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Curriculum Update

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

Lights, Camera, Algebra Action

It's the next generation of math homework helplines. And students in and around Houston Independent School District are tuning in.

The district's After School Algebra Show, which airs live on its educational access television channel twice a week and is then repackaged for evening and weekend air dates, is definitely a hit.

By late December, a little over two months into its second season, more than 144 students had called in and been helped on the show, says producer Debbie Sanchez, who works at Houston's Performing & Visual Arts High School.

Each hour-long episode begins with a teacher presenting a 15-minute lesson on a topic selected by district administrators. Topics correlate with what algebra classes are covering, or what test scores indicate students are struggling with, explains Michelle Rohr, manager of the district's mathematics department. During the call-in segment of each episode, the teacher encourages students to explain their thinking as they work through a problem. "Our [state] tests want to know if kids know the process. Can they verify or justify their work?" Rohr adds.

Teachers, who are paid for prep time and to appear on the show, rotate playing the starring role. Because every educator's style is unique, "the viewer has the opportunity to see the concept of the day presented in a slightly different manner than it may have been presented in [his or her] own classroom," says Sherry Senior, a secondary math specialist in the district's curriculum department. Senior, who also teaches at Bellaire High School, collaborated with Sanchez to develop the show's concept.

Dallas already has a similar live math show, and Rohr says that at least one other district has shown interest in replicating Houston's format.

Johnny Lott, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, says he sees promise in the idea of live television math programs. Besides the visual element, an advantage over many online and telephone helplines is that these shows are produced by the district. This means teachers on the air are familiar with the curriculum. He adds that administrators should offer good scripted lessons, since educators aren't used to teaching without a live classroom audience.

As far as finding teachers willing and able to excel on the small screen, Lott says, "I think you've got to have the right personality to do that. ... There's got to be a stage presence to do that kind of thing."

AP: The Great Bridge to China

With 1.3 billion inhabitants of China and their language being the predominant one for 31 million Chinese living elsewhere, the numbers are certainly in favor of increasing educational access to the language here in the U.S. The Class of 2007 is in luck.

The College Board and representatives of the People's Republic of China will create an exam in Chinese language and culture to go along with an Advanced Placement course launching in fall 2006.

"People-to-people contact between China and the United States is important for increasing mutual understanding, fostering friendship and expanding bilateral relations," says Yang Jiechi, ambassador of China to the United States. "The bridge of understanding and friendship cannot be built without language."

Literary Celebration Gets Seuss-ed Up

If ever there was a time for school cafeterias to be serving green eggs and ham, this is it. The National Education Association's seventh annual Read Across America celebration, which is always held on or around the birth date of Ted Geisel, will coincide with the 100th anniversary of the author's birthday on March 2, 2004.

NEA's Web site offers cross-curricular ideas relating to the many hats of Ted Geisel--artist, activist, environmentalist and filmmaker. Other ways to honor Dr. Seuss's witty works include planning choral readings and asking students to create picture books. Some schools have gotten a jump start on Seuss activities by participating in the year-long "Seussentennial" tribute.,

D's and F's the Norm for Graded U.S. History Standards

They can be done right and done well. But they rarely are. That's what a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the state of state U.S. history standards has found. State standards were rated on comprehensive historical content, sequential development and balance.

Making the honor roll: Six states earned A's for outstanding U.S. history standards, with special kudos to Indiana, California and Alabama. Five states earned B's.

Needing improvement: On the flip side, 31 states have not done a minimally satisfactory job on their standards, with eight D's and 23 F's. Seven earned C's.

The analysis, called Effective State Standards for U.S. History: A 2003 Report Card, is the third in a series of four related studies. A review of widely used American and world history textbooks is to come.

U.S. History Standards' Highs and Lows

The Strongest Standards tend to...

Identify and discuss real people

Have a clear chronology and coherent sequence

Revisit topics from early grades in later grades, in a more thorough way

Emphasize America's European origins while also recognizing the contributions of non-Western people

Discuss the origins and development of democratic ideas and institutions, as well as the evolution of slavery

Highlight the growing tensions between slavery and freedom in the 18th century

Be comprehensive and replete with specific historical information

Be balanced and free of overt or covert ideological agendas

Encourage students to learn to "think historically" and avoid present-ism

Be written in strong, vigorous, clear English prose

The Weakest Standards tend to...

Be shackled by pervasive "social studies" assumptions about history education, particularly the belief that chronology doesn't matter

Be "anonymous" or nearly anonymous; real people and events are rarely named

Lack specific historical content and substantive details

Be chronologically muddled and confused

Fail to build sequentially on knowledge from earlier grades

Be especially weak in the early grades

Be deficient in political history

Be undermined by present-ism

Be politically and ideologically tendentious, reflecting the conviction that U.S. history courses exist to indoctrinate rather than educate students

Substitute wishful thinking or politically correct ideology for factual accuracy

Be written in edu-jargon, giving the reader no real hint about what is actually being taught

Arts and Foreign Languages: Lost Curriculum?

Despite the proven benefits of arts and foreign language instruction, these subjects have been marginalized and are increasingly at risk of being eliminated from the core curriculum in public schools. That's the latest word from the National Association of State Boards of Education, which has released The Complete Curriculum: Ensuring a Place for the Arts and Foreign Languages in America's Schools. The report urges policymakers to:

Adopt high-quality, standards-aligned licensure requirements for staff in these subjects.

Make time for high-quality professional development.

Ensure adequate staff expertise at state education agencies to work in these curriculum areas.

Incorporate the subjects into core graduation requirements and increase the number of credits required.

Incorporate arts and foreign language learning in the early years into standards, curriculum frameworks and course requirements.