Dust bunny: An eco-smart baby toy

Babies don’t like costly, colorful developmental toys, writes Joanna Weiss in the Boston Globe. Her infant son loves to play with lint.

I’m thinking of starting a company that sells lint. Lint, dust balls, and small pieces of string. It would have a name designed to attract well-meaning new parents, like “Crawling Companions’’ or “Motor Skills Mates.’’ Or something with the word “Genius’’ in it.

Her son is entranced by “a piece of string he found on the living room rug, or a piece of curved plastic from a water bottle wrapper.”

It’s yet another reason to feel good about having a not-so-spotless house. (Another one: Dirt triggers the immune system! It’s true!) But it also highlights what many well-meaning parents and grandparents already know: Those carefully designed developmental toys quite often go to waste. One friend told me her toddler plays almost exclusively with the dust bunnies that have built up since her younger brother arrived this spring. A set of exquisitely designed European toys, meanwhile, sits desolately on a shelf.

The latest baby toys claim  to “promote development and early education, to woo parents with the promise that a toy can help with movement, make babies smarter, or instill some nascent sense of social consciousness,” Alison Marek, managing editor of s toy industry trade magazine. tells Weiss.  “The most recent trends, Marek said, include eco-friendly toys in earth-toned colors.”

Weiss suggests putting the baby on grass.

When you’re young, everything’s educational.

Teachers are tops at trivia nights

Teachers make the best trivia night hosts in Massachusetts bars, reports the Boston Globe.

. . . the host one recent evening, Joel Bates, is an assistant principal at Florence Sawyer School in nearby Bolton; the scorekeeper, Steve Grant, works for him as a second-grade teacher. At least a half-dozen other teachers were in the standing-room-only crowd.

. . . “When you think about it, it makes sense,’’ said Bob Carney, a trivia night organizer with “about 10’’ teachers in his stable of hosts. “Teachers are knowledgeable. They know how to control a room full of people. And if you can handle a 10-year-old, you can handle the occasional drunk.’’

Via Education Gadfly.

Darren of Right on the Left Coast competes with a team of teachers at a Sacramento trivia night. Years after he learned that Nunavut is the name of a Canadian territory, his team was asked: Iqaluit is the capital of what Canadian territory or province?

My trivial knowledge of the existence of that Canadian territory has finally paid off!

The team won a $100 gift certificate. And deep and abiding satisfaction for Darren.

I still cherish beating all the guys to answer a science question in the try-outs for It’s Academic.  I don’t remember the question but the answer was kelp. That was 40 years ago.

Learning about rejection

Harvard hosted a weekend seminar on rejection to help graduating seniors cope with the dismal job market, reports the Boston Globe.

Harvard students fail sometimes. They are denied jobs, fellowships, A’s they think they deserve. They are passed over for publication, graduate school, and research grants. And when that finally happens, it hurts. Big time.

. . . Senior Olga Tymejczyk arrived at the seminar early. With just a month and a half until graduation, Tymejczyk has applied for 10 jobs, but has no offers.

A Latin American studies major, she wants to work in “higher-education administration or health care research.” Perhaps she should have picked another major.

Even students who earn A’s in AP courses and sky-high SAT scores learn about rejection when they apply to elite colleges, explains the Baltimore Sun.

. . . Nataniel Mandelberg . . . who had gotten a perfect 2400 on his three SATs, a rare feat. The curly-headed boy with the perfect A average wanted to go to Yale. He worked in a Johns Hopkins lab after school, fenced and was a member of two school clubs.

Nataniel applied early to Yale and was deferred, then rejected. He also was rejected by Harvard. But he got into Princeton and Penn.

Teaching niceness

“Social and emotional knowledge” can be taught in school “just like trigonometry or French grammar,” some psychologists believe. From the Boston Globe:

. . .  a typical teaching unit might include a role-playing exercise, or a set of diagrams breaking down the components of different facial expressions, or, in older children, a discussion of the subtle differences between disgust and contempt.

Some of this sounds like the social skills classes offered to kids with Asperger’s Syndrome and other forms of autism.

Around 10 percent of American grade school and high school students now go through some form of social and emotional learning curriculum, according to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a Chicago-based emotional learning research organization. A handful of states have instituted emotional learning guidelines for their public schools – the most comprehensive is Illinois’s, which sets “self-management,” “social awareness,” and “interpersonal skills” benchmarks, among others, for kids at each grade level.

At high-scoring Scarsdale Middle School and elsewhere, empathy is showing up in the curriculum, reports the New York Times.

English classes discuss whether Friar Laurence was empathetic to Romeo and Juliet. Research projects involve interviews with octogenarians and a survey of local wheelchair ramps to help students identify with the elderly and the disabled. A new club invites students to share snacks and board games after school with four autistic classmates who are in separate classes during the day.

Los Angeles is using Second Step, which “teaches empathy, impulse control, anger management and problem solving,” in its middle schools.  Seven Seattle elementary schools are using Roots of Empathy.

I’m dubious about adding another responsibility — one traditionally handled by parents — on to teachers’ shoulders. It’s one thing to insist that students learn to behave in class; it’s another to take on their social and emotional development. Also, I know there’s little research backing the effectiveness of these programs in changing students’ behavior.

Teachers, what do you think? Should “relating” become the fourth R?

Fad or not? Click on your answer

Clickers that let students answer questions in class are proving popular in K-12 classrooms. Is it a gimmick? The Boston Globe visited an eighth-grade class in Lexington, Mass. where students clicked their answers to a question asking if President Polk was justified in asking Congress to declare war on Mexico.

Eight students tapped A: “Yes, it was time for war. Congress was justified.” Seven picked B: “No, it was an excuse to push America into war for more land.” And, four chose C: “Wait! I don’t get this yet.”
In an instant, the teacher, Edward Davey, discovered that he needed to teach more on the topic, the students received a snapshot of one another’s views, and a lively debate ensued about the 19th century conflict.
Teachers like the quick feedback and the chance to involve students who are reluctant to speak up in class.

. . . But although teachers and students rave about the excitement the clickers bring to the classroom, some educators and researchers say schools should proceed with caution. They warn that the remotes, which send students’ answers to a teacher’s computer via radio frequency or infrared signals, risk becoming gimmicks if used for simplistic quizzes and games.

Teachers say it takes time to develop the right questions to work with clickers, though some rely on readymade questions that come with the clickers.

A set of 32 clickers costs $895 to $3,000. I’ll bet that cost could come down.

Core Knowledge wants to see lessons on YouTube.  There’s got to be some teachers out there with great ways to teach fractions. Why not share the smarts?

Don’t mess with Massachusetts

Beware of requiring soft, vague 21st century skills, such as “media literacy, critical thinking and working in groups,” editorializes the Boston Globe. The state school board is considering a proposal by a task force which concluded that “straight academic content is no longer enough” for student success. The Globe warns:

The 21st-century skills movement could return Massachusetts to an era of low academic standards.

Massachusetts’ “15-year track record of successful education reform” is at risk, write Charles D. Chieppo and James T. Gass in Education Next.

Despite the clear success of more than a decade of education reform in Massachusetts, Governor Patrick’s administration has turned its back on the very forces behind that success: it is wavering on standards, choice is under continual fire, and the board of education has been stripped of the independence that for 170 years was Horace Mann’s legacy and had allowed the board to implement reform with a singular focus on improving student achievement.

. . . Results released in September 2008 showed a sharp drop in MCAS pass rates and flat or declining scores in the elementary and middle school grades and in many urban districts.

Massachusetts probably has the best education system in the nation. Why mess it up?