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Curriculum Update

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

Q&A with Beth McGrath: Real-Time Math and Science

Q:What forces are working for and against K-12 technology integration in math and science?

A:No Child Left Behind. Administrators who understand the value of effective [classroom] technology use appreciate its role in helping students achieve NCLB's high standards. However, with strict accountability measures in place for schools, many administrators rely too heavily on test preparation, effectively excluding more engaging, constructivist and proven technology-based tools and resources.

Projects from the Center for Innovation in Engineering & Science Education emphasize science and mathematics content and processes, data analysis and problem-solving, and [they] directly align with national science and math standards.

Q:In what areas of technology implementation do districts seem to need the most guidance?

A:We see two areas of need: Bolstering teachers' science and mathematics preparation; and preparing teachers to identify, adapt and implement technology-based curriculum resources. Many authentic problems that the Internet makes possible [require] teachers to be comfortable in both science and math. Districts also need support in developing teachers' capabilities to adapt and implement technology-based resources for particular classroom environments and learning objectives. There are few "one-size-fits-all" lesson plans. Implementation will vary if you have a one-computer set-up, a classroom of learning stations or a computer lab.

Q:What Internet-based opportunities for inquiry-based science or math learning do educators tend to overlook?

A:One area that hasn't received the widespread attention it deserves is the use of real-time data. Who might have imagined years ago that physics teachers could teach what some might consider a boring topic--vector addition--by having students pretend they're pilots with an onboard emergency who have to use real-time Federal Aviation Administration flight data and high altitude wind data to quickly land at a nearby airport? Or that students could discover the concept of plate tectonics by plotting up-to-the-minute seismic events on a world map using U.S. Geological Survey real-time data?

Q:How have you seen participation in CIESE's online collaborative projects grow?

A:We currently have more than 40,000 students each year participating in our telecollaborative science and math investigations, and another 60,000 who use our real time data resources from more than 35 countries around the world.

Q:How might an entire school get involved in an Internet-based real-time data project?

A:A K-8 school in Bayonne, N.J., implemented a two-month project tracking a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Primary students plotted its location on a giant world map. Students in grades 4-7 [entered the ship's] latitude and longitude into an online distance calculator chart, then used the information to calculate speed and direction and to predict ports of call. Eighth graders worked on ocean weather data collection and interpretation using GOES 9 Infrared Satellite Images. Students corresponded with [peers] in two ports of call on the ship's journey, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Friedburg, Germany.

Students in these types of projects routinely work together in groups on experiments, taking on different [roles] in discussing and coming to a conclusion about what the data mean, and in creating a final product to demonstrate what they've learned.

Beth McGrath,, is director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering & Science Education,, located at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.

If These Walls Could Talk...

The walls of every school have a story to tell. That's the thinking behind the first annual Historic School Day, on April 20 this year. It's part of the Council of Education Facility Planners International's second annual School Building Week.

National Secondary Social Studies Teacher of the Year Geraldine Hastings and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have created a classroom project to get students interested in the year or decade in which their school was built. The project involves oral history and analysis of documents and photographs, says Hastings, who teaches at Baltimore County Public Schools' Catonsville High.

Besides the lesson plans, NTHP's Web site includes links to help with project research. NTHP is also collecting photographs and descriptions of historic schools to share.

How old must a school be to be considered historic? Not very. "Schools have history even if they are five or 10 years old," Hastings says. Also, beginning an archive of memorabilia will help future students to discover their school's history. She hopes the project will lead to other beginnings, too--such as a new school alumni association or a local historical society partnership.

Study: Low Marks for Direct Instruction

Despite the common perception of the direct instruction concept's success in reading education, results from a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor's three-year study may make administrators reconsider that belief. Yet, the study itself has caused quite a stir.

It examined urban and suburban schools in Wisconsin where some teachers were using SRA/McGraw-Hill's Reading Mastery, a reading curriculum that advances the direct instruction approach. Students receiving SRA's Direct Instruction scored significantly lower on standardized tests in overall reading achievement and in comprehension than students receiving more traditional instruction, the report found.

Teacher interviews revealed a belief that DI should be limited in its use. Urban teachers report DI texts disregard their students' lack of exposure to life occurrences that are more common for middle-class suburban students. Suburban teachers say DI is worthwhile as a corrective and supplementary reading program.

"The study suggests that DI is not the single best approach for all students. ... There may be advantages for [using it] with very select types of students, [such as] certain learning-disabled children," says Randall Ryder, the professor of curriculum and instruction at UW-M who led the study. He suggests administrators whose districts use DI compare program results to results of past programs. For those considering adoption, he recommends getting student feedback on samples first. Districts should also form ongoing reading committees that include teachers, so they have input on program decisions.

The study's design has been questioned by DI's founder, Siegfried Engelmann, and others, including Gary Adams of Educational Achievement Systems, who reviews educational research claims, and Sara G. Tarver, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of education. One cited flaw is that none of the study's teachers use strict DI, and those who use a mixed approach were placed in the DI sample group.

For a copy of the report, e-mail Ryder, Adams' review of the study can be found at

Survey: Latinos On Language

Should teaching English to the children of immigrant families be an important goal in U.S. schools? Of course, say the vast majority of Latinos, whites and African-Americans in a recent survey. But the importance of schools helping these children maintain their family's native tongue is a belief that's divided along racial and ethnic lines.

In results from the National Survey of Latinos: Education, conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, language stands out as a critical education issue. In general, Latino respondents show their strong faith in local schools, educators and educational institutions, including the federal emphasis on standardized testing.

And schools seem to be doing a good job in communicating curriculum and academic goals to native-born Latino, white and African-American parents, with about two-thirds of each group saying they know "a lot" about these areas. Only 43 percent of foreign-born Latino parents express the same view.

Foreign-born Latinos, however, are much more likely than other groups to rate public schools as excellent or good (72 percent overall) in teaching English to immigrant children or children of immigrants. Only two in five native-born Latinos hold similar views.