Untouchable students

Should Teachers be Allowed to Touch Students? asks Jessica Lahey. She teaches English and writing at an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility. “Many of my adolescent students have endured sexual and physical abuse,” she writes.

Schools are adopting no-touching policies for their students. Teachers fear a pat on the shoulder could be seen as aggressive or sexual or . . . who knows?

Touch can built trust, says David J. Linden, a Johns Hopkins neuroscience professor, is the author of a new book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind. “More than anything else, what touch conveys is ‘I’m an ally, I’m not a threat.”

However, context determines how touch is perceived, Linden told Lahey.

An arm thrown over your shoulders by a domineering boss is perceived very differently than an arm thrown around your shoulders by a trusted friend, for example.

“Appropriate social touch in school is vitally important to children who do not experience it at home, or for children who are abused,”says Linden. “It’s important for kids to realize that there is a role for social touching that isn’t abuse, that’s simply a normal and healthy means of bonding with other human beings.”

When I started tutoring school kids, I had to pay to be fingerprinted and prove I’m not on the state’s data base of sex offenders. I decided not to touch a child on the arm or shoulder, not to hug.

More time may not mean more learning

Boston public schools will add 40 minutes to the teaching day at more than 50 elementary and middle schools.

More time doesn’t guarantee more learning, writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic. Quality matters as much as quantity, according to a new report from the Center on Education Policy.

Researchers analyzed 17 low-performing schools in 11 districts that expanded the school day. Test scores and graduation rates improved. But the longer day wasn’t the only change.

Successful schools used “community partnerships to provide extra enrichment programs and services the school’s budget couldn’t cover,” writes Richmond.

Teachers who have more opportunities to collaborate with each other tend to be more effective at their jobs, particularly in their work with students. “An hour of professional development seems to be almost as helpful to teachers, and in some cases more helpful, than an hour in the classroom,” said Matthew Frizzell, a policy center research associate and one of the report’s co-authors.

Boston schools with longer days have seen mixed results, reports the Boston Globe.

For many schools, a longer day has failed to dramatically boost academic achievement or did so only temporarily. The uneven results prompted school district officials to scrap the extra minutes at some schools and the state to pull funding or pursue receiverships at others.

But other schools have successfully used an extended day to boost MCAS scores or expand offerings in the arts and other electives.

“I think there are lessons to be learned,” said John McDonough, interim superintendent. “We know time matters, but it only matters if it is used well.”

At the Eliot K-8 Innovation School, which added an hour to its school day, there’s more time for enrichment, reports the Globe.

On Monday morning, 25 third-graders built and programmed motorized cars out of Legos in a robotics class. Students said they did not mind the longer school day.

“Time goes by fast,” said John D’Amico, 8.

As the students buzzed the cars around the classroom, their regular classroom teacher, Holly McPartlin, mentored a new teacher downstairs, observing her teach and then providing feedback.

Eliot is considered a model of good implementation. But the Edwards Middle School, once “the poster child for the success of the extended-day movement in Massachusetts,” has seen performance slide after “a high turnover of principals,” reports the Globe.

‘College Promise’ isn’t likely

From Whiteboard Advisors, Education Insiders predict the future:

KidZania: Playing at adulthood


Fighting fires — real water, fake fire — is one of the most popular jobs in Kidzania parks around the world.

KidZania theme parks offer children a thrill better than any ride, writes Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker. Children between the ages of four and fourteen get a “chance to enact the roles of grownups in a lavishly realized, scaled-down world.”

The idea started in Mexico, spread to cities in a dozen other countries, including Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, and Istanbul, and is now coming to the U.S.

At the KidZania in Jakarta, Indonesian girls use a flight simulator to work as pilots.

At the KidZania in Jakarta, Indonesian girls use a flight simulator to work as pilots.

“KidZania is a proudly mundane municipality: children can work on a car assembly line, or move furniture, or put out a fake fire with real water,” Mead writes.

Children receive 50 “kidzos” at the gate and earn more by  participating in an activity.

“Children can spend their kidzos on renting a car—small electric vehicles moving around a go-kart track that is sponsored by companies like Mercedes-Benz or Renault—or at the mini city’s department store, which bears the name of a regional chain and is stocked with covetable trinkets,” writes Mead.

In Mexico, kids tend to spend their kidzos immediately after earning them; in Japan, it is difficult to persuade children to part with their kidzos at all. López jokes that when KidZania arrives in the U.S. kids will demand the introduction of a credit card. In Lisbon, kids mostly come with their parents, whereas in the Gulf states they are often accompanied by nannies or dropped off by drivers. . . .  In KidZania Jeddah, which is scheduled to open in Saudi Arabia later this month, girls will be permitted to drive cars, a privilege denied their mothers.

Japanese girls "work" as dentists.

Japanese girls “work” as dentists.

At Cuicuilco in Mexico, a crashed car sit beside the highway, “its buckled engine periodically emitting steam, to illustrate the dangers of careless driving. I saw children with clipboards acting as insurance agents, taking an inventory of the accident.”

“This is not princesses and dwarfs, ” says Xavier López Ancona, the founder and CEO. “We immerse our visitors in a simulated reality.”

Mead’s son earned kidzos by delivering packages. He also worked as a detective, using the crime lab to identify a bank-robbery suspect, passed his driver’s test and “flew” a plane.

Smartphones don’t make us dumb, but …

Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in the New York Times. Digital devices don’t even destroy our attention spans. “We can focus,” he writes. But we may not want to.”

In a 2012 Pew survey, nearly 90 percent of teachers said their students can’t pay attention the way they could a few years ago.

It may be that digital devices have not left us unable to pay attention, but have made us unwilling to do so.

The digital world carries the promise of amusement that is constant, immediate and limitless. If a YouTube video isn’t funny in the first 10 seconds, why watch when I can instantly seek something better on BuzzFeed or Spotify? The Internet hasn’t shortened my attention span, but it has fixed a persistent thought in the back of my mind: Isn’t there’s something better to do than what I’m doing?

. . . People’s performance on basic laboratory tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby. In another experiment, people using a driving simulator were more likely to hit a pedestrian when their cellphone rang, even if they had planned in advance not to answer it.

Digital devices encourage “near constant outwardly directed thought” at the expense of time for reflection, Willingham concludes. “A flat cap on time with devices — the restriction we first think of for ourselves and our kids — might help.”

Multi-tasking is a myth, writes Leah Levy on Edudemic. Beware of information overload, writes Daniel J. Levitin in the Guardian.

Kids’ screen time keeps growing

Kids spend hours a day looking at screens, writes Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic. Doctors fear screen junkies will suffer posture problems, carpal-tunnel pain, neck strain and eye problems, she writes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommends no more than two hours per day of screen time. In a new Australian study, published BMC Public Health, many students exceeded that.

 Close to half—46 percent—of all third-grade boys, on average, use screens for more than two hours per day, and that usage increases to 70 percent of boys on average by the time they reach ninth grade. Fewer third-grade girls—43 percent—use screens compared with their male counterparts, but that rate jumps to surpass boys’ average usage in ninth grade, to more than 90 percent of girls.

“Girls may have been doing more homework than the boys, and the boys may have been doing more sports [away from screens] or playing more video-games on hand-held devices,” says a pediatrician.

Some parents limit children’s screen time.

Why do some ideas take hold?

Dan Willingham’s five mini book reviews include a look at Jack Schneider’s book, From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse. It asks “why do some ideas from academia gain influence among educators whereas others do not?”

Schneider names four key factors. For ideas to be influential, they must be compatible with teachers’ general philosophical orientation regarding childhood, they must seem of potential importance, there must be some hope of realistically acting on them in the classroom, and they must be transportable across contexts.

I think the first one is the key: People believe an idea because they want to believe it and ignore ideas that challenge their world view.

Willingham also likes The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber, which is subtitled “Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.”

“I’m the parent Lieber targets in this book,” he writes. “I want my kids to have the values my wife and I share when it comes to money, but I don’t know how to impart them.”

Education’s culture clash

The school reform debate reaches its peak of vitriol when it turns to teachers unions and “corporate reformers,” writes Steven Hodas on The Lens. This reflects a culture clash, he argues, citing his experience in New York City.

Urban school systems  — like other municipal departments — “drew employees largely from blue-collar urban ethnic populations seeking entry into the middle class,” he writes. The work culture valued apprenticeship in the craft, “personal relationships gained through immersion and tenure in the workplace, and an acute awareness of chain of command and workplace rules.”

 The techniques of day-to-day practice (on a job site, at a fire, in the classroom) were largely unwritten . . . The centers of gravity and legitimacy were situated with the front-line workers themselves, and only those managers who had risen through the ranks of successive apprenticeship had legitimized authority.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein brought in a “white-collar, managerially focused culture” that sees seniority and experience as suspect. “Personal loyalties and obligations . . . are not assets but liabilities to org chart-style managers.” Klein created new career routes “that explicitly sought to route around the traditional pathways of apprenticeship,” writes Hodas.

For the first time, significant numbers of teachers, principals, and district personnel were recruited from elite institutions, not for lifelong careers but for stints of indeterminate duration. Now, principals need not to have spent long periods in the classroom or serving apprenticeships as assistant principals. Central office administrators increasingly drew from the ranks of those who had (or could have had) lucrative professional careers elsewhere and would never before have considered service within one of the nation’s most notorious bureaucracies.

The two cultures — blue-collar and white-collar — mistrusted and misunderstood each other, writes Hodas. “White-collar managers saw themselves as missionary and insurgent, their nominal authority threatened and undermined at every turn by aboriginal cultures of practice. Where they found strongholds they dismantled them, most significantly in the community school districts and in the central Division of Teaching and Learning (headed at the time by Carmen Farina, now de Blasio’s Chancellor and settling scores). “

Push back on APUSH

The new Advanced Placement U.S. History framework, known as APUSH, doesn’t give students the tools to analyze history, writes Robert L. Paquette, a history professor.

The broad appeal of Howard Zinn’s Marxist baby-talk in AP history classes stems not only from the appeal of  the politics of the his best-selling People’s History of the United States to activist teachers, but its service in easing bored and indifferent students through the past by personalizing and simplifying it through trivialization.  The current emphasis on “identities” often boils down in the classroom to the instructor’s attempt to get the students to empathize with the personal feelings of a favored group of historical actors extracted from the ranks of the oppressed.  While these voices may elicit students’ sympathy, perhaps even guilt, they do little to enhance understanding of the proper yardsticks by which the past must be measured so that it does not become vulgarized.

APUSH treatment of race, class, and gender reflects “presentism,” Paquette writes.

Forms of prejudice like ethnocentrism, which can be seen as universal phenomenon, appear to be a debility that largely afflicted persons of European descent. On one page of a unit dealing with European expansion, for example, the authors assert that Spanish and Portuguese explorers had “little experience dealing with people who were different from themselves.”  Compared to whom?  Kongos?  Aztecs?  Catawbas?

For many high achievers, AP U.S. history will be their last American history course, writes Paquette.

Explaining the American Revolution

On the US History Teachers Blog, Ken Halla recommends this video.