Posts Tagged ‘ Education ’

Preschoolers Surprise Researchers with Algebra Skills

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Kids between the ages of 4 and 6 may have an innate ability to solve algebra problems long before they have had a single math class, according to new research from Johns Hopkins University.

“These very young children, some of whom are just learning to count, and few of whom have even gone to school yet, are doing basic algebra and with little effort,” post-doctoral fellow Melissa Kibbe, the study’s author, said in a statement. “They do it by using what we call their ‘Approximate Number System:’ their gut-level, inborn sense of quantity and number.”

The “Approximate Number System,” or ANS, is also called “number sense,” and describes humans’ and animals’ ability to quickly size up the quantity of objects in their everyday environments. Humans and a host of other animals are born with this ability and it’s probably an evolutionary adaptation to help human and animal ancestors survive in the wild, scientists say.

Previous research has revealed some interesting facts about number sense, including that adolescents with better math abilities also had superior number sense when they were preschoolers, and that number sense peaks at age 35.

Image: Child counting, via Shutterstock

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School Meal Standards Are Working, Harvard Researchers Say

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

New federal school meal standards, established in 2012, that require schools to offer healthier choices to students appear to have had a measurable, positive impact on fruit and vegetable consumption among U.S. school children.

“There is a push from some organizations and lawmakers to weaken the new standards. We hope the findings, which show that students are consuming more fruits and vegetables, will discourage those efforts,” said lead author Juliana Cohen, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, which conducted a study that examined food consumption both before and after the new standards were implemented.

Some 32 million students eat school meals every day; for many low-income students, up to half their daily energy intake is from school meals. Under the previous dietary guidelines, school breakfasts and lunches were high in sodium and saturated fats and were low in whole grains and fiber. The new standards from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed to improve the nutritional quality of school meals by making whole grains, fruits, and vegetables more available, requiring the selection of a fruit or vegetable, increasing the portion sizes of fruits and vegetables, removing trans fats, and placing limits on total calories and sodium levels.

The researchers collected plate waste data among 1,030 students in four schools in an urban, low-income school district both before (fall 2011) and after (fall 2012) the new standards went into effect. Following the implementation of the new standards, fruit selection increased by 23.0%; entrée and vegetable selection remained unchanged. In addition, consumption of vegetables increased by 16.2%; fruit consumption was unchanged, but because more students selected fruit, overall, more fruit was consumed post-implementation.

Importantly, the new standards did not result in increased food waste, contradicting anecdotal reports from food service directors, teachers, parents, and students that the regulations were causing an increase in waste due to both larger portion sizes and the requirement that students select a fruit or vegetable. However, high levels of fruit and vegetable waste continued to be a problem—students discarded roughly 60%-75% of vegetables and 40% of fruits on their trays. The authors say that schools must focus on improving food quality and palatability to reduce waste.

“The new school meal standards are the strongest implemented by the USDA to date, and the improved dietary intakes will likely have important health implications for children,” wrote the researchers in a statement.

Download our lunch box love notes to let your kiddo know she’s on your mind while she’s at school.

Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?
Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?
Lunch Monitor: What Are Kids Throwing Away?

Image: Apple, via Shutterstock

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Public Schools Consider Online Options Amid Mounting Snow Days

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

To keep the school year on track during a particularly grueling, snow-day-heavy winter, a growing number of public schools are making lessons and homework assignments available through online tools.  The New York Times reports:

As classrooms become more electronically connected, public schools around the country are exploring whether they can use virtual learning as a practical solution to unpredictable weather, effectively transforming the traditional snow day into a day of instruction.

About a third of school districts in the United States already have “significant one-to-one initiatives,” where students and teachers are given laptops and can work away from school on some assignments, said Ann Flynn, the director of education technology at the National School Boards Association. A byproduct “could be their application in times of health crises or in weather emergencies,” Ms. Flynn said.

Here, in the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, the impetus came after Hurricane Sandy forced schools to close for several days, said P. Erik Gundersen, the superintendent. This week’s approaching snowstorm, he said, looked “perfect for us, as the first time for making a true, virtual school day.”

He notified teachers. He petitioned the state’s Education Department to have it treat the day as a traditional school day. That is critical, because the district had already used its three allotted snow days this winter, meaning it would have to convert a future vacation day to a school day to avoid dropping below New Jersey’s 180-day minimum for the academic year.

State officials said they would take a look, gathering evidence that the experiment worked and involved student-teacher engagement throughout the day, and that it was not just a glorified homework assignment.

“This is an idea that we’d be interested in exploring in the future,” said Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the Education Department.

There are broader questions, though, about access to technology.

In New York State, where no district can substitute a virtual day for a snow day, Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the state’s Education Department, noted that not all students have computers or Internet access. And for students to truly keep up, he said, “a thoughtful plan aligned with the curriculum” would need to be developed before a storm struck.

In this New Jersey enclave, each of the 2,000 students in the district’s two high schools, as well as their teachers, have laptops that cost $1 million in total and are replaced every two years. Few students do not have a Wi-Fi Internet connection at home.

“Teachers developed very thoughtful plans,” Mr. Gunderson said. “Even if the state does not approve this, it was great to keep educating students despite a snowstorm.”

Need inspiration for fun things to do around the house? Check out these kid-friendly crafts using household items!

What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School

Image: School buses on a snow day, via Shutterstock

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Preschool Access Growing Across the U.S.

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

As growing numbers of politicians embrace the issue of enabling every child to have access to preschool education, the push is taking root in virtually every region of the country, even in states that had previously objected to the idea.  The New York Times reports:

With a growing body of research pointing to the importance of early child development and its effect on later academic and social progress, enrollment in state-funded preschool has more than doubled since 2002, to about 30 percent of all 4-year-olds nationwide. In just the past year, Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and the city of San Antonio have enacted new or expanded programs, while in dozens of other places, mayors, governors and legislators are making a serious push for preschool.

In New York City, where the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was elected on a promise of universal prekindergarten, the dispute between him and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is not over whether to expand the program, but how.

For generations, it was largely Democrats who called for government-funded preschool — and then only in fits and starts — and that remains the case in Congress, where proposals have yet to gain traction among Republicans. But outside Washington, it has become a bipartisan cause, uniting business groups and labor unions, with Republican governors like Rick Snyder of Michigan and Robert Bentley of Alabama pushing some of the biggest increases in preschool spending.

“It’s a human need and an economic need,” said Mr. Snyder, who raised preschool spending by $65 million last year and will propose a similar increase this year, doubling the size of the state program in two years. He called the spending an investment whose dividends “will show up for decades to come.”

Analysts also see politics behind the shift at the state level, with preschool appealing particularly to women and minorities, groups whose votes are needed by Republicans.

“If you cast it as an issue of inequality, Republicans get their back up right away, but there’s a sincere and growing concern on the part of a lot of Republicans about how to increase economic opportunity,” said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution and a former policy adviser to President George W. Bush. “And politically, they also really want to change their image as the party that just says no, to find something with broad appeal that they can say yes to.”

Few government programs have broader appeal than preschool. A telephone poll conducted in July for the First Five Years Fund, a nonprofit group that advocates early education programs, found that 60 percent of registered Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats supported a proposal to expand public preschool by raising the federal tobacco tax.

Image: Preschool blocks, via Shutterstock

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Anti-Bullying Curriculum Shows Results at Elementary, Middle Schools

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

An anti-bullying curriculum that was tested at three elementary and middle schools in Illinois has shown promising results, including reported improvements in key areas including respect, positive communication and social behaviors, awareness and understanding of bullying, school climate, and self-esteem.  More from ScienceDaily.com:

“It’s just as important to teach empathy to students as it is to teach them science,” says Jennifer E. Beebe, assistant professor of counseling and human services at Canisius College. “We can increase consciousness of positive behaviors by incorporating those ideals into the educational system. Many students may not learn them otherwise.”

Beebe completed a study which involved disrespect, bullying behaviors and physical aggression with 300 elementary and middle school students in three schools in Illinois. The behaviors were negatively impacting students’ academic achievement and school attendance. In many cases, these behaviors crossed over into the cyber world. Beebe’s research was sponsored by a grant from The Canisius College School of Education and Human Services.

Students learned several tenets from martial arts during a 12-week long mentoring program which was integrated into students’ regular classroom lessons for approximately one hour. “Students were taught such concepts as loyalty, obedience and respect.” Beebe adds.

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Back to School: Dealing With Meanness and Bullying
Back to School: Dealing With Meanness and Bullying
Back to School: Dealing With Meanness and Bullying

Image: Classroom, via Shutterstock

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