Thursday, July 31, 2014

More x = Less Stress. Solve for x.

by Caitlin Wilson, Summer 2014 Intern

I distinctly remember taking the ACT my junior year of high school. I had signed up late, so my dad and I had to drive to a school nearly an hour away because it was the only available testing site left. I was exhausted from all the ordinary stresses of junior year, and I was sick with a head cold that made everything seem fuzzy. It was a recipe for disaster if I ever heard one. However, once I made it to the right classroom—a challenge despite the signs posted everywhere—I really wasn’t nervous. Could this test help determine whether I was accepted or rejected by colleges I applied to? Sure. But I was more concerned that my nose had started to run, and I hadn’t thought to bring tissues.

The issue of whether standardized testing benefits or unduly stresses students is fraught with politics, and emotions on either side of the question tend to run high. Standardized tests do have a significant impact on students’ futures, after all, and scores can also affect the perception of a teacher’s success by a school’s administration. Some argue that the solution to the problem is not to minimize or eliminate testing, but to expand the range of skills that are tested. John D. Mayer, a psychology professor at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), suggests that to decrease the stress induced by the big standardized tests students face as they complete high school, more tests should be offered. He believes test results are a valuable way to learn more about a person’s strengths, and that by developing tests designed to measure specific skill sets, we as a community of learners could begin to measure types of abilities that are not covered by the current range of standardized tests.

Parents also seem to be in favor of standardized testing as a whole. According to a poll conducted by the Associated Press–National Opinion Research Center (AP–NORC) Center for Public Affairs Research, 61 percent of parents believe their children take the appropriate number of standardized tests, while 26 percent think they take too many. Within this context, Mayer’s suggestion of more diverse tests might require some reworking of the expectations placed upon students going into standardized tests. For instance, while a prospective engineer would definitely want to excel at a spatial reasoning test, she might not need to worry as much about preparing for a test designed to measure, say, linguistic pattern recognition. Such a situation might actually reduce the stress on students because there would be less emphasis on scoring well in every subject.

Finally, there is the possibility that with more tests to choose from, we might gain a better idea of the state of education nationally. Not only could students’ scores on the same tests be compared, as they are now, but information could be gathered on how many students are attempting certain types of tests. This could prove to be a valuable metric for tracking interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, for example, or in studying what academic grounding leads to success in particular post-secondary careers or fields of study. At University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), my alma mater, there was a growing population of premed English majors who had discovered that medical schools wanted students who were as familiar with critical reasoning and practiced for literary analysis as they were with biology and chemistry. In this case, more diversified testing could help to identify students’ talents in a variety of fields beyond the traditional math-versus-English binary.

For students like I was, having options for what to focus on in college entrance exams and even in the standardized testing made more common throughout grade school might lend more direction to high school and college choices. I thought I wanted to be a geneticist until halfway through college, and then I switched to English. For me, it wasn’t a matter of ability; I was capable of both subjects. It was more that I hadn’t had the opportunity to study either in depth—which I might have done had I been shown the results of a test determining where my strongest interests lay. While I’m sure the debate will continue, more tests for more types of skills is certainly an interesting proposition, and worth considering in light of the greater pressure on students to know what their future plans are earlier in their academic careers.

Did You Know?

There are about 3,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Of these, more than 800 allow students to opt out of the SAT or ACT. These “test-optional” schools base their admissions processes on a variety of other factors, like GPA, class rank or other standardized tests such as AP and IB tests.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Intern Spotlight: Meet Dan!

by Dan Plonowski, Summer 2014 Intern

I have heard time and time again that majoring in English is the biggest waste of time and money that a college student can spend. I will never forget the looks on my family members’ faces when they first heard I switched majors to English. Their mouths gaped pricelessly: “But what are you going to do?”

My family consists of many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors, and they have been nothing but amazed at the doors of possibilities an English degree can open. But it wasn’t always like that. I originally chose a safer route. At first, I planned to major in criminal justice, muddle my way through school and eventually try to find a job as a cop. But something snapped in me one day. Halfway through sophomore year I asked myself: “What am I doing here? I mean, why am I in school? Truly?” It always seemed, since the beginning years of my education, there was an implication that, in order to be “successful” (however varied that interpretation may be), a person needed to work through grammar school, finish high school and graduate college. But in reality, college wasn’t just the next step; it was a choice. And I realized it was my choice. So why not choose to study what I love?

I didn’t tell anyone until months after I had switched majors. The only subject I have ever enjoyed, ever truly wanted to improve at, was English. And I still feel that way.

I thought of different ways I could use a field I enjoyed studying, so I tried a couple of outlets. I worked for our school newspaper, The Point, at Fitchburg State, first as a reporter and writer, then as a content editor. Then I interned for a small, independent publishing company in Arizona called King Northern Publishing. I worked remotely, learning the facets of book promotion and marketing by using social media, email and the phone. I would contact blogs, book-review websites and contests, and bookstores. Here I was, miles away at school, receiving free books in the mail from the publisher for me to distribute, getting the word out about great books. There was nothing better.

But then I came here. My time at PSG has been very valuable and well spent. Just to see how wide the world of publishing is, to see how it operates, to see the different fields and types of publishing, to actually be in a tangible place and experience the work that goes through it, has been irreplaceable. I have done nothing but improve skills I enjoy using and am looking to polish.

I think I still have much to improve, and there is a long road ahead, but I think it’s important to do what you love. After all, what’s better: muddling through or enjoying what you do?

Little-Known Facts About Dan

If he could, Dan would roam aimlessly around art museums for the rest of his life. John Singleton Copley, Piet Mondrian, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat are his favorite artists. But apart from the arts, he is also a huge fan of baseball. Dan plays in several fantasy leagues, a process that includes trading and signing professional players with (fake) money, and drafting and signing minor league players as well. Because of this, Dan has extensive knowledge about major league baseball. He could probably name rookies and future-impact players the average fan has never even heard of.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Online Outlets for Teachers

by Dan Plonowski, Summer 2014 Intern

When I was in high school, I had a forensics teacher who spent a majority of his time nagging the administration to implement a new system for learning. It involved giving each student a laptop. “Too costly,” they would say, “This plan isn’t good enough, detailed enough, etc.” I know this because he used to vent to our class about the situation, and throughout my senior year the installment of smart boards in several classrooms vexed him further.

About two years after I graduated and that teacher was no longer there, I found out nearly every student was required to rent an iPad. Textbooks were now in digital format and all homework was assigned online. Say goodbye to the days of stuffing books into lockers and bartering them at the end of the year, and say hello to the days of technological advancement.

When my teacher was periodically fuming to us about his ideas, Twitter was a shell of what it is today. I don’t think there were as many organizations and support systems for teachers online, but today teachers have the ability to take control of their classroom with modern technology.

As Chris Crouch writes, teachers have the opportunity to engage in “Twitter chats” tracked with hashtags such as #edbookchat and #sblchat (standards-based learning) to discuss “topics, interests, geography and courses.” The internet is full of outlets for teachers, ranging from educational blogs to support groups that can help teachers with fundamental classroom changes. This allows teachers to stay a step ahead and hone and refine their teaching ability in a changing world.

One of the most glorious assets of the internet is that you can find answers to confusing questions—like how to use a smart board [PDF link]—with a simple click of the mouse. There are also after-school programs and peer-learning groups on weekends, which teachers can attend to discuss more modern issues facing the classroom. One of these modern issues is the short attention spans of students that derive from smartphone and internet usage. Teachers may change their teaching method to accommodate this, perhaps even going online to search for solutions.

Technology affects more than just the curriculum; it also affects a student’s learning process. One of the biggest hassles that I remember from school was the problem of texting during class. Stern warnings and detentions were handed out like candy left and right to students fiddling with their phones. Not only can this serve as a distraction to student’s learning, but it also changes the way teachers have to teach. With quick swiping, swishing and scanning through pages and texts comes the debatable discussion of shorter attention spans, which creates a larger obstacle for teachers.

But with the internet there are several ways teachers can overcome these obstacles, including the Forbes magazine article advocating cell phone use in the classroom. It seems as though the classroom is evolving with new resources, and the teachers are the ones who will have the most command on deciding how to use them.

Did You Know?

It took nearly forty years for most schools to have at least one working computer. In 1971, nearly 13 percent of the nation’s public high schools used computers. That number grew dramatically to 95 percent in 1987 as the number of public schools with at least one computer used for instruction. By 2008, that number evolved into 100 percent.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Testing, Testing: What’s the Difference Between PARCC and SBAC?

by Caitlin Wilson, Summer 2014 Intern

Growing up in the Midwest, I took some form of state assessment every year from third through eighth grade and another set of tests throughout high school. My peers and I knew how we ranked against each other in almost every subject—but only within the state of Kansas. Our assessments were different from those given in any other state, making it difficult to know how we compared to students our age across the country. However, as states implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), assessments have been developed to measure not only students’ knowledge, but also their growth throughout their academic careers and their ability to perform tasks at the level of competency described in the CCSS.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is one of the two main consortia involved in developing assessment programs to coordinate with the CCSS. This assessment program consists of fixed-form assessments administered in grades 3–11, with required summative assessments as well as optional midyear and diagnostic tests.

Conversely, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has created a program of summative assessments [PDF link] to be administered in grades 3–8 and 11. The SBAC assessments are computer-adaptive, meaning that a test adjusts its difficulty according to a student’s prior answers, and, as with the PARCC assessments, there are optional diagnostic and interim tests.

Both assessment programs will examine students’ English and math skills in comparison with the expected proficiency of a student in a given grade level. The hope is that by assessing students yearly (or almost yearly, in the case of the SBAC), teachers, parents and the students themselves will be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. As students move to higher levels, the assessments also allow for the correction of any academic weaknesses before they affect students’ progress. The CCSS define where students should be academically in each year, and the PARCC and SBAC assessments are methods of monitoring students’ progress toward those goals so as to better predict students’ potential for success in college or in future careers.

One of the more readily apparent differences between the PARCC and the SBAC assessments is that the PARCC battery is composed of fixed-form tests, while SBAC assessments are computer-adaptive tests (CATs). This means that all students within a particular grade level taking the PARCC assessments are tested at a constant skill level, while students taking the SBAC will receive questions tailored to the skill they exhibit in answering earlier questions.

I believe there are advantages and disadvantages to both strategies—I’ve taken both styles of assessment before. Fixed-form tests are universal: each student within a group takes exactly the same test and is measured against exactly the same answer key. They allow teachers to see whether a student understands a concept or not. On the other hand, CATs can better measure a student’s ability against their prior performance as well as their ability to apply concepts to unfamiliar situations. As a student, I liked computer-adaptive testing better; I tended to finish more quickly and I found the tests more interesting. As a teacher, I might prefer fixed-form as a simpler comparison across the class (or grade, or states).

While my personal preferences for assessments are somewhat overdue now, I look forward to the future of academic assessments. It seems that even between these two consortia, there are plenty of options to go around, and I hope that these assessments will allow teachers to better prepare their students for success in whatever future they choose.

Did You Know?

There are two consortia, the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment System Consortium (DLM) and the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC), that are developing alternate assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities. These assessments are designed to allow for alternate learning methods while assessing the preparedness of students for post-secondary options.

Two assessment systems are also being designed to determine the proficiency in English of students who haven’t been taught English as their first language: Assessment Services Supporting ELs through Technology Systems (ASSETS) and the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century Consortium (ELPA21) are developing assessment systems designed to measure students’ English proficiency in order to better predict their success in post-secondary education or careers.

Further Reading

Center for K–12 Assessment & Performance Management at ETS, Coming Together to Raise Achievement: New assessments for the Common Core State Standards (Updated March 2014), accessed June 19, 2014,

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Employee Spotlight: Colleen Joyce

This month’s Employee Spotlight features PSG Project Manager Colleen Joyce.

I joined the PSG team in the early part of 2011. Prior to that, I got my start at another educational development house, where I learned the ropes of copyediting, proofreading and project management. I then spent several years as managing partner of my own small publishing services company before settling in at PSG.

If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would probably be perfectionist. This certainly comes in handy in the project management game. A typical workday for me begins with checking email to see what happened while I was away from my desk. As emails arrive throughout the day, I try to address them right away. I like a neat and tidy inbox and don’t like to leave correspondents waiting for a reply. These emails generally include queries from clients, deliveries from freelancers and the occasional update from home about my beautiful one-year-old daughter, Kat.

I have managed dozens of projects at PSG, including SBAC math assessment items for elementary through high school, a high-school economics textbook and state-specific science assessment items; I’ve even managed a project containing test items to be used in Qatar. My favorite projects are ELA and social studies. I find them to be creative, fun, and complex—and I get to put that history major and English minor I earned to some use.

In addition to working as a project manager, I am not afraid to don my copyeditor and proofreader hats every now and then to help out with quality control and proofreading. And I always do a spot check review of any deliverables before they go to clients. After all, as stated previously, I’m a perfectionist and couldn’t bear to let things leave my hands without at least a quick look.

Depending on the season, outside of office hours you can find me rooting for the Pats, Sox, Celtics, Bruins and UMass basketball team. I am a huge sports fan (Good thing I live near Boston, where we have all the best professional teams!) and am known around the office for always being on top of the latest sports news—thanks in part to my semi-obsessive attention to local sports radio. In addition to sports, I am also a self-taught dog expert, which is not surprising, since I have three terribly high-maintenance dogs: a black Lab, a yellow Lab and a Lab/pit bull/greyhound mix. They did rule the roost until my daughter came onto the scene and promptly took over. But they have taken it in stride, enjoying all the new “dog” toys that are now strewn around the house.

Like many in publishing, I am an avid reader. My guilty pleasure is epic fantasy—something that was a bit of an embarrassment until Peter Jackson/J. R. R. Tolkien and HBO/George R. R. Martin recently made it supercool. (I like to think of myself as ahead of the curve.) If stranded on an island and only allowed three books, I would have to insist on six and take Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, Gregory David Roberts’s Shantaram, Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, the aforementioned Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, and David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. And if you want to make an argument that book series constitute more than one book, then I assure you, you will not be invited to hang with me on my island.

Little-Known Facts About Colleen

Colleen has been an annual attendee of the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, since 1996 and has basked in the presence of folk legends such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, John Prine and Emmylou Harris. But the real treat for her is in discovering new talent, like Australian folk band The Waifs and Nashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show. Like reading, music fuels Colleen, and she brings that same passion to the workplace every day.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Small Step for Baumgartner, One Giant Leap for Science

by Elizabeth Rule, Summer 2014 Intern

Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper, made history on October 14, 2012, by becoming the first man to free jump from an altitude of 127,852 feet over Roswell, New Mexico. His trip from the stratosphere back to Earth lasted nine minutes and nine seconds, with four minutes and twenty-two seconds of free falling without a parachute. This supersonic free fall was sponsored by Red Bull energy drinks and was dubbed Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space.

With this jump, Baumgartner broke a number of world records, including the record for the highest skydive and the record for fastest estimated speed while falling. Making his descent at a shocking speed of 843.6 mph (Mach 1.24), he also became the first person ever to break the sound barrier without a vehicle. Perhaps not coincidencedentally, Baumgartner’s jump occurred exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier flying in an experimental rocket-powered airplane.

For the ascent, Baumgartner wore a fully loaded pressurized space suit weighing 260 pounds, including a 12-pound chest pack containing systems for monitoring, tracking and transmitting critical data in real time to mission control. Baumgartner went up in a pressurized balloon capsule that weighed over 2,900 pounds and lifted Baumgartner to space faster than a single-engine airplane, floating him the 120,000 feet of the jump in less than three hours.

Once in the stratosphere Baumgartner waited for the “clear to jump” from mission control, depressurized and then detached his hoses from the capsule. Once done, there was no going back, as Baumgartner had to jump or be forced to make a dangerous emergency landing in the unpressurized capsule with limited oxygen reserves.

Carefully stepping off the capsule’s platform, Baumgartner knew a stable body position was pivotal. With no atmosphere, there was nothing to slow him down—especially dangerous if he were to go into an uncontrolled spin, which he actually did for a few perilous seconds after he broke the sound barrier within the first 40 seconds of his jump.

As Baumgartner fell closer to the troposphere, the air molecules multiplied and acted as a gradual brake as he thundered through the sky at supersonic speeds. At 5,000 feet and a speed of 172 mph, Baumgartner deployed his parachute, from which point he took less than six minutes to reach the ground. Once he landed, there were cheers and sighs of relief heard across the world as millions of people watched live broadcasts of the jump.

Though thrilling, this mission was not merely for adventure, as it provided crucial data for scientific understanding of how the human body adapts and copes with extreme conditions near space. The pressurized suit Baumgartner wore was developed and tested specifically for this mission, and the mission’s success means the suit is now validated as being able to keep the human body safe at supersonic speeds while in space. On top of that, new medical procedures were developed for the mission, including a protocol to treat ebullism, a condition where blood can begin to boil due to water vaporization at altitudes above 63,000 feet.

Along with this medical breakthrough, the Red Bull Stratos medical team also developed a treatment protocol in case Baumgartner accidently became exposed to the stratospheric environment. This special type of ventilation system, as Dr. Jonathan Clark, Red Bull Stratos medical director, says, “. . . is already producing tangible results that will allow potential space travelers who are in this danger zone to have a fighting chance if they get exposed to vacuum.”

To commemorate this incredible event, on April 2, 2014, The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, welcomed Baumgartner and Red Bull Stratos’s historic teamwork into their collection. The pressurized capsule he used to ascend and the pressurized suit he wore on his second test jump were featured at the exhibition, which ran from April 2 to May 26, 2014. Eventually, the balloon gondola and the suit Baumgartner wore during the final, record-breaking jump will be put on permanent display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.

Did You Know?

The Red Bull corporation is no stranger to extreme events, as every year they sponsor a flugtag (literally translated to “flight day” in German), where fearless men and women launch homemade, human-powered flying machines off a pier into the sea. This event is held yearly across the United States in major cities such as Miami, Long Beach, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington, DC.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Artists in the Making: MFA Showcases Creative Talents of Boston-Area Youth

by Claire Paschal, Summer 2014 Intern

Whenever I make a pilgrimage to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), I don’t necessarily expect to be entertained. Enlightened on art and history? Sure. But I don’t plan on having a laugh over a brushstroke in a Renoir. When I recently stepped into the Edward H. Linde Gallery, however, I was met by colors and sounds that could only come from the vibrancy of a child’s perspective. Through the Community Arts Initiative, kids from eight Boston-area community programs collaborated with local artist Jake Fried on a series of four stop-motion films. The exhibit, titled Experiments In Animation, has been on display since May 2014 and will continue through October 13, 2014.

The stop-motion films were inspired by the MFA collection and include the work of approximately 100 students representing the different Boys & Girls Clubs throughout Boston as well as the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC) and United South End Settlements (USES). Each clubhouse made a film that reflected on and characterized the people and places important to its community. Not only did the project allow students to learn more about the MFA collection and video art, it also gave them an opportunity to expand their own art skills. The films were made using drawings, flip-books, gouache (an opaque variation of watercolor paint), Claymation and paper cutouts.

At the exhibit, a selection of drawings from each film was on display between each of the monitors. The figurines used in the Claymatian video were also on display, enclosed within protective rectangular glass. The Claymatian film featured a backdrop of upbeat dance music and was peppered with the sound of children’s voices and the occasional roar, laughter or dialogue. Some of my favorite figurines included a flying dragon, a sword-fighting cheeseburger and a mustached banana. (The latter two even made me laugh.) Pairs of headphones were connected to the monitor, so my viewing experience was shared with another museum-goer who couldn’t have been any older than seven.

On another monitor, surf music provided the soundtrack for a series of stop-motion films representing each participating Boston-area club. Each neighborhood was introduced through a lively recording of the club shouting its area-name. The name of the respective neighborhood was displayed on-screen, handwritten and decorated with colored pencil lettering, doodles and patterns. Some letters—such as the p’s and o’s—were filled in with smiley faces. The clarity of each drawing increased with the volume of the voices, before fading into the actual stop-motion video.

The contagious nature of the exhibit’s positivity left a lasting impression. The vibrancy of each video’s multimedia elements—Claymation, colored pencil drawings, upbeat music and recorded voices—culminated into something truly extraordinary that is definitely worth experiencing. If you plan on visiting the Boston MFA during the summer of 2014, definitely pay the Edward H. Linde Gallery a visit.

Did You Know?

The animated films of Boston-area artist Jake Fried (b. 1984) have been exhibited at numerous film festivals, both nationally and abroad. His animations, intricately hand drawn and layered with elaborate detail, have been more experimental in nature as of late, incorporating such materials as gouache, coffee and liquid correction fluid.

“Paired with eerie, ambient soundtracks, Fried’s visions unfold and morph into moving vignettes that can be both dreamlike and nightmarish, but equally fascinating either way,” writes Nastia Voynovskaya for Hi-Fructose art magazine.

Fried’s work has been on exhibit at the Tate Modern in London as well as galleries in New York City, Berlin and Copenhagen, among others. His work has also been featured on PBS, MTV, Discovery Channel Canada, and in The Huffington Post and Juxtapoz magazine. Fried has been an instructor at the Boston MFA since 2007.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Genius Behind Genius Hour

by Dan Plonowski, Summer 2014 Intern

What constitutes a genius? Is it someone who can think and discover revolutionary theories, like Albert Einstein? Or is it someone who can paint and sketch legendary conceptions and ideas far beyond their time, like Leonardo da Vinci? One thing seems to be clear: Genius necessitates creativity, and creativity can be found in everyone.

In schools, a creative concept called “genius hour,” an integrated period of class time that allows students to follow their own passions, is storming in several districts within the United States. It aims to prepare students in larger ways than the traditional classroom setting. With genius hour, students are challenged to think for themselves and create projects that pique their curiosity.

Originally inspired by Google’s 20 percent time initiative and other work-world concepts, the idea is simple: For one day a week, teachers reserve approximately one hour for students to direct their own learning and pursue a passion. The objective is to create a project—with another student or individually—where pupils can foster and develop useful skills that reflect their personal interests. One third-grade teacher, Julie Oliver, has her class’s energy so invested in the idea that she had to split the time up to two days a week: 45 minutes on Thursdays and 20 minutes on Fridays. Some students have even complained about missing school, and others have actively spent time outside of class on their projects during study hall, at home and at recess.

The creative idea behind genius hour pushes students to think on their own and challenge themselves. Many are asked to reflect on the project, with the main idea that “failure is OK.” In a CNN article, Michigan teacher Nicholas Provenzano notes that “with genius hour, failure is an acceptable result, and the emphasis is in learning from failure. This allows students to push themselves and take risks.”

In the same article, seventh-grade Illinois teacher Joy Kirr is quoted, claiming that genius hour is “getting kids to learn on their own and become lifelong learners. They’re not going to have teachers help them throughout life. They’re going to be on their own.”

By encouraging students to independently explore their interests and chase them, there is a growing interest in school, a chance to learn the benefits of time management, a boost of confidence in themselves and their ideas, and a development and care for learning. Some of the projects have stirred a larger impact than anticipated, like a Suicide Prevention Walk that raised $9,000.

The biggest problem some teachers face during genius hour is not students wasting time or lacking focus, but the fact that not every student in class knows how to follow their creativity, or even find it.

“I am trying to teach my students how to be creative,” writes Denise Krebs, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher.

A few incidents left pupils in confusion and shock in their newfound freedom; some students helped with another student’s project, only to lose eventual interest. Krebs suggested struggling students could create a list: ten things they love to do and learn, ten things they are good at and ten things they wonder. This way, students will not be lost and can learn more about themselves in the creative process.

This is not an hour to take a break and focus on arts and crafts, but an opportunity to help develop a modern love for learning and prepare students for the future. By keeping classroom instruction and focus on projects that will help students learn, teachers are helping their students understand more about self-identity and independent thought at a younger age. This way, students can stay focused on what they love, learn to manage their time efficiently and achieve their personal potential.

Did You Know?

According to the OED Third Edition, the word genius derives from the Latin word of the same name, meaning “the male spirit of the family in the divine and spiritual part of each individual,” and the Latin word gingere, meaning “to produce.” Eventually, Romance languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian) borrowed the words and have followed a similar development since. In the mid-sixteenth century, the French word génie and the German word genie pertained to the classical pagan belief that every person is allotted a spirit guide at birth. By the eighteenth century, this definition morphed into a reference for an exceptionally talented or creative person.

The term génie is also the rooted in the modern idea of a magical genie, most likely borrowed from Antoine Gallard’s French translations of The Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights, which have also helped shape definitions of other modern words like ghoul [PDF link].

But when did the phrase having a genius evolve into being a genius? notes that having a genius was a phrase used to account for the unexplained—a sort of rare, supernatural ability that allowed one to compose or create anything remarkably creative, like Milton’s Paradise Lost. But by the end of the seventeenth century, the word genius began to represent someone’s “exceptional natural capacity of intellect,” and since then has taken on the form we are all familiar with today.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Jump, Slide, or Dive into Summer Reading!

by Alyssa Guarino, Junior Project Manager

As a child, I spent almost every day at the library, especially during the summer. While part of it stemmed from my addiction to reading, the main draw for me was the library’s many programs. Each summer, the library followed a theme that included a suggested reading list for all ages, fun raffle prizes and programs that ranged from the usual sing-alongs and story times to guest speakers and activities. One year, I even won the grand prize of a library sleepover with four of my friends.

My library tends to purchase from the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP). While the concept of summer reading programs has been around since the 1890s, the CSLP didn’t begin until 1987 and was based in Minnesota. Ten regional library systems created a theme and set out to produce promotional materials to encourage reading for kids through a wide array of incentives. Today, the CSLP is a consortium that represents all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as some territories. The CSLP aims to create a program with low costs so that many public libraries can afford to purchase its materials. You may recognize some activities sparked from last year’s theme, “Dig Into Reading.”

This year’s CSLP theme is focused on science. Kids up to age 12 can participate in “Fizz, Boom, Read!” The suggested reading list includes titles such as Viking Ships at Sunrise by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Salvatore Mrudocca, and Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Michael Slack. Teens can look forward to reading such titles as The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney, You Can’t Read This! Why Books Get Banned by Pamela Dell and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, while participating in their theme, “Spark a Reaction.” Adults are also encouraged to participate in their own theme, “Literary Elements.”

Illinois Reading Enrichment and Development (iRead) is a group similar to CSLP, devoted to providing “high-quality, low-cost resources and products to enable local library staff to promote reading.” The main difference between CSLP and iRead is that the latter focuses on reaching kids in grades K–8. The 2014 program for iRead is “Paws to Read” and does offer some materials for older readers.

Why is summer reading so important? Many teachers, administrators and librarians agree that the “summer slide,” or summer learning loss, can be “devastating” [PDF link] and that public library programs are vital for preventing this in students. This is particularly apparent for those with limited access to summer learning opportunities. The Dominican University Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) published a study [PDF link] in 2010 showing that students participating in public library summer reading programs not only scored higher on reading achievement tests at the beginning of the next school year, but also read more frequently and confidently, and were more likely to stay active readers during the subsequent school year. Earlier, in 2007, School Library Media Research released similar results [PDF link], reporting that the “summer effect” was accountable for consistent losses of learning in students, and the amount of these losses increased for students with disadvantaged backgrounds. Public library summer reading programs aim to close the achievement gap between students and instill the idea not only that reading is important, but also that reading should be engaged in all year long.

But don’t take my word for it; head over to your local public library today and see what’s in store for you!

Did You Know?

In April of 2014, Arizona began a trial program to keep students hooked on reading during the break between school years. Over the summer, students can access a digital library of thousands of books, anytime, anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection. Additionally, 10 percent of the titles are available in Spanish. According to the program’s Literary Resources page, students can get limited access to the library using the given login information.

Once logged in, students can browse through varied subject lists. Student-oriented categories include Math Fun, Hobbies & How-To, and Scary & Gross. Students can opt to search for either fiction or nonfiction, and they also have the option to read graphic novels. Students can also access the Teacher’s List tab, a collection of classroom libraries on subjects such as Exploring the Ocean!
Not only can student readers access the site through laptop and desktop computers, they can also access it through mobile devices. The MyON app is available for devices using Android, Chrome, Fire, and iOS.

The program is funded through Read On Arizona, an organization “committed to creating an effective continuum of services to improve language and literacy outcomes for Arizona’s children from birth through age eight.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Employee Spotlight: Ken Scherpelz

This month’s Employee Spotlight features PSG’s VP of Sales & Business Development Ken Scherpelz.

I have seen many changes in the industry since entering educational publishing in 1979. After teaching elementary school for five years—I was the big guy with the long hair and curly beard towering over the first and second graders—I moved to educational publishing, a typical career change for many teachers. I’ve worked for major publishers, including Scott Foresman (now Pearson), Zaner-Bloser/Highlights for Children and McGraw-Hill Education. I have also held management positions with several educational development houses.

I’ve been at PGS since 2006, the longest stretch with one company in my long career. I feel that PSG is the perfect fit for my experience, skills and personality. What we do here is important work when you realize the impact these products can have to help promote education and literacy. From my early days of teaching through my years in publishing, I’ve always been proud of the work I do, and I’m blessed to be able to work in an environment that’s supportive, creative and even fun. I really enjoy my work, as well as the people with whom I work—staff and clients alike.

My wife, Martha, has been a classroom teacher for almost 20 years, and education has always been a priority with my family. Dinner table conversations between us have less to do with paying bills and painting the trim and more to do with Martha’s students and my projects at PSG. Our three grown kids, of whom I am immensely proud, have always been involved with and continue to work in the nonprofit sector, contributing to Habitat for Humanity, advocating for rights for the disabled, and volunteering to teach English in underdeveloped countries.

Born and raised in the Chicago area and the third of seven kids, I have deep roots in the Midwest. Although not really a farm boy, I’m more comfortable among the open spaces of America’s heartland than the mountains or coastal shores. I’m also a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, a curse inherited from my grandparents, who took each of their seven grandchildren to the beautiful confines of Wrigley Field when we turned five years old. Regardless if the kids became Cubs fans, the real goal was to make us fall in love with the emerald green ivy in the ballpark and not become White Sox fans. I hope to see a Cubs World Series game (Heck—even a 10-game winning streak would be nice!) during my lifetime.

Little-Known Facts About Ken

A huge fan of classical music, Ken once conducted the Butler University Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” His one and only time on the podium remains a highlight for him.

Monday, July 7, 2014

School-Based Occupational Therapy

by Eileen Neary, Assistant Project Manager

For hundreds of years, students in the United States who didn’t quite fit the mold often received no education at all or were even institutionalized. Even after the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA or EHA) in the 1970s, many youngsters slipped through the cracks and did not receive an adequate education. Overhauls in recent years, most notably No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 and the 2004 update of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), have drastically changed the fates of these students.

In the ten years since IDEA, awareness has continued to grow immensely, and public view has shifted in a positive way. Students facing obstacles in their learning, whether they are physical, emotional, behavioral or otherwise, are now afforded more opportunities than ever to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
The prevalence of school-based occupational therapy (OT), partly in response to these acts, is also booming. Today, occupational therapy ranks on numerous charts as one of the fastest-growing career paths. But what is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a form of therapy designed for all ages to assist in learning and adapting to life [PDF link]. An occupation is defined as any task a person wants or needs to do to get through daily life. This can consist of routines, hobbies, work, play, socialization, etc. There is a wide range of applications of occupational therapy, including the following: early intervention for infants; help for young students practicing skills to thrive in the classroom and in their own lives; workforce readiness for teenagers; help for adults recovering from serious medical procedures like hip replacement or returning to work following a long-term illness or injury; assistance for those of all ages with mood disorders; and even help for those with Alzheimer’s.

School-based occupational therapists (OTs) specialize in helping students in a variety of dimensions, such as with handwriting, school performance, making friends, coping methods, behavioral strategies and sensory integration theory (the theory that the five senses can be acknowledged and used to positively affect a student’s learning environment). For students who may benefit from one-on-one therapy, occupational therapists may be asked to step in to conduct screenings and evaluations, help design a treatment plan or individualized education plan (IEP), and perform individualized or group therapy tailored around the reason(s) a student may not be performing to his or her full potential.

The goal for a school-based occupational therapist is to “support academic achievement and social participation by promoting occupation within all school routines, including recess, classroom, and cafeteria time.” There is already a multitude of benefits from students meeting with an occupational therapist, from helping students make peace with their environment and participate in activities, to assisting students struggling academically, to helping students with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, and so much more.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) held its annual conference in April 2014 in Baltimore. Over the course of a few days, the AOTA conference was an opportunity for thousands of OTs, researchers and educators to meet, hold roundtable discussions, attend seminars, and view research and thesis presentations. All aspects of occupational therapy, including school-based occupational therapy, were discussed.

I spoke with an attendee of this year’s event, Brittany Peters, MS, Occupational Therapy Student (MSOTS), to learn more. Brittany has worked with numerous young students, assisting them in improving self-care and hygiene, schoolwork, chores and social behavior.

At AOTA ’14, Brittany presented a poster on an intervention tool called Child Occupational Self Assessment (COSA). This tool asks students what they are interested in through 25 specific child occupations, whether students perceive themselves to be adequate at completing the task, and how important the task is to the student. COSA can help an occupational therapist and his or her fellow educators to create goals that are intrinsically motivating for a student.

Over the course of the conference, Brittany was able to sit in on other students’ presentations as well as professional seminars and speeches. This year’s keynote speakers were a trio of soldiers representing the Wounded Warriors Project (WWP). They discussed the ways in which occupational therapy helped them recover their independence.

“The best part of OT is that it is very client-centered,” Brittany told me. “For example, when it comes to fine motor improvement, instead of giving a child desk work, we might have them try to draw a dinosaur if that’s what they love, and then stomp around and imitate the dinosaur after. This works on sensory input from the stomping and imaginative play, an important part of cognitive development.”

The reason this works so well? “Drawing upon the intrinsic motivation of the student not only helps to create better outcomes and better neural plasticity, but it is simply fun! This itself is motivation to participate!”

Did You Know?

During World War I, many civilian women worked as “reconstruction aides [PDF link].” These uniformed women were sent to help injured soldiers through massage, basic exercise and education, with the goal to return them to the battlefield or home to the workforce. Reconstruction aides are considered precursors to physical and occupational therapists.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Guest Blogger: A Window Into The Future—Job Shadowing at PSG

by Abby Murphy
Rising Senior at Wakefield Memorial High School

Here in America, there’s a large amount of pressure to decide at an early age what you want to do for the rest of your life. But how can people make such important decisions without any experience to inform them? Further, where can anyone get this sort of experience? Personally, I found job shadowing at PSG to be an excellent opportunity to see firsthand what publishing is like, and I learned a great deal about what I want in a job and in a working environment.

By starting the day off with a quick group meeting to discuss what each of the staff members would be doing that day, I immediately realized that I would be diving in headfirst. This was proven when I was able to sit in on the weekly sales and marketing meeting, where, as if I were a true employee as well, I was instantly welcomed by Vice President of Sales and Business Development Ken Scherpelz via Skype. Throughout my day at PSG, I was able to talk with several members of the staff, each of whom had a different role in the publishing process. This gave me an array of knowledge about both the industry and what is important in a workplace.

I officially shadowed Alyssa Guarino
, junior project manager at PSG. With Alyssa I was able to learn about the part of publishing that involves corresponding with business clients, including those in different parts of the world. This was one of the most interesting things that I learned, because it taught me a lot about the importance of being able to effectively communicate.

Next, I spoke with Eileen Neary, who is an assistant project manager. Unique in comparison with a lot of the things I learned during my job shadowing experience, the information I took from Eileen was useful not only inside but also outside of the publishing realm. As I listened to her experiences and how she ended up at PSG, I began to truly understand the importance of loving what you do for a career.

If I was not already sold on pursuing a career in English and/or publishing up to that point of my job shadow day, my conversation with Project Manager and Editor Annette Cinelli Trossello definitely sealed the deal. A favorite part of our discussion was her strong determination to overcome the “English majors solely become teachers” stereotype. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize that being able to write—and to communicate effectively through your writing—is a vital and beneficial skill no matter what career path you choose; thus, having strong writing skills can in fact help you in nearly any industry.

My day at PSG was eye-opening, giving me insight into opportunities that I had not previously known about. Moreover, it was also extremely fun. I wasn’t aware that the expansive process that is publishing could be accomplished in such a comfortable and close-knit environment like PSG. Additionally, I realized that a career in writing is more than possible, despite the accepted fact that many view it as “impractical.” I now also know it is important to enjoy going to work every day. Thanks to my job shadowing experience, I decided that, at this point, majoring in English is definitely what I want to pursue; there is a world of options that will open up from there.

About our Guest Writer

Abby Murphy is a soon-to-be senior at Wakefield Memorial High School (WHS) in Massachusetts. She is a co-captain of the WHS tennis team, and recently received the Wellesley Book Award. The WHS job shadow program has been in place for the past seven years, after a long tradition of town residents encouraging students to pursue careers in a variety of fields.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Myth of Multitasking: One Thing at a Time

by Tess Klingenstein, Spring 2014 Intern

I have a bad habit of multitasking. I watch TV while I study, listen to music while I study, and hang out with friends while I study. Doing two things at once makes me feel as if I’m making better use of my time. But, interestingly, researchers have discovered that humans can’t actually multitask. What we call multitasking is really just quickly switching our attention from one activity to another. (This explains why it takes me twice as long to study when I “multitask.”)

Focusing on more than one task, however simple, can overwhelm the brain. Daniel Wessman, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, administered a test in which participants had to complete a task based on colored number pairs. The tests were implemented using an MRI scanner so Wessman could see how subjects’ brains responded.

If the number pair appeared in color A, the participant had to determine which of the two numbers was numerically greater. If the pair popped up in color B, the challenge was to decide which number’s font was a bigger point size. These are not difficult tasks, but the test showed that trying to do both simultaneously required the brain to pause before carrying out each task. Essentially, Wessman demonstrated that multitasking slows you down.

Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management From the Inside Out, believes that multitasking is four times slower than doing one task at a time. She argues that not only do you lose time switching between tasks, you’re more likely to make mistakes, and you don’t retain as much information. “Everyone’s complaining of memory issues these days” she says. “They’re symptoms of this multitasking epidemic.”

The reason we can deftly shift our attention between two things is because it was evolutionarily beneficial to humans thousands of years ago when they were hunting animals much bigger and stronger than they were. The executive system in the frontal lobe allows a hunter to focus on where a wild animal is, then shift to where fellow hunters are, then shift to what tools or weapons are available, and so on. In part, this ability to shift our attention—not physical size or strength—helped humans become the dominant species.

But perhaps our inclination to multitask is no longer as beneficial as it once was. Nowadays, there are so many stimuli in our daily lives that it’s hard to sit down and focus on just one thing. In this digital age, we are constantly barraged with texts and emails, tweets and Snaps, not to mention animated billboards, television screens in public places, and downloadable content of every imaginable kind on our cell phones and electronic tablets.

Despite all the benefits that have come from the internet, one casualty has been downtime for our brains—moments during which a person can disconnect from work, school obligations, or even music and media. Freed from the constant bombardment of stimuli, the brain responds with increased creativity, stress reduction, and better recall.

We don’t yet know how teaching and learning will change as a result of this age of multitasking. Research has not determined exactly how it is impacting students. And how is multitasking affecting students who already struggle with focus and time management? Are there ways schools and parents can help? What kinds of materials should publishers develop? We don’t have the answers, but one thing is certain: The genie has emerged from the bottle, and he’s not going back inside anytime soon.

Did You Know?

Most people are under the impression that it’s always good to have options, and the more options, the better. But do you ever scroll through Netflix for hours and never actually land on anything to watch, thinking a better movie might come along? Or have do you ever gone to buy something online, spend days scrolling through a ton of different websites, and then never actually buy anything? More options are not always a good thing; sometimes they can be debilitating.

There was a study [PDF] done with jams (jams as in “products made by boiling fruit to a thick consistency without preserving the shape of the fruit,” not “crowds of cars impeding traffic flow” or “songs that rock”) where some customers were given the option of 24 jams, and others were given the option of only six. In each case on average, the customer tasted two jams, and though the larger selection drew in 60 percent of customers while the six jams drew in only 40 percent, 30 percent of people who sampled from the smaller selection ended up buying a jar of jam; only 3 percent of the people who tasted from the 24-jam selection ended up purchasing a jar.

How do we avoid being debilitated by too many options? Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, suggests getting comfortable with “good enough.” The New York Times article on the topic remarks that “seeking the perfect choice . . . ‘is a recipe for misery,’” according to Professor Schwartz. The article also states that even marriage is not exempt: Picking the “right” partner leads to unrealistic—and often unfulfilled—expectations.