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Curriculum Update

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

New Test Shows Teens Not So Tech-Savvy

Conventional wisdom pegs today's teens as a digital generation completely fluent with information technology. New research from Educational Testing Service (ETS) demonstrates that teens' literacy in information and communication technology, or ICT, falls far short of what they need to succeed in college and the job market.

Teens' skills are sharp when it comes to using technology for entertainment, like downloading music or instant messaging their friends. But their abilities to access, manage, evaluate and communicate information are generally weak.

ETS developed an ICT literacy assessment and tested more than 6,300 students last fall. Only 52 percent of them correctly judged the objectivity of a Web site, and only 40 percent used multiple search terms to narrow an online search.

Districts can use the ICT assessment to identify problems in their students and gather data to establish a plan for student remediation, says Mary Ann Zaborowski, ETS executive director of product management. For example, an instructor can focus on Internet search skills if students were found to be weak in that area. Both ICT literacy and critical thinking are assessed, which are critical to student success in higher education. "If administrators aren't thinking about these skills, it's time to put them on the radar," says Zaborowski.

Solving History Mysteries

Curious about what happened in history on a certain date? Network for Instructional TV's (NITV) Dates That Matter is a free, online tool that explores historical events from ancient history to the 1990s. Each day, the site features an event and poses a series of questions to spur discussion and build understanding. Music and visual cues add suspense and appeal for students with various learning styles. Dates that matter help upper elementary to high school students understand historical events in context, says Candace Shively, director of K12 initiatives.

Teachers can use the projector and whiteboard-ready resource for history mini-lessons, explore links and support materials for complete lessons, and build background knowledge to prepare students for standardized tests.

NSTA and NOAA Take Teachers Online and Underwater

High school educators aiming to ramp up their coral reef lesson plans have a new resource at their fingertips. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have partnered to produce the Coral Ecosystem SciGuides.

As part of NSTA's SciGuides offerings, the Web-based guide is designed to help teachers use the Internet in the classroom. The Coral Ecosystem SciGuides provides one-stop shopping for lesson planning, says NOAA Education Specialist Bruce Moravchik.

And it's like an online textbook, explains Stacey Rudolph, NSTA SciGuides program manager. It includes and organizes expertly vetted links related to three coral reef themes: biology, ecosystem and conservation. Teachers can tap into specific topics by searching keywords. For example, the keyword "habitat" lists and organizes numerous resources, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Icons such as "assessment," "hands-on investigation" or "in the news" fine-tune the search.

Pedagogy experts reviewed all lesson plans, classroom activities and computer simulations, ensuring all are aligned to national science standards. NSTA constantly updates the guides with new links. SciGuides is like a living resource, says Rudolph.

Music + Math = Unprecedented Proficiency

It may be the latest evidence of the Mozart effect. Students at Weaver Elementary School in Los Alamitos, Calif., are collecting recyclables and selling T-shirts to help fund a supplementary math program.

MIND Institute's ST Music + Math program spurred a new level of math motivation that yielded phenomenal gains in math proficiency scores at the elementary school. ST, or spatial temporal, is the ability to think visually and several steps ahead in patterns and pictures.

Before the program was implemented, the high-performing school hovered in the 78th percentile in math proficiency scores, says Principal Erin Kominsky. Since implementing MIND six years ago, scores have skyrocketed to the 99th percentile.

The program combines computer lab math activities and a piano lab. Each week, students participate in 45 minutes of standards-based spatial temporal math activities in computer lab. MIND teaches math visually, representing mathematical concepts like fractions with pictures before introducing formal algorithms, says Kominsky. The approach reinforces math concepts taught in the classroom and provides another method to help students master concepts. Each strand includes levels of difficulty, allowing students to progress at their own pace. And the real-time program provides instant data about students' performance, which allows teachers to track progress.

In weekly lessons in the piano lab, students are taught music theory mathematically and learn to play the piano based on symmetry, with the left hand mirroring the right. Lessons are designed to enhance students' thinking and reasoning skills.

Kominsky adds, "MIND has revolutionized how we teach math. It would be a great day when we could have this in every school for every child."

AP at a Glance

Research indicates that students who take a more rigorous high school curriculum are more likely to complete high school and graduate from college. But sorting out requirements and advantages of options like Advanced Placement (AP) can be confusing.

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) aims to simplify and improve AP offerings with a 50-state database describing AP policies and programs listed by state.

Administrators can use the database to learn about mandates and financial incentives like test fee subsidies or teacher training grants, says policy analyst Jennifer Dounay.

ECS plans to add other databases in 2007, including a dual enrollment database.