Monday, April 30, 2012

Street Law Connects Community College Students to Civics

by Andrea Jett Fletcher, Senior Program Officer, Civics Program

The early mission of the nation’s two-year colleges was a practical one: to develop the local workforce by teaching concrete skills and trades. Preparing students for meaningful participation in civic life wasn’t part of the agenda. Thanks to the work of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Street Law, that’s about to change. Today, City Colleges of Chicago—one of the largest community college systems in the country, serving 120,000 students annually—is piloting a law-related civics course designed for community colleges.

Launched at Harold Washington College this spring, this innovative course offers a practical understanding of the U. S. legal system by exploring areas of the law that directly affect students’ daily lives.  Before this year, almost 40 percent of the community colleges in the United States offered law classes, but only as part of career training programs such as pre-law and criminal justice. None of them directly connected the curriculum to democratic engagement. Now Street Law is making that connection.

For Lee Arbetman, executive director of Street Law, professional training and civic literacy should not be mutually exclusive.

"Some think that increased focus on civic learning will mean less attention to workforce preparation. We think they are mistaken… High quality civic learning develops powerful skills that are essential for both democratic practice and workforce preparation: complex problem solving, advocacy and communication, and the ability to collaborate with diverse colleagues," he said.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), most students entering public community colleges received much less civics education in K–12 than their peers attending private four-year colleges. With community colleges becoming the largest, fastest growing and most diverse segment of the higher education market, these institutions could play a critical role in narrowing that gap.

This new course is indicative of a budding national movement of community colleges to develop and expand programs, projects and curricula that engage students in civic learning and democratic practice.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Early Math, Foundational Math

Guest blog by Professor Jie-Qi Chen, Ph.D. Erikson Institute

Education Week featured an excellent piece by distinguished scholars Deborah Stipek, Alan Schoenfeld, and Deanna Gomby about the importance of early math in school readiness and life achievement, and actions we can take to advance this agenda. As someone close to the matter, I couldn’t agree more strongly: early math instruction matters.

Early math matters because it sets the foundation for later learning. Number sense, for example, a concept mentioned in the article, connects quantities to counting and is one of the building blocks for learning arithmetic in the primary grades. To help children develop foundational mathematics concepts in children, teachers must first understand them well themselves.

Early math matters because it fosters positive attitudes toward mathematics learning. In addition to developing math skills, enjoyable early math experiences increase children’s interest in math and create a pleasant emotional response to math activities. Just like a love for reading, a love for math can develop early in life and can propel math imagination and exploration throughout life. Of critical importance in fostering such passion and love for math in young children is their teachers’ positive attitudes toward math.

Early math matters because learning math is so dependent on school-based experiences. Compared to reading, children have much less exposure to early math outside of school. Most parents read to their children often. The same practice does not hold with math. So, school-based instruction may play a larger role in most children’s mathematical experience than it does in their reading experience.

Chicago has made a concerted effort to address the issue of early math education in classrooms. Collaborating with the McCormick Foundation, Erikson Institute’s Early Math Project has had a noticeable impact on improving early childhood teachers’ mathematical competence and child outcomes. Early math that is foundational can build understanding and promote lifelong learning.