Education

  • Why Tarantulas Can Seem So Scary

    It’s not every day that social scientists use tarantulas in their experiments. Professor Kent Harber brought unwitting Rutgers students into his lab. They were escorted into a semi-darkened room and asked to stand right in front of a table. Then the lights snapped on, revealing a huge hairy crawling tarantula a couple feet away.(There was no real danger: the spider was contained in a glass box, but it was big enough and close enough to have the desired effect.) Harber asked the students to estimate the exact distance, in feet and inches, between where they were standing and the tarantula.The thing was, on the way into the room, Harber asked a random half of the students to pause and recall a moment of personal success. Still others were to think about a time they'd failed at something. Harber didn't ask the students the specifics of what they were thinking about – he just asked them to place it in their mind before they walked into the dark room. The students who'd...
  • Online Lectures Are Not Just for Students Anymore

    YouTube has built a global reputation as the place to go for video clips of singing cats, laughing babies, reckless drivers, and raucous wedding processionals. But there's more to the site than pointless entertainment; there is a growing collection of university lectures available, including one by a Harvard Business School professor talking about consumer psychology in the recession, and Cambridge University historian David Starkey discussing the history of the British monarchy. Earlier this year YouTube launched a new home for education, YouTube EDU, which started as a volunteer project by company employees seeking a better way to aggregate educational content uploaded by U.S. colleges and universities. Last month the subsite went international, with 45 universities in Europe and Israel adding their content to the stream. "Around the world people can, from the comfort of their home, refresh their knowledge on a subject or explore other topics to better themselves intellectually,"...
  • The Future of Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

    It's been a mainstay of sex ed for more than a decade. Now, as the Obama administration cuts off federal funding, the movement scrambles for money, determined to continue its mission.  
  • Letters: Why College Should Take Only Three Years

    In the name of saving money, a shortened education for all students is heralded as not only possible but prudent. The human psyche be damned!William G. Durden, President, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.My college made it difficult to graduate early. The loss of an annual tuition fee was surely a factor. Families and politicians should request the option of an à la carte menu, instead of a one-size-fits-the-wealthy prix fixe.Jennifer Mason, Boston, Mass.As a high-school student, I hope to lower my future tuition costs not by accelerating my collegiate studies but by earning Advanced Placement credits now.Matt Epting, Ft. Worth, TexasI had to take unnecessary courses to fulfill my undergrad major requirements. I would much rather have graduated in three years and had the freedom and some financial reserves to get into the job market and gain real-world experience, or go on to pursue a focused graduate degree. Let's face it: in today's competitive climate, graduate degrees are...
  • Why Private Schools are Missing the Best Kids

    Hypothetically, let’s say you ran a fancy private elementary school. Like other private schools in the region, you’re competing to put out the brightest kids. And one of the ways you engineer this is through your admissions process – you try to select the kids who will get the most out of what your school has to offer. Kids who can handle the intellectual challenge, and who don’t disrupt the class. So, if you’re like other private schools, you bring the five-year-old applicants in for some intellectual assessment, and you also set up some games and playrooms for them so that you can watch them for an hour or two – to monitor their behavior. You’re looking for kids who get upset, withdraw, can’t wait for their turn, dominate other kids, can’t sit still, don’t pay attention to the instructions, et cetera. Then you admit the kids who looked best.This seems innocuous. It’s common practice.However, according to an ongoing study in Germany, what you might have done is just reject some of...
  • Duncan Offers Incentives for 'Revolutionary' Overhaul of Teacher Colleges

    As I predicted Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan's major speech at Columbia University this week called on America's teacher colleges to follow the lead of Louisiana, which has been setting the pace nationally in terms of overhauling its schools of education. The state has turned the devastation wrought by Katrina into an opportunity to force through the kind of education reforms that other states just can't seem to muster. One of its most controversial strategies has been to include data on how effectively new graduates are teaching and how much their students are learning when evaluating the quality of teacher colleges and other training programs. ...
  • In Defense of Children Behaving Badly

    It’s widely accepted in our society today that young kids’ behavior is a window into their future. When they can’t sit still in preschool, or they whack a friend, or they disobey─we recognize these as signs of portent. We all grasp that kids grow out of it, but it’s often hard to keep that in mind in the moment. Our vigilance has been piqued by the ADHD phenomenon, which is both good and bad. It’s good in the sense we want to spot hyperactivity early, in order to help kids who need it. It’s bad in the sense that we judge ordinary childhood misbehaving pretty harshly, through the lens of diagnoses. Amidst these trade-offs, there’s common ground─a baseline that educators and parents agree on: children with better behavior at the start of kindergarten are more ready to learn. Behavior and attention go hand in hand. Better behavior leads to improved attention, which in turn leads to soaking up more knowledge. This behavioral-advantage, it’s understood, continues for several years....
  • Duncan Pursues Teachers Who Make the Grade

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan has spent the past several months dangling $4.35 billion in Race to the Top money at states to entice them to include data detailing students’ year-to-year academic growth when evaluating teachers’ performance (an idea that the teachers' unions have long dissed).Now he may be poised to push states to dramatically overhaul their teacher colleges by urging states to follow Louisiana’s lead and include information specifying how well new teachers perform in real classrooms when evaluating the quality of schools of education and other training programs. Duncan is scheduled to give what his staff says is a major speech Thursday at Teachers College at Columbia University to set a new “national direction” on teacher preparation. The quality (or lack thereof) of America’s teacher colleges has long been one of the main stumbling blocks to closing the achievement gap. Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia's Teachers College, put it bluntly...
  • All Talk and No Integration

    By Stefan TheilGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel has put integration at the top of her agenda, pushing for naturalization of immigrants and creating a high-powered Islam Conference that has raised the visibility of Muslim leaders in German public life. Yet last week, the OECD published a damning report on Germany's integration efforts, ranking it at or near the bottom on several measures of its ability to provide education and employment opportunities for its 15 million migrants (who make up 19 percent of the population). One painful statistic: young second-generation immigrants--who should be getting integrated through the education system--are twice as likely to be unemployed as native Germans, even when both hold a college degree. The gap was the highest among the 16 countries studied, a result that author Thomas Liebig blames on rampant discrimination....
  • Mike Lanza: Emotional Intelligence is Better Learned Outdoors Than in Classrooms

    Mike Lanza writes the Playborhood blog. Having followed our thread on the shoddy science for teaching Emotional Intelligence in classrooms, Lanza had an interesting take: if kids today are lacking in “emotional intelligence,” it’s not because schools have failed to teach kids to get along. Rather, he writes, it’s because “Children in 21st Century America don’t play outside on their own any more. Thus, they have far fewer opportunities to develop social skills, leadership skills, sense of mastery, and creativity.”Lanza’s point is that when kids went outside to play in their neighborhood, they learned tremendously from the experience of having to self-organize:"Remember pickup games?  Every time we did it decades ago, we were deciding what to play, who would play, where we would play, and what the rules would be.  We adjudicated disputes and interpreted rules.  We made exceptions to the rules for kids who were less fortunate than us – special needs kids, little kids, or just less...
  • How Biased Science led to Emotional Intelligence Curriculum in all UK Schools

    In 2005, elementary schools in England were told by their Department of Education to include, in their curriculum, a program known as SEAL─which teaches children how to develop their social and emotional skills. In 2007, this mandate was extended to high schools─English children now get this curriculum every single year of their student life. It’s nothing less than an official governmental national strategy for the future. SEAL's rocketing through British schools was really launched by a single evaluation of a pilot program, which had been conducted in 80 elementary schools from 2002 to 2005. In the pilot, schools used activities such as group discussion, stories, puppet play, games, and role playing, to teach topics such as antibullying, the hurtfulness of gossip, and "uncomfortable feelings"─such as bereavement over a loved one's death. When children were kind to each other or acted appropriately, teachers would publicly reward the children with prizes and...
  • Should Socio-Emotional Learning Be Taught In Schools? Part 1

    This week, we’ve hosted Daniel Goleman here to hash out our disagreements over emotional intelligence in children. Dan has been a good sport, and we respect his willingness to engage in this dialogue. We've extended an invitation to Dan to return, if he'd like to respond to more of our questions; if he does, we will make sure to let you know.Over the course of the week, Dan seems to have agreed that at the time his book Emotional Intelligence was originally published, in 1995, he was covering the burgeoning science of emotions – but the construct of Emotional Intelligence itself, as a master unifier, had yet to be proven. So the real question is whether the data in the last 14 years has now proven the validity of Emotional Intelligence. And over the course of the week, our debate over that data boiled down to two competing factoids, at least as it relates to children: On one hand, scores of Emotional Intelligence in students have a very weak, to nonexistent, correlation...
  • How We Overvalue Education

    It's treated as a given in our political debate that offering a good education is the most important way we can reduce our large, and growing, inequality. Democrats, from President Obama to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all say they will invest more in education. George W. Bush pledged to be the education president, and signed No Child Left Behind. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg says that failing to provide equal educational opportunities is a failure to achieve the goals of the civil-rights movement. Wherever you sit on the political spectrum you are supposed to think that education is the way that we mitigate the vastly unequal opportunities that children in America receive. It's intuitively appealing: we are compassionate, we give kids a chance, but then they better pull themselves up their boot straps! ...
  • New Calls for a National Test?

    Calls to create a national test have long been fought back by advocates of local school control, but the release of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress results that showed no gains nationally in fourth-grade math scores—as well as shocking gaps between students' scores on that test vs. state test scores in places like New York—will likely reignite the debate again. While eighth-grade math scores rose by 2 points on the 500-point NAEP scale, it was the first time since the test was launched in 1990 that no uptick was recorded for fourth graders. Scores on the highly regarded NAEP test, commonly known as "The Nation's Report Card," are based on a national sampling, and not every student in the country takes it. But it has consistently given a more accurate picture of what (if any) progress American students are making over the years than the highly political state tests, which vary wildly in rigor from state to state, and have come under increasing...
  • Is the AFT Trying to Reform Its Image?

    Education reformers were pleasantly stunned when the American Federation of Teachers announced today that two of the winners of their new Innovation Fund grants planned to use the money to create teacher-evaluation systems that give weight to students' standardized test scores. The idea of considering gains (or the lack thereof) in student test scores when evaluating the effectiveness of teachers is an idea that reformers have pushed for years. But it's also an idea that the AFT, the country's second-largest union, as well as its rival, the National Education Association, has repeatedly dissed, insisting that research doesn't prove that teacher quality and test scores correlate. In fact, AFT President Randi Weingarten, while head of the New York City teachers' union, helped push through state legislation banning use of student test scores in teacher evaluations for tenure.  ...
  • Motivation and Flow: The Teenager Edition

    Over the past week, I've been writing about the importance of motivation in improving the rate at which kids learn. Typically, when we think about such examples, we tend to think in terms of a particular activity that a kid becomes emotionally invested in. (In my son's case, it was Pokémon, now it's sports.) However, motivation is also affected by structural factors—by how a subject, skill, or sport is taught. Certain ways of teaching enhance motivation, and other means of teaching weaken motivation. This becomes particularly clear in the research on the concept of "flow."  ...
  • Leading Psychologists Reveal Some of Their Own Inner Demons

    Today, I recommend checking out the British Psychological Society's Research Digest. BPS asked over 20 of the world's leading psychologists to confess (in 150 words or less) to one nagging thing they still don't understand about themselves.Witty, charming, and by definition insightful, the psychologists' answers are well-worth reading. Richard Wiseman's piece wondering where comedy comes from made me chuckle; Robert Plomin's thoughts on parenting and genetic influence reminded me how much Po and I want to delve into this work – and how many questions are still left unanswered. But, read the essays as a group, and I think the scholars' replies offer an even broader insight.For example, evolutionary psychologist David Buss has studied the way men frequently – and incorrectly –  believe that women's friendliness towards them is an indication of sexual interest. He knows that men get this wrong all the time; however, in the moment, Buss confesses...
  • Marshmallow Boy vs. The Pokemon Kid – The Neuroscience of Children’s Passions

    If I could use subtitles on this blog, this one would read: Why the most famous study of child-distraction is itself a huge distraction.But give me a minute to set this up.Over at The Daily Beast today, I have an essay about how Pokemon changed my son’s brain. Or at least that’s how The Daily Beast is packaging the story. The real point of the article is that my son’s passion changed his brain. Passion, or motivation, is experienced by the brain as the spritz of dopamine. Dopamine increases neural signaling speed – the brains performs better and learns better. Think of dopamine as the turbocharger for learning. You want dopamine on your child’s brain. You want your child motivated.In my son’s case, because he was in love with Pokemon, he used the cards to learn math and reading. And because he loved Pokemon, he did a lot of math and reading, which made him very good at both. Prior to his love of Pokemon, he was entirely unexceptional at either. Now I want to talk about how passion...
  • Playing the “Conditional Love” Card

    It’s interesting to see the term “conditional love” reenter the zeitgeist, as Ashley wrote about yesterday. Conditional love, everyone can well remember, is being hot and cold with a child – accepting them only when they are polite, honest, bring home good grades, get into name-brand colleges, and marry well. Generations went into therapy and realized this was the dominant loving-style of their parents; it traumatized them by making them feel that any natural exploration off the predetermined path was taboo. Individualism and curiosity were forbidden – children felt like showpieces, useful only to impress other parents at the country club.Since the dawn of the age of therapy, we’ve all understood that conditional love was the wrong message to send children. Unconditional love is what kids need. Ever since, we’ve heard the emphasis on unconditional love. Conditional love is almost unspeakable, unmentionable – something we were supposed to eradicate from children’s lives, like lead...
  • Abstinence-Only Education Is Back

    After weeks of railing against the price tag of health-care reform, Senate Republicans managed to bond over pumping up the budget for one aspect of health-care reform yesterday: abstinence-only education. Proposed by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the amendment reinstates $50 million in funding for abstinence-only education that President Obama had previously removed in his budget proposal earlier this year. Committee Republicans were joined by Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Kent Conrad in voting up the measure, which passed 12-11....

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