Archive for June, 2012

Teen Sleep Habits And Grades – More Isn’t Always Better

In a recent short video on the website redOrbit, researchers polled high school students on their sleep habits and found that the majority average between 6 and 7 hours of sleep per night.

One might think that more sleep equals a more rested student and higher grades.  After all, we are inundated with advice from experts who say that sleep is a cornerstone of good health.  However, the opposite seems to be true – increased sleep is correlated with lower grades.  Click on the image below to watch the redOrbit video.

And don’t feel  too guilty next time you want to drag your kid out of bed at noon – it’s in his best academic interest.


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Kevin Allocca: Why videos go viral

In a recent blog post, I talked about the newly launched YouTube Channel TedEd.  An off-shoot of the annual TED conference, the TedEd channel aims to identify inspirational teachers with something interesting to say.  A team of animators then works with the educator to create fascinating – and more importantly in this era of abbreviated attention spans, short – videos on a particular topic.  Here’s one of the best I’ve seen so far.  Do yourself a favor and give this a few minutes of your time.


“Tastemakers, creative participating communities, complete unexpectedness — these are characteristics of a new kind of media and a new kind of culture.”  Kevin Allocca




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Interesting & Somewhat Controversial Article: Obesity Affects Math Performance

In a recent article from the website, Connie K. Ho presents the results of a study looking for correlations between obesity and academic performance.  Not very surprisingly, a correlation was found: students who are obese show sub par performance on math exams when compared to their non-obese peers.  As if we all needed one more admonition against that second piece of cake.

What was unclear was causation – many factors combine to determine if one will be overweight, including, not inconsequentially, socio-economic status.  There is a clear higher incidence of obesity among the poor, and a corresponding lack of access to academic resources or educated role models that might also contribute to math related success.  So is obesity actually the problem?

Read excerpts from the redorbit article below for more information.

The Results

In the study’s results, when students who showed symptoms of obesity beginning in kindergarten were compared with children who were never obese, these students performed poorer on math tests beginning in the first grade. The low performance on math exams persisted all the way through fifth grade. For boys whose obesity began later, like in third or fifth grade, there was no difference found in the performance on math tests. For girls who were found to become obese later on, the low performance in math was short-term.

Furthermore, girls who were consistently obese appeared to have fewer social skills and this deficiency seemed to affect their math performance. For those boys and girls who were consistently obese, they had more anxiety and appeared to be sadder and lonelier; these traits also affected their performance on math tests. Other factors may be involved as well; for example, children who are obese may miss more school days or may develop sleep apnea which could influence school performance.

But What About Causation?

Overall, the study did not find a direct cause-and-effect relationship between school performance and being overweight or obese. The project’s findings, published in a recent edition of the journal Child Development, show the necessity of combating childhood obesity. According to U.S. News, public health professionals believe that parents can help children establish better habits. It is also important for the whole family to develop better diet and exercise routines.

The article presents another interesting reason to instill in our children good health habits.

But I must admit – my math skills are going to be the last thing on my mind next time I’m contemplating a cookie.


Read More : How Steve Jobs Impacted Education

There’s been no shortage of studies on Steve jobs and the makings of Apple.  What is it that made him and his company so successful?  The consensus seems to be that a tremendously successful company is forward-looking and unafraid of making mistakes – and quickly learning from them.

But how can we apply these lessons to education?  Jesse Langley of explains how in excerpts from the article How Steve Jobs Impacted Education.

Making Mistakes
I think that the basic issue that underlies our inability to find workable and scalable solutions to an education system that no longer serves us well is simply fear. Fear of failure. Fear of getting it wrong. Politicians fear meaningful education reform because it could cost them politically to make tough choices. Teachers fear that reform could endanger their jobs. And the paralysis of fear doesn’t bode well for a system that needs boldness and vision. Steve had the attitude we need in education right now: “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” That’s the kind of spirit that we need to embrace. Jobs’ successes are legendary. But it’s worth remembering that his failures were epic as well when viewed strictly in terms of financial outcomes.

Motivation Matters
We’ve become so focused on results that we don’t always reward motivation and good intentions. But these things matter. In our schools, we’ve become so focused on outcomes and test results that we’ve lost the elements of creative spark. We don’t reward students for effort and innovation, and we punish failure. The unintended consequences that we’ve created are a lack of imagination and no motivation to try something that has a chance of ending in failure. We want assured outcomes and rigid structure. Our education system is an anti-Jobs model; we don’t reward creativity. When Steve Jobs’ creativity was stifled and he was pushed out of Apple back in 1985 he started a company few remember. It didn’t experience much success. But the influence still lingers.

I agree wholeheartedly with the author of this article – we are held back not only in the realm of education reform by the fear of failure and the failure to reward effort, but also in our individual lives.

 Read Langley’s full article here.


Read More – App Texts Parents When Students Skip Class

A New York School District recently calculated the cost of the traditional, time-consuming method of attendance taking using scantrons.  The district found that they are wasting half a billion dollars per year in teachers’ time.  The potential new solution?  An app that avoids the cumbersome pencil and scantron method of attendance taking, while simultaneously texting the parents of any absent students.  Read below for excerpts from the article.

Automatic Text Messages

The mobile app allows teachers to easily mark each student as present, tardy or absent. It then automatically sends text messages to the parents of absent and tardy students, letting them know their child missed class. Kinvolved’s co-founders say they choose to deliver those messages via text, as opposed to email, since low-income residents may not be able to afford Internet access, but even the most inexpensive mobile phone can receive text messages.

Reduced Time = Reduced Cost

The app also dramatically reduces the time it takes for teachers to take attendance. Currently teachers use cumbersome Scantron forms, in which they use a pencil to mark “present,” “tardy” or “absent” next to the name of each student, each class period, every day. The forms aren’t sent to a central office until the following day, delaying the time it takes for parents to learn of absences, if they learn at all. 

What’s Not To Like?

The group makes a compelling pitch: Teachers spend an average of 45 minutes per day on attendance taking. Based on the average teacher salary, that means the school system is paying each teacher $37.50 per day just to take attendance. Multiply that by every teacher, working every school day, and that means the school system is paying teachers more than half-a-billion dollars annually to take attendance. Kinvolved would cost New York schools an estimated $56 million to implement across the entire system, though that figure isn’t firm.

There’s no doubt that it would be beneficial for parents to know immediately of their student’s absences, and the new app would surely act as a deterrent to students skipping class.  The fact that it saves time and money is a huge added bonus. What’s not to like?  Read the full article here. 


Read More Article with Huge Education Implications: Born winners don’t exist. Neither do born losers.

It won’t come as a surprise to very many that negative labelling can have hugely detrimental effects on children.  As educators and parents, we know how destructive it can be to tell a student he is not good at math, for example.  Such labelling creates self-fulfilling prophesies that are hard to avoid.

Who would have thought that positive labelling might have similarly detrimental effects on a person’s performance?  The following fascinating article from the website explains why.

One of the causes of the fixed mindset is labeling. I can’t cook. I’m not creative. He’s stubborn. She is a genius. He is a real talent. Yes, even positive labeling leads to the fixed-mindset and can be detrimental. The problem with the positive labels is that people get used to feeling validated by them. Then, mostly unwittingly, they become defensive of their labels.

If you’ve heard too often that you are a talent, you become reluctant to seek out situations in which you may look bad. Bright kids with a fixed mindset stop seeking challenges at school that might make them look dumb, because part of their status is tied up in looking smart. Their mindset is shaped every time they get praised about being smart, instead of being praised for working hard or not giving up when the going gets tough.

The article gets even more interesting when it delves into the education implications of labelling.  Read on.

Your mindset is not fixed (if you thought it was, you simply may be in a fixed mindset right now). In fact, it can be influenced just by the language someone is exposed to. In one study, Dweck organized math classes spiced up with stories of great mathematicians. Half of the students were told about great mathematicians as geniuses – people who easily came up with their discoveries, who were ‘born for it’. The goal was to test the effect of that way of talking on the students. They discovered, it put them in a fixed mindset.

The other half of the students heard that great mathematicians had a passion for math, worked hard and ended up making these discoveries. This brought the children into a growth mindset. The underlying message in the second class was “skills and achievement come through commitment and effort”. Our brains sniff out the underlying messages of how they are being talked to, even if they don’t do that consciously.

If we weren’t motivated before to carefully watch how we talk to students and ourselves alike, this article gives us one more good reason to do so.  Read the full article here.


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Small Change In Reading To Preschoolers Can Help Disadvantaged Kids Catch Up

NPR recently posted an interesting article about the big impact of small changes.

The NPR article is excerpted here:

For the study, they gave two groups of preschool teachers books for an entire school year — 30 weeks’ worth of books. One group was told to read the books normally; the other was given weekly cards with specific questions the teacher could ask — really just small phrases — that might momentarily draw a child’s attention to the print on the page.                            

The teachers were told to read their books four times a week, and to point out the print in this way between four and eight times, so that together the small phrases hardly added extra time to their reading sessions — maybe 90 seconds per book.                             

It is hard to imagine that such a small adjustment would make any difference. It was a series of moments, questions and gestures. How much could that do?               

So far, the kids have been followed for two years. They are now in first grade, and according to the most recent findings, which were published in the journal Child Development, even these small changes make a measurable difference.                            

“Children who focused their attention on print … had better literacy outcomes than those who did not,” says Piasta. “It was very clear.”

For more of the story about how little changes make a big difference, visit NPR’s education blog.  Says Scott McConnell, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”


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What Testing Does to Kids

As parents and educators, we should not be surprised by the recent article from the Washington Post excerpted below.  We’ve seen the damaging effects that testing has had on our children, from lower self-esteem to increased anxiety.  The Post reported the following figures collected from 8,000 parents in a NY state poll:

According to the Post article:

* 75% reported their child was more anxious in the month before the test

* Nearly 80% reported that test prep prevented their child from engaging in meaningful school activities.

* 87% reported that the current amount of time devoted to standardized testing is not a good use of their child’s school time.

* 95% were opposed to increasing the number and length of tests

* 91% were opposed to standardized tests for K-2

* 65% reported that too much time is devoted to test prep

In addition to responses to questions, nearly 4,000 of the respondents left comments and short anecdotes.

Parents reported that their children displayed physical symptoms caused by test anxiety, including tics, asthma attacks, digestive problems and vomiting. Parents also wrote anecdotes that reported:

* Sleep disruption, crying

* Refusal to go to school

* Feelings of failure, increasing as the tests progressed

* Complaints of boredom and restlessness from students who finished early and were required to sit still for the full 90 minutes of each test.

Teachers echoed many of the same concerns.

* 65% of over 6000 responding teachers said that their students did not have enough time for independent reading, project-based learning and critical thinking

* 89% of teachers reported that their students became more anxious in the month prior to testing and during testing itself

* 88% said that test prep had impacted the time spent on non-tested subjects such as science and art

* Fewer than 3% believed that their students’ learning had increased because of testing.

When is enough, enough?

The new mandated testing schedule has many proponents, but isn’t it time we asked ourselves whether the increased testing is doing more harm than good?  See the full Washington Post article here.


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