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By Molly Jenkins
Photo: Students playing at recess, courtesy of Dr. Debbie Rhea
That’s the finding of TCU professor Dr. Debbie Rhea’s research on how outdoor breaks can be beneficial to classroom behavior.
The pilot programs involved in Rhea’s LiiNK Project reduced classroom time, including time spent preparing for and taking standardized tests, and instead added more time for recess.
TCU’s Starpoint was one of the first schools to pilot the program. There have been zero discipline issues, grades are great, students are on task, and students get along better, said Dr. Marilyn Tolbert, director of lab schools at TCU.
Rhea said the results at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth were similar. The results were recently featured on the TODAY Show.
“Let’s Inspire Innovation ‘N Kids,” started in 2012, with small programs at Starpoint and Trinity Valley School, said Rhea, who is also the associate dean of research in the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences.
The training sessions for the larger programs began in fall 2013 and launched in spring 2014, she said.
Tolbert said Starpoint teachers were hesitant, especially when it came to having enough time to cover their curriculum.
As teachers see the results from the project, their doubts about losing minutes are fading.
“They’re going to lose minutes,” said Rhea. “But in reality…they are doing a whole lot more with a whole lot less time than the kids who are in the other schools.”
Talya Oral, a TCU early childhood education major, said she was impressed with the results.
“I would definitely implement the LiiNK program,” Oral said.
Rhea said the reaction to her TODAY Show appearance has been positive, and schools across both Texas and the country have contacted her.
“You know it sped me up about five years,” Rhea said.
Rhea said plans call for the LiiNK Project to expand state by state. Tolbert agrees.
“I’m excited to see that some of the other bigger districts are taking it on,” Tolbert said. “I hope five years from now it’s nationwide.”
Currently, there are a variety of contacts across the country, from Ohio to California, that want to join the LiiNK Project, said Rhea.
“I want to make sure what we are doing is good for the kids and good for the teachers and good for their learning environment,” Rhea said.
There are already plans for new groups of schools to join the LiiNK Project this coming fall.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Six-year-old Sophia Salamon and her nine-year-old sister Anna are being watched.
The Salamon sisters, in Grade 1 and Grade 4, respectively, are part of a bigger learning experience. Their school is the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School, at the University of Toronto, where educators study how children learn by using the school’s classes as living models.
“When we looked up the school, we thought it sounded fantastic,” says Tracy Pryce, Anna and Sophia’s mother and a student at the University of Toronto.
“It’s in line with our educational philosophy. I compare it with my own experience when I went to school. Seeing my kids and what they’re getting from what they’re learning is such a difference from what I feel I had as a child.”
At a laboratory, or lab school, there are almost always visitors in the classroom, says Jackman’s principal Richard Messina. He laughs at the idea of his school’s 200 students being the educational equivalent of lab rats.
“It does conjure up images of mazes and exercise wheels,” he admits, “but our children become quite desensitized to having adults in the room.”
In September, for example, the school, which runs classes from nursery to Grade 6, was visited by a delegation of 24 educators from Kobe, Japan. “We have had 700 and 1,000 visitors per year,” says Principal Messina. “The children just continue with whatever they are working on and they’re used to speaking with adults about learning.”
The concept of a lab school comes from the work of educator and philosopher John Dewey, who set up the first lab school in Chicago in 1896. Prof. Dewey believed that the best way to train teachers was to have them teach and to accumulate new research and knowledge directly from the classroom.
The Jackman lab school, a few blocks from the U of T’s main downtown campus, is one of only a handful of schools of this type in North America.
The best-known lab schools in the United States are at Columbia University in New York and the original at the University of Chicago.
“Just as the physics department or the chemistry department have labs, the education department has a lab,” Mr. Messina says.
Being a lab school fulfills three functions, he adds. It produces research that can be applied to public education, it’s a forum for teachers to further their knowledge, and “we provide exemplary education to the children we are fortunate to have with us.”
“I feel very fortunate that we’re there,” Ms. Pryce says. There are 22 children in each class – half boys, half girls – and the school is committed to diversity.
To help ensure diversity in its enrolment, 13 per cent of the students receive tuition support, Mr. Messina says.
In addition to its teachers, each classroom has two Masters of Education students who are pursuing two years of graduate work while teaching.
“Almost all teachers in the school are involved in research that’s going on in their classroom,” says Julia Murray, a Grade 5-6 teacher at the school who is now on maternity leave and did her Masters at the Institute several years ago.
“The research going on is often cutting edge, and it’s about best practices in education,” she adds.
For example, Mr. Messina says scholars are researching the emerging concept of brain plasticity: “Think of the brain as a muscle that can be developed, metaphorically, so that errors should not be considered embarrassing but a natural and necessary part of learning.”
The Jackman lab school was also one of the major providers of research for developing play-based kindergarten programs and full-day kindergarten, he adds.
Ms. Pryce says she likes the school’s inquiry-based learning approach – encouraging her children’s natural inquisitiveness while maintaining classroom structure.
“There’s a strong philosophy of teaching children to ask questions, not for children to get information but to develop their own theories,” she says.
“It’s a secure environment socially, mentally, intellectually so they develop the confidence to speak out.
“The benefits for my children have really been clear.”
The school has a waiting list that parents sign up for when their children are born, he says. “We seem to draw applications through word of mouth. Many people seem to know about us even though we don’t advertise,” Mr. Messina says. Jackman evaluates its programs to make sure that students are being well educated and finds that they do well as they move toward higher education.
“We hear that our children seamlessly move on to Grade 7 and beyond, that they’re very comfortable with the inquiry process, stating opinions and knowing that these may change,” Mr. Messina says.
A letter signed by more than 100 educators, scientists, lawyers and techies arrived last week on the digital doorstep of the White House.
The correspondence, which is written with constitutional flair, requests something that at first sounds simple: Make educational materials and professional development that are funded by the government free and widely available to the public.
“We, the undersigned organizations from the education, library, technology, public interest and legal communities are writing in response to the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s call for ideas to strengthen the U.S. Open Government National Action Plan,” the letter begins. “To ensure that the value of educational materials created with federal funds is maximized, we call upon the President to issue a strong Administration policy to ensure that they are made available to the public as Open Educational Resources to freely use, share, and build upon.”
Open Educational Resources are commonly referred as OER (pronounced O-E-R). And they might prove to be far more powerful in reshaping our schools than the banal acronym implies.
What is OER? In the simplest terms it can be summarized quite succinctly: free. Outside the education beltway of wonky, jargon-filled insider chatter, there is an example well known to just about everyone with an Internet connection: Wikipedia. It is a free, online encyclopedia that can be repurposed and rewritten by anyone, anywhere, without fear of violating copyright laws.
But the OER crusaders have loftier goals than putting door-to-door dictionary salesmen out of business. They see a future where educational materials (read: knowledge) aren’t locked behind a gate. And the movement didn’t start last week. After nearly a decade, it has a growing list of case studies to share.
A nonprofit called CK-12, for example, has devoted considerable resources to the development of free digital materials for STEM, the shorthand used to describe four subject areas: science, technology, engineering and math. The organization is working to spread those free educational materials widely.
Some supporters believe OER is a critical ingredient for advancing the use of digital tools in classrooms. Among those signing the letter sent last week to the White House was The Learning Accelerator, a nonprofit advocacy organization that offers technical support intended to, well, accelerate the adoption of blended learning. Among its many other projects, the organization is in the midst of running a competition to pick the most innovative ideas for OER.
Scott Ellis, CEO of The Learning Accelerator, told me in an interview that he is delighted with the contenders in the competition. So much so that he believes even those who are not picked as winners will have something valuable to offer. More broadly, Ellis, believes that the time is right for these digital tools. As more schools nationwide have fast Internet access and computers and tablets in their classrooms, the need emerges for new curricular materials, too.
The days of expensive paper textbooks, worksheets and teachers guides might be nearing their end. But education publishing is still a multi-billion-dollar industry. At stake are powerful interests and billions of dollars. Will the OER movement succeed in its quest to set information free?
For more news about educational technology and blended learning, sign up for our free Blended Learning newsletter, delivered to your inbox every Tuesday.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about blended learning.
Reprinted from npr The Salt what's on your plate
School is still out for the summer, but at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., students are hard at work – outdoors.
In a garden filled with flowers and beds bursting with vegetables and herbs, nearly a dozen teenagers are harvesting vegetables for the weekend's farmers market.
Roshawn Little is going into her junior year at Eastern, and has been working in this garden for three years now. "I didn't really like bugs or dirt," Little says, thinking back to when she got started. "Well, I still don't really like bugs, but I like the dirt," she laughs. She gathers a hand full of greens, yanks from the stem and pulls up a baseball-sized beet.
During the summer, Little gets paid to work Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. with City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings community gardens to schools, community centers and other places where kids gather in urban areas.
Little believes that working in the garden has taught her to try all sorts of new things — like eating different kinds of vegetables more often. And she's taken those healthy behaviors home with her. Little brings home vegetables from the garden, and she says her eating habits have encouraged her family to buy more fruits and vegetables.
"We're a chubby family and we love to eat. Well, I do," she adds with a laugh. "We mainly live around liquor stores and snack stores. There aren't that many grocery stores. They're way out and you have to drive so far" – a common problem in low-income urban areas. "It seems so pointless, when there are snack stores right there," she says.
City Blossoms is one of many groups across the country teaming up with local communities to install school gardens, like the one at Eastern, in areas with low access to fresh, healthy foods. These gardens, advocates say, are really an outdoor classroom where kids learn valuable lessons — not just about nutrition, but also science and math, even business skills.
By The Books
Many of these groups have big ambitions to tackle complex problems. But there is research that shows the benefits of school gardens can be real and measurable, says Jeanne McCarty, the executive director of REAL School Gardens.
"There's a trend across the country where kids are not spending enough time outdoors, period," McCarty says.
To counter that, the nonprofit, which operates in Texas and Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, works with schools to create "learning gardens" and trains teachers on how to use them to get students engaged and boost academics. For example, the gardens can be used for math lessons — like calculating the area of a plant bed — or learning the science of how plants grow.
McCarty says REAL School Gardens — which has built nearly 100 gardens — is constantly evaluating the outcomes of its programs, and the numbers are encouraging.
She says partner schools have seen a 12-to-15 percent increase in the number of students passing standardized tests – not just those in the garden program, but school-wide.
And 94 percent of teachers in the REAL School Garden programs reported seeing increased engagement from their students, according to an independent evaluation conducted by PEER Associates and funded by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.
She says the benefits don't end with the students, either. Schools that installed learning gardens saw less teacher turnover, McCarty says.
Principal Margie Hernandez tells us she's seen the effect first-hand among her teachers.
"They start realizing that they need something to invigorate themselves, so they can invigorate their classrooms and invigorate their students," she says. Her school, Pershing Elementary in Dallas, has worked with REAL School Gardens since 2011.
And for her students – who come from predominantly low-income backgrounds — the experience can be a nutritional eye-opener, Hernandez says. "It totally changed my kids' perceptions of where food comes from, and what it takes to produce food."
If They Grow It, They'll Eat It
Many studies have found that kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they help garden them. That's part of the motivating principle behind Colorado-based Denver Urban Gardens, or D.U.G., a school garden program that puts a heavy emphasis on having kids taste the produce they grow.
D.U.G. has 13 garden programs at schools where more than 90 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Some of the produce that students grow then gets sold to the school cafeteria. That way, kids can recognize the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor in the lunch line. DUG has found that 73 percent of the students who work in the school garden reported increasing their actual consumption of produce.
Rebecca Andruszka, who works with DUG, says her friend's children will only eat vegetables from the garden at school — not from the grocery store.
"I think it's just that it seems less foreign when you're a part of the growing process," Andruska says.
A Business Education
In D.C., the kids of City Blossoms are also part of the business process: They take their produce to farmers markets.
On a recent weekend at the Aya farmers market in Southwest D.C., the kids' table is decorated with handmade signs that read "onions" and "garlic," with little pictures drawn beside them. The kids greet customers warmly, shaking their hands and calling them "sir" or "ma'am."
Roshawn Little mans the table, inviting people to try their herbed salt with bread. Working at the market has helped her practice her public speaking skills, she says. Plus, it teaches her business and money skills.
"I used to spend money on anything, mainly junk food," Little says. "Now, as I'm working here, I learned how to use my money more responsibly."
Nadine Joyner of Nutrition Synergies LLC, a nutrition education company, has a booth next to the kids at the market. She often buys produce from them to incorporate into her quiches. She says she's constantly impressed by the kids' knowledge of what they're selling — they know how to grow it, how to prepare it, and how to cook it.
"It's a very impressive thing to see young urban entrepreneurs," Joyner says, looking over at the kids. "It's a refreshing thing."
Joyner believes that teaching young people the importance of healthy eating will have long-term payoffs.
"The payoff is exponential, because they'll be young mothers or young fathers some day, and they'll feed their children based on what they've learned now," she says.
But the kids aren't thinking of that bigger picture. Instead, they're just enjoying the little things, like the way their hands smell after harvesting herbs, or the satisfying crunch of a freshly picked carrot.