You are here


Curriculum Update

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

Regaining America's Voice

Nearly two in three Americans don't know all of The Star Spangled Banner. And of those who claim to know the words, only 39 percent could correctly name what follows the line "whose broad stripes and bright stars"--the words "through the perilous fight." The recent Harris Interactive survey of 2,200 adults that made these discoveries is part of the impetus for The National Anthem Project, a multi-year effort to re-teach the song and its historical meaning.

The initiative focuses on the place that most Americans say they learned the national anthem and other patriotic songs. Not at sporting events, but in school.

"It is important that all Americans understand the significance of our anthem's history--how our National Anthem came to be, from the poetry of Francis Scott Key to its association with a musical tune and our country's desire to adopt an official national anthem," says John Mahlmann, executive director of the National Association for Music Education, which is leading the project.

To assist educators, the project Web site contains sample lessons, advocacy materials and tips on everything from helping students "hit those dreaded high notes" to making the anthem part of events and the regular school day and meetings.

The project also includes a national mobile marketing tour and special performances at sporting events--where only five percent of Americans say they learned the song but nearly all have participated in its splendor.

High-Tech History Grants

New media, meet civics education. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has launched a $20 million initiative to take American history and civics education into the 21st century.

With young people today being so comfortable with interactive technologies such as the Internet and video games, it's the ideal time for "curriculum and content developers to design new, perhaps revolutionary, models for teaching and learning," says Eben A. Peck, the corporation's director of government affairs. By awarding public/private partnership grants over the next three years, CPB's aims to help educators collaborate with content developers, broadcasters, documentary film makers and high-tech companies to improve American history and civics education in middle and high schools.

The American History and Civics Initiative grants will fund media projects and methods that go beyond existing educational materials--such as documentaries produced by public television stations that have made their way into classrooms--in creativity and innovation. Proposals that enhance the teaching and learning of key events, people, documents, movements, ideas, values and principles that are fundamental to America are sought; the deadline is Nov. 1.

Peck expects to see proposals for projects at the school, district, region and state levels and suggests that administrators contact their local or regional public broadcasters to explore project possibilities.

Math System Change: Two States, Two Approaches

Changes are on the horizon for high school math in New York and Georgia. The Empire State is moving from its integrated approach to a more traditional single-focus course system; Peach State schools, meanwhile, will begin the switch from single-focus courses to a more integrated curriculum.

NEW YORK: Currently, it's all about Math A and Math B for high schoolers. Each a minimum of three semesters, the courses are part of a commencement level system of instruction leading up to the test for a Regents diploma (completion of Math A--algebra and some geometry) or a Regents diploma with advanced designation (completion of Math B--more geometry, algebra II and trigonometry). Under the new system, there are three courses--algebra, geometry, and algebra II and trigonometry. The order of courses hasn't yet been decided.

The changes are part of new grade-by-grade performance indicators that meet No Child Left Behind requirements and provide educators with more clarity and specificity, explains Anne Schiano, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and instructional technology at the New York State Education Department. Schiano says a plan is in place to ensure classroom teachers are supported during implementation; for example, they'll get to share lessons and practices from their schools with others in their districts and regionally.

GEORGIA: As part of an effort to raise student achievement, an advisory panel in this state recommended switching from separate math courses to an integrated curriculum. With a lean, rigorous Japanese format, the yearlong courses divide the state's new performance standards into four parts: a content standard, illustrative tasks, examples of student work and a commentary for teachers, explains Claire Pierce, mathematics program specialist at the Georgia Department of Education.

Algebra, geometry, statistics and other topics will be weaved into courses, available in three sequences, with a minimum mastery level equal to a strong algebra II course. "This is such a higher level of mastery than we've required of our students in the past," Pierce says. Eight days of state-provided teacher training will help along the process, which begins with current sixth graders.

As for textbooks, an internal study found that their titles "are not very good in terms of identifying how integrated materials are in the book," Pierce notes. While some have algebra or another specific math discipline in their name, a number of existing series fit the new system reasonably well--a plus for this non-adoption state.

Service Learning Gets a Boost

The why's of service learning--which include motivating students to learn and helping them become productive citizens--have certainly been touted by many a teacher. The Education Commission of the States has received a grant to focus on the "how."

ECS's National Center for Learning and Citizenship is using the State Farm Companies Foundation grant to help states develop policies that sustain high-quality professional development for service learning and to promote vision and stronger leadership for service learning among education leaders and policymakers.

The center's efforts include:

Creating an electronic policy database that identifies state service-learning policies and allows comparisons across states

Identifying key characteristics of effective service-learning professional development programs

Examining how current state policies support (or fail to support) training programs

Hosting national and state forums to show how state policies can nurture service-learning programs through teacher professional development.