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Steve Drummond

What happened to a circus elephant in the small East Tennessee town of Erwin a century ago, and what are the people there today doing about it?

And what do a group of middle school girls from the Bronx have to say about the stigma that surrounds talking about periods?

We asked teachers and students to put on their headphones and turn their ideas into sound for our first-ever NPR Student Podcast Challenge — and boy, did they. We got nearly 5,700 entries, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Podcasts that explored climate change. Podcasts about gun control and mental health. About great books and mythology. Hedgehogs and history.

Teachers and their students at 1,580 schools participated: all told, roughly 25,000 students nationwide.

Crayons, of course. Scented markers. Colored pencils, presharpened. And coloring books by the jillions.

Why do people like coloring so much? For grown-ups, I can totally get the nostalgia — and the simple pleasure of creating something.

But here at NPR Ed, we're all about kids and learning. And so, as parents head to the store this summer with their back-to-school lists, we thought this question was worth a serious look:

Paper ... or glass?

Advances in laptops and technology are pushing screens into schools like never before. So what does this drive toward digital classrooms mean for that oldest and simplest of touch screens: a plain old sheet of paper?

It may seem a wasteful and obsolete technology, ready to follow the slate chalkboard and the ditto machine into the Smithsonian, or a flat, white invitation to creativity, just waiting for some learning magic to happen.

It's a perennial debate in American education: Do kids learn best when they're sitting in rows at their desks? Or moving around, exploring on their own?

Back in the 1960s and '70s, that debate led to a brand new school design: Small classrooms were out. Wide-open spaces were in. The Open Education movement was born.

Across the U.S., schools were designed and built along these new ideas, with a new approach to the learning that would take place inside them.

We've written a lot about the link between college and the workforce — and the kinds of skills graduates will need in the 21st century to succeed. One of the skills you need is knowing how to present yourself. To put your best foot forward in the workplace, and in life.

So what's up with the crayons? Everywhere you go lately — the bookstore, Starbucks — even here at NPR — I see grown men and women sitting around coloring.

Every time, this takes me back to rainy childhood days on the living room floor: A robot. A mosaic of geometric houses. A flowery design pattern.

Clearly, I've stumbled upon the national craze for adult coloring books.

When we're reporting on special education, we inevitably run up against questions of how we should refer to students with disabilities and to the disabilities themselves.

It's a minefield, comparable to the tensions and complexity of writing about race and ethnicity.

It's important to get it right. As journalists, of course, we want to be accurate. And clear. And we want to avoid perpetuating stereotypes or giving offense.

Gun control. Climate change. Donald Trump. Affirmative action.

The first presidential primaries are just weeks away and with all these debates and issues in the headlines, there's no question that students are going to want to talk about them.

But how should teachers handle these discussions?

The Confederate flag. The Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. Policing minority communities. Nuclear weapons and Iran. Summer often brings a lull in the news, but not this year. And, come September, students are going to want to talk about these headlines.

But how should teachers navigate our nation's thorny politics?

It's been a theory of mine that the assistant principal has the toughest job in education.

I got that idea a long time ago, when I was a student teacher at a middle school.

It seemed the assistant principal's job goes something like this:

I started off wondering whether I might be able to spell a few of the words right. I ended up realizing that most of them I had never even heard of before.

Iridocyclitis. Cibarial. Pyrrhuloxia. And so on.

It was one of the many surprises of an evening spent watching the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night near Washington.

Another big surprise was how much I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had expected to see a bunch of highly trained kids who've spent months and years memorizing the dictionary, essentially regurgitating that information.

If you're a 12th-grader right now in the Los Angeles schools, that means you probably started kindergarten back in 2001. It also means that, as of this week, you've seen four superintendents come and go.

As we discussed today on Morning Edition, the ouster of John Deasy last week as the head of the nation's second-largest district has renewed a long-running debate about leadership of big-city schools, and particularly the challenges of raising achievement in such a politically charged environment.

It's a frequent complaint in education journalism: Reporters should spend less time at school board meetings and get into a classroom to find out what's really going on.

For reporters, though, that's a challenge and a risk, because lots of good journalists don't know what to look for in a busy classroom. How do you know if what you're seeing is "good" or not? After all, reporters aren't professional educators. And they're often under deadline.

For history nerds, it's fascinating to see the word "Crimea" back in the news. The last time this peninsula on the Black Sea dominated world headlines was nearly 160 years ago. (Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin met there at the town of Yalta in 1945, but that wasn't really about the region.)