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Taxidermy, live bugs, and rare fauna: a look inside art school!

Ever wondered what goes on inside of art schools?  This video gives you a tour of a unique learning resource for aspiring artists and designers that includes monkey skulls and live insects!, an online marketplace for handmade art and and craft, takes viewers inside the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the most prestigious art schools in the country.

Founded by a RISD alumna in 1937, the Nature Lab “offers the opportunity to examine, explore and understand the patterns, structures and interactions of design in nature.” Its collection includes over 80,000 natural history objects, live animals and plants, and the facility includes a study room devoted to a natural history reference library and clipping file, archives of slides, tapes, videos and x-ray photographs.

Rhode Island School of Design [Official website]

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Media Mondays: How Learning Happens

Learning Matters Managing Producer David Wald tries to keep on the cutting edge of documentary films, and education. In his new web mini-series, ‘How Learning Happens,’ which is exploring the role learning plays in success, he was able to combine both interests when he got lucky enough to snag some quality time with acclaimed documentarian Albert Maysles. We talked with him about his project and process.

Watch the video below and read on to learn more about the project.

What was your motivation for the series?

I’ve always been interested in how successful people got where they are. Especially those who went after some personal dream and achieved it, or built on something they were particularly well suited for. I’m sure going to school is a factor for many, but I’m also curious about high achievers who dropped out, or never started, or credit something other than school with their success.

Recently, I was excited to discover a new book by Daniel Wolff called “How Abraham Lincoln Learned to Read.” The book is about, as the subtitle says, “Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them.” The Americans range from Lincoln to Elvis, from Jack Kennedy to Sojourner Truth. In some cases classroom education was key, particularly for early Americans like Ben Franklin, but often it’s the school of hard knocks that’s responsible for helping to bring about their success.

This got me thinking. What would successful people today have to say about how they made it?

Why Albert Maysles?

It was pure coincidence. My Aunt Judy lives here in New York. One day she called to invite me to meet Maysles, who like her is an alumnus of Syracuse University. I figured this would be a good opportunity to ask him a question or two about how he ticked.

What interested me was the fact that when the Maysles started making their films in the 60’s no one else in the country was working this way. For the most part documentaries were very orchestrated when they were shot. The final films consisted of a lot of narration covered with “B-roll,” visual wallpaper, interrupted only occasionally by a character’s comment. The Maysles’ work was completely different – they never directed the action or even asked a question. When they put the films together they didn’t use narration. I wondered how the brothers had innovated such a radical new form of filmmaking. What lead them to do it like that?

Armed with a Flip camera, a video camera the size of a cell phone, I headed up to meet Albert in his Harlem office. What I would learn certainly surprised me. I don’t want to give it away, but I will say that if Albert was going to school today, the world might have been denied a whole new form of filmmaking.

What’s next with your ‘Learning Happens’ series? Will you continue to experiment with the flip camera format?

I am going to ask some more people what they credit with helping them make it and see what I find out. If I get good stuff I’ll keep doing it. As far as continuing with the Flip camera… as you probably noticed, my footage is a little bit shaky and the sound’s less than perfect, so I’m going to try to use more professional equipment when I can. But the Flip is very unobtrusive, and it’s easy to carry around, so I’m sure I’ll use it again. And by the way, I’m interested in hearing from anyone who might have a good story about how they learn. They can send it to me at

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Wednesday Weekly: Looking at the Big Stories

President Obama’s remarks at NAACP anniversary highlight education [NAACP]

Remembering author and teacher Frank McCourt [NPR]

Extended interview with Social and Emotional Learning curriculum designer, Tom Roderick [LMTV]

California expects $30 billion in cuts over two fiscal years to schools, colleges, health care, welfare, corrections, recreation and more [NY TIMES]

Related Program: California Public Schools: America’s Future [VIDEO]

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Educating the Whole Child – At Any Size

The good news is that a little over half of NYC public school students are maintaining a healthy weight. The bad news? According to a new report from New York City’s Health Department and Department of Education (DOE), 21% of kindergarten through eighth grade students are obese, and an additional 18% of the City’s students are overweight. And, for the pickle: physically fit students outscore their peers who are less-fit on academic tests.


During the 2007-2008 school year, students who scored in the top 5% on their NYC FITNESSGRAM assessments outscored the bottom 5% by an average of 36 percentile points on standardized academic tests.

That childhood obesity is an epidemic in NYC should come as no surprise — Americans have steadily been getting fatter since the 1970s. Fitness has been proven to promote a longer, healthier life, and childhood obesity is an indicator for many serious diseases. But will this strong association between fitness and academic success provoke any changes in schools?

The  DOE says there is an “urgent need to ensure that school-age children receive nutritious meals, high-quality physical education, and ample opportunities for physical activity.” Just this July, a panel composed by the Institute of Medicine released a list of 100  topics that it said should get high priority by the Obama administration, and included the need to look at the effectiveness of school programs to reduce childhood obesity through means like bans on vending machines. Parents continue to advocate for healthier school food and an increase in physical fitness programs. For our students’ health AND academic achievement, here’s hoping we can do it.

Read the Full Report

School Nutrition Association

Panel Suggests Medical Priorities [NY Times 7/1/09]

A Manhattan Mother’s  Battle Against Junk Food [NY Times 6/15/09]

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Playing to Learn

Video: Jane Goodall in The Promise of Play

Summer is in full swing, and students of all ages are finding ways to pass their days — summer school, internships, camp, jobs, family roadtrips,  you name it. But the most important thing they do this summer might just be one “that spontaneously is done for its own sake . . . appears purposeless, produces pleasure and joy, leads one to the next stage of mastery.” In other words: play.

In a recent episode of “Speaking of Faith”, Krista Trippet spoke with Dr. Stephen Brown, a physician with a background in neurology and psychiatry, who became fascinated with the question of why humans (and animals in general) play. He now heads the Institute for Play. Brown tells us:

When one really doesn’t play at all or very little in adulthood, there are consequences: rigidities, depression, no irony — things that are pretty important, that enable us to cope in a world of many demands.

In childhood, rough-and-tumble actually seems to prevent violent behavior, and play can grow human talents and character across a lifetime.  Play can be a glimpse of the’ divine’ – an act that emerges innately and spontaneously if the individual, or animal for that matter, that’s capable of playing is safe and well fed.

As scientist Bob Fagen said: “In a world that’s continuously presenting unique challenges and ambiguity, play prepares [children] for an evolving planet.”

So watch the videos or listen to the entire program. And then go outside and play!

Play, Spirit and Character [Speaking of Faith, NPR, 7/2/09]

National Institute for Play

The Promise of Play [PBS]

Serious Fun? [Taking Note, 6/30/09]

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What We’re Following this Wednesday

New York State’s  Senate is still paralysed, and mayoral control of schools in NYC continues to be debated [Gotham Schools, Daily News]

States aren’t using stimulus funds as intended; and it’s hurting schools [USA Today, LMTV]

Kids online time increases dramatically [CNET news]

Duncan continues to stress merit pay for teachers [ABC]

All eyes are on HBO’s new series ,’Hung,’ about an American schoolteacher [The New Yorker]

President Obama declares tomorrow, July 9, National Summer Learning Day []

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Media Mondays: The Uniform Project

What do indie fashion and education reform have in common? In the case of designer Sheena Matheiken, it’s the power of the school uniform.  In one of our recent programs for The NewsHour, public high school students we met  said they felt empowered wearing a school uniform.

As the founder of The Uniform Project, Matheiken will wear the same dress every day for a year, to benefit the Akanksha Foundation a grassroots charity based in Mumbai, whose contributions go to fund uniforms and other school expenses for children in the slums of India.

Matheiken drew inspiration from the school uniforms of her childhood in India, and has the added challenge of accessorizing the dress differently each day, with an emphasis on sustainable fashion, using accessories that are mostly second-hand or donated. So far the project has been successful, and the story has been picked up in fashion press and readers weighing in with their own donations.

Watch the video:

The Uniform Project

The Akanksha Foundation [website]

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Media Mondays: Public Art in Public Schools

New York City’s public schools own more than 1,500 pieces of artwork, accumulated over the last 150 years. artschools

They range from stained glass by Tiffany Studios to vast mural cycles commissioned by the WPA to modern and contemporary works by Hans Hofmann, Ben Shahn, Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold, and Vito Acconci. WNYC’s Leonard Lopate interviews Michele Cohen, author of Public Art for Public Schools and they discuss, among other things, the role art plays in a learning environment.

Listen to the podcast here:

And see some images of art in NYC schools.

Public Art for Public Schools [WNYC, 6/29/09]

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School of the Dead

When teachers polled middle school students at I.S. 145 in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, they found that most of the students felt that the ‘Horror’ section in the library was under-stacked. So it was only natural that when three 8th grade teachers—Jared Beloff, Chad Dictenberg and Chris McLaughlin—received a $2,500 UTF Mini-Grant to integrate Media Arts with the English and Creative Writing curriculum, they decided to have the students serve as cast and crew on a feature-length zombie movie titled School of the Dead.

The students worked on all aspects of the film — storyboarding, writing, directing, acting, makeup–and even blogged about the experience of their long weekend shoots.

As for the subject matter, teacher Jared Belhoff said:

We analyzed these metaphors and came up with a story that actually is about “coming of age” in a society that is apathetic and uncaring; the zombies illustrate a sort of apathy in students and teachers that can quickly turn toward unreasonable or uncontrollable hunger. Our protagonist has to realize that he needs to care about the direction he is going in life and also to begin to care for others in order to survive in this world.

The project was a huge success, complete with a premiere party at I.S. 145, and since they were able to purchase equipment with the grant money, they will be continuing with filmmaking in the future. It may have also launched a number of careers — six of their students have applied and were accepted to the Middle School Film Festival program sponsored by the Department of Education and New York Film Academy this summer.

Watch the trailer below:

Interview with Moviemaker Magazine [6/11/09]
The student’s  blog, The Zombie Groan [Student blog]
Ghouls Out For Summer [NY Post, 6/23/09]

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Urban Girls Can’t Jump

Since 1972, Title IX has allowed young women in middle school and high school to reap the many benefits of participating in sports. And while girls’ sports teams have exploded in suburban areas over the past few decades, urban schools have had a much harder time both attracting young women to sports and keeping them on teams.girls-in-sport

The New York Times focused its attention this weekend on Middle School 51 in Brooklyn, where a the dedicated girls’ basketball coach is struggling to keep his players on the team. In urban areas, schools often have a smaller budget for sports, and fewer facilities–which explains in part the scarcity of girls on the field and on the court.

But cultural factors are at work here, too. Immigrant families often rely on middle- and high-school age girls to do household chores or take care of siblings, and many urban parents are concerned for their daughters’ safety when teams have to travel. By missing out on sports, urban girls are missing out on a lot: in addition to the obvious health benefits, participation on a team has been proven to help students excel academically and, later, in the workplace.

Playing Against the Odds [New York Times VIDEO]

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