There’s been a lot going on in education news this week, and I am excited to share a few of these ideas here with you today. First, this morning Medical News Today released a great article regarding autism research that explains the associated gastrointestinal issues that many children with ASD suffer. This report gives new hope to treating some of the related medical issues of ASD. Next, I found a wonderful piece on classroom management that explains why helping our students get set up for success isn’t always the best method for learning. As David Ginsburg, aka “Coach G” explains, as teachers we need to remember the importance of troubleshooting common errors rather than not allowing them to occur at all. In many ways, classroom management is about the tone you set for yourself and in the information-rich 21st century, most educators are better placed as guides as opposed to oracles. Finally, I felt the need to address the big news item of the week – the attempt at a marriage between social studies and math on a homework assignment. Many of you, I am sure, are aware of the slavery-related questions that appeared on a recent homework assignment for Georgia third-graders. The principal of that school responded to reporters at the local Gwinnett Daily Post by explaining its relationship to the students’ studies of Frederick Douglass. How do you feel about this issue? Gastrointestinal Problems in Autistic Children May Be Due To Gut Bacteria From Medical News Today The underlying reason autism is often associated with gastrointestinal problems is an unknown, but new results to be published in the online journal mBio® on January 10 reveal that the guts of autistic children differ from other children in at least one important way: many children with autism harbor a type of bacteria in their guts that non-autistic children do not. The study was conducted by Brent Williams and colleagues at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Earlier work has revealed that autistic individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms often exhibit inflammation and other abnormalities in their upper and lower intestinal tracts. However, scientists do not know what causes the inflammation or how the condition relates to the developmental disorders that characterize autism. The research results appearing in mBio® indicate the communities of microorganisms that reside in the gut of autistic children with gastrointestinal problems are different than the communities of non-autistic children. Whether or not these differences are a cause or effect of autism remains to be seen. "The relationship between different microorganisms and the host and the outcomes for disease and development is an exciting issue," says Christine A. Biron, the Brintzenhoff Professor of Medical Science at Brown University and editor of the study. "This paper is important because it starts to advance the question of how the resident microbes interact with a disorder that is poorly understood." Bacteria belonging to the group Sutterella represented a relatively large proportion of the microorganisms found in 12 of 23 tissue samples from the guts of autistic children, but these organisms were not detected in any samples from non-autistic children. Why this organism is present only in autistic kids with gastrointestinal problems and not in unaffected kids is unclear. "Sutterella has been associated with gastrointestinal diseases below the diaphragm, and whether it's a pathogen or not is still not clear," explains Jorge Benach, Chairman of the Department of Microbiology at Stony Brook University and a reviewer of the report. "It is not a very well-known bacterium." In children with autism, digestive problems can be quite serious and can contribute to behavioral problems, making it difficult for doctors and therapists to help their patients. Autism, itself, is poorly understood, but the frequent linkage between this set of developmental disorders and problems in the gut is even less so. Benach says the study was uniquely powerful because they used tissue samples from the guts of patients. "Most work that has been done linking the gut microbiome with autism has been done with stool samples," says Benach, but the microorganisms shed in stool don't necessarily represent the microbes that line the intestinal wall. "What may show up in a stool sample may be different from what is directly attached to the tissue," he says. Tissue biopsy samples require surgery to acquire and represent a difficult process for the patient, facts that underscore the seriousness of the gastrointestinal problems many autistic children and their families must cope with. Benach emphasizes that the study is statistically powerful, but future work is needed to determine what role Sutterella plays, if any, in the problems in the gut. "It is an observation that needs to be followed through," says Benach. Don’t Prevent Students’ Mistakes, Prepare for Them By David Ginsburg for “Coach G’s Teaching Tips” It’s common knowledge that people can learn as much from their mistakes as anything. And yet traditional teaching methods often deny students the chance to learn from their mistakes by preventing them from making mistakes. In social studies and science, for example, a lot of teachers tell students how to scale and label their axes when plotting data on a line graph. This prevents students from mistakenly assigning the dependent variable to the x-axis and the independent variable to the y-axis, or running out of room on their paper by going with ones or tens for their scales instead of hundreds or thousands. Setting students up for success like this may seem like the right thing to do. After all, why let kids experience the frustration of botching something when you can prevent it? Here's why: such frustration is a precursor to deep, lasting learning. That's right, students' grasp of new concepts and skills is often better when they struggle through the process of learning those concepts and skills than when teachers error-proof that process. I first noticed this in the context of graphing when a teacher did not error-proof the process, and many students placed Time on the y-axis of their Time-Distance graphs. But after lively discussion and debate, all students agreed that time belonged on the x-axis. More important, they understood why it belonged there. The same goes for other skills such as writing. Students are more likely to become better writers when they get specific feedback about their writing than when teachers show them in general terms what good writing looks like. I'm reminded of a student who couldn't get why active voice is more powerful than passive voice until her teacher pointed out examples within that student's own writing. Helping students troubleshoot their errors like this should be a primary role of every teacher. There's nothing to troubleshoot, though, if kids never run into trouble. Lesson planning should thus be more about anticipating students' errors and preparing to help them learn from those errors than trying to develop presentations that prevent all errors. Provide students activities that involve applying information, and be ready to help them when they get tripped up. Another way of thinking about this is reflected in the common distinction in recent years between "sage on stage" (i.e., lecturer) and "guide on the side." And with students' ever-increasing fingertip access to information, there's an ever-decreasing need for us to be the source of their information. Still, just because students can get information doesn't mean they'll know what to do with it. The classroom must therefore be a place where students have regular opportunities to learn by using--and yes, misusing--that information. In other words, a place where they can learn from one of life's greatest teachers: mistaiks. Principal Responds to NAACP Allegations From the Gwinnett Daily Post A local elementary school principal responded Tuesday to a wave of negative attention this week after a homework assignment given to third-graders got the NAACP's attention. Beaver Ridge Principal Jose DeJesus posted a letter to the school's website to inform parents "of some community and media activity that occurred in front of our school" on Tuesday. He said the NAACP held an event in front of the school "to express their concerns about a homework assignment that went home" last week. Gwinnett County schools officials are investigating whether to discipline teachers who gave third-grade students math homework with word problems about slavery. DeJesus said a worksheet created by one of the school's teachers was sent home last week with four classes. He said third-graders have been studying famous Americans and had been reading about Frederick Douglass, a former slave. "These particular questions were an attempt at incorporating some of what students had been discussing in social studies with their math activity," DeJesus said. The NAACP has called for the firing of any teachers involved in creating and distributing the homework. "I refuse to believe the teacher or teachers responsible for allowing it to go forward did not understand fully what they were doing," said state NAACP president Ed DuBose. "We need to understand how deep this is." One of the homework questions reads: "Each tree has 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?" Another question was: "If Frederick got two beatings each day, how many beatings did he get in one week?" DeJesus said he understood parents’ concerns about the questions. "While I encourage our teachers to create cross curricular lessons, my expectation is that those lessons be appropriate and provide true connection between the subject areas," DeJesus said. "That did not occur in this case and we are working to ensure that this does not happen again and that this situation is handled appropriately." A spokesperson with the NAACP said DuBose planned to meet with Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks Tuesday night to discuss the matter.
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