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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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Why Reading Aloud Helps You Remember More Information
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If you're trying to commit something to memory, you shouldn't just read the same flashcard over and over. You should read it aloud, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

The research, published in the journal Memory, finds that the act of reading and speaking text aloud is a more effective way to remember information than reading it silently or just hearing it read aloud. The dual effect of both speaking and hearing helps encode the memory more strongly, the study reports. The new research builds on previous work on the so-called production effect by Waterloo psychologist Colin MacLeod, who is also one of the current paper's authors.  

The current study tested 95 college students over the course of two semesters, asking them to remember as many words as possible from a list of 160 nouns. At one session, they read a list of words into a microphone, then returned two weeks later for a follow-up. In some situations, the participants read the words presented to them aloud, while in others, they either heard their own recorded voice played back to them, heard recordings of others reading the words, or read the words silently to themselves. Afterward, they were tested to see how much they remembered from the list.

The participants remembered more words if they had read them aloud compared to all other conditions, even the one where people heard their own voices reading the words. However, hearing your own voice on its own does seem to have some effect: it was a better memory tool for participants than hearing someone else speak, perhaps because people are good at remembering things that involve them. (Or maybe, the researchers suggest, it's just because people find it so bizarre to hear their own recorded voice that it becomes a salient memory.)

The findings "suggest that production is memorable in part because it includes a distinctive, self-referential component," the researchers write. "This may well underlie why rehearsal is so valuable in learning and remembering: We do it ourselves, and we do it in our own voice. When it comes time to recover the information, we can use this distinctive component to help us to remember."

The message is loud and clear: If you want to remember, you should both read it and speak it aloud.

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The Brooklyn Public Library is Now Home to a Tiny Mollusk Museum
Courtesy of MICRO
Courtesy of MICRO

The Brooklyn Public Library is one of America’s largest public libraries—and now, its lobby is home to what’s being billed as the world’s smallest mollusk museum (and its first, no less). The vending machine-sized installation contains 15 different educational “displays,” all of which highlight fun facts about bivalves, snails, octopuses, and other soft-bodied creatures, according to The Washington Post.

Installed on November 10, the mollusk museum is the brainchild of Amanda Schochet, a computational ecologist, and media producer Charles Philipp. In 2016 they co-founded MICRO, a nonprofit organization that makes and distributes compact science museums.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

“Science museums are amazing,” the duo said in a video about their company, which is supported by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation. “There’s just not enough of them. They’re all in wealthier neighborhoods. It’s fundamentally important for everyone to have access. So we decided to reinvent the museum, taking everything that we love about museums and putting it inside a box that can go anywhere.”

The factory-made museums are designed in collaboration with scientists, and created using 3D printing techniques. They’re easily reproduced, and can be set up anywhere, including libraries, airports, or even the DMV.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The BPL’s Smallest Mollusk Museum is MICRO’s first public project. Why mollusks, you might ask? For one thing, they survive in every habitat on Earth, and have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Plus, a mollusk museum of any type—large or small—didn’t exist yet, as Schochet learned after she once misheard Philipp say he was going to the world’s “mollusk museum.” (He was instead going to the “smallest” one, located inside a Manhattan elevator shaft.)

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The Smallest Mollusk Museum is “packed with exhibits including miniature movie theaters, 3D-printed sculptures of octopus brains and leopard slug hugs, optical illusions showing visitors what it’s like to experience the world as mollusks, and a holographic mollusk aquarium,” Schochet tells Mental Floss. “We've identified nearly 100,000 species of mollusks, but there could be as many as 200,000—they’re all around us, all the time. Every one of them is a lens onto a bigger universe.”

Librarians have also joined in on the mollusk mania, prepping an accompanying series of books for kids and adults about the many creatures featured in the museum's exhibits.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The Smallest Mollusk Museum will gradually circulate through several of the library system’s branches. Meanwhile, MICRO’s next public offering will be a second mollusk museum, which will open in the Ronald McDonald House in New York City in December 2017. Additional locations and projects—including a small physics museum called the Perpetual Motion Museum—will be announced soon.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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