Friday, May 29, 2009

Virtual Camp

Here is a new concept (to me, at least) - virtual camp! Fresh Brain describes itself as a "Technology Exploration Platform for Teens." The site offers a variety of relatively short activities, targeted at individuals, and longer projects, which can be done independently or in groups. This summer - June 15 to August 14 - they are offering a "Virtual Technology Camp" for teens. This camp will include a series of activities, projects, and challenges, and will be supported by counselors and expert advisors. This seems like a great tool that can be used from home or at the local library, community center, or other settings that offer teens access to the Internet.

Of course, if you prefer an in-person camp, check out Project Exploration's Discover Your Summer guide to summer science and technology programs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Parents of Middle Schoolers Should Emphasize Future Relevance

A new study reports that parents can best help middle school students by linking school work to future goals and instilling the value of education, instead of emphasizing homework help. According to Dr. Nancy Hill, the lead researcher on the Harvard University Study: "Although they may want to make their own decisions, they need guidance
from parents to help provide the link between school and their
aspirations for future work." While instilling the value of academic work had a positive effect, helping with homework produced mixed results.

This finding is not surprising - more help on school work is not as valuable as connecting to the wider world. The finding is specific to parent involvement, but it probably applies to after-school providers as well. Those providers often act as proxies for busy or absent parents. This finding should provide evidence in opposition to the reality that after-school programs for at-risk youth often emphasize homework help over enrichment. Those receiving federal and state funds feel pressure to increase test scores - a short term outcome - as opposed to supporting career interest - which is more closely linked to future achievement. This finding is one of many that should move after-school back to a focus on youth development and academic enrichment and away from tutoring and repetition of the school day.

Science Daily Report on Harvard Study

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Analysis of Extended Day Policy Efforts

In the December 2008 Phi Delta Kappan, Larry Cuban offers an interesting analysis of the efforts to lengthen or alter the school day and year. He goes through the history of reform efforts. He even dispels the myth that our long summer break is a remnant of an agrarian economy; it is actually a result of middle-class parents wanting time to go on vacation or send kids to camp.

One of the major problems is the assumption that schools are just designed to prepare workers:
"By blaming schools, contemporary civic and business elites have reduced the multiple goals Americans expect of their public schools to a single one: prepare youths to work in a globally competitive economy. This has been a mistake because Americans historically have expected more from their public schools."
Cuban points out that there are many reasons that citizens support public education, including preparing responsible citizens, promoting common cultural values, dispel societal inequities, etc. So, building an entire reform effort around the needs of the business community does not actually work.

Instead, Cuban recommends improving the quality and focus on "academic learning time," "improving the quality of the time that teachers and students spend with one another in and out of classrooms":
"If policy makers could open their ears and eyes to student and teacher perceptions of time, they would learn that the secular Holy Grail is decreasing interruption of instruction, encouraging richer intellectual and personal connections between teachers and students, and increasing classroom time for ambitious teaching and active, engaged learning."
My only addition to Cuban's recommendation is that we should consider that not all learning time happens in a classroom in the presence of a teacher. There is a reason that middle-class parents demanded camp opportunities, and a reason that kids who go to camp don't fall as far behind academically as those who do not. It is not because those camps are focused on academic learning with classroom teachers. It is because high quality, focused learning time is more effective if it is balanced by a culture of out-of-school learning experiences.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Gardening, Community Service, and Science After School

Here is another example of a community gardening project.  This is happening without a specific classroom component, based upon cooperation between the community-based organization and a city department.  Teen boys have built a garden that is benefiting the whole community.

Link to Charlotte Observer article

Thursday, May 07, 2009

NSTA Journal Article on After-school Science

The March 2009 issue of the NSTA elementary school journal, Science & Children, contains an interesting article about an after-school science lesson.  Sami Kahn notes some of the issues that make after-school science different from the school day: She is working with multiple grade levels (1-4); the group has 90 minutes for an activity, compared to 40 minutes during the school day; and, since students often miss the after-school class due to other commitments, activities need to stand somewhat alone.  This is a well written article, especially for conveying the value of an after-school setting to an audience of science teachers. 

Read the article for free at the NSTA website

Monday, May 04, 2009

Parent Involvement in Science Learning

The National Science Teachers Association has released a new position statement on Parent Involvement in Science Learning. This should be a valuable tool for everyone seeking to improve science learning. We know that schools cannot do this work alone, and family involvement is critical.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Response to Math and Science versus Femininity

Dr. Freeride over at ScienceBlogs offers an interesting post about teenage girls perceptions of science and math learning in opposition to social status. We have to change the identified costs and benefits. That is very hard to do with deferred benefits from education. By providing social situations that encourage science and math, we can decrease the cost - you can have your friends and learn. The smartest kids get these opportunities - math team, science club, academic summer camp, etc. - and many scientists point back to those experiences as formative. Now we need to give social learning opportunities to the average kids - every kid should have a science club once a week or get to play math games outside of school. This requires a change in attitude from everyone involved, but it can be done.