You are here


Curriculum Update

Research, trends and developments

Innovative Program Gets Students Reading

Want to encourage your middle-school students to pick up a book outside of the classroom? That's the goal behind the National Association of Basketball Coaches' four-year-old Ticketing to Reading Rewards program. By this June, the more than 100,000 participants in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and other districts will have read up to 1.6 million books. Here's how it works: Students get rewards everything from foam basketballs to bookstore gift certificates to subscriptions to Sports Illustrated for Kids based on the number of books they read. The NABC also provides tickets to local college basketball games and runs clinics for middle-school coaches on encouraging athletes to succeed in the program.

From the program's inception, Chicago Public Schools has been actively involved. David Pickens, deputy to the chief executive officer of CPS, is a big fan. "Over three years, the only thing this organization has asked is to let them help our kids." He says the program is successful because it makes children see reading and schoolwork as a healthy competition instead of a chore, and the association with college basketball gives it a coolness factor.

Boston Public Schools is another active player in this program. "It supports our efforts for independent reading and gets kids to read more," says Jane Skelton, director of English/language arts instruction for the district. "It motivates students by tying reading into something that's fun and familiar and that connects with Boston culture." Like Pickens, she appreciates that the program is free and requires only a minimum of effort on her and her teachers' parts. "It really delivers for kids who don't usually read or who need that extra push," she adds.

According to Pickens, the program has had a measurable impact on reading scores among the participating schools. Although he knows the program is not solely responsible for this improvement, he is confident it played a significant role.

Real-Life Civics Lessons

In March, Our Education a two-year-old nonprofit founded by a couple of 2005 Yale graduates launched a campaign to improve public education. The organization intends to collect one million signatures on its national youth petition and present the petition at the first-ever national Student Bill of Rights conference in 2007, where high school student leaders will create a national Students' Bill of Rights. Already, 1,000 students have signed the petition. Our Education also helps students to become better resources for their local school boards.

The Importance of Early Science Education

In the mid-'90s, there were few science textbooks or programs for the K-3 set, and none were hands on. In the last several years, however, companies have begun targeting this group. "Have educators, communities and parents done all they can to set the stage for success in mathematics, science and technology at the earliest levels of formal education?" asks Jacqueline R. Johnson in The Forum on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education.

To address this issue, Patti Bock, principal of Wheeler Elementary in Indiana, uses a software program called Waterford Early Math & Science to improve reading skills while teaching science. "Kids have an interest level for non-fiction as much if not more than fiction, so we use science as a base for reading comprehension," she says. "Technology enables us to do things faster and differently; with this, we do quick assessments and then gives kids time to practice."

Craig K. Mills, principal of the B. M. Williams Primary School in Virginia., discovered a program called KnowledgeBox through a parent in 2002. His K-2 students love the virtual experiments. "It teaches basic concepts like seasons and the digital media brings it alive for the kids," says Mills. "If we just lecture them, particularly the little ones, they don't get it."

Since using KnowledgeBox, Mills says he's seen a steady rise in third-grade students' scores on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests, with the largest gains in social studies and science. "In 2004, we met all indicators for AYP for the first time."

Shirley Malcom, director of the education and human resources program for The American Association for the Advancement of Science, agrees that science education must begin earlier. "Science and play and learning are seamless in the right environment, in the right context," she says. One idea is to help connect teachers with scientists or places to go with questions. "Global awareness is building that we can do better at presenting science to young children and engage them in authenticate ways not just get them to memorize facts but to become excited about the types of questions we can answer."

Geography Puts Districts on the Map

Four years ago, Roger Andresen was a fiber-optic engineer who hated his job. Today, he helps teachers educate students about geography. "I wanted to reach and inspire people who had no interest in geography," says the creator of the Geography Zone, a Web site that features the world's largest online geography contest. So far, approximately 300 classrooms are competing to see who can identify the most countries, capitals, bodies of water and mountain ranges.

"The kids love it," says Jane Moore, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the Marietta City Schools in Georgia. "Whenever we have free time, they ask to go on a computer and do it."

Tricia Hutchinson, who teaches gifted students at Cottonwood Middle School in Ariz., agrees with Andresen. "Geography is being left out in a lot of districts," she says. One of the ways she incorporates the subject is by participating in the National Geographic Society's Geography Action, an annual outreach program. In 2005, a group of her students created portraits of their communities by taking photographs that illustrated migration and interviewing community members. "I think many kids have a 'disconnect' between the fast life we live and where we came from, who was before us," she says. "A project like this helps the children see that we're part of a bigger


According to Barbara Chow, executive director of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation, only four states S.D., Texas, Utah, Va., and D.C. require a standalone geography course for high school graduation. "Geography is taught, but not as much as we'd like, and certainly less than in other countries," says Chow. She says that combining geography and literacy can lead to phenomenal results. "If kids learn something relevant and meaningful, they learn it and learn to read," she says.