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Curriculum Update

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

Summer Reading: Suggested is Hot, Required is Not

Whether it's due to the wizardry in Harry Potter or the racial slurs in Huckleberry Finn, attempts at censorship are common occurrences in schools today. This may be one impetus for changes in summer reading programs.

Summer reading is designed to keep students mentally engaged, but administrators are re-thinking the process. They're often hesitant to publish a required reading list because it can be interpreted that the district endorses each book on the list, explains Charles Suhor, a National Council of Teachers of English spokesman on censorship.

Instead, schools are more likely to provide "suggested" summer reading lists. This method offers students and parents the built-in freedom to avoid books that offend or simply don't interest them.

The book selection process itself may also be a critical step in eliminating controversy. Librarian Pat Scales, author of Teaching Banned Books (American Library Association, 2001), advocates establishing a committee of stakeholders, including the school librarian, parents, teachers and community members, to review books and make recommendations. This type of collaboration keeps the lines of communication open.

"Every school district should have a current policy and procedure in place that clearly defines how books for the library and materials for use in the classroom are selected. This way, when a book is challenged, the administration has a way to defend and explain," says Beverly Becker, associate director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association. Often these procedures aren't in place prior to a conflict or challenge.

Most important, however, is fostering the joy of independent reading through summer reading. Scales says, "We need to be pleased that students are reading at all and do whatever we can to encourage them."

A collection of suggested summer reading booklists can be found on ALA's Web site.

-Joe Ann Barton,,

Toward a More Holistic Algebra

Less time working through problems equals more time for discussing them, and this provides students with a more holistic understanding of the subject. A small number of math teachers in this country-and countless more across the globe-say that Computer Algebra Systems are the way to make it happen.

Whether brought to the classroom through Wolfram Research's Mathematica software or a CAS-equipped calculator like Texas Instruments' Voyage 200, CAS is, albeit slowly, changing the face of algebra education. Now math instructors at a high school in Northfield Township School District 225 in Glenview, Ill., have teamed with an Ohio University professor to speed up that process. They're organizing USACAS 2003, the first U.S. conference on CAS in secondary mathematics. This will take place at the high school June 21-22. (Registration deadline is May 15.)

"Algebra has been termed the sacred cow of mathematics by many people. It is what many mathematics teachers deem as untouchable, unchangeable." -Natalie Jakucyn, mathematics teacher and local arrangements coordinator, USACAS

Attendees will hear from international speakers and the pioneers of CAS. The conference aims to launch a network to integrate the technology, explains teacher Natalie Jakucyn, who is the USACAS local arrangements coordinator.

Integration is such a challenge because CAS has major effects on how beginning Algebra, Algebra II and Pre-calculus are taught. "It just dominos everything," says Jakucyn. "Algebra has been termed the sacred cow of mathematics by many people. It is the cornerstone, it is the filter. It is what many mathematics teachers deem as untouchable, unchangeable."

Those who are unable to attend the conference can check the USACAS 2003 Web site for updates. For more information on CAS, see the November 2002 issue of Mathematics Teacher, published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.,


Q:Why must science leadership be a focus area for all administrators, not just science curriculum directors?

A:Jobs of the 21st century will be based on science, math and technology. For students that struggle with science literacy, their future employability may be seriously affected. Science teachers say that one of the biggest obstacles to reform in science education is that it is difficult to gain the support of administrators.

Q:What do administrators say are the biggest barriers to professional development for science teachers?

A:District focus on literacy, lack of time and money, limited content knowledge and [teacher] commitment. Administrators [are] particularly critical about the lack of adequate science training in college for K-8 teachers.

Q:What are science teachers' professional development expectations?

A:Teachers want training that gives them concrete teaching tasks and assessment ideas, is based on inquiry and experimentation, and provides content knowledge. Ongoing support, mentoring and coaching, and time to reflect and share with other teachers [is also important].

Q:What should administrators take into account when planning science education reform?

A:Administrators must [recognize] what good science teaching looks like, even if they don't know much about science content. ... Teachers often feel better prepared to teach environmental science than physical and life sciences. Some teachers tell us that they bring students to the medical college for the laboratory classes because they don't feel adequately prepared to teach life sciences.

Many districts try to incorporate all the sciences across the grade levels, but without continuing professional development for teachers, a balance between all topic areas may not be achieved. This imbalance results in student [confusion] about fundamental scientific concepts. For example, the meaning of the word nucleus in biology versus physics. When asked about the make-up of a nucleus in a cell, a student will talk about protons instead of a membrane and chromosomes.

Q:Can you share a leadership building activity that administrators might try?

A:Read the article On the Frontier of School Reform with Trailblazers, Pioneers, and Settlers (Journal of Staff Development, Fall 1993). [It] provides suggestions for guiding change. Discussing change as a process in which everyone has a role to play is a good way to motivate and include staff in restructuring.

Q:What role will online training play in the future of science education?

A:As time is valuable to both teachers and administrators, online learning opportunities will have to include course work that is easy to access and relevant to standards, student achievement and science in the classroom. Online science support for curriculum and pedagogy should include a variety of resources that are easy to access, aligned with standards, and inquiry-based.

Q:How can districts benefit from partnerships with local medical colleges?

A:Medical colleges can share research and clinical information, and faculty expertise-which is valuable for teachers and students. Find out if your local medical college has any programs for K-12 students and teachers, or if career days are offered.

Maggi Cage is director of the Medical College of Wisconsin Center for Science Education (, which recently developed a state leadership seminar for superintendents and principals.

Building a Humanities Teacher Seminar

For districts thinking about planning a summer teacher seminar, the National Humanities Center is providing a helping hand. Its Online Professional Development Seminar Toolboxes provide a starting point for collaborating with college or university professors on an event.

Organizers choose texts from a toolbox resource menu and can add their own selections. Participants access readings online and then explore them in a five-day program combining seminar study with the development of teaching strategies. "This model is especially conducive to humanities topics," says Richard Schramm, vice president for education programs at NHC. "The humanities are best taught and learned when people come together for focused discussion about serious and challenging texts."

Two toolbox libraries are currently available, one on nationalism and sectionalism in America, 1815-1850, and the other on the years after the American Revolution. Three pilot districts have seminars planned for this summer, and others interested in the idea for 2004 can attend one of two free training sessions planned for October at NHC in Triangle Park, N.C.