Students invent classroom door lock

“Shaken by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and determined to prevent future tragedies, a team of high school students in Washington, D.C., has invented a new locking device for classroom doors,” reports Discovery News. Often classroom doors can’t be locked from the inside due to fire-safety regulations. They hope their low-cost device will help teachers keep intruders out.

lock

Ten Benjamin Banneker Academic High School students, led by math teacher John Mahoney, created the Dead Stop. A PVC pipe that’s hinged on one side can be locked on the other with a steel pin. Fitted over a hydraulic door closer, it will prevent the door hinge from widening.

 When the students did research about patents and commercially available door locks, they said most of the devices they found required physical installation either on the door or the jamb. Other devices were expensive and complicated to install. Theirs should cost less than $5 and be simple enough that a teacher could lock the door in under 30 seconds, they said. Once the danger has passed it should be easy to remove as well.

With a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant, the students plan to build and test several prototypes of their design, publicize the DIY instructions and collaborate with a company to manufacture the device. They’re hoping for pro bono help in applying for a patent.

Toddlers and tablets

Long before they start kindergarten, American children are playing with education tech at home, writes Alex Hernandez in Toddlers and Tablets on Education Next. At the iTunes store, “9 of the top 10 paid education apps are designed for small children, ages four and up.”

Touchscreens are the most intuitive interfaces ever created for small children. I still remember the weekend morning in 2008 when our 18-month-old padded into our bedroom, grabbed his mom’s new iPhone off the nightstand, turned on his favorite song, and began pawing through photos.

. . . Leading app developer Duck Duck Moose believed it was designing for four- and five-year-olds when it noticed two-year-olds using its math apps. Dragonbox, an algebra program for children eight and up was being used by five- and six-year-olds. No one informed these kids that they weren’t ready for higher-level math.

Children do incredible things when they are free to explore and learn.

Parents are dubious about young children using technology, Hernandez concedes. He thinks tablets are seen as too expensive for grubby-fingered preschoolers. There’s also a backlash against excess screen time. Education apps should supplement, not replace, hands-on play, Hernandez writes.

App creators shouldn’t just try to teach pre-academic skills, such as categorizing objects or recognizing letter sounds.

 . . . research suggests that children’s ability to pay attention and control their impulses (i.e., executive functions) are better predictors of future academic success than IQ. Children’s ability to manage their attention, emotions, and behaviors; learn appropriate ways to interact with others; and be creative are equally, if not more, important but often harder to target than pre-academic skills.

But not impossible. App maker Kidaptive recently released a turn-taking game in which children paint pictures alongside two animated characters. Children using the app must literally sit and wait for the animated characters to complete their turns before resuming their own painting (defying many conventions of good game design). The metrics don’t lie. Kids are being patient and taking turns.

The best new apps will develop preschoolers’ executive function, creativity, number sense and phonemic awareness, Hernandez predicts. Schools may be slow to use these games. Parents already are buying them.

The Gummy Worm test

Given a choice between eating a gummy worm now — or waiting and getting two gummy worms — a little girl finds a creative way to control her appetite.

Self-control gone wild?

Has teaching self-control gone wild? Daniel Willingham responds to Elizabeth Weil’s New Republic cover story, American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids: In Defense of the Wild Child.

Weil uses self-regulation, grit and social-emotional skills interchangeably, but “they are not the same thing,” writes Willingham.

Self-regulation (most simply put) is the ability to hold back an impulse when you think that that the impulse will not serve other interests. (The marshmallow study would fit here.) Grit refers to dedication to a long-term goal, one that might take years to achieve, like winning a spelling bee or learning to play the piano proficiently. Hence, you can have lots of self-regulation but not be very gritty. Social emotional skills might have self-regulation as a component, but it refers to a broader complex of skills in interacting with others.

. . . Weil is right that some research indicates a link between socioemotional skills and desirable outcomes, some doesn’t. But there is quite a lot of research showing associations between self-control and positive outcomes for kids including academic outcomes, getting along with peers, parents, and teachers, and the avoidance of bad teen outcomes (early unwanted pregnancy, problems with drugs and alcohol, et al.). I reviewed those studies here. There is another literature showing associations of grit with positive outcomes (e.g.,Duckworth et al, 2007).

It’s possible that better test scores (and fewer drug and alcohol problems) come at a cost, Willingham concedes. Weil suggests a trade-off between self-regulation and the wild child’s creativity and personality.

But self-regulation doesn’t have to crush exuberance, Willingham argues. It tells a child when she’s being adorably exuberant and when she’s being a pain.

If we’re overdoing self-regulation, children will “feel burdened, anxious, worried about their behavior,” he writes. “When I visit classrooms or wander the aisles of Target, I do not feel that American kids are over-burdened by self-regulation,” he writes.

Indeed.

How would you improve science ed?

If you could make one change to improve science education, what would it be? Science Times asked 19 scientists, educators and students.

Quite a few called for science teachers who know science, math teachers who know math and lessons that ask students to solve real-world problems.

Maria Klawe, a computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College wants teachers to “help all students understand that hard work and persistence are much more important to scientific success than natural ability.”

Focus STEM courses on “creativity and invention,” says Sal Khan, creator of Khan Academy.  The “traditional skills . . .  are tools to empower creativity.”

States aren’t rushing to adopt Next Generation Science Standards, which was developed by a consortium of 26 states, notes the Hechinger Report. California adopted the standards last week, joining Maryland, Vermont, Rhode Island, Kansas and Kentucky.

Paul Bruno, a middle school science teacher from California – a state which got an ‘A’ in the Fordham ratings – has gotten attention for his critique of the NGSS. He said that basic content knowledge was needed before students could understand scientific and engineering practices, or how scientists ‘do science.’

Bruno worries the standards will confuse and overwhelm students by asking them to do too much at once.

California hasn’t decided when to implement NGSS, reports EdSource  Today.

Like the Common Core standards, their counterparts in English language arts and math, the new science standards stress problem solving, critical thinking and finding common principles or “cross-cutting concepts” that engineering and various fields of science share. They emphasize scientific thinking and big ideas over memorization in the hope that more students will become intrigued by science.

Implementing Common core standards in language arts and math is sucking up schools’ time, money and “mindshare.”

Just eat the damn marshmallow

In their zeal to produce self-regulating, calm, marshmallow-postponing students, schools are failing non-conformists, writes Elizabeth Weil in The New Republic. Do we want a generation of Stepford Kids?

In the infamous Stanford marshmallow experiment in the late ’60s, nursery school kids were left in a room with a marshmallow and told that if they didn’t eat it they’d get two marshmallows later. One third were able to defer gratification. The tots with self-control went on, “or so the psychologists say, to show the straight-and-narrow qualities required to secure life’s sweeter and more elusive prizes: high SAT scores, money, health,” Weil writes.

Her daughter is not a marshmallow kid. In second grade at a private school, she resisted “the sit-still, raise-your-hand-to-speak-during-circle-time program.” The teacher didn’t discipline her. He recommended occupational therapy.  Teachers don’t punish, Weil writes. They “pathologize.”

She met a Seattle mother whose son was referred for testing because he had trouble sitting crossed-legged. The mother “learned every one of the boys in her son’s class had been referred out for testing.”

Another family, determined to resist such intervention, paid for an outside therapist to provide expert testimony to their son’s Oakland school stating that he did not have a mental health disorder. “We wanted them to hear from the therapist directly: He’s fine,” the mother said. “Being a very strong-willed individual—that’s a powerful gift that’s going to be unbelievably awesome someday.”

Punishing students for misbehavior has been “problematic” for teachers since the 1975 Goss decision, says Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at New York University. The Supreme Court found that schoolchildren  have due process rights. “As a result, students can say to teachers with some authority, ‘If you do that, my mom is going to sue you.’ And that changes the score.”

Instead of controlling students through rewards and punishments, teachers are supposed to get students to control themselves. Social and emotional learning (SEL) teaches self-regulation to produce a “good student, citizen, and worker” who won’t use drugs, fight, bully or drop out.

However, there’s no evidence SEL improves academic achievement, Weil writes. Meanwhile, as small children are expected to show more self-control, diagnoses of attention- deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are soaring.

When I asked Zimmerman, the New York University education historian, if schools had found a way to deal with discipline in the wake of the students-rights movement, he said: “Oh we have. It’s called Ritalin.”

The push for self-regulation coincides with a sharp decline in measures of independent thinking, Weil writes.

The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking judge originality, emotional expressiveness, humor, intellectual vitality, open-mindedness, and ability to synthesize and elaborate on ideas. Since 1984, the scores of America’s schoolchildren have dropped by more than one standard deviation; that is to say, 85 percent of kids scored lower in 2008 than their counterparts did in 1984.

Suppressing feelings is mentally draining, according to Stanford Professor James Gross, author of the Handbook of Emotional Regulation.

The federally funded Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is pushing its model for social-emotional learning, pre-empting other ideas, some educators complain.

Self-regulation and “grit” may be “lost in translation” in the classroom, writes Sarah Sparks on Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

NYC will subsidize preschool loans

Should Upper Middle Class Tots Get Subsidized Student Loans for Pre-School? asks the New York Observer.

I thought it was a joke, but no.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who’s running for mayor, announced a council initiative to offer middle and upper-middle class parents subsidized loans for daycare and preschool.

“Early childhood education is one of the most important investments a parent can make,” said Ms. Quinn in a statement about the program. “But too often, quality child care is out of reach for middle class families. The Middle Class Child Care Loan Initiative is a smart program that will help parents pay for child care and give New York City’s next generation a jump start on their education.”

Families earning $80,000 to $120,000 a year will be able to borrow up to $11,000 a year at 6 percent interest for kids between the ages of two and four. In theory, less affluent parents can access subsidized child care, but the cutoff is $53,707 for a family of three and $64,762 for a family of four,  according to the Observer.

There’s also the question of whether giving a family earning $190,000 a year a pre-school subsidy will level the playing field, or make it even more unequal. Ostensibly, rather than making the difference between sending a child to preschool or keeping him at home, such loans might be used more to help the middle class’s upper crust pay for elite preschools, putting more distance between very young children in a city that is already plagued by income inequality and where competition for gifted and talented slots is incredibly fierce and many would argue, unfair, given the intense coaching and drilling engaged in by families who can afford it.

Preschool doesn’t teach children from educated families anything they’re not already learning at home. It’s fun for most kids to play with others. But it’s not the difference between academic success and failure — or even between the Ivy League and State U.

In San Jose, Harker, a high-achieving private school, is opening a preschool that will charge $22,000 a year. The Mercury News story gushes:

A mural-and-mosaic entrance, multicolored floor tiles and light-filled rooms welcome families. And of course, this tiny-tot heaven features a sandbox, play kitchen and lawns wide enough to do, perhaps, 75 somersaults in a row.

. . . preschoolers will choose from an array of activities based on their interest at the moment. As kids explore, teachers facilitate social skills and encourage curiosity, discovery and problem-solving.

I’ve never seen nor heard of a preschool that didn’t encourage play, exploration, creativity  and learning how to get along with others. This one will have lovely facilities, teachers with advanced degrees — and the children of highly educated, well-to-do Silicon Valley parents, who hope preschool admission will help their kids get into Harker.

The dangers of IQ tests

Testing a child’s IQ can pin on a permanent label that denies future learning opportunities, writes Jessica Lahey in an Atlantic review of Scott Barry Kaufman’s Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness.

As a failing elementary student, Kaufman was tested by a psychologist, who decided he had a low IQ and was “seriously learning disabled.” His parents gave up their plan to send him to an elite private school and instead sent him to a school for children with learning disabilities. “My fate was sealed by a single test,” writes Kaufman.

(Not really. He earned a doctorate at Yale and became a cognitive psychologist. But it wasn’t easy.)

Intelligence changes depending on environment, Lahey writes.

. . . people who believe intelligence is fluid, and can be increased through hard work, are much more likely to put in that hard work and show that intelligence is fluid. Unfortunately, children who believe their intelligence is fixed are far more likely to avoid challenges and simply allow the label to speak for itself. Put simply, children who believe they can become smarter, become smarter through effort and persistence.

Labeling all kids as “gifted” doesn’t work, however. Students who think their intelligence is fixed, whether they think it’s high or low, don’t work as hard as kids with a “growth mindset,” according to Stanford’s Carol Dweck.

For “gifted” kids, that can mean that they are so worried about marring the shiny veneer of that label that they never risk failure, and for the “seriously learning disabled” kids, the grungy tattiness of their label can lead to apathy and hopelessness.

Analyzing learning disabilities can identify what sort of help different children need, Lahey concedes. “I have even recommended intelligence testing for students who, despite their persistence, diligence and effort, are not succeeding in school.”  However, all too often, “a label signals a death knell for future effort, learning, and academic achievement.”

 What if we praised our students’ efforts to learn and grow and improve rather than praised them for showing up at school or on the soccer field, label affixed and prominently displayed? What if we watched those kids carefully, and taught them that they are not the measure of their IQ, but of their efforts to do their very best with what they have?

Yes, but some kids have more than others to work with. Kaufman wasn’t just a slow kid who worked hard.

Kaufman found a book on intelligence in the library and looked up the IQ he’d been assigned at the age of 11. The chart said: “Lucky to graduate high school.” He didn’t believe it, even though his teachers did. Finally, a learning resource teacher said she’d noticed he was bored. ”You don’t seem to belong in this classroom,” she said. “Why are you here?”

He left the learning resource room with “his growth mindset and his well-honed skills of grit, diligence, and persistence,” Lahey writes. Now an adjunct psychology professor at NYU, he writes the Beautiful Minds blog on Scientific American. Here’s Kaufman asking Is Your Child Ungifted?

Britain looks East for better schools

Longer school days and shorter holidays would help British students catch up with  Asian students, Education Secretary Michael Gove said at an education conference in London.

“If you look at the length of the school day in England, the length of the summer holiday, and we compare it to the extra tuition and support that children are receiving elsewhere, then we are fighting or actually running in this global race in a way that ensures that we start with a significant handicap.”

Gove should “know how boring and soul-sapping rote-learning can be,” responds Clarissa Tam, a graduate of Singapore schools.

Does he know how the emphasis on science, maths and IT can turn students into little robots, affecting particularly those of a more creative bent?

. . . The intense pressure to excel means students often study not for the joy of succeeding, but from the fear of failing. In Singapore they have a term for it — kiasu, which means ‘scared to lose’.

And yet, the drive for excellence can be empowering, Tam writes. When she faces challenges, she recalls that “my parents, my teachers, even my schoolmates have always expected more of me than I have of myself.”

I have even, somewhat to my own disgust, come to appreciate the emphasis on the rigour of science and maths, and even on the importance of rote-learning and putting certain things to memory. At the risk of sounding like a headmistress — discipline and structure must be inculcated, whereas creativity is often innate or inborn. Here’s the thing: once you have the structure, you can pile all the artistic sensitivity you like on top, free as you please. But without any proper foundation, all creativity is for naught.

Gove’s “Look East” policy comes at a time when many Asian countries are looking West in search of “inventiveness, originality and lateral thinking,” she writes. Singapore has created arts and drama schools and is “introducing more project- and team-based work as well as teaching formats such as show-and-tell.”

Sylvia Todd, super-awesome maker

The maker of Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Mini-Maker Show is an 11-year-old girl, reports the New York Times.

Sylvia Todd’s desk is not tidy. It’s cluttered with small robots (including a solar-powered grasshopper), motors, wires, resistors, a soldering iron and an array of other gadgets and tools.

More than 1.5 million YouTube views have watched episodes of “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Mini-Maker Show.” She is sought after for speaking engagements, visits maker fairs and even addresses TEDx conferences. At the White House Science Fair, President Obama tested her latest project, a robot that paints.

“Ever since I was really young I liked destroying stuff,” Sylvia said. “I’ve always been interested in making and doing things hands-on.”

She went to her first maker fair at the age of 5 with her father, a Web developer who never finished high school. (Sylvia is 11. Her father is 29. “Do the math,” he says.) Two summers ago, James Todd began videotaping Sylvia’s demonstrations, as a summer project. Her mother got the idea for a YouTube show. So far, Sylvia has aired 19 episodes on making your own crazy putty (extended polymer chains), squishy circuit boards, electricity-conducting dough and more.

Technology for learners thrives out of school, writes Anya Kamenetz in Hechinger’s Digital blog.