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.

Do kids want tech? Do teachers fear it?

School Sleuth is asking What Do Kids Want? when it comes to classroom technology.

And What Are Teachers Afraid Of? 

After the story tale ending …

Spare Parts, which tells the true story of an underdog robotics team of Mexican immigrants, is inspirational and nearly waylaid by cliches, writes the Arizona Republic.

In 2004, Arizona high school boys — all undocumented immigrants — beat well-funded teams from around the country — including a team from MIT — in an underwater robotics competition. Joshua Davis’ Wired article and book inspired a documentary, Underwater Dreams.

When the movie ends, the boys’ future seems to be bright, writes Joshua Davis in a New York Times op-ed. But, because they were undocumented, only one earned a bachelor’s degree and none work in robotics.

One works as a cook, another as a janitor, according to Davis. A third is unemployed. He dropped out of Arizona State when voters passed Proposition 300, which banned state aid or in-state tuition for undocumented students.

 Oscar Vazquez . . . also had a scholarship to A.S.U., and after working menial jobs for a year, was able to attend. He was a sophomore when Proposition 300 passed, and managed to stay in school only by piecing together more scholarships, all while leading the university’s robotics team to regional championships. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2009 and applied for legal residency.

Not only was his application denied, but he was also summarily banned from the United States for 10 years for living here without a visa. He ended up working on an assembly line in Mexico.

After a year, his ban was reversed when Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, interceded on his behalf. Mr. Vazquez returned, enlisted in the Army, and served a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan. He is finally a citizen, and repairs trains in Montana for the railroad company BNSF.

Deporting talented young people who’ve grown up in the U.S. is “a startling rebuke to the American dream,” concludes Davis, who argues for President Obama’s executive action granting work permits to undocumented immigrants like the robotics team.

The ‘TED-ification’ of education

“Learning needs to be joyful,” says TED curator Chris Anderson in explaining the “TED-ification” of Education. “All the world’s knowledge is available” to the curious, says Anderson on Reason TV. But “curiosity is hard because there are so many distractions.”

Updating the Magic School Bus

Has The Magic School Bus reached the end of the road? asks Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic. After all, the popular science series requires kids to read.  That’s so 20th century.

I recently came across a copy of a relic from my childhood: The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body. In it, Ms. Frizzle, the “strangest teacher in the school,” shrinks down her class (and their bus) so they can travel through the human body. They see the digestive system hard at work, blood cells up close, and muscles in action, with quips from characters in the comic book format.

School Bus, which debuted in the mid-1980s, made it to video in the ’90s.

Despite the shift to digital devices, “the heart of science communication still hinges on narrative,” argues Ossola. But the story may be told through video games, movies and websites.

Girls in particular are captivated by stories, including those that involve science. . . . By integrating STEM and narrative literature, educators hope that more girls will stick in those fields.

This year, I gave GoldieBlox engineering kits to my six-year-old niece and five-year-old step-granddaughter. Each kit comes with a story about how Goldie and her friends design and build something to solve a problem.


Disney launches Imagicademy apps

Disney’s Imagicademy, a suite of mobile learning apps, launches today with Mickey’s Magical Math World on iPad, and a companion app for parents..

Disney plans creative arts, science, language arts and social skills apps, with recommended physical activities. Eventually, there will be books and smart toys.

Comes the revolution . . . not yet

Whenever I eat strawberries, I hear my father’s voice saying, “Comes the revolution, we’ll all have strawberries and cream.” Then, since he had an MBA from the University of Chicago, he’d explain why communism doesn’t work. (Even under capitalism, we never had cream. Just milk.)

As a historian of school reform, Larry Cuban has written frequently on the “rose-colored, feverish, high-tech dreams” of transforming teaching and learning. He recommends Derek Muller’s short video, This Will Revolutionize Education.

Study: Blending boosts math scores

Urban middle school students improved significantly after using a personalized, blended-learning math program, according to a new study from Teachers College, Columbia, reports Ed Week.  Low achievers gained the most after using Teach to One: Math.

The program employs a computer algorithm to deliver individualized lessons to students daily and provides a personalized instruction schedule for teachers. Teach to One: Math combines teacher-led instruction, small-group collaboration, digital lessons and virtual tutoring and was inspired by New York City’s School of One, which focuses on personalized instruction for middle school students.

. . . During the 2012-13 school year, students using Teach to One: Math gained math skills at a rate about 15 percent higher than the national average. In the second year of the program’s implementation students made gains of about 47 percent above national norms, even though some of those students were still in their first year of using Teach to One: Math.

New Classrooms Innovation Partners, a nonprofit, developed the program. In the first year, the curriculum included fourth and fifth grade math, but it now goes down to second grade, said Christopher Rush, the chief program officer.

In 2012-13 the lowest-achieving group using the program gained 37 percent more than low-achieving students nationally; in 2013-14 that number rose to about 81 percent higher than national norms for that group.

High achievers did not outperform the control group.

Demerits go high-tech

ClassDojo — a popular behavior-tracking app — is raising privacy concerns, according to the New York Times. Tracking technologies make it easy for teachers to award points for good behavior or demerits for bad behavior. Parents can track their child’s conduct, if they choose to sign up.

But some fear a young child’s misdemeanors could be recorded for posterity. The “permanent record” really would be permanent.

HUNTER, N.Y. — For better or for worse, the third graders in Greg Fletcher’s class at Hunter Elementary School always know where they stand.

One morning in mid-October, Mr. Fletcher walked to the front of the classroom where an interactive white board displayed ClassDojo, a behavior-tracking app that lets teachers award points or subtract them based on a student’s conduct. On the board was a virtual classroom showing each student’s name, a cartoon avatar and the student’s scores so far that week.

“I’m going to have to take a point for no math homework,” Mr. Fletcher said to a blond boy in a striped shirt and then clicked on the boy’s avatar, a googly-eyed green monster, and subtracted a point.

The program emitted a disappointed pong sound, audible to the whole class — and sent a notice to the child’s parents if they had signed up for an account on the service.

In one out of three U.S. schools, at least one teacher uses ClassDojo, which is free. (There are plans to raise money by targeting ads to parents who sign up.) And there are other tracking apps available.

Critics don’t want teachers to reward of penalize students for subjective acts such as “disrespect,” reports the Times. In addition, they fear “behavior databases could potentially harm students’ reputations by unfairly saddling some with ‘a problem child’ label that could stick with them for years.”

The concerns seem silly to me. Teachers have been using points to maintain order — and to communicate their expectations — for decades. This just makes it simpler.

As for privacy, the app doesn’t require the student’s last name. ClassDojo won’t know who’s who –unless the parents sign up to track their child.

Some think it’s wrong to award points and demerits in front of the whole class — again, nothing new. Teachers can use the app privately.

‘Personalized learning’ helps in math, reading

“Personalized learning” appears to be raising math and reading scores at 23 schools, according to “interim research” by Rand for the Gates Foundation.

Teacher Pete Knight works with students at an Oakland middle school.

Teacher Pete Knight works with students at an Oakland middle school.

The 23 urban charter schools in the study predominantly enroll low-income students with below-average scores. Yet students ended the school year above or near the national average. The lowest performers improved the most.

Most teachers use technology — adaptive software programs with short lessons and quizzes — to personalize instruction. Students work at their own pace and their own level, moving forward only when they’ve demonstrated mastery. Typically, teachers work with small groups while other students are working independently.

Slightly less than half of teachers said students use technology for educational purposes about a quarter to half of the time, and about 20 percent said students use technology between 50 to 75 percent of the time. Among the remainder, nearly 20 percent reported an even higher level of technology usage, and nearly 20 percent reported a fairly low level of technology usage.

Most schools used common elements, notes Chalkbeat

  • “Learner profiles,” or records with details about each student;
  • Personalized learning plans for each student (students have the same expectation but have a “customized path”);
  • Competency-based progression, in which students receive grades based on their own mastery of subjects rather than on tests that all students take; and
  • Flexible learning environments, in which teachers and students have physical space and time in the schedule for small-group instruction or tutoring.

Denver’s  Grant Beacon Middle School has used blended learning to personalize for three years, reports Chalkbeat. Test scores and student engagement have improved, says Alex Magaña, the principal. Denver may create several new schools modeled on Grant Beacon.

I wrote about experiments with blended learning in Oakland schools — mostly district schools — in Education Next.

For more on using blended learning to personalize, check out: Blended. Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve SchoolsHow to get blending learning right and Does blended learning work?