Teaching Refugees to Map Their World

I first visited the Zaatari refugee camp in early 2015. Located in northern Jordan, the camp is home to more than 80,000 Syrian refugees. I was there as part of a research study on refugee camp wireless and information infrastructure.
It’s one thing to read about refugees in the news. It’s a whole different thing to actually go visit a camp. I saw people living in metal caravans, mixed with tents and other materials to create a sense of home. Many used improvised electrical systems to keep the power going. People are rebuilding their lives to create a better future for their families and themselves, just like any of us would if faced with a similar situation.
As a geographer, I was quickly struck by how geographically complex the Zaatari camp is. The camp management staff faced serious spatial challenges. By “spatial challenges,” I mean issues that any small city might face, such as keeping track of the electrical grid; understanding where people live within the camp; and locating other important resources, such as schools, mosques and health centers. Officials at Zaatari had some maps of the camp, but they struggled to keep up with its ever-changing nature.
An experiment I launched there led to up-to-date maps of the camp and, I hope, valuable training for some of its residents.


Like many other refugee camps, Zaatari developed quickly in response to a humanitarian emergency. In rapid onset emergencies, mapping often isn’t as high of a priority as basic necessities like food, water and shelter.
However, my research shows that maps can be an invaluable tool in a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. Modern digital mapping tools have been essential for locating resources and making decisions in a number of crises, from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to the refugee influx in Rwanda.
This got me thinking that the refugees themselves could be the best people to map Zaatari. They have intimate knowledge of the camp’s layout, understand where important resources are located and benefit most from camp maps.
With these ideas in mind, my lab teamed up with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Al-Balqa and Princess Sumaya universities in Jordan.
Modern maps are often made with a technology known as Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. Using funding from the UNHCR Innovation Fund, we acquired the computer hardware to create a GIS lab. From corporate partner Esri, we obtained low-cost, professional GIS software.

RefuGIS team member Yusuf Hamad and his son Abdullah, who was born in Zaatari refugee camp, learning about GIS.

Over a period of about 18 months, we trained 10 Syrian refugees. Students in the RefuGIS class ranged in age from 17 to 60. Their backgrounds from when they lived in Syria ranged from being a math teacher to a tour operator to a civil engineer. I was extremely fortunate that one of my students, Yusuf Hamad, spoke fluent English and was able translate my instructions into Arabic for the other students.
We taught concepts such as coordinate systems, map projections, map design and geographic visualization; we also taught how to collect spatial data in the field using GPS. The class then used this knowledge to map places of interest in the camp, such as the locations of schools, mosques and shops.
The class also learned how to map data using mobile phones. The data has been used to update camp reference maps and to support a wide range of camp activities.
I made a particular point to ensure the class could learn how to do these tasks on their own. This was important: No matter how well-intentioned a technological intervention is, it will often fall apart if the displaced community relies completely on outside people to make it work.
As a teacher, this class was my most satisfying educational experience. This was perhaps my finest group of GIS students across all the types of students I have taught over my 15 years of teaching. Within a relatively short amount of time, they were able to create professional maps that now serve camp management staff and refugees themselves.

A map created with geographic information collected by students in the RefuGIS program.


My experiences training refugees and humanitarian professionals in Jordan and Rwanda have made me reflect upon the broader possibilities that GIS can bring to the over 65 million refugees in the world today.
It’s challenging for refugees to develop livelihoods at a camp. Many struggle to find employment after leaving.
GIS could help refugees create a better future for themselves and their future homes. If people return to their home countries, maps essential to activities like construction and transportation can aid the rebuilding process. If they adopt a new home country, they may find they have marketable skills. The worldwide geospatial industry is worth an estimated $400 billion and geospatial jobs are expected to grow over the coming years.
Our team is currently helping some of the refugees get GIS industry certifications. This can further expand their career opportunities when they leave the camp and begin to rebuild their lives.
The ConversationTechnology training interventions for refugees often focus on things like computer programming, web development and other traditional IT skills. However, I would argue that GIS should be given equal importance. It offers a rich and interactive way to learn about people, places and spatial skills things that I think the world in general needs more of. Refugees could help lead the way.

Brian Tomaszewski is an associate professor of information sciences and technologies at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation

They’re Finding Hope for Their Future in Comic Books and Journal Entries

When Kevin Vaughn Jr., a 15-year-old from North Philadelphia, wrote a letter to victims of police brutality, he did so from a perspective that many in his community say they share. Namely, that being young and black in America is a raw deal.
“I am sorry you were treated as something less than human,” he wrote. “No matter who or what you are, you should be respected as a human, a citizen, and an American. … Use your experience to make a difference.”
The letter wasn’t intended to be read by anyone other than him and his classmates, a group of about a dozen teens from some of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. Vaughn Jr. wrote it for a writing workshop that encourages young people like him to record their thoughts and feelings in a journal — punctuation, spelling and grammar be damned. The point wasn’t to get a good grade; it was simply recording his experience that mattered.
Vaughn Jr. is taking part in Mighty Writers, a program that teaches writing skills to students between the ages of 7 and 17. The nonprofit works with about 2,500 kids annually, exposing them to everything from playwriting to comic book creation through after-school classes, night and weekend workshops, and summer sessions. Boosting literacy skills is crucial in a city like Philadelphia, where nearly half of the population lacks even the basic reading skills to hold down a job. The idea behind Mighty Writers is that kids who master writing also make better decisions, have higher self-esteem and achieve greater success as they enter adulthood.
The first step is getting them to think creatively, says Amy Banegas, program administrator for the North Philadelphia chapter of Mighty Writers. This summer, Banegas, a 14-year teaching veteran of North Philadelphia schools, is holding weeklong summer sessions at the Mighty Writers location just north of the city’s burgeoning Center City neighborhood. It’s the fourth writing center the nonprofit has opened since its founding in 2009.
Despite downtown Philadelphia’s booming economy, the local school system is flailing. The cash-strapped district, which educates about 130,000 students, has had a hard time retaining permanent teachers, resulting in dramatically low test scores across the city. To save money, the education department will reportedly begin closing three schools a year starting in 2019.
All of this is bad news in a city where nearly a quarter of the population can’t read or write beyond an eighth-grade level, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2003, the most recent year information is available. 
“Literacy is horrible in North Philly, from kids to adults. And as parents, you can’t help your child read or write if you can’t do it yourself,” says Banegas, who sees many sophomores enter her program at a fourth-grade reading level. “It’s sad that it’s not shocking.”

Kevin Vaughn Jr., 15, puts his thoughts on paper during a Mighty Writers workshop.

Mighty Writers’ network of 400 volunteers, made up largely of filmmakers, musicians and journalists, attempts to combat that by providing structure through consistent writing exercises based on the issues that affect the kids who attend. In one recent session, for example, students learned how to channel their voices to become advocates for justice and equality.
Mighty Writers measures the impact of their program by assessing participants’ writing development using a tech platform. Additionally, the organization tracks students’ self-reporting on writing motivation and writing stamina over time. Education director Rachel Loeper says that she’s seen improvement among the students who attend.
There have been other city-based organizations that are similar to Mighty Writers. One is Writers Matter  at La Salle University, which focuses on middle schools students. Professor Robert Vogel created the program in 2005 and says writing classes like it are imperative in urban areas with large populations of low-income and special-needs students.
“The writing programs in most large cities are pretty minimal and don’t really address the adolescent issues these students experience. Schools there just aren’t as well-funded as they are in suburban and rural areas,” Vogel says. “It’s a whole different social-economic dynamic in inner cities. As a result, the resources aren’t that good, and the challenges are much greater.”
At the Mighty Writers summer workshop that NationSwell attended, the topic at hand was the state of “being unapologetically black.” Students discussed police violence against African-Americans — specifically the deaths that have dominated headlines over the past five years — and then wrote in their journals. That these kids would have strong feelings about cops isn’t a surprise. In 2015, a federal study found that 81 percent of police shootings in the city targeted black residents in North Philadelphia. Just last month, a policeman in North Philadelphia’s 15th precinct shot and killed an armed black man after he was stopped for recklessly riding a dirt bike.
“It’s not just a workshop,” says Banegas. “It’s about self-growth and connecting to community.”
Those are qualities that Vogel, who conducted a three-year study on the effectiveness of his Writers Matter program, says are necessary for future success.
“There’s an emotional and social impact, and a building of confidence among the children that is hard to measure, but we’ve been able to see [those positive results] through interviews with [participants],” he says. “These kinds of programs have an impact that goes beyond the academic.”
Vaughn Jr., the 15-year-old who penned a letter to victims of excessive police force, says he’s learned to appreciate the practice of keeping a journal since enrolling in Mighty Writers.
“I find value in it because it’s a great way to let you know what you’re thinking and feeling,” he says. “It’s just keeping note as to where you are as a person.”
Homepage photo by Joseph Darius Jaafari
Continue reading “They’re Finding Hope for Their Future in Comic Books and Journal Entries”

How Do You Make Teachers Agents of Change?

Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a coalition of 20,000 teachers in six American communities, got its start in a pizza joint in New York City’s East Village. There, a group of young teachers, including Sydney Morris and Evan Stone, who taught second and sixth grades, respectively, at P.S. 86 in the North Bronx, shared their frustration with the public school system. Of all the complaints, the one that stood out the most was that the educators felt like opportunities for growth and transformation weren’t available, but that they couldn’t do anything about it. In 2010, Morris and Stone founded E4E to empower teachers to be changemakers. NationSwell spoke with the pair about the challenges and rewards of working with an entrenched education system at the green-apple-filled E4E headquarters in Lower Manhattan.

What’s the best advice you have ever been given on leadership?
Morris: We were coming to this work straight from the classroom, and I think one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever gotten was “People first, people second, people third.” It really is all about the people, the talent, the ideas they bring, the culture they help create.

Stone: Another piece of advice that we got early on was “Decide what your north star is, and keep your eye on it.” Because you’re going to get lots of ideas from lots of people that sound exciting and could pull you in lots of different directions. But stay true to why you launched this organization, why it’s important. That’s something we constantly check each other on.

Evan Stone joins New York City educators and E4E members in advocating for teacher-informed measures of performance in New York State’s teacher evaluation.

What innovations in your field are you most excited about right now?
Morris: One thing that our teachers are incredibly excited about, all across the country, is around school climate and student discipline reform. Certainly in today’s times, our membership and our team is incredibly driven by a lens of equity, and we see hugely disproportionate rates of suspensions, expulsions and discipline — particularly for boys of color. Thinking about how we transform our schools into the kinds of safe spaces in which all kids can truly learn really is very closely intertwined with how we discipline students. Moving from a more punitive discipline model to one that is more restorative is something that we’re doing a lot of work on supporting teachers, districts and school systems, because we think it is so directly linked to better outcomes and opportunities for all students.

Stone: Another huge shift that’s happened in our landscape that’s opening the space up for a ton of innovation is we have, for the first time in 16 years, a new federal education law: No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act. A lot of the systems under NCLB that were federally mandated have been loosened up to allow state and district flexibility. (This is distinct from Common Core; it’s much broader: how we hold districts accountable, how we fund schools, services that are provided for special populations of students — it’s the whole federal education code, essentially.) [Recently], we had a group of teachers in Albany, [N.Y.] meeting with state education officials, union leaders and others to try to think about what opportunities are available for innovation and how do we really make sure teachers are helping to drive those changes. This is going to be happening in every state, so it’s a real opportunity for our members to take ownership over the new structures that govern school and their profession can look like.

Through E4E, a group of teachers went to Albany, N.Y., to meet with state education officials to discuss the Every Student Succeed Act.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started this job?
Stone: I’m glad that people didn’t tell us too much, because I think naïveté is sort of a blessing in a startup. As we launched this out of our classroom, I don’t think we had any idea about some of the challenges that we would face in building and running an organization. That allowed us to take each challenge as it came, one at a time, which was really necessary in the early days, when we were still working in school part-time, trying to run this organization part-time and figuring out the myriad things that you need to do to launch and run a nonprofit.

What inspires you?
Morris: The education space is incredibly complex. What helps me get up in the morning is that the positions that we take, the work we do and what our members stand for is a true, rational middle in an otherwise polarized space. One of the biggest myths that exists in the education space is that, if you are pro-reform or pro-change in education, then that must mean you are inherently anti-union. What our members are showing is that, in fact, they are pro-union and pro-change at the same time, calling for critical and significant shifts for the way our profession operates and the way we serve our students, while also believing in the power of teachers coming together to collectively create change.

What’s on your nightstand?
Morris: Do you want the honest answer? I am almost finished with “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Sometimes you go home, and you just need to clear your head. What could be better than wizards and magic and spells? I’ve never read it before, so I felt like I was missing out on a major cultural phenomenon here.

Stone: I am almost finished with “Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream,” Andy Stern’s new book. He’s a really inspirational labor leader that’s thinking about how do we ensure, as our world and our country continues to change, that the American Dream can still exist. It’s a pretty exciting book that pushes our thinking. Even if — when — we have a high-quality education serving all kids, what are the jobs of the future we’re preparing them for? How do make sure that our school system lines up with that and that our country supports opportunity for everyone?

What’s your favorite book of all-time?

Stone: My favorite book of all time is “The Brothers Karamazov,” and the reason is I read it my senior year in high school. It was probably year when I didn’t want to do much work, and my English teacher, with whom I spent three or four months on it because it was quite the tome, was just phenomenal. It made me want to see myself as an intellectual. That book and that teacher had a significant impact on me. One of the goals of the education system is to inspire learning, and that combination of those two did that for me.

Morris: The literature you read at defining moments in your life can be the books that stick out most vividly to you. One of those for me is a book that both played a role in my understanding and appreciation for spirituality and also for a woman’s journey: “The Red Tent.” I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of women, too, in our work, because teaching in many ways was one of the first careers open to women, and it is a profession where the majority are women, so I’ve been thinking about the role women have to play in leading that change.

What’s your perfect day?

Stone: Besides lying in bed all day eating a cheeseburger and french fries with a milkshake, which sounds pretty good to me sometimes, my perfect day is when I have the opportunity to see our work in action. That could be at a school with one of our outreach directors helping to facilitate a focus group of teachers, and seeing those teachers experience what it’s like to know that your voice matters and feel heard. Having that be a big piece of my day is really important.

Morris: One thing my mother always said to me was “Do good and do well.” A perfect day for me is when I feel like I’ve done something good, whether that’s a small act of kindness toward somebody else or a big win in our work, and also when I feel like I’ve brought my best self and best work towards that end.

To learn more about the NationSwell Council, click here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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Formal Student Survey Programs are Costly, But Now There’s a Free, Open Source Version for Schools

In recent years, a lot of time, money and attention has gone towards fixing the American education system. Should there be more standardized tests? Perhaps we should change how math and English is taught? Maybe we should extend school hours?
These big-picture ideas — though well-intentioned — are missing one key component: What does the student actually think?
It’s important to listen to students’ thoughts about their schools and their teachers and use them to make improvements.
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One of the bests way to actually take note of students’ opinions is through the classic teacher evaluation — but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The problem? A comprehensive classroom evaluation costs a startling amount of money. (Making it a luxury that students in low-income districts don’t have access to.) In Toledo, Ohio, for example, a peer review program this year cost $500,000, or about $5,000 per teacher. Additionally, as the New York Times points out, teachers are currently assessed through “standardized test scores and observations by administrators, but both measures have been criticized as too narrow, unable to shed light on the complex interplay between teachers and students on a day-to-day basis.”
It’s a problem that’s needs to be fixed.
Enter Panorama Education, a Boston-based data analytics company with the mission to improve this survey experience. In the past two and a half years, the program has already being used in more than 5,000 schools in 30 states.
They startup (which was recently backed with $4 million from Mark Zuckerberg, Google Ventures, Ashton Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments, SoftTech VC and Yale University)  offers the completely free, open-source Panorama Student Survey that allows administers and teachers to gain insight on how well they are performing in areas such as teaching, learning, classroom climate, engagement, grit and sense of belonging, EdSurge writes. The tests can be taken on paper or online.
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After the survey is taken, Panorama analyzes the data and then follows up with the teachers and administrators — offering feedback about ways to improve teaching and the school.
“Our classroom surveys collect feedback that teachers use to grow, and our school surveys help educators improve their school as a whole,” the company says.
Leila Campbell, a humanities teacher at a charter high school in Oakland, Calif., discovered via the survey that her students were having difficulties connecting with her. So she decided to be more open with her class: “I do a presentation where I open up to them, making myself vulnerable about my college experience, and telling them why I’m working with them,” she tells the New York Times. “They start to get me as a human being. And they’re willing to follow me when I push them harder in history and English.”
“The surveys have been transformational in how I operate,” she adds. “I’ve grown tremendously from this data.”
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Why Schools Should Emphasize Skills Over Knowledge

Tony Wagner began his education career in an alternative public high school in Montgomery County, Md., working with at-risk students. It was during that time that he began to notice something troubling about his teaching lessons. “I was worried increasingly about what I saw as the mismatch between what students were learning in school and what the real world was going to demand of them out of school,” says Wagner, who has since identified this as a fundamental flaw in the country’s education system.
Decades later, Wagner’s classroom has gotten a lot bigger. Today, he speaks to audiences around the world as an author and leading advocate for transformative change in America’s education system, which he believes is rooted in a shift from teaching knowledge to teaching skills. “Content should no longer be key, competency should be” says Wagner.

The State That’s Actually Hiring Teachers and Paying Them More

Following the 2008 recession, landing a stable career in the teaching profession didn’t look as promising as it once did, due to cuts in educational spending and layoffs. But now, with the country’s economy rebounding, hiring is on the rise. And it appears that search for teaching talent is no more evident than in the state of Texas.
As the Associated Press reports, after restoring $3.9 billion of the $5.4 billion it had cut from education funding in 2011, the Lone Star State is looking to stock up on teaching staff. And here’s the best part: Some districts (particularly in Houston) are offering starting salaries for entry-level teachers at $50,000 or above.
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According to the AP, Texas is focusing on attracting teachers who are certified to teach bilingual classes, special education, and high school science and math. In fact, at the Aldine Independent School District in Harris County where the majority of students are Hispanic, the starting salary for a bilingual teacher is $54,500. Statewide, the minimum teaching salary is $27,320 while the average salary is about $49,300 — that includes salaries for educators who have been teaching for years or have advanced degrees.
It’s a sad fact that many of our country’s teachers — the men and women whom we trust to provide our children with an education — make less than a personal trainer does. Currently, the average teacher in the United States makes about $49,000 a year, with many making much less. The New York Times reported in 2011 that to make ends meet, 62 percent of teachers have to have jobs outside of the classroom.
If the country wants to get serious about educating the next generation, it can start by retaining and attracting the best teachers. And if it means giving them more money for their hard work, it’s a price this country should be willing to pay.

Why We Should Teach Algebra to Kindergartners

Coefficient. Distributive property. Independent variable. If you get flustered by these terms — or for that matter, any others from high school algebra class — you might want to ask a kindergartner for tips.
Say what?!
In a somewhat shocking study from Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that young children have a natural instinct for math. To test the algebraic skills of a group of 5-year-old children who were barely able to count (much less solve for X or Y), the researchers introduced the concept of variables using toys — fuzzy puppets named Gator and Cheetah, colorful cups, and buttons. Results showed that many of the children were able to tap into their intuitive mathematical skills and solve questions for missing quantities — a basic concept of algebra (More details of the study can be seen in the YouTube video above or read here.)
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“What was in the cup was the X and Y variable, and children nailed it,” said Lisa Feigenson, director of Johns Hopkins Laboratory for Child Development, in a press release. “Gator’s cup was the X variable and Cheetah’s cup was the Y variable. We found out that young children are very, very good at this. It appears that they are harnessing their gut level number sense to solve this task.”
When you strip away the fancy formulas and rote memorization and add colorful toys, the basics of algebra simply boil down to problem solving. And while these 5-year-old kids aren’t exactly solving complex formal equations, the results suggest that we could introduce these more “advanced” mathematical skills in early education so kids don’t get discouraged with learning math as they get older.
“So one of the exciting future directions for this research is to ask whether telling teachers that children have this gut level ability — long before they master the symbols — might help in encouraging students to harness these skills,” Feigenson said. “Teachers may be able to help children master these kind of computations earlier, and more easily, giving them a wedge into the system.”
Sounds like adding this to an elementary-school curriculum could help reduce the number of math haters.

The Man Behind No Child Left Behind Has a Surprising Answer on How to Improve Education

If you’re a music fan or a film buff, guaranteed you’ve heard of South by Southwest, a gathering in Austin, Texas that’s more commonly known by its acronym SXSW. But the annual event isn’t only rocking concerts and documentary viewings. It also attracts some of the brightest, innovative minds in education. The SXSWedu sessions discuss ways to improve teaching and learning and are filled with a-ha moments of invention and inspiration around how to help our kids.
But in a keynote session titled “Education: The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time,” Rod Paige, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, focused on the achievement gap that exists in our country and what needs to change.
After the session ended, NationSwell had the opportunity to ask him two exclusive questions: What is working in education and what is his call to action for the room of people he had just addressed?
He quickly replied: “Go visit Rocketship and visit KIPP.”
By mentioning these charter schools networks (KIPP is national network consisting of 141 schools; Rocketship currently serves three regions: The Bay Area in California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Nashville, Tennessee), Paige echoed what has come up time and again in the full days of conversations and long halls of conference rooms at the Austin Convention Center: The importance of re-imagining the traditional school system. The underlying message of his two answers in one? His belief that bottom-up solutions (such as charter schools) are more exciting than some of the innovations in the public arena.
The focus of Paige’s keynote conversation with Evan Smith, Editor in Chief and CEO of the Texas Tribune, comes out of a stance the former secretary of education has taken for years — that education is a civil right. That position was a driving force behind his work in the George W. Bush administration and in his book The Black-White Achievement Gap: Why Closing it is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time, which was published in 2010.
“There is no strategy available that has a higher leverage opportunity to change the ethnic equality issue than closing the achievement gap in education,” he said on Wednesday. When Smith asked whether closing the gap should be dealt with at the federal level, Paige responded that while the federal government can have some influence, “the primary impact has to be at the place where the people walk the halls of the schools and look in the eyes of the children.”
Coming from a man who helped develop the controversial No Child Left Behind Act, this was certainly an interesting answer. However, Paige said he views education as a three-legged school made up of “the school, the home, and the community.”
“We are doing all we can” to improve what goes on in the school and “very little” to improve what is going on in the home and the community, Paige added. “A child who has a loving and caring and supportive parent has a huge advantage,” he said. Those who lack that support are at a major disadvantage — a void that a teacher cannot fill on his or her own.
And when it comes to making sure that the original intent of No Child Left Behind Act “to close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice” is realized, Paige said the leadership in African American and American Latino communities have to own this issue.
Still, he said he does see a place for a national approach to education when it comes to the Common Core (also a controversial topic in education), explaining that 50 different state systems cannot control the public education of the United States.
Referencing the 1983 report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, Paige said it was called “A Nation at Risk,” not “50 States at Risk,” for a reason. “There has to be some coordination,” he said explaining that there cannot be efficiency when there are too many points of authority.
But real change cannot come without those aforementioned three legs of the stool.
Perhaps that is why Paige was so quick to mention Rocketship. Its motto? “We do more than educate students. We empower teachers, engage parents, and inspire communities.”

This State Might Offer a Novel Incentive to Help Teachers Pay Off Loans

Some problems seem almost too daunting to solve. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. And that’s the optimistic viewpoint that lawmakers in Indianapolis are taking.
In order to help alleviate two major problems in our country — the student loan bubble and the still-weak economy — they want to offer qualified students up to $9,000 in state funds to pay off their loans if they go on to become teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the so-called STEM subject areas), according to the Associated Press.
This proposal, currently awaiting Senate approval, would also extend to teachers in areas with educator shortages, the AP reports. Recipients would receive this money after completing their third year of teaching in Indiana.
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This law could be especially helpful not just for our trillion dollar student loan bubble but also for our economy, as the fastest-growing jobs are in STEM fields (think: physician assistants, computer software engineers, dental hygienists, and veterinarians, to name a few). According to the Department of Commerce, STEM jobs grew at a rate of 17 percent in the past 10 years, compared with a 9.8 percent growth in other occupations. President Obama has endorsed an education in STEM to help make sure our students have the skills they need for the jobs of the future. Looks like Indiana is making a promising start.

The Surprising Secret to Improving Math Skills

With the emphasis on preparing our youth for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, it seems like reading and writing have fallen by the wayside. But according to the Hechinger Report, there’s hope for lovers of the written word. In a new paper from Stanford University and University of Virginia, “Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” researchers studied 700,000 third-through-eighth graders over eight years and found that students with good English teachers had better math skills in the long term. Interestingly, having a good math teacher did not have the same long term benefits on a student’s English skills, the report said. It’s unclear why English helps boost math scores, but it’s suggested that English is necessary for other subjects (word problems in math, for example) whereas you don’t need math to write essays or read books. This news comes shortly after a promising report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities finding that liberal arts majors close the salary and unemployment gap compared with their STEM peers over time. So to educators and policy makers everywhere—if we want a brighter future, let’s have our kids read great books, too.
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