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Curriculum Update

Research, trends and developments

Creating a Memorial

Eighth-grade English teacher Laurie Capponi looks forward to the end of the year for more than the obvious reason-it's when her annual Memory Matters project begins. The project, which has become a rite of passage for students at Wellwood Middle School in Fayetteville, N.Y., "is the last thing they do before moving from middle to high school," says Capponi. "If they rise to the occasion, they can do high school-quality work."

The month-long unit starts with a lesson on symbolism. Students study memorials and go on field trips to see real-life examples. Then they select a person or event to memorialize and write a five-page research paper. Next, they create a tangible memorial. The last step is presenting their work through a formal speech.

Capponi says the students enjoy building the memorials and take it quite seriously. After the project ends, the memorials are displayed in the library, where younger students ogle them in anticipation of their turn.

Some of the people students have chosen include 9/11 victims, Dr. Seuss and Martha Graham. "They try to do dead musicians because they think they're cool, but I won't let them do Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur or anyone who's gone down in a self-destructive phase," says Capponi.

Although they're forced to do a lot of work when they'd prefer to slack off, students are pleased with their results. "The really bright kids are surprised at how hard they had to work to do well," she says. "And the less academic kids are proud to get through it. It's a real lesson on that level."


" Three approaches to reform need to be combined: capacity building, performance management and market forces. The public is unimpressed by 'adequate.' They want 'good' and aspire to 'great'... and over the long haul, political-will is essential."

-Sir Michael Barber, former education advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair, at the SchoolNet EduStat Summit in June


Although the findings in the newly released report, Calories In, Calories Food and Exercise in Public Elementary Schools, 2005 won't make stomachs they won't go down that easily. US public elementary schools were asked about food and exercise offered to students. Here are some of the results.

94% offer foods for sale outside of full school meals

75% offer physical education more than one day a week

53% offer 100% juice

46% offer bottled water

40% offer green salad

17% offer French fries

15% sell candy at one or more locations

Source: National Center for Education



A new Web site lets science teachers go on fi eld trips in their own backyard. Based on the

experiences of a teacher who worked with inmates at San Quentin State Prison, the site features earth-science lessons and activities such as mapping the schoolyard, identifying rocks and learning about sinkholes.

Walk into a World of Literature

Western Michigan University English professor Allen Webb remembers the difficulty his high school students had when trying to understand challenging novels. Working off the fact that so many kids love playing video games, he decided to create Web-based virtual reality environments about literary works. "How can those of us interested in traditional literature connect what we're doing to what these kids are good at doing?" he asked himself.

The first world he created is based on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which takes place in late 19th century Africa and is written from the point of view of a tribesman. It's often hard for contemporary students to imagine life in an African village. Webb found a collection of black-and-white photos taken by an anthropologist around the time of the novel and used them to create the online world. He also incorporated music and put the characters from the novel into the village. Students can enter the village, pick up objects and communicate with each other in chat rooms.

Sites likes these are great for helping students with problem-solving, says Peggy Albers, an associate professor at Georgia State University. "Teachers can use these tools to encourage and explore relationships that aren't available in print-based text," says the former middle- and high school teacher. "In virtual worlds, students can learn to respond as a character might. It provides an overall richer experience for both the students and teacher."

Eve Eisenberg, who teaches English 9 and 10 at the Hunter-Tannersville (N.Y.) Central School, is thrilled with virtual worlds. "There's a general perception that language arts doesn't need access to technology, which frustrates me," says Eisenberg. She says virtual worlds are terrific for getting students to think creatively and hopes that more teachers will use them.

Thanks to a grant Webb recently received, Eisenberg might get her wish: Webb and a team of professors and doctoral students are developing several new worlds, including A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1984 and Brave New World.

A Satellite Comes to Kentucky

KentuckySat, a new organization made up of Kentucky universities and organizations,

will design, build and launch KySat, a Pico class cube-shaped satellite with a mass of less than one kilogram. Once in orbit by late 2007, it will be available at no cost to Kentucky students, teachers and schools for educational and research uses. Greg Drake, coordinator of instructional technology at Fayette County (Ky.) Public Schools, is working with several teaches to incorporate KySat into math, computer science, physics and astronomy classes. "There's a lot of fl exibility about how it can be implemented," says Drake. "If we were to get students together and work on measuring the earth's magnetic fi eld, we could concentrate on that. If we want to look at space photography, we can."

Celebrating Scientific Innovation

In honor of its 25th year, Vernier Software & Technology recently recognized outstanding science teachers for their creativity. Here are two of the winners:

Chemistry teacher Stacey Howell of Layton, Utah, does an experiment called the Ice Cream Lab. Using a temperature probe, students have to determine the cheapest, least-toxic, most environmentally friendly type of salt for solidifying ice cream.

Jerry Jensen's biology students at Luverne (Minn.) Independent School District participate in "Ethanol Week," where they grind corn with a mortar and pestle and track the enzymatic changes that eventually convert the corn into alcohol.