Leveraging the Science of Learning and Development to Combat Loneliness in Schools

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Understanding the Loneliness Epidemic

In a profound exploration of the modern societal challenge, Harvard professor Robert Waldinger sheds light on the growing epidemic of loneliness in his recent YouTube lecture. He defines loneliness as a subjective experience where an individual feels less connected to others than desired. This feeling is distinct from isolation, as one can be isolated and content, surrounded by people, yet feel profoundly lonely.

The Rise of Loneliness

Loneliness has been on an upward trend since the 1950s. Factors contributing to this rise include increased societal mobility, the introduction and evolution of television, and the digital revolution. These changes have gradually eroded community engagement and personal interactions.

The Health Impacts

Research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad highlights the severe health implications of loneliness, equating its danger to smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day. Loneliness contributes to physical health deterioration and accelerates brain decline in later life.

The Power of Connections

Waldinger emphasizes the importance of investing in relationships for well-being. It’s not just close relationships that count; even casual interactions with community members, like a mail carrier or a grocery store cashier, can foster a sense of belonging.

Student Mental Health: A Guide For Teachers, School and District Leaders, School Psychologists and Nurses, Social Workers, Counselors, and Parents
  • Dikel MD, William (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 400 Pages – 08/16/2022 (Publication Date) – W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

Schools’ Role in Building Inclusive Communities

Recognizing Loneliness in Students

Schools must first acknowledge that loneliness can be a significant issue among students. Young adults, in particular, are highly susceptible to loneliness. Educators can play a crucial role in identifying signs of loneliness and providing support.

Creating Inclusive Environments

Schools can use the science of learning and development to build inclusive student communities. This includes:

  1. Promoting Social Skills: Integrating social skill development into the curriculum can help students who feel lonely and are hesitant to reach out. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can be adapted for the classroom to help students revise their assumptions about social interactions.
  2. Encouraging Community Engagement: Activities that foster community involvement can help students feel more connected. This might include group projects, community service initiatives, or school clubs that cater to diverse interests.
  3. Building Casual Connections: Schools should create environments where casual, positive interactions are encouraged. This could be in the form of mentorship programs, buddy systems for new students, or structured social time during the school day.
  4. Supporting Emotional Health: Schools can provide resources for emotional support, such as counseling services or workshops on managing feelings of loneliness and building healthy relationships.

Empowering Students

Empowering students to understand and combat loneliness is essential. This involves teaching them that seeking connection is normal and healthy and providing them with the tools and opportunities to build meaningful relationships.

Conclusion

Loneliness is a complex and growing challenge, but schools can play a pivotal role in addressing this epidemic by understanding its dynamics and implementing strategies to promote connection and belonging. It’s about creating a culture where every student feels, as Waldinger concludes, “You belong. You matter. You’re connected.”


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New Year, Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel

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It’s the first newsletter of the new year, and I’ve got several cool things to share with you.

I’m still struggling to adjust back to normal life after the swirling nothingness that is the week between Christmas and New Year’s. We didn’t do much at our house besides reading, listening to new vinyl, and eating way more snacks than we should have.

But, life continues, and we meet a new year with new challenges head-on, no stopping.

I hope this year holds much joy and happiness for you. For now, here’s this week’s “10 things”…

10 Things Worth Sharing


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Are We Reading Right in the Digital Age?

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Just like schools grappling with the cell phone conundrum, there’s another digital dilemma brewing – our reading habits. In a compelling study by Altamura, Vargas, and Salmerón, we’re forced to question: Are digital reading habits benefiting us, especially our younger readers?

The research dives into the effects of leisure digital reading from 2000 to 2022, involving a staggering 469,564 participants. The findings? It’s a mixed bag. Digital reading, while convenient and interactive, doesn’t always enhance comprehension, particularly in younger readers. In early education stages, digital reading could even hinder learning. But, as students grow, the digital format shows promise, especially in high school and university settings.

So, what’s the catch? It seems the way we interact with digital content is key. Interactive elements like feedback questions and digital glossaries can spike engagement and understanding. Yet, the ease of digital access might be a double-edged sword, leading to superficial reading instead of deep comprehension.

Educators and parents are left pondering how we balance the digital reading revolution with the need for deep, thoughtful comprehension. It’s a puzzle we must solve, much like the ongoing battle with cell phones in classrooms.


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Until We Fix This, We’ll Always Fight Against Student Cell Phones

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Yes, it’s almost 2024, and schools are still fighting the losing battle against student cell phones in class.

Sigh.

Some schools have partnered with companies to implement the use of pouches that students are required to put their phones into at the beginning of the day and that don’t unlock until the final bell rings, while others are threatening punishments including suspension if a student is caught with their phone, even at lunch time.

Yes, because even during lunch, we must ensure students have no control over their personal time. Good grief.

Renesha Parks, chief wellness officer at Richmond Public Schools in Virginia, told The Hill of a pilot policy being implemented in six schools at the beginning of 2024 to stop cellphone usage, partnering with Yondr, which creates magnetic pouches for cellphones. The measure will impact around 4,200 students and cost approximately $75,000. (emphasis mine)

Here’s an idea: shift the educational focus from boring content without connection to the real world to more authentic learning experiences. I bet cell phones only come out when they are needed to accomplish a task.

Also, educators, how many of you put your phone away during a training session? A staff meeting?

Just sayin’…


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Backward Design and the Portrait of a Learner

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Education’s landscape is shifting, shifting from focusing on rote learning to fostering 21st-century skills like collaboration and self-awareness. This evolution is captured in the emerging concept of “Portraits of a Graduate” (POG), which underscores the skills vital for success in today’s world.

To navigate this shift, the “Portrait of a Learner” (POL) model, steeped in research from diverse fields, provides a roadmap. It highlights the importance of nurturing curiosity, critical thinking, and collaboration while emphasizing identity and belonging in the learning process. This approach is about understanding learners as they are and designing education that supports their holistic growth, ensuring they are equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing global economy.

More and more school districts are crafting Portraits of Graduate (POG) to highlight the core skills and characteristics they believe students need to be successful in a 21st century global economy. What many of these portraits capture is a distinctive shift away from content knowledge and towards the 21st century skills and dispositions that drive lifelong learning—things like collaboration and self-awareness. This mirrors research on the science of learning that demonstrates how learning includes social emotional processes and is driven by interactions between the learner and their environment. In education there is often a disconnect between what exactly we are trying to teach students, and why, especially as the goals of education are shifting.

Alison R. Shell and Jessica Jackson

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Yes, We Need to Get Rid of AP Courses

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There, I said it. That’s my hot take. We need to get rid of AP courses.

Why? Because they’ve been pushed down the throat of our education system for the past twenty years, pitched as an equity solution because we should be offering the best content to everyone.

I agree 100% with that statement. Every student needs access to the same high-quality, highly relevant, highly personalized content and pedagogy. We need our teachers to be the very best, to create authentic, engaging learning environments that not only teach our students how to learn and grow but also how to be good people and participate in society.

That’s not what AP tests or courses do. They certainly don’t do it for most students.

Some 60 percent of A.P. exams taken by low-income students this year scored too low for college credit — 1 or 2 out of 5 — a statistic that has not budged in 20 years.

I know the argument for having AP courses is that they are more rigorous and require more from students. But the reason they do those things is because of the AP test students take at the end of the course.

And they take that test to earn college credit. And that is the only reason. No one takes an AP course because it sounds exciting or they want to be a professional AP course taker.

They take them so they can pass the test and get college credit. Which doesn’t happen for most of them.

Getting college credit after taking an AP course is a crap shoot, at best. At worst, it’s a waste of time. This isn’t a new argument, and I’m sure it will continue to be argued long into the future. Students hate it, and some professionals have noted the need for improvement in the system or even other companies entering the arena to give the College Board some competition.

I don’t want competition. I want the AP system gone. It isn’t serving the purpose we need, which is rethinking and redesigning Tier 1 instruction in ALL classrooms for EVERY student.

That’s the goal.


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A master printer makes his last print

prints

What makes a 500-year-old printing process new? Master printer and publisher Jacob Samuel has brought etchings—prints created by transferring ink from a metal plate to paper—into the 21st century through collaborations with more than 60 contemporary artists. In this video, we filmed Samuel making his last print.

As he inks, hand wipes, and rolls his final print through the press, he reflects on his philosophy. “My goal is to leave no fingerprints,” he says. All you see is the artist’s work. I’m just another pencil. I’m just another brush. But I want the pencil to be sharpened really well. I want the brush to be sable. And to do that and be completely spontaneous, I trust the materials.”

Truly, an exercise in mastery learning.

Embracing AI isn’t just about using flashy edtech

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@add_rien_20?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Adrien</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/diagram-2IX3TlrCuZQ?utm_content=creditCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=unsplash">Unsplash</a>

Prince George’s County Public Schools, under the leadership of Superintendent Millard House II, is at the forefront of integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into their educational system. House believes that AI tools like ChatGPT can revolutionize classrooms by equipping students with essential digital-age skills.

House’s focus on technology and AI aligns with the district’s commitment to preparing students for a technologically advanced future. The partnership with the AI Education Project, as part of Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s broader economic initiative, aims to provide cutting-edge education to students, teachers, staff, and school leaders. The district has also prioritized AI literacy and training, empowering nearly 1,500 educators to confidently use and innovate with AI tools. Addressing challenges such as data privacy, algorithmic bias, and ethical use, Prince George’s County Public Schools is dedicated to shaping a future where their community thrives in the age of AI.

AI is no longer a futuristic concept; it is a tangible reality with the potential to enhance and individualize the educational experience for a student population with diverse needs and teachers in our district. So far during the course of this school year, we have trained nearly 1,500 educators. It was amazing to watch the excitement on the staff’s faces when they got to engage with AI tools to support their work and help their students understand the power of AI.


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16 November 2023

Quote of the Day

"To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump does not appeal to “the better angels of our nature.”" (Michael V. Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence)

“To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump does not appeal to “the better angels of our nature.”” (Michael V. Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence)

Musical Interlude

Philip Glass has a new album releasing in January 2024, recorded at his home during the pandemic.

This is my piano, the instrument on which most of the music was written. It’s also the same room where I have worked for decades in the middle of the energy which New York City itself has brought to me. The listener may hear the quiet hum of New York in the background or feel the influence of time and memory that this space affords. To the degree possible, I made this record to invite the listener in.

– Philip Glass

Long Read of the Day

Taruna Goel highlights how digital literacy has transformed from basic computer skills to a complex skill set involving creation, curation, and critical evaluation of digital content.

This framework includes eight thematic competencies: ethical and legal; technology; information literacy; digital scholarship; communication and collaboration; creation and curation; digital well-being; and community-based learning. Through a scenario involving an educator, Professor Emily, and a student, Alex, the article demonstrates the integration of these competencies into the educational journey, emphasizing that digital literacy is crucial for academic, professional, and personal success in a digitally-driven world

The Digital Literacy Framework is a part of the overall B.C. Digital Learning Strategy developed by the Digital Learning Advisory Committee, a collaboration between the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills and the post-secondary system. The Digital Literacy Framework has been developed to enhance digital literacy knowledge, skills, and abilities across post-secondary communities. The framework includes eight thematic competencies within digital literacy: ethical and legal; technology; information literacy; digital scholarship; communication and collaboration; creation and curation; digital well-being; and community-based learning.

Photo of the Day

I didn’t realize it this morning, but it’s Red Cup Day at Starbucks. In my ignorance, I also didn’t know that many baristas walked out today to fight for better wages. Kudos to them. And thanks for my demon cups.

starbucks red cups

Final Thoughts

I love tools that let us learn more about our universe, especially when they are available online.

Astronomers have created the Siena Galaxy Atlas, freely available online. The SGA catalogs 383,620 galaxies, a small fraction of the estimated 200 billion to two trillion galaxies in the observable universe. This atlas stands out for its extensive coverage and advanced data collection, encompassing 7,637 downloadable pages with detailed information on each galaxy’s size, morphology, and images in optical and infrared wavelengths.

The data is drawn from three Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument Legacy Surveys, making it one of the largest surveys ever conducted. The SGA is noted for being the first cosmic atlas to feature light profiles of galaxies, providing a unique insight into their brightness changes from center to edge. It’s a valuable resource for scientists studying galaxy evolution, dark matter distribution, and gravitational waves, as well as for enhancing the public’s understanding of the universe.


Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.