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Curriculum Update

The latest developments in math, science, language arts and social studies

Students to Help Unlock the Secrets of Longevity

Living in just one tiny region of Italy are 20 times the number of centenarians than the average for the developed world. An island off the South American coast has a 66 percent higher proportion of centenarians than the U.S. And inhabitants of some small islands in southern Japan live the longest, healthiest lives in the world.

These longevity hotspots are at the center of the latest LifeQuest Interactive Expedition. Created and led by exploration/adventure buff Dan Buettner, the Quests are built around a central mystery or series of related mysteries. K-12 classrooms get in on the action via the LifeQuest Web site featuring daily updates written by the expedition team from the field. The interactive component of the longevity study--which ties into science, language arts and health standards through a free curriculum guide--gives students opportunities to affect the expedition's logistics and scientific developments, and to share in ethical debates.

Two accompanying components of the program are getting students even more closely involved in solving the mysteries of healthy aging. With the Health Tracker tool, they will track key behaviors contributing to childhood obesity and, consequently, a shortened lifespan. After the Quest, classroom data will be aggregated and conclusions drawn about the impact of the Quest on health-related behaviors connected to childhood obesity.

Meanwhile, the BRIDGE project has students identifying and interviewing "super seniors" within their own communities that are leading vital lives beyond age 85. The data will be entered into a national database available to both scientists and students. The National Institute on Aging already has plans for that data; researchers there will use it to help identify America's most vital seniors and what has contributed to their longevity.

Materials related to this LifeQuest are available online beginning April 1, and the first expedition is set to begin on May 2. Other expeditions will follow this fall and in 2006 and 2007.

Forming a Formative Assessment

"There are teachers who have never used it, but once they start there's no going back," says Edmundo Gonzalez of Software Technology Inc. He's referring to the kind of test a teacher can administer on a Friday that will inform what happens in the classroom the following Monday.

Formative Assessment and Its Uses for Improving Student Achievement is a new white paper commissioned by STI to study the evidence that these types of short, frequent tests result in improved instruction. Its conclusion: Research indicates that good, well-developed formative assessments do impact student learning, particularly for low achievers.

But teachers often need additional support for discovering and/or developing formative assessment tools. Researchers Saundra Young and Carmen Giebelhaus, both former professors of teacher education, note that teacher preparation programs have not emphasized how formative assessments should be designed and used to promote gains in student learning.

That's why district leaders play an important role in providing teachers with the tools and training to incorporate these assessments into daily instruction, says Gonzalez, vice president of marketing and product management at STI. Districts with their own criterion reference tests can do validity and reliability studies to create an item bank from which teachers can draw.

Study to Track Impact of E-Portfolios

Electronic portfolios, which allow students to get creative in demonstrating their knowledge, have been growing in popularity in schools. But do they work as part of the learning process?

Helen Barrett, who has been researching e-portfolios since 1991, aims to find out. A former director of staff development at North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks, Ala., Barrett is now seeking districts to participate in a two-year international study that will track the impact of e-portfolios on learning, engagement and motivation in secondary schools.

TaskStream, a provider of Web-based education tools, is underwriting the project and providing free electronic portfolio software to up to 50,000 students for the length of the study, called the REFLECT Initiative. The application deadline is April 21, and each participating organization will run a student portfolio project of its own design.

New Wave of Teaching Black Migration in U.S.

Acts of migration have created communities with a sense of identity that collectively make America what it is today. Yet there's one story that some historians say hasn't been fully told--that of African-American migration traditions.

Sure, U.S. history classes cover the transatlantic slave trade. But that's just one of 13 major African-American migrations into and within the country over the last 400 years. Thanks to $2.4 million in funds appropriated by the U.S. Congress, a digital archive now documents all of these movements. Part of the project In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience, the online materials include narratives, illustrations, maps, teacher lesson plans and other resources. More than 16,500 pages of texts, 8,300 illustrations and 60 maps can be accessed by migration name, geographic area or a timeline.

The effort "offers a new interpretation of African-American history focusing on the self-motivated activities of people of African descent to remake themselves and their worlds," says project curator Howard Dodson, who directs The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. As a research unit of The New York Public Library, the center has documented black life and promoted the study and interpretation of black history and culture for nearly 80 years.

Gary Nash, director of The National Center for History in the Schools at University of California, Los Angeles, says the new venture and its ready-made lesson plans for K-12 educators "ought to have a big payoff in the classrooms."

From Sea to Shining Sea

A successful West coast math/music program is now looking to hit the right note on the Gulf coast, as well. Six years after testing began in California schools, the MIND Institute's Math + Music program, which combines music instruction and computer math games, is expanding to Texas schools.

Based on 30 years of brain research, the program aims to build the brain's spatial temporal reasoning capacity, or the ability to think visually several steps ahead in patterns and pictures. Among students in Grades K-5, the program has helped generate improvements in Stanford 9 test scores; in 2003, 58 percent more students involved in Math + Music tested proficient or higher in math than those not participating. Besides the curriculum and software, the program includes professional development and access to daily status reports.

Schools outside of California and Texas interested in participating in future expansion of the program can join the nonprofit research institute's e-mail list.