Monthly Archives: October 2011

Technology and Our Children: What’s Going On?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement encouraging parents to ban direct screen time (television, movies, and any portable screen device) for children under two years of age. The Academy explained, “This updated policy statement provides further evidence that media — both foreground and background — have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years. Thus, the AAP reaffirms its recommendation to discourage media use in this age group.”

A recent survey conducted by Common Sense Media indicates that many parents are ignoring the Academy’s advice. In the survey, found here, thirty seven percent of the households surveyed reported that over forty percent of their children under age two watch either TV or DVDs at least once a day. In a typical day, babies and toddlers spend an average of fifty four minutes watching TV or DVDs, compared to an average of twenty three minutes a day being read to. Twenty nine percent of 6 to 23 month olds in this study have a television in their bedroom (Emphasis and loud gasp ours). The Academy’s statement has been debated in cyberspace (where else) and has received pushback from parents who suggest that it is unreasonable and unrealistic to ban all screen use, and prefer instead to allow their toddlers to watch “Sesame Street” or play a game on the Ipad in moderation.

The Common Sense Media survey also found that about forty percent of 2- to 4-year-olds and more than half of 5- to 8-year-olds use smart phones, video iPods, iPads or similar devices. Common Sense has determined that in addition to the substantial digital divide (which exists because the majority of children from lower income and less well educated families do not have a computer at home), there is now an “app gap” between higher and lower income children, in terms of their access to and use of newer mobile devices and the programming available especially for these devices.

Of particular note to the GCP audience are the study’s findings pertaining to race. African American children aged 0-8 average about forty minutes more television, DVDs and/or video watching per day than their white counterparts. However, they spend more time reading per day than white children as well, albeit only thirteen minutes more.

As children are introduced to technology at home at younger and younger ages, educators are hotly debating whether technology aids or hampers their learning at school. While some schools are rushing to provide laptops to their students as noted in a recent article found here, others are dramatically reducing or eliminating technology in schools, as was reported in a recent NY Times article found here.

Whenever your children are introduced to technology, their understanding how to use it in a productive and enriching manner is critical. This can be tough to encourage, especially for parents who are not up to speed on the latest technology themselves. But help is available. Apple stores nationwide regularly provide in house digital education workshops for children free of charge. Google and go to your local Apple store’s website, click on “Youth Programs”, and check out what programs are being offered. The programs are designed for children ages 6-13, but younger children may attend if accompanied by an adult. Some Apple stores also offer musical events and book readings for children, so the site is worth looking into even if your children are digitally savvy. If you are in the New York City area, take your children to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. Their website, found here, is full of free and low cost technology based
activities for children to enjoy.

Readers, are you delaying your young child’s introduction to technology, or does your toddler know how to use your laptop better than you do? Are you OK with your young ones having screen time? If so, are they using educational programs, or do they just play? And are you making sure they are spending the same amount of reading or being read to? GCP wants to hear how you are handling this brave new world of technology. Let us know!!

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Minority Elementary School Students More Anxious, But More Motivated

A recent study conducted by UCLA and NYU researchers concluded that minority (which included African American, Chinese, Dominican and Russian) students as young as second grade recognize stigmas against their ethnic groups and experience increased anxiety because of these stigmas. However, these elementary school students are more motivated about school than their European American classmates. Read about it here, on the Root.com.

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Tips to Tell if Your Children Are Ready for Scary Movies

Halloween is upon us! High on the list of Halloween treats for many of our children are scary movies, and this weekend the theaters, networks and cable channels will have many for them to choose from. But how do you know whether your child is really ready to handle watching a scary movie?

Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that helps parents navigate the treacherous waters of media and digital activities, offers up “Ten Tips To Know Whether Your Kids Are Ready For Scary Movies” . Click here to see their tips as well as their recommendations for slightly less scary Halloween fare. Bookmark the Common Sense site (www.commonsensemedia.org), so that you can regularly check it out. Among the many great offerings on the site are their movie reviews, which include their assessment of the positive messages as well as the sex and violence in each of the movies.

For additional helpful movie reviews, check out Kids-In-Mind (www.kids-in-mind.com), which rates movies on a scale of 1-10 for “sex and nudity”, “violence and gore”, and “profanity”. It also gives in every review detailed descriptions of potentially problematic scenes so you can know precisely what you and your children will see.

Thanks to Wendy Van Amson for the heads up on the scary movie tips!

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Education Issues in the News

Today’s first education issue in the news comes from The New York Times, courtesy of Avram Barlowe.  Avram is a co-founder of The Urban Academy, a New York City public high school nationally recognized for its commitment to pedagogical innovation, academic rigor and its diverse, engaged student body. He has taught history and social studies courses for more than thirty years and specializes in training and mentoring teachers. Avram has been a friend of GCP since its inception and we welcome his contributions to this blog.  He recently sent us the following tidbit:

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Here is an important piece from Michael Winerip, the New York Times’ best education reporter:

The City University of New York’s community colleges traditionally place unskilled high school graduates in remedial courses where many of them stay for several semesters and then drop out. CUNY has now created an intensive remediation semester focused on reading, writing and math that is having a much higher success rate than its traditional remediation courses.

There are two interesting and important aspects of this program.  First, the program costs $75.  A student taking one to three traditional remedial courses — depending on how many placement tests they have taken —  at a CUNY community college pays about $1,800 to $2,000 for that privilege, although they receive absolutely no credit for passing remedial courses.

Second, the program, know as START, focuses on depth rather superficial coverage and does not teach to the test. The teachers ask open ended questions.   “In math in high school if you got called on to answer a problem and gave no answer, the teacher moved on,” said Pedro Vargas, a 2011 graduate of Richmond Hill High in Queens. “Here they keep asking, they want you to explore.”

START instructors, many of whom do not have traditional academic backgrounds, use innovative methods to teach their classes.  The article explains,

Sarah Eisenstein, who teaches reading and writing, worked in adult education. One day last week she did a lesson on interpretation versus text-based evidence, using a short story by Nicholasa Mohr. She had numbered each of the 74 paragraphs beforehand, making it easier to cite and follow evidence.

Ms. Eisenstein does not feel obliged to talk when it gets quiet. “So they fill the silence,” she said. “It takes a lot of practice.” And while she works to prepare them for the tests, she does not do test prep. “For us, the depth is more important than the breadth.”

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The article can be found here. Thanks, Avram!

An article in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal answers one of the questions parents commonly ask: “What Is the Best Way To Study“?  The article, found here, provides a collection of research on the best study techniques.

Researchers have found that some of the ways students can study most effectively include: reviewing the hardest material right before bedtime, turning off music, text messages, television and email while studying, testing themselves repeatedly, and developing methods to stay calm optimistic and focused during exams.

A very informative article well worth reading and discussing with your son.  If your son is old enough to understand and absorb it on his own, make sure that he reads it too!

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Focus on Facebook = Poorer Grades?

A professor at a Pennsylvania university recently set out to determine how college student’s grades are impacted by their Facebook usage.  Today’s New York Times reveals his study’s surprising conclusions, in an article found here.  The study found that while spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook is related to negative outcomes,  just checking Facebook for a few minutes at a time is not.  The study also concluded there is no significant connection between the time students spend on Facebook and the amount of time they spend studying.  (Really?)   While we would not suggest running to share this information with your sons in middle school, high school or college, it is interesting to hear that their focus on Facebook may not automatically have a negative impact on their grades.  Take a look at the article and see what you think.

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What We All Can Learn From Coaches

I spent last Saturday with one of my sons at a college lacrosse clinic, where he along with scores of other high school juniors were demonstrating their skills to a group of college coaches, with the hopes of being recruited for a college team. After the lunch break, the head coach of the host school stepped in front of the bleachers to talk to the players and their parents about the college recruitment process. I got ready to hear a series of deadlines and schedules. Instead, I heard a series of life lessons. 

The 6’5” coach stood in front of us all and announced in a booming voice: “We are here to talk about getting to the finish line. The finish line is NOT getting on a college team and becoming a lacrosse champion. The finish line is getting a great job, providing well for yourself and your family, having a great life.” While he did talk about schedules and recruitment processes, with each set of facts came words of wisdom, such as “Work as hard as you can so that you can be certain to eliminate regret. If you learn to do that, you will know how to deal with whatever adversity you encounter in life.” He encouraged the boys to make a college decision based upon the possibility of not playing with the team, to ask themselves if they weren’t playing, “Can you still be happy and succeed at the school?” His criteria for a recruitable player included “intangibles” which went far beyond the playing field. In addition to looking for players who were coachable and very competitive, he wanted young men who took good care of themselves and were respectful of their parents. He wanted team players, because “the secret to making yourself happy is to build other people up.” His message was clear: Succeeding in college, and having a productive, happy life were far more important goals than playing for a team or having a winning season. A far cry from Vince Lombardi, but quite effective. I heard a player say immediately after the coach was done, “That was one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard!”.

Hearing this coach’s inspirational words took me back to a lunch I attended this summer with a few educators and non-profit heads where we discussed how to bring the motivation and discipline that boys willingly accept and absorb from coaches into the classroom. An earlier GCP post, “What Teachers Can Learn From Coaches” (4/8/11) focused on this as well. Hearing this lacrosse coach’s talk reminded me that this is a critical path to pursue. Our boys, regardless of whether they have any athletic ability, can and should benefit from the discipline and motivational push that coaches instill in their players at every practice.

Carol Sutton Lewis 

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Words of Wisdom from a Montessori Mom

Back in August, GCP posted a piece called “Waiting For Superman? Superwoman Was Already Here” in which Daniel Petter-Lipstein extolled the virtues of a Montessori education. As a follow-up to that post, we asked Anne Williams-Isom, mother of three Montessori trained children ages 18, 15 and 9, for her perspective on Daniel’s piece and the Montessori experience. She began her response by noting: “I thought Daniel’s points were exactly right and well made. I also found it fascinating that Daniel’s Jewish heritage was an important part of the equation he used to select a school, because as African-American parents my husband and I carefully considered issues related to race, class and culture when we made our decisions about our childrens’ early education”. The rest of her insightful comments are below.

As my husband and I began the dreaded search for the right Manhattan school for our eldest daughter, we had no idea what was ahead for us. We knew we wanted a school that was academically rigorous but we also wanted one that was diverse from both a socio-economic and racial perspective. It was important for us to ensure that our children would have a strong early childhood educational experience because we knew that they would probably attend another school for middle and high school (most Montessori school are only for preschool and elementary school aged children). We also wanted a school that would support some of the values that we were teaching our children at home; integrity, a sense of empathy for others and a drive to discover and fulfill their purpose (a lot to ask for a three year old, I know, but I am a Manhattan mom).

The more I learned about the Montessori Method, the more I knew that this would be the right fit. I was immediately attracted to the idea that children would be looked at as individuals who learned and developed at their own pace – the teachers’ role being to gently guide them through a series of different activities with carefully assigned materials. From what I understand, much of the lesson plans come from what is developmentally appropriate for the child. But they also are developed from classroom observations and carefully assessed cues taken from the children themselves which signal what each child is ready for next.

The importance of the triangular alliance among child, parent and teacher was also a draw for me and apparent from the beginning. The mixed aged group model cannot really be appreciated until you see a six year old helping a three year old put on his coat or teaching him his numbers. Your heart will skip a beat when you see this mini, yet enthusiastic six year old teacher and his eager three year old student interact on the playground. The sense of pride on the face of the three year old when he confidently waves at the six-year-old in the play ground and knowing that he will get a wave back is priceless. Academics have written pages and pages about the importance of a child’s social/emotional development and Maria Montessori has seemed to have gotten it right with the simple recognition that when children learn from other children there are countless ways for both to shine. The feelings that come along with teaching and learning from other children almost immediately build the deposits in their self-esteem bank.

When you walk into a Montessori classroom you sometimes feel like you have walked into the Twilight Zone – but in a good way. There are usually a lot of kids but not a lot of chaos. You will ask yourself “where is all of the noise?” As you look closer you will probably see one teacher in one corner giving a lesson to a child, another teacher giving a math lesson to a group of children and then a couple of children happily and independently doing their “work” around the classroom. Somehow Maria Montessori understood differential learning long before it became a fancy term. Daniel is right. Maria Montessori was indeed a Superwoman.

I agree that the Montessori Method could have many positive implications for the education of children who grow up in economically disadvantaged families and underserved communities. This is true for all of the reasons listed above. Additionally, as Daniel has described, there are also countless benefits to having a calm and peaceful environment – especially for children who live in stressful situations. For those children who may to be growing up in chaotic circumstances, calm and order can actually have a profound and healing effect. Being able to freely explore without someone telling you to sit down or sit still, and being allowed to be curious while having your good choices supported are all things that all kids need but that children that come from challenging backgrounds need even more.

We all know that too many black boys are receiving “Special Ed” services and are labeled as having “behavior problems”. I have often wondered what Maria Montessori would say about the labels and how she would handle one of these so-called “at risk” boys. My gut says she would hand the young man some materials and calmly ask him to complete a task that she knew he would have success with, to build his confidence at first, and then continue to increase his challenges until the boy was accomplishing things he never imagined was possible. I imagine that soon his desire to achieve would distract him enough from any mischief that he might want to get into and the result would be a child who learns.

I have been really happy with my children’s education thus far and know that my husband and I made the right decision for them. While I am still collecting the data I do have some preliminary results. My kids are bright, compassionate, citizens of the world, and most importantly, I am convinced that they will be lifelong learners with that balance of curiosity and confidence that one needs to solve problems. That is the curiosity that Daniel talked about. Just the other day I was talking to my nine year old daughter about a set of tasks she had to get done in our house before she could go on to the activity she wanted to do. I was amazed at how confidently she organized her thoughts and approached her tasks. I realized that she really does not think there is a problem or an issue that she cannot solve, whether it is a math problem (her favorite), or an issue on the playground. Somehow, she, at nine, intrinsically understands that she has the power to solve any problem she puts her mind to solving. And I see that quality to different degrees in each of my two other children; one that just started her first year at the University of Pennsylvania and is balancing her academics with membership on the track team and adjusting to a whole new social environment, and the other, who just started the 10th grade where he is both a leader on the basketball court and as the 10th grade class president.

As far as I am concerned what we really need in the world are more people who are confident about their abilities yet still curious enough to learn about new people or new things; people who want to solve problems together and know how to do so. That is why this mom thinks Maria Montessori with all of her brilliance and simplicity has a winning formula. Thanks Daniel! I strongly concur!

In addition to being a proud Montessori mom, Anne Williams-Isom is the Chief Operating Officer of The Harlem Children’s Zone. She and her husband are raising their three children in Harlem.

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What Works: The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program

Today’s New York Times features an article, found here, on the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program. North Carolina gives scholarships to top academic students attending an in-state public college, and in return the students spend at least four years teaching in a public school. The program, which for the last 25 years has been attracting top talent and training them to be teachers, brings in 500 fellows each year, about 25 percent of them Black or Hispanic. While the fellows must stay in teaching for four years after graduating college, five years out, 73% of them remained teachers, and 60% of the fellows are still teaching in the North Carolina Public School system 20 years after finishing the program. A few years ago Congress passed legislation which uses the Teaching Fellows Program as a national model but financing has been limited.

This program is in the news today not just to showcase the good work that it is doing (the article features a Black male fifth grade teacher who is a former fellow and a thoughtful, effective teacher) but because North Carolina lawmakers recently voted to phase out this program over the next three years as part of their budget cutting package. According to the Times, Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis is reconsidering this cut. If any GCP readers live in North Carolina, please let him know that you agree that this program is worth saving! Education reform experts around the country agree that no one program or plan of action can solve our national crisis, and there are lots of good programs on the state and local level which are helping children and should be supported and expanded. The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program certainly appears to be one of them.

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