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Curriculum Update

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

Teens Think Math is Tops

It's fun." "It's easy." "I understand it." These simple reasons are some of the most common given by students of a recent poll who named math as their favorite subject. For some, a single teacher's efforts to make math interesting vaulted math to the top of their list. Nearly one-quarter of the 785 teens surveyed like math the most, about the same percentage as in a 2003 survey.

Conducted for the online news publication Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing, the 2004 survey reveals that both girls and boys ages 13 to 17 appear to favor math and science equally. This correlates with recent data indicating a shrinking gender gap in these subject areas. In English/literature, meanwhile, girls are far more likely than boys to like it best (22 percent of girls vs. 5 percent of boys).

Unfortunately, the poll assignment was too tough for the 8 percent of respondents who couldn't name a favorite subject. Why? They don't have one.

Writing Process Goes High-Tech

Nearly 33,000 students in 33 middle schools across eight Los Angeles County districts will reap the benefits of $11 million in grant money starting this fall. Those are the numbers behind a two-year SouthEast Educational Technology Consortium writing program.

"Middle school students don't write enough," says Pat Sanford, president/CEO of Tech Ed Services, the company that researched and wrote the grant for SEETC. So, they'll be spending a minimum of one class period per week honing their writing skills with Vantage Learning's MY Access Web-based tool. During pilot tests, Sanford says, the tool's automatic feedback process engaged the students. "It's quiet in those rooms when they're doing this. ... They're aware of what they're doing and accountable for their own learning in a way that was a paradigm shift for them," she adds.

Teachers, who are receiving professional development training this month, are expected to focus more on individualized writing instruction as less grading time is needed. They'll also be more connected to parents, who can access their child's writing samples online and discuss them with the teacher at any time.

Representatives from multiple departments within each district are meeting regularly to implement the project, which is funded by No Child Left Behind's Enhancing Education Through Technology grant program. Sanford has noticed "some fabulous cross-district information" sharing, and she says she hopes it will lead to more collaboration, such as between teachers and students in the different districts.

Reasoning's Role in Teaching Bio

It's known as a "choke point" subject that will either turn students off or on to taking further science courses. Biology is traditionally that first step in preparing students for chemistry and physics, as well as in encouraging them to be continuous learners in general. So it would make sense, then, to ensure that life sciences teachers are especially prepared for their task.

That's the aim of a three-year National Science Foundation funded research project being conducted by the Center for Technology in Learning, part of the independent research and development organization SRI International.

Researchers will study the instructional decision-making and problem-solving processes of high school life science teachers in both a laboratory setting and in collaborative, realworld contexts. The thinking is that teachers who have problem-solving strategies and habits teach their subject in ways that foster improved student achievement. The study's first report is expected in June 2005.

Mandates Boost Financial Ed Trend

During Dan Iannicola Jr.'s four years on the board in St. Louis' Affton School District, situations where the district would delay taking action always annoyed him. If an effort for eighth graders was pushed aside, "I couldn't help but think, everybody only gets to be an eighth grader once," he says. What about those current eighth graders who would miss out? Now, as the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for financial education, Iannicola serves on the recently established Financial Literacy and Education Commission. The commission is coordinating federal government financial education programs and working with private organizations to promote related efforts and improve the financial literacy of all Americans. As with any tall order, it's being accomplished in steps. After two meetings, the commission is well on its way to establishing a Web site that pulls together existing education programs, grants and information. "The resources are out there, but until now it's been a hidden treasure," Iannicola says.

Meanwhile Iannicola is helping to educate nonprofits about how to assist schools. If educators "have someone knocking on their door who is well intentioned but doesn't help them meet their immediate needs, it's going to be hard for that party to get the attention they want," he explains. "I try to tell the banks that free doesn't always mean free to schools." For example, a slick CD with personal finance lessons may not get used if teachers aren't trained, if there aren't enough computers or if a place isn't made for the lessons in a busy school schedule. MAKING DOLLARS AND SENSE Dan Iannicola Jr. and a fourth grader at Gotsch Intermediate School in St. Louis discuss personal financial management. The deputy assistant secretary for financial education formerly served on the district's school board. More than ever, states are mandating the time for financial education be found. In the past year, 16 states began requiring some sort of financial education in K-12, and nine states have similar legislation pending. Districts are meeting the challenge with both separate classes in personal finance and efforts to include topics in core subject areas. The new state quarters and Lewis and Clark nickel, for instance, can be worked into social studies lessons. Either approach has value, Iannicola says. "Some financial education is better than no financial education." He hopes administrators will "keep this on their radar, even if there isn't a state or federal mandate requiring them to do so. It's worth the extra effort."

McREL Consultant Begins Term as NSTA Head

Anne L. Tweed has been busy helping school districts to improve secondary science instruction as a senior consultant for the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. Now the 30-year teaching veteran is extending her reach as the National Science Teachers Association's new president.

The educator, who formerly taught high school environmental science, biology, marine science and other courses in Cherry Creek School District in Greenwood Village, Colo., aims to keep the subject at the top of schools' priority list. "If there was just one thing to accomplish this year, it would be to put policies and plans in place that ensure all students receive a high-quality science education from well-prepared science teachers," she said in a McREL statement.