Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bamboo Microscopes

Nature has an article about an organization in India called Jodo Gyan that provides educational services to underprivileged children. One of their products, a bamboo microscope that costs only $4, is attracting particular attention. Not surprisingly, the inexpensive device is in high demand. Microscopes are a great way to engage kids in science - looking at something they can't otherwise see can be very cool. However, making one for $4 could be transformative - now if we can just get some to the U.S.

A quick Google search found that Jodo Gyan considers itself a social enterprise (as opposed to a not-for-profit or NGO). They create products and deliver services to engage kids in learning in effective ways.

Link to Nature article

(Thanks to BoingBoing for the reference)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Baseball and the Evolution of Language

This post has little to do with my usual topic, but it may be of interest to anyone who works with kids or has ever complained about "kids these days" not knowing proper English. As huge Boston Red Sox fan (Go Sox - World Series champs!), I was drawn to this repost on Slate about how they spell S-O-X. Not surprisingly, our current battle with the language of text messaging (or worse, LOLspeak) is not the first time that efforts have been made to simplify the English language. Did you know that Noah Webster was mostly successful at changing irregular words like "gaol" to "jail", but less successful with "group" to "groop"? I was also interested to learn that Teddy Roosevelt tried to replace the "-ed" suffix with "-t". And, thanks to the practice of the day, the Declaration of Independence will always look like it encourages the "Purfuit of Happineff" to me.

So, with technological change comes the evolution of language. I guess those of us who work with children will jus has 2 deal wif it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Time for Science

A new study from the Lawrence Hall of Science* paints a grim picture of science learning in SF Bay Area classrooms. There just is not enough time. 80% of teachers report spending less than an hour per week on science, and 16% say they teach no science at all. One principal in the SF Chronicle article points out that each day has only 5 hours for instruction, so it is no surprise that some subjects get the short end. And the subjects that are not tested are the first to go, which is why NSTA has started a campaign to "Make Science Count".

As a teacher of children who were way behind, I made similar decisions to focus on math and reading. After all, these are the "gateway" subjects - without them, you cannot advance. It was only after I left teaching that I realized that by limiting exposure to science, social studies, arts, etc., we were opening the gateway with a path to nowhere. I find this concept best expressed as Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity, a paper arguing that all three of these pieces are needed for student success.

I argued yesterday against extending the regular instructional day. However, we do need a paradigm shift that provides time for engagement in science and other potential future careers. Eliminating testing is just hiding the evidence. Instead, we need to face testing as a reality and find ways to reach students with all the instruction they need, plus the ideas that make that instruction worthwhile. They are awake for 14-18 hours a day - I think we can find the time!

Link to Article | Link to Study
(*Disclaimer: I work on the same team at the Lawrence Hall of Science as those who conducted the research.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Time for Learning?

As an advocate of incorporating science in after-school, I might be expected to support the concept of longer school days that allow for more subjects to be taught. S. Paul Reville's article in Ed Week calls for this, and Massachusetts has taken the lead in piloting extended days. Now this topic is gaining ground as part of the revision of No Child Left Behind. I agree that there must be more time for "learning," but there are a few reasons that we must be careful about just adding more time for school.

Enrichment vs Academics: Spending time learning hard facts is important. Students need to be proficient in math, reading, and writing, and there are core facts in science, social studies, and other subjects that need to be absorbed as well. But how many hours per day should a 10-year-old spend on this? What about exploring topics that don't have hard answers, like what exists on other planets, or what the heck is this stuff?

Teacher Time: More time on academics presumably means more time committed by teachers. Is it really fair to expect teachers to add hours to their teaching day and time to prepare more lessons? And this doesn't even account for the higher demand of keeping kids engaged longer, when they are tired and just want to play. Enrichment time can be led by para-professionals, part-time staff, or volunteers, because it involves the child exploring, without the pressure of academic content or timetables.

Much of the pressure for longer school days comes from the success of charter schools with extended days. However, I can speak from personal experience - when I worked in such a program, we converted the extra hours into enrichment time, with art, drama, Odyssey of the Mind, etc. This was a better use of the time than extra instruction ever could have been (for teachers and students).

I support Mr. Reville's call for more learning time, but let's make sure that the law does not restrict the funding to academics. Programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers are successful because they trust community-based organizations to support the schools in providing enrichment. Let's keep that success moving in the right direction!

Link to EdWeek article (may require registration)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Even More Girls and Tech

I spend my whole day looking at after-school programs that engage kids in science and technology, but even I am amazed at the media coverage that seems to be surrounding programs that make STEM fun for girls. I think this is my third post on the subject. Here is a story about a YWCA TechGYRLS program being implemented in Delaware.

Clearly there is no shortage of interest in these programs from the press and presumably from parents. It is also likely that these programs are effective - a national organization like YWCA usually builds in evaluation to ensure that. So, the big challenge becomes scale. How do we make sure that programs like these are available to all of the 6 million children in after-school and 15 million more who would attend after-school if it were available in their community? The answer includes more money, but it also requires many, many more people to staff the programs, and an infrastructure to prepare that staff and help them share the practices that make their programs great. In the meantime, I hope the media coverage continues and that I keep hearing about these great programs.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Astronomy Students Helping Protect Our Planet?

I couldn't help but post this story about a team of undergraduate students at the University of Washington. They have identified more than 1,300 previously undetected asteroids! That number represents 1 out of 250 known objects in the Solar System. Talk about citizen science!

Link to story

Monday, October 08, 2007

Project Exploration on Ampolo

Project Exploration, a non-profit that supports public understanding of science and a Coalition member, is featured on a recent episode of Ampolo. Ampolo is a site that provides weekly episodes about good ideas that you can (hopefully) embrace and use in helping your community. View the video to learn more about the ideas that drive Project Exploration, a remarkable program!

Link to Video Article