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Making Computerized Learning Work Takes WORK

Computerized learning

Having built a career in the world of education and computerized learning, I have always tried to maintain a healthy, objective skepticism towards what I do. When it comes to professional integrity, my top priorities are ensuring that the solutions I work with are developed and vetted based on reliable research, and that these solutions are delivering real results for educators and students.

So, which computerized learning systems work and which ones don’t? Given how differently organizations formulate and interpret the numbers, it’s challenging to get at a singular accurate answer. I know for a fact that all too often schools and districts implement these computerized learning solutions—with the best of intentions—and find that they don’t work as promised. Why?

Quite simply, making these solutions work takes work. They are not “plug and play,” nor are they designed to be a one-size-fits-all magic bullet. Computerized solutions—Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ among them—take careful planning, hours of professional development, and a deep staff and leadership commitment to following implementation protocols.

These systems do not do the work of teachers; they are tools to supplement teacher instruction and inform educators’ decisions.  They are not, nor were they ever meant to be, a substitute for highly qualified educators. But when implemented and used correctly, computerized learning systems can and do help educators identify and address individual student needs and deliver results.

Scientific Learning offers an entire library of success stories and research, as well as independent reviews that demonstrate product effectiveness. But look at every single success and behind it you will not just find a product. You will find that the people using that product held a deep commitment to following the plan and making it work.

In conclusion, we must realize that none of these are new arguments. Even 10 years ago when computer-based learning was still very much in its infancy, researchers knew that these systems should not be expected to work on their own; they need to be embedded within great instructional practices. For a look back at key e-learning principles that still stand strong today, read the 2000 article, Changing How and What Children Learn in School with Computer-Based Technologies, by Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin and Means.

Another Resource:

Technology and Education Achievement:  http://abc-article.co.cc/technology/technology-and-academic-achievement/

Related Reading:

Video Games: A New Perspective on Learning Content and Skills

Can You Predict Student Reading Growth?

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Categories: Education Trends, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Opening the Classroom Through Online Collaboration: 21st Century Learning Environments

Online collaboration in our classrooms

Fifteen short years ago, our classrooms were relatively closed places. When we spoke of teaching students to collaborate with one another or exposing them to the world beyond our school walls, we were usually talking about a very limited number of options: either going out into the world to experience it first hand on a field trip, or bringing the outside world in via hosting a guest speaker. In rare and wonderful cases, students had the opportunity to go on exchange programs. In this way, “collaboration” meant working in small teams with fellow classmates.

Today, such collaboration is no longer dependent upon proximity or time of day. Online tools have brought down the many barriers to communication, allowing students, teachers and professionals to interact with and learn from one another regardless of location.

The potential for learning is mind-blowing to say the least. With a savvy educator as a coach and guide, the entire world can become the classroom, and peoples who populate it can be our co-educators. Even our students have the opportunity to become the teachers.

What do our students have to gain if we take steps to embrace online collaboration in our classrooms? We need only look to a few real-life examples to see:

  • Students in New Jersey are building understanding by learning about others. Through video conferencing, they have interviewed others their age in Iowa to talk about how they perceive one another and how the economic crisis is affecting their lives and families.[i] Read about the efforts that are transforming the Van Meter Community School District in Iowa, written by Superintendent John Carver.
  • Teachers in the US are using free video conferencing such as Skype to facilitate international conversations. For example, educator Silvia Tolisano put together conversations in German and English by connecting her class with one in Argentina. See this and lots more examples in this article, 50 Awesome Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom.
  • If you haven’t heard of it, the ePals Global Learning Community is facilitating collaborative learning across the planet. Through their network, students and teachers come together to do everything from using digital storytelling to learn about world cultures to discussing and developing solutions to global warming. Visit the Projects section of ePals for ideas and ways to plug into great work already underway.

Of course, these kinds of tools and techniques expose our students to all that the world—literally—has to offer. But just as importantly, in using these strategies we are helping our students establish the neural connections that will make these kinds of experiences second nature to them. We are strengthening their abilities to focus more on the meaningful content and creative ideas that come from these experiences as opposed to focusing on just the superficial “wow” factor. Not only that, but we are helping them develop the habits of mind for using these tools and techniques that will serve them so well as they endeavor to solve problems in the future.

For more ideas and articles about online collaboration, check out eSchool News’ collection of articles on the subject at http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/11/21/engaging-students-through-online-collaboration/

[i] Prabhu, Maya T. Will Skype eclipse fee-based videoconferencing? eSchool News. May 17, 2010. http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/05/17/will-skype-eclipse-fee-based-videoconferencing/?ast=55

Related Reading:

Creating the Optimal "Internal" Learning Environment

Ok, So You Made a Mistake. But Look What You Learned!

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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After Just 24 Days, Summer School Students Significantly Improve Reading Scores

In a 5-week summer program, students at eleven schools from Wayne County Public Schools in North Carolina used the Reading Assistant software from Scientific Learning. To evaluate the impact of this program, the district conducted an observational study using reading scores, collected before and after the intervention, from 117 students.

The outcomes measure used for the study was Reading Progress Indicator - RPI for short. This computer-based assessment is standardized and nationally normed, and it is correlated with other widely used reading measures. RPI assesses student learning in four key skill areas: phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Study participants used Reading Assistant software, which combines advanced speech verification technology with research-based interventions to function as a personal tutor for guided oral reading practice. On average, the study participants worked with the software for a total of 6.3 hours over a 24 day period.

At the beginning of Wayne County’s summer program, the study participants scored at the 21st percentile in reading skills, on average. Five weeks later, after working with Reading Assistant, the study group moved to the 30th percentile in reading skills – a statistically significant improvement. They also improved their average reading level, moving from “struggling readers” to “emerging readers.”

Related Reading:

How Does Learning Coach Technology Work?

Can Scientific Learning Products Improve School Test Scores?

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading Assistant, Scientific Learning Research

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The Trend to Blend: The Debate Over Online and Blended Learning

Blended learning

This month, eSchool News will come out with its annual Technology Counts report, and this year, one of the topics discussed will be blended learning. While the discussion continues as to how blended learning will affect education policy and vice versa, it is important that we all have a clear understanding of the concept so we might develop our own opinions and contribute effectively to the conversation.

According to the iNACOL National Primer on K-12 Online Learning by Matthew Wicks, blended learning is defined as “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, path, and/or pace.”[i]

While we all understand the benefits of traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms, the benefits of the online learning piece tend to be more debatable. Given its organic development over time, myths abound about what it is and how it works. Just a few cited in the paper above are that online learning is “teacher-less,” that courses are easy, that students spend all their time in front of computers, and that they work in isolation and thus don’t get the benefits of collaboration and socialization. In reality, quality online learning programs as well as blended programs are able address these issues, and Matthew Wicks does an excellent job of clearing the air.

Online and blended learning offers flexibility, opportunity and convenience, and because of these positives, as well as the simple fact that the public is demanding it, use is on the rise. While the Sloan Consortium estimated that in 2007-8 there were just over 1 million students in the US enrolled in online or blended programs, up 47% from 2005-6. Based on this growth, estimates are that over 1.5 million students were learning through such programs in 2009-10.[ii]

Clearly, the benefits are affordability, accessibility and convenience for students and educators alike.  Not only do online and blended learning models allow learning to take place outside of classroom walls and schedules, they make the opportunity of school a more realistic endeavor for those students whose family lifestyles and needs tend to impede the ability to adhere to a more rigid school day.

What are the costs to students as well as to the educational system? Financially speaking, the costs of operating online programs vs. brick-and-mortar programs are, interestingly, about the same. Efficiencies and online strategy gains by not having classrooms and learning facilities are balanced out by the cost of the technology required to run the programs.[iii]

Most importantly, we must take the responsibility to educate ourselves and develop as comprehensive a picture of online learning as possible if we are to contribute effectively to the conversation and ensure that we are advocating (whether for or against) and implementing these strategies as effectively as possible. Nothing less than our students’ futures are at stake.

[i] Wicks, Matthew. (2010). A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning, International Association for K-12 Online Learning.http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/iNCL_NationalPrimerv22010-web.pdf.

[ii] Ibid, p. 14.

[iii] Anderson, A., Augenblick, J., DeCesare, D., & Conrad, J. (2006). Costs and Funding of Virtual Schools, Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates. http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/Costs&Funding.pdf.

Related Reading:

Creating the Optimal “Internal” Learning Environment

Video Games: A New Perspective on Learning Content and Skills

Ok, So You Made a Mistake. But Look What You learned!

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Increasing Our Alertness to Caffeine Use in Ourselves and Our Children

Effects of caffeine on the brain

Whatever your personal opinion of that daily coffee or diet soda might be, we as a society—not just as individuals, but as a whole society—have made the use of caffeine into a daily ritual. For some it is an approved indulgence. For others, it represents an absolute need.

While this is obviously a problem amongst adults, it represents adverse example-setting when practiced in the presence of children. Every time we pull through the drive-thru for that daily double-mocha, every time our children hear us say, “I need a diet soda,” we send a message to our charges in the back seat that this is a necessary part of our daily, adult lives.

That stage is being set, so let’s take a step back and look objectively at this habit of caffeine, both in ourselves and our children.

Make no mistake: caffeine is a drug. As a psychoactive compound, this stimulant blocks the action of adenosine and adenosine receptors. Essentially, caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in nerve cells, but it doesn’t slow down the cell’s activity; instead, it speeds it up. Also, while adenosine opens blood vessels, caffeine causes them to constrict.

On the “positive” side, the immediate effects in humans range from enhanced cognitive performance (Smit and Rogers, 2000) to auditory vigilance (Lieberman et al., 1987) to improved reaction time (Durlach, 1998; Lieberman et al., 1987).[i]

But on the “negative” end of the spectrum, it causes high blood pressure, increases heart rate, disrupts sleep cycles, and negatively impacts attention spans.

As the body becomes habituated to the drug, it compensates for these effects, and begins to require more caffeine to function at normal levels. One study showed that children aged 9-10 who regularly drank two or fewer cans of cola a day were less alert than their non-indulging counterparts.[ii] In short, the more caffeine we take in, the less of its effects we experience, and the less we are able to function at normal levels of alertness.

Aside from the stimulant nature of caffeine, we cannot ignore how it is delivered: children and adolescents primarily get caffeine doses through drinking soda and energy drinks. During their most formative years, they are repeatedly exposed to and conditioned to the paring of sugar and caffeine. Interestingly, Robinson and Berridge refer to sugar as a “natural reward” that “activates similar reward pathways as drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, amphetamine, and nicotine.”[iii]

So along with decreased brain function, these habits can potentially contribute to life-long afflictions like diabetes and obesity.

Lastly, let’s add to this the fact that childhood and adolescence is the fastest stage of brain development. At this time, proper sleep and nutrition are critical elements in laying the foundation for future brain health and fitness. The consumption of caffeine and sugar undermines both.

We know the habits that contribute to a healthy life. Maintaining good nutrition, getting the right amount of sleep and staying away from drugs are all key lessons that we want our younger generations to internalize. How can we help make that happen?

As challenging as it might be, might we consider starting with ourselves, ditching the daily double-mocha and diet soda, and taking the first step toward leading by example? By becoming more aware of our own habits, maybe we can begin to help our children take positive control of their own.

References:

[i] Temple, Jennifer L. (2010) Caffeine Use in Children: What we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2009 June; 33(6): 793–806. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699625/

[ii] Heartherley, S.V., Hancock, K.M.F. and Rogers, P.J. (2006) Psychostimulant and other effects of caffeine in 9-11-year-old children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 47-2, 135-142.

[iii] Robinson TE, Berridge KC . The psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive-sensitization view.

Addiction. 2000 Aug;95 Suppl 2:S91-117. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11002906

Related Reading:

What Every Parent Should Know about Their Baby’s Developing Brain (Part 2)

Adolescence: What’s the Brain Got to Do with It?

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Family Focus

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3 Fun Brain Activities for Kids

Fun brain activities

Have you ever stopped to think about your brain and all the amazing things that it does?  For a three-pound tangle of nerve tissue, it is a brilliant bit of biology.  It keeps you alive and well and is literally the command center of your body.

Today, we are learning how to use our brains in ways never thought possible.  Just a few short decades ago, it was believed that the brain’s capacity was ‘fixed’ early in life and not able to change.  Now that research proves differently, what will the human brain’s potential look like a hundred years from now?  Two-hundred years from now?  The possibilities are truly endless.

In celebration of this three-pound organ that does so much for us every day, I decided to share some fun activities to help you learn more about the brain and its incredible capabilities. Here are some of my favorites!

Brain Games:  Test your memory, play a round of Neuro-Jeopardy, try an On-line Response Time Experiment, and take the Hidden Brain Challenge. 

Sleep and Dreaming Experiments -  Check out some activities around keeping a dream journal and learn how to find out how long it takes for you to fall asleep!

Creative Writing Projects – Write some brain poems, songs or a “brainy” newspaper.  Learn something new about the brain and then write about it.

To learn more about Brain Awareness Week, check out The Dana Foundation, which is the official website for Brain Awareness Week, March 14-20.

Related Reading:

What Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Developing Brain (Part 1)

Adolescence: What’s the Brain Got to Do with It?

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Categories: Brain Fitness

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How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

Learning to read

Did you know that school is not just about learning new information; it is also about improving brain function?  Of course the content learned in coursework like social studies, science, geography and mathematics is very important. But, it turns out that learning to read does far more than impart a skill.  Recent research by the neuroscientist Stanislaus Dehaene indicates that learning to read actually improves the way the brain functions in several critical ways.
 
Dr. Dehaene and his colleagues compared the brain function of Brazilian and Portuguese adults who can read with those who had never learned to read. He reported the results in the journal Science in December. In the study the scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain function of adults while they responded to oral language, written language, and visual tasks. The adults were matched for socio-economic status (SES) so as not to bias the results by educational or income level. Thirty-one of the adults had been literate from childhood, twenty-two had learned to read as adults, and ten had never learned to read (were illiterate). What they found was that regions of the brain that all of us use to process visual information were enhanced among the adults who were readers; both those who had read from childhood and those who learned to read as adults. They also found that listening skills were better among both groups of readers than among the adults who did not read. The specific listening skill that was enhanced in readers involved the ability to perceive speech sounds more accurately.  
 
This research has important implications for those of us interested in education. It helps us to understand the importance of reading in the educational process, of course. But, perhaps even more important, it helps to explain why children who struggle to read fall so far behind in other school subjects as well. If, as Dehaene’s research suggests, the ability to read helps build parts of the brain that are essential for listening and observing, students who struggle to read may also have problems learning from auditory classroom instruction as well.  Thus they become hampered in three ways – they cannot learn to read, so will not be able to read to learn, and may struggle just as much with other forms of instruction.  
                                                                                       
Another issue is why children struggle to read in the first place. Dehaene’s research with adults controlled for this possible variable by controlling for socio-economic status and including adults who did not learn to read until they were adults. But in the United States as in other countries where education is mandatory for every child, there is a question as to why some children find learning to read so difficult.  Two new studies appear to shed light on that issue and seem related to Dehaene’s research. Bart Boets and his colleagues at the University of Leuven in Belgium have research that is to be published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities, that indicates a sort of double-whammy – children who in kindergarten have trouble with auditory perception, are likely to be diagnosed with dyslexia by grade 3.

Cassandra  Billiet  and Terri Bellis have also published research on the relationship between auditory perception and dyslexia in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research in February 2011 Both research studies suggest that problems with processing of rapid sound changes, like those that occur in speech,  may interfere with learning to read in the first place. When considered in light of Dehaene’s research, children who struggle to learn to read likely end up at a further disadvantage as school progresses  because auditory skills do not continue to develop which, in turn, will affect all classroom learning.
 
Most of us would agree that learning to read is one of the most important tasks a child undertakes when they enter school. This new research helps us to understand that reading depends on listening skills in the first place and then builds them as reading improves. The science described in this study is the same science upon which Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord software is built, there is strong evidence of its validity, from a variety of schools/districts and independent research labs.  Reading builds brain functions essential for listening and learning:  good readers become good listeners become good students. Helping students as early as possible with the underlying cognitive skills that enable reading will have academic benefits for years to come.

 

References

Billiets, C and Bellis, T. (2011) The Relationship Between Brainstem Temporal Processing and Performance on Tests of Central Auditory Function in Children With Reading Disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol.54 228-242

Boets, B. et al (In Press) Preschool impairments in auditory processing and speech perception uniquely predict future reading problems. Research in Developmental Disabilities

Dehaene, S, et al.(2010)How Learning to Read Changes the Cortical Networks for Vision and Language. Science 330, 1359

 

Related Reading:

Fit Bodies Make Fit Brains: Physical Exercise and Brain Cells

Musical Training and Cognitive Abilities

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Categories: Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning

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Our Changing Education Landscape: Cutting-edge Research and Strategies for Today’s Educators

Our changing education landscape

Where is K-12 education headed? What might the future look like for educators and students? Join us for a free webinar and get the answers with Dr. Willard R. Daggett, Friday, March 18, at 10am Pacific.  A nationally acclaimed education expert, Daggett will discuss cutting-edge research and strategies to address today’s education challenges, improve teaching and accelerate learning for all students.

What are the real challenges facing schools today? How can we effectively and intelligently address student performance, leadership, finances, and the use of technology? Learn how K-12 educators can work to proactively address these issues in today’s accountability-driven climate.

Daggett is the CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education, and author of numerous books, articles and studies about learning and education. He brings a comprehensive expertise in moving education systems toward more rigorous, relevant skills and knowledge for all students.

Join us for this free learning session! Register now for “Our Changing Education Landscape” with Willard Daggett—and visit the Scientific Learning webinars page to learn about other events about brain fitness and accelerating learning.

Related Reading:

The Technological Lives of Today’s Students

Creating the Optimal “Internal” Learning Environment

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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4 Ways to Celebrate Brain Awareness Week 2011

Brain Awareness Week 2011

It’s Brain Awareness Week! Join us every day from March 14-20 as we share information about the brain, how the brain learns, and how educators can address some of the challenges in education today.

Need some ideas for how to celebrate Brain Awareness Week and honor this most important of organs?

  1. Incorporate “Brain Awareness” Into Your Classroom
    Need some ideas on this one? For starters, download some of our educational Classroom Resources for Teachers, a variety of fun and informative worksheets and experiments on topics related to the brain.  (My favorite is the Grocery Store Game, which tests memory span and mnemonic strategies.) Then have your students try our free Scientific Learning® BrainApps™ games for a brain fitness challenge!

  2. Catch Up On the Best Blog Posts About the Brain
    Whether you’re new to this blog or a long time reader, there are sure to be some great posts you haven’t yet explored.  In celebration of Brain Awareness Week, here are some of the most popular brain-related posts: Educating Kids about Nutrition and the Brain – learn how you can create the ultimate brain-health meal, the "Brainiac Blue Plate Combo!” The Adolescent Brain –find out what your adolescent is really thinking and how his or her developing brain works. Benefits of Music in Schools: The Effects of Music on the Brain – check out what the latest research says regarding the importance of music education and its benefits for learning. Dr. Norman Doidge on Brain Plasticity – discover the truth…old dogs can learn new tricks, all lifelong.

  3. Tweet the Brain, Learn, and Win
    This week on Twitter, we will be testing your knowledge of the brain.  Play with us for a chance to win one of our “brain” goody bags each day!  Follow @brainfitness and join in the fun! 

  4. Subscribe to Receive All of Our Brain Awareness Week Posts
    Subscribe to this blog (below) to have our blog posts show up in your inbox during Brain Awareness Week and beyond. Thanks for joining us for Brain Awareness Week!  All of The Science of Learning bloggers look forward to sharing it with you!

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!

  

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Education Trends, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Why Time Matters in Learning

Time in learning

As the old verse goes, "to everything, there is a season." We all know that there’s a time to live, a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to reap. At the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC) at UCSD, they are pursuing a deep understanding of "a time to learn." Research at the TDLC is targeted toward achieving an integrated understanding of the role of time and timing in learning, across multiple scales, brain systems, and social systems. The scientific goal of the center is therefore to understand the temporal dynamics of learning, and apply this understanding to improve educational practice.

What are the practical implications for education of such research? According to the TDLC, "Learning depends on the fine-scale structure of the timing between stimuli, response, and reward. The brain is exquisitely sensitive to the temporal structure of sensory experience." (Read more about Why Time Matters at the TDLC website.) As educators, the better our understanding of the nature of timing in learning, the more effective we will be at designing and implementing optimal learning environments and situations. The site goes on to say, "By investigating the temporal dynamics of learning we can change the capacity of children to learn, as well as change the environment to aid in learning."

Learn more about the TDLC at their website, http://tdlc.ucsd.edu.

In the February 2009 edition of the TDLC newsletter, On Time, the Center announced the development of Educators Networks tasked with translating the latest findings in neuroscience research into classroom practice. The networks will be "made up of exemplary classroom teachers who will advise and provide information to TDLC scientists on areas that are ripe for research in the classroom." For further information about these groups or to suggest individuals for participation, contact Doris Alvarez at dalvarez1@cox.net.

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