Saturday, 3 December 2016

Boys Who Sit Still Have a Harder Time Learning to Read

Especially in the early years

Anybody who has watched little boys for even five seconds knows that they are exhausting. At school, they tear around the playground, bolt through corridors and ricochet off classroom walls. According to a new Finnish study, this is all helping them to be better at reading.

The study, released Nov. 30 in the Journal of Medicine and Sport, found that the more time kids in Grade 1 spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years. In first grade, a lot of sedentary time and no running around also had a negative impact on their ability to do math.

Among girls, sitting for a long time without moving much didn’t seem to have any effect on their ability to learn.

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland analyzed studies that measured physical activity and sedentary time of 153 kids aged six to eight. The studies used a combined heart rate and movement sensor, and researchers gave kids standardized tests in math and reading. “We found that lower levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity, higher levels of sedentary time, and particularly their combination, were related to poorer reading skills in boys,” the study says.

While the test group was small and Scandinavian (the Finnish school system‘s freaky success is almost legendary), the study offers some evidence for what parents have been thinking for a long time: we may not be educating boys the right way.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Norway’s First Youth-Only Library for kids ages 10 to 15. Adults not allowed!

Forget what you think about libraries! Biblo Tøyen, one of Oslo Public Library’s (Deichmanske bibliotek) newest additions, is breaking and changing all the library rules! This is a unique and innovative space, created for young people ages 10 to 15.

Why 10 to 15?

Christian Bermudez, a librarian at Biblo Tøyen explains, “Norwegian schools have an after school program called SFO (Skolefritidsordning) where children can stay at school until 5 pm. There they can play, do homework, or other activities. But this program is only available for kids from 1st to 4th grades so, Biblo Tøyen is a great option for older kids to come and enjoy staying here after school.”

Biblo Tøyen: new concept=great solution

The design team went directly to the source to begin their mission to rethink and redesign the library space. They held focus groups with young people to find out their wants and needs. The youth said they wanted a place to hang out, relax, and escape parents and siblings. In addition, they needed a safe place to socialize and said it should be a space where they can create and do things together. The library has achieved these goals by creating a cool and comfortable ‘third’ space between school and home where youth can learn, explore, and be themselves.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

How kids can benefit from boredom

From books, arts and sports classes to iPads and television, many parents do everything in their power to entertain and educate their children. But what would happen if children were just left to be bored from time to time? How would it affect their development?

I began to think about boredom and children when I was researching the influence of television on children’s storytelling in the 1990s. Surprised at the lack of imagination in many of the hundreds of stories I read by ten to 12 year-old children in five different Norfolk schools, I wondered if this might partly be an effect of TV viewing. Findings of earlier research had revealed that television does indeed reduce children’s imaginative capacities.

For instance, a large scale study carried out in Canada in the 1980s as television was gradually being extended across the country, compared children in three communities – one which had four TV channels, one with one channel and one with none. The researchers studied these communities on two occasions, just before one of the towns obtained television for the first time, and again two years later. The children in the no-TV town scored significantly higher than the others on divergent thinking skills, a measure of imaginativeness. This was until they, too, got TV – when their skills dropped to the same level as that of the other children.

The apparent stifling effect of watching TV on imagination is a concern, as imagination is important. Not only does it enrich personal experience, it is also necessary for empathy – imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes – and is indispensable in creating change. The significance of boredom here is that children (indeed adults too) often fall back on television or – these days – a digital device, to keep boredom at bay.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Simplicity of Thought: 4 Ways to Teach Kids How to Meditate

As a parent, I want to cultivate a culture of meditation for my children, so that no matter what happens outside of their control, they will be emboldened with a quiet confidence to handle the task or situation. Meditation with children doesn’t need to look like an Ashram. No robes necessary. But these four techniques will arm your children to live lives of patience, love, generosity, and compassion.

Rhythm meditation

Meditation doesn’t have to be limited to quiet words and thoughts. Sometimes the best way to teach children to notice what’s going on inside is to get them loud and moving. 

Begin by handing your child whatever schoolhouse instrument or improvised instrument you have on hand. Maracas, shakers, hand drums, or old coffee cans work great. Ask your child to play for you what “happy” sounds like. Then ask them to play you what “sad” sounds like. Move through several emotions before asking them to play you what they feel like right now.

Engage with this through the week asking them at random intervals to play you what their feelings sound like at that moment. Over time, kids will learn to be attuned to their feelings and know that it’s safe to express whatever those feelings may be.

“That Kid” and the loving-kindness meditation

Once kids hit school, they seem to always have That Kid in their class: the kid who is always irritating to your child. That kid is the perfect opportunity to teach your child the loving-kindness meditation or the “metta bhavana.” As adapted for children, here’s how it works:

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Lost in translation: five common English phrases you may be using incorrectly

English is a language rich with imagery, meaning and metaphor – and when we want to express ourselves we can draw upon a canon replete with beautifully turned phrases, drawing from the language’s Latin, French and Germanic roots, through Chaucer and Shakespeare right up to myriad modern wordsmiths – not to mention those apt aphorisms that English has appropriated from other languages.

So why is it we so regularly misuse some of these phrases? Here are five of the most common sayings that have somehow become lost in translation.

The proof is in the pudding

This is a confusion of a proverb first recorded in 1605 in its correct form: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. One of the reasons for the confusion is that the word “proof” is being used in the older sense “test” – preserved today in a proofreader who checks the test pages (or “proof”) of a book before publication. Confusion was further encouraged by the tendency for people to use a shortened version of the proverb – the proof of the pudding.

Since the word “proof” is today more commonly used to mean “evidence”, the phrase was reworded as if it implied that the evidence for some claim can be located in a pudding. The true explanation of this phrase is quite simple – especially for fans of the Great British Bake-Off – it doesn’t matter how fancy the decoration and presentation, the true test of a pudding is in how it tastes. Or, more generally, the success of something can only be judged by putting it to its intended use.

The exception that proves the rule

This phrase is most commonly used to argue that something that doesn’t conform to a rule somehow validates it. This can hardly be the correct use, however, since the claim that all birds can fly is invalidated rather than confirmed by the discovery of penguins or emus. This confusion is often attributed to an incorrect understanding of the word “prove”, which it is claimed is here being used to mean “test”. According to this explanation, the phrase means that an exception is the means by which a rule is tested. If the exception cannot be accounted for, the rule must be discarded.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Animation brings 2500-year-old vase to life

Oxford academics have teamed-up with an animator to bring ancient Greek vase scenes to life.

The images on this 2,500-year-old vase have been animated to show what life was like in ancient Greece.

The Classics in Communities project, which is led by Mai Musié of Oxford University to encourage the teaching of ancient languages like Latin and Greek, has teamed up with the Panoply Vase Animation Project following an award from the Oxford University Knowledge Exchange Fund.

The animation is freely available to watch online, and its creators hope it is used by teachers and lecturers to support their teaching of topics related to ancient Greece.

'Our animation features a cup that would once have been used at ancient drinking parties 2,500 years ago,' says Dr Sonya Nevin, co-director of the Panoply Vase Animation Project.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

How Libraries Save Lives

One woman’s story of how a bookmobile transported her away from a deadly life and toward her human potential.

“Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in contemplating the sacredness of public libraries. “If librarians were honest, they would say, No one spends time here without being changed,” Joseph Mills wrote in his ode to libraries. “You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians.

A beautiful testament to that emancipating, transformative power of public libraries comes from one such troubled little girl named Storm Reyes, who grew up in an impoverished Native American community, had her life profoundly changed, perhaps even saved, by a library bookmobile, and went on to become a librarian herself. She tells her story in this wonderful oral history animation by StoryCorps:

The piece was adapted into an essay in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work(public library) — the collection of tender, touching, and deeply humane stories edited by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay that also gave us pioneering astronaut Ronald McNair, who perished in the Challenger disaster, remembered by his brother.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

How mentoring can improve modern languages uptake in schools

For some time, there have been many stories told of the “crisis” in modern languages in secondary schools and universities. There is hard evidence to support this. Even though there have been upsurges in modern languages provision – following the introduction of the English Baccalaureate for example – pupil numbers continue to fall.

In Wales, where modern languages are still an optional choice at GCSE, research shows that the number of pupils studying a foreign language declined by 44% between 2002 and 2015. The number of pupils taking French in 2015 was less than half those who took it in 2002.

But why are pupils put off taking a language at GCSE level, and how can we improve attitudes to the subjects? As a bilingual country, it seems counter-intuitive that Welsh pupils cannot see the benefits of studying languages. However, research from an engagement project we have recently been running suggests a range of things are influencing pupils’ decisions not to study a language.

Choosing languages (or not)

The mentoring project saw undergraduate modern language students from four Welsh universities trained to work with year eight and nine pupils (aged 13 and 14) in 28 schools. The students helped the pupils to practice their language, build confidence and knowledge, and teach them how modern languages can aid personal and professional development.

Our work was part of a push by the Welsh government, to arrest and reverse the decline in modern languages study by 2020.

In its first year, with 32 students mentoring 254 pupils, the project had a clear impact not only on the schoolchildren who were mentored, but on whole cohorts within the project schools. Over half of the schools reported increased numbers for GCSE language classes, including one school where a modern language GCSE class is now running for the first time in three years.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Seven myths about dyslexia put to rest

As researchers who study dyslexia, we often read articles or overhear conversations that completely misunderstand what dyslexia is – or how it can be treated.

Dyslexia is the term used to describe someone with reading difficulties – and it affects up to 10% of Australians.

A reader with dyslexia may have difficulty in reading unusual words like yacht; have difficulty with nonsense words like frop; misread slime as smile; struggle to understand passages; or struggle in a number of other ways when reading.

To coincide with Dyslexia Empowerment Week – aimed at raising awareness and understanding of the disorder – we highlight the seven most common misconceptions about dyslexia.

Myth 1: I’m a bad speller because I’m dyslexic

Some researchers and organisations include spelling problems in their definition of dyslexia. This can be a problem because spelling and reading are different skills even if they are both based on written language.

There are some processes involved in both spelling and reading, so some people will have problems with both skills. But research has clearly shown that many people are good readers, but poor spellers; or good spellers, yet poor readers.

To avoid grouping different kinds of problems together, it is less confusing to use the distinct terms dysgraphia (or spelling impairment) for problems in spelling, and dyslexia (or reading impairment) for reading problems.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Schools aren't teaching the most important subject for kids

Not too long ago, Jana Mohr Lone was at an education workshop in her hometown of Seattle when someone gave her a note.

The note was written by a fifth-grade girl. As Mohr Lone read it, the girl's words began to fill her with joy.

"Ever since you left, I've been looking at my surroundings more and being careful about who I'm talking to and what I'm saying," Mohr Lone later recalled, reading the note over the phone. "I'm thankful because you made me think deeper about things and care more about life."

Mohr Lone isn't a guidance counselor or a therapist. She's a philosophy teacher, the founding director of the University of Washington's Center for Philosophy for Children, and the 20-year president of PLATO, a nonprofit focused on bringing philosophy to schools.

She had spent an hour each week for the last year visiting the girl's school to teach the ancient discipline. And now, just a couple months later, she was already seeing her impact firsthand.

Schools' essential function (at least in theory) is to give kids the skills they need to navigate adult life. Amid the heavy focus on math, science, and reading, however, they've skipped over one of the oldest intellectual pursuits.

While programs have been spreading across US high schools over the last several years, when it comes to elementary education one question still lingers: Why don't more schools teach philosophy?

The surprising benefits of kids asking questions

The questions philosophy raises about life merit it a spot in the school schedule, but it's the wide-ranging benefits to other school subjects that make it so valuable for students.

Numerous studies have found that kids who take philosophy go on to excel in reading and math, too.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Healing division in schools: the lessons from Ireland

As racism rears its head after the EU referendum, a chain set up to counter sectarian education is offering solutions for the UK.

In a horseshoe, sitting around teacher Laura Clarke, year 1 pupils from Redfield Educate Together academy in Bristol discuss the EU referendum. “Do you remember what happened?” asks Clarke. “There was a vote and people were unkind to people from other countries,” pipes up Ben Wycherley, aged six.

“How do you feel about that?” Clarke asks her class. “Shocked,” says Tarren Dwyer-Reid, also six. “Sad,” says classmate Angelo Marmolejo, whose parents are Spanish.

“How do you think being unkind might make other people feel?” asks Clarke. “I’d feel lonely,” says Zoe Papp.

“Not very welcoming”, written up on the whiteboard, is the phrase that seems best to sum up the children’s view.

This new school – the first established in England by the Irish Educate Together multi-academy trust – serves a diverse catchment in central Bristol: 60% of children come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The city, like others, is feeling anxious after incidents of racial hatred and immigrants being told to “go home” following the referendum. One local primary school posted a notice on its Twitter feed offering to help families report racism and hate crime.

The headteacher here, Ros Farrell, is keenly aware that her school’s unique “ethical education curriculum” is needed as never before, as its children grow up in a multicultural city where a higher than expected 38% of voters opted to leave the EU.

The ethos of this chain of schools was developed in the Republic of Ireland – the first was founded in 1978 to offer an alternative to faith-based education, still the only option for 97% of pupils there. Educate Together’s “ethical education” approach, Farrell says, is intended to help children understand and value belief systems other than their own, and explore concepts of equality and justice.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Why our children are so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated and have no real friends?

I am an occupational therapist with 10 years of experience working with children, parents, and teachers. I completely agree with this teacher’s message that our children getting worse and worse in many aspects. I hear the same consistent message from every teacher I meet. Clearly, throughout my ten years as an Occupational Therapist, I have seen and continue to see a decline in kids’ social, emotional, academic functioning, as well as a sharp increase in learning disabilities and other diagnoses. 

Today’s children come to school emotionally unavailable for learning and there are many factors in our modern lifestyle that contribute to this. As we know, the brain is malleable. Through environment we can make the brain “stronger” or make it “weaker”. I truly believe that with all our greatest intentions, we unfortunately remold our children’s brains in the wrong direction. Here is why…

1. Technology

“Free babysitting service… the payment is waiting for you just around the corner”. We pay with our kids’ nervous system, with their attention, and ability for delayed gratification. Compared to virtual reality, everyday life is boring. When kids come to the classroom, they are exposed to human voices and adequate visual stimulation as opposed to being bombarded with graphic explosions and special effects that they are used to seeing on the screens. After hours of virtual reality, processing information in a classroom becomes increasingly challenging for our kids because their brains are getting used to the high levels of stimulation that video games provide. The inability to process lower levels of stimulation leaves kids vulnerable to academic challenges. Technology also disconnects us emotionally from our children and our families. Parental emotional availability is the main nutrient for child’s brain. Unfortunately, we are gradually depriving our children from that nutrient.

2. Kids get everything they want the moment they want

“I am Hungry!!” “In a sec I will stop at drive thru” “I am Thirsty!” “Here is a vending machine”. “I am bored!” “Use my phone!” The ability to delay gratification is one of the key factors for future success. We have all the greatest intention in mind to make our children happy, but unfortunately, we make them happy at the moment but miserable in a long term. To be able to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress. Our children are gradually becoming less equipped to deal with even minor stressors which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life.

Friday, 8 July 2016

No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down

Pupils choose their own subjects and motivate themselves, an approach some say should be rolled out across Germany.

Anton Oberländer is a persuasive speaker. Last year, when he and a group of friends were short of cash for a camping trip to Cornwall, he managed to talk Germany’s national rail operator into handing them some free tickets. So impressed was the management with his chutzpah that they invited him back to give a motivational speech to 200 of their employees.

Anton, it should be pointed out, is 14 years old.

The Berlin teenager’s self-confidence is largely the product of a unique educational institution that has turned the conventions of traditional teaching radically upside down. At Oberländer’s school, there are no grades until students turn 15, no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam.

The school’s syllabus reads like any helicopter parent’s nightmare. Set subjects are limited to maths, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as “responsibility” and “challenge”. For challenge, students aged 12 to 14 are given €150 (£115) and sent on an adventure that they have to plan entirely by themselves. Some go kayaking; others work on a farm. Anton went trekking along England’s south coast.

The philosophy behind these innovations is simple: as the requirements of the labour market are changing, and smartphones and the internet are transforming the ways in which young people process information, the school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues, the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves.

“Look at three or four year olds – they are all full of self-confidence,” Rasfeld says. “Often, children can’t wait to start school. But frustratingly, most schools then somehow manage to untrain that confidence.”

The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) is trying to do nothing less than “reinvent what a school is”, she says. “The mission of a progressive school should be to prepare young people to cope with change, or better still, to make them look forward to change. In the 21st century, schools should see it as their job to develop strong personalities.”

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Could Steiner schools have a point on children, tablets and tech?

Studies have yet to show much benefit from technology in schools, leading some to wonder whether the offline life is better for children.

It’s late morning and the children in Maria Woolley’s class at the Iona school in Nottingham are busy kneading dough. The dough is made from flour they saw ground at the local windmill using grains harvested from a nearby farm they had visited. During the morning lesson the children have sung songs, recited poetry and done rhythmic clapping and stomping.

There is no uniform here, and no headteacher – the school is run by staff and friends – and, unlike the vast majority of primary schools these days, here the students don’t work on tablets or computers. At the front of the class is an old-fashioned blackboard.

The methods at the school, which are based on the controversial teachings of Austrian 19th century philosopher Rudolf Steiner, may be different from those employed in mainstream state schools, but the Iona was recently declared outstanding by the School Inspection Service – the independent equivalent of Ofsted. The report noted that “pupils do not use computers or the internet when in school but staff have ensured that they have learned about internet safety”. It went on: “Teaching is inspirational and highly effective … teachers are very well trained and highly skilled.”

Any school would be grateful to be described in such glowing terms but the staff here are particularly proud that they achieved their outstanding status without technology. In addition to the ban on computers in school, parents are discouraged from letting their children watch television, play computer games or use smartphones at home.

The Iona school was set up in 1985 by Richard Moore, who had worked for 10 years as a state primary teacher. “Mainstream education was becoming prescriptive even then,” he says, “so what appealed to me about Steiner was that it stressed that the work of children was play.” Today the school – one of 33 schools that follow the Steiner curriculum – has 87 children aged between three and 12 and costs £5,402 a year.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Two children in every class start school with an unexplained language disorder

Language is a fundamental human accomplishment. It is the foundation for literacy, underpins academic and social success, and is important for developing and maintaining relationships with others.

So it is no surprise that children who struggle to acquire their native language are at a distinct disadvantage when they start school. Our research, recently published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that two five-year-old children in every Year 1 classroom of 30 had a currently unexplained language disorder. An additional 2.34% had a language disorder that occurred as part of another developmental condition, such as autism or Down syndrome.

Children with language disorders have problems with speaking and listening. They tend to have limited vocabularies, leave endings off words and use very simple grammar in their sentences. They have difficulties telling coherent stories and don’t understand complex instructions. This causes many problems in the classroom.

So for example, children with language disorders will struggle to understand questions such as “which of these items will float? Why do you think so?” Even if they understand and know the answer, they may not be able to use words to explain “the ball will float because it is filled with air and is lighter than the penny.” A child with language disorder may just point and guess, or articulate a couple of key words such as “the penny sinked”.

Our study involved more than 7,000 children and 190 schools in Surrey, south of London, in order to find out how many children in England start school with a language disorder – what is known as a prevalence estimate. This may sound straightforward to work out, but it isn’t. As language is multi-faceted, we measured vocabulary, grammar and narrative skills both when the children were speaking and listening. This is the combination of tests that has informed current diagnostic criteria for language disorder.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

It's time for teachers to look after their mental health – here's how

To ensure students’ wellbeing, teachers need to feel confident about their own – so here are some mood-boosting tips.

During the safety briefing on every plane journey adults are reminded that, in case of an emergency, they are to secure their own oxygen masks before they help their children fit theirs. Why? Because it helps you look after children more effectively. The same is true of mental health, and it is something teachers should consider. After all, it is difficult to discuss good mental wellbeing in front of class if we, as adults, do not practise it ourselves.

Action to improve the mental health of teachers is certainly needed: worries about teacher workload has seen 67% of teachers state that their job had adversely impacted their mental or physical health, according to a recent NASUWT survey. This has led to suggestions that half a billion pounds should be transferred to schools to help them tackle the issue.

Which is why it’s worthwhile for teachers to look at these simple ways, informed by the latest NHS guidelines, to boost their mental health. 

Researchers have shown the importance of having a range of healthy relationships. They suggest feeling disconnected from others is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The Mental Health Foundation states that “people who are more socially connected to family, friends and their communities are happier, physically healthier and live longer, with fewer mental health problems”.

As well as forming connections on an individual level, evidence suggests that being part of a group has similar benefits. People who identify closely with a group reported being happier.

Be aware
We live in an age of distraction. Research suggests that we check our phones on average 85 times a day. This, among other distractions limits how much we notice what is going on around us. When world famous violinist Joshua Bell busked at a train station during rush-hour in Washington, of the 1,097 people who passed him, only seven stopped to listen. Just a few days before, people had paid hundreds of pounds to hear him play the same music.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

How to beat exam stress with just the power of your brain

Stress is part of life. Too much stress, over a sustained period, is clearly damaging, but normally we can deal effectively with short bouts. In fact, while stress may be uncomfortable, it can actually be a key motivator and the right amount of it can help to boost our performance.

But there is a limit. Too much stress and the opposite tends to happen, leading our confidence and performance to decline at a rapid rate. The stress and performance relationship is often seen as an upside down “U” – as you get more stressed, your performance improves until you reach an optimum point – then it declines. In reality, it is more common for it to act as a motivator and then reach a sudden and severe drop – this is something I like to refer to as falling off the “fear cliff”.

Stress can easily turn to fear and what happens when fear raises its ugly head is twofold. First, all our good intentions go out the window and we snap back into our comfort zones. Second, we panic and believe that just because in the past we have made a mistake this is bound to happen again.

To avoid the “fear cliff” it is important to take a couple of steps back from the edge and think about your goals in advance. Set yourself realistic targets, two hours study may well be effective, but four hours is not twice as effective.

Research shows that the human brain can only effectively concentrate for about 45 minutes – after that your concentration levels dip. So make sure you plan breaks into your revision schedule. Split the day into hour-long chunks knowing that for the last 10-15 minutes of the hour you will have a break before you move on to your next topic.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Eight ways you can help your children revise

Whoever said that your school days are the best days of your life may have been a bit of a sadist. Either that or they weren’t ever part of the British education system. It’s no secret that children living in England are some of the most tested in the world, and with pupils as young as ten said to have been “left sobbing” after SATs tests in UK schools recently, it’s clear that exam pressure is something that starts early in the British isles.

But as much as most children (and parents) hate tests and revision, exam time is just another part of school life – and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. But the good news is that there are things you can do to help the exam period stay as stress free as possible – helping to keep door slamming and tears to a minimum.

1. Get ahead

In the run up to exam time, sit down together with your child and work out the best times for revision. Make a revision timetable on a big piece of paper and pin it up somewhere prominent. When it comes to revision,research shows that little and often is better than overlong sessions. Cramming at the last minute is also counterproductive, so it’s best to start early and put in the groundwork while there is still time.

2. Learn what works

We know that different people have different styles of learning, and it is important your child is working in the way that’s right for them. Find out what motivates them and use it to your advantage – be it an end goal, such as doing well in an exam, or building a skill, such as learning a language. But don’t use bribes. This puts undue pressure on your child, and sets the wrong precedent. They should want to achieve for their own sake, not yours or because there’s a cash reward in it.

3. Stay positive

During exam season, it can be all too easy for your child to forget that learning can actually be enjoyable. The field of positive psychology takes a “glass half full” approach to life, celebrating the positive rather than the negative. Looking at revision from this angle, there are numerous benefits, such as increased knowledge and working towards personal goals. It can also be an opportunity for you to support and help your child to achieve. Research has found that parental involvement in their child’s education has a significant positive effect, even into adulthood – so what you do now could make a big difference in the years to come.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Not just an ordinary pair of gloves

Two University of Washington undergraduates have won a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for gloves that can translate sign language into text or speech.

The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is a nationwide search for the most inventive undergraduate and graduate students. This year, UW sophomores Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor — who are studying business administration and aeronautics and astronautics engineering, respectively — won the “Use It” undergraduate category that recognizes technology-based inventions to improve consumer devices.

Their invention, “SignAloud,” is a pair of gloves that can recognize hand gestures that correspond to words and phrases in American Sign Language. Each glove contains sensors that record hand position and movement and send data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a central computer. The computer looks at the gesture data through various sequential statistical regressions, similar to a neural network. If the data match a gesture, then the associated word or phrase is spoken through a speaker.

They honed their prototype in the UW CoMotion MakerSpace — a campus space that offers communal tools and equipment and opportunities for students to tinker, create and innovate. For Azodi and Pryor, that meant finding a way to translate American Sign Language into a verbal form instantaneously and in an ergonomic fashion.

“Many of the sign language translation devices already out there are not practical for everyday use. Some use video input, while others have sensors that cover the user’s entire arm or body,” said Pryor, an undergraduate researcher in the Composite Structures Laboratory in the Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics and software lead for the Husky Robotics Team.

“Our gloves are lightweight, compact and worn on the hands, but ergonomic enough to use as an everyday accessory, similar to hearing aids or contact lenses,” said Pryor.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Learning and Emotions

Emotions enhance or interfere with learning.

Achieving change is emotional as well as intellectual. Emotions can enhance the learning process or interfere with it.

Our emotional system drives our attention, which drives learning and memory. Specifically, how a person “feels” about a situation determines the amount of attention he or she devotes to it. Students need to feel an emotional connection to their tasks, their peers, their teachers, and their school. For an increasing number of students, school is a place where making emotional connections is more important than anything else. This is especially true for so many adolescents where a feeling of belonging almost overshadows all other desires and is often the most important factor that keeps them in school.

We generally focus on cognition when we teach and tend to ignore emotions. Yet, students must feel physically and emotionally secure before they can process information. Threats are counterproductive because they stimulate emotions that interfere with thinking skills. Examples of negative emotions are humiliation, shame, guilt, fear, and anger, which become “paralyzing experiences.” When students are anxious, their emotions interfere with thinking and disrupt the learning process. In short, negative emotions are counterproductive to learning.

Some knowledge of how emotions and thinking are intertwined is important because in every encounter there is an emotional subtext. Within a few moments of seeing or hearing something, we react. There is a very subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, liking or disliking. The brain evolved this way for survival. In case of a dire threat, we needed an immediate response. Not much time was allowed for a rational decision. “I’ll get it or it may get me.”

The emotional brain still reacts before the thinking brain. Sensory signals from the eye or ear travel to the thalamus. The thalamus acts as a relay station for information and branches to both the neocortex, the thinking or cognitive part of the brain, and to the amygdala. The amygdala is an almond-shaped ganglion (mass of nerve tissues) perched above the brain stem adjoining the temporal lobe. The amygdala stores our emotions, especially fear and aggression. It is our emotional memory since the time we were infants. But there is one long neuron connection from the amygdala to the gastrointestines. That is why you may have a feeling that seems like it emanates from the pit of your stomach. It does!

Friday, 22 April 2016

How to teach … immigration

Educating students about the UK’s diverse mix of cultures promotes inclusion and tolerance. Take your pick of our resources.

London is made up of more than 270 nationalities with more than 300 languages now spoken in the capital’s schools, so what does it really mean to be British?

Teaching students about the UK’s diverse population is a good way to promote inclusion and tolerance in class, and there are plenty of ideas on how to tackle the topic of immigration on the Guardian Teacher Network.

A good place to start is by exploring the history of immigration and emigration to and from Britain with this lesson plan by Teaching Resources Support, suitable for key stage 3 students. Another lesson by TrueTube asks what makes Britain British? Students could work in groups to create a timeline from the 1st century to the present day, showing how Britain has been a multi-ethnic country for most of recorded history.

An accompanying lesson plan discusses the benefits and challenges of living in a multicultural society. Students could create a word bank of terms such as segregation, integration, diversity, prejudice, identity, isolation, extremism and discrimination.

The lesson includes instructions for a fun game called Turnabout, which tests debating skills. You’ll need a few prepared statements for and against immigration such as: “We should all be free to live where we choose”, “People should live and work in the country where they were born”, and “Multiculturalism is good for Britain”. Students must present their argument from one point of view until a bell sounds, signalling them to change their stance.

Working in groups, you could ask students to explore why people migrate using these three lessons from the Geographical Association. They are for secondary students and cover migration, migration within the EU and the case of refugees and asylum seekers. Get students to think about any emotions you might have arriving in a new country. What are the benefits of immigration? Are there any challenges that might have to be dealt with in the communities where immigrants live?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

‘Mindfulness’ defuses stress in classrooms and teaching

Pilot data show training programs can be a boon to teachers — and their students.

The bell rings at 7:40 a.m. in a public high school in New Jersey, and science teacher Laura McCluskey begins the first of what she calls “five shows a day.” On some mornings, those shows are more difficult than others. That’s due in part to a heavy load of paperwork, something that consumes large amounts of her time and energy.

Then there are the other, outside events that happen in McCluskey’s life. These can be stressful events that happen to everyone, such as family issues or health problems. In many professions, a person could stay in her office until she felt like interacting with people. But as a teacher, “I can’t hide behind a cubicle until I’m ready to be social,” McCluskey says. Instead, she has to be in front of a room full of teenagers all day.

“I have no choice but to be on my game,” she says. “My best game. Every day.”

McCluskey sometimes finds that difficult, however. So her daughter suggested she look into Calm Clarity. It’s a workshop offered in Philadelphia, Pa. Founded and run by Due Quach, the program teaches participants about the brain’s role in our behaviors. Participants then learn exercises in mindfulness.

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental attitude. It helps people leave behind stressful events from the past — or anxiety about the future — while they focus on the task at hand. McCluskey decided to take a two-day workshop. And she wound up with the tools she needed to fully focus on her teaching. Other educators have taken similar steps to become more mindful. Studies show the practice can have major benefits for teachers — and their students.

A social-emotional approach to learning

The classroom can be a very stressful environment, says Patricia Jennings. She’s an education researcher at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “There are so many demands,” she says. “A teacher has to keep track of many children doing different things. At the same time, she has to remember and relay content within the allotted time.” Add in the kids' emotional states and their relationships with each other, she says, and it's a recipe for tension.

Friday, 8 April 2016

School libraries face a bleak future as leaders try to balance the books

Libraries are suffering at the hands of budget, curriculum and digital demands.

But we must not underestimate this vital resource.

I remember my school library: it had two floors with spiral staircases, individual study cubicles and a classroom on the upper floor. It was attached to the sixth form block, giving the students easy access to a study facility. One particular memory is of a Puffin Books sale – I could even tell you the books I bought (and still have).

This was in the days before personal computing so the only source of information – apart from other people, TV or radio – was books. There was something tactile about walking up to a shelf, looking along the spines and selecting a book which you hoped would answer the question posed in your homework or choosing a work of fiction by reading the blurb on the back.

In recent years the picture has changed; the proliferation of personal electronic devices means information is instantly available almost anywhere and the printed word is in decline. Libraries as we knew them are changing: public libraries now provide access to the internet in addition to their DVD lending sections; many school libraries have also followed the electronic route and have been re-named “learning resource centres”.

This is not just a name change. This new title has changed the focus of school libraries too. Books are no longer de rigueur; some senior leadership teams seem to feel their students are no longer interested in real books and are replacing them with electronic equivalents. Some teachers are reporting that their school libraries are closing and the remaining books, after many have been thrown away, are being transferred to classrooms or corridors, where there is no space for quiet study or reading.

A survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) suggests teachers are concerned about the future of school libraries. Almost all of the 485 school staff who responded to the survey said their school still had a library. But 22% said their library had suffered at least a 40% cut in funding since 2010 and 21% said their budget is insufficient to encourage pupils to read for pleasure. This is not helping pupils’ literacy skills: removing the very objects which children need to access regularly will lead to even less opportunity for them to engage with non-fiction and fiction, which fires the imagination far more than the pre-constructed world in a computer game.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Creative writing in the classroom: five top tips for teachers

English teacher, Alan Gillespie, shares his advice and resources on how to teach creative writing.

1. The rules of writing

I always tell students that there are no set rules for writing and they can write whatever they like. I don't subscribe to the notion that all good stories must have, for example, an attention-grabbing opening, a turning point, a twist at the end and an extended metaphor. Incorporating these into writing doesn't automatically mean a story works, and you will read wonderful writing follows none of these rules. Pupils should be aware of what they are, of course, and why and where they might choose to use them, but it shouldn't be prescriptive.

That said, there are two rules of writing that I encourage them to follow. These rules are: "show, don't tell" and "all adverbs must die". Not the most original rules, perhaps, but if kids can master them their writing becomes much more powerful.

For "show, don't tell", I display a selection of sentences that tell the reader something and ask the pupils to rewrite them in a way that shows the same information. For example, "the man was angry" could become, "the man clenched his fists and hissed beneath his breath". It's about unpacking the emotions and finding ways to let the reader see the story for themselves.

When teaching "all adverbs must die", I concentrate on the importance of giving the power to the verb. "I ran quickly" becomes "I sprinted". "I shouted loudly" becomes "I screamed". Once pupils realise the potential in this, they quickly kill adverbs and load the power of the action onto the verb.

2. Characterisation

Not the most original method I'll wager, but this is tried and tested. Pupils divide a page in their jotter and give each quarter the headings likes, dislikes, motivations and flaws. These need to be explained and discussed; I use Homer Simpson and Edward Cullen as models. What makes these complex and rich characters? What makes them get out of bed every morning? What stops them from achieving their ultimate goals in life? How would they react in various situations?

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Why disciplining kids can be so tricky for parents and teachers

Disciplining works if it is not over the top and children understand the point of it.

Highlights magazine’s annual State of Kids survey found that a majority of children appreciated being disciplined and believed that it helped them behave better.

What children disagreed with were the strategies that were used by their parents – the most common ones being time-outs and taking away electronics. The report suggests that disciplining strategies work better when they open up communication and strengthen relationships among friends or siblings or between kids and adults.

However, my own work as an education professor and researcher who works with schools and families shows that disciplining is becoming a major issue at schools too, taking up more and more of the school day. So, why are schools imposing severe disciplinary measures?

What’s going on in schools?

Let’s first look at what disciplining looks like in schools.

Many schools now have lines on the floor that students must walk on to get anywhere. Some schools even have tape on the ground to show where students should walk in the classroom. Hallways have stop signs at each corner and schools enforce zero noise zones.

Children are told to hold air in cheeks like a bubble when walking in the hallways or when they are supposed to be listening to instructions or storytime. They are told to walk straight, not touch anyone, keep their hands to themselves, sit on an X mark on the floor, raise a hand before speaking, keep eyes on the teacher, use only one piece of paper, follow directions and be quiet.

Over the past 10 years, strange discipline measures such as red, yellow and green lights, where green means well-done and red means bad behavior, have become commonplace. Children can get their recess taken away or be put into an isolation room. Or, increasingly, even the police can be called.

Discipline is not only constant but also public. Just last week, I was in a class where a child’s name was on the board. Children at my table pointed it out to me and explained that the kid gets in trouble a lot. They told me that the teacher writes his name on the board and then when he is good, he gets one letter erased. When they are all erased, he can have free time.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

How do children decide what’s fair?

Should a teacher reward a whole class for the good deeds of one student? What about the other side of the discipline picture: should a whole class be punished for the misdeeds of just a few students?

As adults, we care a lot about whether people receive their fair share of benefits, and whether those who commit offenses receive a fair degree of punishment. (Think, for example, about the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in the U.S., which popularized the slogan “We are the 99 percent.” This movement has widely been seen as a movement that worked to highlight unfair distributions of benefits or rewards.)

As we know, children also care about the way rewards and punishments are allocated. I study how children think about fair punishment and reward, and how that thinking changes as children develop and gain more experience in the social world. Understanding how children view fair allocations of punishments and rewards can give parents and teachers more insight into how children of different ages may react to common discipline practices.

Children’s views on fair distribution

Much of the research in this area has focused on how children think about fair ways to distribute rewarding items or consequences. For example, in a series of studies I conducted a few years ago with Peter Blake, a researcher at Boston University, and Paul Harris at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, three-to-eight-year-old children were given four stickers and had the chance to share any number they wanted with another child. Any stickers they didn’t share, they kept for themselves.

We found that the seven-to-eight-year-olds tended to share the stickers equally, while the younger children tended to keep most or all of the stickers for themselves. However, one finding was common to the preschoolers and the older elementary school children alike: all asserted that the stickers should be shared evenly.

We concluded that from an early age, children are aware of local norms related to fair sharing, but it’s not until age seven or eight that they consistently follow such norms. This was further corroborated by findings from another study that also shows that by around age eight, children in the U.S. follow norms of fairness even when it means having less for oneself.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

How to promote good mental health among teachers and students in your school

Discuss mental illness regularly, incorporate more exercise and encourage honest dialogue, suggests the government’s mental health champion for schools.

We all know the basic requirements to maintain good physical health. We know we must eat well, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, alcohol in moderation etc. These golden rules have been impressed upon most of us since we were old enough to comprehend them.

When it comes to mental health, however, we’ve been taking a different tack; most of us wait for mental illness symptoms to arise before giving the health of our minds any consideration. It’s a strategy that’s been disastrous for an entire generation of British people (and in particular those under the age of 25).

A person’s mental health cannot be seen and there is still a significant stigma attached to discussing mental health problems something which, in my capacity as the government’s mental health champion for schools, I am working hard to change.

Statistics tell us that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental illness each year. Yet we all have a brain and, therefore, a mental health. What if we gave consideration to how we might make lifestyle choices, and create an environment and society which is conducive to good mental health?

It was from this starting point that our Self-Esteem Team lessons for teenagers were born. We wanted to give young people the mental equivalent of their five-a-day; simple tips which improve self-esteem, promote positive body image, reduce stress and nurture the wellbeing of their minds.

Here are some tips for promoting good mental health in schools:

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Fomo, stress and sleeplessness: are smartphones bad for students?

Phones can have nasty side effects, but there are ways to minimise their impact on students.

As with all technology, mobile phones can have their pros and cons,depending on how they are used. At their best, they can be useful tools for staying in touch, finding out new information and co-ordinating social activities. At worst, they can negatively affect concentration, communication and sleep, or increase fear of missing out, procrastination and stress.

These potential negative consequences are especially important to consider for teenagers. Their brains work differently to those of adults: they are more susceptible to peer pressure and have less self-control.

The dangers
Reduced concentration

A study on the science of distraction found that each time an office worker was distracted (say from a text message or email), it took them up to an average of 25 minutes to refocus on the original task at hand. That’s what makes students doing their homework with their mobile phone nearby so problematic. It is a myth that most people can multitask. In truth, it takes up a lot of time, energy, effort and focus to switch between two tasks.

Students don’t even have to be on their mobile phone for it to distract them. For tasks that require attention and cognitive demands (ie homework), researchers have found that the mere presence of a mobile phone may be sufficiently distracting to damage attention.

Reduced face-to face, quality communication

In a fascinating study, researchers asked strangers to talk to each other for 10 minutes. Half the participants had the conversation with their mobile phones on the table; the other half had a notebook instead. The results? Those who chatted in sight of their mobile phone said they were less likely to be friends with their partner and reported feeling less close to them.

What was particularly interesting was that the participants were not aware of the effect that having their mobile phone out had on them. Mobile phones can affect the quality of face-to-face communication even if you don’t consciously know it.