Learning how to discover

Americans need to learn how to discover, writes David Edwards in Wired.  Over the next 20 years, as population rises by 2 billion people, we need to discover new ways to feed people,  “new science, engineering, design, and architectural methods, and pioneer economic models” to deal with climate change, “new approaches to medical treatment” and so on.

Neri Oxman lays in her Gemini Chair (Photo by Michel Fuguet)

Neri Oxman lays in her 3D-printed Gemini Chair, which simulates being in the womb, at Le Laboratoire in Cambridge, Mass. (Photo by Michel Fuguet)

A new kind of learning by doing is catching on, writes Edwards, who teaches a class called “How to Create Things and Have Them Matter” at Harvard.

Sometimes discovery learning is called maker classes, after-school innovation programs or innovation prizes, he writes. “Discovery environments are showing up as culture and entertainment, from online experiences to contemporary art installations and new kinds of culture labs.”

The ArtScience Prize lets students “learn the thrill of discovering the undiscovered.”

The maker movement is reinventing education, according to Newsweek.  At High Tech High’s network of San Diego charter schools, learning happens mostly through “kids making, doing, building, shaping and inventing stuff,” says CEO and founding Principal Larry Rosenstock.

Stanford’s design program, known as the d. school, is very cool. I toured the Product Realization Lab yesterday as part of Reunion Weekend. Students design, make a prototype, see what works, modify their design and, eventually make final products. Bending sheet metal changes students, said our guide, Jonathan Edelman, a consulting assistant professor in mechanical engineering. “It opens up their creativity.” So does silversmithing.

However, few students have the chance to take shop classes in middle or high school, Edelman said. Unless they’ve gone to maker fairs or competed in FIRST robotics, even would-be engineers don’t know how to turn a screwdriver.

The d.school welcomes students from art, architecture, biology and chemistry (think biomedical devices) and humanities and social science disciplines.

Public schools for the rich

Fordham’s Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer looks at per-student spending at Washington D.C. public schools.

It also shows the relative wealth of each school’s attendance zone, writes Mike Petrilli, who lists the 25 richest elementary schools in the area.

Several years ago, Janie Scull and I identified several thousand of what we called “private public schools”—public schools that serve virtually no poor students. This is another way at looking at that phenomenon—public schools that are “public” only for families who can buy extremely expensive real estate.

Take Carderock Springs Elementary in Bethesda (Maryland). The average income of households in its attendance zone is almost $250,000 per year. Is this school really more “public” than an inner-city Catholic school serving poor minority children? The public spends $12,000 per child on the former and $0 per child on the latter. Tell me again why that’s fair?

In wealthy suburbs, affluent parents donate thousands of dollars to their children’s public schools, reports the New York Times.

In Coronado, Calif., a wealthy enclave off the coast of San Diego, for example, local education groups, which support about 3,200 students in five schools, raised more than $1,500 per student in 2010. These private funds helped pay for arts and music classes at all grade levels, sports medicine courses at the high school and a digital media academy at the middle school, where students are learning animation and designing buildings with 3-D printers.

By contrast, the combined fund-raising of groups affiliated with schools in the San Diego Unified School District — where the median household income is about two-thirds that of Coronado — amounted to $19.57 per student.

School-supporting nonprofits have increased, according to a new study.  Most states cap or redirect local property tax revenues to equalize public funding between affluent and poor districts, say researchers. Instead of raising property taxes, well-to-do parents donate money to their children’s schools.

Small high schools help in NYC

New York City’s small high schools, once derided as a Gates-funded flop, increase students’ odds of graduating and going to college and cost less per graduate, concludes a new MRDC study that compared small school students with applicants who applied but lost a lottery.

Some 200 small schools were created between 2002 and 2008, usually serving disadvantaged students in buildings that had housed large, low-performing high schools.

Black males showed the strongest gains, writes Patricia Willens on NPR.

Because more students earned a diploma in four years, rather than five, costs were 14 to 16 percent lower per graduate, MDRC estimated.

While critics have labeled the Gates effort a failure, other researchers have been monitoring small schools for decades and have found generally positive impacts.

review of studies published between 1990 and 2009 found “the weight of evidence … clearly favors smaller schools.” An MIT study of New York City public small high schools also found positive effects: higher graduation rates, better test scores and an increase in college enrollment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of closing large high schools to create smaller specialized schools, notes the New York Times editorial board.  He pledges to help improve schools before closing them. “Given the clear benefits that have accrued to the city’s most vulnerable students, Mr. de Blasio should not shy away from the option of shutting down big schools and remaking them from scratch, particularly in cases where the school has been failing for a long time and its culture is beyond repair.”

How to prevent college dropouts

The best way to prevent college dropouts is to stop admitting unprepared students to four-year colleges and universities, argues Richard Vedder. People with “some college, no degree” earn little more than high school-only workers, but most have student loans to repay. If they’d started at community college, they might have job skills without the debt.

74% of teachers use games to teach

Seventy-four percent of teachers are using digital games for instruction, according a Joan Ganz Cooney Center survey, Level Up Learning. About half of game-using teachers do so at least weekly.

Seventy-one percent say games help teach math concepts, but they’re less persuaded that games help students learn science and other subjects.

Most teachers play digital games at home, at least occasionally.

No more school sports?


Sayreville High canceled its football season in response to charges of locker room assaults. 

A New Jersey high school canceled its football season after seven varsity players were charged with hazing and sexually assaulting younger players.

Should high schools eliminate sports teams? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.

Gandalf says . . .

On a visit to a school in England, Sir Ian McKellen channeled Gandalf to advise students.

Here’s Gandalf facing the Balrog in Lord of the Rings:

‘Reverse transfer’ could add 2 million degrees

As many as two million students could earn associate degrees through “reverse transfer” of credits. Seventy-eight percent of students who transfer from community college to a four-year institution leave before completing an associate degree. If they fail to complete a bachelor’s degree, they may have earned enough credits for a two-year degree.

The vultures circle

“Newsvulture vans” are parked in front of Darren’s Sacramento high school “fanning the flames and needlessly putting some people on edge,” he writes on Right on the Left Coast. Graffiti threatening a school shooting was found in a restroom.

The hysteria started last week. A student claimed the vice principal manhandled her after she tried to grab a confiscated book report — and bit him. Students protested in support of the 17-year-old girl.

‘Word gap’ is about quality, not just quantity

By age 3, the children of poorly educated, low-income mothers have heard 30 million fewer words than the children of educated, middle-class mothers, a study showed nearly 20 years ago. The “word gap” is about the quality of parent-child conversation, not just the number of words, reports the New York Times.

For 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!”); rituals (“Want a bottle after your bath?”); and conversational fluency (“Yes, that is a bus!”) — were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, according to a new study.

“It’s not just about shoving words in,” said lead author Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”

Talking more is the first step, said Ann Fernald, a Stanford psychologist. “When you learn to talk more, you tend to speak in more diverse ways and elaborate more, and that helps the child’s cognitive development.”

Fernald advises Providence Talks, a Rhode Island program that outfits babies and toddlers with devices that record the number of words they hear each day. Counselors evaluate the children’s exposure to language and teach parents communications skills.