Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Listen and Read

Listen and Read
by Gabby Balza, Fall 2012 Intern

“Pick out any book you want.” These are the words my preschool tutor said to me when I was seven years old and still couldn’t read. My mom had already tried everything: flashcards, bedtime stories and several programs promising increased literacy in young children. But all of them ended with me sitting on the floor still trying to pronounce banana while flashcards and magnets containing different vowels and consonants covered my body. Luckily, working with a tutor was the last stop before reading became less of a struggle and more of a favorite pastime for me. When I look back on the differences in teaching methods between the failed and successful attempts at my literacy, I can’t help but think of all the techniques that my tutor used with me involving audio and video, helping me to understand the story—not just isolated words on a flashcard. We’d sit there in front of each Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bear book. My tutor would point to every word while I looked at the corresponding picture; she repeated each sentence three times, after which I mimicked it all back to her. Instead of flashcards sticking to my body, I now had the words actually sticking in my mind. The techniques my tutor used with me remind me of the ones used by Scholastic’s Listen and Read program and Disney’s Digital Books to help improve the reading skills of students.

Both of these products take advantage of different sensory techniques normally used by people to obtain information. Scholastic’s Listen and Read program provides photographs pertaining to the topic of each book, allowing children the opportunity to see cultural artifacts such as a hogan, which is a Navajo house made of mud and wood. The Disney Digital Books program utilizes illustrations on each page to help children visualize the characters and events taking place within a story. At the end of these books there are interactive games that pertain to each story, giving children the chance to engage with the text. Since both products cater to children’s visual needs, they allow children to experience the story environments in a more enhanced fashion.

Audio components also play a role in these products. Disney Digital Books provide recordings of the stories in multiple languages. The books also integrate musical scores from movies, such as the The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata,” helping children to immerse themselves in the tone of the story while stimulating their creativity. Listen and Read also provides recordings for each story, a feature enabled when children click the LISTEN button on each page. This option provides an opportunity for children to listen to vocabulary as often as they need.

For young readers, these different visual and audio components are what can help a text become more than just words on a page. Being able to picture, hear and imagine the stories help children think of reading as an experience rather than an obstacle. They can go on a journey with the characters and events, and with different modes of accessibility, children can follow along whether at home on a computer or on the bus ride to school with a tablet. 
Further Reading:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Freshmen in Brooklyn Already on the Career Path

Freshmen in Brooklyn Already on the Career Path

by Rose Pleuler

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn entered its second year this September, touting a unique six-year program that goes from grade 9 through grade 14, after which students graduate with an associate’s degree. The initiative began in September 2011 to develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in students to better prepare them for the job market. In this program, students pursue a degree in either applied science in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering technology. Interest has grown remarkably since the program’s inception; in September of 2012, there were 600 applicants, six times the amount that applied last fall. The benefits of the program—namely, a financially feasible opportunity for a useful degree straight out of high school—is obvious to New York City families.

The program was developed in partnership with IBM, and the relationship between the school and the company is ongoing. The curriculum of the school has been developed with consultants from IBM with the desired skills of its employees in mind. From there, IBM employees helped train teachers in the curriculum and even became directly involved in students’ education through a mentorship program. By developing the program this way and providing students with positive relationships, the likelihood of a job prospect at IBM or a similar company is hugely increased. And the fiscal benefit is undeniable, especially to the students themselves: “It’s giving me the opportunity of getting my college degree without having to pay for it,” says Lamar Agard, a freshman in the program.

P-TECH is an opportunity for students who learn by doing. According to Stephen F. Hamilton, professor of human development at Cornell University, some students learn best when they are able to answer, “ ‘What does this mean? Why am I doing this?’ ” Much of the P-TECH curricula strives to answer those questions. In the program there is an emphasis to develop STEM skills, which Stanley S. Litow, president of IBM’s International Foundation, deems to be invaluable: “Because that is the problem. Too few kids have these skills.” Additionally, students develop skills in workplace learning, critical thinking and presentation skills, which even trickle down to students’ self-imposed dress codes. Some students come to school wearing ties and carrying briefcases, mindful of appearing business-like to future employers.

This program and the ones like it nationwide are not simply the difference between a low-wage job and a middle-class job—although that remarkable benefit should not be overlooked. Students at P-TECH also have big ideas for their future. These students have dream careers in mind: technology law, cardiac surgery and health technology, to name a few. The development of critical skills and the acquisition of an associate’s degree certainly put students on the path to their goals.

Further Reading

“At Technology High School, Goal isn’t to Finish in 4 Years,” The New York Times, accessed November 19, 2012,

Early College High School Initiative, accessed November 19, 2012,

“Julia Steiny: When a School Makes Itself Useful to Business,”, accessed November 19, 2012,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Students Performing Better in a Responsive Classroom

Students Performing Better in a Responsive Classroom

by Eileen Neary, Intern Fall 2012

Elementary schools are saying, “Class dismissed!” to traditional lectures. The Responsive Classroom approach, a teaching technique promoting social–emotional learning strategies, was discussed this past fall at a meeting that the Society for Research on Education Effectiveness (SREE) hosted. The study, funded by the US Department of Education and conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia, found that fifth graders who were taught with the Responsive Classroom approach received higher scores on state assessments than their peers who were not taught this way. Over 2,900 students were followed in this study from second grade through fifth grade.

The Northeast Foundation for Children (NEFC), a nonprofit organization established by elementary school teachers, developed the Responsive Classroom approach in 1981; it is built upon the idea that children learn best when their social–emotional skills are developed along with their academic skills. The Responsive Classroom approach has been introduced to hundreds of schools since its start three decades ago, and, as the approach’s success grows, approximately 6,000 teachers each year attend its training workshops.

The Responsive Classroom approach is made up of ten components used in the classroom: Morning Meetings, Rule Creation, Interactive Modeling, Positive Teacher Language, Logical Consequences, Guided Discovery, Academic Choice, Classroom Organization, Working with Families and Collaborative Problem-Solving. These components help teachers use more positive language with their students and encourage collaboration with other teachers. Students in a Responsive Learning classroom receive more freedom to create classroom rules and practice self-discipline. To cater to their independence and creativity, students are given choices between different assignment activities.

The US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) were impressed by success of the Responsive Classroom approach and gave nearly $3 million toward a follow-up study on the efficacy of the program. According to, in addition to students receiving higher scores on state assessments, they have also shown “…increased academic achievement, decreased problem behaviors, and improved social skills.” Teachers, feeling more capable and optimistic about their teaching through the approach, are able to offer higher-quality instruction.

Gretchen Bukowick, a director at the NEFC, is excited by the positive results. “This helps us put some evidence behind what we believe,” she says. “Academic, social, and emotional learning all go hand in hand.” Lora Hodges, the executive director at NEFC, is especially enthusiastic that the study has proven what she believes: The Responsive Classroom approach helps “…districts and schools achieve their dual aims of increasing teacher effectiveness and improving student performance.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Your Librarian is a Superhero

Your Librarian is a Superhero

by Rose Pleuler, Intern Fall 2012

Question everything is a principle to live by—and to learn by. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) promote inquiry-based education, thrusting students into a hands-on relationship with their education. This is a great power and responsibility, but luckily the students have help. Every school has a secret resource, trained to support students and teachers alike. Who is this mysterious superhero? The school librarian, of course.

The librarian is a resource to teachers and students alike. Librarians help teachers find primary sources and high-quality reading that will engage students in their coursework. Often certified teachers themselves, librarians have the skills to help create uniquely enriching curricula. In fact, this educational model encourages creativity and innovation in instructors, according to Marcia Mardis, assistant professor of communication and information at Florida State University. Ms. Mardis, also a former librarian and educational digital library director, maintains that the relationship between teacher and librarian becomes one of “two creative partners working together.” Teachers can create an engaging classroom environment with help from librarians and their various resources.

Librarians and teachers work together to build a curriculum that will invigorate the minds of students and provoke questions: This is the intention driving inquiry-based educational models. Students should generate questions that will enrich their understanding of the topic. Questions should be researchable and indicate a complex inquiry. “If your assignment can be answered on Google, it’s void of higher-level thought,” says Paige Jaeger, who manages 84 school libraries in the Saratoga Springs, New York, area. The journey to an answer can be as educational as the answer itself: Instead of learning the properties or the names of the planets in the solar system, students could ask, Why isn’t Pluto a planet? This is a complex question that encourages students to dig deeper.

Then begins the exploration. The student must investigate, evaluate and analyze—important CCSS verbs—and librarians know how to connect the students to the sources of their inquiry. Librarians have knowledge of an entire school’s curricula, and they can help students learn the cross-disciplinary impact of their inquiry. This type of education teaches students that life is complicated but also connected. An educational system can be connected too, when supported by the superpowers of the school librarian.

Further Reading

“Common Core Thrusts Librarians into Leadership Role,” Education Week, accessed November 19, 2012,

“Finding Resources with Your School Librarian,” website of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), accessed November 19, 2012,

“Common Core Verbs,” Instructional Coach Corner, accessed November 19, 2012,

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wonderland in Wales

Wonderland in Wales

by Eileen Neary, Intern Fall 2012

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains popular nearly 150 years after its first publication; in addition to the 2010 blockbuster movie starring Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp, over twenty other film adaptations exist, as well as numerous children’s shows, collectibles, comic books, musicals, ballets, operas and more. What many don’t know is that Alice Liddell, the inspiration for main character Alice, seasonally vacationed in Llandudno, Wales, with her parents, sisters and governess.

Llandudno is a bustling seaside resort about three hours from London via rail. The Liddell’s vacation home, “Penmorfa,” became a tourist attraction following the fame of Carroll’s book, and in 1965 was renovated as the Gogarth Abbey Hotel. Though the hotel was demolished amid public outcry in 2008, Llandudno continues to incorporate Alice in Wonderland-themed culture into the area; there are current plans to unveil a walking trail in 2013 with statues and interactive technology along its 35 points of interest.

Muriel and Murray Ratcliffe, long-time residents of Llandudno, installed a Rabbit Hole attraction and gift shop in 1987, featuring life-size characters in scenes from the book. In addition to purchasing the Rabbit Hole content from the Ratcliffes, the two directors of Alice in Wonderland Ltd., Barry Mortlock and Simon Burrows, have decided to revive Alice’s tale with new attractions in honor of the story’s 150th anniversary. Mortlock believes honoring Alice Liddell is important to Wales; Alice is “…a Llandudno celebrity, having graced our shores with her presence. Her story needs to be told to the world and remembered.”

These two directors aided in the remodel of several locations, such as a coffee shop, which will be Wonderland themed. In May 2012, four wooden sculptures of main characters were unveiled, as well as a giant flower clock and a bandstand. “Alice Day” was celebrated that May on what would have been her 160th birthday. It included a tea party, parade and tart-eating contest.

As Barry Mortlock says, the story of Alice “…takes us into a different dimension; it stimulates, feeds and drives the imagination.” And it’s looking like it will for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There and Back Again: 75 Years of The Hobbit

There and Back Again: 75 Years of The Hobbit

by Rose Pleuler, Intern Fall 2012

In the third grade my understanding of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien boiled down to a shoebox diorama of Smaug the dragon sitting on his pile of treasure. At nine years old, I had no idea of the enduring success of this epic tale and the trilogy it spawned. Back then I was busy imagining a courageous hobbit, a bunch of dwarves and a greedy dragon. Now that I’m older with more knowledge of the book and its history, I’ve come to realize that it’s amazing to consider the profound importance of this book on the fantasy genre and on literature.

September 21, 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of the first publication of The Hobbit. The book had a press run of 1,500 copies in 1937; today, the book has sold over 100 million copies in more than 50 languages worldwide. Furthermore, the first installation of a film adaptation trilogy will hit movies theatres on December 14, 2012. The Hobbit has also spawned many critical works, from chapter-by-chapter analyses, to exploration of the map of Middle-earth, to philosophical interpretations and discussions. The Hobbit is a rich text that warrants a great deal of intellectual investigation, for it has also shaped our reception of the fantasy genre today.

The fantasy landscape Tolkien conjures in his works has become the model for much of contemporary fantasy fiction, including media such as role-playing games (RPGs), television, movies and video games. Our visions of creatures such as elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins and dragons—not to mention hobbits and orcs—are due to Tolkien. The landscape of Middle-earth is reimagined countless times in modern fantasy, and other fantasy epics popular today may never have fully achieved success without the paving force of The Hobbit.

Beyond that, the academic merit and commercial success of the franchise is because it’s just a good book—one that my third grade self was enthralled with but any adult will find just as enthralling. The Hobbit is rooted deeply in myth, lore and legend, and it’s filled with riddles and songs. It’s a story about good and evil and overcoming the odds, as Bilbo is truly just “a little fellow in a wide world.” Above all, The Hobbit urges us to find courage within ourselves. And that’s the message that resonates with us still, 75 years later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Role Playing in the Classroom

Role Playing in the Classroom: A New Technique to Teaching

by Gabriella Balza, Intern Fall 2012

It’s 8 a.m. and you’re teaching to a room packed with 60 students. Most of them are hiding in the back with slumped bodies and eyes that you still haven’t made contact with because they’re nearly closed. As you try to engage them in talk that they’re not even going to remember about a war or scientific discovery, some of the students are drawing comic strips or unappealing caricatures of your face in notebooks that have become sketchpads. A few will appear to look at you because the clock is right behind you, but secretly, they’re hoping that if they stare at it a little longer, the next hour will suddenly dissipate to five minutes.

In settings like this, some students who are not interested in the class subject or have difficulty understanding the lesson might tune out. Because of this concern, more and more teachers are changing their approach to help these students become more engaged during class. Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is one method that has been introduced by Barnard College. RTTP is a role-playing game that allows students to become scientists, astronomers or historians in the classroom. This game demonstrates the process of reaching a conclusion and introduces the concept of scientific progress to students by permitting them to assume the role of historical figures. By allowing students to debate on topic matters from their viewpoints and interpretations, they are forming a connection with the topic at hand. As debates and discussions on whether Pluto is a planet or not keep going, students playing on their strengths of communication, persuasion or analysis become not only interested but passionate about the material. Suddenly, the frequently asked question, “How does this relate to me?” becomes answered.

Instructors seem to agree that this new approach to teaching is refreshing, since it allows a teacher to be “. . . more of a coach and less a dispenser of information,” as Taz Daughtrey, a lecturer at James Madison University, puts it. The different components of interacting with the subject matter seem to not only engage students who are tired of long lecture classes, but also add a new mix to the traditional teaching techniques many instructors have felt boxed into.

Although met with high praise, the RTTP method does face some challenges. Since the game requires students to come into a character, often times this new persona is one that a student does not agree with. Also, introverts might prefer a lecture class, since they may struggle with coming into character. Either way, this new method seems to be helping some students keep their heads off their desks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Math Class Goes First Class

Math Class Goes First Class

by Eileen Neary, Intern Fall 2012

Back when I was in middle school, some fancy Texas Instruments 83 calculators were purchased for our math classes. The best thing about these calculators was that they had a bigger screen than other calculators along with a keyboard setting. Naturally, my friends and I spent more time passing notes on our calculators than we did graphing functions. Today, math students at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California, are using the technology in their classrooms in a much more focused way than my classmates and I did.

Six years ago, sixth grade teacher Eric Marcos, a graduate of Boston College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, helped a student with a math problem. He sent her a quick video from home that he made on his tablet PC demonstrating how to solve the equation. The student was enthusiastic about the idea of learning through video format and asked to borrow the device to make her own tutorial video, or “screencast.” Her peers quickly caught on and started making their own math videos with the tablet PC. Using assumed names, they posted their screencasts to a website created by Mr. Marcos as a way to share their work with their peers. The Mathtrain Project was born.

Today, students in Eric Marcos’s math classes continue to use various brands of computer tablets, including iPads, to create tutorials. Students can record their handwriting with the stylus, a touch-screen digital pen, to demonstrate how to solve an equation. Several of Marcos’s students have even been flown out with their families to present the Mathtrain Project at big-name educational conferences such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and Building Learning Communities (BLC).

Eric Marcos had an idea: “If you give kids a little bit of trust and let them try out some stuff, they’re going to come up with fascinating things that will surprise you.” It’s safe to say that with over 500,000 views from students all around the world, his kids-teaching-kids Mathtrain Project is a profound success. Nearly all the videos for the free and nonprofit project are student-authored, and also available via YouTube as well as in podcast form. For more information on Mr. Marcos’s work and the Mathtrain project, see

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Exploring the World Through Tablets

 Exploring the World Through Tablets

by Rose Pleuler, Intern Fall 2012

Tablets are used in many classrooms today, as they can put a number of highly effective learning resources literally at students’ fingertips. The versatility and mobility of the device allows it to supplement most educational environments. Tablets can provide access to global content, allowing teachers to show students on a more interactive level the content of their lessons—perhaps a history teacher can pull up an audiovisual clip of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream“ speech, rather than have students read the text from a book. A student can also share and create content of his or her own, such as a web-based book report or a video tutorial.

However, the tablet can be used as more than just lesson supplement. Consider the tablet’s built-in camera. With each reimagining of the tablet, the camera is finessed into a more sophisticated medium than before. Because the quality of the camera is so good, some classroom innovators are attaching magnifiers and microscopes to tablets. You can magnify an image up to 20 times larger on a tablet and still yield great photo quality. Mini-microscopes can accurately enhance pictures up to 40 times larger! This is an exciting and effective tool for the classroom.

Using the tablet as a microscope, magnifier—or as any tool, for that matter—allows students to interact directly with the environment and also encourages students to explore. Instead of showing students a picture of what a hair follicle looks like, students can investigate on their own. This hands-on experience in the classroom, where interactivity was previously confined to the lab environment, is invaluable.

The inspiration of the tablet resource when used with magnifiers and microscopes demonstrates how we may choose to investigate the world around us. Embracing the tablet in the classroom is a fantastic opportunity for students to connect hands-on exploration, academic enthusiasm and the important technologies of the now and future.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Transition Away from Standard Classroom Learning

The Transition Away from Standard Classroom Learning

by Holly Spicer, Intern Summer 2012

In a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on technology and the Internet, it should not come as a surprise when parts of our lives that we take for granted become more computer based. When I was in elementary and middle school, I used computers only for very basic things, such as games and word processing, and I hardly used our dial-up Internet access. Today, there are high school and college programs taken entirely online, a concept I never could have imagined.

According to a recent Education News article, in the year 2000 only about forty-five thousand K–12 students took online courses. But in 2010 participation rose to close to four million, showing just how rapidly this teaching technique is growing. Even in standard classrooms, teachers and administrators are moving toward an online approach to learning. The Los Altos School District in California has begun using a technique called blended-learning that incorporates online lessons into standard classroom teaching: fifth through seventh grade math classes in Los Altos combine online courses with traditional classroom learning. The blended-learning style still involves teachers in the learning process, but these online programs are able to target differences in students’ learning styles to help the individual needs of students and to reward their improvements.

Online classes and schools are certainly causing a major change in public education as we know it and will continue to do so. I am part of a generation that has grown up with in-school classroom learning, and while it is hard to imagine from a traditional college perspective, the shift toward more Internet usage in learning is already taking place. It will be difficult to ever turn completely away from classroom learning, but it will be interesting to see the developments in these methods as they continue to gain popularity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Changing The MCAT

Will Changing the MCAT Create Better Doctors?
by Jordan Newell, Intern Summer 2012
One of my most powerful memories from my childhood is of going to the doctor for my preschool checkup, where a nurse pricked my finger for a blood test. The room was cold, the nurse was less than friendly, and I have since developed an intense fear of medical professionals. An article in The New York Times reports that I am not alone in my feelings: recent surveys have shown that many people feel uncomfortable interacting with physicians. Many patients feel the medical world is driven by technology, and the patient’s thoughts and feelings tend to get ignored. But can a change in medical education help improve doctor–patient relationships? The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) thinks it just might.
A revision of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is in the works, and the new exam is projected to include two new sections that span nearly half of the exam. One section will cover social and behavioral sciences, while the second will focus on critical analysis and reading. This section will test students’ ability to analyze passages covering subjects such as ethics and cross-cultural studies. The new MCAT, to be administered for the first time in 2015, is an attempt to restore bedside skills to the medical profession.
Given the changes that the MCAT will undergo, it is becoming more common for medical schools to require students to take classes on interviewing and communication techniques in an effort to create a more holistic admissions process. The New York Times article reports that classes once largely populated by social science majors have had an extreme increase in enrollment by premed students.
The first few years following this change, which will alter the premed educational system, will likely have a few hiccups and require further adjustments. It is my hope, however, that implementing these new requirements will allow for better doctor–patient communication. Barrell G. Kirch, president of the AAMC, states, “The goal is to improve the admission process to find the people you and I would want as our doctors.” And that is something I look forward to.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Actor! Actor! . . . Author? Author?

Actor! Actor! . . . Author? Author?

by Kate Carroll

Actors turned singers, turned models, turned . . . authors? There are several names in Hollywood that have become associated with the world of literature, including well-known actors such as Steve Martin, Woody Allen, Carrie Fisher and, as a previous blog on this topic covered, Julie Andrews. Working at a bookstore has allowed me to discover a fair share of actor-authors, some presumably for PR purposes, but also many who actually work at the craft. Here are a few I was surprised to find have picked up a pen in between sets.

Viggo Mortensen: He’s played a horse whisperer, epically fought to protect a ring and is a published poet. Add artist, photographer and polyglot who is fluent in Spanish and Danish to his resume, and what can’t he do? Mortensen writes in all three languages and enjoys mixed media art, often combining his poetry with music. His book Coincidence of Memory, published in 2002, contains a mixture of nearly 25 years of his work.

Hugh Laurie: The world loves his bitter, sarcastic humor, so it should be no surprise that his 1996 novel The Gun Seller sold very well, resulting in even a few international printings. Fans long hoped for a sequel, which he finished over a decade later, but the title has yet to be released. Laurie has been praised for his ability to translate his on-screen comic genius into the novel format.

James Franco: I was very surprised when his short story collection, Palo Alto, came out in 2010. Some agree that this collection is a decent first try, but most believe Franco tries too hard to impress us with his stylistic choices, abandoning his characters along the way. Franco has also been published in Ploughshares, a literary magazine based at my alma mater, Emerson College. I read the entry “The Deer” at work one day; it wasn’t exactly my taste, but I respect someone who can bring to life both a trapped climber on screen and a troubled teen on page. Franco is currently pursuing his PhD in English from Yale.

Other names that might come as surprises when found on book covers include Chuck Norris, Julie Walters, Macaulay Culkin and John Travolta. Next time you’re in a bookstore, keep an eye out for some familiar names—odds are they’ll be set in larger text than the title.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Effects of Childhood Obesity on Academic Performance

Effects of Childhood Obesity on Academic Performance

by Emily Sinclair

While health problems have been the major concern of recent studies in childhood obesity, new issues have begun to surface. Several research teams have come to the general conclusion that obese students, particularly girls, are more likely to achieve lower test scores or be held back a grade and are less likely to go on to college than peers at a healthier weight. Sara Gable, PhD, took this correlation one step further and conducted a more focused, long-term study that followed 6,250 children from kindergarten through fifth grade. Her results, recently published in the medical journal Child Development, found that obese children scored consistently lower on math tests than nonobese children, even after researchers factored in outside variables that may have been affecting the children’s test scores, such as family income, race, mother’s education level/career status and parents’ expectations.

While the link between obesity and lower test scores may appear to be a straightforward cause-and-effect situation, childhood obesity experts think that it may be a more complicated case than it appears. In 2011, Rebecca London, PhD, focused on overall physical fitness by including body mass index (BMI), strength and endurance; Dr. London found that the combination was a much better indicator of academic performance than BMI alone. Self-perception also plays a role; those children who think themselves overweight or have low self-esteem due to their weight experience greater academic issues. Dr. London concluded that social skills and emotional well-being are part of the core issue of obese children performing poorly in school.

Whether it’s the effect of psychosocial issues caused by obesity or the myriad of health problems that can accompany it, childhood obesity clearly plays a negative role in certain students’ academic experiences. However, there certainly are options for schools to make healthy changes to deal with this issue. Dr. London suggests a change in mindset; academia and health need to be thought of as existing in the same realm, rather than as two separate entities. In recent years, schools have been trying to focus primarily on improving academic performance without looking at the larger picture.

Physical education and activity play a huge role in a child’s ability to learn and perform well, and if those areas are focused on, it’s easy to imagine that academic performance will improve as a result. Not only will increased attention towards exercise and physical education help with national test results, it will help overweight children learn how to be healthy again and eliminate the emotional and physical problems faced by obese children. In the end, that’s a goal worth striving for. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Parents Prefer Paper

Parents Prefer Paper

by Jordan Newell, Intern Summer 2012

I have often been called a bookworm, and I’m proud of it. I love the smell and feel of a book—I’ve spent many years building up my personal library. When I first heard about the e-book, I thought it was neat, but not something I would ever rely on. There is just something about the experience of a print-on-paper book that doesn’t translate into electronic format. And that’s coming from an adult audience; what about children’s books? How is anyone supposed to enjoy a pop-up book using a Nook or a Kindle?

Sales of e-books of children’s titles have hardly changed. Even if they are avid readers of e-books, many parents, according to The New York Times, prefer their children to have paper books. This preference is based on the learning experience parents want for their children. Books are very popular gifts, and parents often flip through an entire book at the store before purchasing it for their child, something that is not always possible when shopping online. Because children’s books are known to be vibrantly colorful and sometimes fun shapes, there is much speculation on the ability to adapt their designs to electronic devices. The New York Times quotes Junko Yokota, the director for the Center For Teaching Through Children’s Books at National Louis University in Chicago: “[Designs] become part of the emotional experience, the intellectual experience. There’s a lot you can’t standardize and stick into an electronic format.”

Not to mention, I wouldn’t trust my six-year-old cousin with my new iPad. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t trust her with a hard copy of my favorite Harry Potter novel either, but I would feel safer knowing the book was easier to replace than an expensive device. My iPad is also a different form of entertainment to my cousin; she associates it with the games I help her play. I doubt she’d really be able to focus on reading when she knows which button will let her play her favorite game. So for now, it seems, the children’s book market will continue to enjoy the advantages of ink on paper while the parents can hold on to their gadgets for a little while longer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Leading Higher Education Technology

Technion-Cornell Goes for the Lead in Higher Education Technology

by Holly Spicer, Intern Summer 2012

In keeping up with the fast-paced growth of the technology industry, New York City is fighting to establish itself as the technological center of the world. Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently began a $2 billion plan for a new tech school in the city, whose first stages were a competition between 17 of the world’s top universities. The winners, Cornell University and Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, will build and operate CornellNYC Tech Campus, a brand-new, high-tech graduate school on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by a Cornell alumnus, has donated $350 million to help build the new school.

Education News reports that Bloomberg’s project proposes to stimulate 20,000 construction jobs and inspire approximately 600 new businesses, creating even more jobs. In addition, the city will gain $1.4 billion in tax revenue. The new graduate school is also projected to provide education in math and science for 10,000 children in New York City, enhancing existing programs, as well as working closely with PS/IS 217 and the Child School, the two elementary schools already located on Roosevelt Island.
Google has agreed to host Cornell in its New York offices during construction until Phase I of the project’s construction on Roosevelt Island is complete in 2017. Cornell and Technion will use some of the newest technology in the world to create their buildings. The first building, the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute (TCII), will be “the largest net-zero energy building in [the] eastern United States—meaning it will harvest as much energy from solar power and geothermal wells as it consumes on an annual basis,” according to a Cornell University press release.

In terms of education, TCII will offer to master’s degree candidates their choice of three specialties or “hubs”: digital media in the networked age; medical informatics and devices; and smart buildings, urban environments and infrastructures. With the way technology continues to rapidly improve, new schools like the Technion-Cornell project will keep cropping up, and there are potential plans for other universities to create second campuses in New York City for tech-savvy students who pursue specialized degrees such as these.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Flipped Classroom

by Colleen Joyce, Project Manager

I have mostly fond memories of school, but one not-so-fond memory is the frustration I would feel trying to complete my math homework. I never had a problem in other classes, but math—almost any kind of math—always eluded me. I would pay attention in class as the teacher explained how to do something in geometry or calculus, and sometimes I would even think I understood the concept at the time. But as I sat down that evening to complete my homework, it almost never failed that the process of arriving at the correct answers would escape me. My frustration would often result in giving up. Now the idea of “lecture in class, practice at home” is being turned on its head. And it all happened kind of by accident.

In 2004, Salman Khan began posting videos on YouTube to help his cousin who was struggling to learn algebra. Other students found Khan’s videos and started watching them. Similarly, in 2007, teachers Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams began to record their lectures and post them online for students. Soon these online lectures started spreading, and the two realized they were on to something. Bergman and Sams began talking to other schools about their methods, and Sal Khan caught the attention of Bill Gates, which gave birth to Khan Academy.

Today, the flipped classroom is being piloted in many schools across the country. Students watch lectures at home about a particular skill, after which skills practice takes place in the classroom aided by a teacher. Clintondale High School near Detroit adopted the model with great success. Before the program, over 50% of freshmen failed English and 44% failed math. After instituting the flipped classroom, the rates dropped to 19% and 13%, respectively. Another by-product of the model was that discipline cases dropped from 736 to 249.

Some experts aren’t sure if the flipped classroom is the model of the future its proponents purport it to be. Ramsey Musallam, writing for Edutopia, addresses some of the criticisms: “Critics . . . argue that online instruction puts students that lack Internet access at a disadvantage. Moreover, . . . lecture is still a poor mode of information transfer.” But Salman Khan has a different take on it: “They could . . . pause and repeat the lectures without worrying that they were wasting my time. They could review topics from previous sessions without feeling embarrassed, and they could tackle new topics without the stress of someone watching over or judging them.”

I cannot go back in time and find out if the flipped classroom model would have ended my math homework frustration, but this concept that is gaining popularity sure is intriguing.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

German Speakers in America

Where Have All the German Speakers Gone?

by Kate Carroll, Editorial Assistant

Last year when I studied abroad in the Netherlands, learning a few Dutch phrases became necessary for survival. (How can you buy cookies at the local supermarket without being able to thank the cashier with a dank u wel?) What I didn’t expect to learn was that German held a stake in the origins of not only the Dutch language, but English as well. I knew nothing (nichts!) about German’s influence on my own language, and even less about German itself.

But in the past few years, high school students have held an attitude similar to mine; the US Department of Education found in 2008 that only 14 percent of American high schools offered German as a part of their curriculum.  This decline in interest in the German language has increased over the past several years, beginning after a surge of popularity born from the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Why, since then, has interest in learning German decreased? The German government hired two men, Dr. Michael Legutke and Dr. Daniel S. Hamilton, to discover the answer and aid the country in establishing German as a relevant language in the United States. The researchers came to a common conclusion: The United States is now a more multicultural society. Typically, German is spoken by white males—Drs. Legutke and Hamilton found that of 1,424 interviewed German teachers, 96% were white, and 40% were over the age of 50. This influences the rate of learning because students learn best when they can relate to their teachers. The going thought among students seems to be: Why learn a language only spoken by Germans and older people who are perceived to not represent their interests?

In terms of utility, the disinterest makes sense. As our world seems to be getting smaller and smaller, inching its way towards a global community, which languages will be primarily spoken? Already we can see the use for certain languages—English, of course, but Spanish can also be heard nearly anywhere; French is more widespread than German; and American classrooms are following a trend of teaching Mandarin due to China’s close economic ties and influence upon the United States. Somewhere in the process, German has taken a backseat.

The goal of the German government is clear: to increase the amount of people, particularly Americans, who speak their language. Social interest cannot be forced, so how can they do it? Perhaps trips to Germany to provide a closer look at the culture? Personally, I find the most appeal in the nostalgia angle. Latin is now a “dead” language in terms of speech, so let’s trace another one of our roots. After all, if it weren’t for German’s influence on the English language, what on Earth would we call a hamburger?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

STEM's New Reputation

STEM's New Reputation

by Alyssa Guarino, Jr. Project Manager & Editorial Assistant

When I was in fourth grade, I struggled with simple long division. So, I got a tutor: my second-grade brother, Mike. The most important thing that he taught me was that good communication is the key to breaking down any challenging concept. This led me to pursue a minor in science along with my writing degree, because I’ve learned that specialists often have difficulty communicating their skills and ideas.
It was no surprise when Mike was accepted to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) where he currently studies mechanical engineering. After his matriculation, I learned that Mike’s education is considerably advantageous compared to many of his peers’ similar programs. Like Mike, I am interested in science, but I strayed from pursuing a science degree because of an assumption about STEM—that is, science, technology, engineering, and math—held by many of my own peers. STEM has had the reputation that programs in the physical sciences and mathematics are not only memorization driven, but lecture based until at least the third year of college. The rigor of these courses, in conjunction with the lecture style and difficulty, leads to a high attrition rate in most undergraduate programs. It’s no surprise that many STEM majors drop their courses for something more discussion-based and creative, like English or political science.
This is hardly the reputation that college educators and President Obama—who has pushed STEM as a priority in postsecondary education in order to better compete with international engineering efforts—want, because it still strongly deters many prospective undergraduates. However, some schools have recognized that their “sink or swim” style of freshman STEM classes does more harm than good, and others are working hard to combat this with innovative and, frankly, fun STEM courses. Some schools, like Notre Dame and WPI, have taken a more project-based approach and found that not only do their programs get more interest, but students also seem more passionate in their classes. This also has the effect of pulling more women into the field—STEM is dominated by men in all areas but biology—and creating an environment focused on teamwork rather than individual competition. Notre Dame redesigned one of its freshman courses around four projects, which include work on Lego robots and electric circuits, as well as a student-designed project. At WPI, lectures exist for undergraduates, but they are supplemented with project-based courses and extensive lab time, allowing students to put their memorized facts and formulas to use. Additionally, the school has added optional first-year projects, giving students a chance to experience firsthand the work of upperclassmen; at the junior and senior level, students are required to complete social service projects that they must research, design, and execute.
The trend of adding design work is gaining popularity amongst state research universities, and even technical schools are urging students to pursue internships before they graduate. And some schools, like MIT and WPI, have adopted grading policies—like MIT’s freshmen system of only “pass” or “no record” grading—that diffuse pressure on students and encourage them to explore new paths. It’s my hope that more and more schools will pursue these avenues and add the creativity to STEM that it deserves.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Preparing Students for the “Real World”: Minnesota Updates Social Studies Standards

Preparing Students for the “Real World”: Minnesota Updates Social Studies Standards

by Emily Sinclair, Intern Summer 2012

In late 2011, after a year-long process involving careful analysis of national documents, reports and expert reviews, the Minnesota Social Studies Standards (MNSS) committee began to model their social studies curriculum after some of the most exemplary standards from other states. Public commentary was taken into account during this process. What resulted from their work is a new, broadened set of social studies standards with a shift in focus from American citizenship and history to a more global perspective, including skills that students will need in order to be prepared for college and their future careers. The standards feature grade-specific benchmarks from kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as a single band of benchmarks in grades 9–12.

Revision is always a work in progress, and as such, there have been some complaints that the social studies standards committee omitted key parts of American history. These include sections detailing late twentieth- and early twenty-first century politics that had been included in the 2004 standards. However, Minnesota’s review board feels that students need to be more socially prepared for a changing society that includes more and more international relations—in the business sector or elsewhere. The committee’s idea is to create a well-rounded student, an ideal shift that is also reflected in the national Common Core State Standards (CCSS), with its inclusion of history/social studies, science, and technical subjects standards. It is likely that all state standards will continue to expand in a similar fashion, creating students whose education takes on a more worldly perspective.

When comparing the new standards to the 2004 version, it appears that the new curriculum now covers a wider range of historical and social topics, including geotechnology and, in economics, personal finance. Overall, the 2012 standards place a heavy emphasis on global citizenship, college- and career-readiness, and concepts and skills that prepare students for life in an increasingly globally connected world. Throughout the new standards documentation, a colorful logo is placed on key pages, highlighting the chief concerns of the program: inquiry, critical thinking and problem solving. At the center of these ideals is the concept of communication as a means of preparing a young person for college or a future career. The hope is that each student will develop a complex idea of what citizenship is—on a local, national and global scale.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Changing Face of Summer School Programs

By Emily Sinclair, Summer 2012 Intern
Summer school. If there are two words in the English language that can instill dread in a young student, these are certainly strong contenders. Historically, summer school consists of remedial classes for those students who were not able to pass the first time they were enrolled in a particular course or grade level. What kid in their right mind would want to spend any of the warm, homework-free, fun-filled months of summer back in school?
In Minnesota, the Minneapolis School District is doing everything they can to change the perception that summer school is a punishment. Instead, they are changing the focus of their summer school program from one of remediation to one of enrichment; courses are offered not only for students who have failed classes and need to make them up, but also for students who want to get a head start and would like to take accredited elective courses.
The district’s Fast Track Scholars program is offered to any middle-school student who will be entering high school after the summer. Of the 11 classes offered, just three are remedial—algebra, science, and reading and writing—while the remaining eight courses are there for kids who want to earn high school credits in advance. Students are able to earn up to four elective credits during the six-week program. This year, 20% of the students who signed up are taking elective classes alone, while the other 80% are in a remedial course; in addition, most of that majority has chosen to take an elective course as well.
At present, data from the Minneapolis School District shows that 20% of its students fail to graduate from high school. Summer school program coordinator Elizabeth Bortke is hoping that the new approach to summer school will change that number; she believes that the extra credits earned over the summer will put students on track to graduate and help to eliminate feelings of slipping behind or becoming too overwhelmed with their school work. The district has the same hopes as Ms. Bortke, including plans to expand the program to include ninth and tenth grade students if more funding becomes available. 
The Fast Track Scholars program has been in place since 2010 and is seeing growing success—its enrollment rates have tripled to 600 voluntary participants when compared to the old program two years ago. Ideally, the school district hopes to see this number double once more to accommodate all of its students who could gain from the program.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Camping Out During Summer Break

By Jordan Newell, Summer 2012 Intern

veg out (v.) an activity characteristically defined by inactivity, often performed on a couch in front of a television; an activity associated with today’s youth culture, particularly during the summer months between school sessions.
After spending the summer in this state of inactivity, it is often difficult to recall and apply what was learned the previous school year. According to a recent piece on CNN’s Schools of Thought blog, students typically perform worse on standardized tests after summer break than before it. This phenomenon occurs because students often associate summer vacation with fun and relaxation away from school. Come fall, students have forgotten a large quantity of what they learned during the school year; for three months of summer, they are not using or building upon the knowledge gained in class.
But for me, summer break included camp; camps are a great way for students to continue learning between school sessions, and there is a program for just about any interest. A program in Denver, Summer Scholars, combines physical activity, teamwork, strategic thinking, and quick figure math problems while another program in New York, Harlem RBI, combines education and baseball.
Often, the children who attend these camps come from families who can easily afford the fees, equipment, books, and any other materials for their children’s activities.
These days, however, there are many ways that the summer months can be full of fun and learning (and good quality family time!) at little cost. Families can read together and play learning games online at or Don’t forget about local public libraries either. The Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) is a group of states that offers reading logs, posters, bookmarks, and certificates. Member libraries can provide low-cost reading activities for schoolchildren of any income level, keeping kids sharp and allowing for an environment that encourages learning. Libraries also have access to all sorts of learning materials, and many have new technologies available such as the Kindle or other e-readers for checkout to use with the e-books available on their websites.
Summer is a great time for both learning and vacation—why not check out the next book on your reading list and take it on the family trip to the beach?