The Center for Educational Improvement

The Pursuit of Learning

In This Issue
Singapore Math
The Pursuit of Learning
Autonomy Aids Students

The Center for Educational Improvement is pleased

to announce!





   Suzan Mullane, who has worked with children and youth with autism for over 30 years, grades K-12, is available to conduct dynamic WOW in-services on:  

 > autism and the Common Core,  

 > autism and STEM,  

 > new autism technology to enhance academic achievement and behavior management,   

> training on Asperger's for youth who are twice exceptional.   


Suzan is currently exploring VizZle, an award- winning software package that enhances engagement for students with autism through visually interactive differentiated learning. VizZle has the ability to monitor data for all students' IEP goals as well as to share vetted lessons with others while creating lessons for individualized instruction. Lessons are visual and interactive to enhance instruction for all students. See




Ms. Mullane  will tailor her training sessions to your specific needs. If you would like to meet her, she will be speaking at: The Council for Exceptional Children's Convention and Expo Symposium in Denver (April 11-14). If you would like her resume, email us or contact


Ms. Mullane will be offering free webinars in HAWAII and Ohio. Contact her or the  CEI for more information!

Comments about Suzan's sessions ...    

Suzan Mullane's work with at-risk children and youth has been extraordinary.

 --Carol Comeau, Superintendent, ASD


My son's middle school classroom experiences broke my heart. I was so afraid that his challenges with autism would paralyze him with fear in high school. Thank you so much, Ms. Mullane, for teaching him through his strengths and interests to not only survive, but thrive. He now has the self-esteem to take social and academic risks! His father and I will be forever grateful for your dedication to our son.

  --Parent, South Anchorage High School

I tremendously enjoyed Ms. Mullane's workshop on Twice Exceptional Students. Her caring attitude towards us as educators was remarkable. Her knowledge and experience were quite helpful but her attitude was especially inspiring.

--Workshop participant, Commonwealth Governor's School, 2011 Fredericksburg, Virginia

Rarely, if ever, have I seen an educator who pours her heart and soul into her teaching with staff and students alike. Sue is inspirational to her students and her peers. I've really enjoyed her credit classes.

--Tony Schmidt, South Anchorage High School

 Your lessons on: Rigor, Relevance and Relationship through differentiation and experiential lessons are the best I've seen. You knocked it out of the park!
--Chuck Fannin, Retired Principal

Suzan is an engaging presenter; her workshop on differentiation through STEM was outstanding, worthy of a credit class given the wealth of information. Her presentation was the most helpful over the course of our days of trainings. Thank you!

--Science Technology Engineering and Math Workshop participant for the Anchorage School District, 2010 




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Editor: Carolyn Lieberg, M.A.


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Dear Educator,


You'll notice that CEI is now emailing the Wow!Ed  newsletter on a quarterly basis.  However, you'll also find that we continue to research issues that we believe are critical to student learning and advancing the best instructional practices.


 In this edition of WOW! we  focused on "the Pursuit of Learning." Whether it is building student math capacity through incorporating international practices, turning to intellectual giants to see how they learn, sharing research on the importance of student choice, or providing an update on yoga, we continue to strive for finding examples of excellent to share with you. 


Singapore's Math Bar

In the 2009 PISA report by OECD, America's education system was shown to have fallen behind 16 other countries in math, science, and reading. The countries at the top--Korea, Finland, China (Shanghai and Hong Kong), and Singapore--have raised the bar for all countries in terms of education. Singapore, which does exceptionally well in math, has intrigued many American educators, who wonder how teachers can be so successful with their instruction in the subject.   



Singapore's "Bar Model" is the force behind their teaching strategies. This model is taught to students at a young age, usually around first grade, and it is used continually until the students move on to algebra. The bar model can be easily introduced with simple mathematics problems in adding or subtracting. However, as the difficulty of the problems increase with fractions, percentages and more, the bar model can adapt and thus continue to be an effective teaching and learning tool. The consistency of the model gives students a familiar means of working on new concepts, which aids the student in comprehension and aids the teacher in her explanations. This teaching method may contrast to many, if not most, American schools, "Singapore's approach is very teacher driven, much slower paced, and goes into more depth" (Hoven and Garelick, 2007).


The bar model--literally a rectangle that a problem-solver draws lines on--offers students and teachers a few key aids to help with the comprehension of mathematical problems. The first boost is that it reduces the need for confusing language. Jackson (2011) notes that the visual bar diminishes the use of vocabulary that can sometimes be part of what confounds students. "How much?" "How much more?" "How many more?"


 Additionally, the bar model has the great benefit of bridging concrete objects to numerical abstractions. A simple rectangle represents any quantity that is needed. A line down the middle cuts things in half. If there are 25 objects to deal with, five lines can provide a good estimate of fifths, and each of those segments can be divided into five. Whether the objects at hand are footballs, marbles, miles, or hours, they can be represented in a way that helps students work more easily on ratios, comparisons, proportions, or rates of change (Hoven and Garelick, 2007).


 For those teachers who may have worked with Cuisinaire rods, first marketed in the 1950s, the notion of creating a pictorial bar will harken back to the tactile assistance of the colored rods that measured from one to ten millimeters. The Singapore bar offers that much more flexibility, because it can represent whatever a teacher or student desires.  


Singapore Math is being used in hundreds of schools; the growth seems unsurprising when one considers its appealing simplicity and good results.  


For an illustrated use of the tool, see the video at 


Hoven, J. & Garelick, B. ( 2007, Nov) Singapore Math: Simple or complex? Educational Leadership. Vol. 65 No. 3


Jackson, B. (2011, Dec 19) Singapore Math - the most visual math? The Daily Riff



The Pursuit of Learning: Tools for Active Engagement

by Carolyn Lieberg


Jacques Barzun, Abraham Lincoln, Marguerite Yourcenar. These three people have something important in common--a personally designed method of learning. We might think of them as conscious or conscientious learners. Can their active engagement with material provide ideas for students in the classroom?


What might their practices tell us about the pursuit of learning, and what might it mean for teaching?


First, what comprises unconscious learning? Humans cannot keep from learning. Information flows in constantly, our synapses opening and closing millions of times a day. Inevitable learning is something over which we have only partial control.


The goal for a class beyond the elementary years, as any teacher will say, is for students to learn the content designated for that course or that grade. With the strong emphasis on outcomes, it is easy to downplay, or label as "nuisance behavior," the classroom activities outside of the curriculum. This is particularly true once students move beyond the early grades. But we do well to remember that a great deal of learning happens as students figure out how to deal with friends, with strangers, with acquaintances, with bullies, and with authority. What is their personal measure of success, and how are they working toward it? Are they looking for love? For attention? Will they seek it in ways that disrupt class sessions? That is all part of their learning experience, too.

                Marg Yourcenar 


While students are managing the social environment, they are learning about cooperation, collaboration, competition, winning, losing, ways to curry favor and ways to stand up for themselves or how to recover from bad experiences. Meanwhile, they are learning at home, too, and bringing those skills to school. The complexities go on and on.


What's a teacher to do?


The adults in a school must meet the unending challenges of monitoring and influencing the tone of the environment in order to meet the school's goals, including both academic and personal/social objectives. As experienced educators know, conscious learning is webbed into the unconscious learning, and trying to separate them might be like trying to separate the macaroni from the cheese.


Educators will find that their work is smoother when they bear in mind that pursuing learning is a choice. Students may do it because it is satisfying or they may do it to please teachers or parents, to escape guilt or avoid getting in trouble, to compete with peers, to achieve a long-term goal or for other reasons.


Adults do it for professional reasons or because they are interested in a topic. Adults make their own decisions about how to learn. There are many ways to locate, listen to, read, or watch aids that provide information, but then comes the learning, the "apprehension," as it is called in France.


The typical school model is to provide tests, with the objective that students will study (in many ways) for the test, learn material, and discover what they do and do not know by reviewing the test results.  


The three people mentioned in the introduction adopted learning strategies that are well-recognized.


  • Barzun creates an outline of the book he's reading on the dust jacket; it is his version of meta-cognition and review.
  • Yourcenar used straight repetition, turning to page one each time she finished a book to re-read it from beginning to end.
  • Lincoln tested himself by repeating sections of his reading until they were committed to memory.

Each of these methods is solo--a person working with nothing but the content they want to learn and remember. Have the tests, while serving one end, unwittingly interfered with the larger goal of inspiring students to learn--in whatever manner might best serve them?


Skills to Use in the Pursuit of Learning 

 by  Dr. Christine Mason   


With the Common Core Standards, states and districts are ratcheting up their plans for professional development for teachers. Educators are describing an enormous paradigm shift that must occur to usher in a new education era--an era of focusing on deep levels of learning.


We see this time as a period for designing and arranging educational experiences so that students will have opportunities to investigate, explore, contemplate, and extend or expand their learning. It is also a time when students will be able to challenge traditional assumptions and gear up for a more demanding culture where expectations will be higher for both students and the workforce.


All of these activities translate to a greater pursuit of learning and knowledge for both teachers and students. It could be a time of great transformation for schools, educators, and students. It could be a time where educators and students stretch their capacities. Such growth is needed to propel us into a new education era.  To be a part of this wave, we encourage you to add activities for designing, investigating, exploring, contemplating and extending to your lessons. Each of these skills can be taught. You might want to consider rubrics for each of them to help provide guidance to students and ensure that you are maintaining high expectations.


 Whether it be investigating a local problem, or designing a solution to an international one, experience with real-life activities will help students move ahead and gain practice that can be invaluable to their future.



Autonomy Aids Student Engagement

New research from the University of Virginia's CASTL (Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning) indicates once again that by the time students reach high school, their engagement is higher if they have more autonomy. Chris Hafen, lead author on the report, said, "We found that when students believe their teacher is allowing them some autonomy--whether by helping lead the class or having some freedom of choice in what they study or how they express their learning--their engagement actually increases over the course of the year" (reported in Bell, 2012).


The study, which will appear in the March issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, involved 34 classrooms over a year and differs from previous reports in that researchers used both observation and student self-reports. Hafen said the findings strengthen "the argument that students need freedom and choice in the classroom." The second author, Joseph Allen noted, "While young children will often work hard in school out of a natural respect for authority, with teenagers it's different. A teenager who is engaged and working hard will run rings around less-engaged teens. Conversely, without that engagement, we get a situation where, to paraphrase an old adage, we can lead teens to classrooms, but we can't make them think" (reported in Bell, 2012).


Managing classrooms to provide more opportunities for autonomic behavior might mean reshuffling some customs or shifting some habits, but when engagement is the goal that makes the other goals possible, the changes are worth trying. The inevitable learning can, in fact, play a larger role in the conscious learning. It means giving up some control in the classroom, which is scary for a lot of teachers, when so many directives are "breathing down their necks." But if providing more autonomy to students leads to more engaged learning, isn't that the ultimate goal, not only with that year's content, but with the practices that lead to life-long learning.


Bell, L. (2012, Feb 24) Research finds autonomy plays pivotal role in adolescents' school engagement. Curry School of Education, University of Virginia


Update on Yoga   


Yoga Moves in the Classroom 


From Florida to the UK (pictured below) to California, more and more teachers are integrating yoga into their classrooms to help  children relieve stress. Danielle Braff reported in a recent article in the Tribune Newspapers that students can relieve some of the tension from high-stakes tests by practicing yoga postures and paying attention to their breathing. 



California State University researchers in Los Angeles found that students who practice yoga improve their academic performance and their overall health; behavior problems also diminish. 


Students' stress derives not just from school work, but from many extra-curricular activities, and social networking, too. However, yoga can help children learn how to gain a sense of calm while they release pressure or tensions.

(Braff, D. (2012, 15 Feb) .Yoga in the classroom.  
Chicago Tribune

The Take Aways--


Humans, by their very nature, thrive when they are seeking to learn. We gravitate towards exploration, mastery, finding new ways to solve problems, and expanding our depth of knowledge. Somehow in the process of growing up, sometimes events happen so that youth are "turned off" to learning. Perhaps they have experienced too much frustration and failure. Perhaps they have been raised without exposure to many new stimuli to feed their curiousity. Perhaps other life circumstances (safety, health, fear, for example) have overshadowed the pure joy of learning.


One of the most critical components educators can bring to a classroom is their enthusiasm for learning, for life. Enthusiasm can be contagious. This edition of Wow! has included five diverse ways for building student engagement and enthusiasm by strengthening the foundations for success, and paying attention to the various ways that students experience and enjoy the activities they choose.  

What are you doing to enhance students' pursuit of learning?


Christine Mason, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Educational Improvement
This newsletter has been provided to you by the Center for Educational Improvement as per our mailing list.
Please contact Lauren Lomsdale with corrections or comments at
This newsletter has been provided to you by the Center for Educational Improvement as per our mailing list.
Please contact Lauren Lomsdale with corrections or comments at