Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Creating SMART Schools and Becoming STREAM Schools

Beginning in the mid-20th Century, the United States became the world's dominant leader in science, technology, and innovations. However, in our contemporary "Flat World," the United States needs to produce 400,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) college graduates by 2015, not to regain that premier position, but merely to resume a competitive status.

America's high levels of funding for public education once led to high levels of competence in science. Scientific knowledge paved the way for highly successful research and development. Research led to the discoveries that preceded new innovations and thousands of patents, which created products, markets and jobs. The results were seen in rapidly growing American industries, an unprecedented standard of living, international competitiveness, and relative stability in economic growth, prosperity, and national security.

Last year, Pres. Obama launched a nationwide campaign to "Educate and Innovate" over the next 10 years, because the United States has fallen behind not just the major industrialized nations, but also below countries like Latvia, Chinese Taipei, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, and the Netherlands. When American eighth-graders are compared to their international counterparts from these countries on academic performance in math and science, they continue to fall short. It has been predicted that even blue-collar and factory occupations will require post-secondary education by the year 2012.

Replenishing our pool of American scientists has become a concerted national effort in words, deed and investments. However, more than 40% of the doctoral students in U.S. colleges and universities in 2009 were foreign nationals, and in some fields of science that figure far exceeded the fifty percent mark.

The goals of No Child Left Behind diverted our collective attention to reading and math although our broader educational needs go well beyond just these two areas in the academic curriculum. Consider the following points:

• The SMART disciplines of Science, Mathematics, Arts, Reading and Language Arts and Technology (merged through Thematic interdisciplinary learning) should be morphed into "S.T.R.E.A.M." - Science, Technology, Reading and Language Arts, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, a modest expansion of the STEM model.

• While STEM makes sense, we apply the skills of reading, writing, language, and art in the pursuit of STEM knowledge. Math, to be completely honest, is a "skill" to be deployed rather than a "content area" to be learned for its own sake.

• New learning/new information is "integrated" in the SMART school scenario, not "acquired" via the more traditional notion of the "acquisition of knowledge."

• Technology includes the highly sophisticated computer-based "tools" for the capturing, manipulating, simulating, and storing of information (previously accomplished via the pencil-paper and printed materials routes). It should also encompass other forms of science equipment used to measure, monitor, and model principles in science.

• Knowledge comes by way of how the brain processes subject matter content with (1) the tools to which we have access, and (2) the skills that one has previously attained to understand science.

• The individual components of SMART and STEM, in reality, should be regarded as essential in the service of developing an understanding of the "Sciences."

• The architects of Bush-era N.C.L.B. program approached the educational challenges of the 21st Century with clearly laudable intentions by identifying the foundational skills for learning. They were "just looking for knowledge in the all the wrong places" to say nothing of the wrong direction. The foundational skills for learning (the tools) were unfortunately mistaken for the foundational goals of knowledge – i.e., content understanding and application, and ultimately, creativity and innovation – for which the prerequisite “tools” were confused with the mission of education. Applied knowledge that advances our species is knowledge put to its best use.

In addition to graduating more students in the fields of science, we need to commit ourselves to generously supporting K-12 education, because it is in our own best long-term self-interests. Nations around the globe witness daily the perils of no commitment to Science, Technology, Reading and Language Arts, Engineering, and Mathematics education. Those countries are competitively and economically marginal at best. Getting into that STREAM-less hole is certainly easier than exiting it. The world's poorest nations annually serve as "Exhibit A," which should prompt us to support K-university level science education at any cost.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Half a Brain Is Good Enough

In the category 'truth is stranger than fiction', a young girl has been thriving on just one half of her brain. To stop life-threatening seizures doctors removed one half of the three year old's brain, and years later she is thriving.

I was amazed by the story so I did a Google search and found more than a few similar stories. Here's another.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Will Mozart Music Boost Your Child's Intelligence?

In the latest issue of the journal Intelligence, University of Vienna researchers arrived at completely different conclusions about “the Mozart Effect” than UC Irvine professor Frances H. Rauscher and her colleagues reported in a 1993 issue of Nature magazine.

Gross misinterpretations have lead to exaggerated claims -- the “Mozart Effect.” So, we were encouraged to play Mozart in math and science classrooms.

Is it fact or fiction?

…for more see

Is the 19th Century Agrarian School Model What Our 21st Century Kids Need?

Today's schools face challenges light-years away from hiring “hands” and producing crops. Shouldn't we be more focused on answering the question, "How do we develop the best minds during a child's elementary and secondary school years?" That is the new window that parents, educators, and policymakers should be looking through to create a 21st-Century school model.

What can we do?

…for more see

What Do All Learners Need?

All parents and teachers need to remember "S.A.I.L." when working with learners of any age.

The environmental preconditions that should be experienced by students prior to initiating formal instruction include:

S afety
A cceptance
I nclusion, interactions and involvement.
After satisfying these vitally important prerequisite neurophysiological and hierarchical conditions (Abraham Maslow's research), only then are students neurobiologically ready for...

L earning

An environment dominated by fear is one in which learning and development are guaranteed to be among the first casualties.

…for more see

Brain Care: Preserving the Most Diverse of All Organs and Your Greatest Asset

There are over 150 different kinds of cells in the human brain rendering it the organ with the greatest amount of cellular diversity in the entire human body.

The neurons that we are born with are the very same neurons that we must rely on for the balance of our lives --80-85 years! So, the important care of each brain cell and system, "brain care," is virtually impossible to overstate.

…for more see

Should We Wait Until High School to Teach Foreign Language?

At birth, each brain comes fully equipped with the capacity to learn any of the 6,000 languages spoken on earth today. However, the “window” for language learning begins to close with the onset of puberty. After that point in his/her development, learning a second language will become more difficult and will typically accompanied by a mild to strong accent.

Why do we still insist on teaching foreign language in high school?

…for more see

Neuroplasticity: Nature vs. Nurture

Author Joseph Epstein stated that "We are what we read." Neuroscientists would delare instead that “We are what we experience.” This second statement should drive all activities planned by parents and educators.

Experience drives brain development and directs all of our neural traffic.

…for more see

The Achievement Gap? Where Should Our Nation's Focus Be -- On the Causes or the Effects?

Many of the problems directly associated with poverty make significant contributions to the so-called "Achievement Gap," which does exist. However, achievement differences will not be reduced or eliminated by the simplistic solutions being currently advocated -- more high-stakes testing, punishing each teacher for her students’ test performances, firing the principal, linking teachers' salaries to test results, etc. -- rather than attempting to address the well known economic factors that have been widely acknowledged for their impact on learning and development, as well as for skewing standardized test results. (See ScienceMaster for full article)

What we find most amazing is that the “achievement gap” isn’t much wider!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Want to Improve Test Scores? Prepare Students for the Fall, Before the Summer Begins!

The last week of any school year is a notoriously unproductive one. Here is a radical, but rational, idea for our public and private schools.

Students should spend the last week of each school year with a teacher from the next grade level. During that time, a propsective teacher would introduce the curriculum, books, key concepts and skills the students will need to learn next year in order to be successful. Student learning would get an early “head start” on the content and learning standards critical for the next year.

…for more see

"Technology Makes Kids Smarter." True or False?

Many parents are proud to say, "My Billy spends 3 hours a day on his computer" There is an assumption that, if whatever Billy is engaged in has something at all to do with ‘technology,’ then it must be beneficial to his learning and development.”

But, is technology helping or hurting contemporary youngsters?

An article appeared in the Bend (OR) Bulletin newspaper: "A high-tech route to smarter kids?; It's pricey and of unknown value in boosting achievement, but local districts say this: It gets kids interested and involved" The Bulletin

…for more see

Friday, May 7, 2010

Getting Mom Flowers for Mother’s Day? Buy Her Chocolate Instead!

Getting Mom flowers for Mother’s Day? Buy her chocolate instead!

In addition to the love-inducing chemical phenyl-ethylamine (PEA), chocolate makes the body feel good via changing the brain to poise it for pleasurable experiences. While PEA is naturally produced, it gives the body-brain system a nice “boost.” When placed into an attractive heart-shaped candy box, the visual appeal of the packaging adds to the experiential pleasure.

How Dark Chocolate May Guard Against Brain Injury from Stroke
ScienceDaily (May 5, 2010) — Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that a compound in dark chocolate may protect the brain after a stroke by increasing cellular signals already known to shield nerve cells from damage.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Kicking the Tires

Does anyone kick the tires anymore? Why do we use expressions that describe dated life experiences? Does anybody toe the line? Count their chickens? Have their cake? Split the baby?

Even when the original meaning is obscured we find comfort in well-worn phrases. The brain likes novelty but loves often used neurons.