Games Students Play
With colorful computer simulations of bacteria under attack, Immune Attack is an educational video game that can teach high school students often hard-to-teach biological lessons about the immune system. "It's the ultimate war game," says Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists.
The Summit on Educational Games held in October marked the first meeting of people in academia, government, private foundations and the entertainment software industry to determine the challenges to be addressed to create a healthy marketplace and to develop educational games. Many educators agree that games are likely among the best ways to get and keep students engaged in class. And to have teachers buy in, they need to focus on the underlying learning opportunities, suggests Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan and a proponent of using games in lessons.
"This may be one of the most cost-effective ways to provide high quality education," says Kelly, who was among those who spoke at the briefing.
Video games are key because they require players to master skills that employers want, such as strategic and analytical thinking, problem solving, and adaptation to rapid change. And research is needed to determine which features of games are important for learning and why, and how best to design the systems to ensure students are learning appropriately.
Using games in school will likely require shifting curricula and the order in which materials are presented as well as shifting the role of teachers. Games might not be an integral part of schools for another decade, Kelly says.
Writing Scores Down
The statistics are alarming: 70 percent of students in grades 4 through 12 are low-achieving writers.
In the last national writing exam in 2002, only 22 to 26 percent of students in fourth, eighth, and 12th grade's scored at proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 72 percent of fourth-graders, 69 percent of eighth-graders and 77 percent of seniors failed NAEP writing proficiency goals.
The latest Carnegie Corporation of New York report, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools, lists 11 effective elements to improve writing achievement.
The elements should be interlinked, but it remains to be seen what is an optimal mix. Elements such as process writing combined with having peers work in groups and prewriting will likely get the best results, the report claims.
The National Council of Teachers of English says the report confirms other findings, which they stand by: that in classrooms where much time is spend on grammar exercises, student writing suffers and that more time needs to go to composing sentences. "Teaching how language works is the basis for good grammar instruction," says Kyoko Sato, NCTE president.
11 Effective Strategies to Improve Writing
1. Writing strategies: teaching students ways to plan and revise their work.
2. Summarization: teaching students how to summarize text.
3. Collaborative writing: helping adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise and edit their work.
4. Specific product goals: assigns goals for writing.
5. Word processing: using computers or word processors as supports for writing.
6. Sentence-combining: constructing more complex, sophisticated sentences.
7. Prewriting: organizing ideas for writing.
8. Inquiry activities: analyzing concrete data to help develop ideas.
9. Process writing approach: interweaving several writing activities in a workshop that stresses extended writing opportunities.
10.Study of models: providing students with chances to read, analyze and emulate good writing.
11.Writing for content learning: using writing as a tool for learning content material.
Beware of Senioritis
Colleges and universities, particularly California universities, are cutting students from their freshmen roster if their senior grades drop dramatically or if they do not complete the rigorous courses they promised in their application, according to SFGate.com.
For the first time this year, officials at the University of Washington in Seattle reviewed files of 5,400 incoming freshman and revoked the offers to 23 students. They also warned 180 other students to beware and stop slacking off.
The University of California, California State University and Stanford University have been revoking admissions for decades, but they are getting more aggressive about seniors being ready for college.
Most students are shocked, but most universities and colleges warn students that the acceptance offer stands if they complete the senior year without a slip in academic performance.
When teachers learned in August that a father-possibly armed-was on his way to his children's elementary school in central Texas, they were ready to be predator, not prey.
The father had just threatened to shoot his wife at home and was on his way to drop off the kids at school. The teachers had undergone training for a controversial technique of standing up against would-be school violators. But police responded and arrested him before he could do anything.
"The teachers later told me, 'The training you gave us gave us confidence to deal with this,' " recalls Robin Browne, an instructor for Response Options and former member of the British Army.
Response Options: Critical Incident Training is an organization of three instructors that was created in 2000 and has worked with several districts across the U.S., teaching students as young as 13 as well as teachers and staff they have options and the power to immobilize a would-be sniper as a last resort.
Its name only recently came to light when Burleson Independent School District in Texas stated in October it was were using some aspects of the training, which covers natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tornadoes, as well as potential shootings. Its principle is ACES-Attack the problem, whether shooter or tornado; Control the situation; Evacuate or immobilize the attacker; and Scan for further threats.
Browne says security measures such as surveillance cameras are just not working well. When a student was fatally shot in Bailey, Colo., in September, the emergency evacuation plan got students and staff to safety, but the girls the perpetrator took hostage still paid a price.
Some disagree with the tactics. Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, says training students to fight armed gunmen "poses a high risk of multiple massacre." He says the best defense is a well-trained and highly alert school staff and student body, with an emergency plan. But others, including some parents, welcome an alternative.
Response Options takes away fear. Instead of students hiding under desks and staying quiet, they are taught to throw objects at the perpetator and then pummel him "with everything they've got," Browne says.
"What he's faced with is insanity," Browne says about the perpetrator. "He is faced with ...screaming and a barrage of cell phones, books, and book bags and kids moving."
Burleson students have been taught various options, but officials don't want them to attack the intruder.
The length of training depends on the school, but teachers get at least four hours and students get at least an hour for combative training.
Norfolk Has Top Urban Board
For a third consecutive year, Norfolk Public Schools has won the Urban School Board Excellence Award given by the National School Board Association's Council of Urban Boards of Education, or CUBE.
The school district's stability and commitment to closing the achievement gap helped influence the judges' decision. The board is focused and shares a vision for students, staff and the community. It demonstrated commitment to school board governance as it worked together and with the community during its superintendent search.
The winning district received $5,000 for its student scholarship fund.
Other finalists include Houston Independent School District and Miami-Dade Public Schools.
International Educator Compensation
In the United Kingdom, teachers in areas with teacher shortages are forgiven their entire college tuition costs after serving for 10 years.
Danish teachers in remote schools are eligible for free accommodations, a home personal computer and access to wholesale shopping.
And in Sweden, salaries are negotiated based on the subject taught, school demographics, the school's needs, and the teacher's background, skills and performance.
These are a few reforms in use in foreign, high-cost countries, according to a report, Teacher and Principal Compensation: An International Review, by the Center for American Progress.
The U.S. is not alone in finding and keeping quality teachers in classrooms as more people are needed to have and teach in-depth skills. Last century teachers recruited from the bottom list of those entering college and then trained to provide a modest level of literacy, or one on par with eighth-grade literacy, are becoming obsolete, the report notes.
Many countries in Europe and South America are testing across-the-board salary adjustments for teachers and other incentives to get them to shortage areas.
But some differences lurk. For example, some nations with similar teacher-student ratios to the U.S. have larger class sizes, but the teachers, say in Japan, typically have more time to plan with other teachers, build curriculum and work with their students individually.
Future Economy Depends on Minorities
If the percentage of minority students who graduate from high school does not increase at least on par with that of their white peers, the nation's economy will weaken, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education's new issue brief, Demography as Destiny: How America Can Build a Better Future.
The alliance projects that if minority graduation rates rise on part with those of whites and if those graduates seek higher education at similar rates with whites, additional personal income would total more than $310.4 billion by 2020, creating additional tax revenues and an improved economic picture.
Eighth-Graders Think Careers
Wyoming eighth-graders are already going to have to think about college and a career.
The state is creating an eighth-grade unit of study in all public school districts, which was created under the Hathaway Scholarship Law. The lessons will be roughly a week long and will take place next spring, just before students register for ninth-grade classes, according to the Jackson Hole Star Tribune.
The scholarship program is designed to provide incentives to students to prepare for and pursue postsecondary education in the state and consists of four separate merit scholarships.