Monday, December 17, 2012

Enough is Enough. It's Time to Act.

By Sam Piha

The tragic shootings in Connecticut touched everyone and resulted in a feeling that "enough is enough". If you feel similarly, here are some things you can do that were suggested by a friend of mine:

1) Call Dianne Feinstein’s office and tell her that we support her plan to introduce a bill on the first day of Congress to ban assault weapons (415-393-0707).

2) Call
/write Pres. Obama and tell him that prayers are not enough and that it’s time for him to make gun control a priority (202-456-1111).

3) Call the NRA and ask them how much is enough (1-800-672-3888). Ask why you can buy a gun at a gun show without a background check. Ask them why common citizens need assault weapons designed for warfare. 

4) Pass this on to the people in your network. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

STEM: Teaching Process Over Outcome

By Guest Blogger, Cathie Mostovoy of Mostovoy Strategies

Cathie Mostovoy

The thousands of people who gathered recently as the Space Shuttle Endeavor journeyed through the streets of Los Angeles to its resting place at the California Science Center offer clear evidence of the degree to which we as a society, consciously or unconsciously, derive our national identity from a tradition of innovation and technological progress.  After a decade of educational policy preoccupied with attaining targeted achievement levels in reading, writing and math, there isn’t a lot of mystery behind the current resurgence of interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs. STEM is the hot topic in education at the moment, yet getting quality programs off the ground is presenting quite a challenge. What’s the problem?  

“How LIAS Can Strengthen the STEM Movement” (LIAS blog, October 3, 2012) provides a good overview of issues involved and provides points for more in-depth discussion. While a central point of Sam Piha’s Q&A with Carol Tang, Director of the Coalition for Science After School, is that afterschool programs, particularly those that incorporate the LIAS principles, can support STEM education, Tang also explains that well-intentioned programming efforts fall short when “educational materials selected are not matched well with the program's mission, strengths, staff skills or audience.” This reminder that there are multiple factors that can create barriers to success is incredibly important. From the list Tang provides, I believe staff skills may be one of the most critical.

As Ms. Tang notes early in the conversation “we have to be honest and admit that students in school are not receiving science instruction anymore given other priorities.” It is critically important to recognize this isn’t just a problem today. The demise of in-school science programs dates back to 2001 when reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act tied standardized test scores to federal school funding. (Ironically, the act called for schools to employ scientifically-based teaching methods and scientifically-based standardized testing, yet at the same time effectively pushed science programs out of many schools.) This is significant because afterschool program leaders, the staff members who have the most direct contact with program participants, are often college students or recent graduates. These are young people whose elementary, middle and high school years also coincide with this era of missing science programs. Their college educations prepared them to enter a teaching world that emphasizes outcomes over process. And, they came of age in a society that values instant gratification. Teaching in manner that aligns with LIAS principles simply doesn’t align with their own experiences.

During my years running an agency that provides afterschool programs, we interviewed and hired many bright and passionate young people, but it was difficult to find staff members who were comfortable being inventive and experimental. The majority felt most at-home with sequential learning; they liked lesson plans that moved from A to B to C with some specific expected outcome related to each step. And, I was often struck by how hard it could be to get them to think a situation through critically and suggest corrective actions; things were either working or they were not. These things just did not come naturally to them. That is a challenge we need to address, because if teachers aren’t comfortable exploring their students won’t be either.

So, when I think about how LIAS can strengthen the STEM movement, I think that one important way is for LIAS principles to be incorporated into professional development programs. There are many intelligent, dedicated, service-oriented young people in the afterschool ranks, we just need to provide them with the right technical assistance. The success of STEM and how quickly that success can be achieved may hinge on understanding this. 

Cathie Mostovoy is a proven executive leader with more than 25 years’ experience administering youth development and educational programs.  Her expertise is in organizational growth, strategic partnerships, and program and leadership development. As the past Chief Executive Officer for Woodcraft Rangers, Inc., a non-profit organization in Los Angeles she utilized her growth strategy plan and natural assessment skills to grow the organization from under $1 million dollars to over $11 million and increased services to over 17,000 young people. Much of her success as a leader in her work is due to her ability to leverage funding, build strong relationships and maximize youth and community involvement.

Currently she is the Vice-President and Past President for the California School Age Consortium, member of the leadership team for the California Afterschool Network and Chair for the Older Youth Committee. Her past history of service includes serving as State Ambassador for the National After School Alliance, Ambassador for the National VERB, Chair of the Los Angeles Partnership for After School Enrichment and is member of numerous other initiatives and committees for children, families and the community. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ask Dr Judy: The Essential Neuroscience of Learning

We heard from Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist turned classroom teacher, via video at our first How Kids Learn conference. Dr. Willis was also interviewed in a two-part blog and agreed to a videotaped interview for an upcoming DVD on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) principles. You can hear Dr. Willis in an upcoming, free webinar entitled "Ask Dr. Judy: The Essential Neuroscience of Learning" on December 11, 2012 from 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EST. You can register by clicking here.

Below, Dr. Willis joins us as a guest blogger. 

Greetings Neuro-Igniters,

Dr. Judy Willis
I think I have met more of you in the past year than ever before through my presentations and workshops in 25 states and 10 countries in the past 12 months—or "remotely" through television, radio, and online interviews. 

Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend the How Kids Learn II conference due to prior commitments. However, I was able to contribute to an LIAS webinar and an upcoming video promoting the LIAS principles. I am impressed at your interest and your desire to build your knowledge base of the neuroscience of learning. You'll find a list of places where I'll be giving presentations at conferences and workshops at schools on my website. If you are able to attend one of these, please come by and say "hello"!

It seems that we all share the common challenge of TOO MUCH information students are required to memorize and not enough time to be creative and offer the authentic, project-based, inquiry and discovery learning experiences that are so critical if students are to develop their executive functions. 

Executive functions is the neurological term for the highest levels of cognition designed for decision-making and goal achievement. These include judgment, critical analysis, prioritization, deduction, risk assessment, and transfer of knowledge to novel, innovative applications. In the United States, the Common Core Standards call for students to use these very executive functions that have been described by neurology for over 75 years as emblematic of prefrontal cortex neural processing.

As these neural networks undergo their greatest rate of change (maturation with pruning of unused networks and myelination to strengthen the most used networks) during the school years, educators are the caretakers of the development of our students' highest cognitive and emotional neural networks. Not only are these executive functions those delineated in the Common Core Standards, but they are also the qualities now sought by employers in response to globalization of communication, accelerated information dissemination, and technological breakthroughs.

The success of educators to help all children develop these critical 21st century skill sets will increasingly benefit from the continuing acceleration in the quality and quantity of neuroscience research relevant to how the brain learns best. It will be up to educators to "translate" the implications of the research into strategies for planning and teaching.

As I see your efforts to acquire the background knowledge in neuroscience to take on this task of developing applications of this research, I am confident that you will succeed. I look forward to the impact you will have as you continue to learn and collaborate to insure that students are engaged with meaningful, memorable learning experiences that their brains will construct into long-term, concept memory circuits.

Your students will be prepared with the transferable wisdom they will need to solve new problems that have yet to be revealed and expand on new information as they seize the opportunities for creative innovation in their 21st century.

Keep igniting.
Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist in Santa Barbara, California, has combined her 15 years as a practicing adult and child neurologist with her teacher education training and years of classroom experience. After five years teaching at Santa Barbara Middle School, and ten years of classroom teaching all together, this year Dr. Willis reluctantly left teaching middle school students and dedicated herself full-time to teaching educators. With an adjunct faculty position at the University of California, Santa Barbara graduate school of education, Dr. Willis travels nationally and internationally giving presentations, workshops, and consulting while continuing to write books for parents and educators.

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