You are here


Curriculum Update

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

Comics in the Classroom

What is it about comic books that draws kids to them? There's the story-they can't wait to find out what happens next. And the action-packed illustrations help. But there's also a "clandestine nature that reading comic books is something that they are getting away with" that makes the medium appealing, says Dan Tandarich, education chair on the board of trustees for the New York City Comic Book Museum.

The power of comics in the classroom is something Tandarich, a lifelong comics fan, has experienced firsthand. A fifth-grade teacher at Brooklyn's P.S. 124, he recently designed an eight-lesson curriculum program to help boost kids' reading, writing, listening and speaking skills through comics. Tandarich says he "hopes to reach ... students who struggle with reading or who show a disinterest in reading, as well as all those who already know what a great thing it is to be entertained by picking up something you enjoy reading."

Despite the stigma of comic books being "junk" reading, hundreds of teachers and librarians have shown an interest in the curriculum, he says. And when he submitted the program as an extracurricular club idea for his own school, he got the thumbs up from his principal.

"Challenging Objective Minds: an Instructional Comicbook Series" was created for grades 5-10 and has currently been piloted in 10 schools. Others can preview 10 C.O.M.I.C.S. pages online at

Private.htm, or purchase the whole program, which includes a comic book for each student, for $50 (plus $10 s/h).

Tandarich suggests that teachers interested in the medium also plan a trek to their local comic book store to search for materials a specific class would enjoy.

While it may be too early to call it a curriculum trend, including comics in the classroom has been a topic of interest for other educators as well. At a recent panel discussion sponsored by Organized Readers of Comics Associated in Pittsburgh, teacher Mary Stronach of Whitesboro (N.Y.) High School introduced a sample comic book curriculum she's developing to help teachers integrate comics into English, social studies and creative arts classes throughout K-12.

The State of Science and Math Teachers

From content preparation and equipment needs to professional development participation and textbook satisfaction, the latest series of detailed reports from the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education covers it all. Eight new reports-featuring elementary, middle and high school math; elementary and middle school science; and high school earth science, biology, chemistry and physics-are available for free download.

Based on a survey of 5,765 science and math teachers in schools across the U.S., the reports are organized in a similar fashion, with tables, analysis and summaries. A few of the findings:

--Relatively few science teachers in grades K-5 report feeling well qualified to teach specific science disciplines, and almost three out of four perceive a substantial need for professional development to deepen their own science content knowledge.

--There are gaps in the preparation of middle school math teachers in a number of areas that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends, including probability and statistics, geometry and the history of math.

--High school math teachers reported placing heavy emphasis on mathematic concepts and reasoning, but classroom activities suggest otherwise. The typical class spends the highest percentages of time solving worksheet or textbook problems, reviewing homework and worksheet assignments and practicing routine computations and algorithms.

BORDER CROSSING: Science Literacy

What is the role of language in learning and reporting science? That's the question on the minds of scholars who recently convened to establish a university research network. "We're really trying to do some border crossing between language and science," says Brian Hand, a professor of science education at Iowa State University. The network is currently setting an agenda for future studies.

Research is starting to shed light on the cognitive work that goes on with science students. One of Hand's current projects is helping secondary science teachers in nine schools move to a more student-centered approach with non-traditional science writing activities. Students wrote a newspaper article about science and then met with a local newspaper editor to discuss it. In another assignment, a grade 10 genetics class communicated with eighth graders about what they had learned. "We're asking kids to use a different audience, not just write back to the teacher," Hand says. "They don't interpret their work. We have to change teacher practice."

A better understanding of science literacy would allow educators and students to make sense of patterns of natural events, understand the "big ideas" in science, and communicate to inform and persuade others to take action.

"We as science educators tend to stick to ourselves, and so do language educators. We've got to break that down a bit and get more emphasis on working with each other," he says. Administrators can help by encouraging teachers to try this approach to science education, but not expecting instant proof of success.

For information on a not-yet-published analysis of seven science and literacy studies, contact Hand at

TEXTBOOK REPORT: "Happy Talk" on Islam

The record of Muslim enslavement, the brutal subjection of women, violence among militant Islamists and jihad. Mentions of these darker sides of Islam's past and present are few and far between in world history textbooks, according to a new report from the American Textbook Council. Instead, textbooks gloss over controversial subjects, using language and concepts taken almost directly from content guidelines that the Council on Islamic Education has sent to publishers.

The first product of a more comprehensive world history textbook review that is expected to be released later this year, "Islam and the Textbooks" offers 35 pages of analysis, including quotes from widely used textbooks and a case study of Massachusetts, where the Islam content within its revised history framework came under attack from activists who called it racist and biased.

"World history textbooks make an effort to circumvent unsavory facts that might cast Islam- past or present- in anything but a positive light." -Gilbert Sewall, in Islam and the Textbooks

Gilbert T. Sewall, director of ATC and the report's author, says, "Textbooks say many favorable things about Islam for good reason. But they shy away from subjects that cast Islam in a negative light." This, he argues in the report, has been happening during the past two decades, as textbook editors "have moved from the neglect of Islamic history to self-censorship." In contrast, textbooks cover the Crusades, slavery, imperialism, women's suffrage and other areas of Western history with candor, the report notes.

"I think teachers and students who know nothing much about Islam should have available teaching resources that balance what's in the textbooks," Sewall says. While quality supplemental materials are tough to come by, he suggests that educators get started by contacting The Ethics and Public Policy Center ( or the Foreign Policy Research Institute ( for information on subjects not covered well in textbooks. He also recommends looking at Massachusetts and California state history frameworks, found online at and,