December 4th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Parents stampede school to get their kids in

Parents camped out for days in front of a South Carolina school that has an engineering curriculum in hopes of getting their kids enrolled. (WYFF video.)

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My view: Ten myths about gifted students and programs for gifted
November 14th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

My view: Ten myths about gifted students and programs for gifted

Courtesy Pieces of LearningBy Carolyn Coil, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Carolyn Coil is a speaker, educator and author. She works with teachers, administrators, parents and students, offering strategies for raising achievement, developing creative and critical thinking skills, motivating underachievers, differentiating curriculum and assessing student performance. She has taught graduate-level gifted endorsement courses for more than 20 years. You can follow her on Twitter, @CarolynCoil.

(CNN) – American educators have struggled for more than 40 years to define giftedness. Yet even now, there is no universally agreed upon definition of what it means to be gifted. U.S. federal law defines gifted students as those who perform or who show promise of performing at high levels in any one of five categories: general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative or productive thinking, leadership ability or visual/performing arts.

Beyond that definition, there are no specific national criteria for identifying gifted and talented students nor does federal law provide funding or mandates for identification of these students or programming for them. This definition is left to the states.

The result has been a wide variety of state definitions and methods for the identification of gifted children. Some states have specific definitions for giftedness, while others have none. Some states require programs for gifted students, while others do not.

In other words, the availability of programs and services for gifted students depends for the most part on where a student lives and what state, school district or school he or she is in.
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Filed under: Curriculum • Gifted education • Policy • Practice • Voices
My view: America's students can benefit from Singapore math
October 10th, 2012
03:02 PM ET

My view: America's students can benefit from Singapore math

Courtesy Bill JacksonBy Bill Jackson, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Bill Jackson was a Paterson, New Jersey math teacher and a district-wide math teacher trainer in Scarsdale, New York. He also provides consulting and teacher training on Singapore or Japanese approaches to mathematics teaching and professional development, and regularly speaks at national and international mathematics conferences.

Singapore math is getting a lot of attention as more and more schools in the United States are using Singapore-based methods and materials to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics. Many parents and teachers are wondering if a change is really necessary. The answer is yes.

I’ve seen firsthand the difference the Singapore math approach can make. I began using Primary Mathematics textbooks from Singapore’s Marshall Cavendish Education in 2000 when I was a classroom teacher. I have used Singapore math with both low-income inner-city students and affluent suburban students, and found that, when taught in the right way, it makes learning mathematics fun and engaging, allows students to understand mathematics deeply, and helps them become proficient at solving very complex math problems.

So what exactly is different about Singapore math? Singapore mathematics lessons begin by engaging students in hands-on learning experiences followed by pictorial representations, which help them form a mental image of mathematical concepts. This is followed by an abstract stage, where they solve problems using numbers and symbols. This approach makes the learning of mathematics fun and meaningful, and helps students develop positive attitudes about math.

Typical U.S. math textbooks are thick and heavy and they cover many topics superficially and usually in an incoherent way. In contrast, Singapore textbooks focus on fewer topics, taught in-depth for mastery, carefully building mathematical understanding in a systematic way.
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Filed under: Common Core State Standards • Curriculum • Math • Practice • Voices
My View: How schools should handle 9/11 in class
A young girl touches a name on the 9/11 memorial South Tower pool of the World Trade Center in New York .
September 11th, 2012
04:05 AM ET

My View: How schools should handle 9/11 in class

Courtesy Tisch College/Tufts UniversityBy Peter Levine, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Peter Levine is the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs and director of CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, part of Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. Levine has published eight books, including “The Future of Democracy: Developing the Next Generation of American Citizens.” He blogs daily at www.peterlevine.ws

(CNN) – I can vividly remember September 11, 2001, but today’s fifth-graders were not even born on that day. For them, September 11 is history and often, a topic in their history class. Most teachers use best-selling civics and American history textbooks that describe the attacks on New York and Washington. And as of last fall, 21 states specifically mentioned 9/11 in their social studies standards.

Those are results from a scan of state laws and textbooks conducted by William & Mary professor Jeremy Stoddard and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Diana Hess. My organization, CIRCLE, published its study last year.  The authors tell me that not much has changed since then.

When we released the study, many readers expressed dismay that September 11 was mentioned in less than half of the states’ standards - as if that meant that policymakers and educators did not care enough about terrorism. When lawmakers are concerned about any topic, they are often tempted to add it to the state’s social studies standards. The Illinois Legislature, for instance, has passed bills requiring or encouraging social studies teachers to spend time on Leif Erickson, the Irish Potato Famine and the importance of trees and birds. So why not mandate teaching 9/11? FULL POST

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My View: Why we need the Common Core Standards
August 20th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

My View: Why we need the Common Core Standards

Courtesy NAMEBy Jon Wray, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Wray is the instructional facilitator for secondary mathematics curricular programs in the Howard County (Maryland) Public School System and is an elected member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics board of directors. He is co-founder of the Core Challenge, a program to support teacher collaboration and execution of the Common Core Standards in math.

(CNN) – The United States’ worldwide ranking in mathematics education is a common lament among teachers, parents, students, politicians and just about anybody else who has a stake in our nation’s future. The United States recently ranked 25th out of 34 developing countries in mathematics falling behind countries such as Japan, Germany and France. Ask a hundred people the cause of this situation and you’ll get a hundred different answers. One reason in particular, however, is that we have hundreds – if not thousands - of different ways of teaching our students, and different ideas of what they ought to be taught.

As an educator, I would love to tell you that I have the magic formula to teach every single student to succeed. While I don’t, I do believe a key step is for all educational stakeholders to approach our mathematics challenges in a more collaborative manner.

One problem is that each state in our country has developed its own criteria for measuring student success. Imagine being a student or teacher who has to move across the country or find a new teaching job, only to be told that, by their new school’s standards, their approach to math or reading is suddenly wrong – or even more likely, that a student’s “A” performance at his last school now only merits a “C.”

I may have a brilliant system for teaching mathematics to primary school students in my home state of Maryland, but if I try to apply it to kids in Pennsylvania, suddenly I’m trying to prepare and grade students under different standards.

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Filed under: Common Core • Curriculum • Math • Policy • Practice • Voices
August 10th, 2012
03:52 PM ET

The school where learning is a game

(CNN) – At one New York City school, students learn by gaming. But how does it work? CNN takes you inside Quest to Learn.

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My View: What a 21st-century science classroom should look like
July 9th, 2012
04:10 PM ET

My View: What a 21st-century science classroom should look like

Courtesy From the Partnership for 21st Century SkillsBy Tim Magner, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tim Magner is the executive director of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), a national organization that advocates for 21st-century readiness for every student. He has had an extensive career in education, serving most recently as the vice president of Keystone for KC Distance Learning (KCDL) as well as the director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education.

(CNN) – Whether it’s technology, the global economy or the changing nature of work itself, we are tasked with preparing our children for success in college, career and citizenship in a world that looks very different from the one we grew up in.  I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with P21’s members, partners and leadership states to help educators embed key 21st-century skills – like the four Cs of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking – into the educational experiences of all children.

Our children need these 21st-century skills not simply because employers are looking for them (they are), or because they are essential for success in college (they are), or because other nations are also recognizing this skills gap (they are), but because we want our children to not just survive in this new millennium, but to truly thrive. 

21st-century readiness – having the knowledge and skills to pursue further education, compete in the global economy and contribute to society – demands much more of all of our students, and our education system must change to meet these demands. Recognizing this fundamental shift, the ongoing Common Core State Standards initiatives are embedding these skills into the new standards frameworks.

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My View: Grading art in a standardized-test world
June 25th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

My View: Grading art in a standardized-test world

Courtesy Dunbar LylesBy Katie Lyles, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katie Lyles has been teaching art in Jefferson County, Colorado, for seven years. In addition to her classroom duties, Katie has been part of her school’s cabinet, the Jefferson County Strategic Compensation Steering Committee, and the Leadership Academy for the Colorado Education Association. She was also a member of TURN and a delegate representative for JCEA.  Katie is part of the steering committee for the Center for Teaching Quality’s New Millennium Initiative.

It takes a thick skin to be an elementary art teacher. And it’s not because of the clothes ruined by paint, the challenge of finding storage space for over 500 sculpture projects, or the glitter that sneaks into the most unlikely places.

No, what requires a thick skin is continually battling public perception that art—especially at the elementary level—is an “easy break in the day” for students. When I tell people that I’m an art teacher, I’m often greeted with a patronizing response that goes something like this: “Awwww! It must be fun to color all day!” That’s usually followed up with a stimulating question such as, “Do you have any students who eat glue?”

Truth be told, I do have fun coloring all day…while teaching color theory, elements of landscape, how to create visual interest through patterns, and the difference between a portrait and a still-life—and this is just with my second graders (who, by the way, have never attempted to eat the glue!).

Sadly, most people’s perceptions about art education come from their personal experience as students. Art classes look a lot different from a seven-year-old’s perspective than from a teacher’s perspective.
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Millions of kids miss out on summer learning
Whole Body Math Games are demonstrated at the National Summer Learning Association's 2010 Summer Changes Everything national conference.
June 21st, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Millions of kids miss out on summer learning

Courtesy National Summer Learning AssociationBy Gary Huggins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Thursday is Summer Learning Day. Gary Huggins is CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, a national nonprofit organization based in Baltimore that connects and equips schools, providers, communities and families to deliver high-quality summer learning opportunities to our nation’s youth to help close the achievement gap and support healthy development.

There’s a flaw in our summer equation.

Summer break is a treasured American tradition that arose from the need for children to work on farms during the warm-weather months. But while summer is a special time of year, it’s turning into a missed opportunity, at a huge cost.

It seems that for many, summer vacation has now come to equal not just a break from school, but a break from any kind of learning. Summer means freedom for schoolchildren to do absolutely nothing, for three long months.

There is nothing wrong with taking breaks. Everyone needs them. Time off from the regular school routine and curriculum allows students and teachers to recharge their batteries and do things differently.

But we collectively pay a steep bill for our prolonged break from learning. Research shows students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning. Most students lose two months’ worth of math skills each summer, and low-income children lose another two to three months in reading, putting them chronically behind their better-off peers. That’s an incredible waste of the resources we pour into the school year.

Here’s the real flaw in the equation. Our attitude toward summer tells young people that summer is for fun and not learning. Therefore, what we’re really telling them is that learning is the opposite of fun.
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June 20th, 2012
02:20 PM ET

'Share my lesson' aims to connect educators

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect announced the launch of a free, resource sharing network for teachers.

Called “Share My Lesson,” the site aims to become the largest online community for teacher collaboration.

“Teachers are expected to do so much, often with very little support, and they are thirsty for the tools they need to improve instruction. The AFT decided to accept the challenge and make its biggest investment ever in a tool to improve the teaching profession,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

When asked about the $10 million price tag for the initiative, TSL Education CEO Louise Rogers told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “The money we’re putting in is about driving both the technology and insuring that the content is absolutely what the teachers need every single day to make their lessons the best they can be.” TSL Education is the parent company of TES Connect.

“We’ve teamed up to try to make this an American product for American teachers so they can share with each other online resources…and to make sure that they can be prepared for the Common Core, this new academic standard for the 21st century,” Weingarten told Soledad O’Brien on Starting Point.

The “Share My Lesson” platform has been likened to a “digital filing cabinet” where teachers can share lesson plans, save the ones they like, and peer-review each other’s content.

“It’s about teachers teaching each other to be very, very good at what they do, and they get that by interacting with each other,” Rogers told CNN. “The teachers themselves are teaching and learning from each other.”

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