Tuesday, January 31, 2012

3-D Lessons

By Jorge Cortes, Intern, Fall 2011

Is 3-D is the wave of the future? It seems like 3-D technology is taking over more and more of the 2-D world everyday. There are 3-D movie theaters, televisions and video games. People can even make their own 3-D movies with their phones or tablet computers and this trend is also making its way into the classroom.
Recently, the International Research Agency, lead by Professor Anne Bamford, commissioned pre- and post-testing on student groups throughout Europe to compare the difference in comprehension, information retention and overall behavior between students learning via traditional 2-D methods versus learning via 3-D projection.
The study itself involved 740 students (ages 10–13), 47 teachers and 15 schools across France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Sweden between December 2010 and May 2011. Throughout that time, the students were given the same tests to compare their own scores from the beginning of the experiment to the end. One group had 3-D elements integrated into the classroom, while the other one didn’t. The study also used 3-D projectors and glasses in an effort to immerse the students in the environment to determine if that helped them understand what they were learning.
The results were surprising. Here are a few of them:
• 86% of pupils improved from the pre-test to the post-test in the 3-D classes, compared to 52% who improved in the 2-D classes
• Individuals improved test scores by an average of 17% in the 3-D classes, compared to an 8% improvement in the 2-D classes between pre- and post-test
• 92% of students on average were attentive during 3-D lessons
• 46% of students on average were actively attentive during 2-D lessons
In addition to these results, many teachers noted that some of the usually shier students were more active in the 3-D classroom and more willing to participate. According to Bamford, “Across all of the schools involved in the study, 3-D shortened the time it took for students to learn concepts, increased their attention spans and resulted in overall deeper thinking from the students.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Should Schools Limit Internet Access?

By Tracy Brickman, Intern, Fall 2011

The debate over banning certain books, and even films, from being taught in schools is nothing new to the world of education. Recently, however, a new debate has been thrown into the mix—should schools, namely those at the high school level and below, have the power to ban (block) certain websites from being used within their walls? This year the American Association of School Librarians organized their first ever Banned Websites Awareness Day, an offshoot of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, to confront just that issue.
As more and more schools across the country embrace online technologies, both students and parent/teacher leaders, such as those at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, CO, have begun to weigh the pros and cons of limited Internet access at school. Recently, students at Silver Creek High held a graffiti debate (wherein they wrote their thoughts on sheets of paper and then hung the paper on a wall in their library) on the issue and came up with some great arguments both for and against website blocking that provide us with some food for thought.
It’s no surprise that many students, and teachers too, are against blocking access to certain websites. One of the biggest gripes that students and school librarians have against website blocks are the difficulty they often pose to conducting research, especially on controversial issues such as weapons or drugs. Many argue that social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, do in fact have the potential to provide learning opportunities. Educators often share valuable resources and learning tools through personal blogs or in YouTube videos, and some form groups within Facebook to help their students easily share information.
Despite the many benefits afforded by using the Internet as a research and study tool, it does pose a number of threats that need to be closely considered and students and teachers alike recognize this fact. Blocking sites with unfavorable content insulates students from information that could be deemed unsuitable and some argue that students already spend enough time online while at home and should spend time at the library while school is in session.
No matter which way the debate goes, this issue could provide a valuable dialog between students, teachers, parents and caregivers. It offers a platform to teach students how to use the Internet safely and smartly and hopefully encourages a dialogue about censorship and freedom of speech, which is something that all parties can benefit from.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Senior Citizens and Musical Training

By Jorge Cortes, Intern, Fall 2011

People tend to think about a child’s development as something that can be improved in the relative short term. If something happens to a child at age 5, it can certainly affect them when they’re 25. But what about when they’re 65, 75 and 85? Can early benefits or hindrances affect someone late into his or her 80s? The American Psychological Association (APA) says yes.
Recently, the APA performed the first-ever study on the benefits of musical training during childhood on the cognitive abilities of 70 healthy adults ages 60 to 83. The participants were divided into three groups: those who never had any musical training, those who had one to nine years of musical training and those who had had more than ten years of musical training. The results showed that it did not matter if the subjects currently played their musical instruments or not; as long as the participant started playing an instrument around the age of 10, when a child’s brain is still developing. If the participant had done this, they are shown to have increased cognitive abilities. And not surprisingly, the longer they trained, the better the results.
What’s interesting is that this is the first study of its kind. In a time where diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia are heightened and in the public eye, it makes me wonder if more researchers should be looking into cognitive studies like this one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Should We Teach Through Film?

By Kaitlin Loss, Editorial Assistant

During my senior year of high school, I took a one-semester required class on United States government. I knew from the first day that it was going to be an easy class; after all, I had spent most of the last 11 years of my education learning how the U.S. government worked. After the first week, I determined that my eleven-year-old sister could probably do the homework. What I wasn’t planning on was that we spent much of the semester with the TV turned on. No, we weren’t watching CNN or C-SPAN or even FoxNews.
My U.S. Government teacher was a big fan of the documentary series 30 Days. Sure, some of the episodes were relevant—like the one where the man who spent his days standing at an intersection holding up signs that protested gay rights was sent to San Francisco to live with a homosexual couple. But then there was the episode in which a Wall Street worker had to live in a self-sustaining compound. Oh, and not to mention the three class periods solely devoted to the Chris Rock movie Head of State.
Fortunately, this was a rarity in my education. I had many teachers who used films as ancillary materials in order to more effectively get students to understand concepts or events. My English class followed up the novel To Kill a Mockingbird with the amazing Gregory Peck film. My Global History teacher underscored a lesson on immigration in the early twentieth century with Far and Away.
It’s always an exciting day when you walk into a classroom and see the TV in the front of the room, plugged in and ready to go. Sometimes, it’s genuinely difficult to understand a concept without some sort of context. Movies help provide that context. Movies create characters and situations that students can latch on to and relate back to the concepts from their textbooks.
While I don’t believe that movies should be used as a substitution for textbooks and lesson plans, they can definitely be helpful in focusing students’ attention and helping them see the bigger picture of what they’re learning. Names and dates and vocabulary words can often pass by in a blur. But a good movie sometimes stays with us for a long time. If a personal story can help drive home a point that a textbook could only skim the surface of, then why shouldn’t teachers use them as ancillary materials?
While I can’t tell you anything new I learned in my U.S. Government class (except for the fact that I will never again watch Head of State), I can still remember the movies I watched in other classes that helped underscore what my teacher couldn’t always say. Sometimes, the silence after the teacher turned off The Diary of Anne Frank was enough.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Involving Parents in Students' Education

By Jorge Cortes, Intern, Fall 2011

A lot of parents are very busy. Sometimes they’re too busy to really be involved in their children’s education. I’m pretty sure my dad has only met about a handful of my high school teachers and only remembers the ones I constantly complained about. And he just has one job. What about the parents that work two or three jobs to support their family? How can they get involved in their children’s education when it’s hard just to spend time with them at home? One school decided to bring the teachers to the homes.
The Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science (A.M.S.) has a program where they visit future students at their homes in South Bronx a month before classes start in the fall. A group of about 3 or 4 teachers set up appointments with their future students. They bring the students their uniforms so that the students can practice putting them on and feel pride at being part of A.M.S.—what it represents and where wearing the uniform will lead them. They also answer any questions that the parents may have. “Is it safe to walk from the school to the bus stop after dark?” one mother asked. Other parents echo the question, along with some others: "Is there an after-school program?" (Yes, until 4:30 p.m.) "Does the school serve breakfast?" (Yes, at 7:50 a.m.) "Is there a football team?" (No, but there is soccer). And they have the students sign a learning agreement as a sign of their commitment to the school and their education. They also require future students to read part of the agreement out loud in their homes to their parents and future teachers:
I will be respectful to everyone.
I will ask for help when I need it and offer help to others.
I will wear our school uniform every day.
If they don’t find the family right away, they keep trying to locate them. I can’t think of many schools that “hunt” down families for appointments about their child’s education. It speaks to a type of dedication that you don’t generally see these days. And the teachers actually keep the parents updated throughout the year! They schedule more appointments throughout the year with the parents to discuss the student’s progress. Principal Ken Baum believes it’s critical for families to be involved in education. To Mr. Baum, these early visits are a key factor in a statistic he likes to cite: 63 of the 72 seniors in A.M.S.’s first graduating class last spring received Regents diplomas, and 50 of them are headed to four-year colleges, including Cornell, Boston University, Mount Holyoke, and campuses all across the State University of New York system. The parents themselves are ecstatic about the visits. One mom kept saying, “No one has ever done that to us before.”