Learning is more than retaining information—how mentors make the difference
Two-thirds of the achievement gap for American children is due to the "summer learning loss". Here's how we fix that.
Karim Abouelnaga is the CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, a Benefit Corporation that partners with K-12 schools to deliver high quality, academic summer programs. He founded Practice Makes Perfect at 18. He writes for Entrepreneur, Forbes, Linkedin, and is working on releasing three books during Summer 2018. Karim is a TED Fellow and Echoing Green Fellow. At 23, he was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in Education, and at 24 was named to Magic Johnson’s 32 under 32 list. In 2016, he was ranked in the top 3 most powerful young entrepreneurs under 25 in the world by Richtopia. He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor’s in Hotel Administration and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Education Policy at Columbia University.
Karim Abouelnaga: The summer learning loss is a term that they use to describe the regressions that kids in low-income neighborhoods face relative to their affluent peers. So they say in lower income neighborhoods kids forget anywhere from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months of what they learned during the school year over the summer, while their middle-class peers break even or even make gains.
When I first learned about the achievement gap I was a freshman in college and I wanted to understand what the causes of it were. And as I started to do my research I realized that there were a thousand different reasons why the achievement gap existed: everything from a lack of positive role models to poor health conditions in so many of these inner-city and low-income neighborhoods.
And then I found this startling statistic that said that two-thirds of the achievement gap could be directly attributed to unequal summer learning opportunities, or the summer learning loss. In low-income neighborhoods, kids forget anywhere from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months of what they learn over the summer from the school year, and so when they return to school they’re now two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months behind their affluent or their middle class peers.
Just to put that in perspective for you all: the school year from September to June is only ten months long. If a kid forgets two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months of what they learned, that’s almost 25 to 35 percent of their learning. Teachers have then reported that they spend anywhere from a month-and-a-half to two months reteaching old material. So if you add that additional 20 percent you’re talking about 50 percent of a kid’s learning.
So we sit here and we ask ourselves, “Why does an eighth grader only have a fourth grade reading level?” and the truth of the matter is that theoretically speaking they’ve only been in school for half the time.
When I first learned about the summer learning loss I thought the obvious solution was summer school, right? If kids were in school over the summer then they couldn’t be regressing, they couldn’t forget what they were learning. And then I learned really quickly that summer school sucked; it was punishment for the kids and babysitting for the teachers. And I thought back to my own days when I was in summer school, and I didn’t like it—and no one does. There’s such a negative stigma associated with it.
When I was 18 I actually brought together a group of friends to start to alleviate some of the issues around summer schooling in general. I didn’t think learning had to be boring and so we started to think about how we could rebrand school and make school more fun. Specifically, we thought about what we wanted from school over the summer when we were kids.
So we created a multigenerational near-peer learning model that has sort of changed the way we interact with students and children to change their learning over the course of the summer. So we recruit and we hire near-peer mentors, kids who are just a few years older than the kids who we’re working with, to give them a positive role model in their neighborhood.
I used to think back to when I was a child. I didn’t do bad things because I wanted to be a bad kid—I did it because the older kids were doing it. So many times the older kids are the ones who are perceived as being cool, and kids are just looking for an opportunity to be cool and fit in.
We then paired them up with college students who are aspiring educators, giving the near-peer mentors a new role model to look up to. I remember for me it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I built a relationship with a college-age student. No one in my family had gone to college before, and so as you can imagine my college aspirations were stunted or limited because of that.
And then obviously for our college students—they’re looking for some meaningful professional development and growth as well, and so we hire teachers from the schools that we work with who can act as role models and mentors to our college students who one day want to be in the classroom and fill their shoes.
And so this model where everyone is sort of a participant but also a beneficiary creates this win-win-win situation for everyone, making summer school a lot more fun and exciting. When we first started our work it was very structured. We sort of said: this is what a six week program looks like in a low-income neighborhood or community.
We quickly realized that no two schools are the same, and it’s funny—we’re primarily based in New York City and as you think about like schools and school districts in that area there’s about 1.1 million kids and there’s 1,700 schools.
And so schools are co-located within the same building. And so schools are oftentimes serving the same exact population of kids with the same per-pupil spend or the same amount of funding, yet they have very different cultures, and they lead to very different outcomes.
And so one approach in one school may not work as an approach at a very different school. So I think one: we need to stay away from these overarching generalizations about “what’s good for one is good for all”, because that’s no longer the case.
As it relates to summer specifically I don’t think we need to get rid of the summer gap. I think there’s an opportunity to do something meaningful and different. I always think back to our own programs and what we do and I recognize that, if we didn’t come in there with a completely different approach to learning over the summer, that learning or extending the school year in that case actually may not make that much of a difference. You may not have regressions but that doesn’t mean you’re going to improve student engagement or help kids catch up.
And so I think the summertime is also an opportunity to help kids catch up to their other peers who may have retained everything that they needed to learn for the school year and probably won’t have a hard time continuing to be independent learners.
We know the status in so many of our low-income neighborhoods, where they’re being raised in single parent households or immigrant households—like in my own household, my mother not once picked up a book and said, “Hey, you should be reading this book, because it’s grade-level appropriate” or “Challenge yourself by doing this.” And I think some of it is that just she just didn’t know.
And so being conscious of the fact that there are certain disadvantages that kids of color or minorities exhibit or deal with—things that their more affluent peers just sort of don’t have to face—does create an opportunity for them over the summer.
I don’t think the solution is to close the summer gap all together. But I do think there are opportunities to maybe narrow it a slight bit. I know there are some states and some cities that have summer breaks that are as long as 14 weeks, which is way too long. I think a meaningful summer break is six to seven weeks. Even with our programs, our interventions now are anywhere from four to six weeks long and kids still have three to four weeks off.
Is America's achievement gap crisis caused by long summer vacations? "In lower income neighborhoods, kids forget anywhere from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months of what they learned during the school year over the summer, while their middle-class peers break even or even make gains," says Karim Abouelnaga, CEO of Practice Makes Perfect. This startling statistic is why he started a different kind of summer school, one based on a chain of near-peer mentors, where kids are connected with college students and college students are connected with teaching professionals. "This model, where everyone is sort of a participant but also a beneficiary, creates this win-win-win situation for everyone, making summer school a lot more fun and exciting." Why do some eighth grader students only have a fourth grade reading level? Theoretically speaking, they’ve only been in school for half the time, says Abouelnaga. To find out more, visit practicemakesperfect.org.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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