Core PE: Now with less exercise

Common Core has come to gym class, reports Madeleine Cummings in Slate. That can mean anything from “word walls” to worksheets. Will there be less time for exercise?

Many P.E. teachers have little training in the new standards or in how to teach academics, she writes. They’re under pressure to help raise test scores. “Who needs exercise when gym class can serve as yet another 45-minute opportunity for teachers to shoehorn in vocabulary and multiplication drills?”

“Timmy Dhakaia, a senior at Brooklyn’s Midwood High School, says she and her classmates now spend so much gym time on written exercises and tests that they don’t always have time for, well, gym,” writes Cummings. After a yoga session, students fill out a worksheet on which parts of the body each pose strengthened. It takes time.

At a Maryland elementary school, teacher Judy Schmid has her bowling students score games manually. They learn Core math skills while counting pins, calculating their scores and playing number games. It takes time.

A “text” can be anything, advises Martha James-Hassan, who directs physical education programs at Towson University.

 Instead of asking students to read articles or write essays in gym, she suggests students learn what the lines signify on the gymnasium floor, or compare ingredients on a nutrition label. Talking about a sports controversy at the beginning of class is another technique for sparking discussion and helping students learn how to frame arguments, both skills valued by the Common Core.

“But even these more creative suggestions sacrifice students’ physical activity,” writes Cummings.

Sex Ed in the age of Rihanna

Schools are struggling to teach sex ed in the Internet Age, writes Alexandra Sifferlin in Time. Students are exposed to just about everything online.

In “the normally progressive Bay Area city of Fremont, California,” parents campaigned to remove the ninth-grade sex ed book, Your Health Today, she writes. Originally written for college students, the book includes “a how-to for asking partners if they’ve been tested for STDs, a debate on legalizing prostitution” and advice on bondage games.

 “[One] kind of sex game is bondage and discipline, in which restriction of movement (e.g. using handcuffs or ropes) or sensory deprivation (using blindfolds or masks) is employed for sexual enjoyment. Most sex games are safe and harmless, but partners need to openly discuss and agree beforehand on what they are comfortable doing.”

Teri Topham doesn’t want her daughter “debating with other 13-year-olds how well the adult film industry is practicing safe sex.”

Asfia Ahmed, who has eight and ninth grade boys, complains the book “assumes the audience is already drinking alcohol, already doing drugs, already have multiple sexual partners.”

Fremont has many immigrant families from a variety of conservative cultures.

But school board members believe ninth graders should discuss in school what they’re seeing online.

The singer Rihanna, for example, has legions of young fans. Her music video for the song “S&M”—viewed more than 57 million times on YouTube so far—shows the artist, pig-tied and writhing, cooing “chains and whips excite me.” It then cuts to her using a whip on men and women with mouths covered in duct tape.

Sex is part of our culture, says Lara Calvert-York, president of the Fremont school board. “Highly qualified, credentialed teachers . . . know how to have those conversations. Because a lot of parents don’t know how to have that conversation when they’re sitting next to their kids and it comes up in a TV show.”

The board shelved the book — for a year — to consider the parents’ complaints.

A national sample study of 1,500 10 to 17-year-olds showed that about half of those that use the Internet had been exposed to online porn in the last year, writes Sifferlin.

How do you learn appropriateness and consent in a culture where Beyoncé’s song about pleasuring a guy in a car is championed by some as feminist and others as lewd? Or where Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” can refer to violent sexual acts in a music video viewed on the web at least 36 million times? . . . Or where primetime TV shows—the kind you often watch with your family—not infrequently make reference to anal sex?

A significant minority of teens are sexting suggestive photos to each other.

Yet actual sexual intercourse waits for the late teens, for most young people. The average boy is 16.9 years old when he has his first sexual experience, say researchers. The average for girls is 17.4 years old.

Some want to move sex ed online, writes Sifferlin. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has developed to discuss contraception. Teens can check out a variety of sites —, GoAskAlice!, — or view YouTube videos such as Laci Green’s Sex Object BS.


Homework: Report on your medicine cabinet

What’s in the family’s medicine cabinet? At a Utah junior high, students were told to report the contents — including prescription drugs — as a homework assignment in health class.

Students were told were to list when the medications expire and if the medications are FDA approved.

One parent — and only one — complained. “Although it may be a good idea for parents to do an inventory of their medicine cabinet, I believe it is inappropriate for students to counsel their parents or report to the school what that inventory is,” said Onika Nugent, mother of a student.

The district issued an apology.

Urban schools use first period for breakfast

Serving breakfast during first period is becoming common in New Jersey’s urban school district, reports Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Nearly all major urban school districts now serve breakfast “after the bell,” according to Nancy Parello, spokeswoman for the non-profit.

“The state has steadily increased its breakfast participation rate since 2012, when school administrators were told they could count breakfast as instructional time,” reports the Courier-Post.

Camden City serves a free dinner in some schools. At least, that doesn’t cut into teaching time.

Study: ‘It gets better’ prevents depression

Telling ninth graders that people can change can lower the risk of depression, according to a University of Texas study published in Clinical Psychological Science. 

Lifelong struggles with depression often start with puberty, says David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study.

The study asked one group of incoming ninth graders to read a passage describing how individuals’ personalities are subject to change.

The passage emphasized that being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially “bad” people. An article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students accompanied the passage. After reading the materials, the students were asked to write their own narrative about how personalities can change, to be shared with future ninth-graders.

Students in the control group read a passage that focused on the malleability of a trait not related to personality: athletic ability.

Nine months later, “rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39 percent among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.” However, students who were told personality is malleable showed no increase in depressive symptoms, even if they’d been bullied.

That jibes with research on the academic benefits of having a “growth mindset,” the belief that ability is malleable. And with the “it gets better” campaign aimed at gay teens facing abuse.

Pepsi pusher is suspended

Canadian schools aren’t any saner than ours.

Alberta high school student Keenan Shaw was suspended for two days for selling an illicit substance, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run. He was pushing Pepsi — the sugared kind – in a school that allows only diet soda.

Threatened with expulsion, the 12th grader says he’s retiring from the soda business. But he wasn’t the only entrepreneur.

“I’m not going to name any names, but I know a couple of people selling marijuana. There’s kids selling smokes, there was a kid last year selling meth, as well as a kid selling acid,” said Shaw.


Good-bye to brownies, hello kale

Shutterstock imagesVermont public schools have banned brownies, reports Vermont Watchdog. Instead, children will be encouraged to eat fruit shish kebab, kale smoothies and “gluten-free paleo lemon bars.”

(Fewer than 1 percent of people need to avoid gluten, according to my nutritionist stepdaughter, who was a school lunch designer until recently. She enjoys snacking on brownies.)

Vermont is trying to comply with nutrition mandates in the Smart-Snacks-in-Schools program. The rules apply to cafeteria items, vending machines and school fundraisers. However, mothers will be allowed to send brownies or cupcakes to celebrate a child’s birthday in class.

Pink cookie is banned — and in demand

Pink cookies will not be sold at Elyria, Ohio schools, reports the Chronicle-Telegram. The popular cookies  — named Best Cafeteria Cookie by Cleveland magazine in 2009 — have too much real butter and sour cream icing to meet federal guidelines.

A tray of pink cookies are seen at Elyria Schools.  CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

“We could modify the recipe by changing the size, using whole-grain flour or putting on less icing, but in doing that you are not making the same cookies,”  said Scott Teaman, food services director with Sodexo Inc., the district’s contracted food provider. “There is only one way to do the pink cookie, and to do it any other way would not do it justice.”

Forty years ago, Jean Gawlik, the former food production manager for Elyria Schools, used her mother’s recipe for the pink cookies.

You can’t change the recipe of the pink cookie,” said Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda. “It’s like eating diet potato chips. It’s not right.” Pink cookies are “one of those things that’s special to our community.”

The cookie ban has spurred demand, reports Reason’s Hit & Run. The bakers are taking special orders for “the perfect cookie.”  If the district can figure out how to ship the cookies, they now have customers around the country and in Canada asking for a box of pinks.

Big Nanny explains how to roast marshmallows

How Does Your Marshmallow Roast? asks the U.S. Forest Service. The advisory tells parents to keep children 10 feet from the fire and “use a roasting stick of at least 30 inches in length.”

That would prevent the marshmallow from getting overcooked — or cooked at all.

Yet the illustrative photo shows two girls holding short sticks and standing very near the fire.

Madelyn Morrissey (left) and Katie Roth roast marshmallows near the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest. (Courtesy Adrian Roth)

Madelyn Morrissey (left) and Katie Roth roast marshmallows near the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest. (Courtesy Adrian Roth)

After providing the traditional recipe for s’mores,  the feds urge readers to “grill thin slices of pineapple and substitute chocolate for the sweet, warm fruit.” (Perhaps the writer means: Grill pineapple, throw it away and stick with the chocolate.)

Don’t use too much marshmallow, the advisory goes on, and try “slices of angel food cake instead of graham crackers” to cut more calories.

What’s the point of low-calorie s’mores?

Or the kiddies might enjoy not roasting marshmallows.

 Grab a small bag of chocolate or peanut butter chips – or a combination of the two. Take a banana and slice one side open, exposing the fruit but leaving the peel intact. Slice the banana, add a few chocolate chips then top with tiny marshmallows. Or substitute the chips for blueberries from the local farmer’s market. (Again: Throw away the blueberries and stick with chocolate chips.) Place the banana in aluminum foil and wrap tightly. Place the foil-wrapped fruit next to but not on the flames. Wait five to 10 minutes or enough time for the chips and marshmallows to melt. Open and enjoy with a spoon.

Another way to limit the amount of marshmallows used is to substitute them with marshmallow crème, a spreadable version of marshmallows that helps you more easily regulate portion. (“Substitute with”? No.) For healthier treats, use large strawberries, apple slices, banana chucks, pineapple or other fruit. Put a piece of fruit on a roasting stick, dip quickly in the crème and roast over indirect heat until a delicious golden brown. You’re still having campfire fun, but the focus is on a healthier evening snack.

The Blaze mocks the nearly 700-word article on how to do — or not do — something Americans have successfully done for close to 100 years.

A commenter nails it: “S’more-ons.”

Anti-vaxxers attack student documentary

Our society is “under-vaccinated,” argues Invisible Threat, a film made by broadcasting students at Carlsbad High near San Diego. It was completed more than a year ago, but anti-vaccine activists raised such a furor that few have seen the film, reports the Los Angeles Times. 

The high school’s PTA canceled an on-campus screening in May, fearing a protest.

Some of the students initially believed vaccines and autism were linked, they told the LA Times. As they researched the issue, they changed their minds.  “It was all social controversy. There was no science controversy,” said Allison DeGour, who will be a senior this fall.

Here’s a free trailer:

California’s whooping cough epidemic is escalating.

Affluent parents are the most likely to put their children — and others — at risk by avoiding vaccination. Latinos have high vaccination rates and less whooping cough, apparently because they tend to trust doctors’ advice.