Friday, November 12, 2010

Class Size

A big debate that happens in many schools is that debate about the sizes of classes and the amount of children that each class should contain. School districts typically have limits on the amount of children that they usually place in their classrooms. Some school districts try to make their classes quite small while others try to make classes as big as possible for a number of different reasons. From an economical standpoint, school districts would have bigger classes to reduce the number of teachers that they would need to hire, therefore saving money. Some feel that large classes, however, are not in the best interest of the students involved. Dr. Eric Handshek of the Hoover Institute has conducted a series of literature reviews that support the conclusion that increased spending in schools and smaller class sizes do not systematically lead to improved student achievement. Critics of large classes say that the larger that classes get the more difficult it is for teachers to individualize lessons and give the students that attention that they need in order to be successful.
Many critics of small class size argue that the cost of lowering class size is too high and that the money should be spent on other things like curriculum. Another criticism is that if class sizes are reduced, districts would need to hire more teachers who may be less qualified in order to just fill classrooms with teachers. By doing this, our students would receive a reduced quality of education purely to lessen class size.
Not everyone feels that smaller class sizes are a bad thing though. Some argue that small groups are more easily manageable so in the long run it will save school districts money because less time will have to be spent on discipline and also retention of students. In addition, when a class is smaller it allows the teacher to get to know each student better and know their strengths and weakness in order to tailor a lesson toward their individual needs. Another positive of small class size is that it allows the teacher to know each child’s parents and hopefully they can work with them so the parents can work with the children at home too. Alan Krueger (Princeton University) maintains that smaller class sizes can improve students’ performance and future earnings prospects because of the attention that they will receive. Studies show that significant effects of class size reduction on student achievement appear when the class is reduced to a point between 15 to 20 kids and it continues to increase as class size approaches 1-1 ratio.
The STAR experiment (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio) of 1985 is the major reason for the influx of schools trying to reduce class size. Students in this study were placed in classrooms of 13-17 students as opposed to 23-26 students. The results showed that the students who were placed in the smaller classes did significantly better in math and reading than the students in the larger classes.
Although as an upfront issue, reducing the size of classes in the schools may be quite costly for the school district, in the long run the benefits for our children outweigh the costs. Students who have been educated in smaller classes have better grades and research has shown that when they get jobs they are typically making much more than those who were educated in larger classes. Also, students typically have a lower dropout rate when educated in smaller classes. Since the students get a more individualized learning experience less students have to be retained and this also saves the schools money on not having to reeducate children. Small class size greatly benefits our children, and overall the benefit for the children should be the most important thing for school districts to think of.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gender and the Achievement Gap

Dionna D'Ambrosio
Fundamentals in Curriculum

Research shows that males and females in the United States demonstrate a gap in achievement, which can be seen at all ages. The achievement gap widens as age increases for students through post-secondary education. On the other hand, research does not show that either gender is more intelligent than the other just that there are differences in performance in certain subjects. While I was researching this topic, I knew what the statistics were and what the research showed but I wanted to explore the reasons or theories for these differences. What I found was pretty interesting about the brains of females vs. the brains of males.
The following are some of the characteristics of girls' brains:
***A girl's corpus callosum (the connecting bundle of tissues between hemispheres) is, on average, larger than a boy's—up to 25 percent larger by adolescence. This enables more “cross talk” between hemispheres in the female brain.
***Girls have, in general, stronger neural connectors in their temporal lobes than boys have. These connectors lead to more sensually detailed memory storage, better listening skills, and better discrimination among the various tones of voice. This leads, among other things, to greater use of detail in writing assignments.
***The hippocampus (another memory storage area in the brain) is larger in girls than in boys, increasing girls' learning advantage, especially in the language arts.
***Girls' prefrontal cortex is generally more active than boys' and develops at earlier ages. For this reason, girls tend to make fewer impulsive decisions than boys do. Further, girls have more serotonin in the bloodstream and the brain, which makes them biochemically less impulsive.
***Girls generally use more cortical areas of their brains for verbal and emotive functioning. Boys tend to use more cortical areas of the brain for spatial and mechanical functioning (Moir & Jessel, 1989; Rich, 2000).

The following are some of the characteristics of boys' brains:
***Because boys' brains have more cortical areas dedicated to spatial-mechanical functioning, males use, on average, half the brain space that females use for verbal-emotive functioning. (Blum, 1997; Moir & Jessel, 1989).
***Boys not only have less serotonin than girls have, but they also have less oxytocin, the primary human bonding chemical. This makes it more likely that they will be physically impulsive and less likely that they will neurally combat their natural impulsiveness to sit still and empathically chat with a friend (Moir & Jessel, 1989; Taylor, 2002).


***Boys lateralize brain activity. Their brains not only operate with less blood flow than girls' brains, but they are also structured to compartmentalize learning. Thus, girls tend to multitask better than boys do. (Havers, 1995).
***The male brain is set to renew, recharge, and reorient itself by entering what neurologists call a rest state. The boy in the back of the classroom whose eyes are drifting toward sleep has entered a neural rest state. It is predominantly boys who drift off without completing assignments, who stop taking notes and fall asleep during a lecture, or who tap pencils or otherwise fidget in hopes of keeping themselves awake and learning. Females tend to recharge and reorient neural focus without rest states. Thus, a girl can be bored with a lesson, but she will nonetheless keep her eyes open, take notes, and perform relatively well. (Gurian, 2001).

These differences in the way the brain functions for both male and female could offer some insight on gender and the achievement gap. Other possible reasons for these differences in achievement may include gender-roles, levels and types of encouragement and discouragement, expectations, different learning opportunities, and values placed on the subjects. Sources may include parents, peers, and the society and culture they live in.Research has shown that one in three boys will fail to receive a high school diploma in four years, and one in four girls will drop out of high school. A University of Michigan study found that 62 percent of female high school graduates plan on obtaining a degree from a four-year university, compared to only 51 percent of males. Males typically score higher on math and science based tests, not because they are smarter in those subjects, but because boys are more likely to explore objects and are better at spatial perspective. While females generally score higher on tests of verbal abilities. It has been proven that in most cases female infants speak sooner, have larger vocabularies and rarely demonstrate speech defects. Gender stereotypes start at birth and extend through adulthood, exerting a powerful influence on the interests and academic paths that people choose. As parents we need to help our children feel more confident about education, considering that confidence can affect motivation, which affects choice, behavior, and effort. When our children feel competent in school, they are more motivated, try harder, and are more engaged with the information presented, hopefully aiding in a productive society.


Gurian, M., Stevens, K. (November 2004). Closing Achievement Gaps: With Boys and Girls in Mind. Educational Leadership,  Volume 62 | Number 3, 21-26

Zaidi, Z. (2010). Gender Differences in the Human Brain: A Review. The Open Anatomy Journal, Vol. 2, 37-55

Gender and Achievement Research program

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Brain Based Research in Education

The brain is made up of two hemispheres; the right and the left. The two hemispheres are connected by a large bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum. Unique functional areas within the brain are organized in a style called ‘lateralization’. This refers to the distribution of functional areas in one hemisphere or the other. The left hemisphere, which controls the right side of the body, focuses more attention on speech, writing, science, logic and math. The right side of the brain is more responsive to the prosody in language and the affective tones which color the interpretation of language.

Two areas are particularly important to educators, the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. These areas work together to accommodate incoming stimuli and create memories. The prefrontal cortex focuses attention and acts as the seat of decision making. It employs logic and reasoning to solve problems. The limbic system is a collection of smaller bodies with collaboratively form and store memories. The organ specifically responsible for memory storage is the hippocampus. The surrounding bodies of the limbic system hold powerful influence over the way in which the hippocampus stores memories. These include the parahippocampal gyrus, amygdala, the thalamus and the olfactory bulbs.

Each of these secondary structures in the limbic system contributes to the way in which memories are associatively coded as they are put into storage. As these memories enter storage the hippocampus creates a series of ‘mental maps’ for itself. Each individual memory is associated with memories of the events that led up and came after its occurrence. The hippocampus connects theses events to promote retrieval in the future during recall. The way in which these events are remembered is where the support structures influence memory.

An individual creates a full memory when he or she integrates all the sensory data that occurred in the instance of the memory. This includes not only the visual perception of the events, but also the somatosensory, audio and even olfactory stimulation that permeates from the environment. All of this input can later be associated with a memory during retrieval. External recreation of the events in which the activity took place further promote retrieval speed.

These findings have significant implications for the way in which children are educated and perhaps how they ought to be educated. Studies have shown that children retain knowledge best when it is conveyed in a context similar to a real life application. The modeled environment provides developing minds with cues that inherently shape the way in which memory is processed and stored. When reintroduced to the ‘real’ environment in which a task or test needs to be performed the mind will use the external cues to recall information. The speed and accuracy of the recall will be higher if the environment remains consistent than if learning took place in a synthetic environment and the actual task performance in another. This suggests that that learning might be more easily achieved if the skills we try to instill in youth were imparted in a real life context.

Closing the Achievement Gap

Closing the achievement gap was the center of conversation in many of our classes. The achievement gap refers to the difference of performance on different educational measures. This can be broken down by gender, race, intellectual ability, and socioeconomic status. There are three main measures that are used to determine the achievement gap. They include standardized tests, dropout rates, and graduation rates. NCLB, which we have spent much time discussing the pros and cons for, has been put into place to try to eliminate the gap by 2014. However, there are other areas that need improvement, besides school factors, that may be contributing to the gap.

Home and community include a majority of these factors. Studies have shown that children who grow up in a lower SES start off school with a less advantage than others, for example majority of these individuals know less words than children living in middle or high SES. If these children are starting off already behind, it will makes it that much harder to bridge the gap. Some articles suggested that we need to work on preventing the gap and start with early intervention to ensure that our students are working on the same page from the start.

Many of the articles also suggested the idea of investing in longer school days or possibly longer school years. Many of our “competitors” are already doing so. This gives more time for students to be in the classroom and provides more support to those who need to catch up. One article mentioned how KIPP charter schools in the United States have enrolled students from the poorest families but ensure that almost every one of them will graduate. On top of that, 80% of these students will make it to college. With that being said, KIPP students spend 60% more time in school than the average American student. They start before majority of our students, end after them, and go to school on some weekends. They also have extended school years.
Additional supports in the community and giving the children a chance to get involved were also repeated recommendations. One article took a different approach and focused on the health crisis of the United States. Although this is not talked about often, it makes sense. When people do not feel good, they are not going to be able to work to their absolute potential. The same works with children. The article discussed the percentages of youths who have visual problems, asthma, become pregnant, are bullies, and are not getting the nutrition in breakfast that they need. It is alarming how these percentages double and triple for the urban population. Because of low funds, these problems also go untreated. This can account for additional problems we as a nation need to address before we can fully say we are going to close the gap by a specific date.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Online Schooling

Online Schooling

In consideration of the current state of the economy, the advantages of an online school option may seem rather appealing to some in the general public. Schools could potentially employ fewer faculty and staff members, reach a more diverse learning population, and save money on learning materials (paper, books, pencils, computers, etc.). Students could learn from the comfort of their own home, at their own pace, to their own degree. Sounds like a win-win situation for school districts and students. Or does it? What will a society full of online learners look like? Would this country really be offering opportunity for greater successes, or risk of inevitable failure, to its youth?
A closer look at the debate over online schooling is wise, considering the potential for detriment that it holds for the average adolescent in America. Supporters of online schooling offer the following as advantages:
1. Convenience – Students would have no need to commute to and from school, saving both time and fuel.
2. Environment – Students could attend class without interruptions from their classmates.
3. Flexibility- Students could enjoy self-paced study, leaving room for remediation or acceleration on an individual basis.
4. Efficiency- School districts could save money by employing fewer workers and purchasing less material. Students and their parents could save on gasoline costs.
5. Experience – Students would have the freedom to gain on-the-job or real-world experiences, while attending school. They would not be restricted to daytime hours for learning.
6. Discussions – Students would be engaged in a much more student-centered class discussion, as opposed to teacher-led lectures.
7. Technology – Students would need to learn and practice new technologies that they might have missed in a traditional classroom setting.
8. Diversity – Students could share ideas with classmates who live all over the world, allowing them to learn more about the ideals and values in other cultures.
9. 100% Equal – Students could attend classes without a fear of being discriminated against, based upon race, sex, creed, disabilities, etc.
10. 100% Participation – Every student would have to participate.
Online schooling may have its advantages, but some of its disadvantages, although not in outweighing numbers, overshadow the pros list in their impact. The disadvantages may include:
1. Accreditation – Not all online schools would necessarily be accredited, as they are not held to the same standards as traditional schools. Therefore, businesses and universities could reject a student’s transcript.
2. Motivation – Some students may lack the motivation to complete assignments, when a teacher is not actually present. There is more allowance for procrastination, for those who lack planning and preparation skills.
3. Technology – Specialized computer equipment is often required for an online course, and so students may find a need to upgrade their hardware to keep pace with technology’s ever-changing demands. This additional hardware equates to additional costs!
4. Environment
a. Interaction – Instructors and students share less real interaction time, leaving students without one-on-one support when they need it. Lectures are often prerecorded and classmates often communicate via text.
b. Isolation – Students could become anti-social, as they lack the opportunities to interact with others in person.
5. Tradition – Some of the more fun elements of a traditional high school setting would be lost (proms, senior trips, graduation, etc.)

Education, although capable of affecting the advance of a culture, cannot be separated from the learner-as-individual idea. Not all high school students are equipped with the maturity to handle the independence that online schooling has to offer. And some may never be ready for it. Early adolescence, and the changes (both physical and emotional) it involves, often finds high school students ready to accept much more guidance than a video lecture has to offer. High school is a place to challenge one’s basic skills and develop the logical reasoning as a responsible citizen. It would be almost impossible for most teenagers to do this in isolation. Perhaps online schooling is best placed in higher education, at the collegiate level. Online schooling has the potential to be a wonderful addition to education, if careful placed according to the learner’s needs and capabilities.


A recent survey done in 2008 by the National Center for Education Statistics indicated that the number of homeschooled students between the ages of 5 and 17 has risen 88% since 1999. In 1999 there were approximately 800,000 students being homeschooled and in 2007 it was estimated that about 1,508,000 students were being homeschooled. That is just an 8 year time span! An even more astonishing fact is in the 1970s there were only about 13,000 children grades K-12 being homeschooled. Homeschooling has obviously come a long way since it first was approved and legal in the states, but how and why? Many people disprove of homeschooling suggesting the students are not getting the education they should be, but this recent survey shows that possibly more people are agreeing to the decision of homeschooling their children.

Families have different views on the way their child should be educated, therefore there are different views on whether a child should be homeschooled or not. One drawback to homeschooling is the time restraints that homeschooling puts on all parents. It is considered a full time job for parents because they need to prepare all lesson plans, projects, be organized and teach your child, thus not giving the parent enough time in the day to get done what they need to get done. This brings up another drawback in the sense that homeschooling your child could be a financial restraint because one parent is not able to take on a full-time employment. At the same rate, homeschooling can be an advantage in the aspect that they can personalize their schedules. Most parents realize that their children work better at different parts of the day so home schooling allows for parents to work out a schedule that is best for their child, unlike public or private schools can allow.

As noted before every family has their own views on education and how their child is educated. By homeschooling your child it can be a huge advantaged in that there is no set curriculum that each subject must abide by like a public or private school must do. Homeschooling allows the parent to control which areas of the different subjects they want to put more emphasis on. The parent can also add courses into the home school curriculum that a typical student would not receive in organized classes.

For the child who may be athletic and want to participate in their school’s team sports, homeschooling may inhibit this from happening. Some school districts only allow children from the school to participate in the team sports. Yet if your concern for your child is their education and their future then homeschooling might be the answer. In an article on homeschooling by Kate McReynolds, a child clinical psychologist, she reported that in 2001 Stanford University admitted 27% of its homeschooled applicants, nearly twice the acceptance rate of traditionally schooled applicants. Homeschoolers tend to score higher than public school children on standardized achievement tests, advanced placement exams, the SAT, and the ACT.

Yet if a parent is concerned with their child’s future then maybe homeschooling is not the answer. When a child is homeschooled they are not surrounded by peers that enable them to socialize. They are not learning the social skills needed for everyday occurrences. More importantly school curriculum encourages team/group work to help with the problem solving and working with others that take place in future careers. This is not possible for the child who is homeschooled. Social skills can be the most important aspect of school and if the child is being homeschooled he is not learning these essential skills. Yet due to the amount of violence and bullying that has increased over recent years some parents feel homeschooling is a blessing because it is keeping their child away from this scene. They may feel their child will not pick up on any negative behaviors if they are not surrounded by children with behavioral issues.

Finally, as children get older they may have the desire to attend school. They may want to know what they are missing out on. Therefore with the combination of ensuring your child learns social skills and also does not feel the desire to attend school when they get older it is extremely important to get them involved in as many extra-curricular activities in the community. This will allow them to make friends with the same interests, learn their social skills, and have the interaction with peers that they get from school. Most parents who homeschool their children want them to stick to it because homeschooling integrates faith and the family’s values that their child would not receive from public schools. Thus it is important to keep your child included in as many activities with their peers so they get the social aspect but explain to your child the reason for homeschooling so they understand why they are not in the public/private school system like their peers.

Overall homeschooling has grown a tremendous amount over the past years and continues to grow annually. Yet families do have their different views which are why there are so many drawbacks and benefits to homeschooling. The most important aspect when deciding to homeschool your child is if it going to benefit your child and prepare them for a successful future.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gender and the Achievement Gap

The achievement gap based on gender has been focused on in recent years highlighting the gap between male and female achievement in math and science, with females lagging behind. Now, a lot of research has been focused on males lagging behind females in reading and writing.

Research states that females outperform males in reading and writing at all grade levels. Recently math test scores in fourth grade showed a gap with males performing higher than females, but it also showed a much smaller gap in 8th and 12th grade.

College is made of mostly females (54%), which is evidenced by female enrollment in college preparatory classes more than males while in high school. Males are also more likely to dropout of high school. Across all ethnic groups, except Asian Americans, females were more apt to attend and complete college than males. Males are also more likely to be diagnosed with a reading disability than females while in school.

Females enter school with better literacy skills and the gap increases slightly during the kindergarten year. Some studies indicated that females performed better at word recognition and comprehension tasks. Teacher characteristics were found to contribute to the size of the gap in comprehension. Students of female teachers and those with more years of pre-service training showed smaller gender differences.

Difference in approaches to learning among young children contributes to the gender gap. Young males were rated by teachers as using fewer effective learning strategies and these lower ratings were associated with lower gains in literacy skills during kindergarten. In early childhood, males and females had similar attitudes toward reading, yet, the achievement gap in literacy increases throughout elementary school. This trend may reflect the fact that boys reading interests were not being addressed in school. Boys reported disliking the kinds of things that they had to read for school and preferring magazines and adventure and scary stories. One study showed that high interest reading materials was associated with improved reading performance in boys.

Gender differences are found not only in school, but also in the workforce. It is common knowledge that males and females in the same position with the same education make different salaries most often. Males are known to make more money and hold more superior roles, especially in the business field. Most research attributes this gap to competition, stating that males are more competitive than females, which drives them to excel. Cotton (2010) discovered that males outperform females on the first round of a timed test when told that it was a race. After the first round, the next four rounds, there was absolutely no evidence of males performing better than similar ability females. In fact, there was some evidence that males may perform worse than females in later periods, therefore discrediting the fact that males make more money because they do better in a competitive setting.

An article written by Willingham (2009) called “Is it True that Some People Just Can’t Do Math?” explained that most differences in math are seen across different countries and when looked at closer, all individuals are capable of being successful in math and science, but that the approach to teaching it has to change. He states that to learn math, you need three types of knowledge: factual, procedural and conceptual. He highlights five suggestions for teachers: 1) Think carefully about how to cultivate conceptual knowledge, and find an analogy that can be used across topics, 2) In cultivating greater conceptual knowledge, don’t sacrifice procedural or factual knowledge, 3) In teaching procedural and factual knowledge, ensure that students get to automaticity, 4) Choose a curriculum that supports conceptual knowledge, and 5) Don’t let it pass when a student says “I’m just not good at math”.

Willingham suggests that allowing students, mostly females, to say they are not good at math is teaching them that it is socially acceptable to not do well in math because of your gender. Willingham claims that this is not true and that it falls in the teachers’ hands to discredit these beliefs and show the child that they CAN do math!

Closing the Achievement Gap

The achievement gap refers to the disparity among performance on various educational measures among groups of students defined by gender, race, intellectual ability and socioeconomic status. Examples of these educational measures include standardized tests, dropout rates, graduation rates, etc. It is hypothesized that the achievement gap is caused by a combination of in-school factors and home/community factors. Various educational reforms, such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), attempt to tackle the achievement gap. However, educational reforms such as NCLB, which have primarily targeted issues present in schools, have been unsuccessful in achieving this goal. Therefore, the question of how to narrow the achievement gap remains to be answered.

The abilities of the rich and poor are inevitably affected by the culture and environment in which they grew up. According to Joseph Murphy in “Closing achievement gaps: Lessons from the last 15 years,” children from disadvantaged, poor backgrounds often begin their educational careers at a disadvantage. Differences among racial and cultural factors may also be socioeconomically driven. Poor families lack stability, and access to not only educational resources, but also resources that are necessary to live. Children from low-socioeconomic backgrounds may live in single-parent households, which may also negatively impact their schoolwork because of the lack of time a parent has to help that child with schoolwork. Parenting duties such as assisting with schoolwork become especially difficult when the parent is the sole provider for his/her family. Students who are fortunate enough to be able to go home to parents or caregivers that are able and willing to help with homework, and are involved in their schooling, are better equipped to succeed in school. Each of these deficits impacts the educational experience of children, thus contributes to the achievement gap. But can these issues really be “fixed?”

In her article entitled, “Can we talk? Discussions about race may be a key to closing the achievement gap,” Kristi Garrett says that measures of academic success separating students of color from their white and Asian peers have not dissipated, despite educational efforts intending to do so. She poses interesting questions that spark much thought, including why, in a society that banned racial segregation in school, black students continually score well below their white counterparts. Although discussions about race and racism are often discouraged as issues relating to the achievement gap, Garrett believes that, “the only way to root out systemic racist attitudes and practices is to explore the ways race has shaped a person’s own opportunities and beliefs—often at a subconscious level.” She goes on to say that she believes the foundation of that understanding relates to the awareness of “white privilege.”

But my question is this: does the understanding of “white privilege” take into account the white children that come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, who are inevitably part of the lower end of school achievement? In my opinion, race issues do not tell the whole story of the achievement gap that is ever present in our society. Before we can tackle these issues in the educational realm, we need to develop ways of understanding the culture and backgrounds of low achieving students and their families. If they do not have the things that they need at home, the chances of them even caring about succeeding in school is slim. School leaders need to reach out into the community to determine the needs that exist, before tackling issues involving the achievement gap in schools.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Brain Based Research

Brain-based research focuses on how the brain naturally learns to create effective instruction using current research from neuroscience. It is primarily based on what we currently know about the actual structure and function of the human brain at varying developmental stages, as stated by Dr. Leslie Wilson from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Brain-based research has proven that traditional methods of teaching can discourage and even ignore our brain’s natural learning processes. This research has impacted education in several ways through curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Educational research based upon how the brain processes information has directly impacted education. First, research has shown that when teachers design learning around student interest, learning is made contextual. Next, it also states how educators should encourage students to work in teams and structure learning around real problems, even allowing students to learn in settings outside the classroom, such as on a field trip. This directly impacts curriculum and instruction. Lastly, assessments should be varied and portfolios are encouraged as they provide a means for reflective improvement and self-assessment.

Brain-based learning has also proven that how the brain works significantly impacts the types of learning activities that will be most effective. Orchestrated immersion, relaxed alertness, and active processing are three instructional techniques, which have been associated with brain-based learning. Orchestrated immersion states that teachers should create learning environments that fully immerse students in an educational experience, such as building a rainforest in the classroom filled with stuffed animals and paper trees that reach to the ceiling or taking students to a forest to study animal tracks in the snow. Relaxed alertness focuses on eliminating any fears in learners, while preserving a highly challenging environment. Teachers should strive to have a positive learning environment where students feel safe and are encouraged to learn. Educators may play classical music to set a relaxed tone when appropriate or dim bright lights. Finally, active processing enables a student to gain insight about a problem through intensive analysis and through making connections to prior learning. This enables students to have a deeper understanding and then use this information in real life situations.

Brain-based learning has many benefits in creating effective instruction that many teachers utilize already. To begin with, it allows students to be exposed to a hands-on learning approach where they are fully immersed in their educational experience. It also allows students to work in a highly challenging, safe, and positive environment. Lastly, since each brain is unique, we know is it best to have multiple means of assessments and differentiated instruction, which focus on a students own learning styles and preferences.

While brain-based research has numerous benefits in creating effective instruction, there are also some drawbacks. First, many teachers may have a difficult time meeting state standards if they spend too much time immersing their students in one particular subject. It can also be difficult for teachers to find the time, funding, and materials to turn their classroom into a rainforest or take their students on a field trip due to budget cuts. Brain-based learning also seems to work best with smaller class sizes and motivated students. Larger class sizes with several unmotivated students could make it difficult for educators to have a brain-based learning classroom.

Research has proven that through brain-based research, various teaching strategies can lead to more effective instruction in the classroom. Through a balance of hands-on instruction, differentiation, student collaboration, and real-life examples, students can reach their full potential and learn based on how their brain naturally functions.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


     Homeschooling, educating children other than in a traditional classroom setting, is a practice that has increased throughout the country. One study provides evidence that the number of parents homeschooling their children grows 5 to 12 percent every year. The study conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), also estimates that between the years 2007-2008, 2 million children in grades kindergarten through twelfth were homeschooled. Even with increased numbers, families who choose to home-school their children remain in the minority and many misconceptions about homeschooling remain (
     There is not a “typical homeschooler” or one reason why parents choose to home-school their children. Many parents are able to effectively educate their children in the home environment even if they are not college educated or a professional teacher. The Home Legal Defense Association recently published findings that showed homeschoolers outscoring their same-aged peers on standardized tests. In addition, a significant number of homeschoolers graduated from college, were involved in their local community and were active in politics. The study also showed that more than 90 percent of children who were homeschooled were happy they were homeschooled and over 80 percent plan to home-school their own children (
    Laws concerning homeschooling are specific to each state. In New Jersey, there is no home school statute.  The law referenced allowing homeschooling is New Jersey Statutes Annotated 18A:38-25.   As stated, a child between the ages of 6 and 16 must attend a public school “…or receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than school.”  Parents who home-school their children are charged with “the burden of proof” that they are providing an adequate and equal education for their child/children.  School policies on homeschooling differ as well although parents are not required by law to notify their local public school district that they are homeschooling their children and generally are not required to maintain records or provide documentation such as test scores.
     As with all educational issues, there are perceived benefits and drawbacks to homeschooling.  Benefits for parents who home-school their children include having overall control in their child’s education experience and being able to provide truly individualized instruction. Parents choose the curriculum and how it is delivered. They also have added control over negative influences that are often prevalent in a public school setting. Homeschooling allows for more family interaction and cooperation as well as the opportunity to convey family values throughout the educational process (
     There are also drawbacks to homeschooling including time and financial constraints. Parents who make the choice to be solely responsible for their child’s education expend a lot of time and energy. For the majority of the day, parents are with their children.  Typically, families who home-school their children only have one outside income. They continue to pay local taxes even though their children are not being educated in the public school system. Another drawback involves extracurricular activities. Parents must actively search for outside activities and social opportunities for their children. Younger children are often able to participate in community activities such as sports; however, teenagers usually do not have as many options, especially on a competitive level.   
     According to one parent who home-schools her five children, ages 6 to 17, the reason she began homeschooling 3 years ago was educational flexibility. She also felt that her children were not successful in their local public school. Homeschooling allows her to teach her children curriculum based on their individual interests, learning abilities and learning style. She explored numerous home school programs available that provided curriculum, detailed lesson plans and instructional guides in all major subjects.  Her family is not bound to a set time schedule or school calendar. Although this parent feels it is important that her children begin their instruction the same time each day, the length of the school day depends on their daily tasks and activities. Very important to her and many families, homeschooling allows for an integration of faith; which is not possible in the public school setting. Another important benefit is positive family interaction and cooperative learning homeschooling facilitates. Her children have developed closer relationships because they learn together and help each with their school work (similar to the old fashion “one-room school house”).
     The largest drawback for this parent is that she is “exhausted and has no life.” Her husband works 13 hours a day outside of the home and is not directly involved with the home instruction, although he is very supportive. She also works one day a week outside of the home as an occupational therapist. In addition to planning instruction in the home, this parent and her children attend a co-op once a week with other families who home-school. Her children’s social interaction is primarily with each other and with members of their church community.
     Homeschooling is certainly not for everyone. Parents who decide to home-school their children do so for various reasons. One thing is certain, homeschooling is a trend that is growing each year and offers another educational alternative for parents.