May 2007 Archives

Can giving less homework help produce better students? Kansas middle school math teacher Joel Wazac thinks so. Once known for giving heavy homework loads, Wazac reduced assignments this semester to twice a week, after noticing that his students' homework scores were generally lower than their in-class grades. More often than not, the low scores were the result of the students not finishing all the problems assigned. Wazac’s students now get shorter, ungraded take-home assignments, and then meet in groups to discuss their answers, with an occasional follow-up “homework quiz.” Wazac is proud of the results. “Their grades are now ...


A fifth-grade teacher in Mesa, Ariz., is speaking out against her district’s adoption of a new U.S. history textbook that neglects to mention (among other things) Alexander Hamilton, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” declaration, according to The Arizona Republic. “These are like the core things that are just etched on the American psyche,” says Laurel Moore. Mesa district officials have responded that the book, titled History Alive! America’s Past, sufficiently covers the state’s recently revised standards in U.S. history and that, in any case, teachers will ...


A European software program aimed at helping students with Attention Deficit Disorder is gaining popularity stateside, according to this Chicago Tribune story. "Cogmed Working Memory Training" uses a robot interface to deliver exercises that help improve working memory, which is used to assist in recalling directions, problem solving, controlling impulses, and paying attention, says its developer. “It pushes them but doesn’t frustrate them,” Cogmed-trained psychologist Alan Graham told the Tribune. The article mentions a Chicago third-grader who benefited from the program. “The way Becky remembers how things should be done has translated into math and spelling,” mother Debby told ...


Teacher quality isn't just an American issue: A recently released Australian study has found that students who have poor teachers take twice as long to learn course material as those with strong teachers. “The top 10 percent of teachers achieve in half a year what the bottom ten percent achieve in a full year,” says economist Andrew Leigh of the Australian National University. Leigh spent three years collecting data for the study, tracking 90,000 primary school students and their respective 10,000 teachers. He measured teacher quality by looking at the students’ improvement on standardized tests. Leigh's study also ...


Want to help your students learn more? Maybe you should take up the guitar. That's the message of Guitars in the Classroom, a California-based nonprofit that helps teachers nationwide learn to play acoustic guitar. The group believes that incorporating simple songs into lessons can make learning more fun and help students internalize concepts. Guitar music "often works wonders with unconventional learners, anxious children, kids with auditory-processing challenges and other learning disabilities," says Jessica Baron, founder and executive director of the organization. Some two dozen teachers at San Luis Rey Elementary in Oceanside, California, are currently participating in the Guitars in ...


In one of its signature provisions, the No Child Left Behind law requires that students in underperforming schools be given access to after-school tutoring programs. But in Chicago, a controversy is brewing over whether the $50 million that city schools paid for tutoring services last year was money well spent. A recent review conducted by the district shows that elementary school students who received tutoring performed only marginally better on math and reading tests than similarly situated children who did not get extra assistance. According to the study, struggling students who were not eligible for tutoring actually made the strongest ...


When California high school student Rebekah Rice uttered the phrase “That’s so gay” in class, her teacher responded by sending the teenager to the principal’s office and adding a note to her school record. Rice and her family decided to sue the school district over the teacher's actions, claiming they violated Rebekah’s First Amendment rights. Rice, a Mormon, testified in February that the words were prompted by rude questions from classmates about her religious upbringing. The lawsuit also stated that high school administrators exhibited a double standard by not protecting Rebekah from classmates who teased her about ...


Many middle and high school biology students are trading in scalpels and formaldehyde for computer screens. New Jersey is the ninth state to adopt legislation allowing students to complete a computer-generated lab or research paper in lieu of traditional animal dissection. The Humane Society of the United States celebrated the decision by distributing letters to New Jersey teachers that offered to loan out CDs, models, and videotapes. “For schools that are struggling financially—and which one isn’t—it makes more sense to go with the virtual program, which has been found in peer-reviewed studies to be as educational or ...


Spelling bees are gaining renewed popularity, but teachers and researchers warn that they don’t necessarily help address a growing problem of poor spelling among young people. “[Spelling bees] honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction,” says first-grade teacher Sue Ann Gleason. Academic researchers blame the usual suspects for students’ lack of spelling knowledge—standardized tests for taking time away from non-core subjects and computer programs for automatically correcting misspellings. But they also say that teachers often simply don’t know how to teach spelling, substituting spelling ...


In another sign that teachers are pushing to be heard as Congress works on a renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act, educators in California this week spoke out against the law’s testing-and-accountability system. In news conferences across the state sponsored by the California Teachers Association, teachers took particular aim at the NCLB’s requirement that all students score at proficient levels by 2014. “We’d like for all students to score at grade level—period—without that definite time,” said Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco. “It’s education, not a car race.” ...


Tuesday's Teacher Appreciation Day was marked by cards, candy, and 11,000 petitions dropped on a state superintendent’s doorstep. Washington Education Association members took advantage of the day to express how unappreciated they were feeling, writing letters of protest about State Superintendent Terry Bergeson's inability to increase teacher pay and alleged unyielding attitude toward state testing. The situation is especially ironic because Bergeson is a former president of WEA. "We have a funding crisis in Washington and that’s not all her fault but she certainly bears some of the responsibility so again we’re calling for new leadership ...


Some parents in Arizona have one more thing to add to their shopping list—teachers. Moms and dads at Desert Sage Elementary in Glendale can "teacher shop"—that is, come in on set-aside days to observe their child’s possible teachers for the next year. Principal Randy Coen says the process is helpful to parents, but knows it can also be strenuous for teachers. "They're (the parents) trying to be good consumers and do their research," Coen says. "I don't disagree with that. It's just the teachers' up there feeling like they have to put on a show." Other schools...


Perhaps chalk is the best teaching tool after all. Last month a federal study found cast doubt on the benefits of educational software, and now some schools districts are dropping one-to-one laptop programs. “After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement—none,” says Mark Lawson, board president for Liverpool Central School District in New York. The district initially implemented the program to give all students access to a computer at home and prepare them for a tech-savvy future. But it also resulted in students cheating, looking at pornography, and crashing the network. “The ...


The publication of the seventh and final Harry Potter book this summer promises to be a major cultural event. It may also be a good time to consider the book’s educational impact. In a 2006 survey by Scholastic and Yankelovich, more than half of kids who identified themselves as Harry Potter readers responded that they had not previously read for fun, and 65 percent said that reading the Potter books had helped them improve in school. (Their parents agreed, only more so.) The study also found that the books had the greatest impact on the reading habits of boys. ...


Every Wednesday after school, a cadre of teachers from Rose Kidd Elementary in Sterling Heights, Michigan, treks to a mobile-home park to help some of the neediest students with their schoolwork. “It’s teaching at its purest,” says Helena Foust, who founded the seven-month-old volunteer program involving a handful of her colleagues. The group meets in the park’s clubhouse, where kids do their homework, review lessons, and play brain games. “It makes doing homework fun for them,” says Tina McGuffin, whose 9-year-old son, Jordan, concurs, adding, “My grades have improved. So I know it’s helping.” The idea is ...


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