Monday, January 09, 2006

Crouch to Educators: Study and Imitate Success

Stanley Crouch epitomizes the daydreams of SWNID. Starting as a jazz critic, he has become a leading voice on all matters social, cultural and political. In other words, he gets paid to do pretty much what we do for free on this blog.

His column today responds to the President's recent speech on education policy. Believe it or not, Crouch affirms the value of No Child Left Behind. But he says there's another obvious step to be taken.

It is this: identify schools that are succeeding with low-income kids, then see what they're doing to succeed, then imitate it shamelessly.

Who can argue with such obvious logic? As long as we keep in mind that education depends as much on the people engaged in the process as the process itself, this step is exactly what needs to be done to address the scandal of the isolated urban and rural underclasses.

SWNID recalls an initiative that ought to be studied to see whether it really offers what it seems.

When Son of SWNID was in fourth grade, he participated in Odyssey of the Mind at Fairview German Language School, with SWNID as one of two parent volunteers to supervise. His team included five other fourth and fifth graders, selected because of their achievement and creativity. The kids had a blast creating a robot from scratch (they designed their own large marionette to fit the bill) and building a humorous skit around it. And they learned a lot about teamwork, organization, creativity, and problem solving.

Meanwhile, across the hall, students who were having difficulties with math were meeting simultaneously. But they weren't drilling math. They were playing board games: Monopoly, Trouble, Parcheesi, dominoes. The school had actually received a grant to do this. The rationale?Children learn math skills by playing board games. Teachers told SWNID that at the beginning of the program most of the kids invited to the program said that they'd never played board games in their lives.

So on both sides of the hall, kids were having a blast, and were learning without realizing it.

That spring, fourth grade math scores went up noticeably at Fairview. The Odyssey of the Mind team didn't do all that great in the competition (SWNID believes that parents at swanky east-side schools had given unfair help to their teams, not that we have sour grapes), but they didn't care. Fun was had by all.

I wonder if there's an education researcher looking for a project who'd like to study the effect of board games on math learning.

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