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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.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

[h/t Good Housekeeping]

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Northeastern University Is Now Handing Out Echo Dots to Its Students
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Amazon

Northeastern University is welcoming new students with an unusual addition to their dorm rooms this fall: an Echo Dot. According to USA Today, the Boston university will give some of its incoming students the option to receive a specialized Echo Dot smart home device that can help answer questions related to their school experience.

Northeastern's Echo Dot program doesn't just provide standard-issue smart home devices. The university has developed a special "Husky Helper" skill (named after the university mascot) that can answer common questions that students might otherwise pose to student services over the phone. The idea is that students will get answers to their questions quickly, and student services won't have to put so many employees to work answering basic queries about issues like dining hall meal card balances.

They can ask it things like whether they have a health insurance waiver on file with the university (a requirement for students who don't have university insurance) or have the device set a timer when they have to leave for their next class. Of course, they can also use it for all the things a non-student might use a Dot for, like playing music or getting weather updates.

Students can decide whether to opt in to the program and how much access to give Amazon. They can add information about their class schedules, meal plan accounts, tuition payments, and more. Students who ask about some sensitive information, like their grades, are instead directed to the proper university department to call, rather than their private data being read out for the whole dorm to hear.

The Northeastern Echo Dot program started out with a 60-student pilot for the 2017 - 2018 academic year, but will expand to more students in the fall.

[h/t USA Today]

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