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Curriculum Update

<li>Mathematics & Science <li>Language Arts <li>Mathematics <li>Social Studies

Mathematics & Science

Teachers as Learners And Leaders

The latest science and mathematics education standards call for teachers to be treated as professionals-respected for their expertise, allowed to exercise their judgment and given opportunities for peer collaboration. But are administrators facilitating these goals? One section of a new report funded by the National Science Foundation, the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education, examines the realities related to teacher professionalism.

Of the approximately 6,000 teachers from more than 1,200 public and private schools surveyed, more than half say they and their colleagues regularly share ideas and materials. In addition, most high school teachers say they and their colleagues contribute to decisions about the science/math curriculum. However, only about a third of elementary teachers do so. Among all grade levels, fewer than one in 10 teachers say they have the opportunity to observe other classrooms.

When asked about curriculum and instructional decision-making, both science and math teachers in all grade ranges say they have strong control over selecting teaching techniques (56 percent to 80 percent) and determining the amount of homework to be assigned (67 percent to 83 percent). Many teachers also report autonomy in choosing tests for assessment, choosing grading criteria and selecting the sequence and pace for covering topics. Perceived autonomy is generally highest among high school teachers.

Fewer science and math teachers, especially in the elementary and middle grades, say they have strong control over these activities: determining goals of their courses, selecting content and skills to be taught and selecting textbooks.

Regarding professional development, teachers were most likely to report that they need training related to instructional uses of technology. They were generally least likely to perceive a need for deepening their own content knowledge. About six in 10 teachers reported needing at least moderate help in learning to teach students with special needs.

Many teachers have served as a resource for their school or district. When asked about leadership activities during the previous year, high school teachers were most likely and elementary teachers were least likely to have participated. For example, while about one in seven high school science teachers led in-service workshops for other teachers, only about one in 50 elementary level teachers did the same.

Other sections of the survey include teacher background, instructional resources, instructional objectives and activities, and science and math course offerings.

Language Arts

Planting the Roots of Reading Sophistication

It's probably not an accident that most writing for the general public has a middle school reading level. "Reading instruction gets a great deal of attention in elementary schools, [but] it seems to be overlooked for students in the middle grades. A good start is critical, but not sufficient," says Debby Kasak, president of the National Middle School Association.

That's why educators, policy makers and the community are being urged to place greater priority on reading instruction in middle schools. Middle school is when "most students extend their reading abilities, become sophisticated readers of informational texts and lay the groundwork for using reading in their professional and civic lives," says Donna Ogle, president of the International Reading Association, which has teamed with the NMSA in this mission.

A position paper adopted by both groups calls on schools to provide:

Continuous reading instruction for all young adolescents. This requires a school, or district-wide, literacy learning plan

Individual instruction. Because students arrive at middle school with a range of backgrounds, teachers must be prepared to offer individualized reading instruction. Reading specialists should provide intervention programs for struggling readers.

Adequate assessments. Largescale assessment programs focusing on comparisons of student groups across districts, states and nations are not enough. These measures must be supported by strong informal, classroom-based reading assessments.

Ready access to a wide variety of print and non-print resources. In addition to offering opportunities for students to choose engaging reading materials, educators should model reading in various forms.

Districts and policymakers are urged to provide the funding needed for schools to act on these guidelines, specifically for literacy programs, reading materials, staff development and new teacher mentoring activities.


Calculating the Gender Gap

Educators have long recognized that math gender differences emerge by junior high school, with boys outperforming girls. Not so fast. According to a new study reported in the journal Social Forces, there may be no gender gap at all.

The first study of the math gender gap, begun in 1972, found dramatic gender differences when gifted seventh-graders took the Scholastic Aptitude Test's math section. Involving material not yet introduced to those students in school, it was considered a test of reasoning skills. About four times as many boys scored above 600 as girls did, and about 13 times as many boys scored above 700. Later research produced similar results.

This time around, researchers examined gender differences in test scores from elementary school through high school. They also analyzed sub-samples, including highscoring students and different areas of math, such as reasoning and geometry.

The girls had higher average math scores than boys until about age 11 and higher reasoning scores at ages 11 to 13. The only gender difference found was a slight one by 12th grade, with boys accelerating at a somewhat faster rate. The bottom line: This study, which was broader and covered a longer time span, doesn't support the dramatic gender gap found in previous studies.

Erin Leahey, co-investigator of the new study, says she hopes that, despite these findings, educators and administrators will recognize perceived gender differences and the stereotypes created by them. After all, perceptions of girls' lower math ability can strongly affect future choices, says Leahey, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill doctorate student. "Men far outnumber women in math and science careers. We can't just stop here and say, 'We've done it, there's no gender inequality anymore.'"

Social Studies

Geography Education: It's a Small World

'War is God's way of teaching geography to Americans," quipped American satirist Ambrose Bierce. Sure enough, after the initial shock on Sept. 11, almost every American had the same question: "Where is Afghanistan?" For students of geography, the logical extensions to the "where" question are "What is it like there?" and "Why should we care?".

In 1985, not one state had a geography content requirement. Now students in 38 states must pass a course that includes it, says Barbara Chow, executive director of the National Geographic Society Education Foundation. A separate geography course is required by 11 states for grades K-4, 15 states for grades 5-8 and 24 states for grades 9-12, compared to one, 11 and six states, respectively, in 1992. Other indications of a renewed interest in the subject: growing numbers of college geography majors and the new geography Advanced Placement exam.

This surge may derive from the new ways geography is taught. Peggy Altoff, supervisor of social studies in Carroll County (Md.) Public Schools and National Council for the Social Studies board director, says parents sometimes ask when students will memorize state capitals. The answer is, they won't.

Today, geography covers animals, people, cultures, conservation issues and more, often through project- and fieldbased inquiry methods, Chow says. For example, students in one school traced migration patterns by satellite, researching behavior of tagged birds and sea animals-such as stopping for a few days because of severe weather.

Chow says continued teacher training is the key to good projects like these. Students must be prepared to "compete globally, embrace cultural diversity and make tough environmental decisions."