Saturday, May 14, 2011

Education Reform: Reinvent how Teachers teach and Students learn

Taking school to the next level

CPS hopes Quest's video game methods will inspire students

March 29, 2011|By Joel Hood, TRIBUNE REPORTER
— Rock music blares in a Manhattan classroom as an 11-year-old builds a website for video game enthusiasts and a classmate solders LED lights and capacitors to a circuit board. In another room, students are immersed in a life-size video game as they kneel beside a virtual river, sifting through the remains of ancient civilizations.
What kid wouldn't love a school developed by video game designers?
Quest to Learn was designed to be different from the ground up. This complete reinvention of the typical urban middle school downplays rote memorization in favor of collaborative learning, critical thinking and imaginative exploration in an effort to change how today's students learn.
And this fall, it's coming to Chicago.
With more than $1.2 million in funding from the MacArthur Foundation and other philanthropic organizations, the publiccharter school to be called Chicago Quest is scheduled to open in September in a renovated school building at Ogden and Clybourn avenues on the edge of the old Cabrini-Green public housing development. Officials are already talking about one day opening Chicago Quests on the city's South and West sides as well. 
For city educators, Chicago Quest is an important foray into 21st century thinking. Students will learn from video game designers and computer experts how to design and build their own video games, produce custom websites, podcast, blog, record and edit short films and connect with technology in meaningful and productive ways.
In an era of rigid standardized testing, city leaders say Quest is a novel approach to get today's wired 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds prepared for the technology-driven, global job market that awaits them.
"The only way we're going to catch up with the rest of the world is to reinvent how teaching and learning occurs," said Chicago Public Schools interim chief Terry Mazany. "That's why this is so vital. It's going to be an innovation engine for the district, and I'll strongly encourage the next leadership to keep them close and learn from them."
On a recent trip to Quest's cramped Manhattan headquarters, Elizabeth Purvis, executive director of Chicago International Charter School, seemed dazzled by what students were able to do.
"You can't watch how these kids work, how invested they are in what they're learning, and not come away amazed," Purvis said.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Educators and Entertainers can give a vocie to Schools in low-income Areas too!

Los Gatos Education Foundation Gives Voice to Schools

The parent-led group has raised $7.7 million for public K-8 schools in its 29-year history.
Sponsored By
Founded in 1982, the parents behind the Los Gatos Education Foundation (LGEF) were content to raise less than $200,000 every year.
Then in 2003, the state threatened to cut funding for more than a dozen teaching positions, and the parents of LGEF banded together to launch the “Save Our Schools” campaign.
They plastered banners around town, sent letters to local families to urge them to give $600 each, and recruited parents and teachers to participate in a phonathon to hustle even more dollars.
They aimed to raise $1 million in six weeks; they easily surpassed their goal in just four weeks and saved the teachers’ jobs.
“They realized, ‘Wow, this community can do more than we ever thought,” Dan Snyder said of this major turning point in the organization’s history. He joined the 17-member board nearly two years ago and now is president.
One of more than 600 local educational foundations in California, the LGEF provides a link between the tight-knit community of Los Gatos and the schools in the Los Gatos Union School District (LGUSD): Blossom Hill, Daves Avenue, Lexington and Van Meter elementary schools and Raymond J. Fisher Middle School. Since its formation, the parent-run nonprofit organization has contributed more than $7.7 million to supplement the district’s limited budget.
LGUSD receives no general-purpose funding from the state. Instead, 65 percent of its $26 million general fund is derived from local property taxes. A significant 25 percent of district funds comes from local sources, including the $290 parcel tax that voters approved again last June, the LGEF and home and school clubs that support individual schools.
Because the district relies so heavily on property tax revenues, the recent decline in property values has led to fewer tax revenues at a time when student enrollment is increasing. The student population of 3,055 is expected to rise to 3,478 students by 2016.
These are just some of the challenges that the district faces, and the foundation is there to help.
“LGEF’s ongoing contribution to our goals of creating and maintaining a best-in-class education experience for our children has been invaluable,” said Doug Halbert, member of the school board. “We are very fortunate in our district to have the leadership and support of LGEF.”
Basically, the district's staff and trustees identify funding opportunities, and the educational foundation makes grants to support its programs that would've otherwise gone unfunded. Most of the money LGEF raises supports science, music, art and technology programs throughout the district. The foundation also funds two music teachers and a technology mentor who trains teachers in how to incorporate technology into the curriculum.
“I am very happy to see art and music in our schools, because, unfortunately, it seems to be the first thing that gets put on the chopping block,” said Marybeth MacLean, a former foundation board member from 2005-09 who continues to volunteer. “Especially in these elementary grades, enabling children to be expressive through the arts is a crucial part of their education and not an ancillary part. I am very proud that our parents step up to fund these programs.”
Despite the tough economy, people in Los Gatos manage to keep giving. The foundation’s goal this year is to raise $750,000, said Tina Murray, director of annual giving. So far, the organization has raised 93 percent of its goal, she said.
LGEF also raises funds by asking parents to make a $600 one-year pledge for one student and a $900 pledge for two or more students in the district. It also hosts parties such as Fall Fashion Palooza and Denim and Diamonds Casino Night, which was April 29 at the Opera House in downtown Los Gatos.
Not only do parents support the foundation, but local businesses and community members at large also step up, because they see quality schools as the key to a thriving community and high property values. The latter is why residents in the La Rinconada area, which is in the town of Los Gatos but in Campbell Union School District, want to switch to LGUSD, explained Snyder. It would increase their property values by 20 percent.
But some parents might wonder why they are being approached to support public education—something taxes usually provide.
“I use the analogy that the state of California provides state parks that we all love and enjoy,” MacLean said. “And they are public, and yet when you go visit a park, you stop at a kiosk staffed by a ranger and you pay your $9 or $10 to enter the park. The money will go to maintenance and repairs. [Likewise,] we all have access to public schools, and we carry the burden to keep the quality of the schools at the quality we desire.”
Asking for money is never easy, but MacLean reminds herself that it’s for the children.
“We’re the front people who do the ask,” she said. “The heroes are the people who write the checks.”
How are you helping support local K-8 public schools?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

15 years old and Accepted to Harvard! How Cool is that

15-Year-Old Picks Harvard After Being Accepted to 13 Colleges

Do you know any 15-year-olds who are on their way to Harvard?

Meet Saheela Ibraheem (pictured), a senior at Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, N.J.

Crediting her parents, who are Nigerian immigrants, for her academic achievements -- her father is said to have stayed up at night teaching her subjects not found at school -- Saheela's exceptional journey began as a 6th grader at Conackamack Middle School in Piscataway, N.J.
While there, Saheela asked to be moved to a higher-level class because she was passionate about math. Instead, the school decided to skip her a grade.

But this would be just the beginning.

Saheela realized early on that her public school still wasn't doing it for her; consequently, the zealous student moved to Wardlaw-Hartridge, a private school, and skipped freshman year to land in 10th grade. Her new school would end up being the right place for Saheela, giving her the bandwith to feel challenged and excel. Wardlaw-Hartridge Director of Development William Jenkins says:

"She's learned and she's very smart. But she keeps pushing herself."

But this is not just the story of a student who has mastered education. Saheela takes the concept of stimulating the mind and body to a whole other level.

From the Star-Ledger:

"She is a three-sport athlete, playing outfield for the school's softball team, defender on the soccer team, and swimming relays and 50-meter races for the swim team. She also sings alto in the school choir, plays trombone in the school band and serves as president of the school's investment club, which teaches students about the stock market by investing in virtual stocks."

And she is just getting started.

Last year, Saheela applied to 14 colleges and universities that spanned the nation with a "grade point average (between a 96 and 97 on a 100-point scale) and her 2,340 SAT score (a perfect 800 on the math section, a 790 in writing and a 750 in reading)."

California Institute of Technology, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Williams College, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Washington University in St. Louis all accepted her.

Surprise, surprise, Saheela chose Harvard and wants to major in either neurobiology and neuroscience in order to study how the brain works.

Of her accomplishments, Saheela only had this to say:

I try my best in everything I do," Saheela said. "Anyone who's motivated can work wonders."

I am dumbfounded by Saheela's success. If she is like this as a teen, what will she accomplish as a full-fledged adult? Kudos to her family for doing such a fine job raising a balanced, ambitious child. As a fellow parent, that is not an easy thing to do.

Just a few months ago, the phenomenon of Amy Chua's Tiger Mom overwhelmed the airwaves as people discussed the strategy of raising a successful child. The Tiger Mom ideology tauted all work and no play, with everything -- consciously or unconsciously -- focusing on being the best academic student.

Saheela's parents, though, allowed their daughter (and other children who also attend the same school as Saheela) to have a more balanced existence, encouraging her in academics and extracurricular activities.

How impressive!

Wednesday morning, The Root broke a story about the small surge of pornography in Africa. I'm not sure if this is something that is being condoned or vilified, but the real point of the piece is to say that young poverty-stricken kids are now starting to look at the porno industry as a ticket out of indigency.

From The Root:

"In dedicated apartments, young women watch movies to learn every kind of caress, sexual positions and Western-style pornographic techniques. The 'teachers' do not hesitate to show the girls how to do things right. ... They also test men's and women's abilities."

One South African self-described 23-year-old porno star Palesa Mbau sees African involvement in the porno industry as a step toward black empowerment:

"I am getting proud because it is a black [pornographic movie]," says Mbau. "That is raising black empowerment because the porn films that you [commonly] see in South Africa are all white."


As black people, I don't know why we often use false and negative touchstones as inspiration. As I read about the African porno industry, I felt sick to my stomach. As if we already don't have enough problems to deal with, now we want to encourage our young men and women to join in the dubious porno industry.

Couldn't any of them come up with something better than that
? What with all the STDs and HIV/AIDs affecting black people all over the globe, this is the best we can come up with?

Someone needs to tell all of our children that the mind is the only real ticket from hunger. That lasting success and solid bank accounts comes to those who study. That the human beings who made an indelible impact on society were the ones who pushed themselves to think, question and know.

Stories such as Saheela's show what happens when we choose our minds as the vehicle to experience all that life has to offer.

Congratulations, Saheela!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Your Child 99% Stupid and 1% Exceptional? Hang in with the 1%

Photograph by Ronald Dick
Eve and Ted Branson photographed at home just before Ted's 93rd-birthday party.

Timeline: Daredevil Billionaire

They look like they stepped straight out of "Mrs. Miniver," but life wasn't easy in the village of Shamley Green, Surrey, where Richard grew up. Ted was struggling to make a career as a barrister. He had wanted to be an archaeologist—his own father was a High Court judge, though, so his path was laid out. Perhaps this is why Richard was given remarkably free rein to find his own way. Richard describes his father as a quiet figure, fond of his pipe and newspaper.
Eve is another story: onetime dancer, air hostess, glider pilot and all-around pistol. However, when Richard, her eldest, came along in 1950, she stopped working even though money was tight. In the Branson family government, Ted was the reassuring home secretary and Eve was a feisty minister of pluck.
Richard, his wife, Joan, their two children and his parents were all planning to fly into space whenever Richard launches Virgin Galactic, his commercial space-flight venture. "Between you, me and the gatepost," Ted told me conspiratorially, "I suspect it's as close to heaven as I'll ever get." We pray that he's wrong. Just before publication, Ted Branson passed away in his sleep.
We didn't know whether he was 99 percent stupid and 1 percent rather exceptional. We hung on to that 1 percent
courtesy of the Bransons
When Richard (pictured with classmates) left school at 16, a headmaster predicted he would "either go to prison or become a millionaire."
Everybody says Richard gets his gumption from you. Did you do anything in particular to foster that?
EVE: Well, I didn't want him to be a namby-pamby little boy like all the other little boys. He was timid, so I used to make him perform. I said, "When you're timid, you're just thinking of yourself! Think of the other person—put him at ease, get him a drink." I used to get very cross when he was shy.
There's a story that you dropped him on a hillside nearby when he was 5 years old and made him find his way back home. That's just terrible!
EVE: No it isn't! It's made him who he is today! He was a naughty boy, and it took some of the energy out of him. But he got lost at the end. He knocked on a farmer's door—he's had his head well-screwed-on all his life—and the farmer rang me up and said, "Have you got a blue-eyed boy who's gone missing?" I said, "My goodness, yes," but I admit that by this time even I was worried—I thought, "My God, you've really done it this time!"
What did he get from his father?
EVE: I think he found his father quiet and comforting, and he needed that. I'm too much like him. Ted would say, "Yes, dear boy," even when he was being naughty. He had his father twisted around his little finger, but he needed the mixture of the two of us.
courtesy of the Bransons
In the mid-'80s, Richard (here with Ted and Eve) expanded upon his success with Virgin Records by launching Virgin Atlantic Airways.
TED: You need to show them love, so when they go off in the morning they can stick their chest out and say, "I'm a man." Would you agree with that, darling?
EVE: They certainly need a lot of love so they know you're behind them whatever they do, well, more or less.
Was he naughty in school?
EVE: Let's say he was unusual at school. We didn't know whether he was 99 percent stupid and 1 percent rather exceptional. We hung on to that 1 percent. Not everybody would want a son like that, but I'm quite glad now, mind you.
Were there any early signs that you were raising a great entrepreneur?
EVE: When he was 15, there were the budgerigars. He was going to sell them, but they kept multiplying and we were left looking after all these birds when he went off to boarding school. One day I said, "I can't take this, I'm going to open all the cages and let them go free." And I did. He didn't mind particularly. Next he thinks, "I will buy little baby Christmas trees and make my fortune when they're big enough." We helped him plant them on the property. Then rabbits ate them. But by then he was doing his magazine, and that was more successful.
[mag511_meet4]courtesy of the Bransons
At school, Richard captained the football, rugby and cricket teams, winning cups each year on sports day.
TED: We thought it was a school magazine, but it was a national magazine called Student.
EVE: Richard told us, "I want to leave school to start a magazine. If I can pass an A-level [an English secondary-school exam], do you promise me I can leave school?" We said all right.
TED: I wouldn't have left when he did, but he was determined. I felt he hadn't gotten enough education, but I also felt this was something he should find out for himself.
Did you expect him to fall on his face?
TED: Oh yes.
EVE: I really started him off. He had made friends with a vicar in London who let him use the crypt in his church to produce the magazine, so he and his little friends sat on the floor amongst all the coffins. One day I was going around London, and I found a pearl necklace. The police said if nobody claimed it in a month, it was mine. I didn't know if it was real or not, but a jeweler took a risk and gave me 100 pounds for it. I went down to the church and said, "You're not going to get it all in one go, but every time I come up to London, I'll give you 10 pounds." And Richard said, "Oh come on, hand it all over," and of course I gave in and he was able to launch the magazine.
I gather he had a dicey moment in his next venture when he was caught selling discount records designated for export only. I believe you had to remortgage your home to pay the tax authorities what he owed plus a hefty fine.
EVE: That was pretty horrifying for the both of us.
TED: It was very distressing, very distressing. But Richard reacted first, and he was so full of remorse that all we could do was to stand by him. He paid the money off in installments, so in fact he doesn't have a conviction.
[mag511eve]John M. Heller/Getty Images
Branson gives his mother a lift at a 2007 event.
When did you start to breathe a little easier about him?
TED: When British Airways was trying to destroy Virgin Atlantic Airways and there was a lawsuit, and in order to win it, he had to sell his record company. He sold it for 600 million pounds, I think it was, and then one realized that he was showing considerable promise. But what one does know when one has learned enough about life is that if it comes fairly easily, it can go fairly easily. And so only in comparatively recent years did I feel that he's got enough now to face up to whatever the world throws at him.
What has made you proudest—it can't be the money?
TED: I was in Leicester Square and two of his shows were playing, and everybody was calling out, "Richard, Richard!" Everybody calls him Richard from the lowest office boy on up. Nobody calls him Richard Branson or Sir Richard. This makes me very proud.

Read more:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

African-American teens face 90% summer unemployment rate

Feel like screaming "Get a job!" to your teenager this summer? Parental threats of no car keys, groundings or taking phones away if they don't find work may not do much good when there are few jobs for teens to even land.

Reuters reports just one in four U.S. teens -- a record-low and the worst rate since World War II -- will be able to secure a summer job this year. As a result, urban studies experts tell the news service, big cities such as Chicago could see more street violence.

"Both national and local leadership continue to ignore the plight of youth who are most at risk for potential violence as a result of being left on the streets in the summer months when crime is at its most explosive," Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp tells Reuters in a statement.

In Chicago, the news service reports, 16- to 19-year-old African-Americans face a nearly 90 percent summer unemployment rate, while the summer employment rate for teens nationwide is expected to be about 25 percent, according to an analysis by Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

Experts tell Reuters no summer jobs for teens can result in a less-experienced work force and "increased government spending due to lower lifetime earnings, reduced tax revenues and higher prison costs."