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Massachusetts Elementary School Cancels Homework for a Year

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Kids, parents, and teachers at Kelly Elementary School are about to have a very unusual year. Their principal has just announced that the school will be a homework-free zone for the next 10 months, as reported by Good Housekeeping. Principal Jackie Glasheen proposed the switch to help save the struggling school, which was ranked as one of the lowest-performing schools in the district.

The move is a counterintuitive one, to be sure; you’d think that giving kids more work would boost their grades. But a number of researchers say the reverse is true, especially for elementary schoolers. Sending young kids home with worksheets, projects, and reading assignments may actually make it harder for them to learn. (To a lesser extent, the same is true for middle schoolers, and some experts say even high schoolers should be doing far less.)

Little by little, the homework-free movement is catching on. In 2009, after surveying parents and educators, the Toronto school district banned homework for kindergarteners and on holidays and reduced the amount assigned to first and second graders. That same year, an Ontario elementary school did away with homework altogether. Principal Jan Olson had read the research, too. "They could not find anything that demonstrated a strong positive correlation between homework and improved grades," he told Today’s Parent.

It’s not as though the students are getting off easy. Homework is often used as a way to cover material that teachers missed in class and so, Glasheen reasoned, they should just give the teachers more time—and so the new school day will run two hours longer than usual.

"We are providing specific instructional intervention to close those gaps," Glasheen told Western Mass News. "We really want our kids to go home at 4 p.m. tired. We want their brain to be tired. We want them to enjoy their families, to go to soccer and football practice, and we want them to go to bed and that's it."

Not everyone is thrilled with the new plan. One teacher argues that an 8-hour school day is no better for kindergarteners than homework. "They start fading between 1:30-2:00," she wrote on Facebook. "It's developmentally inappropriate to expect a 5-year-old to sit in class that long."

Others are coming around. Marisa Ventrice is a third-grade teacher at Kelly Elementary, where her own children are students. She told Western Mass News, "I wasn't [sure] right away because it's such a huge part of our routine, or at least it has been for so long, and I do like the responsibility it teaches kids of bringing homework back to school." Still, she added, "the pros definitely outweigh the cons."

The homework-free program is scheduled for this year only, but may be continued if students’ scores improve.

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[h/t Good Housekeeping]

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Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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These Mobile Libraries Roaming Zimbabwe Are Pulled By Donkeys
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The people behind the Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program (RLRDP) believe you shouldn’t have to travel far to access good reading material. That’s why they have donkeys do a lot of the traveling for the people they help. According to inhabitat, RLRDP manages 15 donkey-powered library carts that deliver books to communities without libraries of their own.

The organization was founded in 1990 with the mission of bringing libraries to rural parts of Zimbabwe. Five years later, they started hitching up donkeys to carts packed with books. Each mobile library can hold about 1200 titles, and 12 of the 15 carts are filled exclusively with books for kids. The donkeys can transport more than just paperbacks: Each two-wheeled cart has space for a few riders, and three of them are outfitted with solar panels that power onboard computers. While browsing the internet or printing documents, visitors to the library can use the solar energy to charge their phones.

Donkeys pulling a cart

Carts usually spend a day in the villages they serve, and that short amount of time is enough to make a lasting impact. RLRDP founder Dr. Obadiah Moyo wrote in a blog post, “The children explore the books, sharing what they’ve read, and local storytellers from the community come to bring stories to life. It really is a day to spread the concept of reading and to develop the reading culture we are all working towards.”

Kids getting books from a cart.

About 1600 individuals benefit from each cart, and Moyo says schools in the areas they visit see improvement in students. The donkey-pulled libraries are only part of what RLRDP does: The organization also trains rural librarians, installs computers in places without them, and delivers books around Zimbabwe via bicycle—but the pack animals are hard to top. Moyo writes, “When the cart is approaching a school, the excitement from the children is wonderful to see as they rush out to greet it.”

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Rural Libraries and Resources Development Program


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