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September 13, 2013

How to Make School Better for Boys

Start by acknowledging that boys are languishing while girls are succeeding.

As the United States moves toward a knowledge-based economy, school achievement has become the cornerstone of lifelong success.

Women are adapting; men are not.

Yet the education establishment and federal government are, with some notable exceptions, looking the other way.

Boys in all ethnic groups and social classes are far less likely than their sisters to feel connected to school, to earn good grades, or to have high academic aspirations...

Kirtland Peterson

Learning cursive in the first grade helps students

Learning to write in cursive also has the advantage of encouraging students to respect linguistic constraints from the outset. “Children who learn to print tend to treat letters like pictures and often write them backwards." This approach slows down the integration of what specialists call "stroke grammar,” i.e., the sequencing of gestures to produce optimal letters.

When students write directly in cursive, they are forced to follow a kind of path determined by the direction of the strokes. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to join the letters,” says Mont├ęsinos-Gelet. “So, there are no backwards letters.”

Furthermore, children who write in cursive do not at all have the problem of spacing between letters and words.

They understand the concept of word more quickly than the others do and therefore tend to have better graphic-motor skills related to language processing, which helps them in terms of syntax and spelling,” says the researcher.

Kirtland Peterson

September 12, 2013

No Child Left Untableted

Amplify has tested preliminary versions of its tablets and curriculum in a dozen small pilot programs, but Guilford County is its first paying customer.

By next fall the company intends to have its products in middle schools across the country, with high schools and perhaps elementary schools to follow.

Competition for this market is growing more intense.

Major competitors — like Apple’s iPad — are scrambling to get in on the sales bonanza created by what educators call “1:1 technology programs,” those that provide a device to every student and teacher.

And so potential customers — 99,000 K-12 schools spend $17 billion annually on instructional materials and technology — will be looking closely at Guilford County, a district with a modest budget and a mix of urban, suburban and rural sections that makes it a plausible proxy for school systems nationwide.

They will want to see teachers’ enthusiasm for the tablets, as well as increased “time on task” and other signs of students’ greater engagement.

Most important, of course, they’ll be looking for higher test scores in two or three years.

Kirtland Peterson

Private tuition provides little help

Around one sixth of school children in German-speaking Switzerland receive private tutoring. Mostly they seek assistance with mathematics.

In contrast to the perceptions of those tutored, tutoring rarely results in any improvement in their marks.

This has been demonstrated by a representative study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

Kirtland Peterson

September 11, 2013

Aerobic Fitness Boosts Learning, Memory in 9-10-Year-Old Children

"Reducing or eliminating physical education in schools, as is often done in tight financial times, may not be the best way to ensure educational success among our young people."

Physical fitness can boost learning and memory in children, particularly when initial learning on a task is more challenging, according to research published September 11 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Lauren Raine and colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Kirtland Peterson

Read with Your Children, Not to Them

Research has found that reading with young children and engaging them can make a positive impact on the child’s future and their family.

Bradford Wiles is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in early childhood development at Kansas State University.  For most of his career, Wiles’ research has focused around building resilience in vulnerable families.

His current research is focused on emergent literacy and the effect of parents reading with their children ages 3 to 5 years old.

Children start learning to read long before they can ever say words or form sentences,” said Wiles. “My focus is on helping parents read with their children and extending what happens when you read with them and they become engaged in the story.”

The developmental process, known as emergent literacy, begins at birth and continues through the preschool and kindergarten years.  This time in children’s lives is critical for learning important preliteracy skills.

Kirtland Peterson

September 9, 2013

Positive Interactions Vital to Pre-K Learning

Positive interactions in a pre-kindergarten classroom may be equally or more important to the future academic development of 4-year-olds than learning letters and numbers, according to Dale Farran, senior associate director of the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College for education and human development.

There are two take-away main points:

First, there is a direct relationship between what goes on in classrooms and how much gain children make in self-regulation measures,” Farran said. “We haven’t known whether self-regulation was actually environmentally influenced or whether it just happened naturally with age.

Second, these data show which experiences children have in 4-year-old classrooms that affect development of those particular skills.”

Kirtland Peterson

September 4, 2013

Why Energy Drinks Are Harming Children, Adolescents

Parents beware. If your tots and teens get their hands on your energy drinks, they could experience seizures, heart palpitations or other problems that drive them to the hospital emergency room.
Children most at risk appear to be those who regularly consume the increasingly popular caffeine-laden energy drinks or gulp down a relatively large amount of the liquid in a short span, according to Rutgers University’s poison control experts.

“These drinks are made for adults. When young children drink them, they consume a large quantity of caffeine for their body mass.

"At the minimum, they become wired – just as an adult would – and it might be difficult for parents to console them or calm them down,” says Bruce Ruck, director of drug information and professional education for the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System (NJPIES) at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

“Children also might have trouble falling asleep or experience tremors, anxiety, agitation, heart palpitations, nausea or vomiting. Of more concern, they may experience a rapid heart rate or seizures.

“Parents need to be aware of the risks and treat these drinks as they would a medication. Store them on a high shelf, away from view. If they have teenagers, they should monitor their exposure,” Ruck adds.

Kirtland Peterson

Children with behavioral problems more at risk of inflammation

"This new research shows for the first time that having behavioral problems in childhood can put children on the path to ill health much earlier than we previously realized.

"The important message for healthcare professionals is that they need to monitor the physical health as well as the mental health of children with behavioral problems in order to identify those at risk as early as possible."

Kirtland Peterson

September 3, 2013

Why Parenting Can Never Have a Rule Book: Children's Genetics Significantly Affect How They Are Parented

Any parent will tell you that there is no simple recipe for raising a child.

Being a parent means getting hefty doses of advice – often unsolicited – from others.

But such advice often fails to consider a critical factor: the child.

A new review of dozens of studies involving more than 14,600 pairs of twins shows that children's genetics significantly affect how they are parented.

"There is a lot of pressure on parents these days to produce children that excel in everything, socially and academically," says Reut Avinun of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Since children are not born tabula rasa, I felt it was important to explore their side of the story, to show how they can affect their environment, and specifically parental behavior."

Most studies of parenting look at only the reverse, how parents affect their children's experiences.

To explore the flip side, Avinun and Ariel Knafo looked to twins. They reasoned that if parents treat identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, more similarly than non-identical twins, who share on average 50 percent of their genes, then it suggests that the child's genes shape parenting.

Indeed, across 32 studies of twins, they found that children's genetically-influenced characteristics do affect parental behavior... For example, a child that is antisocial is more likely to elicit harsh discipline from parents than a more social child.

In one recent study, Knafo's research group found that boys with less self-control are more likely to experience lower levels of positive maternal behavior.

For boys, but not for girls, a particular genotype – a polymorphic region in the gene that codes for the serotonin transporter – predicted mothers' levels of positive parenting and the boys' level of self-control.

"In other words, boys' genetically influenced level of self-control affected the behavior of their mothers toward them," Avinun says.

Avinun and Knafo also found that children's shared environment – socioeconomics, cultural exposure, etc. – accounts for 43 percent of parenting differences. And the non-shared environment – different schools, friends, etc. – accounts for 34 percent of the differences. Importantly, the study's findings support the idea that parenting does not necessarily affect children in the same family similarly.

Several factors affect the extent to which genetics influence parenting.

Avinun and Knafo found, for example, that age was important, supporting the argument that the child's genetic influence on parenting increases with age. "As children become increasingly autonomous, their genetic tendencies are more likely to be able to affect their behavior, which in turn influences parental behavior," Avinun says.

The research in total, Avinun says, "means that parenting should not be viewed solely as a characteristic of the parent, but as something that results from both parental and child attributes."

Therefore, any interventions or treatments to help parenting should consider both the parents and children, and could vary even within a family.

"The discussion of 'nature vs. nurture' has transformed into 'nature and nurture.' We now understand that most characteristics are determined by the interplay between genetic and environmental influences," Avinun says.

Because children are born differently, there never can be a general rule book for raising children, she explains.

"There isn't one style of ideal parenting. Each child requires a different environment to excel.

So parents should not invest a lot of effort in trying to treat their children similarly, but instead, be aware of the variation in their children's attributes and nurture them accordingly."

Kirtland Peterson
Press release | Study (free PDF)

'Making music may improve young children's behaviour'

Making music can improve both pro-social behaviour (voluntary behaviour intended to benefit another) and the problem solving skills of young children according to a new study.

Building on existing research (Kirschner and Tomasello in 20102) which found that making music significantly improves pro-social behaviour in young children) the current study investigated not only the potential effects of music making (singing or playing an instrument) on pro-sociability but also its effects on problem-solving and whether there was a difference between boys and girls.

Kirtland Peterson

Mindfulness training improves attention in children

A short training course in mindfulness improves children’s ability to ignore distractions and concentrate better.

These are the findings of a study carried out by Dominic Crehan and Dr Michelle Ellefson at the University of Cambridge being presented today, 6 September 2013, at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference at the University of Reading.

Dominic explained: “Mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way - on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. It has been shown to reduce levels of stress and depression, and to improve feelings of well-being, but to date researchers have not established a link between mindfulness and attention skills in children.”

Kirtland Peterson

Remember toddler privacy online!

Research finds there is an emerging trend for very young children (toddlers and pre-schoolers) to use internet connected devices, especially touchscreen tablets and smartphones.

This is likely to result in an increasing number of very young children having access to the internet, along with a probable increase in exposure to risks associated with such internet use, including risk generated by parents.

The new report critically reviews recent research to understand the internet use, and emerging policy priorities, regarding children from birth to eight years old.

Researchers find a substantial increase in usage by very young children.

Unfortunately this has not yet been matched by research exploring the benefits and risks of their online engagement, so there are many gaps in our knowledge.

Kirtland Peterson

Milestones in Science Education

“Though we live in a thoroughly modern scientific world, our science education structure is now 120 years old.” The debate is nothing new, either; here and elsewhere in this issue are some historic highlights.

  • 1860s-1870s — Teaching With Toys 
  • 1893 — Classes for Changing Times
  • 1940s — Science on the Home Front
  • 1957 — The Sputnik Challenge

September 2, 2013

Ideas for Improving Science Education in the U.S.

If you could make one change to improve science education in the United States, what would it be?

Science Times asked that question of 19 Americans — scientists, educators, students — with a stake in the answer.

Their responses follow...

A few (isolated) quotes:


  • "K-12 students need to know the nature of science, how scientists work and the domains and limits of science."

  • "If I could change one thing about engineering education — well, actually, all education — it would be to center it around solving real problems and making things."

  • "If I could do one thing, I’d get real mathematicians who are math types to become math teachers. K-12 students need someone there with a real feel for the subject matter."

  • "We need to create opportunities to excite students about how math and science connect to real life."

  • "Science requires immersion."

  • "If I could change one thing, it would be to have the kids work in small groups more than they do now and get to apply their STEM learning to projects that benefit their community."

  • "I’d like to bring graduate students in science, engineering and mathematics into the elementary, middle and senior high schools to teach the science to these K-12 students."

  • "I’d like more hands-on projects where I would learn something about what I’m doing instead of just memorizing things from a textbook."

  • "I’d love to see a once-a-week day in K-12 devoted to invention — an “Idea Day.”"

  • "We’ve known for decades that family involvement is key to learning success for our nation’s children. So to me the answer is clear: We need to make it easy for families to have fun with science — to ask questions about how the world works, and to explore the answers together."


Kirtland Peterson

Chinese Educators Look to American Classrooms

“When American high school students are discussing the latest models of airplanes, satellites and submarines, China’s smartest students are buried in homework and examination papers,” said Ni Minjing a physics teacher who is the director of the Shanghai Education Commission’s basic education department, according to Shanghai Daily, an English-language newspaper.

“Students also have few chances to do scientific experiments and exercise independent thinking.”

That message appears to be getting through to Chinese education officials, who are moving toward the American model of hands-on science learning. This summer, the Ministry of Education launched the latest in a series of campaigns aimed at shifting the focus away from standardized testing.

The ministry said the systemic fixation with testing “severely hampers student development as a whole person, stunts their healthy growth, and limits opportunities to cultivate social responsibilities, creative spirit, and practical abilities in students.”

Kirtland Peterson

Robotic therapy aids kids’ handwriting skills

Researchers from Leeds and Bradford are working with colleagues from the United States to develop an exciting new robotic device that helps children to practice and improve their manual (hand) coordination.

The device has already been tested in a study in the United States, results showing that the increased feedback it provides particularly aids children who have underlying movement problems, providing them with the extra support they need whilst trying to learn everyday tasks they typically have great difficulty with (e.g. handwriting, using cutlery and dressing themselves).

How does it work?

Kirtland Peterson

American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here’s How.

[In] 2013, even as the United States faces pressure to “win the future,” the American education system has swung... toward the commodified data-driven ideas promoted by Frederick Winslow Taylor, who at the turn of the century did time-motion studies of laborers carrying bricks to figure out how people worked most efficiently.

Borrowing Taylor’s ideas, school was not designed then to foster free thinkers.

Nor is it now, thanks to how teacher pay and job security have been tied to student performance on standardized tests.

What we’re teaching today is obedience, conformity, following orders,” says the education historian Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

“We’re certainly not teaching kids to think outside the box.” The motto of the so-called school-reform movement is: No Excuses.

“The message is: It’s up to you. Grit means it’s your problem. Just bear down and do what you have to do.”

Kirtland Peterson

Guesses and Hype Give Way to Data in Study of Education

What works in science and math education? 

Until recently, there had been few solid answers — just guesses and hunches, marketing hype and extrapolations from small pilot studies.

 But now, a little-known office in the Education Department is starting to get some real data, using a method that has transformed medicine: the randomized clinical trial, in which groups of subjects are randomly assigned to get either an experimental therapy, the standard therapy, a placebo or nothing.

The findings could be transformative...

Kirtland Peterson

With Common Core, Fewer Topics Covered More Rigorously

If the new mathematics standards adopted by New York and 44 other states work as intended, then children, especially in the lower elementary grades, will learn less math this year.

But by cutting back on a hodgepodge of topics and delving deeper into central concepts, the hope is that the children will understand it better.

Kirtland Peterson