Friday, March 23, 2012

Teaching Fractions Using Rhythm

ScienceDaily (Mar. 22, 2012) — Tapping out a beat may help children learn difficult fraction concepts, according to new findings due to be published in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics. An innovative curriculum uses rhythm to teach fractions at a California school where students in a music-based program scored significantly higher on math tests than their peers who received regular instruction.

"Academic Music" is a hands-on curriculum that uses music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting to introduce third-grade students to fractions. The program, co-designed by San Francisco State University researchers, addresses one of the most difficult -- and important -- topics in the elementary mathematics curriculum.
"If students don't understand fractions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling," said Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University. "We have designed a method that uses gestures and symbols to help children understand parts of a whole and learn the academic language of math."
The program has shown tangible results at Hoover Elementary School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Courey's study included 67 students. Half the group participated in a six-week Academic Music curriculum and the rest received the school's regular math instruction.
Students in the music-based program scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test, taken at the end of the study, compared to students in the regular math class.
Significant gains were made by students who struggle with academics. The researchers compared the test scores of lower-performing students in both groups and found that those who were taught the experimental music curriculum scored 40 percent higher on the final fractions test compared to their lower performing peers in the regular math class.
"Students who started out with less fraction knowledge achieved final test scores similar to their higher-achieving peers," Courey said. "Lower-performing students might find it hard to grasp the idea of fractions from a diagram or textbook, but when you add music and multiple ways of learning, fractions become second nature to them."
The curriculum helps children connect the value of musical notes, such as half notes and eighth notes, to their equivalent fraction size. By clapping and drumming rhythms and chanting each note's Kodaly names, students learn the time value of musical notes. Students learn to add and subtract fractions by completing work sheets, in which they draw musical notes on sheet music, ensuring the notes add up to four beats in each bar or measure.
The program has also proven itself at Allen Elementary School, a San Bruno public school -- not included in the study -- that has been using the Academic Music program since 2007.
"Academic Music brings music into the classroom and gets children to learn math in a different way that's symbolic and not dependent on language," said Kit Cosgriff, principal at Allen Elementary School, who introduced the program to help the schools' diverse student body learn math in ways that are not language-based. The school serves many students from low-income families, and 60 percent of students don't speak English as their first language.
"In every lesson I've observed, the children have been excited and enthusiastic about learning fractions," Cosgriff said. "It's a picture of what you would like every class to look like."
Cosgriff believes the school's recent jump in standardized test scores reflects the impact of Academic Music. Since implementing the program for all third-grade math classes, the percentage of third-graders who scored proficient or above on the California Standards Test for math increased from 63 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008. On the California Achievement Test (CAT/6) for mathematics, the percentage of third graders who scored at or above the national average increased from 51 percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008.
Academic Music is a 12-lesson program that is designed to be taught by regular classroom teachers without the help of a music teacher. Courey's next step is to publish curriculum materials for teachers.
"We're suggesting that teachers put music in their arsenal of tools for teaching math." Courey said. "It's fun, it doesn't cost a lot, and it keeps music in the classroom."
"Academic Music: Music Instruction to Engage Third Grade Students in Learning Basic Fraction Concepts" has been accepted for press in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics and will be published online next week.
Courey co-authored the paper with Endre Balogh, director and lead music teacher at Toones Academic Music, and a graduate of SF State's music education program (B.A. '06). Other co-authors included Jae Paik, associate professor of psychology at SF State, and Jody R. Siker, a graduate student in the SF State-UC, Berkeley joint doctoral program in special education.
Story Source:
 San Francisco State University (2012, March 22). Getting in rhythm helps children grasp fractions, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 23, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/03/120322100209.htm#.T2xg5mqPmqs.blogger

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Puzzle Play Improves Math Skills

                                                                              (Credit: © Grafvision / Fotoli
 Something as simple as playing with puzzles can affect your child's math skills in school. " It is an important context for figuring out problems through reasoning,"say researchers at University of Chicago who conducted a recent study with children ages 2-4.  They found that children who play with puzzles have better spatial skills when assessed at 4 1/2 years of age.  Researchers note that there are gender differences on some spatial tasks (particularly involving mental rotation of objects,) which are noted as early as preschool and into adulthood.  These differences are interesting to researchers because of their relation to mathematics achievement."It is important because this and follow-up studies could potentially lead to relatively easy and inexpensive interventions to improve spatial skills important for education in science."The children who played with puzzles performed better than those who did not on tasks that assessed their ability to rotate and translate shapes," said one researcher. 
So....after nap time, or dinner time, or anytime in between, take out a puzzle.  Talk to your child while you are putting the puzzle together.  Share your strategies and give them lots of time to practice (of course, keep the puzzles age appropriate and the whole experience light and fun). Puzzles make great gifts and another way to spend quality time with your child.  

 More information on the study is available in Developmental Science, Feb 2011 

Journal Reference:
1.      Susan Levine et al. Early Puzzle Play: A Predictor of Preschoolers' Spatial Transformation Skill. Developmental Science, Feb 2012 (in press)Top of Form

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Diagnosing Reading Problems Before School Begins!

Experiencing frustration early on, kills motivation  and effects self esteem
According to the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a study at Children’s Hospital in Boston is now able to identify children at risk for dyslexia through MRI scans.  Researchers have been able to identify different brain activity on these scans even before children have learned to read.  The good news is, developmental dyslexia, at an early stage, responds well to intervention.  Diagnosing children during this time (before kindergarten) could change the way a student views school. Rather than begin school experiencing frustration and difficulty,  an intervention can provide a student with the chance to be successful and have a positive academic experience.
Developmental dyslexia (dyslexia not caused by brain trauma) affects 5 to 17 percent of all children.  If the family already has a history of dyslexia, up to 1 in 2 children will struggle with reading themselves.  These students will experience poor spelling and decoding abilities and have difficulty with fluency in recognizing words (which later affects reading comprehension). Children with dyslexia have difficulty identifying and mapping oral sounds in written language since they have problems recognizing and manipulating the underlying sound structures of words (known as phonological processing).
This news is exciting to me, since it confirms what we already do here at DLNH with our Search and Teach© program.  This program helps identify young, “at risk” students and  provides intervention in the areas of phonological processing.  The program was part of my training at The National Institute for Learning Development® (NILD) and is approved by the Joint Dissemination Review Panel (JDRP) of the Interdisciplinary Model for national validation.  If you or someone you know is interested in learning more, check out our website under the “Services” tab and call for a free consult.
Journal Reference:
1.      N. M. Raschle, J. Zuk, N. Gaab. Functional characteristics of developmental dyslexia in left-hemispheric posterior brain regions predate reading onset. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1107721109

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Get a Grip! 
           Does it really matter that your child may hold his/her pencil in a non-conventional way?  My answer is, "Absolutely!" A child's ability to hold a pencil properly is based on the development of his/her fine motor skills.  Having a proper pencil grasp (thumb and index finger holding the pencil and middle finger providing stability) is important for several reasons: First, it is through the pincer muscles (located in the thumb and forefinger), that the brain records dynamic information.  A proper grasp also provides more agility and flexibility for the child to form specific letters, which results in more legible writing. A poor pencil grasp is tiring and inflexible which often causes illegible handwriting.  As the child grows he/she may experience difficulty keeping up with writing and compositions. Also, an inability to write fluently can affect note taking in class. If the child's brain is concentrating on his/her ability to form specific letters, there is less ability to hear and understand what is being said.  

Researchers Berninger and Wolf (2009), listed 14 signs and symptoms to help detect if your child is struggling with handwriting (also known as dysgraphia):
  •  Cramping of fingers while writing short entries
  •  Odd wrist, arm, body, or paper orientations such as creating an L shape with your arm
  •  Excessive erasures
  •  Mixed upper case and lower case letters
  •  Inconsistent form and size of letters, or unfinished letters
  •  Misuse of lines and margins
  •  Inefficient speed of copying
  •  Inattentiveness over details when writing
  •  Frequent need of verbal cues
  •  Referring heavily on vision to write
  •  Poor legibility
  •  Handwriting abilities that may interfere with spelling and written composition
  •  Having a hard time translating ideas to writing, sometimes using the wrong words altogether
  •  May feel pain while writing
    For those of you who live in the Lakes Region of NH, Discovery Learning NH can help your child by using NILD educational therapy.  Check out our site:
Free consultations available
Berninger, V.W.; B.J. Wolf (2009). Teaching students with dyslexia and dysgraphia: Lessons from teaching and science. Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.. pp. 1-240.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

What's so Important about Learning Cursive?

All lower case letters  begin on the line
Many schools are doing away with cursive writing. Some believe it is not a necessary “21st century skill”.  Classroom teachers feel they are too busy preparing students for standardized tests and don’t have time to teach such skills. 
I happen to believe that cursive writing is very important.  Here are a few reasons why:
1)      It is consistent.  All lower case letters begin on the line, as opposed to printing when some begin at the top and others begin in the middle of the line.
2)      It reduces confusion for students with directionality problems. For example, b and d look different in cursive.
3)      When we write in cursive, words are connected and written in “chunks”.  There is no question where one word begins and the other one ends.
4)      Printing is easier to forge
5)      Students will no longer be able to read historical documents such as the Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, let alone their great grandmother’s journal.
6)      It helps students cultivate their fine motor skills since one needs dexterity to create fluid motions, and perfect the proper pressure to put the writing utensil on paper.
7)      Most importantly, handwriting reinforces and supports the learning process. Research conducted by neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay at the University of Marseille and  Associate Professor Anne Mangen, at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Center found that “writing by hand strengthens the learning process. When typing on a keyboard, this process may be impaired…something is lost in switching from book to computer screen, and from pen to keyboard.”  The research reveals that
when writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from the movements our hand makes when we write, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback are significantly different from the feedback we get from touching and typing on a keyboard.  For the complete article see Science Daily (Jan. 19, 2011).  Better learning through handwriting

Now I ask you: What’s so important about Cursive? Lots!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Title a blog "Changing Minds?"

Changing minds is a blog about education.  It goes with what I do.  I’m an Educational Therapist/Reading and Writing Specialist, that has a part in changing student's minds.  Research tells us that the brain is malleable; it is constantly changing - it is not fixed.  We used to think that whatever we were born with, we were stuck with for the rest of our lives.  What we now know is that as we learn new things – both physically (such as learning to play an instrument or a sport) or mentally (growing in understanding of a specific subject), our brain is changing and creating neural networks connecting new learning with past knowledge.  Therefore, the name “changing minds” is intended to be understood on several levels: I hope to offer some personal thoughts, experiences and research that some will read, consider, and may result in a changed mind.  I also hope to continue teaching children, providing educational therapy to struggling learners, and through modeling, questioning, encouraging and co-learning with my students, see their minds changed into independent, competent and confident learners.