You are here


Curriculum Update

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

Music Programs Missing the Patriotic Beat

Students today are more likely to know the lyrics to pop chart toppers like "Oops! ... I Did it Again" from Britney Spears than "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or even "The Star Spangled Banner." So says a nationwide survey conducted by music educator Marilyn Ward, who completed the research for a doctoral dissertation in music at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Previous research has shown that patriotic, folk and children's songs help children learn about important events and more closely relate to the hardships and joys of their grandparents and ancestors. "American folk music is a national treasure that holds keys to understanding our country's people, their values, their history and their culture," Ward says.

The survey of 100 well-known American songs--compiled with input from elementary music specialists and men and women over the age of 62--was sent to 4,000 music teachers (80 in each state); 1,792 responded.


Overall, few students would be able to sing the well-known songs because teachers spend little time teaching them.

Folk songs are the most neglected, followed by children's and patriotic songs.

Urban teachers teach the most children's songs, followed by those in rural schools.

Suburban schools lag far behind in all three song categories.

Middle schools have the worst record for teaching folk songs, and high schools have the best.

California is the least child-song friendly state. Nebraska ranks highest overall for children's songs, while South Dakota is tops in patriotic songs and Kansas in folk songs.

Hispanic teachers teach far more patriotic songs than any other ethnic group, as do music teachers who have been in the profession the longest.


Provide teachers with lists of American songs and encourage them to discuss and teach them.

Consider assigning students a list of songs to be memorized over the summer.

Avoid cuts to music program budgets.

Impact of Math Confidence Negligible?

TRUE: Girls tend to underestimate their math abilities in high school--despite their actual performance being just as good as that of boys.

FALSE: This confidence issue pushes girls away from mathematically based college majors.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Research on Women and Gender, it's two different factors that lead to girls' career choices. Analysis of data collected over 17 years as part of the Michigan Study of Adolescent Life Transitions found that how much girls believe in the ultimate utility of math, and how much they value working with and for people, are more important in making decisions about math-based majors and careers. The study is following approximately 1,700 southeastern Michigan students from sixth grade through college and beyond.

Both boys and girls who are people-oriented tend to choose college majors in the biological sciences--medicine, environmental sciences and social sciences--rather than in the mathematically based sciences, which include engineering, physics and astronomy.

"It's not enough to simply try to raise girls' confidence levels," says co-researcher Jacquelynne Eccles, a professor of psychology and women's studies and a research scientist in the IRWG. She suggests that those who want to attract and retain women in math-based academic programs and careers develop different programs for girls and young women. "We need to develop interventions that will not only demonstrate the utility of mathematics, but also show how the mathematically based sciences do something concrete to help people," she says.

Report: The Neglected "R"

Not unlike many issues in public education, it all boils down to time and money. A group of superintendents, university leaders and teachers, assisted by a panel of writing experts, has called for a dramatic increase in both these resources devoted to student writing.

That's just one key recommendation of the recently released report, The Neglected "R": The Need for a Writing Revolution. Stressing that writing is essential to educational and career success and central to self-expression and civic participation, the report argues that it has been shortchanged in the school reform movement.

Local education leaders are asked to:

Develop clear, unambiguous and comprehensive policies that aim to double the amount of time students spend writing. One way to make time is by assigning written work as part of normal homework assignments. Parents should be encouraged to see themselves as writing partners by sharing their own writing and reviewing written work as their children complete it.

Ensure that writing is taught at all grade levels and in all subjects. Because of the "near-total neglect of writing outside English departments," time for writing could be expanded greatly if teachers of history, foreign languages, math, home economics, science, physical education, art and social science assigned written work.

Provide professional development for teachers. Common expectations about writing should be developed across disciplines through in-service workshops designed to help teachers understand good writing and to develop their own writing ability.

The report, which was produced by the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, also includes an action agenda. The commission proposes the creation of a new group charged with implementing a five-year Writing Challenge for the Nation. With support from education, government, business and philanthropic leaders, it will issue progress reports, map the terrain ahead and provide assistance to educators as they iron out the details of writing assessment, the use of technology and other issues.

Contact Alan Heaps,, with suggestions or questions about the challenge, which will also assist in getting adequate resources to implement the effort.

Environmental Resources on the Way

It's becoming increasingly important for the public to understand complex environmental issues and how individual decisions affect the environment locally and globally, according to the National Science Foundation. That's why it has awarded a $638,000 grant to the National Science Teachers Association and the Environmental Literacy Council to help middle and high school science teachers introduce environmental topics.

The three-year grant will be used to develop Resources for Environmental Literacy, a book modeled on Project 2061's Resources for Science Literacy, and a companion Web site. Scientists, teachers and curriculum directors will produce six teaching modules focused on how environment-related science can be taught effectively to further students' understanding of life science, physical science, biology, chemistry, physics and earth science.

To contribute information or ideas to the project, contact Drew Jorgensen at ELC, 202-296-0390, or write to