Articles from September, 2009

Keyboard vs Pen?

Just when it seems we could be creating a generation of non-writers (keyboarders) a recent study performed by Virginia Berninger, a University of Washington Professor of Educational Psychology, discovered that children write better and longer essays at a faster pace when using a pen.  The purpose of this study was to compare methods of transcription (the process of translating thought and ideas into written form).  Read the article to find out whether the keyboard or pen was more useful while writing the alphabet and how the results of this study could affect disabled children.  Berninger declares “We need to help children become bilingual writers so they can write by both the pen and the computer. So don’t throw away your pen or your keyboard. We need them both.”

codonnell|September 30th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, 21st Century Skills, Professional Development, T+L|

Education headlines

sbn_LOGOThe beating death of an honor student outside a Chicago high school last week, caught on a cell phone video, stunned the nation and made international news. Two important stories from the city’s local media look at the aftermath: the impact this has had on the student’s high school, and the fears many urban students face in their daily walk home from their schools. In other news, the unlikely trio of Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton, and Newt Gingrich continues to push for school reform by touring a Philadelphia charter school, and an analysis shows that without funding from slot machines Ohio’s K-12 budget would be decimated. Read these stories and more in today’s edition of School Board News Today.

Joetta Sack-Min|September 30th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Harnessing the power of 21st century skills in building design

Why is “critical thinking” considered a 21st century skill?

If you really think about it–no pun intended–hasn’t “critical thinking’ been around for centuries?

Before we think about 21st century skills, we should understand the technologies and learning styles that the Millennial generation is accustomed to, says David McDiarmid, a senior consultant with the Sextant Group, a technology and audiovisual communications consulting group, who presented at the Council of Educational Facility Planners International conference here this week.

These students, for instance, do not respond well to the traditional, lecture-style classroom, with rows of desks and an electronic whiteboard at the front. They expect to be connected 24-7, McDiarmid adds, and they’re less open and receptive to specific boundaries, such as a schedule and specific place and time for learning.

That said, designing classrooms to best harness their style requires educators and facility planners to be open-minded. Since 21st century skills often incorporate project-based curricula, a classroom should be configured to allow for group settings, with furniture that can be arranged in small groups around the perimeter, and of course with enough plugs so that every student can use a laptop.

Electronic whiteboards should have the capabilities to be rotated 90 degrees–picture a group of elementary-age students sitting in a circle with pages of a book projected in the middle.

Virtual learning will continue to expand, and more students will take use online classes to give them the flexibility of learning on their schedule.

Naomi Dillon|September 30th, 2009|Categories: School Buildings, American School Board Journal|

Who needs the PTA?

logo_ptaFar from me to use this column to promote a commercial enterprise, something like, oh …. Sally Foster distinctive gift-wrapping products. (“Exceptional Values for Every Occasion!”) No, journalistic integrity prevents me from even mentioning that I’m taking orders for these (extremely high-quality!) items for my local PTA. (You know where to find me.)

The campaign kick-off was last week, at a Back-to-School Night that was typical of the relatively affluent neighborhoods in Arlington, Va.–a standing-room-only crowd of very curious and very involved parents in the elementary school auditorium. And when it came time for two moms to demonstrate the superior strength and sheen of the gift wrap we’d be selling–they stretched out a red patterned roll in front of the children’s stage–there was a chorus of slightly tongue-in-check “ooohs” and “ahhs” from the over-educated throng.

Count on it: This campaign, like others in the past, will be a success. But the future of the national PTA is more in doubt. According to a story in the Washington Post, an increasing number of parent groups are saying “no thanks” to national PTA affiliation, figuring they can do better by simply focusing on issues in their own schools. The latest to drop out in my area are Woodson High School and South County Secondary School in Fairfax County, Va.

“People today look more for: ‘What’s in it for me? How will this help my child?'” Melissa Nehrbass, president of the Virginia PTA, told the newspaper.

If that’s the case, it’s sad, because the national PTA’s “Every child/one voice” agenda is needed now more than ever. Here in Arlington, we could easily go it alone too. But what about lower-income parents who can’t fill their elementary school auditoriums on Back to School Night because they’re working long hours to make ends meet? Who, but the national PTA — the same group that pushed for immunization programs and healthy school lunch programs–will speak for them?

I have a special interest here that goes beyond my newfound devotion to Sally Foster. At NSBA, we also believe a strong national organization and strong state groups are needed to advocate for school boards and the children they serve. Consider, for example, the current health care debate and the outsized influence of senior citizens. Not to knock seniors, who have their concerns (and their considerable political clout), but who speaks for non-voting children if not groups like NSBA and the PTA? Who, for example, speaks for the 8 million children who have no health insurance and must rely on hospital emergency rooms or the kindness of pro bono doctors for their primary care?

“Every child/one voice.” We need that now more than ever.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Joetta Sack-Min|September 29th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Education headlines

sbn_LOGOThere has to be a lesson here: The Dallas school board, which last year dealt with a massive budget shortfall, is threatening to reprimand Superintendent Michael Hinojosa because they apparently inadvertently approved a $30,000 raise for the chief academic officer. The board had denied the CAO a raise earlier this year, but members say Hinojosa slipped it in through a lengthy consent agenda that required only one vote. In other news, the Environmental Protection Agency is advising schools to test old caulk around doors and windows because it may contain cancer-causing PCBs, and Chicago officials are looking for ways to curb school violence. Read these stories and more in today’s edition of School Board News Today.

Joetta Sack-Min|September 29th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|

Resources, tasks key to extended learning success

More school, less summer. That’s what the Obama Administration is advocating as a way to help students in the U.S. catch up academically with their counterparts in other countries who attend school as much as 30 percent longer, according to this Associated Press article.

In an interview with the AP, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he wants “to level the playing field” through extending the school year.

BoardBuzz thinks it’s a great idea to to lengthen the school year/day.  NSBA encourages school districts to partner with other educational entities and community organizations in developing extended learning opportunities, including summer programs, to improve students’ academic achievement.  However, school districts and schools cannot do this without adequate resources. As the AP article points out, extra learning time is not cheap.  Massaschusetts’ extended learning initiative, which adds 300 hours to the calendar in select public schools, cost an additional $1,300 per student.  Unfortunately, the increased cost of fuel last year and the economic downturn have prompted some school districts to adopt a 4-day school week, meaning longer but fewer days in class.

Besides, more school alone will not necessarily help improve academic achievement.  Research shows that the additional time must focus on instruction and learning or “time on task” in order to be effective.  Read NSBA‘s Beliefs and Policies on extended learning opportunities here.

Katherine Shek|September 29th, 2009|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Examination of Innovation

We all try to be creative and innovate, but we each go about it in a different way. Where do you find your innovation?  Where does your creativity come from?  Do you believe like Frans Johansson, the author of The Medici Effect and keynote speaker at this year’s T+L Conference, in the “intersection”; a place where ideas from different industries and cultures collide, ultimately igniting an explosion of extraordinary and new innovations. We hope after you attend his keynote session at T+L you will be filled with the tools and energy to be a lightning rod for innovation and creativity in your school and community.

Frans Johansson continues the exploration of innovation on his blog.

gbroderson|September 29th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, T+L|

Engineering the fourth “R”?

Should engineering be taught in schools? Could it become the proverbial fourth “R”: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Engineering? Well, a recent study from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) claims that teaching engineering in K-12 grades would not only boost interest in technical careers (global competitiveness), but would also improve all students’ problem-solving, systems-thinking, and teamwork skills (21st century skills). 

According to the Engineering News-Record though, very few schools actually offer engineering in their curriculum or have the faculty qualified to teach it.  “Engineering might be called the missing letter in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education,” says NAE.

ENR reports:

Alan G. Gomez, an engineering instructor at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the NAE report committee, coordinates engineering and technical education for public schools in Sun Prairie, Wis., near Madison. He cites challenges in getting school superintendents, curriculum coordinators and principals to understand and adopt engineering instruction. “It’s not really tested in schools,” he says. In the district’s high school engineering program, in which Gomez also teaches, students design and build prototype racing cars. “Engineering students can attack problems with a higher consistency than other students and carry out thought processes from concept to design more frequently,” he says. Gomez is now hoping to develop the district’s program for use nationwide and eventually in other countries.

“Problem-solving, systems thinking and teamwork aspects of engineering can benefit all students, whether or not they ever pursue an engineering career,” says Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California, Davis and chair of the NAE committee that authored the report. “A K-12 education that does not include at least some exposure to engineering is a lost opportunity for students and for the nation.”

Among the committee’s recommendations are:

  • National Science Foundation or U.S. Department of Education fund research to determine how science inquiry and mathematical reasoning can be connected to engineering design in curricula and professional development;
  • foundations and federal agencies with an interest in K-12 engineering education conduct long-term research to confirm and refine findings of studies of the impacts of engineering education;
  • American Society of Engineering Education begin a national dialogue on preparing K-12 engineering teachers, and on the pros and cons of establishing a formal credentialing process; and
  • philanthropic foundations or federal agencies with an interest in STEM education and school reform identify models of implementation for K-12 engineering education that will work for different American school systems.

BoardBuzz is intrigued. Do you think engineering in your curriculum would benefit your students? Do you currently offer classes in engineering? Let us know.

Erin Walsh|September 29th, 2009|Categories: Curriculum, STEM Education, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

It’s time for a new conversation

After participating as a panelist for the  School Food Nutrition Foundation’s recent webinar, “School Lunch 2.0 – How Websites like Facebook and Twitter can Revolutionize your School Nutrition Program“, I received a follow-up e-mail from a frustrated school nutritionist who had registered but was unable to participate. She had sent the e-mail announcement about the webinar to her district’s IT Director in their small district to inquire about why she was unable to connect to the session through a popular webinar platform. (By the way, the complimentary webinar is archived at SNF in case you missed it.)  His response  – upon seeing the topic –  was to dismiss her entirely with the following one line e-mail;

“We are not going to be opening Facebook or Twitter in our Internet filter. This would be a waist (sic) of your time.”  

For those of us who work with emerging tools and see their potential to improve outreach and communication efforts, not to mention how the same tools can positively impact the classroom, this response was a wake-up call that there is still much work to be done.  The Technology Leadership Network knows that new tools sometimes face resistance by IT departments and administrators who initially dismiss them without having a thoughtful conversation about how they might further the district’s goals  and that’s exactly what happened to this educator.

The district’s web site is largely a “Web 1.0” product that exhibits little vision for using interactive tools. As an example, it offers no way for the public to e-mail board members, yet, the superintendent’s welcome letter talks about how they will need to engage their community’s support to pass an upcoming levy. It doesn’t appear they are very interested in making it easy to establish that kind of a  two-way dialogue!  Other districts are finding that  thoughtful use of their web site or social media tools can build bridges and create credibility that is helpful when issues are put to a vote. As for building relationships with the community through social media, the fastest growing age group on Facebook is 35-54…exactly the age group of many parents and local voters!

The Technology Leadership Network urges leadership teams think about these tools. NSBA has hosted the T+L Conference for 23 years to help districts make sense of new technologies as they emerge. The conference often provides just the spark that is needed among board members, innovative district administrators, teachers, and the IT staff to start a true dialogue of collaboration about how technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning, streamline administrative operations, and facilitate communications.

And just in case you think only big districts can leverage their web site and modern tools, you’re wrong!!   NSBA works with the Center for Digital Education to rank the top district web sites each fall and will be announcing the 2009 rankings next month. In the meantime, take a look at the list of the top-ranked, “small enrollment” districts from the 2008 Digital Districts Survey that focused on how technology supports their operations and communications, with special attention paid to ease of access and interactions. With today’s education challenges, there’s no room for rigid, one line answers from a dictatorial IT Director who is more interested in controlling his network than supporting his customers. It’s time for a new conversation!

Ann Flynn|September 28th, 2009|Categories: Student Achievement, Leadership, NSBA Recognition Programs, T+L|Tags: |

Where does it STEM from?

1009ASBJIt’s another crisis in America, again impacting the country’s competitiveness in the world, and requiring education to step up and meet the challenge.

The push for more STEM curriculum or science, technology, math, and engineeering  instruction in schools is the latest calamity and call to action. It’s also the cover package of October’s ASBJ.

You’ll have to read my colleague, Larry Hardy’s story to get an overview of the issue and whether this really is a crisis.

In doing research and reporting for the accompanying sidebars, however, I discovered there really is some validity to the “crisis” designation— and its buried in the ground.

Game simulations, video conferencing, online learnings— schools have myriad new technology applications available today, enabling to make instruction in STEM subjects (any subjects for that matter) more relevant, dynamic, and customizable to each student.

Problem is, you can’t really access those applications unless you have the technological infrastructure to support them.

Naomi Dillon|September 28th, 2009|Categories: School Buildings, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , , |
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