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Photo: MFA Boston
The results of a study on school field trips surprised the Brookings Institution researchers.

One of the messages I take from this Brookings report on student field trips is the importance of conducting research with both an open mind and a willingness to follow up on unexpected results. Another takeaway: researchers prefer to study things for which there are a lot of data available; worthwhile questions that don’t have a lot of data to work with often don’t get studied.

Jay P. Greene writes, “Most education research focuses on math and reading outcomes or educational attainment because those are the measures that the state collects and are readily available to us. Less is known about how students are doing in other subjects and whether their progress in those areas has important benefits for them and society. …

“A new experiment … examines long-term effects of students receiving multiple field trips to the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. The Woodruff Arts Center houses the High Art Museum, Alliance Theater, and Atlanta Symphony, all on one campus.

“We randomly assigned 4th and 5th grade school groups to get three field trips per year – one to each of Woodruff’s arts organizations – or to a control condition in which students received a single field trip. …

“The surprising result is that students who received multiple field trips experienced significantly greater gains on their standardized test scores after the first year than did the control students. …

“The reason these results are so surprising is that previous research had suggested that arts instruction tended not to ‘transfer’ into gains in other subjects. …

“When we conducted the analysis on the effects of treatment on test scores, we expected to find no statistically significant effects, just like almost all previous rigorous research. …

“We still do not believe that arts instruction and experiences have a direct effect on math or ELA ability. We think this because the bulk of prior research tells us so, and because it is simply implausible that two extra field trips to an arts organization conveyed a significant amount of math and ELA knowledge.

“Our best guess is that test scores may have risen because the extra arts activities increased student interest and engagement in school. … Maybe arts-focused field trips do not teach math or reading, but they do make students more interested in their school that does teach math and reading. But this is just a guess. …

“The odd thing about trying to write a paper with these results to present at conferences and submit to a journal is that there is strong pressure for us to pretend like we expected our findings all along. Discussants and reviewers generally don’t want to hear that you found something you didn’t expect and don’t really know why. They want to hear a clean story about how your results make sense and follow from your theory and literature review. In short, social science favors the false appearance of confidence.”

Ah, yes. When I was at the Fed, I often wondered about such things, but as a non-economist, I knew I was out of my depth.

Read about how the researchers intend to unpack the meaning of their unexpected results with future studies, here.

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Photo: Don Lyman
Threatened Blanding’s turtles have been parceled out to Massachusetts teachers and students to protect until big enough for the Grassroots Wildlife Conservation to return them to the wild.

I’m increasingly impressed with the science projects that schools are pursuing these days. My kindergarten grandchild, for example, brings home interesting science kits regularly — the latest involving batteries, wires, and electricity.

In Carlisle, Massachusetts, students are giving a leg up to tiny Blanding’s turtles, as Don Lyman, of the radio show Living on Earth (LOE), reports. The edited transcript follows.

“Lyman: On a clear but cold February day, snow from a recent storm blanketed the outdoor basketball courts at the Carlisle School. But inside the tank where two young turtles lived [Tsunami and Squirtle], it was a balmy 80 degrees or so, and the classroom itself teemed with excitement. I found myself among perhaps the only people with more questions than journalists: fifth graders. …

“Chris Denaro’s students grilled Emilie Schuler, the Director of Programs and Operations at Grassroots Wildlife Conservation, about everything from how many turtles are left in the world, to potential hazards the littlest ones face. …

“The kids were in the midst of a yearlong project to take care of two baby turtles, to give the hatchlings a head start in life, so they’d have a much better chance of surviving to adulthood and boosting the threatened species’ numbers when they’re released in the spring. … The kids were pros at feeding the turtles, giving them fresh water and weighing them, but they still had lots to learn about some amazing things the hatchlings – which they’d named Tsunami and Squirtle — could do. …

“Schuler: Can a turtle’s body – is it okay for a turtle, for its body to be 33 degrees? … That’s the really cool thing. It’s like kind of a superpower of turtles and of reptiles that they can have their body so, so cold. They can drop their body temperature like that and still be fine.

“Lyman: In order to still be okay with such a low body temperature, Blanding’s turtles have to slow down. Wa-a-ay down.

“Schuler: They’ve measured turtles that are this cold, and their heart was beating only one time every ten minutes. … Turtles have the ability to hold their breath for a really, really, really long time. Scientists have even done studies where they’ve purposely put turtles in water where they’ve bubbled out all the oxygen. Those turtles stayed under the water super-chilled for five months. …

“Your Blanding’s turtle cousins that are outside … in the winter right now … even if they were the same age as Tsunami, come April or May, when it starts getting warmer and they come out – what’s the size difference gonna be between Tsunami and their cousins?

“Lyman: The answer: around 7 or 8 times the weight! That’s the main reason why the headstart program is proving so valuable for boosting Blanding’s turtle population numbers. In just eight months, the kids make the baby turtles look like four-year olds. So they’re less attractive to predators like raccoons, herons, and bullfrogs, and much more likely to make it out in the wild.”

When I was in fifth grade, the teacher let a praying mantis egg case hatch in the classroom (and all over the school). That was certainly memorable, but I think the contemporary science projects involve more learning.

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Shelly Davidov/Miami New Times
In Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, street art transformed Jose de Diego Middle School.

It’s interesting to see how street art can be a route to gallery representation for painters, especially if they apply their tagging to public projects.

Ahmed Fakhr writes at Rolling Stone about how painting the walls in a Florida neighborhood helped some artists gain wider recognition.

“Miami is becoming a destination for global collectors looking for a multimillion-dollar Jeff Koons sculpture or one-off by Gerhard Richter. While some opt for the hallowed white-walled galleries to sip white wine, other local artists continue to gain notoriety when by taking to the streets to paint huge murals on bare walls with cans of spray paint. This graffiti explosion was the creation of the street art scene in Wynwood.

“In 2007, Wynwood was a rundown textile and manufacturing area. Then a cohort of street artists decided to bring attention to their neighborhood, but as a way to establish their own art.

“Slowly the area transformed into a haven for creative people looking for a way to express themselves. Soon enough, a developer purchased the properties and capitalized on the growing art culture in the gentrifying area now known as the Wynwood Arts District. …

“Native Robert de los Rios, founder of the RAW project, has been entrenched in street art scene in Miami for years, so he used this opportunity as a way bring art to underfunded schools in the area. ‘Art budgets for schools in the Wynwood area were slashed to zero,’ Rios says.

“So he decided to approach the area school district and street artists from around the world to paint murals on the indoor and outdoor walls of the school. By doing so, Rios hoped this would jumpstart the issue of funding art in schools again and to inspire kids’ creativity. ‘They felt like they were coming to a prison before,’ he says. ‘But now they come to school excited and happy.’ …

“While Rios prides himself in being able to bring an international graffiti scene together to transform the aesthetic of the school, he also collaborated with multiple Miami artists – Ahol Sniffs Glue, Typoe, Santiago Rubino and FL.Mingo – to bring challenging concepts to the school’s campus.

“Typoe, one third of an art collective known as Primary Flight, along with Cristina Gonzalez and Books Bischof, started in Wynwood when Art Basel launched in 2007. Having no luck at the fair, the trio decided street art was more lucrative. … Now they have a gallery space in the Design District.”

Read about more of the artists at Rolling Stone, here, including the one who prefers to stick to illegal tagging of trains and remain anonymous.

I’d be very curious to know how all this has affected the students at the middle school. Perhaps some are aiming to become artists now or are just feeling more special.

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Photo: Charleston County School/Facebook
South Carolina teacher Katie Blomquist said she wanted her students to grow up with happy biking memories like hers.

I woke up one morning and checked the headlines and saw four stories on horrible things and felt the weight of the world descending. But I also keep finding stories reminding me that, whatever happens, the human spirit of kindness survives.

Here is a recent example from South Carolina, where a teacher was so moved by the poverty of her students that she took an unusual action.

Eun Kyung Kim reported the story at TODAY.com.

“Students jumped with joy, hugged one another and squealed with delight as teachers at their South Carolina elementary school revealed hundreds of custom-made bicycles beneath parachutes normally used for P.E. class.

“The new set of wheels [came] courtesy of first-grade teacher Katie Blomquist.

“ ‘I made a really conscious effort to watch their faces and let it soak in and imprint in my brain when those tarps went up,’ she told TODAY. ‘It was that moment I’ve been waiting for seven months.’

“But the idea originated more than a year ago. Blomquist, 34, teaches at North Charleston’s Pepperhill Elementary School, where many of the students live in poverty. Last year, one of her students mentioned how much he wanted a bike for his birthday. His parents couldn’t afford to buy him one, and neither could she.

“ ‘I started thinking about all the other kids who might not have bikes. We take a lot for granted and we forget that there’s a large category of kids out there who don’t have bikes,’ she said. ‘That was such a large piece of my childhood memories, and I immediately thought, “oh, they’re not getting that!”‘ …

“In September, Blomquist started a ‘Every Kid Deserves a Bike!’ GoFundMe page and set a $65,000 goal, enough to buy bikes and helmets for the 650 students at Pepperhill. Within three months, she had raised more than $82,000. …

“ ‘This was an entire second job for me, when I got home from work until midnight every night,’ she said.

“Radio Flyer donated 100 big-wheel tricycles and training bikes for the pre-school students, while a local business, Affordabike, worked with Blomquist to customize the remaining 550 bicycles …

“Beyond the children’s reactions — and the hugs from parents as they picked up the bikes —Blomquist said she’s enjoyed the sense of community created by strangers around the nation who donated to the campaign. It was support she hadn’t anticipated. …

“ ‘But maybe one day when they’re adults, they’ll know that this gift, it wasn’t from me. It was from our community and our country,’ she said.”

More here.

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I’m so glad Cousin Claire shared this New York Times story on Facebook. It’s about a school custodian with an artistic bent whose talent is raising everyone’s spirits.

Corey Kilgannon writes writes that Israel Reyes, “senior handyman and longtime boiler operator at Public School 69X Journey Prep in the Soundview section of the Bronx,” finds the lonely summer months to be a good time “to concentrate on the colorful wall murals he has become known for painting inside the 93-year-old building. …

“For years, the 15-foot walls were faded and drab, Mr. Reyes said.

“ ‘There were no colors — it was like walking into a prison,’ recalled Mr. Reyes, who said that 12 years ago he grew tired of watching students entering the building each morning with their heads down.

“ ‘A lot of these kids come from broken homes, just like I did, and I’d see them walking in, all stressed out and looking down, because the school looked even worse than their homes,’ he said. ‘I wanted to do something to make them look up.’

“So he persuaded the principal to let him use leftover paint from other jobs in the building to start creating an educational wonderland. He worked for years, during his down time, his lunch hour and on his personal time, even late into the night.

“ ‘The kids come in now in the morning and they smile,’ Mr. Reyes said. ‘They come in and ask me, “What’s next?” and I show them what I worked on overnight.’ ” …

“Mr. Reyes, whom everyone calls Carlos, said he and his five brothers were raised by his father in the Bronx and on a farm in Puerto Rico.

“ ‘We had to make our own toys from garbage, from whatever we found,’ said Mr. Reyes, who as an adult has made sculptures out of trash-picked objects, especially the wooden legs off discarded furniture, to entertain his four children and 14 grandchildren.

“He calls it ‘table leg art,’ and has made a panorama representation of Manhattan that is on display in the school library, a cityscape with wooden legs as skyscrapers. …

“Until recently, said Mr. Reyes, a widower, his apartment was decorated in an over-the-top theme — a botanical garden with a pond, a lamppost and a park bench — recalling his Puerto Rican upbringing.

“ ‘When my son moved back home, I had to sleep on the bench,’ he said. ‘I’d tell people, “I’m not homeless, but I sleep on a park bench.” ‘ ” More.

I’ve read that no matter what kind of job you have, there should be some aspect that is yours alone, where you can express your creativity. I couldn’t agree more.

Photo: Santiago Mejia/The New York Times  
Israel Reyes, at Public School 69X in the Bronx, wanted to brighten the building for students. 

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Among all the sad aspects of the refugee crisis, children in refugee camps going without any education — sometimes for years — has to be one of the saddest.

10 million under the age of 8 are displaced

Fortunately, there are occasional rays of light, such as adult refugees deciding to start their own school. And here is a story from Mashable about a partnership between the International Rescue Committee and the makers of Sesame Street.

Matt Petronzio writes, “A new partnership between Sesame Workshop, the brand’s educational nonprofit, and global humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee (IRC) will allow the two groups to develop, distribute, and test educational resources and programs designed with young refugees in mind. …

“The first phase is to develop educational multimedia content that can reach children living in displaced or resettled communities through mobile devices, radio, TV and printed materials in engaging, enjoyable ways.

” ‘We really set out to find a partner that complements our offerings, and I think the IRC is ideal,’ said Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. …

“Sesame Workshop and the IRC will adapt existing Sesame products and content for regions where the two organizations already have a presence working with young children and their families. …

“The partnership is aimed at the children who make up half of the record 60 million people currently displaced around the world, specifically the one-third of that population under the age of eight. In addition to a lack of education, these children also often deal with toxic stress and trauma.

” ‘We’ve seen time and time again, in the context of conflict and crisis, that those very young children don’t have a safety net to support them,’ Sarah Smith, senior director for education at the IRC, told Mashable. …

“Most recently [Sesame] launched Zari, the first local Muppet in Afghanistan, a country where many young children lack access to education, especially girls.

“Zari’s gender was a deliberate choice to promote girls’ empowerment — an example of tailoring curricular goals to the needs of a particular country. (According to Westin, recent research showed that fathers in Afghanistan changed their minds about sending their daughters to school after watching Baghch-e-Simsim, the local language version of Sesame Street.)”

More at Mashable.

Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

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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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