Education Buzzwords and the New Science of Learning

Published on: December 30, 2013

pencil_appleIt used to be, as few as a couple of decades ago, that children went to school, learned what we thought they needed to know, and that was primarily what “education” meant to parents and to society. Reading, writing, ‘rithmatic.

At home babies were cooed over, and, sure, children were praised for doing well. But often kids were seen and not heard, and they certainly weren’t uber-scheduled to extracurricular programs and opportunities for “socialization” by well-meaning parents hoping to strike gold in the search for the secret to success.

Thanks to scientific and social research, and to the evolving ideas of parents about how we want our modern children to learn and grow, things have changed. New ideas are afoot, information about how brains develop is going mainstream, and educators are realizing that the most powerful learning depends on more than narrow definitions of classroom curriculum.

Parents today have big decisions to make. Not only do we need to find the right school when the time comes, but long before that we need and want to avail ourselves of the newest education ideas and research that can help us give our kids the strongest strong start.

So what are those ideas, and where do we hear about them?

Enter Education Expo, our new virtual education fair and information portal. The portal features everything from a searchable database of Puget Sound area schools to a library of nationally relevant parenting resources; videos of experts talking about the latest education trends; a parenting tool kit for school readiness; and a discussion board where parents and educators can debate the latest school and learning questions and exchange valuable information.

In the coming weeks EE will feature special events, live webinars (the first of which happens this Wednesday, all about how to find the right school fit for your family), video tutorials and school open house and admissions events and information.

Here are 4 education buzzwords that, if you haven’t heard already, you will start to hear a lot about very soon from education experts and research of the kind we’ll feature on EE.

Social and emotional learning. Termed SEL, social and emotional learning is a process for helping children and even adults develop skills we all need to handle ourselves: recognizing and managing our emotions, developing concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically. They are the skills that allow children to calm themselves when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices (this description comes directly from CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning). In short, kids who have these skills, which are increasingly being taught in schools next to traditional academic curriculums, “know how to self-advocate,” CASEL President and CEO Roger P. Weissberg told attendees at a Seattle Next 50 education event earlier this fall. Many schools are incorporating these teachings.

Executive functions. Similar to social and emotional learning, a growing trend education is character education, which aims to teach kids a set of noncognitive skills that include things like grit, perseverance and empathy. One subset of these skills, which researchers have found is critically predictive of future success, revolves around self-control: Skills including conscientiousness, the ability to resist impulse, working memory, and the ability to delay gratification. The buzzword you will hear for these skills is “executive functions.” In his recent New York Time best seller “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough links early attachment to the development of executive functions to later success in life. Whereas five years ago parents were talking about tummy time, now they’re talking about executive function, and many schools are incorporating this into their programs.

Serve and return. One of the most essential experiences in shaping the architecture of the developing brain is "serve and return," the interaction between children and adults that involves baby babbling, facial expressions and gestures and the adults who respond back to the children with gestures and vocalization. Places like the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) are closely studying babies’ brains and learning more about the process of development, and this research is increasingly making its way into nurseries and preschools.

"Pro-social" games. Five years ago, an aeon in parenting, kiddie screen time was frowned upon in many parenting circles. Today, kids are more technologically connected than ever before: Common Sense Media reports 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds use smartphones, tablet computers or similar devices. Nearly half (44 percent) of preschoolers have a television in their bedroom. Younger tots see plenty of screens, too: The AAP reports that 90 percent of children younger than 2 use some form of electronic media daily. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages 8–18 spend around 7.5 hours per day using entertainment media.

As our kids surge ever more technologically ahead of their parents, new research is showing that some gaming might actually be good for them. The buzzword here is pro-social gaming: cooperative games that allow kids to feel positive emotions, explore their creativity and learn to be self-motivated. The queen of this movement is Jane McGonigal, reality game designer and author of “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.” McGonigal and a supporting network of science, researchers and educators, believe that good games can groom empathy for others, reduce childhood anxiety and depression and make kids more resilient.

In the rush of parenting, we don't always have time to read deeply about what's new in education theory and learning research. But when something buzz-worthy floats to the surface, it is worth taking notice. As research and thinking evolve, they will change the way we approach and teach our children and the way in which our children's other teachers do their work.

At ParentMap we promise to bring you what we find out. Follow these developments and find practical school and parenting tools at Education Expo.

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