricula. This will be a valuable tool for school districts to take into account students’ knowledge and skills as well as education support systems and other factors for continuous improvement.

As you are finalizing your publishing plan for next year, remember that PSG can help you develop content around state or national frameworks. Our team of professionals is experienced at creating programs to meet any curriculum requirements.