Education Week - May 15, 2013 - (Page 8)

8 EDUCATION WEEK n MAY 15, 2013 n Studies Link Early Spatial Skills to Math Achievement By Sarah D. Sparks Arlington, Va. Preschools and kindergartens long have taught children “task skills,” such as cutting paper and coloring inside the lines. But new research suggests the spatial and fine-motor skills learned in kindergarten and preschool not only prepare students to write their mathematics homework neatly, but also prime them to learn math and abstract reasoning. “We think of early-childhood classrooms as being really high in executive-function demands, but what children are being asked to exercise [executive function] on end up being visual-motor and fine-motor tasks,” said Claire E. Cameron, a research scientist at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, in Charlottesville. She spoke at a forum held here last week by the Needham, Mass.-based Learning and the Brain Society. Put yourself in the mind of a 4- or 5-year-old, and copying a shape on the blackboard onto a piece of paper is a much more cognitively complex task than it is for an adult: Understanding the design, then holding that shape in your mind and deciding how to start copying, requires working memory, one of the brain’s executive functions. Gripping the pencil properly, applying the right pressure to avoid tearing the paper, and keeping the paper oriented on the desk all need fine-motor skills that also, at such ages, require focus and self-control. “Children learning to write have not automated these skills,” Ms. Cameron said. “Even sitting up straight so you can face the paper can be difficult.” Children deemed “typically developing” can still show a wide range of visual-motor skills. In one test, children are asked to draw increasingly complex shapes. “Some kids are actually seeing parts that aren’t there,” Ms. Cameron said, noting one attempt at a cross that looks more like an abstract animal. “This is a normal developmental state,” she said. “When we copy something, we have a mental image and we are manipulating it and coordinating what you see with your movements.” Other researchers at the University of Virginia center have found executive function, fine-motor skills, COPYING PATTERNS Precursor for Math And, in a separate, ongoing study of nearly 500 preschoolers, Ms. Cameron found about a third tested high in both executive- a design, the more they can free up working memory and organize their thinking for more abstract problems. As part of a $1 million pilot project supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Mr. Grissmer and his team worked with after-school programs at three highpoverty, high-minority elementary schools in Charleston, S.C. For 45 minutes a day, four days a week, for seven months in fall 2010 and spring 2011, groups of five to ORIGINAL WORKS any math, and the teachers did not draw any links between the art projects and math skills, but by spring, the 1st graders showed significant improvement in both math and executive-function skills. At the start of the program, the students had tested at the 30th percentile nationwide in numeracy and “applied problems” on a standardized test of early math knowledge; by the end of the program, they had moved to the 47th percentile in those areas. The participating students showed similarly STUDENTS’ INTERPRETATIONS As part of the Minds in Motion project at the University of Virginia, researchers test how well preschool and early-elementary children copy simple designs. The student drawings here were done by children without disabilities who were of the same age but different levels of development in executivefunction and fine-motor skills. SOURCE: Claire E. Cameron and general knowledge in kindergarten are better predictors of 8th grade reading and math achievement than early-literacy skills. Moreover, the black-white achievement gap in elementary school also may have some of its roots in those foundational skills: Black children studied by the center entered kindergarten on average 9½ months developmentally younger than their white classmates in executive function and 8 months developmentally younger in visuo-spatial skills, though it’s BLOGS of the WEEK | NEWS | not yet known why. Researchers led by David W. Grissmer, a research professor at the university, found 1st graders who had attended high-poverty preschools often had never built with construction paper, blocks, or modeling clay. Marketplace K-12 ‘Ed. Design Studio’ to Link Entrepreneurs, Researchers A new project at the University of Pennsylvania will attempt to give promising education startups and entrepreneurs targeted advice and other help, including access to academic researchers, so that those organizations grow and succeed. The university’s graduate school of education unveiled plans to launch the program, known as the Education Design Studio Fund, at its campus in Philadelphia, last week. The announcement came on the same day the graduate program announced the winners of a competition that will provide a combined $145,000 to education-focused entrepreneurs, money designed to help them either launch or function skills—such as following directions amid distractions— and visual-motor skills, such as cutting paper. Children who performed well in either or both executive-function and visualmotor skills achieved well in both math and reading achievement and class behavior later on in the early-elementary grades. “It’s the children who are low in both who are struggling,” Ms. Cameron said. The more quickly children become automatic in mentally coordinating an action or repeating build on what they already have. The design-studio fund is meant to create an “ecosystem” of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, and education practitioners, with the goal of fostering innovations that can help schools, officials from the graduate school said. The fund is one part of the school’s overall effort to bridge the gaps that separate k-12 entrepreneurs, academic scholars who could potentially inform their work, and school officials who might benefit from new ideas and products. Startups and other companies and organizations who are selected for the program will be given access to researchers from the graduate school, who will receive honorariums for time spent helping the entrepreneurs refine their ideas in the studio, said Barbara “Bobbi” Kurshan, the executive director of academic innovation at the graduate school. A substantial portion of the design studio’s work will be conducted and made available online, Kurshan added. Four projects won seven prizes during this year’s competition, from a pool of 250 applications from 17 countries. The big winner was Raise Labs, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that envisions seven kindergartners and 1st graders played games that required them to copy designs and shapes. At the start of each class, the pupils took part in “calirobics”—handwriting and line-tracing exercises set to music. During the rest of the class they copied a pattern or picture in a variety of materials. Some days, students cut and pasted construction paper to make chains or built models out of clay or Lego blocks; other days, they used stencils, pattern blocks, or fusible plastic beads. The children were not taught a system for offering students “microscholarships” for college, which they can begin earning as early as 9th grade. The organization won three prizes worth a combined $75,000. —SEAN CAVANAGH | NEWS | Curriculum Matters Teachers’ Group Opposes Machine-Scored Writing One of the major assumptions underlying the common assessments is that the writing portions will be computer-scored. This capability is pivotal in managing their cost and producing results quickly enough to provide valuable feedback for teachers. The national association representing English/language arts teachers has come out against machine-scoring of student writing. Earlier this month, the National Council of Teachers of English issued a statement saying that machines just aren’t able to score the aspects of writing teachers prize most. As we reported previously, some scholars are circulating a petition opposing machine-scoring of writing as large improvements in looking, listening, attention, and executivefunction skills. The development of fine-motor coordination and executive function may be more critical than subject content for early-childhood classrooms, Mr. Grissmer said. “We start kids too early on math and reading when they don’t have these foundational skills,” he said. In the earliest grades, he said, “you can’t just teach reading and math to get higher reading and math skills.” well. At least one study has found that computers can rival humans in scoring student writing. In its statement, the ncte says that artificial intelligence assesses student writing by only “a few limited surface features,” ignoring important elements such as logic, clarity, accuracy, quality of evidence, and humor or irony. Computers’ ability to judge student writing also gets worse as the length of the essays increases, the ncte says. The organization argues for consideration of other ways of judging student writing, such as portfolio assessment, teacherassessment teams, and more localized classroom- or district-based assessments. The viability of artificial-intelligence scoring on the common assessments is a powerful cost manager for the two groups of states that are designing tests for the common-core standards. If they decide that humans must score the essays, the expense of the tests soars. And cost is, of course, high on states’ radars as they weigh their continued participation in the two groups. —CATHERINE GEWERTZ >> To see all Education Week blogs, go to

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 15, 2013

Education Week - May 15, 2013
Standards Supporters Firing Back
FOCUS ON: SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENTS: Wanted: Schools Chiefs for Big-Name Districts
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: E-Rate Programs Seen as Too Lean for a Digital Era
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE: Capacity Issues Confront Implementation Of Standards
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Bar for Teacher Exams Set Low In All States, Federal Data Show
Mobile Apps Aim to Deepen Lessons From Field Trips
Studies Link Early Spatial Skills To Math Achievement
Blogs of the Week
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: MOOCs Provider Targets Teacher Education
SCIENCE IN PRACTICE: Informal Sector Seen as Ally in Science Initiative
Head Start Centers Feel Sequestration Pain
Arizona ELL Battle Carries On, Despite Ruling
Policy Brief
Impact Mulled on Waivers, Grants
LISA MADIGAN & JOHN SUTHERS: Moving Beyond Punishment: Treatment Is Key to Keeping Schools Safe
SARA MARTINEZ TUCKER: We Must Create Opportunities for STEM Learning
JENNIFER JENNINGS: An Apology To Secretary Duncan
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
RONALD J. BONNSTETTER & BILL J. BONNSTETTER: We Need a New Approach to Principal Selection

Education Week - May 15, 2013