Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Online Resource for High School Students

Eileen Neary, Intern, Fall 2012

High schools are always changing. During my time in high school, I was a member of the unlucky class required to take standardized testing junior year, and then again senior year when the state decided to change the grade level being tested. Washington State students, however, aren’t just presented with the inconvenience of extra testing, but with the added pressure of another course.

In 2011, the Washington State Board of Education implemented a new graduation requirement for high school students. Students were now required to take a course on Washington History in order to gain understanding of everything from the state’s development to its geography, geology, climate, economy, culture and government. However, this added requirement has caused issues for students graduating between 2012 and 2015, who are unable to fit it into their schedule.

However, there is hope. Beginning in October 2012, a new resource became available to Washington State students—the Red Comet online platform. This accredited education provider now hosts the course, “Washington State History,” which will aid students struggling to find the time to fulfill the requirement. It is an online course that is self-paced, where students have four months to log on and complete all the cyber coursework whenever is best convenient for them. The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction oversees this virtual school.

The managing director of Red Comet, Dr. Jay Srinivasan, says there have been very positive results, and that students, teachers and parents were excited that a free online course fulfilling this requirement was available for students who otherwise would not be able to graduate on time. Today, over 300 high schools have utilized Red Comet and its 15,000 available high school and AP-level courses to offer digital learning opportunities to their students. Online learning isn’t just limited to Washington State; all around the nation online learning for high school students is on the rise. Indeed, by 2014, an estimated 10 million American high school students are expected to be utilizing online academies for high school course credit. The convenience and availability provide ample possibilities for students in the future, with the world of online learning right at their fingertips.

"Online high school courses grow in popularity," Boston.com, accessed on January 22, 2013.http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2010/05/30/online_high_school_courses_grow_in_popularity/
"Washington State Puts Required History Course Online," EducationNews.org, accessed on January 22, 2013. http://www.educationnews.org/online-schools/washington-state-puts-required-history-course-online/

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Students Shouldn’t Write Off STEM Education

by Rose Pleuler, Fall 2012 Intern

As a person a little scared to so much as add without the help of a calculator, I understand why STEM has a menacing reputation among high school students. The STEM skills—that is, science, technology, engineering and math—are often considered complicated and unnecessary lessons to students who don’t want to be scientists, technicians, engineers or mathematicians. Many students assume they’re better off avoiding these courses altogether. However, it is important to let students know the true significance of developing STEM skills.

In an educational setting, STEM is about learning how to think and assess. The basic skills taught in a STEM course are to think logically and to formulate critical questions. Complex questions can be tackled by guiding yourself through the principles of scientific thought. This way, students learn to ask good questions. He or she learns how to form strong hypotheses and to seek data that will confirm or deny those hypotheses. Whether analyzing a math proof or a chemistry formula, the underlying goal is the same for the student: be a problem solver. This skill is not important to just STEM fields, but to almost any career.

Outside the classroom, rapidly advancing technology means any career path may require some level of STEM literacy. In fact, while there is a great deal of under- and unemployment in the nation, jobs related to STEM remain understaffed due to the lack of skills. There is a new level of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary cohesion to the national workforce, where STEM subjects gain relevancy in many fields, from bioengineering to online learning. It’s not only the subject matter that makes STEM relevant in a plethora of work environments, it’s the skills to solve problems creatively and see the big picture that is really important and is first learned in the STEM subjects in school.

As STEM compels us to understand our world as a complex machine, it also encourages us to improve it. A greater national STEM literacy creates a more informed, more invested population. Dedication to problem solving translates to societal improvement. It’s important to encourage students in the STEM fields to hone skills that will become vital as they grow up into the workforce of the next generation.

Further Reading
“STEM’s New Reputation,” publishingsolutionsgroup.com, accessed November 5, 2012, http://publishingsolutionsgroup.com/blog/stems_new_reputation/.

Verizon Initiative Aims to Raise STEM Enthusiasm in Students,” EducationNews.org, accessed November 5, 2012, http://www.educationnews.org/technology/verizon-initiative-aims-to-raise-stem-enthusiasm-in-students/.

“Why CIOs Desperately Need a Technology-Literate Society,” CIO Journal (The Wall Street Journal), accessed November 5, 2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2012/09/23/why-cios-desperately-need-a-technology-literate-society/?KEYWORDS=education.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Computer-Based Testing Model May Improve Writing Proficiency in Students

Computer-Based Testing Model May Improve Writing Proficiency in Students 

by Gabby Balza, Fall 2012 Intern

With answers becoming so accessible that students can find them with just a click of the mouse, it’s understandable that some may worry that technology is becoming more of a hindrance and less of an improvement to education. For students who saved their summer reading until the last minute, finding detailed book summaries has become relatively easy. With the variety of online games now being offered, a student can become distracted from that math homework that still hasn’t been started. Despite the negative reputation that technology can often earn when placed in context with the learning environment, it can also be used as a resource for students to enhance their writing skills.

This is exactly what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a nationally representative assessment of students’ academic progress, hopes to achieve by introducing computer-based assessments of writing proficiency.  Students answer the essay questions in this test via laptop computers using prompts that include multimedia elements. The desire to appeal to a tech-savvy student population sparked the shift from paper-and-pencil tests to computer-based assessments. It seems that more teachers and instructors are trying to upgrade their tools and variety of mediums in order to keep the interest of the typical twenty-first century student.

Because of this use of technology, the governing board of the NAEP modified the assessment prompts themselves to include multimedia components. On the new writing NAEP, eighth graders are asked to imagine that they had arrived on a remote island. To help them visualize this, they were provided with audio containing nature sounds and recordings of lines read from a journal. Students used these artifacts to then compose their essays. Students who worked with computers on a daily basis performed better than those less familiar with the functions of word processors and less accustomed to using computers to edit their writing. Beverly Ann Chin, a professor of English at the University of Montana, notes: “When teachers encourage students to use word processing features on a regular basis, students learn how computers can facilitate their writing processes and improve their final product.” Hopefully these skills will help students improve their writing proficiency.

It’s an exciting possibility, and there seems to be no time like the present, since the findings from this exam revealed that only 27 percent of students in both seventh and eighth grade tested at or above the proficiency baseline in 2011. 37 percent of females in the eighth grade class scored as proficient or above, while only 18 percent of boys did.

The governing board of the NAEP hopes to raise these numbers by continuing to introduce technological skills that will help make students more successful in writing. They hope that getting students accustomed to composing and revising their written work on computers using word processors will help improve the writing proficiency among grade levels. As technology and computers continue to become essential parts of the workplace and classroom, it’s fitting that mastering these mediums will aid in the overall success of the student. As Ms. Chin also adds, “Students who are skilled in using technology tools in writing will be more successful in school, the workplace, and society.” It seems that technology is becoming less of a problem and more of a solution in this instance. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Step Back in Desegregation

A Step Back in Desegregation
by Gabby Balza, Fall 2012 Intern

As a Latina riding on the school bus to my predominately white elementary school, I remember the way we would all peer out the windows with our faces half hidden when the bus from the northern part of town passed by us. “That’s the school with all the black people,” someone would say, and we’d turn to her and wonder how she could be so racist. But she was right. That school didn’t have a white face in the hallways, on the soccer team or in the pictures on the school website. A lot of schools didn’t. It was an absence we wouldn’t notice in the hallways of our own school until we played them in football games or competed with them in choir events. Looking back, we never thought anything of it or held any racial prejudices. But today, it seems like more and more institutions are trying to avoid this from happening.

This is one fear currently propelling the Kentucky Supreme Court to take action. Local school boards have concluded that the decisions of where students attend schools should be left within the hands of local school boards as opposed to parents and students themselves. Officials are worried that having parents choose their “neighborhood schools” would result in resegregation. But parents aren’t pleased. Many would rather have the convenience of being able to attend school functions without the travel constraints, agreeing that the concept of a desegregation busing system is outdated. Ted Gordon, the attorney for the plaintiff’s case, states: “And is this the way you improve it, or is this the way you sell out so that we can have a black child sitting next to a white child regardless of educational outcome so everybody feels better about it?" Parents also seem to agree that diversifying the school does not guarantee an improvement in academia, but rather poses an inconvenience for parents themselves and places students in a school system they may not wish to be in.

The controversy began after a debate concerning the interchange of the terms attend and enroll. Last fall, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that students have the right to attend the same school where they are enrolled. However, this was found to work against the assignment plan of Jefferson County Public Schools, which argued that the word attend was removed from state legislation in 1990. It was then recently concluded that students can enroll in their neighborhood schools but cannot necessarily attend them. But it seems this change in official terms has only further vexed parents, who believe that decisions made based on the color of one’s skin is only setting us all back.

Parents of students in Jefferson County have felt both powerless and determined for change following the ruling. Some, such as plaintiff Chris Fell, are being proactive; Mr. Fell is running for his child’s school board. Others have only felt more powerless over this decision, unable to sway or change the decision of the Kentucky courts. Either way, it seems that the fear of resegregation is still prevalent today in school systems, ultimately splitting parents and school board members over how to best improve and advance the education of their children and students.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Getting Serious about Physical Education

Getting Serious about Physical Education
by Rose Pleuler, Fall 2012 Intern

In high school, I tried to avoid gym. Who wanted to change into shorts in the middle of the school day, run a mile, and return to class sweaty—because who really used those showers? Not me. I had friends whose physical education requirements were waived for any reason from varsity sports to asthma. While my friends took extra nonathletic electives, I learned the nuances of badminton. I used to wonder why I had to do it.

Now I know: It wouldn’t hurt to take physical education more seriously. After all, being active hosts a number of critical advantages to students’ wellness. It builds strength, endurance, healthy bones and muscles. With the persistent problem of childhood obesity in the United States, the importance of being physically healthy cannot be overstated. Physical activity also builds self-esteem, sharpens focus, improves behavior and boosts attitude. It may even link to higher test scores! Some research indicates that students who earn mostly As are almost twice as likely to engage in regular physical activity than students who earn mostly Ds and Fs. It seems natural that these huge benefits should have a place in any school’s curriculum.

Despite the obvious advantages of physical education, many schools have trouble integrating the physical education requirement effectively into a school day. Some schools may decide that money and time should be geared toward academics, for example. However, most studies of physical education agree that at least a half hour of daily physical activity is the minimum, and this may be hard to incorporate into the flow of the school day. Additionally, because requirements of physical education can be vague, it may be too easy to exempt, substitute or waive physical education requirements. Nearly sixty percent of states allow students to complete their physical education requirements using online courses. And for younger students, a half hour recess at lunch does not always assure physical activity. Until school systems take physical education requirements more seriously, the benefits of physical education in the curriculum may not be fully recognized.

As schools try to strike the right balance, it is important to create a supportive community around physical education and health. Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association (AHA), recognizes that physical activity must become “a part of the daily routine” in order to make strides in correcting health problems in America today. Students need to be encouraged to pursue their interests in different physical activities—sports, playing outdoors, exploring. In the classroom or out, the result will be all-around healthier, happier kids.