Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.
The entire Milwaukee School District uses the company's flagship product, NewsCurrents. The product is also used in some Madison schools. It's a simple yet effective concept for presenting current events -- visuals paired with a discussion guide. It provides the relevant background knowledge on issues so students can form their own opinions and participate in discussions about what's going on in the world. The discussion guide is written at three levels, making the content accessible for grades 3-12, although NewsCurrents is in fact used with an even wider audience.
The program doesn't shy away from the difficult topics in the news, including school shootings, the Trayvon Martin trial and the Bangladeshi garment factory collapse.
"The biggest mistake people make is thinking kids aren't interested or don't have the capacity to understand," Knowledge Unlimited founder Judith Laitman says of such stories.
Madison teacher Karen Boyer confirms that NewsCurrents handles tough subjects well, including the anniversary of 9/11, which each year falls within the first weeks of class. Boyer says it's important for kids to have a safe venue to ask questions because they're going to hear about news on the playground.
Boyer has used NewsCurrents throughout her six years of teaching fourth and fifth grades at Emerson Elementary. Her principal allots funds for the $259 yearly subscription, which covers the entire school. The students can also access NewsCurrents' sister program, a news magazine for kids called Read to Know, on their home computers.
Boyer says her students love NewsCurrents and get "cranky" if she has to skip it for a week. Other teachers have had similar success with the program. A teacher in Los Angeles found that low-achieving students who often skipped class would show up when they knew NewsCurrents was on the day's agenda.
"All kids, whether they're high-level readers or in advanced civics classes or special education students, can feel capable of doing this program. It makes them feel competent. They can have opinions," Laitman says.
The program also invites student involvement in the form of voting for the "News Person of the Year" and participating in a weekly editorial cartoon contest. "If anything tells us what kids are capable of, it's the things they submit for editorial cartoons," Laitman says.
The company's 10 employees produce the weekly current events materials. Two writers develop stories, including country- and person-of-the-week segments, while a graphic artist coordinates the visuals. Laitman's own daily routine for editing the stories includes monitoring NBC Nightly News, Democracy Now!, BBC News and various online news sources, including Al Jazeera English.
News stories can be used to teach a range of topics, from science and geography to politics and history. Knowledge Unlimited's products are designed to meet state standards, but also to build cultural capital. These skills may not fit easily into categories, but can make a difference in closing the achievement gap. Laitman may soon have evidence proving NewsCurrents' effectiveness -- she plans to work with a UW education professor to measure the program's impact in the classroom.
Correctional institutions also use NewsCurrents, including all of the California and Texas prisons. The oldest audience comes from around 1,000 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, which are required to provide intellectual stimulation for residents.
With its large images, NewsCurrents is accessible to people with poor eyesight, allowing for more interaction than having a newspaper read aloud. And the program's multiple levels work for seniors with varying levels of cognitive impairment. The only difference from the version sent to schools is the addition of a segment looking back at topics in pop culture and history.
"This is their favorite program over bingo. That's the best compliment we get from nursing homes," Laitman says. At one senior facility, NewsCurrents inspired residents to register to vote.
Moving forward, Laitman hopes to expand on the half-million users Knowledge Unlimited already reaches each week. Over the past three decades, the company has digitized many of its products, and Laitman sees this trend continuing. And she'd like to partner with another organization to create a free website for young people all around the world to engage on current issues.
Laitman is driven by her belief that youth have a lot to say. No one embodies this sentiment more than Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old who addressed the U.N. this year after being shot by the Taliban for speaking out on girls' education. NewsCurrents students voted her "News Person of the Year."comments powered by Disqus
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders " 10 boys and six girls " enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.
Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.
The week between Christmas and New Year's is famous for all sorts of things. Malls are packed with folks exchanging those holiday sweaters that don't fit just right. It's the week those same folks pledge to never again eat another frosted sugar cookie or candy cane (hence the sweater issues). It's also the week the media saturates the public with dozens of "Best of Year" lists.
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.