Friday, December 9, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Teaching Evolution

So if you are a family that doesn't believe in and/or doesn't teach evolution, then you want to skip this post.

But for those who do...

I found a great series of lesson plans about teaching evolution on a website hosted by Indiana University.  These lessons were developed for teaching high school biology, but the authors say that, with some modification, they could be adapted to either an advanced middle school or introductory college level class.

There are over 50 lesson plans or mini lessons that are available on line, along with some titles that I suppose they are still developing.  It is broken into two big categories:
  • Evolution Patterns
  • Evolution Processes
Subcategories under Evolution Patterns are:
  • Geological/Paleontological Patterns:  General
  • Human Evolution Patterns
  • Classification, Hierarchy, Relationships
The subcategories under Evolution Processes are:
  • Adaptations, Imperfections, Contrivances
  • Variation and Natural Selection
  • Speciation
  • Macroevolution
So it is a nice, comprehensive approach to the topic, it seems to me.  I haven't looked at all the lessons, but most of the ones I did read had an experiment or hands-on component.  Not all of them are suitable for an at-home science lab, but many of them can be done in a homeschool setting.

So check them out here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Contest Helps Students Develop Reflective Writing Skills

Now that NaNoWriMo is over, it's time for us to refocus our writing classes on non-fiction writing.  There is a national contest on a wonderful topic that may be just the thing to help us!

The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in partnership with Target Stores, is running a reading-writing competition called Letters About Literature.  In it, students write a personal letter to an author of one of their favorite books to tell them why that book changed the way they think about themselves or the world.   The book can be fiction or nonfiction, even poetry, speeches, short stories, or graphic novels, but it can not be a comic strip or song lyric (even if published in a book).  Also, the author can be living or dead.

The competition is divided into three levels.  Level 1 is for 4th-6th grade (students must be at least nine in order to participate) and letters are expected to be 100-400 words long.  Level 2 is 7th-8th grade, with letters that are 300-600 words.  Level 3 is for high schoolers (9th-12th grade) with a recommended 500-800 page length.  Students can enter through their schools or as individuals, and homeschoolers are specifically encouraged to enter (apparently a number of winners have been homeschooled).

While the exercise is worthy just in itself, there are some great prizes for the winner.  Two national winners for each level will get to choose a favorite library (school or community library) to receive a $10,000 grant from Target.  Those winners will also each get a personal Target gift card for $500.  There will also be four national honors awards for each level; the national honor awards come with a $1,000 grant to a favorite library and a personal $50 Target gift card.

The website also has a great 36-page Teacher's Guide with lesson plans and worksheets to help students write an appropriate reflective essay on their chosen book.  The worksheets not only develop generic essay writing skills, such as crafting an engaging opening paragraph, but lead students to see the difference between a reflective essay and other types of writing, such as book reports, literary analysis, or a simple fan letter.

All in all, this looks like a wonderful project to me.  I've already discussed it with my son, and we definitely plan to be working on it this month to be ready to submit something by the deadline, which is January 6, 2012.  It combine something we love (books) with something we need to develop (nonfiction writing) with a focus on appreciation, which is a virtue that we trying to expand on during this holiday season.

We hope lots of you will join us in this competition.  If you do, please enter the book that you (or your child/ren or student/s) choose to write about in the comments below.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kiplinger Publishes its Annual List of Best Value Colleges

Kiplinger has published its annual report on the colleges that it rates as the best value colleges.  Many of the same colleges are at the top of this list.  For example, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hills is the number one value among public colleges for the 10th year in a row.  However, that may not be the case next year, since the board is raising in-state tuition by 15.6% for next year, and similar percentages for the next several years.  Part of the justification for raising tuition to that extent is the fact that UNC-Chapel Hill has been recognized by Kiplingers and other as such a great deal, compared to other public colleges.

Among private schools, Princeton University appears to continue to offer the best financial aid program.  According to Kiplingers, the average Princeton grad leaves owing only a little over $5,000 for his/her undergraduate education.  Of course, these kinds of average statistics can be misleading;  if you go to school with nine millionaires who can afford the tuition outright, while you need to borrow $50,000, that averages out to a mean debt of $5,000.  Nonetheless, Princeton is generally regarded as the school among the Ivy League colleges that does the best job in providing sufficient aid to allow anyone who does get in to be able to attend.

There are two things that are interesting to look at between the two lists.  One is the average debt upon graduation.   Graduates of even the #1 bargain public school, UNC-Chapel Hill, owe an average of over $15,000, while quite a few few of the top schools have a significantly lower average debt upon graduation.  Secondly, while Chapel Hill as a four-year graduation rate of nearly 75%, and my alma mater, the College of William and Mary, as well as the University of Virginia, have four-year completion rates of over 80%, most of the other top "bargain" public schools have four-year completion rates in the 50 percentiles, or even the 40's.  Obviously, this is related to the debt burden, because having to extend your education beyond four years increased the years paying tuition and probably the overall debt.  This is one of the reasons that public university may not be quite as much of a bargain as they seem.

Anyway, to see the list of the best values in public education, see this chart.
To see a similar list for the private universities, see this chart