Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
A new study by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University is looking at whether highly decorated kindergarten classrooms–adorned with colorful art, posters, and borders featuring things like dancing letters and numbers–are distracting to kids during that important first year in school. While the study wasn’t conclusive, it did indicate that some kids’ gazes and attention are drawn away from classroom activities by the decorations. More from the New York Times:
The study, one of the first to examine how the look of these walls affects young students, found that when kindergartners were taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted, their gazes more likely to wander off task, and their test scores lower than when they were taught in a room that was comparatively spartan.
The researchers, from Carnegie Mellon University, did not conclude that kindergartners, who spend most of the day in one room, should be taught in an austere environment. But they urged educators to establish standards.
“So many things affect academic outcomes that are not under our control,” said Anna V. Fisher, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon and the lead author of the study, which was published in Psychological Science. “But the classroom’s visual environment is under the direct control of the teachers. They’re trying their best in the absence of empirically validated guidelines.”
In the early years of school, children must learn to direct their attention and concentrate on a task. As they grow older, their focus improves. Sixth graders, for example, can tune out extraneous stimuli far more readily than preschoolers, the study’s authors noted.
But could information-dense kindergarten classroom walls, intended to inspire children, instead be overwhelming? Could all that elaborate décor impede learning? Some experts think so.
“I want to throw myself over those scalloped borders and cute cartoon stuff and scream to teachers, ‘Don’t buy this, it’s visually damaging for children!’ ” said Patricia Tarr, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who researches early childhood education and art education. She was not involved in the study.
Image: Colorful classroom, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, May 15th, 2014
A Michigan mom whose son was allegedly denied a school lunch because his account was empty decided to pay the outstanding balances on the accounts of each and every student in the high school to spare others the embarrassment her son suffered. Headline News has more:
“I realize I didn’t have to do that but I don’t want another kid going through what my son went through,” Amanda Keown told CNN affiliate WBND.
The total amount she had to fork over was less than $100 — a price she said was totally worth it to save other students from going through what her son, Dominic Gant, experienced.
“It was really embarrassing, especially in front of the whole class,” Gant told WBND. The junior said his lunch was taken away by school officials right after it was served to him, all because he had an outstanding balance of less than $5 in his account.
HLN has reached out to Dowagiac Union Schools but has yet to receive a comment. The principal of Dowagiac Union High School spoke to WBND and said that the teen shouldn’t have gone hungry.
“There’s no reason why a student should ever go without lunch, even if they have overdrawn their account. They can seek out one of the adults in the lunchroom and ask for permission to charge for another day,” Pieter Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra explained that a private contractor runs the lunch program so there isn’t much flexibility with payments because if the accounts go unpaid, the school is left holding the bill. He also said that the school regularly communicates with parents about the balances left on their kids’ lunch accounts.
Image: Cafeteria hot lunch, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, May 13th, 2014
American children still read for pleasure, according to a new report, but not very often and not very well. Reuters has more:
The San Francisco-based nonprofit Common Sense Media, which focuses on the effects of media and technology on children, published the report, which brings together information from several national studies and databases.
“It raises an alarm,” said Vicky Rideout, the lead author of the report. “We’re witnessing a really large drop in reading among teenagers and the pace of that drop is getting faster and faster.”
The report found that the percentage of nine-year-old children reading for pleasure once or more per week had dropped from 81 percent in 1984 to 76 percent in 2013, based on government studies. There were even larger decreases among older children.
A large portion rarely read for pleasure. About a third of 13-year-olds and almost half of 17-year-olds reported in one study that they read for pleasure less than twice a year.
Of those who read or are read to, children tend to spend on average between 30 minutes and an hour daily with that activity, the report found. Older children and teenagers tend to read for pleasure for an equally long time each day.
Rideout cautioned that there may be difference in how people encounter text and the included studies may not take into account stories read online or on social media.
The report also found that many young children are struggling with literacy. Only about one-third of fourth grade students are “proficient” in reading and another one-third scored below “basic” reading skills.
Despite the large percentage of children with below-basic reading skills, reading scores among young children have improved since the 1970s, according to one test that measures reading ability.
The reading scores among 17-year-olds, however, remained relatively unchanged since the 1970s.
About 46 percent of white children are considered “proficient” in reading, compared with 18 percent of black children and 20 percent of Hispanic kids.
Those gaps remained relatively unchanged over the past 20 years, according to the report.
“To go 20 years with no progress in that area is shameful,” Rideout said.
Help make reading fun with this free “Animal Antics” reading worksheet!
Image: Girl reading, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, May 8th, 2014
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, an assessment that’s also called “the nation’s report card,” shows disappointing trends in the performance of American 12th graders in both math and reading skill levels. NPR has more:
It measured reading and math skills of 92,000 high school seniors in 2013 and found that reading skills of those 12th-graders have gone unchanged since the last time the test was given, in 2009, and they’re lower than those of students in 1992.
Things aren’t much better when it comes to math. While scores were slightly better than in 2005, they too have been stagnant since 2009.
Those results are unacceptable, said David Driscoll, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees testing policy.
“Achievement at this very critical point in a student’s life must be improved to ensure success after high school,” he said.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the news troubling, particularly as high school graduation rates have reached an all-time high.
“We must reject educational stagnation in our high schools, and as a nation, we must do better for all students, especially for African-American and Latino students,” he said.
In the NAEP test, achievement is broken down into three levels: basic, proficient and advanced. “Basic” indicates partial mastery of the subject, “proficient” is grade-level performance, and “advanced” indicates superior work.
Seventy-four percent of students scored below the grade-appropriate level in math, compared with 26 percent of students who scored at or above grade level. Asian students and students whose parents went to college achieved the best math scores. Math scores for African-American students were the worst.
In reading, just 38 percent of seniors scored at or above grade level. And one-quarter of high school seniors are reading below grade level.
But that flat performance wasn’t just among students who struggled with math and reading, officials said. It also extended to the highest-performing students.
The results released Wednesday also showed that the achievement gap between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts remained stubbornly wide, despite more than a decade of federal efforts to close it.
Image: High school student, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, March 13th, 2014
Children who use hand gestures during a math lesson have been found to grasp and retain a greater amount of information than children who do not. The findings, from researchers at the University of Chicago, looked at ways in which children could use “abstract gestures,” as opposed to, say, counting numbers on their fingers, to improve math learning. More on the study from the university:
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The researchers taught third-grade children a strategy for solving one type of mathematical equivalence problem, for example, 4 + 2 + 6 = ____ + 6. They then tested the students on similar mathematical equivalence problems to determine how well they understood the underlying principle.
The researchers randomly assigned 90 children to conditions in which they learned using different kinds of physical interaction with the material. In one group, children picked up magnetic number tiles and put them in the proper place in the formula. For example, for the problem 4 + 2 + 6 = ___ + 6, they picked up the 4 and 2 and placed them on a magnetic whiteboard. Another group mimed that action without actually touching the tiles, and a third group was taught to use abstract gestures with their hands to solve the equations. In the abstract gesture group, children were taught to produce a V-point gesture with their fingers under two of the numbers, metaphorically grouping them, followed by pointing a finger at the blank in the equation.
The children were tested before and after solving each problem in the lesson, including problems that required children to generalize beyond what they had learned in grouping the numbers. For example, they were given problems that were similar to the original one, but had different numbers on both sides of the equation.
Children in all three groups learned the problems they had been taught during the lesson. But only children who gestured during the lesson were successful on the generalization problems.
“Abstract gesture was most effective in encouraging learners to generalize the knowledge they had gained during instruction, action least effective, and concrete gesture somewhere in between,” said senior author Susan Goldin-Meadow, the Beardsley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology. “Our findings provide the first evidence that gesture not only supports learning a task at hand but, more importantly, leads to generalization beyond the task. Children appear to learn underlying principles from their actions only insofar as those actions can be interpreted symbolically.”
Download our free worksheets to help your little ones start learning to count!
Image: Magnetic numbers, via Shutterstock