Lena Dunham tries teaching on ‘Girls’

Alexander Russo is “horrified and fascinated” by the new plot development on HBO’s Girls. After dropping out of her MFA writing program, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah decides to be a teacher.

The character says she wants to help people. Her friends remind her she’s selfish.

“Those who can’t teach” is “uttered, with an unclear amount of irony,” writes Russo.

Apparently, Hannah gets a job as an English teacher at a private school called St. Justine’s. (Dunham attended St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn.)

Will this be good for the teaching profession? Bad for teaching?

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.

 

Single-sex classes are on the rise

Separate classes for boys and girls are making a comeback in public schools, according to the New York Times.

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — In one third-grade classroom, the walls are bordered by cheetah and zebra prints, bright pink caddies hold pencils and glue sticks, and a poster at the front lists rules, including “Act pretty at all times!”

Next door, cutouts of racecars and pictures of football players line the walls, and a banner behind the teacher’s desk reads “Coaches Corner.”

The students in the first class: girls. Next door: boys.

. . . Here at Charles Drew Elementary School outside Fort Lauderdale, about a quarter of the classes are segregated by sex on the theory that differences between boys and girls can affect how they learn and behave.

Teachers “recognize the importance of understanding that Angeline learns differently from Angelo,” said Angeline H. Flowers, the principal.

Social scientists disagree, notes the Times.  Critics say segregating by sex encourages stereotyping. The ACLU has sued to prevent single-sex programs. In response, the Obama administration has issued new guidelines.

Schools may set up such classes if they can provide evidence that the structure will improve academics or discipline in a way that coeducational measures cannot. Students must have a coeducational alternative, and families must volunteer to place their children in all-boys or all-girls classes.

But the guidance says that “evidence of general biological differences is not sufficient to allow teachers to select different teaching methods or strategies for boys and girls.”

“I am very concerned that schools could base educational offerings on stereotypes,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, told the Times.

Research hasn’t shown significant academic benefits — or drawbacks — from single-sex education, says Janet Hyde, a University of Wisconsin psychology professor.

Segregating by sex is based on a “zombie idea,” writes Dave Powell in Ed Week. Lack of evidence can’t kill the “specious claim that boys and girls simply learn differently.”

People cite “fake brain science” to support sex-segregated classes, writes Lise Eliot in Slate.

I don’t have a problem with letting parents choose a single-sex class, if they think it will benefit their child. I believe there are no significant brain differences between boys and girls, but there are behavioral differences. And we’ve got to figure what kind of elementary teaching works best for boys, who are falling behind their female classmates. Still, I wouldn’t have chosen an “act pretty” class for my daughter.

Where are the boys in choir, orchestra?

Boys are on the wrong side of a “gender gap” in music education, reports Pacific Standard. Girls outnumber boys by roughly two to one in high school choirs and orchestras, according to a University of Maryland study.

From 1982 through 2009, the average high school choir has been 70 percent female to 30 percent male, reports Kenneth Elpus. Orchestras have averaged 64 percent female and 36 percent male. Boys are more likely to participate in band, but girls are the majority there too.

What are they reading? Easy books

Most middle and high school students read unchallenging books, according to Renaissance Learning’s What Kids are Reading report.

The analysis is based on the data base of Accelerated Reader, which quizzes students on books they read independently and as assigned reading.

Reading peaks in sixth grade and declines through high school. Worse, 12th graders are reading books at a 5.2 level of complexity, according to the report.  That’s way below the recommended level of 9.7 to 14.1 for high school, notes the Christian Science Monitor. It’s also “far lower than the complexity of the average New York Times article (10.6) or college textbook (13.8).”

“In elementary school, kids being asked to [read appropriately difficult books], and they can handle it,” says Eric Stickney, director of educational research for Renaissance. By high school, less than 15 percent of students read one or more books in their target range.

Research indicates that students who spend at least 30 minutes a day reading independently, at an appropriate “challenge” level (where they can understand at least 85 percent of what they read), experience the most growth in reading, according to the report. And yet just over a quarter of students in Renaissance’s study read that often, and nearly half read for less than 15 minutes a day.

The average girl reads 3.8 million words between Grades 1 and 12, about 25 percent more than the average boy, who reads about 3 million. Boys read more non-fiction.

“Over time, boys are at a disadvantage because they’re just not getting enough exposure to vocabulary,” says Stickney.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the most popular book from third through seventh grade.

Celebrating girls — or stereotypes?

“Empowering” girls can look a lot like enforcing gender stereotypes, writes Scott Richardson on Pacific Standard.

His daughter participates in Girls on the Run, a 5K run (or walk) for girls — no boys allowed — in third through eighth grade.
(Photo: Girls on the Run)Volunteer coaches lead their team through a pre-packaged curriculum designed to “encourage positive emotional, social, mental and physical development.” Girls discuss self-esteem, confidence, teamwork, healthy relationships, and “challenges girls face.”

Though boys are banned, older male relatives and friends run with girls as “sponsors.”

Men, women and girls are encouraged to “girl it up” with “skirts, tutus, big bows, bold patterned knee-high socks, tiaras, etc.), apply make-up or face paint, and spray color their hair,” writes Richardson.

There’s nothing for girls who might want to “butch it up.”

Richardson also questions “bombarding girls with ‘positive’ messages about themselves meant to counteract negative ones.” The program implies “that girls aren’t considered equal to boys.”

“What messages are girls really getting when special programs are aimed at trying to make them feel good about themselves as girls?” he asks.

Pretty or smart?

Verizon’s viral Inspire Her Mind ad is based on dubious facts and the dubious idea that girliness is the enemy of “pretty brilliant” in math, science and engineering, says Christina Hoff Sommers, the Factual Feminist.

That dad telling his daughter not to handle a starfish may know that 61 percent of marine biology majors are female. Maybe he wants her to consider a unisex field, such as chemistry.

Moms pass math anxiety to daughters

Mothers may be passing math anxiety — and low achievement — to their daughters, according to research by University of Chicago researcher Elizabeth Gunderson.

Saying “I’ve never been good at science” or “I can’t do math to save my life” sends a negative message to children. School-aged children tend to emulate the same-sex parent.

Teachers can transmit math anxiety, the study finds. Elementary education majors — predominantly female — have the highest math anxiety of any major. A 2010 study evaluated first and second graders taught by 17 different teachers.

At the beginning of the school year, there was no connection between the students’ math ability and their teachers’ math anxiety. By the end of the year, however, a dismaying relationship had emerged: The more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely the girls in their classes were to endorse negative stereotypes about females’ math ability, and the more poorly these girls did on a test of math achievement.

Don’t tell your kids you were bad at math, advises Esther J. Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist and a former teacher. She dreams of outlawing parental and societal complaints about how “hard,” “useless” or “stupid” math is.

The Baby-Einstein people teach their toddlers to group, sort and count, writes Cepeda, who taught first grade and high school algebra. But many parents don’t play with numbers with their children. Kids start school without number sense. By high school, they’re asking: “Why do we have to learn this? When will it ever matter?”

Everyone should study algebra, argues Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle.

Single-sex schooling has tiny (or no) benefits

Single-sex schooling has very small benefits, according to a meta-analysis of 184 studies representing 1.6 million students in K-12 across 21 nations. Because U.S. students aren’t randomly assigned to single-sex classes, it’s hard to find good control groups here, notes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham.

In controlled studies, there were statistically reliably, but numerically quite modest positive effects of single-sex classrooms for both boys and girls in mathematics achievement, science achievement, and verbal achievement. Girls showed an edge in single-sex classes for math attitude, science achievement, and overall academic achievement, but again, the gains were modest. If one restricts the analysis to U.S. students, virtually all of these small effects disappear.

There was no effect for attitudes towards school, gender stereotyping, educational aspirations, self-concept, interpersonal relationships, or body image.

For any one child, single-sex schooling might be helpful, writes Willingham. Overall, not so much.

‘Cool’ math

PBS Math Club, a new web series, hopes to persuade middle-school girls that math is “cool.”

Short videos try to connect math to students’ interests. The video on positive and negative integers uses YouTube’s rating system as an example, reports reports Education Week Teacher.

Each video ends with a brief quiz.