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Curriculum Update

Research, trends and developments

Addressing Childhood Obesity

School districts continue to look for ways to educate students about nutrition and exercise. Here are two interesting new programs.

The New York City schools sent more than 235,000 Fitnessgram reports to parents and students. These "report cards" show the results of standards-based exercises that measure body composition, muscular strength, flexibility, muscular endurance and aerobic capacity. When necessary, they include recommendations for improving health-related fitness.

"Our use of NYC Fitnessgram is part of our entire approach to revitalizing physical education in N.Y.C. public schools," says Lori Rose Benson, director of the office of fitness and physical education. The goal is to motivate children to become excited about lifelong fitness.

In San Diego county, students learn about nutrition by growing vegetables. Amy Haessly, a nutrition educator with the University of California Cooperative Extension, provides free nutrition resources to teachers. "Kids are more likely to eat a carrot or radish if they started it from a seed," says Haessly. Teachers use gardens to teach a variety of standards, including language arts (with a journal), math (statistics and measurements), geography and science.

Nanette Noonan, a retired teacher, works on an after-school garden at La Paloma Elementary in Fallbrook, Calif. "Everything we grow is tied into the nutrition-based curriculum," says Noonan. She hopes that discussions about the food pyramid and healthy snacks can promote better overall nutrition.

At Pioneer Elementary in Escondido, Calif., Kerry C. Fournier's fifth-graders grow vegetables in their 1,600-square-foot garden. "Even though what we grow-carrots, lettuce, cabbage, onions, peppers-is part of the cafeteria's salad bar, getting the kids to understand the food's nutritional value has been the goal." Happily, the children are quick learners. Fournier now goes through the lunch line and sees the children recognize-and reach for-items they've grown.

In-School, Round-the-Clock Math Tutoring

In an effort to improve math education at the Culture and Language Academy of Success in Los Angeles, co-founder Sharroky Hollie formed a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Mathnasium learning center. "In our first three years," says Hollie of the independent preK-8 charter school with 100-percent African-American students, "we noticed that many students lacked foundational skills in math and performed poorly on state tests."

Determined to turn math into a positive experience, Hollie contracted last year with Mathnasium to work with the lowest performing CLAS fourth- through seventh-graders. After two months, all of the children's math scores improved by 80 percent or more. Based on that success, he decided to implement the Mathnasium method permanently.

Starting this month, CLAS will have a dedicated Mathnasium space in the school, staffed by a CLAS teacher. Students' math skills will be pre-assessed. Those who need intervention will spend a few hours a week at the space; others can visit after school for help or for advanced lessons. Students from other schools in the county can use the Mathnasium space after school.

David Ullendorff, co-founder and executive vice president of Mathnasium, says that most Americans are unable to make change or understand percentages. The Mathnasium approach aims to stop math intimidation.

"If you ask a 9- or 10-year-old, their favorite subject is rarely math," says Tanika Evans, director of CLAS' Mathnasium center. "We want the students to have confidence and be successful in math."

Steps to Improve Computer Science

The New Educational Imperative: Improving High School Computer Science Education, recently released from the Computer Science Teachers Association, found what many people already suspect: Countries that once looked to the U.S. for help in planning new and innovative curricula are now taking the lead in computer science education. Here are five of the 10 ways school leaders can help our country regain our reputation and improve high school computer science education.

1. Promote funding for computer science courses, equipment and materials.

2. Identify how much is being spent on computer science education in your district and determine if there have been cutbacks on computer science education.

3. Put policies in place to ensure that only qualified teachers are teaching computer science courses and enforce those policies.

4. Review your current computer science curriculum to determine whether it provides sufficient opportunities for students to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly computerized world.

5. Create and support professional development opportunities that help computer science teachers ensure that their technical and pedagogical skills keep pace with student learning needs.

An Easy Way to Teach Patriotism

One of the first projects high school Spanish teacher Phyllis Lee plans to undertake this year is a lesson in community service. Her students at Wilson High School in Florence, S.C., will communicate in Spanish with U.S. troops via a new Web portal, Connect with the Troops. "My students will get to reach out to the Hispanic soldiers and let them know how important they are to us," says Lee. "Community service is extremely important in our IB program. Sometimes my students are surprised by what a difference they can make in other people's lives."

Connect with the Troops ties patriotism into the curriculum by letting students express support for U.S. troops or individual soldiers. The site is also sponsoring a nationwide scrapbook initiative in which teachers and students can download free scrapbook templates to be decorated and e-mailed for inclusion in the scrapbook.