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Curriculum Update

Social Studies Language Arts Science Mathematics

Social Studies

Report: Asian Studies Are Lacking in Schools

Nine out of 10 adults say it's important for students to study Asia in school, and more than seven in 10 students want to learn more about Asia-related topics, including languages, literature, art, music, history and politics. According to Asia in the Schools, a new report of the National Commission on Asia in the Schools, 30 states and the District of Columbia have adopted standards related to Asia or Asian-Americans-but a closer look reveals that it's not enough.

Although the U.S. and Asia are linked on many levels, research indicates a shortage of U.S. graduates with expertise in languages, cultures and policies of other nations-especially China, Korea and the central Asia nations formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union. When adults and students answer basic questions about Asia, even those confident about their knowledge tend to get basic facts wrong. Through surveys of social studies teachers, the report found that schools don't make use of the wide range of curriculum materials available about Asia.

Vivien Stewart, vice president for education at the New Yorkbased Asia Society, says educators tend to have the misconception that "it's not important or that it's a luxury to teach about others parts of the world." She says this is changing since Sept. 11. "For students graduating in the next few years, it's going to be just as important that they know something about other cultures as it is that they know algebra," Stewart says.

The report includes 16 best practices, as well as recommendations for governors, parents, professional organizations, districts and other groups to enhance teaching about Asia. Among the measures districts can take:

Specify Asian content in local standards and curriculum. Content should relate not only to social studies, but also to language arts, science, art and other curriculum areas.

Offer teachers professional development on Asia and allow time during the school day for collaboration to create Asian-related lessons and course designs.

Conduct an audit of current efforts to help students learn about Asia. Document courses offered, the Asian content in all subjects and all grade levels, teacher training, textbooks and student/teacher contact with counterparts in other nations.

Language Arts

Literature for Healing In Troubled Times

Reading or hearing stories about peace and love can work wonders for a frightened child. So the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators has compiled a list to help teachers and librarians choose books for children in crisis. The books will also be used by society members as they prepare for school visits.

While the list was compiled in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the themes are lasting ones. Tolerance, peace, unity, conflict resolution, methods of dealing with fear, historical perspectives of war, justice and retribution are among the topics explored in the books. "We're hoping that schools use it to supplement their discussions ... about the war on terrorism," says Stephen Mooser, society president. "When teachers don't have all the answers or want to expand their answers we hope that they'll draw on the books from the list."

The list currently contains about 275 fiction, poetry and other books from at least 25 publishers, and it will be updated continually. Title, author, summary and targeted age are noted for each book. The list is available free in print or as a PDF download.


The Science Of Food Safety

In classrooms across America, students are frying hamburgers. But it's not for home economics. Through an experiment where they test the amount of cultured bacteria inside the burgers with various cooking temperatures (and then test cheese for cross-contamination after exposure to the raw meat), these students probably won't be tempted to taste their culinary creations.

"I have to admit that in my own cooking-and I love to barbeque-I'm a real believer in meat thermometers now," says Wendell Mohling, associate executive director of professional programs at the National Science Teachers Association. Mohling worked with the Food and Drug Administration to develop Science and Our Food Supply, a new science curriculum aimed at teaching middle and high school students about food safety and careers in food science.

The FDA, which estimates that 76 million people become ill (5,000 fatally) from foodborne illness annually, approached the NSTA about introducing food safety through the fundamentals of microbiology. Topics include how safe composting and other farming practices can lead to safer crops, how food processing technologies are leading to new products and how safe food handling practices in restaurants and at home can reduce foodborne illness. Because many teens' first jobs are food-related, Mohling says it is especially important that they know about illness prevention related to food safety.

The standards-based curriculum is suitable for not only biology but also other science areas. Brad Staats, who teaches chemistry and physics at New London (Wis.) High School, took an NSTA professional development workshop last summer on the curriculum. So far, he has introduced it to his advanced chemistry students. "They loved it. [Food science] is something that affects everyone," he says. A lab where students take swabbings from telephones, water fountains and other spots around school to test for bacteria was especially enlightening to his students, he says.

Teachers are discovering that the curriculum helps in teaching standards that traditionally take the most creativity, such as science in personal and social perspectives. "This curriculum offers a great bridge for that," Staats says, adding that he plans to conduct state workshops on the program.


Teaching Math by Seeing Math

Implementing the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2000 standards is no easy task for many districts. Meeting the standards means making fundamental changes in traditional teaching practices, gaining a deeper understanding of content and acquiring technology savvy. The Seeing Math Telecommunications Project, about halfway through its initial phase, is helping by delivering interactive professional development via the Internet to teachers of grades three to six.

"Teachers need to be actively engaged in their learning," says Robert Tinker, the project's principal investigator and president of Concord Consortium in Concord, Mass., one of three project partners. "They need opportunities to practice and reflect together. And they need content adapted to their interests and needs."

The plan is to develop eight units, two each addressing the essential NCTM standards. Each unit includes a 30-minute video case study where a teacher shares an experience with a teaching method, as well as links to standards, student work, commentary and self-asessment tools. For example, a geometry unit features a fifth grade teacher guiding her students through a lesson on calculating the area of a triangle. Corresponding online seminars give teachers the chance to reflect, practice and improve their teaching skills, content knowledge and technology proficiency.

According to Tinker, in-school research on the effectiveness of this approach to professional development will begin this spring. Approximately 51 districts from 17 states are expected to participate in the pilot.