The Trifecta for Transforming Education

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Is homework worth the time?

Schools need to take a closer look at what they’re assigning to students and why, some experts say.

A recent study led by an Indiana University professor found that traditional homework assignments won’t improve a student’s grades but could boost standardized test scores.

With many students reporting they spend more than 100 hours each year on homework, it begs the question: Is homework still worth the time?

While most experts believe it is, some recommend that educators rethink their approach to giving homework. Traditional assignments might become a thing of the past as teachers move toward assignments that are more project-based or require more critical thinking, they say.

Indiana’s Taylor High School is among the schools making those changes.

“Some districts are toying with the idea of eliminating homework completely,” said Taylor High School Principal Eric Hartman. He said he doesn’t think that’s the answer.

Neither do the authors of the study.

“We’re not trying to say that all homework is bad,” said Adam Maltese, co-author of the study and assistant professor of science education in the IU School of Education. “It’s expected that students are going to do homework.”

Schools just need to take a closer look at what they’re assigning to students and why, Maltese said.

(Next page: What Maltese’s study found)

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Schools help students scrub their digital footprint

“It’s becoming more and more important for students to be aware of and able to manage their online presence,” said Mike Cahill, Syracuse’s career services director.

Samantha Grossman wasn’t always thrilled with the impression that emerged when people Googled her name.

“It wasn’t anything too horrible,” she said. “I just have a common name. There would be pictures, college partying pictures, that weren’t of me, things I wouldn’t want associated with me.”

So before she graduated from Syracuse University last spring, the school provided her with a tool that allowed her to put her best digital footprint forward. Now when people Google her, they go straight to a positive image—professional photo, cum laude degree, and credentials—that she credits with helping her land a digital advertising job in New York.

“I wanted to make sure people would find the actual me and not these other people,” she said.

Syracuse, Rochester, and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore are among the universities that offer such online tools to their students free of charge, realizing that ill-considered web profiles of drunken frat parties, prank videos, and worse can doom graduates to a lifetime of unemployment—even if the pages are somebody else’s with the same name.

It’s a growing trend based on studies showing that most employers Google prospective hires, and nearly all of them won’t bother to go past the first page of results. The online tools don’t eliminate the embarrassing material; they just put the graduate’s most flattering, professional digital footprint front and center.

(Next page: How these services work)

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Heroic actions bring change in tone on teachers

The gratitude for teachers is a respite from recent years in which politicians and the public have viewed them as anything but heroes.

Hung on a building in the Connecticut town where 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school is a spray-painted sign with four words: “Hug a teacher today.”

It’s a testament to the teachers who sprang into action when a gunman broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire. They hid students in closets and bathrooms, and even threw themselves in the line of fire. Some paid with their lives.

Their sacrifice was selfless and heroic, and most teachers say they would do exactly the same if they ever came face to face with a gunman in the classroom. At schools last week, many teachers got extra thanks from parents and students who were reminded in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., massacre of just how much they give.

“I really hope a lot of parents see teachers in a little bit of a different light about all that we do,” said Hal Krantz, a teacher at Coral Springs Middle School, about 20 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

That gratitude for teachers is a respite from recent years in which politicians and the public have viewed them as anything but heroes. Instead, teachers have been the focus of increased scrutiny, criticized for what is perceived as having generous and unwarranted benefits and job security.

(Next page: The public’s conflicted view of teachers—and where it has come from)

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Parents hesitant about NRA’s proposal for more guns in schools

Reactions to the NRA’s proposal for more guns in schools have ranged from supportive to disgusted.

The nation’s largest gun-rights lobby on Dec. 21 called for the placement of an armed police officer in every school, but parents and educators question how safe such a move would keep kids, whether it would be economically feasible, and how it would alter student life. Their reactions ranged from supportive to disgusted.

Already, there are an estimated 10,000 sworn officers serving in schools around the country, most of them armed and employed by local police departments, according to a membership association for the officers. Still, they’re deployed at only a fraction of the country’s approximately 98,000 public schools, and their numbers have declined during the economic downturn.

Some departments have increased police presence at schools since this month’s shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 dead, but they say they can only do so temporarily because of funding.

The National Rifle Association said at a news conference that it wants Congress to fund armed officers in every American school, breaking its silence on the Connecticut shootings. The idea made sense to some anxious parents and teachers, but provoked outright anger in others.

“Their solution to resolve the issue around guns [in schools] is to put more guns in the equation?” said Superintendent Hank Grishman of the Jericho, N.Y., schools on Long Island, who has been an educator for 44 years. “If anything, it would be less safe for kids. You would be putting them in the midst of potentially more gunfire.”

Where school resource officers are already in place, they help foster connections between the schools and police, and often develop a close enough relationship with parents and children that they feel comfortable coming forward with information that could prevent a threat, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

But an Oklahoma educator who teaches at a school with armed school resource officers described the National Rifle Association’s proposal as a “false solution,” though she’s not opposed to the presence of more police.

(Next page: Why the NRA’s proposal might not work)

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“Plan B” is dead; what’s next for “fiscal cliff”?

House Speaker John Boehner’s big idea for a backup “Plan B” exploded Thursday night when, after days of wrangling with his own troops, he realized he didn’t have enough votes to pass the tax cut part of his plan, CBS News reports.  With four days until Christmas and 11 until the effects of the “fiscal cliff” begin the big question today is: what happens now? Boehner sent House Republicans home for Christmas after last night’s legislative collapse, ensuring nothing will be passed until Dec. 27 at the earliest, when members are due back in town.  That leaves Boehner and President Obama to keep negotiating – something that ground to a halt after Boehner announced he was moving forward with his “Plan B” earlier in the week…

Click here for the full story

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Maine schools experimenting with web-based math homework

Middle school math classes have worked in much the same way for decades, the Bangor Daily News reports. Teachers send students home with a textbook and a set of problems. Students work out the solutions on paper and bring the answers in the next day. Teachers then spend a good chunk of the class reviewing the answers with students and explaining the solutions wherever students went wrong. That changed this year at about 40 Maine schools, where students, mostly seventh-graders, are testing out a new way of crunching numbers for class. They use a computer program that gives students automatic feedback on homework answers by telling them whether they’re right or wrong and updates the teachers on their progress…

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Early language skills help kids manage anger

The ability to use words as a toddler may affect the way a child manages anger later in life, a new study suggests. LiveScience.com reports that children with good language skills at age 2 expressed less anger during frustrating situations at age 4 than did those 4-year-olds with less advanced language skills, according to the study’s findings. Children whose language skills developed quickly also expressed less anger at age 4. While previous research suggested a link between language skills and the expression of anger in young children, few studies had followed children over time…

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Microsoft: Five things to look for in 2013

To most tech watchers, Microsoft is a giant software maker, CNET reports. But that’s not how Microsoft sees itself anymore. For the past several months, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has repeated as often as he possibly can that the tech behemoth is now a devices and services company. He was a plain as he could be in the annual letter he wrote to shareholders in October. “This is a significant shift, both in what we do and how we see ourselves — as a devices and services company,” Ballmer wrote. “It impacts how we run the company, how we develop new experiences, and how we take products to market for both consumers and businesses.”

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Educational gaming gaining steam

Educational gaming can prompt shy students to engage with their peers.

Educational gaming is a well-known concept in educational technology by now, though many schools have yet to implement it in their classrooms. But as experts often agree, gaming can have a positive effect on student achievement and engagement.

The focus should not be solely on games, but on good games, said Dan White, CEO and a founding partner of Filament Games. Filament aims to merge best practices from learning with best practices from commercial game development to leverage the power of games and technology for learning fully.

“The question of ‘how’ is important, because this isn’t yet a part of mainstream reality for us,” he said.

Effective games use specific learning objectives in which students perform certain actions. Empowered identity is another component: Students are put in roles that give them access to those learning objectives. Games also need interactive systems that interest students and motivate them to interact with the game in order to master the learning objectives.

(Next page: What educational gaming offers students; how teachers can use games in the classroom)

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