Mind/Shift: 7 Big Hurdles In Education and Ideas For Solving Them

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7Katrina Schwartz

An infographic can hardly contain enough space to tackle the big, hairy challenges of American education. But the non-profit, Digital Promise, has tried to identify some of the biggest challenges — and ideas for solutions — identified by the 46 schools in their League of Innovative Schools that are trying new techniques. They address issues like competency-based learning and personalized professional development, as well as students’ ownership of their learning.

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Mind/Shift: To Advance Education, We Must First Reimagine Society

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Why haven’t education reform efforts amounted to much? Because they start with the wrong problem, says John Abbott, director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative.

Because disaffection with the education system reflects a much deeper societal malaise, it’s imperative that we first figure out what kind of world we really want: a world populated by responsible adults who thrive on interdependence and community, or a world of “customers” who feel dependent on products, services, and authority figures, and don’t take full responsibility for their actions? The answer, he says, will point to the changes needed in all three pillars of education — schools, families, and communities.

This is one of Abbott’s primary takeaways from a career spanning more than two decades of teaching in England, followed by three decades at the helm of an international nonprofit (begun in the U.S. but now headquartered in England), whose mission is to promote fresh thinking based on the existing body of research about how children learn. Its findings have been synthesized into policy briefings, reports, and a book, “Overschooled but Undereducated: How the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents.” It has also just published a distillation of its work, called “Battling for the Soul of Education.”

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Mind/Shift: Cursive, Print, or Type? The Point is To Keep Writing

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cursiveStory: Cory Turner

Across the country, many school districts dropped cursive from their curricula years ago. The new Common Core State Standards now being implemented in most states never mention the word “cursive.” Given longhand’s waning popularity, lawmakers in several states, including Tennessee, are now trying to legislate a cursive comeback.

The arguments in favor of cursive usually revolve around heritage or tradition. Some parents want their children to be able to read a letter from Grandma as well as our nation’s founding documents. Some cursive supporters also invoke science, arguing that learning cursive helps young brains grow more than learning basic printing does.

Professor Amy Bastian, a motor neuroscientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has dedicated her career to studying how the brain talks to the body. “The more variety of things you do in the fine motor domain, the more variety of hand movements you make, will improve your dexterity,” Bastian says.

That may sound like a ringing endorsement for cursive handwriting, but when asked if cursive writing is better for a child’s development than printing, Bastian makes it clear: She doesn’t know. Cursive is good, she insists, but it’s not certain that it’s better or more important for a child’s development than printing.

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Audio: Perspectives: A Risk Worth Taking

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Story by: Luz Elena Herndandez

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LuzElanaHernandez

I needed a job after high school to help my family and to be able to pay for college. I opened my computer to fill out job applications and questionnaires from Safeway, Old Navy and Target. What's your name and address? Do you have a high school diploma? What would you do if a customer needs help? I breezed through the questions until I got to the one that read, "Please enter your social security number." I didn't have one.

Sitting in my room I remember feeling so frustrated because I was born in another country. A place I don't remember and haven't visited since I was two. Because I don't have legal status, I couldn't do even the simplest things that my friends could do. I had never been able to find a job that paid me at least minimum wage. Pell Grants were not an option. Plus, I had a never ending fear of getting my life taken away from me.


Mind Shift: What’s the ‘Sweet Spot’ of Difficulty For Learning?

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doing-homework360Story: Annie Murphy Paul

Photo: Marco Nedermeijer

In an NPR story earlier this week, Tovia Smith reported on the growing number of schools that are trying to instill “grit”— perseverance in the face of adversity — in their students. Smith focused on one such school:

“Tom Hoerr leads the New City School, a private elementary school in St. Louis, Mo., that has been working on grit. ‘One of the sayings that you hear around here a great deal is, “If our kids have graduated from here with nothing but success, then we have failed them, because they haven’t learned how to respond to frustration and failure,”‘ says Hoerr.

After years of focusing on the theory known as ‘multiple intelligences’ and trying to teach kids in their own style, Hoerr says he’s now pulling kids out of their comfort zones intentionally.

‘The message is that life isn’t always easy,’ Hoerr says. His goal is to make sure ‘that no matter how talented [students are], they hit the wall, so they can learn to pick themselves up, hit the wall again and pick themselves up again, and ultimately persevere and succeed.’

It is a major adjustment for everyone.”

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KQED News Fix: From Fields to Code, College Program Helps Farmworkers Make the Leap

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alonzoStory: Ana Tintocalis

Photo and Video: Jeremy Raff

Rogelio Mendoza mows the front lawn outside his family’s modest home in Salinas. It’s a warm weekday evening, and his wife, Norma, is cooking dinner for their three boys.

“Carne, beans and some posole … that’s what’s we’re having today,” says Norma as she serves her oldest son, Alonso, who just came home from a long day of classes at Hartnell Community College in Salinas.

The-21-year-old is the first in the family to attend college.

Alonso says some days he feels like “his head is going to explode” with so much new information. But he admits that schoolwork is much better than farmwork.

“Having your back hurt, and your arms hurt … you can’t compare that kind of tired to having your mind stress over homework,” Alonso says.

The Mendoza family is a farmworker family.

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Mind Shift: Strategies to Reach Every Student, Regardless of Language Barrier

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mindshiftStory: Katrina Schwartz

Photo: DFAT Photo Library

Helping every student experience meaningful, deep learning is a constant challenge, in no small part because no two learners are alike. To reach students who are particularly challenged — whether because of their ability to speak English or some other reason — educators can find a way in by tapping into students’ interests and passion.

“You don’t have to know how to read and write to think deeply,” said Claire Sylvan, founding executive director of The Internationals Network For Public Schools, schools that serve high school students who have been in the country fewer than four years. Sylvan spoke on a Deeper Learning MOOC panel focused on strategies for helping even the most challenged learners to engage in meaningful work.

Every student at an Internationals school is an English Language Learner, but not all have a common mother tongue. Internationals schools give students projects that involve complex thinking in both English and native languages. “Provide them with on-ramps that allow them to develop literacy in the environment that they now inhabit,” Sylvan said. There’s often a myth that students need to learn English before they can participate in more interesting work, but the Internationals Network has built an entire model on engaging students in learning through work that interests them, giving them a compelling reason to learn English.

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Mind Shift: What Keeps Students Motivated to Learn?

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Story by Katrina Schwartz

Photo by Erin Scott

erinscott_-7080Educators have lots of ideas about how to improve education, to better reach learners and to give students the skills they’ll need in college and beyond the classroom. But often those conversations remain between adults. The real test of any idea is in the classroom, though students are rarely asked about what they think about their education.

A panel of seven students attending schools that are part of the “deeper learning” movement gave their perspective on what it means for them to learn and how educators can work to create a school culture that fosters creativity, collaboration, trust, the ability to fail, and perhaps most importantly, one in which students want to participate.

INTEGRATED PROJECTS

Project-based learning is the norm among these students, but they also have a lot of ideas about what makes a good project work. Students want projects to be integrated across subjects, not separated by discipline. “When it’s integrated, each student can find something they like and everyone can get into it,” said Erina Chavez, a junior at High Tech High North County. “I love when projects are integrated so you can find so many different aspects,” said Daniel Cohen, also a North County junior.

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NPR: What The U.S. Can Learn From Finland, Where School Starts At Age 7

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Story by Claudio Sanchez

preschoolFinland, a country the size of Minnesota, beats the U.S. in math, reading and science, even though Finnish children don't start school until age 7.

Despite the late start, the vast majority arrive with solid reading and math skills. By age 15, Finnish students outperform all but a few countries on international assessments.

Krista Kiuru, Finland's minister of education and science who met with education officials in Washington recently, chalks success up to what she calls the "Finnish way." Every child in Finland under age 7 has the right to child care and preschool by law, regardless of family income. Over 97 percent of 3- to 6-year-olds attend a program of one type or another. But, says Kiuru, the key to Finland's universal preschool system is quality.

"First of all, it's about having high-quality teachers," Kiuru says. "Day care teachers are having Bachelor degrees. So we trust our teachers, and that's very, very important. And the third factor: we have strong values in the political level."

Political consensus and support help, Kiuru says.

Author Amanda Ripley says she didn't really believe it, so she went to Finland and several other top-performing countries to see for herself. She wrote The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. Compared to Singapore, South Korea or Japan, she says, Finland's approach is pretty laid back, even though its standards — like what preschoolers should know and be able to do — are set by Finland's National Curriculum Guidelines for early childcare.

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Mind Shift: Why It’s Important to Talk Math With Kids

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mathteachingDo you speak math with your kids?

Many of us feel completely comfortable talking about letters, words and sentences with our children—reading to them at night, helping them decode their own books, noting messages on street signs and billboards.

But speaking to them about numbers, fractions, and decimals? Not so much. And yet studies show that “number talk” at home is a key predictor of young children’s achievement in math once they get to school. Now a new study provides evidence that gender is part of the equation: Parents speak to their daughters about numbers far less than their sons.

The report, published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, drew on a collection of recordings of mothers talking to their toddlers, aged 20 to 27 months. Alicia Chang, a researcher at
the University of Delaware, and two coauthors determined that mothers spoke to boys about number concepts twice as often as they spoke to girls. Children this age are rapidly building their vocabularies, Chang notes, and helping them become familiar with number words can
promote their interest in math later on.

That was made clear in another study, published in Developmental Psychology in 2010, which also used recordings of parents talking to their children to gauge how often number words were used (the kids in this study were between the ages of 14 and 30 months). Psychologist Susan Levine of the University of Chicago and her coauthors found huge variation among the families studied: Some children were hearing their parents speak only about two dozen number words a week, while others were hearing such words about 1,800 times weekly.

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