Friday, November 30, 2007

Does Every Minute Really Count?

School systems across the country are watching Massachusetts… the first state to adopt and fund longer days in multiple districts, reported the Boston Globe on November 30th (Tracy Jan, staff writer).

Ten Massachusetts public schools embarked on an experiment last fall that lengthen the school day by at least 25 percent, giving students extra doses of reading, writing, and math, and let teachers come up with creative ways to reinforce their lessons.

The state has spent approximately $1,300 per student, with a total cost of nearly $20 million to implement the program, which has grown to 18 schools in eight districts. Most are located in low-income, low-performing, urban schools. Thirty-three schools in 16 districts hope to convert to longer days in fall 2008. And more than 100 schools, including those in suburbs such as Andover and Winthrop, are in the pipeline for lengthening their days in the next two years.

And it seems to be doing exactly what teachers, principals and legislators hoped it would…

The data, shows longer days boosted students' MCAS scores in math, English, and science across all grade levels, according to a report to be presented at a national conference in Boston on expanded learning time. Students outpaced the state in increasing the percentage of students scoring in the two highest MCAS categories.
Writer Tracy Jan describes how schools typically converted from a six-hour day – “which some have written off as an antiquated schedule designed to meet the needs of farms and factories” - to an eight- or nine-hour day.

Read complete article:
“Longer school day appears to boost MCAS scores”

Related Article: “Saved by a (Later) Bell”

Ask Yourself:
Is our school day long enough?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Turns Out “Talking With Your Hands” Really Does Pay Off

Science Daily article Gesturing Helps Grade School Children Solve Math Problems (November 5, 2007) reported on a study in which psychologists at the University of Chicago discovered that gesturing can help kids add new strategies to their mathematical repertoires.

Students told to gesture are four times more likely to correctly express new ways to solve a math problem, according to the study of third- and fourth-graders by researchers. Children told to gesture who then received a lesson were able to solve 1.5 times more problems correctly than those told not to gesture. What's more, during future learning, these students were more likely to succeed on similar math problems.

Read more at:

It makes sense to me that gesturing may “prime kids brains” to learn more math just as many kinesthetic actions help our brain construct and organize information. I can remember a simple exercise I used with third graders to remember the 5 parts of a letter. It went like this:

Heading: touch top of your head with your hand
Greeting: touch your mouth with your hand
Body: rub your tummy as if something tastes good
Closing: clap your hands together real loud
Signature: write your name quickly in the air
(Repeat as fast as you can)

Many classroom veterans have discovered hundreds of these, what I might call, “kinesthetic memory pegs” on which thousands of us still hang interesting bits of learning. Wouldn’t it be great to collect a few dozen to add to our repertoire?

Ask Yourself:

  • Does is make sense to me that body movement can improve retention or problem solving?

  • Could I find out more about how the brain learns through movement?

  • Do I feel comfortable asking trusted colleagues for cleaver ideas that could be called “kinesthetic memory pegs” to add to my repertoire?

  • Where can I learn more?

Related Readings:

Hand Gestures Dramatically Improve Learning (Science Daily July 28, 2007)
Kids asked to physically gesture at math problems are nearly three times more likely than non-gesturers to remember what they've learned. In the journal Cognition, a University of Rochester scientist suggests it's possible to help children learn difficult concepts by providing gestures as an additional and potent avenue for taking in information.

Teaching Math Two Ways At The Same Time Boosts Learning (Science Daily February. 23, 2005) Researchers at the University of Chicago have come up with a technique for teachers to use that increases student understanding of mathematics: explain how to solve a problem in one way, and also provide an alternative approach through gesture.