PBS Series Launches Online Video Contest for Teens

WIRED SCIENCE, the fast-paced PBS science and technology series, transfers its energy to the web during its first-season hiatus with the January 2008 launch of the WIRED SCIENCE Student Video Contest hosted by Apple Student Gallery. The online video competition calls for student innovators and experimenters in grades 9-12 to explore a scientific principle and create a short video. Anything science-related will qualify -- from a math formula or a chemistry equation to a law of physics. For complete details, please visit www.PBS.org/wiredscience.

In the spirit of the show, judges are looking for creativity, originality and humor. Students are reminded to be safe and may enlist the help of their teachers. Three cash prizes will be awarded, with first place winning $2,000. Registration for the contest closes March 15, 2008; submissions will be accepted through April 1.

The top 20 finalist videos will be posted to pbs.org and in the Apple Student Gallery. Submissions will be evaluated by a panel of judges, including experts from the WIRED SCIENCE blog, Correlations, the WIRED SCIENCE panel of advisors led by science educator Michael Lampert of West Salem High School, and editors from WIRED magazine, the first word on science and technology for the last 15 years.

Family Literacy Day Celebrates 10 Years

ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation, Honda Canada and children's writer Robert Munsch have been calling on Canadian families to read, write, surf and sing together to make family literacy a priority in their homes. The program continues to be important because low literacy is a daily challenge for four out of 10 adult Canadians, age 16 to 65 - representing 9 million Canadians.

Family Literacy Day (FLD) can be celebrated everyday - by simply setting aside 15 minutes of family time to read, play board games or even follow a recipe together. "We encourage all families to read and learn together," says Margaret Eaton, President, ABC CANADA. "15 minutes a day goes a long way for the parent and the child. Those precious minutes can prepare children for challenges ahead, encourage a lifetime of reading enjoyment and can sharpen the adult's literacy skills."

There are thousands of FLD events taking place this week in schools, libraries, community centres and homes across Canada thanks to the support of numerous volunteers who contribute to the program's success.

Parents and children alike can gain the following benefits from simple reading activities:

- Reading with your child at an early age can lead to independent reading by school age.

- Celebrating reading and books in your home has a positive impact on your child's future academic skills.

- Children who see their parents engaging in learning are more likely to become lifelong learners.
For more information on Family Literacy Day, including family literacy tips, activity ideas and event information, visit the ABC CANADA website: http://www.abc-canada.org/

New Teacher Hotline Features New York Teacher of the Year

New York Teacher of the Year, Rich Ognibene, joined host Mike Kelley to share teaching strategies that can help all teachers be more successful in the classroom on the New Teacher Hotline this week. A teaching veteran with more than 20 years of experience, Ognibene is one of the only male recipients of Teacher of the Year.

Ognibene teaches chemistry and physics at Fairport High School Fairport, New York. He has taught science for middle and high school students and has served as a mentor teacher to many first-year teachers. He said, "What makes great teachers great is on those days when you struggle and things don't go perfectly, you wake up the next day and go in with the strength and the love and the wisdom to keep going."

Ognibene discussed the struggles new teachers face, the obstacles of classroom management and the importance of establishing classroom rules the first day of school. "The classroom atmosphere has to be planned for as much as the content," Ognibene said about the importance of classroom management and preparation. He shared personal lessons learned as a new teacher and offered examples of how to engage students in a variety of ways that not only teaches them the content, but also allows students to work in groups and encourage each other.

To conclude the interview Ognibene shared his most valued piece of advice. "When every strategy fails, more love is always a viable solution," Ognibene told listeners. To listen to the full interview, visit http://newteacherhotline.com/ and click on Episode 18, "Rich Ognibene, New York Teacher of the Year."

The War Against Reading

Everyone knows the scary stats: 70 percent of the kids in fourth grade haven't learned to read; the country has 50 million functional illiterates, i.e., people who can't read a newspaper or cereal box; our students don't compete well against students from other countries. Is all this accidental? Or somebody's idea of tough-minded social policy?

"What a story," says education writer Bruce Deitrick Price. "You don't want to believe the worst, but all the evidence points in one direction. Eighty years ago, the people at the top, including elite educators, were terrified of massive immigration, urbanization, and industrialization. Too much upheaval. Some leaders apparently decided that slowing things down would be a good plan. What better way than to dumb down the schools? Undermining reading was very likely a part of that strategy. Perhaps they believed they were doing the best thing for the long term. In which case they were tragically short-sighted. We don't need dumb and dumber. More than ever, we need smart and smarter."

Price's new article -- a scholarly bombshell -- is "30: The War Against Reading" (http://www.improve-education.org/id46.html) on Improve-Education.org (www.Improve-Education.org). It's a long piece with lots of quotes from the main players, but the gist of it is quickly stated: educators turned away from the tried and true, and embraced a new reading pedagogy that turned out to have many disastrous side-effects.

"The big question," Price points out, "is this: how could our experts be so wrong?" English is a phonetic/alphabetic language. The normal way to teach such a language is phonetically -- children are taught to see the sounds in the words. What the educators did was counter-intuitive: they scrapped phonics and introduced Whole Word, where children have to memorize words by their shapes, the way Chinese characters are learned.

"Memorizing thousands of word-shapes is extremely difficult," Price explains. "People with excellent memories can learn to read using Whole Word but it's hard work. Whole Word readers rarely read for pleasure. They're lucky if they can manage forms, instructions, menus and so on. Children with ordinary memories are simply doomed."

Price's article is built around this chronology of the country's decline in literacy:

1920's: Whole Word first widely used.

1928: Dr. Samuel Orton reports on serious problems in a research study titled " The Sight Reading Method of Teaching Reading, as a Source of Reading Disability." He found cognitive and behavioral problems.

1930's: Educators push ahead with nationwide use of Dick-and-Jane-type readers. "See Dick run!" These books incorporate Whole Word instruction.

1955: Rudolph Flesch addresses falling reading scores in his book "Why Johnny Can't Read." He explains everything in a very convincing way; but educators refuse to be convinced.

1970's: Reading theorists Ken Goodman and Frank Smith lead counter-attack against Flesch by devising new defenses for Whole Word.

1990's: Reading scores continue to plunge. Dyslexia is widespread. Home schooling surges in popularity. Phonics makes come-back; but educators hang on to Whole Word as part of Balanced Literacy.

"As far as I can figure it out," Price says, "the top educators believed in a more managed, more Socialist society. I think it's fair to say they were blinded by their ideology; they didn't know when to stop. The policies they embraced backfired. The so-called Reading Wars have resulted in tens of millions of walking wounded and a weaker country."

A recent government study ("Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century") concluded that the public schools are so bad, they are a threat to the national economy. "I'm not optimistic our educators can snap out of it," Price says. "I'm urging the business community to be more involved. To take a dominant role, if possible. I'm working now on a modest proposal I call NEI -- National Education Initiatives. That's basically my function -- throwing out ideas. Even the worst one can't be as bad as Whole Word!"

PBS Kids Play! Provides Early Childhood Curriculum

Beginning today, PBS is opening the beta test for a new Internet-based educational service designed to provide children ages 3 to 6 with a comprehensive early childhood curriculum. PBS KIDS PLAY!(SM), which will be offered as a subscription service later this calendar quarter, uses interactive games and activities to provide a personalized learning experience at home. The PBS KIDS PLAY! Beta is currently available as a download from http://www.pbskidsplay.org/ and requires a high-speed Internet connection to use.

All of the games and activities in PBS KIDS PLAY! were designed from the ground up specifically to meet nationally recognized educational standards and benchmarks. The PBS KIDS PLAY! curriculum includes essential skill areas in Math, Science, Language, Literacy, Creativity, Healthy Development, and Social Studies. With a single click, parents can read about the learning objectives and instructions for each activity. PBS KIDS PLAY! also provides an easy-to- use progress chart that helps parents see the "big picture." The chart shows how each child is advancing through the curriculum, including an indicator of how far the child has progressed in each skill area. This information is tailored specifically for each child and includes recommendations for activities to try, based on the child's skill level.

PBS KIDS characters from programs including CURIOUS GEORGE, SUPER WHY!, MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD, FRANNY'S FEET, MAMA MIRABELLE'S HOME MOVIES, and THE BERENSTAIN BEARS will guide children through the activities.

During the beta test, PBS KIDS PLAY! is available for families to try at no cost. A limited number of activities are available, and more will be added throughout the beta period. To test the service, parents can visit www.pbskidsplay.org. The initial setup takes approximately two minutes. The service requires a computer with Windows XP or Vista operating system, mid- range processing power (Pentium 4 or Dual-Core), and broadband Internet access. PBS is planning to support the Mac OS in a future phase of development.

Teachers.Net Gazette Web Magazine is Back

Teachers.Net ushered in the new year by unveiling the revival of its popular web magazine, the Teachers.Net Gazette, including a new, updated format that more effectively showcases a broad array of articles, features, lessons and activities written by and for teachers and school administrators.

Readers of the January Teachers.Net Gazette will learn when to celebrate National Popcorn Day, Backwards Day and National School Nurses' Day; access video bytes showing dynamic lessons; read which 3 attributes teachers say are most important in a school principal; download free drawings and a printable calendar for use in the classroom; learn how to use a masking tape bracelet to motivate student writers; find tips for classroom management and planning the most effective workshop; read jobs listings, teacher classified ads, inspirational quotes, and much more.

According to Teachers.Net co-owner Bob Reap, the Teachers.Net Gazette is a collaborative project that includes articles by noted experts in the field of education alongside contributions by classroom practitioners, many of whom are members of the global Teachers.Net community.

"While we eagerly seek out and publish material offered by the most well known experts in the field of education, we feel it is important to include the other experts, the teachers and school administrators who offer a from-the-trenches perspective," Reap says.

Website: http://www.teachers.net/

Central Carolina Community College’s Family Literacy Program

Hernan Sanchez, 10, bent over his math homework. During the day, he had studied in his fourth grade class at Pittsboro Elementary School. Now it was evening and he was back again, hitting the books.

"This is more fun than watching TV," he said with a smile. "We learn more."

Hernan is one of about 25 children and 23 parents who show up at the elementary school each Monday and Thursday evening for Central Carolina Community College's Family Literacy Program. While the parents learn English usage and basic skills, school-age children receive homework help one-on-one in a relaxed atmosphere. Pre-schoolers enjoy supervised play.

The program is unique in Chatham County, according to Sara Lambert, CCCC Basic Skills coordinator in Chatham. The outreach to the predominantly Latino, non-English-speaking community was the brainchild of Linda Starkweather, Pittsboro Elementary School English as a second language teacher.

"I wanted to start this because I've been a teacher many, many years and I know you need the family involved," she said. "The best programs involve parents and children."

She and the CCCC's Basic Skills staff worked together to begin offering an English and basic skills outreach program at Roca Fuerte Church in Pittsboro three years ago. The program moved to Pittsboro Elementary a year ago. The school location provided space and opportunity to add the homework and childcare components to the outreach.

Carolina Meadows recently awarded a $9,000 Carolina Meadows Community Grant to the Family Literacy Program. The grant is funding a volunteer coordinator, child tutor coordinator and a preschool childcare provider.

"We at Carolina Meadows are pleased to have this new relationship with CCCC and to be a partner in its important work," said Dr. Tom Miller, vice chairman of the Carolina Meadows board of directors. "We are pleased to award the grant to sustain and strengthen current child tutoring and childcare components of the Family Literacy Program."

Dr. Karen Allen, CCCC Chatham provost, said that the program has been a community partnership.

"We very much appreciate the financial support of Carolina Meadows and the collaboration with Chatham County Schools which make this exciting program possible," she said. "In addition, I would like to thank the gracepoint (church) literacy outreach team and other volunteers who come to classes regularly and assist in so many ways."

One of those is Rayanne Antonelli, a freshman at Northwood High School.

"I like the kids, I like helping them," she said as she worked with Hernan on his math. Helping the children with their homework also gives her an opportunity to practice her Spanish.

The adult class uses Starkweather's classroom for both group and one-on-one instruction. On a recent evening, she tutored a Chinese-speaking student with almost no English skills, while Susan Strozier, a web designer by day, instructed a group of six women in English skills.

Why do the adults come? For them, the answers are obvious.

"We come because it's necessary to learn English," said student Rosalia Villanueva, a 14-year resident of Pittsboro.

The other students nodded in agreement. They come to learn for themselves. They also come to show their children how important it is to learn English and to work hard in school.

"We know that one of the most powerful influences on a child's education is the support of the family," Allen said. "Increasing educatiof the parents promotes school success in the children. Not only does this program give parents with children the opportunity to attend classes; it also provides a supportive educational setting for the children at the same time. It's a wonderful model."

For more information on the Family Literacy Program, to enroll or to volunteer, contact Judy Herndon, CCCC Chatham Basic Skills recruiter, at (919) 542-6495, ext. 211, or by email at: jherndon@cccc.edu

The Technique to Improve Reading and Content Knowledge

Just like parents who make time to read to their children at home, many expert teachers find the same practice effective in the classroom. Or do they?

Surprisingly, many teachers do not "model" reading despite a body of research that identifies both instructional benefits and positive attitudes toward reading aloud. San Diego State University professors Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp are continuing their research into how expert teachers model text processing during shared reading. Their recent podcast, released by the International Reading Association, provides valuable information for classroom practice and instructional leadership.

The capacity of teachers to model what good readers do when confronted with texts requires some reflective thinking and different behaviors in the classroom than those usually put to use. "Teachers are typically good readers themselves," notes Nancy Frey. "They have what is known as ‘automaticity,' a seemingly effortless use of skills and strategies that makes reading meaningful. It's exactly what teachers hope their students will achieve, but to get there, teachers need to unpack their thinking processes and demonstrate them in class. Teachers will find themselves revealing how they think—what we call ‘I' statements—more often than asking students to find answers to questions."

While some behaviors might change, Lapp points out that modeling supports instruction in several key ways. She demonstrates how modeling makes it possible for the teacher and students to co-create meaning from the text, giving attention to both the standards-guided content, as well as the tools writers use to help a reader. Lapp also points out that modeling allows teachers to use academic language authentically. When students apply academic language to their own learning, higher achievement results. Finally, modeling moves students through the process from observing to doing, with the teacher providing guidance and direction along the way, so children can learn independently from reading.

Fisher identifies four categories of modeling done by expert teachers. The most common modeling approach is targeted at comprehension, with teachers across grade levels offering examples of predictions, summaries, clarifications, and inferences as guided by the text. Fisher notes that teachers also show students word solving strategies they can use to expand their understanding and use of unknown and unfamiliar vocabulary. Modeling also helps students recognize text structures in informational and narrative text. "The goal is not for students to name the structures," Fisher points out. "Students need to notice and internalize structures so they can better predict and prepare for what's coming next." Finally, teachers model use of features, like headings, that are added to the text to assist the reader.

This podcast is the third in IRA's Insight series, which features discussion of current topics in the field by literacy leaders. IRA's other podcast series, Class Acts, features 10-minute research-based, classroom-tested teaching tips. Both series are available for download at http://www.reading.org/ and through iTunes.

Toyota Launches Literacy Program

Three Salt Lake City elementary schools will be among the newest sites for its successful Toyota Family Literacy Program (TFLP). TFLP - the first nationwide program of its kind to focus on the needs of Hispanic and other immigrant families - is coordinated by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), the country's leading advocate for family literacy.

Toyota has contributed $600,000 to fund the program at Monroe Elementary, James E. Moss Elementary and Woodrow Wilson Elementary. All three schools are located in the Granite School District and average between 33 percent and 46 percent Hispanic enrollment.

TFLP - which got its start in 2003 and is now functioning in 20 cities across the U.S. - aims to increase basic language and literacy skills among Hispanic and other immigrant families and provide parents with the skills they need to help their children succeed in school. The program specifically serves children in kindergarten to third grade and their parents. TFLP is unique in that it incorporates NCFL's multicultural family literacy model, which combines key components including: ESL courses, children’s education, parenting education, Parent and Child Together (PACT) activities, and computer-literacy instruction. Toyota has donated over $29 million to the program since its inception.

In addition to launching the program at these three schools, the funding will allow NCFL to provide comprehensive support for training, educational materials and assistance at each site. Granite School District is working hand-in-hand with NCFL to implement the family literacy program.

Besides Salt Lake City, four other cities are part of the latest expansion of the Toyota Family Literacy Program: Burien/Seattle, Wash.; Oakland, Calif.; Mesa, Ariz.; and Miami, Fla. A total of 230 school districts submitted applications for the five spots, all vying for part of the overall $3 million grant from Toyota.

Vancouver Island School District to Host Education Forum on Literacy

Students in six BC schools are reading more and making strides in literacy as a result of specific school-based strategies.

"Now I'm reading every day. I'm spending 30% of my life reading" (Grade 4 Student).

With a little bit of help from a Grants Program, teachers and principals developed new ways of working together to support literacy learning across the curriculum.

Making use of $25,000 of external support, six Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island schools set goals and implemented changes ensuring more focused literacy instruction especially benefiting at-risk students.

School staff and researchers will present the results of their efforts at the Sharing our Journey workshop, January 17th at Quamichan Middle School in Duncan BC. This workshop, convened by the Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education (SAEE) is a forum for schools to share what worked and learn from best practices.

Participants at the workshop will receive the detailed case study report School Improvement in Action: Building Shared Responsibility for Student Learning which documents the action research processes undertaken by each school. Following opening greetings by Rick Davis, BC Ministry of Education, schools will present the findings of their work detailing the strategies undertaken, lessons learned and success realized.

Website: http://www.saee.ca/

How Inner City Elementary Schools Raised Achievement Scores by 50-100 Points

If it were just one school it might be considered a fluke. If it were only two, it would be a very strange coincidence. But when dozens of inner city schools with predominantly minority populations all report sharp increases in state achievement scores, something significant must be going on.

Administrators in each of the schools give credit to a revolutionary writing program that enhances learning across the board.

"I believe (it) works because our students become enthusiastic and motivated learners," says Catherine Andrews, Title One Coordinator at Flournoy Elementary, which saw its test scores increase 57 points.

The program is The Write Connection which is designed to enhance the teaching of language arts by focusing more attention on writing. The thinking goes like this: Proficient writers become better readers and that leads to improvement in comprehension in all subject areas.

"In most schools, the writing portion of language arts is lacking," says Deborah Stephenson, who developed The Write Connection program. "This program provides a realistic approach to writing that incorporates state standards and frameworks."

Stephenson, a former teacher, began creating the program for her mostly Hispanic students to help them write. After five years of seeing success in her own classroom, she left her job to focus on developing the education writing program. After three years, it morphed into The Write Connection.

And the scores speak for themselves: Synergy Elementary increased their API (Academic Performance Index) by a whopping 104 points in 2006, the highest gain of any school. And Century Park Elementary increased their API by 64 points in 2007-the most significant increase in five years.

"This program reverses the achievement gap in high ethnic schools," says Stephenson, "that's no small accomplishment and schools nationwide could start closing the gap, too."

Web site: http://www.writecon.com/

Reading With Your Kids Helps Literacy

Children with reading problems improve significantly if teachers help and encourage their parents to read with them at home.

This was the finding of Bernard Levey from MENCAP Pengern College in North Wales who published his findings today, Wednesday 9 January, at the British Psychological Society's Division of Child and Educational Psychology Annual Conference in Bournemouth.

The project was carried out in six Hull primary schools involving 143 children aged between seven and ten years old who were already receiving support for literacy difficulties. A support assistant visited each child's home weekly to give advice, provide materials and give support to the parents in their work with their children.

The children, who had previously been making slower than average progress, were now making at least one months progress per month. However, when the support was not available the children's progress fell to less than 50%.

Mr Levey commented; "Parents can, with support make a difference to their children's progress in literacy even when the child has special needs. These results are impressive but equally remarkable was the change in the confidence level of parents, the raised level of interest in literacy and the greater recognition by schools that parents with the right level of support can make a difference. At the end of the project parents reported feeling more confident about helping their children read and a greater interest, not only in the children, but also amongst the parents in reading"

Website: British Psychological Society, http://www.bps.org.uk/

New National Writing Project Site for Area Teachers

SUNY Cortland recently was approved for long-term, renewable federal funding to start a local branch of the National Writing Project as a means of helping outstanding teachers across Central New York improve their practice through writing and research.

Called the Seven Valleys Writing Project (SVWP), the project's centerpiece as with other National Writing Projects will be a month-long Summer Institute. The College's Summer Institute will take place from July 7-Aug. 1 at Main Street SUNY Cortland, an extension facility the College operates at 9 Main St. in downtown Cortland.

A group of 15 competitively selected and outstanding kindergarten through 12th grade teachers from many fields of study will attend the institute. The educators will hone their written expression and improve research education-related subjects. Subsequently, they will share their knowledge with colleagues and students back in their home districts.

"Where teachers recommend teachers, we get the best," said the College's project director, David Franke, an associate professor of English and professional writing.

Franke was the lead writer of the successful grant application. He currently oversees the $30,000 in federal Department of Education funding, which was matched by a $35,000 grant approved through SUNY Cortland's President's Cabinet.

On Wednesday, Jan. 16, the SVWP Advisory Board will host a reception and meeting for area supporters of literacy education from 3:30-5 p.m. at Main Street SUNY Cortland. Individuals interested in attending the event should RSVP in advance by contacting Franke at dtfranke@cortland.edu or (607) 753-5945. City of Cortland Mayor Thomas Gallagher, SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum and Cortland City Schools Superintendent Larry Spring will attend.

During February, the project managers plan to interview and select the 15 Summer Institute participants from among the group of candidates presented by individual districts.

The seed money begins a multi-year project of serving 79 school districts in an eight-county territory located within a 100-mile radius of Cortland. Applicants are required to have at least two years of teaching experience and will be chosen from districts in Cortland, Madison, Chenango, Broome, Tioga, Tompkins, Cayuga and Onondaga Counties. Under-represented groups in teaching, including male elementary school teachers and ethnic minorities, will be encouraged to apply.

The Summer Institute participants will have an opportunity to develop individually as writers and to learn from SUNY Cortland faculty who are on the cutting edge of professional writing, new media technology, classroom teaching and learning techniques. The teachers will be awarded their choice of either a stipend for attending the institute or six hours of graduate level college credit. They will also attend a pair of retreats that are being planned for before and after the Summer Institute.

Franke envisions English teachers from regional school districts rubbing shoulders with colleagues whose focus may instead be science, social studies, art or shop but share an interest in improving their learning through writing for their students and themselves.

"There is nothing remedial about the writing project or what the teachers will impart to their colleagues or students upon their return from the institute," Franke said. "We start from the belief that writing is more than reporting or a generic skill divorced from inquiry and quickly learned. We see writing and learning as always inextricable and as a process for making knowledge for both individuals and communities.

"Writing well has rarely been a grassroots effort," continued Franke, who since joining the College in 1999 has run interdisciplinary writing workshops to support faculty as writers. "We want the teachers to look at their classrooms as research sites and ask themselves, ‘How does learning happen here?' Writing is the best tool for reflecting on our teaching practice. It's also the best tool for students to learn in their content areas as well."

Website: http://www.cortland.edu/