ChildsWork News, March 28, 2012: Music and Math, Autism and Bullying, Two Interesting Connections

This morning on CW, I want to take a look at two articles that crossed my desk and relate to some of the most popular categories on our blog: STEM education and autism.

The first article comes from a study conducted at San Francisco State University. Assistant Professor of Special Education, Susan Courey, along with music teacher Endre Balogh, was looking for a way to help struggling students at Hoover Elementary School in the San Francisco Bay area. As research over the years has shown, issues with higher level math such as algebra and calculus are clearly linked with early trouble understanding basic concepts like fractions. Changing the way in which fractions are presented to young children, particularly those on the low end of the testing scale and those with learning disabilities, may help these students to improve their current test scores as well as perform better in math courses over the long term. The groundbreaking curriculum that Courey and Balogh created seems to do just that.

The next article, from the Interactive Autism Network, looks at another hot topic: bullying and children identified as autistic. Preliminary results of a national survey conducted by the autism advocacy group has found that not only are students on the autism spectrum more likely to be bullied, but also that cruel peers are often responsible for triggering them into the behavioral meltdowns so closely associated with this disorder. At the heels of the new documentary, Bully, which chronicles the lives of students and their families who are victims of bullying, set to release this week, the response that this survey generates in the special needs and autism community is likely to be harsh. And why shouldn’t it? What are your thoughts on bullying in the special needs and autism community?

Getting in Rhythm Helps Children Grasp Fractions, Study Finds

From San Francisco State University

Tapping out a beat may help children learn difficult fraction concepts, according to new findings due to be published in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics. An innovative curriculum uses rhythm to teach fractions at a California school where students in a music-based program scored significantly higher on math tests than their peers who received regular instruction.

“Academic Music” is a hands-on curriculum that uses music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting to introduce third-grade students to fractions. The program, co-designed by San Francisco State University researchers, addresses one of the most difficult — and important — topics in the elementary mathematics curriculum.

“If students don’t understand fractions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling,” said Susan Courey, assistant professor of special education at San Francisco State University. “We have designed a method that uses gestures and symbols to help children understand parts of a whole and learn the academic language of math.”

The program has shown tangible results at Hoover Elementary School in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Courey’s study included 67 students. Half the group participated in a six-week Academic Music curriculum and the rest received the school’s regular math instruction.

Students in the music-based program scored 50 percent higher on a fraction test, taken at the end of the study, compared to students in the regular math class.

Significant gains were made by students who struggle with academics. The researchers compared the test scores of lower-performing students in both groups and found that those who were taught the experimental music curriculum scored 40 percent higher on the final fractions test compared to their lower performing peers in the regular math class.

“Students who started out with less fraction knowledge achieved final test scores similar to their higher-achieving peers,” Courey said. “Lower-performing students might find it hard to grasp the idea of fractions from a diagram or textbook, but when you add music and multiple ways of learning, fractions become second nature to them.”

Courey devised Academic Music with music teacher Endre Balogh. They borrowed aspects from the Kodaly method, a Hungarian approach to music education that incudes movement, songs and nicknames for musical notes, such as “ta-ah” for a half note.

The curriculum helps children connect the value of musical notes, such as half notes and eighth notes, to their equivalent fraction size. By clapping and drumming rhythms and chanting each note’s Kodaly names, students learn the time value of musical notes. Students learn to add and subtract fractions by completing work sheets, in which they draw musical notes on sheet music, ensuring the notes add up to four beats in each bar or measure.

The program has also proven itself at Allen Elementary School, a San Bruno public school — not included in the study — that has been using the Academic Music program since 2007.

“Academic Music brings music into the classroom and gets children to learn math in a different way that’s symbolic and not dependent on language,” said Kit Cosgriff, principal at Allen Elementary School, who introduced the program to help the schools’ diverse student body learn math in ways that are not language-based. The school serves many students from low-income families, and 60 percent of students don’t speak English as their first language.

“In every lesson I’ve observed, the children have been excited and enthusiastic about learning fractions,” Cosgriff said. “It’s a picture of what you would like every class to look like.”

Cosgriff believes the school’s recent jump in standardized test scores reflects the impact of Academic Music. Since implementing the program for all third-grade math classes, the percentage of third-graders who scored proficient or above on the California Standards Test for math increased from 63 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008. On the California Achievement Test (CAT/6) for mathematics, the percentage of third graders who scored at or above the national average increased from 51 percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008.

Academic Music is a 12-lesson program that is designed to be taught by regular classroom teachers without the help of a music teacher. Courey’s next step is to publish curriculum materials for teachers.

“We’re suggesting that teachers put music in their arsenal of tools for teaching math.” Courey said. “It’s fun, it doesn’t cost a lot, and it keeps music in the classroom.”

“Academic Music: Music Instruction to Engage Third Grade Students in Learning Basic Fraction Concepts” has been accepted for press in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics and will be published online next week.

Courey co-authored the paper with Endre Balogh, director and lead music teacher at Toones Academic Music, and a graduate of SF State’s music education program (B.A. ’06). Other co-authors included Jae Paik, associate professor of psychology at SF State, and Jody R. Siker, a graduate student in the SF State-UC, Berkeley joint doctoral program in special education.

IAN Research Report: Bullying (Excerpt)

By Connie Anderson, PhD for the Interactive Autism Community

It has been suggested that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are especially vulnerable to bullying. The Interactive Autism Network (IAN) is now sharing initial results of a national survey on the bullying experiences of children on the autism spectrum. Our findings show that children with ASD are bullied at a very high rate, and are also often intentionally “triggered” into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by ill-intentioned peers.

Bullying and its consequences

One of the first researchers to study bullying, Dan Olweus, defined bullying as “aggressive behavior or intentional ‘harmdoing’ which is carried out ‘repeatedly and overtime’ in an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of power.” He went on to note that victims rarely do anything to provoke the behavior, and that bullying is a form of abuse.

Olweus conducted his groundbreaking studies on bullying in the 1990s. Since that time, the way bullying is viewed has changed. Bullying is no longer seen as a normal, yet unavoidable part of childhood that can safely be ignored. Instead, it has been recognized as a major social problem with consequences for victims, perpetrators, and bystanders alike. There is evidence that both victims and bullies are at increased risk of health complaints like headaches and stomach aches, as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and suicide. Meanwhile, a new form of bullying has added to these concerns: cyberbullying. This is bullying carried out through new technologies such as texting or social networking sites like Facebook. It is especially pernicious because it allows bullies to reach victims even when they are supposedly safe inside their own homes. However, what may have raised awareness of bullying and its consequences most was an investigation by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education into the circumstances behind school attacks, like that at Columbine. Nearly three-quarters of school attackers were victims of bullying or abuse at the hands of their peers before they took extreme retaliatory action.

The Bullying and School Experiences of Children with ASD Survey

Are children with ASD, who have major deficits in social understanding, especially at risk of bullying? Several studies provide some evidence that this is the case. In the fall of 2011, concern over the issue led the IAN team to develop a survey on the bullying experiences of children with ASD in partnership with Benjamin Zablotsky, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Dr. Catherine Bradshaw the Deputy Director of the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Prevention and Early Intervention, and an expert on bullying.

The IAN survey examined several aspects of bullying, including whether the child had ever been bullied; had been bullied in the past month; or had ever behaved as a bully. Due to reports from families about children with ASD being provoked into outbursts by peers who knew how to “push their buttons,” it also asked whether the child had ever been triggered into a meltdown or aggressive behavior on purpose. In addition, the survey covered what type of school the child attended, what behaviors the child displayed (e.g., rocking, hand flapping, talking endlessly about a favorite topic), and whether the child had any co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

We are currently preparing a number of scientific papers that address multiple, complex questions about bullying and children with ASD. At present, however, we are pleased to share with families a first look at the findings from the study.

Please Note: These Findings Are Preliminary

The analyses presented here by the Interactive Autism Network are preliminary. They are based on information submitted via the Internet by parents of children with autism spectrum disorders living in the United States who choose to participate. They may not generalize to the larger population of families affected by ASD. The data have not been peer-reviewed — that is, undergone evaluation by researchers expert in a particular field – or yet published in a scientific journal. IAN views participating families as research partners, and shares such preliminary information to thank them and demonstrate the importance of their ongoing involvement.

Read the Full Report Here.

AD Midd

About AD Midd

AD is a college writing teacher whose work experience includes everything from coordinating YMCA after-school programs for at-risk youth to tutoring developmental writing students to general classroom instruction. In addition to writing professionally, AD currently teaches a range of adult community college students in both online and physical classroom settings. At home, she keeps in shape by running after her two young daughters. Follow her on Twitter @ADMidd and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ADMidd1)

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