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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Photo: Milwaukee Public Schools
Sarah Wenzel and her class at Forest Home Elementary demonstrate a series of poses from the YogaKids cards, http://www.yogakids.com.

When I was in kindergarten, someone would come to play the piano and we children would walk in a circle pretending to be giraffes (re-e-eaching!) and elephants (swinging gently while bent over).

Just the other day, I realized that those kindergarten stretches were the same as stretches I’ve been doing for my back.

Decades ago, schools like mine were helping kids exercise for health. Now an increasing number of studies suggest that moving while in class helps children’s brains learn better, too.

Donna de la Cruz writes at the NY Times, “Sit still. It’s the mantra of every classroom. But that is changing as evidence builds that taking brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class, and a growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools. …

“A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that children who are more active ‘show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.’ And a study released in January by Lund University in Sweden shows that students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.

“ ‘Daily physical activity is an opportunity for the average school to become a high-performing school,’ said Jesper Fritz, a doctoral student at Lund University and physician at the Skane University Hospital in Malmo, who was the study’s lead author. …

“ ‘Kids aren’t meant to sit still all day and take in information,’ said Steve Boyle, one of the co-founders of the National Association of Physical Literacy, which aims to bring movement into schools. ‘Adults aren’t wired that way either.’

“Mr. Boyle’s association has introduced a series of three- to five-minute videos called ‘BrainErgizers‘ that are being used in schools and Boys and Girls Clubs in 15 states and in Canada, Mexico, Ireland and Australia, he said. A version of the program is available to schools at no charge. …

“ ‘At the end of the week, kids have gotten an hour or more worth of movement, and it’s all done in the classroom with no special equipment,’ Mr. Boyle said. ‘We’re not looking to replace gym classes, we’re aiming to give kids more minutes of movement per week. And by introducing sports into the videos, giving kids a chance to try sports they may not have ever tried before.’ ”

To read more at the NY Times, click here.

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My high school friend Susie posted this KQED article on Facebook. I couldn’t agree more with its focus on the value of daydreams and allowing everyone adequate  time to recharge batteries.

Referencing today’s many distractions, KQED reporter Katrina Schwartz writes, “Many people believe they are skilled multitaskers, but they’re wrong. Neuroscience has shown that multitasking — the process of doing more than one thing at the same time — doesn’t exist.

“ ‘The brain doesn’t multitask,’ said Daniel Levitin, author and professor of psychology, behavioral neuroscience and music at McGill University on KQED’s Forum program. ‘It engages in sequential tasking or unitasking, where we are shifting rapidly from one thing to another without realizing it.’ The brain is actually fracturing time into ever smaller parts and focusing on each thing individually. …

“The brain has a natural way of giving itself a break — it’s called daydreaming. ‘It allows you to refresh and release all those neural circuits that get all bound up when you’re focused,’ Levitin said. …

“[Daydreaming] is particularly important for students, who are often asked to sit through a long school day with very few breaks. Lots of research has shown the importance of recess and free play time for academic success, but schools still tend to emphasize time spent in class ‘learning’ over a more nuanced view of how and why kids learn.

“ ‘Children shouldn’t be overly scheduled,’ Levitin said. ‘They should have blocks of time to promote spontaneity and creativity.’ Without that time, kids don’t have the mental space to let new ideas and ways of doing things arise. Daydreaming and playing are crucial to develop the kind of creativity many say should be a focal point of a modern education system.” More.

Time to think, time to free associate, is not just important for kids. If the electric handwarmers I use in winter take twice as long to recharge as to expend their stored heat, then I, too, should have double time to recharge after engaging on anything. You, too.

Photo: Brynja Eldon/Flickr

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Dorcas International of Rhode Island is a refugee-resettlement and immigrant-support organization that also offers education programs and services to native-born residents.

On the nonprofit’s website, you can find uplifting stories of DIIRI beneficiaries. Here is one.

Sidy Maiga, a master percussionist from Mali, wanted to take his skills to the next level. The first step was to get over his insecurity about education.

“His mastery of the djembe, a drum of West African origin that is rope-tuned [and] shaped like a large goblet, has taken him on tours all over the world and as a teacher in schools all over the East Coast … But without a high school diploma, he felt like he had hit a wall. …

“Sidy heard from friends about things you could do at Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. …

“He admits he was hesitant about going to school again. … He enrolled in an ESL [English as a Second language] class to get up to speed” before taking the high school equivalency test known as the GED “and felt himself getting discouraged — so he stopped going to class.

“However, after getting encouraging calls from DIIRI staff, Sidy decided he would give it another shot. … ‘I think they saved my life, and I’m glad I came back.’ …

“With the help and encouragement of DIIRI staaff, Sidy decided the next step would be college.”

Sidy starts at Berklee College of Music this year and says, “Once I learn the academic way of music, then I can teach African music to the world.”

More here.

Photo: Dorcas International Institute
Malian djembe drummer Sidy Maiga says Dorcas staff “saved my life.”

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I liked this local story about a new approach to helping students who have special needs master independent-living skills while still connected with high school. It’s not hard to imagine the satisfaction students will gain from this volunteer-powered opportunity.

Brittany Ballantyne writes at the Valley Breeze, “Thanks to $15,000 donated from Lowe’s Home Improvement stores and the help of volunteers, students in the transition program at North Providence High School [NPHS] will start the school year in a new state-of-the-art transitional apartment space.

“Christopher Jones, special education director, said six Lowe’s stores donated $2,500 each to help build a studio apartment in the building at 1828 Mineral Spring Ave., where students will learn how to prepare and cook food, do laundry, type up resumes, make a bed and become [nursing assistant] certified if they choose.

“By the start of the academic year, Jones said, students ages 18 to 21 in the program will be able to get to work in the space …

“Jones envisioned giving the students an experience where they moved up not just in academics, but also in the NPHS building after receiving their diplomas. What were two in-school suspension classrooms [have been] transformed into the apartment after space was reconfigured in the high school, Jones explained. …

“He said the apartment space will be used anytime students aren’t out in the community getting hands-on work experience.”

More at the Valley Breeze, here.

Photo: The Valley Breeze
Students in the transition program at North Providence High School get apartment-style space to practice how to prepare food and cook, do laundry, make beds and write resumes.

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The article by Astrid Zweynert and Ros Russell begins, “Boys campaigning for girls’ education is not common in most parts of the world, but in India’s Rajasthan state, they are at the heart of a drive to get more girls into schools.

Educate Girls trains young people to go into villages to find girls who are not in the classroom in a country where more than 3 million girls are out of school.

“Some 60 percent of Educate Girls’ 4,500 volunteers are boys, founder and executive director Safeena Husain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

” ‘Having these boys as champions for the girls is absolutely at the core of what we’re trying to achieve,’ Husain said in an interview as she was awarded the $1.25 million Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the largest prize of its kind. …

“In Rajasthan, 40 percent of girls leave school before reaching fifth grade, often because their parents do not see education as necessary for their daughter because she is going to get married or stay at home to do housework, Husain said. …

“Educate Girls’ approach to is to define hotspots where many girls are out of school, often in remote rural or tribal areas, and then deploy its volunteers to bring them back into the classroom, said Husain.”

There’s plenty of research showing that when girls are educated, the standard of living in a country goes up. Educated girls “are less likely to get married at an early age or to die in childbirth, they are likely to have healthier children and more likely to find work and earn more money.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Are you familiar with the “Lens” blog at the NY Times? It focuses on “photography, video and visual journalism.” Here David Gonzalez writes about the photos of Putu Sayoga.

[Hat tip: Asakiyume on twitter.]

“If you live in a far-off place, a library may be something you’d only read about in books. That is, if you had books to begin with.

“That became the mission of Ridwan Sururi, an Indonesian man with a plan — and a horse. Several days a week, he loads books onto makeshift shelves he drapes over his steed, taking them to eager schoolchildren in the remote village of Serang, in central Java. ..

“Mr. Sayoga, a co-founder of the collective Arka Project, had seen something about the equine library on a friend’s Facebook page. It reminded him of his own childhood, where his school had only out-of-date books. Intrigued, he reached out to Mr. Sururi, who offered to put Mr. Sayoga up in his home while he spent time photographing Mr. Sururi on his rounds. …

“Mr. Sururi made a living caring for horses, as well as giving scenic tours on horseback. One of his clients, Nirwan Arsuka, came up with the book idea as a way of doing something to benefit the community, specifically a mobile library. He gave Mr. Sururi 138 books for starters. Most were in Indonesian, and the books included a lot with drawings.

“Children at the schools he visits can borrow the books for three days, and demand has been so great that he now has thousands of books.” More here. Check out the slide show.

Photo: Putu Sayoga

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Do we praise the work of librarians enough? I started following the Ferguson Library on twitter and Facebook after reading how it was the calm eye of the storm in Ferguson, Missouri, amid the 2014 riots. As a result, I now get good leads about other libraries. Here is a report on Ohio librarians who go the distance — and beyond.

Katie Johnson at School Library Journal describes her experience with “Play, Learn and Grow, a pop-up storytime and early learning program created through a collaboration between Twinsburg (OH) Public Library and Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA). …

“I noticed that none of the children living in the housing development were coming to storytime at our library. I reached out to AMHA representatives, hoping they would be open to the idea of the library hosting a weekly program at the development. They were, partnering me with one of their employees, Kellie Morehouse, who was already working with families within the complex.

“We set up Play, Grow, and Learn in an unused room behind the apartment leasing office. Our initial goal was to get to know children age five and younger and their families through storytime, crafts, and free play. As the weeks went on, we saw everything that these families lacked: employment, education, transportation, healthy food, proper healthcare, access to preschool, even reliable phone service.”

They got involved in all those areas — helping children get vaccinations and nutritious food, for example, and arranging for isolated young mothers to address depression.

“Early experiences with storytime revealed a desire of the young mothers to interact with one another.  This led the AMHA representative to suggest teaming storytime with one of the organization’s programs for moms.  AMHA and a local behavioral health agency had been working together to provide maternal depression support groups to low-income women in other parts of the county. …

“Twice a month, the moms in our storytime are able to meet in a group setting with a professional to discuss their frustrations and worries. Mom-ME Time has become key, as so many of our moms are dealing with heavy pressures every day, and most do not have a strong support network. Being able to vent and get helpful parenting advice can be crucial to the choices they are making for their young children.”

It is worthy of applause when a librarian sees the whole child, not just a child in storytime, and tries to tackle the barriers to a better life. More here.

Photo: Katie Johnson/School Library Journal
Moms are included in programming for children.

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I’ve read before about inventive approaches to teaching math — and my daughter-in-law, who coaches teachers of math, probably knows most of them. But recently, the Washington Post examined a new method, one that uses dance.

Reporter Moriah Balingit described observing a kindergarten game that “actually was a serious math lesson about big and small and non-standard measurements. Dreamed up by [drama teacher Melissa] Richardson and kindergarten teacher Carol Hunt, it aims to get the children to think of animal steps as units of measurement, using them to mark how many it takes each animal to get from a starting line to the target.

“[Today] teachers are using dance, drama and the visual arts to teach a variety of academic subjects in a more engaging way. …

“The Wolf Trap Institute, based at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, brought Richardson to Westlawn Elementary through a program that pairs art teachers with early-childhood educators to formulate math lessons. The program also provides professional development to teachers.

“And the program appears to have been effective: A study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in classes headed by Wolf Trap-trained teachers performed better on math assessments than did their peers being taught by teachers who were not in the program. …

“Researcher Mengli Song said the students in the program did not necessarily learn additional math content but they did demonstrate a better grasp of the material. And the effect was comparable to other early-childhood interventions. …

“Jennifer Cooper, director of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, said arts integration — particularly lessons where children get to move and play — is a good way to reach a lot of children who struggle with traditional book lessons.

“ ‘By embodying a concept . . . and putting it through your body in a multi-sensory way, you’re going to reach a lot of different kinds of learners,’ Cooper said.”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Teaching artist Melissa Richardson, right, from the Wolf Trap Institute, watches her kindergarten students at Westlawn Elementary School take large bear steps during a math lesson in Falls Church, Va.

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Do you ever read Kevin Lewis’s Sunday Globe column, “Uncommon Knowledge”? He covers new research in the social sciences. Thanks to him, I learned about this study on helping minority boys get engaged in education.

“A disproportionate number of students struggling academically are minorities, ” he writes. “Can we do better?

“In what they claim is the first credible study of the effect of an ethnically grounded education, researchers at Stanford analyzed the effect of a ninth-grade course offered in several San Francisco public schools covering ‘themes of social justice, discrimination, stereotypes, and social movements from US history spanning the late 18th century until the 1970s’ and requiring students ‘to design and implement service-learning projects based on their study of their local community.’…

“The researchers found that taking the course ‘increased attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23 credits (or roughly four courses).’ They call the results ‘surprisingly large effects,’ which were concentrated among boys.”

The paper, by Thomas S. Dee, and Emily Penner, is The Causal Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic Studies Curriculum.” It was posted at the National Bureau of Economic Research in January.

More here.

Photo: Stanford University
Teacher David Ko instructs an ethnic studies class at Washington High School in San Francisco. A Stanford study found students benefit from such courses. Here, Ko is explaining an assignment about the role of advertising in reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

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I read this NY Times article with relief. It seems that educators are returning to (or perhaps being heard about) the importance of play in learning.

Reporter Motoko Rich says, “Call it Kindergarten 2.0. Concerned that kindergarten has become overly academic in recent years, this suburban school district south of Baltimore is introducing a new curriculum in the fall for 5-year-olds. Chief among its features is a most old-fashioned concept: play.

“ ‘I feel like we have been driving the car in the wrong direction for a long time,’ said Carolyn Pillow, who has taught kindergarten for 15 years and attended a training session here on the new curriculum last month. ‘We can’t forget about the basics of what these kids need, which is movement and opportunities to play and explore.’

“As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading … even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states like Vermont, Minnesota and Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten. …

“Still, teachers like Therese Iwancio, who works at Cecil Elementary School in Baltimore’s Greenmount neighborhood, where the vast majority of children come from low-income families, say their students benefit from explicit academic instruction. She does not have a sand table, play kitchen or easel in the room. …

“Traci Burns, who has taught kindergarten for the last five years at Annapolis Elementary School, said she was looking forward to retrieving previously banished easels.

“ ‘With the Common Core, this has been pushed and pushed and pushed that kids should be reading, sitting and listening,’ she said. ‘Five-year-olds need to play and color. They need to go out and sing songs.’

“At Hilltop Elementary, a racially and economically diverse school in Glen Burnie, Melissa Maenner said she had found that teaching kindergartners too many straightforward academic lessons tended to flop.

“ ‘They are 5,’ Ms. Maenner said. ‘Their attention span is about five minutes.’ ”

Read more here.

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Speaking of libraries, if any of you decide to publish a collection of stories on the value of libraries, be sure to include this one about a family in India.

The nonprofit Read Global provided opportunity to them. “Om Prakash and his wife Sheela Devi raised three daughters and a son in the rural community of Geejgarh, in Rajasthan India. There were no educational resources nearby except for underfunded public schools, where books and computers were rare. …

“When we opened a READ Center in their village, the whole family was excited to join.

“ ‘It is a safe place for my daughters and wife to visit because it is close by, and it’s community owned and operated,’ Om Prakash says, ‘The staff are like family members. Anyone can visit and see what’s going on.’

“Their daughter Anuradha was the first to join the local READ Center. She took trainings in English, computer skills, and radio, where she created programs on health and women’s rights to help spread awareness in her community.  …

“Their daughter Archana started an online college program, and uses the books and computers at the Center for school. After graduating, she wants to become a teacher …

“Their son Pankaj is applying for government jobs. He took computer training from the Center and uses the library daily to prepare for the government’s required entrance exam.

“Mahima is the youngest. She participated in beautician training at the Center, and now she plans to become a makeup artist and open a beauty parlor of her own. …

“Anuradha says there has been a change in social norms in her community because of the Center: ‘Earlier, villagers were totally against letting their wives and daughters work, but now many of them have changed. They see women with respect, and they value their opinions.’ ”

More at Read Global.

Photo: ReadGlobal.org 

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An organization that I follow on twitter called SmallerCitiesUnite! (@smallercitiesu) tweeted today about a design for an educational marine center in Malmö, Sweden. It caught my eye because I like marine centers and because two novels I read recently took place in Malmö: Murder at the Savoy, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlööand Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Book 2, based on his life. (And of course, we have a Swedish connection in the family.)

Dezeen magazine reports, “Danish studio NORD Architects has released designs for a new Marine Educational Centre in Malmö, Sweden, comprising a 700-square-metre visitor centre with a large overhanging roof structure that covers an external aquatic learning environment. …

“The education centre will be set in 3,000 square metres of landscaping, including small ponds and planting that are intended to mimic an assortment of marine ecologies and create ‘an engaging learning landscape’ that allows visitors to have a hands-on experience of nature.

” ‘In the learning landscape, users will find floating laboratories on small removable pontoons, teaching signs on the seabed and underwater sea binoculars to name a few,’ said the studio.” More at Dezeen magazine, here.

Photo: NORD Architects

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Adele Peters writes at FastCoExist that some schools, “like Ward Elementary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are starting to fill classrooms with exercise bikes, so students can work out while they learn.

“The Read and Ride program at Ward began five years ago. One classroom is equipped with enough exercise bikes for a full class of students, and teachers bring students throughout the day to use them. As they ride, they read. The combination burns calories, but it turns out that it also helps students learn better. As the elementary school analyzed testing data at the end of school year, they found that students who had spent the most time in the program achieved an 83% proficiency in reading, while those who spent the least time in the program had failing scores–only 41% proficiency.” More here.

The concept, which I learned about at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, is interesting. I hope most such efforts are in addition to recess, not instead of, but I know from experience that physical motion can helping with learning. And if the kids like it, so much the better.

Photo: Read and Ride

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As a kid of 10 or so, I played in the woods, frequently all alone. It was magical.

As an adult, I wonder if it’s no longer considered safe. I don’t ever hear of children playing in the woods. That’s why I was interested to read about a growing movement called Forest Schools.

Siobhan Starrs writes for the Associated Press, “In the heart of north London lies the ancient Queens Wood, a green forest hidden away in a metropolis of more than 8 million residents. The sounds of the city seem to fade away as a group of children plays in a mud kitchen, pretending to prepare food and saw wood.

“These aren’t toddlers on a play date — it’s an unusual outdoor nursery school, the first of its kind in London, following a trend in Scandinavia, Germany and Scotland. It allows local children to learn, and let their imagination run free, completely surrounded by nature. …

“Each morning a group of children gather at the Queens Wood camp, which the nursery team prepares each morning before the children arrive. A circle of logs provides a place to gather for snacks, stories and songs. The mud kitchen provides an opportunity to make a proper mess and have a sensory experience, a rope swing provides some excitement and a challenge, and several tents are set up for naps and washing up.

“In a clearing in the woods, a fallen tree trunk can be transformed by imagination into a rocket train, calling at the beach and the moon, with leaves for tickets.

“A 2-year-old, Matilda, finds a stick — but in her mind it’s not a stick. It’s a wand. She says she is a magic fairy who can fly. Then suddenly the stick has become a drum stick, and a gnarled tree stump her drum. She taps away contentedly, the rhythm all her own.” Read more here.

Speaking of fallen tree trunks, I particularly remember a big tree that fell in the forest after a storm and the fun a friend and I had making up stories on it.

Photo: Matt Dunham/AP
Forest schools are increasing in popularity in the United Kingdom.

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My friend Jean Devine is always up to something interesting. A Brown U grad, with an MBA from Simmons, she used to work in investor relations but in recent years has been testing the waters of social entrepreneurship.

Her latest initiative, with Barbara Passero of Sandpiper Creative, is called meadowscaping and is intriguing on many levels.

With access to a Waltham church lawn for a summer youth program, Jean and Barbara will work with kids to convert the yard into a meadow that uses native species from Garden in the Woods and provides a habitat to the bugs and other small creatures that make a healthy environment.

From the Meadowscaping for Biodiversity website: Meadowscaping “is an outdoor, project-based, environmental education program that provides middle school youth with real-world experiences in STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), while inspiring and empowering them to address challenges to the environment and our society.

“Today, few children spend time experiencing Nature and the benefits of outdoor recreation, education, and contemplation. Founder and former Director of the Children and Nature Network (C& NN) Richard Louv coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder to describe the negative effects of reduced outdoor time on children’s development. …

“Children who spend little time outdoors may value nature less than children who spend time outdoors in free play. Similarly, children who feel part of something bigger than themselves may … understand their dependence on a clean environment and know that they are responsible for caring for the Earth as their home.” More here.

The idea behind the meadowscaping summer program is that children, both at a young age and as they become adults, can actually do something about the environment.

Remember our post “The Doctor Is In” about the woman who sets up in a Providence park to listen to your worries about global warming (here)? Stop worrying and do something, say the meadowscape entrepreneurs. Give up lawn chemicals, plant a meadow, provide a home for tiny necessary critters, and work to make change.

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