Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Students to Analyze Sources of Information

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Students analyze primary and secondary sources, from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

As a result of the civil war in Syria, more than 4 million people have fled Syria since the conflict started. This situation, along with war and injustice in other countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and many more, has resulted in a global refugee crisis. As refugees seek to move to safer places, countries struggle with managing the flow of people and the issues that arise when new communities are introduced to existing ones.

With trending hashtags such as #RefugeeCrisis #SyrianRefugees and #RefugeesWelcome and a U.S. presidential election on the horizon, there is no doubt that students encounter such devastating stories on social media and the news, and multiple views about how countries should (or shouldn’t) help refugees. I decided that I have a duty to help my students understand and critically engage on such topics, as they do impact our lives.

However, I am also wary that I need to help my students learn how to identify biases and different perspectives when reading, researching, and engaging with such topics. The media and news contain a lot of information that needs to be questioned and analyzed before helping students to form their own opinions about the issues at hand.

Here are some steps I used to guide students through a research project:

  1. First, I asked my students to form groups of 3-4 people.
  2. Next, students were required to select a topic of focus related to refugees and immigration. Here are some of the suggested topics: area/region study, country study, causes, aid missions, personal stories, response to crisis, etc.
  3. Once they had chosen their topics and done a bit of research, they needed to select a few websites to assess the information, biases, and perspectives that are presented.

Some questions to consider when analyzing the resources

  • What is the overall goal/mission of the article or resource? Who is presenting and sponsoring the information?
  • What is the information presented trying to convince you of?
  • How is the information being presented to you (data, opinion, facts), and where did the information come from? Are you able to easily verify the source of the information?
  •  Are there commercials/advertisements on the website? How do these additions help to drive the website’s main mission or show a possible bias?
  • Are there any organizations/companies that are linked to this site? What stakes do they have in presenting this information?
  • Does any of the information presented on the site contain discriminatory/stereotypical messages? If so, what language or images are used as evidence of discrimination and stereotyping?

4. Students were asked to present their findings to the rest of the class in order to learn from each other’s analysis and perspectives on assessing research material.

This activity not only teaches students to research and analyze sources on their own, but it also teaches them to assess the information that is given to them. In a world where much information is manipulated and/or changing, students begin to see the importance of engaging critically with informational texts.

To see students learning how to analyze primary and secondary sources, watch Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Identifying Evidence From Multiple Sources.” Watch another lesson that guides students on how to write about a complex cause and/or issue in “Making Writing Explicit in Social Studies.”

Share how you are teaching students to analyze web sources in the comments below.

Share How You Are Teaching About Refugees and Immigration

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How are you teaching about the topics of refugees, displacement, and immigration? Are your students discussing current events? Are they undertaking research to understand and debate causes and solutions? Are they thinking about how these issues affect their local and larger communities, and what it means to be a global citizen?

It isn’t always easy to discuss current events with students. There are many different feelings and approaches to bringing potentially controversial topics to the classroom. We are interested in hearing about this from you, and sharing your insights and ideas with other teachers. Submit your writing to blog@learner.org for consideration, and check back often to read, support, and comment on posts by other teachers.

What Can I Write About?

Here are some ideas for topics for your blog posts, but you are not limited to these topics. We recommend the posts stay between 250 and 600 words.

  1. Describe a lesson plan or activity that you implemented in your classroom about refugees or immigration that went well.
  2. What is an activity you tried that resulted in unexpected or rich student conversations or personal insights?
  3. How do you address community concerns (whether from parents, students, or administrators) and support multiple points of view?
  4. How do you talk about current events, such as a refugee crisis, with elementary students?
  5. How have you taught students about the differences between migrants and refugees?

Some additional requests and notes:

  • Don’t forget to proofread your submissions, and include links to resources if any are mentioned.
  • It is helpful but not necessary to submit a photo to go along with your post. If you submit a photo of students from your classroom, please confirm that you have asked and received permission from their parents/guardians to post the photo on the Learner.org blog site. (We will not post their names or the name of their school.)
  • We reserve the right to edit posts for clarity and length.
  • We will let you know if your post is selected for publication on our blog via email.
  • Please include the following information with your materials:
  1. Your name
  2. Title for your post
  3. Subject/Class
  4. Grade level
  5. School location (city or state)

We look forward to hearing from you!

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Where is the Water: California and Beyond

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The expansion of agriculture contributes to the threat against irreplaceable resources like water in many parts of the globe. Learn more in The Habitable Planet.

California has been facing a major water shortage, but that shortage is not just a problem for the state alone. Much of our produce in grocery stores across the country comes from California farms and orchards that depend on this much-needed resource. While officials debate ways to regulate water use, everyone hopes for rain. (If you’re wondering about how much of a drought your own state is in, click on the Drought Monitor.)

Understand California’s current drought by viewing three side-by-side photos, taken by NASA February 2011, 2013, and 2014, showing the decreasing water table around Lake Tahoe in Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. This compiled image is part of a larger unit, “Earth, Climate, and Change: Observing Human Impact,” for middle and high school classrooms. View all unit materials here.

This isn’t California’s first time feeling thirsty. One of the worst droughts occurred in 1975. In Economics U$A: 21st Century Edition, unit 3, “Supply and Demand,” economics analyst Richard Gill explains what the experience of water shortages teaches us about the nature of consumer demand.

Oregon: A Fight for Water, the first case study in The Power of Place, unit 10, “Regions and Economies,” examines the environmental costs of technology developed to harness scarce water resources to support agricultural production.

Consider the issue globally. The Habitable Planet, unit 8, “Water Resources,” discusses what drives the world’s demand for water and what happens when groundwater is depleted. Also see informative animations from the video on this topic.

Science of Diseases: Going Viral in a Bad Way

52034657_mWhen a song or video goes viral, it’s good news for the artists who created it. When a viral infection causes a human epidemic, it’s the opposite. Viruses are infectious agents that reproduce by injecting their genetic material into living cells. They cannot be killed by antibiotics, which are designed to stop infections spread by much larger bacteria. Viruses cause some of the deadliest known diseases, including Ebola, smallpox, HIV, and influenza.

The newest virus to make headlines is Zika, which is spread by mosquitoes. It was discovered in Uganda in the 1940s, but few human cases were reported until it started appearing in Pacific islands in 2007. Now Zika is spreading in Latin America, where researchers are trying to determine whether it causes birth defects in newborn infants whose mothers have been infected.

Viral epidemics can be frightening, as the world saw in 2014-15 when Ebola killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Unit 6 of Rediscovering Biology, “HIV and AIDs,” explains how viruses attack our immune systems, and why we need to understand the virus’s life cycle to develop effective treatments. Many medical experts now view HIV/AIDs as a treatable chronic disease, thanks to antiretroviral drugs (although getting these drugs to everyone who needs them is still a major challenge).

Many factors shape the odds that any one of us may be infected by a virus. To assess the risk, we need to know how the virus spreads; where humans may become exposed; and whether they have defenses available, such as vaccines or protective gear. The Habitable Planet’s interactive lab on diseases lets students explore how several simulated diseases spread through populations and the steps that we can take to counter them.

Viruses are an active and fast-moving area of biomedical research. Virologists have identified some 2,000 species of viruses that cause infections in plants, animals, and humans. And some important risk factors for viral infection are increasing today. For example, climate change is expanding the range of vectors that spread viral diseases, such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, chikungunya, and dengue fever. And the expansion of global air travel is bringing more humans into contact with diseases and with each other, increasing the likelihood of spreading infections. Some experts are worried that people who attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil could carry Zika virus, which is widespread in Brazil, home with them.

Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist at the Broad institute and Harvard University and host of Annenberg Learner’s Against All Odds: Inside Statistics series, led work by an international team to sequence the Ebola genome during the 2014-15 outbreak. Their research showed that the virus was mutating rapidly during the early phase of the outbreak, which helped public health responders determine which treatments would be more or less effective.

In this 2016 TED talk, Sabeti explains the importance of international cooperation to understand and stop viral epidemics. “This is not the first outbreak of Ebola, it will not be the last, and there are many other microbes out there lying in wait,” she says. “We have the technology and the capacity to have the upper hand over viruses, but we can only [succeed] if we do it together.”

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Teaching Collaboration: Deeper learning and interpersonal skills

StackofHands123rfIn a recent TED Talk, computational geneticist Pardis Sabeti told of a tidal wave of Ebola cases coming from Guinea to a clinic in Sierra Leone. The medical team there collected samples of the virus and shipped the deactivated samples back to Sabeti’s lab in Cambridge, MA. The team worked round the clock to decode the genome of the virus from the samples in order to help health officials devise large scale treatment plans. Almost immediately, the amount of data they produced outpaced their ability to analyze it. Sabeti asked for help from the larger scientific community via the internet.

In similar fashion, physicists studying high-energy proton collisions from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN sifted through astronomical amounts of data to find the unique pattern of the then-theorized Higgs Boson. More than 2,800 collaborators from 35 countries analyzed different segments of the data and identified the markers of a significant interaction. Watch Physics for the 21st Century, “The Fundamental Interactions,” from 5:39 to 7:42.

Collaboration on the job

These are just two instances of the high-stakes international collaboration needed to battle epidemics and solve complex puzzles. But the daily business of science also requires individuals who can work in teams to question and support their colleagues. Workers at a bio-tech startup must understand technical terminology, explain their conclusions and roadblocks with colleagues, and function effectively as a unit. “It’s important that everybody sees the data, understands why you’re concluding what you’re concluding, and at least agrees that the next steps are probably the right next steps,” explains Aaron Oppenheimer, head of the team.

Working together to solidify learning

Teachers at the middle and high school levels can help students to develop the skills of collaboration: listening, presenting ideas, and questioning to work through more difficult material and find answers that they could not find working on their own. Each classroom lesson in Reading & Writing in the Disciplines includes learning objectives in three areas: content, literacy/language, and engagement/interaction. In this blog we share examples from science classrooms, but collaboration is a key skill in all disciplines and is supported by the Common Core Anchor Standards in College and Career Readiness.

Chemistry teacher Martin Berryman bonds his classroom management practices to student engagement and interaction as his class of 32 individual thinkers learn to work collaboratively. He assesses their group work as well as their group interaction.

Biology teacher Mary Murphy forms study inquiry teams so they can apply new knowledge to an unfamiliar problem. See how her students support and challenge each other in tackling a problem, using scientific discourse, and applying their understanding of transcription and translations processes.

Getting started on collaboration

Students practice the foundational skills of collaboration and scientific discourse in earlier grades, learning to listen to peers, asking about their reasoning, and sharing the result of a new idea. Amy Miles points out opportunities for her students to engage in conversation while reading a complex text on rock types.

Building a collaborative classroom requires a shift in practice and expectations. Taking it a step at a time and comparing notes with your colleagues in your school or here on Learner Log will get you started in the right direction. Visit “How to Build Effective Collaborative Groups” to find more suggestions for supporting student collaboration in the classroom.

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Science and the Flint Water Crisis

No waterThe ongoing crisis over lead-contaminated drinking in Flint, Michigan has shocked many Americans. In April 2014 the city switched its drinking water source from the City of Detroit’s system to the Flint river as a cost-saving measure. Almost immediately, residents started complaining that the water looked, smelled and tasted strange, but state officials insisted that it was safe to drink. Tests by academic researchers soon showed that the water was highly corrosive, and was leaching dangerous levels of lead from Flint homes’ aging pipes. This crisis has brought attention to additional states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, facing lead contamination concerns.

This ongoing disaster offers many lessons about government, risk and public health. It also shows how directly relevant science is to our daily lives, and the right and wrong ways to think about exposure to environmental hazards.

Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure, and Health,” describes the process that scientists and health experts use to measure potential exposure to hazards in our environment and assess whether they are dangerous. In Flint, state regulators did not follow this process. Rather, they contended for months that there was nothing dangerously wrong with water from the Flint River.

But when residents turned to a team of engineering professors and students from Virginia Tech University (whose leader, Marc Edwards, was a prominent expert on drinking water contamination), these researchers came to a very different answer. First, they predicted that Flint River water would be corrosive, based on their knowledge that it was heavily treated with chlorine to reduce contaminants. Second, they confirmed this hypothesis by testing Flint River water in their lab. Third, they theorized that because state regulators had decided to use the river water without adding anti-corrosive chemicals (a standard water treatment step), it was likely to leach lead from old pipes and lead pipe solder in many Flint homes. Fourth, they confirmed this by testing tap water samples collected by Flint residents.

Now Flint residents are receiving bottled water, while state officials debate options for replacing the city’s lead pipes. Access to safe drinking water is also an urgent problem is many other cities worldwide: see unit 8 of The Habitable Planet, “Water Resources.” In addition to pollution, expanding agriculture, damming, and wasteful use are straining water supplies in many places, and global climate change is altering hydrological cycles. Watch this site for information from the United Nations about World Water Day on March 22, which will focus this year on “Water and Jobs.”

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Why do Humans Migrate?

humanmigrateWhy don’t humans stay in one area? The following resources look at the causes of both early and more recent human migrations related to climate, economics, and cultural and political conflict.

Let’s start from the beginning with Bridging World History, unit 3, “Human Migrations.”  What do archeological and linguistic studies tell us about how early humans moved across Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas?

See this animation that explains Human Migration Hypotheses in Rediscovering Biology, unit 9, “Human Evolution.”

Teaching Geography looks at population growth and how cooperation and conflict influence movement across the Earth.  For example, workshop 5, “Sub-Saharan Africa,” features case studies on human migration in Kenya and South Africa.  Workshop, 2, “Latin America,” looks at how both cultural conflict and physical geography influence migrations across Guatemala, Mexico, and Ecuador.

The Power of Place includes several programs on human migration throughout the world. Unit 1, “Introduction: Globalization and World Regions,” Boundaries and Borderlands asks you to consider how the physical location of border towns, economic development, and U.S. border policy help shape human migration between the U.S. and its neighbor Mexico. Unit 10, “North America,” Cityscapes, Suburban Sprawl examines why Boston is full of different ethnicities and how the middle class flight from inner city to suburbia has affected farmland around Chicago.

The full list of regions covered in The Power of Place can be found on the website homepage.

Share other resources and activities you use to teach about human migration in the comments below.

Class Assignment: Using Google Tools to Explore the First Amendment

Freedom typePost written by Leslie Hellerman, high school Journalism teacher and participant in the 2015 Newseum Summer Teacher Institute: “Primarily Digital: Teaching Media Literacy to Plugged-in Students,” sponsored by Annenberg Learner. Look for the #ANEW15 hashtag on Twitter.  

Deciding to focus on the Google Suite of products was definitely a defining moment for me. While I do use Twitter regularly in my journalism class, I decided that Pinterest and Instagram would have to wait for another opportunity later on. Google Classroom has revolutionized the way I teach and how my students receive and submit work.

I use Google Classroom almost every day in my journalism class. My students LOVE the format, ease of keeping track of their assignments and due dates, and collaborative/individual assignments are easy for them to do. Now that I’ve been using Google Classroom regularly, I also LOVE the platform. It is so much easier for me to keep track of assignments and student submitted work. I can also help remind students when they haven’t submitted an assignment, which is really nice. Recently my students have been posting their own questions and getting the class to post answers and discussion about issues we’re discussing in class. I have featured a specific assignment below.

I have struggled to find online resources (forums, etc.) that help me learn how to do/create certain things. Additionally, our school division has had some hurdles that have made going digital really tough: students did not receive their school email addresses until several weeks into the school year, so they couldn’t access Google Classroom; our internet frequently does not work or support the number of students using the internet, so frequently the computers do not work or are so slow that it is really difficult for students to continue to work online.

My students just completed an assignment called “So what’s the First Amendment all about?” where I asked them to explore the First Amendment and how it applies to journalism. First, I asked my students to watch a short video on the First Amendment.

Then I asked my students a Google Question:

As you watch this video, think about what this MEANS to citizens of the US, businesses, our government. Also, consider what this means to people around the world who DO NOT have these same guaranteed freedoms. Students responded using Google Question, so all the students could see their classmates responses and continue to reply to the posts. Next, I created an assignment called Exploring the First Amendment where I asked students to apply what they know about the First Amendment to our journalism class and their own experiences in Google Drawing. Here was their assignment:

  1. Read the First Amendment (posted on the drawing).
  2. Define each First Amendment freedom, use words, images, definitions, examples, etc.
  3. Then, using RELIABLE news sources, find 3 examples of these freedoms (only the ones related to journalism, please) to attach to your drawing; label and briefly explain how your example demonstrates which freedom it represents. Be sure to cite your sources.
  4. Finally, find a specific example (from around the world, perhaps) that illustrates a clear violation of a First Amendment freedom. Identify where (city/country) the violation took place and if this place supports a free press.

Be creative, take a risk, think and ponder what FREEDOM really means. You’ll be sharing your creation with the class, so make it decorative, engaging, and interesting.

Finally, as a culminating activity, I had students print out a copy of their Google Drawing to create a First Amendment Freedom Folder. As we continue our exploration of journalism this year, students will fill their folder with examples of First Amendment Freedoms and violations of those freedoms from the U.S. and around the world that they see and experience. They can continue to decorate their folder with elements from our daily newspapers, lessons, and class discussions throughout the semester/year. The idea was to provide them with a tangible reminder of the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of the United States.

To see another example of how a teacher effectively uses Google tools with students, check out Jen Roberts’ (an #ANEW15 guest speaker) in “Blended Learning: Acquiring Digital Literacy Skills,” from Reading & Writing in the Disciplines).

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Framing climate change: When textbooks cloud the issue

HabPlanet_12_surfacetempimageWorld leaders are meeting in Paris this week to negotiate a new agreement on slowing global climate change. Many observers say the chances for success are good: more than 180 countries have already pledged to take steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But a recent study published in the journal Environmental Education Research suggests that U.S. text books are not teaching American students accurately about the scope of global climate change or the risks that it poses.

The study authors analyzed four sixth-grade earth science textbooks adopted in California to see how the texts described climate change. They found that although 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activities are causing current warming, the books did not reflect this high level of certainty. Instead they made statements such as: “Some scientists believe that human activities can affect the climate of our planet,” obscuring both the strong consensus among scientists about impacts of human action and the fact that those impacts are occurring now. All four books also pointed out that “some” scientists believed current warming was due to natural variations in Earth’s climate. Only two texts listed specific actions that humans could take to slow climate change, and none specifically told students what they could do.

“The message was that climate change is possibly happening, that humans may or may not be causing it, and that we do not need to take immediate mitigating action,” the authors observed. This view, they contended, misrepresented the state of climate science. It also poorly described what scientists do: the texts often said scientists believed or thought certain things instead of describing how researchers analyzed data and drew conclusions from it.

What can teachers do to present a more accurate understanding of climate science? The study authors, Diego Roman of Southern Methodist University and K.C. Busch of Stanford University, offer some strategies:

  • Clarify what is known and unknown. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report, published in 2013, states unequivocally that “Human impact on the climate is clear,” and describes many observed changes on land and ocean systems. Journalists covering the Paris conference have also written stories quantifying the impacts of climate change since 1997, when nations last tried to negotiate a global treaty to slow warming.
  • Explain the role of uncertainty. Two factors influence the strength of IPCC findings: the quality of the evidence (limited, medium or robust), and levels of agreement among scientists (low, medium, high). Statements expressing the panel’s confidence in various outcomes reflect specific judgments of how likely they are: for example, “virtually certain” means a probability of 99 to 100 percent, and “very likely” means 90 to 100 percent. Section 12 of The Habitable Planet, “Earth’s Changing Climate,” explains how scientists measure and analyze impacts of climate change to discern the human role. (Note, however, that the IPCC observations described in The Habitable Planet are drawn from an earlier report; the 2013 report linked above reflects the panel’s most recent statements and how Earth is warming and what impacts can be measured.)
  • Discuss the role of humans as agents in causing climate change. Roman and Busch argue that many texts obscure the human role in climate change by attributing rising emissions to abstract processes such as burning fossil fuels, without ever explaining who is doing the burning. Making the human role explicit leads to discussions about what humans can do to help solve the problem.

Beyond understanding climate science, deciding how society should respond to climate change is a social and political process. The California Education and the Environment Initiative, supported by the Annenberg Foundation, presents environmental science within a broader context of history and human development. To adjust to a changing climate, humans will have to develop better ways of sharing resources and protecting the most vulnerable nations from impacts like drought and floods. The Paris negotiations are just the first step.

Standardized Testing: What’s the real issue?

kidstakingtest[OP-ED] The 2015 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores are out and stoking debate over all the usual questions we have in the U.S. about standardized testing. Why did the NAEP scores fall for the first time since 1990? What’s the role of Common Core influence on the scores? Can we accept Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s explanation that the scores are not cause for alarm? Do the lower scores mean that we need more testing or less?

What’s unusual in all this testing debate is that it’s rarely about education. Instead, it’s more often about:

Politics: You can’t talk about standardized tests without tying them to No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, and even Louis CK. Testing is about being a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative or libertarian.

Questioning: We demand that the U.S. always be ranked as a world leader in education, but we refuse, for the most part, to do what many other nations to do get that status. We criticize our standardized tests for racial bias, failure to assess or value non-cognitive skills, and for forcing teachers and students to devote too much time to test prep. In many Top-Ten nations ranking, this kind of criticism does not happen. In the top four nations—South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong—cramming for national exams is pretty much a way of life, and the content of the tests is not questioned. If students do badly there, they blame themselves.

National pride: We feel that if other industrialized nations use standardized testing, then the U.S. should not. It’s just like solar power or electric cars: all you have to say is “that’s how they do it in Finland/France/Germany” and many Americans will be immediately turned off. We like to go our own way, and don’t want to admit anyone else does anything better than we do. If Japan dropped its standardized testing, more Americans might support it here!

In the end, we see that Americans are deeply conflicted about the idea, purpose, and execution of testing itself, which makes it hard for us to evaluate any test results with an objective eye. As we try to make sense of testing—what we need to compete and what we want for our students—we should always remember that the U.S. is unique in many ways when it comes to education. We are one of the few nations committed to educating our entire population, for free, for 12 years. We are one of the few nations with the goal of offering equal education to all our students. And we are one of the few nations determined to be in the top ten nations for education that has a radically diverse, extremely large, constantly changing population.

According to the 2014 Pearson Learning Curve index of the top ten education ranking of nations, the top five are demographically very homogenous (South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland). The bottom five include three relatively homogenous nations—the Netherlands, Ireland, and Poland (the U.K. and Canada are the other two). All of the top ten are all small nations; Japan has the highest population at 127 million. It’s easier for small and demographically homogenous populations to use standardized tests because they believe that their students all have roughly the same demographic background and therefore same access to opportunity. There’s no question of racial or ethnic bias.

The U.S. is big (318 million at the last census) geographically and population-wise. It is famously not demographically homogenous. We struggle to live up to our goals and principles by delivering high-quality education to everyone for free. Too often we fail. But we always keep trying, and that’s why we criticize and question our standardized tests. That will keep going on until we’re sure they are basically fair because all students have the same chance of doing well on them.

We just need to remember that the tests aren’t really the problem, and we need to keep working on what matters to produce a well-educated public.

For a deeper look into how differences in curricula, textbooks, and teaching practices around the world affect student learning in mathematics and science, go to Looking At Learning… Again, workshop 8, “The International Picture.” Educators, experts, and administrators discuss TIMSS results and point to weaknesses in the U.S. educational system.

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