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Answers to the questions everyone wants to know - There have been movements in recent years to teach boys and girls in separate classrooms, since they tend to learn at different rates and often need extra work in different subjects. But a new study shows that boys do BETTER in school if there are girls in the classroom! And despite urban myths to the contrary, girls are just as good at math as boys. Another thing parents want to know: What are the benefits of all that homework?

Boys who attend preschool classes with a majority of girls receive an intellectual boost, while preschool boys who attend majority-boy classes fall increasingly behind. But the proportion of boys to girls has no effect on the girls' development.

In Science News, Bruce Bower quotes psychologist Arlen Moller as saying, "At the very least, the findings from this study suggest that educators should exercise caution if considering a move toward greater sex segregation in early childhood education."

In the 60s, when sexual roles were beginning to change, some parents wanted their daughters to play with toy trucks, while their sons played with dolls, but this rarely worked out. It turns out that monkeys stick to the sexual stereotypes too: male babies pick trucks over stuffed toys almost every time (while girls like both). New Scientist quotes psychologist Gerianne Alexander as saying, "There is likely to be a biological tendency that is amplified by society."

We've all heard it. Many of us in fact believe it: girls just aren't as good at math as boys. But is it true? After sifting through mountains of data from 7 million students who were tested in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act, researcher Janet Hyde says, "There just aren't gender differences anymore in math performance, so parents and teachers need to revise their thoughts about this?Stereotypes are very, very resistant to change, but as a scientist I have to challenge them with data."

While US students continue to lag behind many countries academically, national statistics show that teachers have responded by assigning more homework. But when it comes to math, piling on the homework may not work for all students.

Researchers found that although assigning more homework tends to have a larger and more significant impact on mathematics test scores for high and low achievers, it is less effective for average achievers. Researcher Daniel Henderson says, "We found that if a teacher has a high achieving group of students, pushing them harder by giving them more homework could be beneficial.

"Similarly, if a teacher has a low ability class, assigning more homework may help since they may not have been pushed hard enough. But for the average achieving classes, who may have been given too much homework in an attempt to equate them with the high achieving classes, educators could be better served by using other methods to improve student achievement. Given these students? abilities and time constraints, learning by doing may be a more effective tool for improvement."

Researcher Ozkan Eren says, "There has been an extensive amount of research examining the influences of students' achievement, but it has been primarily focused on financial inputs such as class size or teachers' credentials. Our study examined the affect that additional homework has on test scores." While past studies suggest that nearly all students benefit from being assigned more homework Henderson and Eren discovered that only about 40% of the students surveyed would significantly benefit from an additional hour of homework each night.

According to Henderson, the findings should be of particular interest to schools who have responded to the increased pressures to pass state-mandated tests by forcing students to hit the books even harder. He says, "This does not mean that homework is unimportant for average achievers, but it does mean that this population may also benefit from other activities such as sports, art or music, rather than additional hours of math homework.

"One of the most beautiful things about America to me is the creativity that we instill in our primary and secondary schools. I know that we lag behind many countries in test scores, but I believe we also produce some of the most creative, enthusiastic students in the world."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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