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Curriculum Update

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

Avoiding Special Ed Referral Leaps

When there's a complex problem to tackle, it usually helps to break it into manageable pieces. Looking at the overrepresentation of minority children in U.S. special education programs, the International Reading Association found an area in which it can help. Its latest position statement makes recommendations for addressing the problem by, you guessed it, examining reading instruction.

Reading achievement gaps are, in part, a result of fragmented services, the statement argues. It calls for strong collaboration among all the various education professionals serving a building or district, including regular classroom, Title I and special education teachers. This collaboration should focus first on effective reading instruction, then on modest in-class reading interventions, and finally on more intensive small-group and one-on-one tutoring in reading. Only after these efforts are made should an alternative program, such as special education, be considered.

Recommendations for Districts

Students Ride The Brain Waves

It's cutting-edge. It's covered frequently in the media. It's pretty cool, too. Now that brain imaging techniques are widely used in research, why should adults be having all the fun?

The answer, of course, is that they shouldn't.

One way of covering brain research in classrooms today is by following the news. This summer, for instance, the laboratory of neuro imaging at the University of California in Los Angeles released for use its 10-year computerized "atlas" of its brain project. So far, the research team has gathered digital images of 7,000 brains to help other researchers and radiologists measure brain activity and diagnose disease--difficult tasks because every person's brain is different. Educators can access both images and short animations online.

The availability of interactive neuroscience curricula makes it even easier for students to experience the power of brain imaging. One such program is Visualizing Addiction from the Center for Image Processing in Education. Designed for grades 9-12, the multimedia CD-ROM introduces students to the neuroscience of addiction. While the materials are geared toward science classes (particularly biology), one of the eight lessons is designed for use in health class.

Rather than being an anti-drug campaign, the program lets students see for themselves how, for instance, the frontal lobes of the brain shrink after encountering a drug, says Project Director Victor Shamas. Using images, animation, simulations and data provided by researchers, Visualizing Addiction guides students through all aspects of the scientific process, from hypothesis generation and measurement taking to scientific report writing.

Although there's a charge for obtaining student packs of the program, a teacher's edition with enough materials to introduce the images to students is currently available for free. "A picture is worth a thousand words," says Shamas, who adds that discovering for yourself while examining an image certainly beats just being told about that image.,

Beyond Anne Frank and Schindler's List

Flashback just a few decades, and the Holocaust was absent in schools and really only covered within the Jewish community. Then came the Holocaust television mini-series in 1978, which "seared the American mind and was part of the public movement to do something," says Daniel Napolitano, coordinator of the teacher fellowship program at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is now wrapping up its 10th year.

For such a complex topic, the Holocaust has traditionally been covered in just three ways in schools--through the diary of Anne Frank, as part of a tolerance or diversity program, or as an historical event. Currently, six states require Holocaust education and 10 others recommend or encourage it. In the 49 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have social studies standards, the Holocaust is either explicitly named or implicitly identified, says Napolitano.

Yet the inclusion of the event in classrooms hasn't been without challenges. When the film Schindler's List was released in 1993, some classes took field trips to see it without the teachers having provided context first for students. In fact, Napolitano says there's a widely told "urban legend:" one group of inner-city students that hadn't been prepared found the movie funny.

The memorial museum, which Napolitano says "seeks to honor the memory of those who perished and insist that the story continue to be told," has directly assisted educators in covering the event for eight years by growing a network of Holocaust education professionals. Through the teacher fellowship program, educators attend a one-week summer institute, implement outreach projects in their schools and then gather again the following May for a closing session (the application deadline is in February).

Napolitano, a former program participant himself, says that because the museum generally focuses on the history of the event, its staff discourages covering it before grade seven. What they encourage is an interdisciplinary approach, so that the history comes alive as more than just a chronology of dates.

Holocaust Resources

Holocaust Lesson Plans and Curricula:

Museum of Tolerance Online Multimedia Learning Center:

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

New Google Tool = More Math Cheaters?

Solving a math word problem means having to translate that problem into an equation. With the new calculator feature introduced by the search engine Google, hurried or lazy students might skip that step.

The regular search box at is now able to handle all of the functions of a typical calculator and then some--because it recognizes words as well as numbers. Type in the query "100 m in km," and the answer (106.9344 kilometers) pops up.

Besides conversions, the tool calculates percentages, square roots, Roman numerals, remainders after division, factorials, trigonometric functions, logarithm bases and more. Users can enter queries in hexadecimal, octal or binary numbers.

A National Council of Teachers of Mathematics position statement recommends the integration of calculators into all levels of math programs. Yet, despite research favoring appropriate calculator use, it's still a somewhat controversial issue among educators, says NCTM President Johnny Lott.

The Google tool certainly complicates that debate. "Ironically, the release of a calculator of this type might be a boon" to schools that can't afford to put a calculator in the hands of every student, he says, adding that any available tool to help students learn math deserves serious thought. First, teachers should work with the tool to see how it could be used effectively. And if the tool's use were to become commonplace, Lott says, "It would cause a re-thinking of drill sheets given to students as homework."