Friday, February 12, 2016

Teachers' knowledge and values can hinder climate education

Most U.S. science teachers include climate science in their courses, yet political inclinations and insufficient grasp of the science may be hindering the quality of their teaching, authors of this article say.

Although more than 95% of climate scientists attribute recent global warming to human causes, only about half of U.S. adults believe that human activity is the predominant cause -- the lowest percentage among 20 nations polled in 2014. Yet prior surveys suggest that climate change is taught in the classroom, prompting the authors to explore the quality of these teachings in greater detail. Based on a large survey of 1,500 teachers in middle- and high-school, they found that 30% of teachers emphasize that recent global warming "is likely due to natural causes," and 12% do not emphasize human causes at all.

Plutzer et al. explore the reasons behind this. It doesn't seem to be parents or administrators, as very few teachers reported external pressure not to teach climate change. They propose that teachers may not be very knowledgeable about scientific evidence, for example about carbon dioxide measurements from ice cores.

As well, the authors propose that many teachers are unaware of the extent of scientific agreement. This notion is supported by their survey results; when asked "What proportion of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities?" only 30% of middle-school and 45% of high-school science teachers selected the correct option of "81 to 100%".

The authors also note that a question measuring political ideology was a more powerful predictor of a teacher's classroom approach than any measure of education or content knowledge. Therefore, education efforts will need to draw on science communication research and address the root causes of resistance to science, the authors conclude.

'Grit' adds little to prediction of academic achievement

Personality characteristics - especially conscientiousness - have previously been shown to have a significant but moderate influence on academic achievement. However, a new study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, suggests that 'grit', defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, adds little to the prediction of school achievement.

The study authors point out that previous research, indicating small associations between grit and academic achievement, has relied on highly selected samples such as spelling competition finalists and teachers, which may have led to stronger associations between grit and achievement in later life.

This new study, which used a sample of 4,500 16-year-old twins*, found that aspects of personality predict around six per cent of the differences between GCSE results and, after controlling for these characteristics, grit alone only predicted 0.5 per cent of the differences between GCSE results.

According to the researchers these findings, published today in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, warrant concern given the present emphasis placed by education policymakers on teaching grit to pupils, both in the UK and in the US.

This research is the first to investigate the genetic and environmental origins of grit, as well as its influence on academic achievement, within a large representative UK sample of 16-year-olds.

In the study, the 'Grit-S' questionnaire was used to measure perseverance of effort and consistency of interest at the age of 16. Twins rated the extent to which they agreed with statements such as 'Setbacks don't discourage me' (perseverance) and 'I have a difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete' (consistency of interest). The 'Big Five' Personality questionnaire was used to assess personality traits, comprising those highlighted by psychologists as the most important: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and neuroticism.

In addition to measuring the association between grit and academic achievement, the researchers also analysed the extent to which grit is 'heritable' (i.e. the extent to which genes contribute to differences between people in their levels of grit). Some scientists have previously suggested that grit may be more malleable than other predictors of academic achievement, such as socioeconomic status and intelligence, which has led to proposals for grit training programmes in schools.

This new study found that grit was about as heritable as other personality traits, with DNA differences explaining around a third of the differences between children in levels of grit.

The study's first author, Kaili Rimfeld from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, said: 'Until now there has been very little evidence about the origins of differences between children in grit and its influence on academic achievement, despite the fact that it plays an important role in UK and US education policies.

'Our study suggests that grit adds little to the prediction of academic achievement when other personality factors are taken into account.

'This does not mean that teaching children to be grittier cannot be done or that it is not beneficial. Clearly children will face challenges where qualities of perseverance are likely to be advantageous. However, more research into intervention and training programmes is warranted before concluding that such training increases educational achievement and life outcomes.'

Learning about struggles of famous scientists may help students succeed in science


High school students may improve their science grades by learning about the personal struggles and failed experiments of great scientists such as Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

In the study, 402 9th- and 10th-grade students from four New York City high schools in low-income areas of the Bronx and Harlem were divided into three groups. The control group read an 800-word typical science textbook description about the great accomplishments of Einstein, Curie and Michael Faraday, an English scientist who made important discoveries about electromagnetism.

Another group read about those scientists' personal struggles, including Einstein's flight from Nazi Germany to avoid persecution as a Jew. The third group of students read about the scientists' intellectual struggles, such as Curie's persistence despite a string of failed experiments. The struggle stories included actions the scientists took to overcome these hurdles.

At the end of a six-week grading period, students who learned about the scientists' intellectual or personal struggles had significantly improved their science grades, with low-achievers benefiting the most. The students in the control group who only learned about the scientists' achievements not only didn't see a grade increase, they had lower grades than the previous grading period before the study began. The research, which was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, was published online in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

"When kids think Einstein is a genius who is different from everyone else, then they believe they will never measure up," said lead researcher Xiaodong Lin-Siegler, PhD. "Many students don't realize that all successes require a long journey with many failures along the way."

Students who read about the scientists' intellectual or personal struggles were more likely to say the famous scientists were people, like themselves, who had to overcome failure and obstacles to succeed. Students in the control group more often believed the great scientists had innate talent and a special aptitude for science.

The study suggests that science textbooks should highlight the struggles of great scientists and provide more vivid narrative descriptions of the techniques that scientists used to overcome challenges, said Lin-Siegler, an associate professor of cognitive studies at Columbia University's Teachers College.

"Many kids don't see science as part of their everyday lives. We teach them important content, but we never bring it to life," she said. "Our science curriculum is impersonal, and kids have a hard time relating to it because they just see a long list of facts that they have to memorize."

The study included a diverse sample of students: 37 percent Latino, 31 percent black, 11 percent biracial, 8 percent Asian, 7 percent white and 5 percent other. Almost one in five students was born outside the United States, and a third spoke English only half the time or less at home. Almost three-quarters of the students came from low-income families.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Common Core implementation going well, more impact in mathematics than English

Full report

Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has resolved the struggle over the federal role in education, leaders in the remaining Common Core states can refocus attention on the standards, the assessments, and the supports teachers and students need to succeed on them. To inform those efforts, the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University surveyed a representative sample of teachers in five states (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Nevada) as they prepared their students to take the new Common Core-aligned assessments in the spring of 2015.

Key findings:

1. Teachers in the five study states have made major changes in their lesson plans and instructional materials to meet the CCSS. Four out of five mathematics teachers (82%) and three out of four English teachers (72%) reported that they have changed more than half of their instructional materials in response to the Common Core. Seven out of eight English teachers (85%) reported having increased writing assignments in which students are expected to use evidence to support their arguments. A similar percentage have increased assigned reading of nonfiction texts.

2.Despite the additional work, teachers and principals in the five states have largely embraced the new standards. Three out of four teachers (73%) reported that they have embraced the new standards “quite a bit” or “fully.” More than two thirds of principals (69%) believe that the new standards will lead to improved student learning.

3.In mathematics, three markers of successful implementation were identified: more professional development days, more classroom observations with explicit feedback tied to the Common Core, and the inclusion of Common Core-aligned student outcomes in teacher evaluations. All were associated with statistically significantly higher student performance on the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments in mathematics.

4.In English language arts, no evidence was found for or against any particular implementation strategies. However, the new English assessments appear more sensitive to instructional differences between teachers, especially in middle school grades. The greater sensitivity seems to be due to the greater weight on student writing in the new assessments. Although prior research has found math achievement to be more sensitive to instructional differences between teachers than English, the new English assessments are nearly as sensitive to teacher effects as the math assessments have been.

The study highlights an important advantage of having a common set of standards and assessments across multiple states. Leaders in multiple states can now share the cost of learning about the challenges teachers are facing and the effectiveness of the resources they are using. Moreover, by linking teacher responses to their students’ achievement and controlling for student characteristics, we can provide early evidence on the efficacy of educational initiatives much faster and cheaper than has been possible in the past.

As of the writing of this report, the Common Core State Standards are still being used in 42 states and the District of Columbia, though their status is under review in five states (Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah). One state (Minnesota) has adopted the standards for English language arts only. Three states that initially adopted the standards subsequently repealed them (Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina). Four states never adopted the standards for either mathematics or English language arts (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia).

Reading Recovery teachers don't like using iPads for instruction

There is a critical need, according to national policy statements in the United States, to integrate information and communication technologies into instruction, and yet research about the effect of such integration on the literacy learning of at-risk populations is scant. In addition, barriers exist that prevent teachers from realizing the goal of information and communication technology integration. 

To address this issue, this mixed-methods study investigated the effects of LetterWorks, an iPad app, on the letter learning of 6- to 7-year-old children in an early literacy intervention, Reading Recovery. 

Despite the positive effects of the iPad app on the letter learning of the children in the treatment group, teachers identified a misfit between their beliefs about literacy teaching and learning and the app as a barrier to their continued use. 

The authors suggest that the successful uptake of information and communication technologies into literacy instruction may depend, at least in part, on whether and how well training addresses the coherence between the information and communication technology itself and teachers’ theories about teaching and learning.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

First Year Experience Courses for Students in Developmental Education: No discernible effects

Program Description

First year experience courses for students in developmental education are designed to ease the transition to college for the large numbers of students in need of developmental (or remedial) education. The aim of these courses is to support the academic performance, social development, persistence, and degree completion of postsecondary students with developmental needs. Although first year experience courses vary in terms of content and focus, most are designed to introduce students to campus resources, provide training in time management and study skills, and address student development issues; for students in developmental courses, the courses are often linked with or taken concurrently with developmental courses.


Based on the one study that meets WWC group design standards, first year experience courses for students in developmental education were found to have no discernible effects on academic achievement, progress through developmental education, and credit accumulation and persistence for postsecondary students.


The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) identified one study of first year experience courses for students in developmental education that both falls within the scope of the Interventions for Developmental Students in Postsecondary Education topic area and meets WWC group design standards. This one study meets WWC group design standards without reservations. This study included 911 freshman college students in developmental education enrolled at one technical community college in the United States.

The WWC considers the extent of evidence for first year experience courses for students in developmental education to be small for three student-level outcome domains—academic achievement, progress through developmental education, and credit accumulation and persistence. There were no studies that meet WWC group design standards in the three other domains specified as eligible in the review protocol, so this intervention report does not report on the effectiveness of first year experience courses for students in developmental education for those domains.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Persistent ADHD associated with overly critical parents

For many children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, symptoms appear to decrease as they age, but for some they do not and one reason may be persistent parental criticism, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

"Why ADHD symptoms decline in some children as they reach adolescence and not for others is an important phenomenon to be better understood. The finding here is that children with ADHD whose parents regularly expressed high levels of criticism over time were less likely to experience this decline in symptoms," said Erica Musser, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Florida International University and lead author of the study. It was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Musser and her colleagues studied a sample of 388 children with ADHD and 127 without, as well as their families, over three years. Of the children with ADHD, 69 percent were male, 79 percent were white and 75 percent came from two-parent households. The researchers measured change in ADHD symptoms over that period and measured the parents' levels of criticism and emotional involvement.

Parents were asked to talk about their relationship with their child uninterrupted for five minutes. Audio recordings of these sessions were then rated by experts for levels of criticism (harsh, negative statements about the child, rather than the child's behavior) and emotional over-involvement (overprotective feelings toward the child). Measurements were taken on two occasions one year apart.

Only sustained parental criticism (high levels at both measurements, not just one) was associated with the continuance of ADHD symptoms in the children who had been diagnosed with ADHD.

"The novel finding here is that children with ADHD whose families continued to express high levels of criticism over time failed to experience the usual decline in symptoms with age and instead maintained persistent, high levels of ADHD symptoms," said Musser.

While the findings indicate an association between sustained parental criticism and ADHD symptoms over time, this doesn't mean one thing causes the other, said Musser.

"We cannot say, from our data, that criticism is the cause of the sustained symptoms," she said. "Interventions to reduce parental criticism could lead to a reduction in ADHD symptoms, but other efforts to improve the severe symptoms of children with ADHD could also lead to a reduction in parental criticism, creating greater well-being in the family over time."