Education Roundup XXXV: Lost skills of childhood, traits shared by successful kids, 10 things teens need to know, picky eaters and more…

Sorry for the long lag since my last post, I’m back in the saddle and will be posting monthly. Please share with your friends!

There are seven hobbies that science suggests will make you smarter. The full article by Christina Baldassarre in Entrepreneur magazine is worth reading:

1. Play a musical instrument. It works the part of your brain that improves executive skills, memory, problem solving and overall brain function, regardless of how old you are.

2. Read anything. Reading reduces stress and helps with problem solving, detecting patterns and understanding processes.

3. Exercise regularly. Exercising floods your cells with BDNF, a protein that helps with memory, learning, focus, concentration and understanding.

4. Learn a new language. People who are bilingual are better at solving puzzles than people who speak only one language.

5. Test your cumulative learning. Keep a journal of noteworthy bits of knowledge you acquire and observations.

6. Work out your brain. Sudoku, puzzles, riddles, board games, video games and card games increase neuroplasticity.

7. Meditate. Different activities stimulate different areas of your brain and you can meditate on your strengths and weaknesses.

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Successful kids have eight specific (somewhat unfair) things in common, according to studies cited in a recent issue of Business Insider:

1. Parents who teach them social skills. Socially competent children are far more likely to finish college and obtain employment.

2. Parents who have high expectations for their children (expectations lead to attainment).

3. Moms who work. Daughters of working mothers are more likely to have more responsibility and higher pay than peers raised by stay-at-home mothers.

4. They have a higher socioeconomic status. The achievement gap between high- and low-income families is growing.

5. More educated mothers. Mothers who finish college are more likely to raise kids that do the same.

6. Parents who teach them math early on. Mastery of early math skills predicts future success in school.

7. Parents who develop a relationship with their kids. Children with healthy parental relationships show greater academic attainment in their 30s.

8. Parents who value effort over avoiding failure. Whether kids perceive their success comes from smarts or effort also predicts their attainment.

I recommend the entire article to read about the science behind the theories.

• • •

The Smart Parent blog has compiled a list of the “top 20 new children’s books to read with your kids in 2015.” These aren’t classics, they are new releases across a wide range of ages and topics. The complete list appears at but here are five to get you started:

1. “The Rechargeables: Eat Move Sleep.” An engaging story about making healthy choices.

2. “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.” Kids love learning about their favorite big machines.

3. “Incredible You! 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through.” With Q & A to encourage conversations with your kids about their feelings.

4. “The Day Crayons Quit.” My teen worked in a children’s bookstore this summer and this was her favorite.

5. “Little Magic Books.” This combination book/smart phone app is a big hit with kids.

• • •

I just finished interviewing Jessica Lahey about her new best-selling book, “The Gift of Failure: How the best parents learn to let go so their children can succeed.” The link to my article is here. This is perhaps the best education/parenting book that I have ever read. The most important thing that she wants parents to take away from her book is that parents today need to “parent for the long term, not the moment. “Inserting yourself into your child’s homework to avoid tears or so their grade doesn’t suffer solves today’s problem, but isn’t helping you raise a better kid.”

• • •

There is good news for families of high school students needing financial aid for college. The U.S. Department of Education has simplified the FAFSA financial aid form, and this year for the first time, families can fill out the form starting Thursday, Oct. 1, instead of having to wait until their tax information is ready in January. This change will make it easier for families to project if a college will be affordable, and will likely encourage families to fill out the form. Families can start with the government’s new College Scorecard to get a sense of affordability and follow up with the FAFSA to predict the aid they will receive. and

• • •

Is knowing how to properly say hello one of the lost skills of childhood? writer Paula Spencer Scott worries that kids’ screen-based culture means that they are losing the ability to read non-verbal communications, like what to do with an outstretched hand. Scott suggests that you make sure your children see you saying hello (to the supermarket bagger, etc.) and then point out the basics:

• When someone says hello, we say hello back.

• No pressure to come up with anything original. “Hi, I’m Jake” or “Hi, how are you/I’m fine, thanks” is sufficient.

• It’s not dorky. It’s what civilized people do.

• It won’t kill you. And it feels nice – for you and the person you’re talking to.

Also show your child a basic handshake. She recommends that you not force greetings but applaud their effort, and give gentle reminders when they forget. Kids who know how to say hello, and make the effort to greet adults really stand out.

• • •

The Grateful Graduate Index looks at the top colleges in a unique way. This Forbes list ranks the top 50 colleges by donations from recent alums, with the theory that the best colleges are the ones that produce successful people who make enough money during their careers to be charitable, and feel compelled to give back to their alma mater. The top five schools were: Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Williams College, Claremont-McKenna College and Bowdoin College. Not many public colleges make the top 100, and none in California.

• • •

If your student is interested in learning to code, check out the free computer game, Code Combat. This online role playing game teaches students JavaScript through coding challenges. It’s designed for both middle school (grades 5 to 8) and high school (grades 9 to 12).

• • •

It can be hard to find books for teenage boys (or men) who don’t love to read. I am going to go out on a limb here and strongly recommend two books that I loved and I can almost guarantee the young man in your life will enjoy. And maybe you as well. The first is “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline which was recommended to me by none other than Mark Zuckerberg (and his millions of other “friends”). The other is “The Martian” by Andy Weir. The latter has just been released as a movie so read it quickly. Both are set in the near future. My 17-year-old-son resisted repeatedly, but when he finally relented, he loved them both.

• • •

I thought these “Top 10 Tips to Help your Child Thrive in School This Year” were logical and relevant:

1. Ask your child: “How was your day? Learn anything interesting? Get to spend time with friends?” instead of “How did you do on the math test?”

2. Resist the urge to correct the errors in your child’s homework. It’s your child’s work, not yours.

3. Work done with integrity is more important than an A. Pressure to achieve only top scores can make students resort to cheating.

4. Make time for “PDF”: playtime, downtime, family time. Research shows “PDF” is critical for overall well-being.

5. Create a technology-free environment during mealtimes. Every adult and child can benefit from a break from constant interruptions and distractions.

6. Collaborate with your child’s teachers. Assume best intentions and work together to solve problems.

7. Fight the temptation to bring your child’s forgotten homework to school. Kids gain resilience by learning from small failures.

8. An extra hour of sleep is more valuable than an extra hour of studying. Research shows sleep deprivation can be associated with depression and anxiety.

9. When your child wants to talk with you, stop what you are doing and engage. “I hate school” may really mean “I am being bullied” or “I don’t fit in…”

10. Help your child develop his or her interests and strengths. Discover what your child really loves to do outside of school, not what you think a college admissions officer would like to see on an application. (Source: Challenge Success)

• • •

Optimally, high school should start between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and college classes should be held no earlier than 11 a.m., according to researchers from the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School and the University of Nevada, Reno. They found that earlier start times for schools interrupt students’ circadian cycles – affecting their health and academic achievement. The full article on this research was the story “most read” by administrators last week on a leading education website,

• • •

The White House has been promising a new college rating system for years, and it has finally unveiled a website without ratings but with useful information about real costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation. The site details how much each school’s graduates earn; how much debt they graduate with; and what percentage of a school’s students can pay back their loan. The goal of the scorecard is to help students avoid making poor choices when choosing a college. The new “scorecard” can be found at

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Looking for a TV show that won’t turn your kids’ brains to mush? The new show, “Project Mc2” is available only on Netflix but it is worth checking out. The show aims to dismantle stereotypes associated with STEM subjects by casting four diverse, intelligent teen girls as math and science whizzes who are recruited by an elite, all-female conglomeration of secret agents.

• • •

Is your student struggling with algebra or resistant to learning math? There is a great website called Get The Math geared toward middle and high school students that helps them build problem-solving skills and solve real-world problems with algebra. There’s no login or saved data; kids can watch video clips of professionals using math in their jobs. The site then poses mathematical challenges. It is fun and teaches “legit” algebra.

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Time magazine ran a great article suggesting bold ways that the U.S. could make schools better for today’s kids. Here are some that resonated with me:

• Ditch traditional homework, particularly for elementary school students. Better – read for 30 minutes.

• Make recess mandatory – it recharges kids’ brains. Incorporating movement into lesson plans is also good.

• Screen children for mental illness, similar to the way kids are given basic hearing and vision screenings.

• Prioritize diversity. Attending a diverse school can lead to higher academic achievement and better preparation for real world work environments.

• Turn discipline into dialogue (when problems arise, focus on discussion not detention).

• Let students customize their curriculums. Use technology as a means of truly differentiating instruction.

• Start classes after 8:30 a.m. It is harder for adolescents to stay healthy (and learn) on less than eight hours of sleep.

• Design cafeterias that encourage healthy eating.

• • •

Women have been graduating from college in greater numbers than men for several years now. According to recent statistics in Time magazine, 34 percent more women than men graduated from a four-year college in 2012, and by 2023, the U.S. Department of Education expects that there will be 47 percent more female college grads than male. The long-term implications of this trend are only now being explored.

• • •

There is an iPhone app that you can use to take a photo of your child’s math workbook problem and it will tell you if their answer is correct. It is a genius idea for parents who aren’t great at math, or students who want to check their work. PhotoMath instantly displays the correct answer with a step-by-step explanation. Yes, there are dangers to this, but it is a pretty cool invention.

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A new invention may dramatically improve concussion screening. Sports-related brain trauma sends a quarter-million American kids to the ER every year. A material developed at the University of Pennsylvania may help detect when a hit is hard enough to damage the brain. A small chemical strip inside any helmet changes color on impact to measure the force of a collision.

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There is a terrific app named EPIC! which offers unlimited access to tens of thousands of read-along book choices, ebooks and audiobooks for kids under 12. The app is free for teachers but for families with up to four users it is $5/month. Struggling readers will find the options particularly helpful.

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Six unexpected reasons your child should have a pet, according to Elizabeth Street on the Learning Liftoff blog:

1. Avert allergies. Studies show that young children who have pets in the home are less likely to develop pet allergies, and various unrelated allergies as well.

2. Curtail cold. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that when babies have contact with animals, especially dogs, they are “healthier” and have “fewer respiratory tract symptoms” and infections.

3. Improve social skills. Having a pet also increases a child’s awareness of the needs and feelings of animals, leading them to be compassionate adults as well.

4. Encourage learning. A study found that kids had lower stress levels and were more enthusiastic about reading to a dog rather than a peer or an adult.

5. Bring comfort. Being a kid is tough. Having an animal to love can help kids get through the tougher times of their lives.

6. Learn leadership. Having a pet means daily chores that cannot be missed (teaching children lessons in discipline and reliability).

• • •

Is picky eating a harmless phase or a sign of deeper emotional troubles? The Wall Street Journal caused a stir recently with a story citing new research that moderate and severe cases of picky eating is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression later in life, as well as separation anxiety and ADHD. The study ran in the journal Pediatrics. Early therapy can help. For most kids, thankfully, it just a phase.

• • •

Students may retain far less information when they take notes on a laptop. The problem is that laptop note-takers attempt to transcribe everything verbatim—rather than actively listening and capturing the most important points. In the study, students watched Ted Talks and were quizzed soon afterward on what information they retained. The scores of the students taking notes in longhand far surpassed the laptop note takers. This is an issue as more and more high school and college students now rely almost entirely on their computer for

• • •

We have two Google Chromebooks at home and love them. As more students are also using Chromebooks and Google docs in their classrooms, the continuity at home can be helpful. For the $250 price, they really can’t be beat. But it can be hard to decide among the many Chromebook manufacturers and specifications. There is a great online chart comparing all available models at

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Artificial turf fields are replacing grass fields across the country but parents have concerns about heat and toxicity. After months of research, Sonoma Academy has begun construction on a new Futrfill turf field that is made without any heavy metal, phthalate, bisphenol-A, or other toxic chemical leaching issues. This material retains less heat than crumb rubber, but it has the playability of rubber. It is also up to 30 degrees cooler and will also save nearly two million gallons of water per year.

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Noodle is an education website aimed at helping parents and students make better decisions about learning. The site offers search tools to help find the right preschool, college, tutor, or any other learning resource. In addition, you can read expert-authored articles, ask questions and get answers from experts, and connect with others. It is worth a look. A quick search for the Sonoma yielded some tutors and school information.

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There is a terrific list of dozens of discounts available to college students with a school ID or .edu email address on the Chegg Blog online. The list, available at, includes computers, music and movies, clothing and more.


The best gift ever for a child or grandchild who loves to build things? Check out Each month, the child receives a kit with hands-on building activities. You can purchase a two-, six- or 12-month subscriptions with free shipping for around $20 per month. Each age range, from 3 to 16-plus gets a different crate.


“Teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others,” wrote Katherine Lewis in a recent article on discipline in Mother Jones magazine. The article, titled “Why everything you knew about disciplining kids is wrong,” goes on to say that building up children’s problem-solving techniques is key. The complete article is online at


Success in college and in life ultimately comes down to three words, according to former university dean and award winning author Jeff Beals: Responsibility. Authority. Accountability. He says: “Every individual has responsibility for himself or herself. Nobody else can or should make decisions for you. Fortunately, each of us has the authority to carry out that responsibility. Nobody has the right to take away the power you have over your own life. Finally, we are accountable for the decisions we make – good or bad. You live with the consequences of your decision-making and actions.” You can read the full article at


I loved reading “10 Things Teens Really Need to Know Before They Leave Home” in Real Simple magazine this summer. Author Kristin van Ogtrop describes the list as skills that won’t get teens into college, but will make them better people.

1. Write a letter. An actual letter that does not begin with “Hey” and is written, in handwriting, on real paper.

2. Learn to cook a good meal that can feed the entire family, no matter what size family you have.

3. Hold down an unpleasant job that makes you hate your parents a little bit because they won’t let you quit.

4. Go somewhere for the weekend without your phone, just so you know what it feels like to be in solitary confinement, or dying.

5. Every time you get a new toy or gadget, give an old toy or gadget away to someone who doesn’t get new things as often as you do.

6. Take care of someone or something other than yourself. A pet does nicely here.

7. Write a heartfelt thank-you note to someone over the age of 70. Even if this person hasn’t given you a holiday or birthday present, find something to thank them for.

8. Read a book for pleasure.

9. Do something nice for a neighbor without expecting any credit for it.

10. Don’t race to the top. If you want to aim for the top, good for you. But try to get there slowly, deliberately, without knocking everyone else out of the way – or missing the beautiful view.

Education Roundup XXXIV — Summer learning, free SAT/ACT apps, raising a happy child, high school athletes…

Two ways to keep your kids’ brains engaged this summer: The (now) free TenMarks Summer Math website runs students through a diagnostic test then tees up a personalized curriculum of videos, word problems, games and more. The free and self-paced BrainFlex summer program uses simulations, interactive lessons and PLIX techniques to engage kids in a wide range of math and science topics.

• • •

I have been reading about the book “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart about Money” by Ron Leiber. He suggests the following:

• Don’t pay children to do chores. Adults don’t get paid to help around the house and neither should children. Take away privileges when they don’t do their chores, not their allowance.

• Do, however, give children money on a regular basis and use allowances as a teaching tool. Give kids the chance to spend foolishly and to feel regret, and a sense of accomplishment when they save.

• Do toasts around the dinner table. Have everyone raise a glass to something or someone awesome.

• • •

There seem to be a lot of new teen drivers on the road. The DMV proposes a great (optional) Parent-Teen Driving Contract on the website. The contract includes both teen responsibilities – “I will not let anyone else use the vehicle entrusted to me.” As well as parent responsibilities – “I will serve as a good role model when operating a vehicle.” It also gives parents a place to spell out who is responsible for what aspects of vehicle upkeep. The only thing it lacks, that I have seen on others contracts, is specific repercussions for breaking the contract.

• • •

High schoolers struggling to analyze themes in literature might benefit from LitCharts. This site, from the founder of Spark Notes, aims to make more than 200 great works of literature, from “Anna Karenina” to “1984,” more accessible through its interactive data visualizations which visually track themes, symbols and plots in a story.

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A British toy company called Makies allows kids to customize 3-D-printed dolls in all different sizes, shapes, colors, hair types, and more. The company has announced a new line of accessories so kids can design dolls with disabilities and/or birthmarks. This includes hearing aids, a walking stick and scars. They are really gorgeous dolls that will appeal to all, and maybe make a child who feels very different feel a little bit less so.

• • •

Everyone wants to know the secret to raising a smart, happy child. One blog’s extensive research ( suggests the following tips:

• Walk the talk — always set a great example. BE who you want them to be.

• Reduce the stress level in the household. Parental stress weakens children’s brains, depletes their immune systems, and increases their risk of other unhealthy mental and physical ailments.

• Believe in your children. The simple act of believing that your child is capable and worthy makes a big difference.

• Praise your children for their effort, not their intelligence.

• Don’t read TO your children, read WITH them.

• Eat dinner together as a family as much as possible. Research suggests that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets and higher self-esteem in the long run.

• Create logical, reasonable rules and boundaries for your children. Children don’t do well in a free-for-all environment.

• Give your children an opportunity to make healthy peer relationships. Who your children associate with has an enormous effect on their long-term happiness and educational aspirations.

• Make sure your children get enough sleep every night. There is a direct correlation between average nightly sleep and grades.

• Help your children maintain a gratitude journal. Children who keep a gratitude journal are happier, more optimistic and healthier.

• • •

I can’t resist sharing the list of the most popular baby names of 2014. I just love this kind of thing. Boys (rank 1 to 10): Noah, Liam, Mason, Jacob, William, Ethan, Michael, Alexander, James and Daniel. Girls (rank 1 to 10): Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Isabella, Ava, Mia, Emily, Abigail, Madison and Charlotte.

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You probably know about the SAT Question of the Day, but did you know that there is also an ACT Question of the Day provided for student practice? Here’s a recent question – A vendor has 14 helium balloons for sale: 9 are yellow, 3 are red, and 2 are green. A balloon is selected at random and sold. If the balloon sold is yellow, what is the probability that the next balloon, selected at random, is also yellow?

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For the first time ever, Khan Academy has teamed up with the creators of the SAT to create free, personalized SAT practice for anyone, anywhere. The program will prepare students for the new SAT, which launches in March 2016. Students can get personalized practice recommendations and instant feedback on how they’re doing. Watch their short video about how the new SAT is different.

• • •

I was surprised to learn that youth baseball participation in the U.S. has declined 41 percent in the past 15 years. In 2002, nine million boys played baseball. Today, that number has declined to 5.3 million. Major League Baseball is concerned, as the biggest predictor of a fan base is whether you played the game as a child. A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that basketball and soccer have experienced declines as well with the trend of concentrating on one sport year round possibly to blame (travel league enrollments are up). Source: National Sporting Goods Association.

• • •

A new study has found that police officers with college degrees are less likely to use force against citizens. Michigan State researchers analyzed thousands of cops across seven major metropolitan regions. Because so much of law enforcement is social work, the researchers believe that college coursework psychology and sociology might make these cops more adept at addressing potentially explosive issues.

• • •

Abortions are declining in almost every state in the U.S. The pro-life side credits a shift in societal attitudes, pro-choice advocates credit greater access to effective contraceptives. Whatever … under the heading of “great news,” abortions are down 12 percent since 2010 and teen pregnancy is at its lowest rate in decades.

• • •

I love this flyer for students titled: “I took a photo of my friend that I want to share … now what?” Ask yourself:

• Is it a good photo?

• Would my friend agree?

• Could it get my friend into trouble?

• Is it going to cause drama?

• Am I aware that anyone can share it once I do?

• Would I be OK with my grandma seeing it?

• A year from now, will I feel good about making this public?

If you answer YES to all these, go ahead, share. (Courtesy of Common Sense Media).

• • •

A recent study from Cornell University found that former high-school athletes are more likely to go on to have higher-status careers and earn anywhere from 5 to 15 percent more than participants in other extracurricular activities, like band or yearbook. According to this study, this earnings advantage doesn’t seem to exist for any other extracurricular activity. Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why. The question is whether high-school sports transform the leadership skills and self-confidence of regular kids, or if kids who already possess leadership skills and other “successful” attributes gravitate toward sports.

• • •

The University of San Francisco will be the first college to implement Callisto, a new online reporting system for campus sexual assaults. Callisto was designed by the nonprofit organization Sexual Health Innovations as a third-party online reporting system. The system allows an alleged victim to hold back on submitting a report unless someone else reports the same assailant, or to save their file with a timestamp and come back at a later point to turn in their report. The hope is that the system will make victims more likely to come forward. Colleges across the country are examining the adoption of online reporting systems for sexual assaults.

• • •

Because I have a soft spot for these kind of lists, I enjoyed “40 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to Your Teen” from the family blog Just a few to get you started:

• You look nice.

• Are you in a bad mood?

• Can I go with you?

• How was school?

• You can’t possibly be hungry.

• You’ll understand someday.

• Who’s that?

• And my personal favorite … “Hi.”

• • •

Elementary school students using standing desks observed over the course of a year were found to be more attentive and engaged than their seated counterparts. Results showed 12 percent greater on-task engagement in classrooms with standing desks. Engagement was measured by behaviors like answering a question, raising a hand or participating in active discussion and off-task behaviors like talking out of turn. The desks had stools nearby, enabling students to sit or stand during class at their discretion. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

• • •

Every public and private high school in America is getting a free DVD of the Oscar nominated movie “Selma,” courtesy of Paramount Pictures. The movie is about Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama. Teachers can also request companion study guide, as part of an extended “Selma for Students” initiative.

• • •

Check with your local pubic library about their offerings beyond books. Most libraries now provide students with access not only to books but also digital resources which they can access 24/7 from any device with an Internet connection. Just of few things you can do with your card:

• download audiobooks and ebooks at home

• access free SAT and AP study guides

• read book reviews and recommendations

• access animated, talking picture books in Spanish and French.

• • •

The app WriteReader offers students a way to write mini-books as they learn to read. Preschool and elementary school students can use the iPad app to record and tell a story in their own words, which is then transcribed into text through a speak-to-text feature – that way, students hear the correct pronunciation while looking at the correct spelling of their words. Adults can “publish” the books, to either a private or public audience. The first book is free, buying the app to create unlimited books is $4.99.

• • •

I will close this column with some of the best lines from 2015 commencement speeches at colleges across the country (courtesy of Bloomberg Business):

“It’s OK to map out your future, but do it in pencil.”

– Jon Bon Jovi, musician

“It is your difficult but great and challenging responsibility to help change things and set us right again. Let me apologize in advance on behalf of all of these people up here: We broke it, but you’ve got to fix it.”

– Ken Burns, filmmaker

“It really is a true honor to be with all of you … as you embark on this exciting and challenging journey of being sober during the day.”

– Maya Rudolph, actor

“History rarely yields to one person. But think – and never forget – what happens when it does. That can be you. That should be you. That must be you.”

– Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

“Make sure you know something about something.”

– Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

“Life isn’t all that complicated. Things are what they are. Don’t read into everything, just do your best, and try to do no harm.”

– Meredith Vieira, journalist

“They say with great power comes great responsibility. Not true. Responsibility is entirely optional. You can coast if you want to. But don’t you dare coast.”

– Ed Helms, actor

Education Roundup XXXIII — The best resources, tips and research for students, parents and teachers

An article titled “The 5 Things Your Kids Will Remember About You” really caught my eye. It is worth reading in full, but author David Willis said it really boils down to these five:

1. The times you made them feel safe.

2. The times you gave them your undivided attention.

3. The way you interacted with your spouse.

4. Your words of affirmation AND your words of criticism.

5. Your family traditions.

The entire piece is online at

• • •

I love a hot topic and was interested to read, “Why Middle School Should Be Abolished” in the Daily Beast. The author, David Banks, is a long-time educator and author, and he said, “America should do away with middle schools, which are educational wastelands. We need to cut the middle out of middle schools, either by combining them with the guidance and nurturing that children find in elementary school, or with the focus on adult success that we expect from our high schools.”

• • •

As I get anxious about losing my memory, I was interested to read about the top brain foods, not just for young developing brains but also for adults eager to ward off Alzheimer’s and dementia. They are: cocoa (hooray for dark chocolate); omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, flaxseed oil and chia seeds); walnuts; Magnesium (found in avocado, soy beans, bananas and dark chocolate); and blueberries. You can read more in Science Daily at

• • •

I loved the article, “15 Reasons Why Frequent Travelers Are More Likely To Be Successful” by Tracy Tullis (www.lifehack) (read the entire article for more insight):

1. Adults who have travelled know how to thrive outside their comfort zone

2. They welcome and embrace change

3. They know how to manage their emotions

4. They trust and don’t always need to be in control

5. They manage fear and move past it

6. They recognize and seize opportunities

7. They know how to negotiate to get what they want

8. They see beauty where most don’t

9. They are more confident and know how to fake confidence when vulnerable

10. They better understand differences in people and are more accepting

11. They know when to live in the moment

12. They smile more and feel happiness more often

13. They understand the importance of listening

14. They are less judgmental and more empathetic

15. They may not be rich but they know how to save and spend wisely

• • •

And the good news is that more Millennials are studying abroad during college than any previous generation. Over the past two decades, participation in study-abroad programs tripled, according to the Institute for International Education (IIE). While it was previously thought that STEM majors couldn’t study abroad or it might delay their graduation, more and more science, technology, engineering and math majors are studying overseas. The most popular destinations are the U.K., Italy and Spain. A campaign called Generation Study Abroad seeks to double the number of U.S. students who currently study abroad (300,000 last year or 9 percent) to 600,000 in four years. Officials from IIE says that globalization makes study abroad “absolutely necessary” for graduates, as one in five American jobs in today’s market is tied to international trade.

• • •

With the hope that empathy is something one can build in a child, I was interested to find a list of TV shows and movies that said thought to promote empathy. Some of the top picks by Common Sense Media are the movies “Dumbo,” “Bully,” “A Little Princess” and “Maya the Bee Movie”; and the TV shows “Scorpion,” “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Glee”; and the PBS radio show “This American Life.” The complete list is at

• • •

A professor recently offered forth her “best advice for college freshmen” on the blog, Grown and Flown. Her tips included:

1. Show up and sit in the front. (She can predict a student’s grades by their attendance and where they sit in the classroom – back row = bad grades.)

2. Introduce yourself. (Find excuses to go to your professor’s office hours and re-introduce yourself every time you see him/her.)

3. Engage. (Ask questions, be respectful in emails and turn off your cell phone in class.)

4. Affiliate. (Students who are active in campus groups are happier and less likely to drop out.)

5. Learn a language and/or live abroad. (The more foreign the better as you likely won’t have these chances ever again.)

6. Stay healthy. (Get enough sleep and work out – take care of yourself.)

7. Tap into resources. (Free career advice; funding for internships, research opportunities and mental health counseling, take advantage of it.)

8. Be social. (Leave your dorm room door open and join a study group.)

9. Savor your independence. (College is a time to grow up but keep your support system in place and value your family.)

10. Make the most of each day. The time will fly by.

• • •

About half of all colleges in the U.S. engage in the practice of “bait and switch” in which students receive less financial aid after their freshman year. Institutions frequently use financial aid as a recruiting tool and aid declines after year one. When you combine this practice with annual tuition increases, more and more students must take on debt to stay in school, transfer or drop out. Most scholarships, like those won locally by Sonoma high school students, are for the first year of college only.

• • •

I was discouraged to learn that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students has tripled in the past year. Last year, 13.4 percent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes on at least one day in the past 30 days, up from 4.5 percent in 2013. Among middle school respondents, the percentage increased from 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent in 2014.

• • •

A new study out of UCSF has found that if you want ADHD kids to learn, you should let them squirm. It turns out that tapping their feet and wheeling their chair around is vital to these students remembering information and working out complex cognitive tasks. The study suggests that students with ADHD could perform better on classroom work, tests and homework if they were able to ride an exercise bike or sit on an activity ball. The excessive movement that is a trademark of hyperactivity may actually be crucial for them to learn. Unfortunately, children in the study without ADHD performed worse under these conditions so it will be hard to implement in a mixed classroom.

• • •

Arizona State University (ASU) last week announced plans to offer an entirely online freshman year experience for less than $5,000. The program will award academic credit to people who successfully complete eight web classes on general education subjects, taught by Arizona State faculty. Best of all, students only pay the $4,800 tuition if they pass their final exams. Those who finish the course sequence would be able to apply to ASU for admission with sophomore standing. ASU continues to offer an on-campus four-year college experience as well.

• • •

One reason that computer coding instruction has been slow to take off in our schools is that it can be very difficult to find qualified instructors. If you know how to code, the lure of higher salaries in the corporate world makes teaching less desirable. For that reason, I was excited to read about Google’s free CS First program. It is intended to operate as a computer science “club in a box” – no expertise from the adult leader required. It was developed as a full-fledged after-school program for students ages 9 to 14. If you don’t know how to code yourself but are interested in starting an after-school coding club, it sounds ideal.

• • •

Starting in September, every fourth-grader in the nation will receive an “Every Kid in a Park” pass that’s good for free admission to all of America’s federal lands and waters – for them and their families – for a full year. This is part of President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park initiative, aimed at getting America’s children to “enjoy their country’s unrivaled public lands and waters.” Because getting to the parks can be an issue, the National Park Foundation will also be awarding transportation grants for kids and schools. A new education portal will feature more than 1,000 materials developed for K-12 teachers, including science labs, lesson plans and field trip guides.

• • •

The Uncollege Blog recently tackled the topic of crucial skills that every young adult needs – but which aren’t taught in college. The article goes on to provide some specific tips on how to gain this missing knowledge. This is a terrific article that I hope everyone will take the time to read in its entirety (

• How to network with purpose

• How to manage your bank account

• How to build a career that’s all your own

• When to trust your gut

• How to avoid burn-out

• How to bounce back, or the art of failing with grace

• How to be a good partner

• How to communicate and negotiate well

• How to take care of your home

• The importance of travel

• • •

More and more high school and college students are taking notes, not on paper, but on an iPad, tablet or smart phone. The website College Candy offers up the five best note-taking apps with cool new features: Penultimate App, My Script Smart Note App, My Script Smart Note, InkFlow App and Dragon Dictation. I am going to try them out in interviews.

• • •

Textbooks continue to be insanely expensive. A price comparison extension for Chrome to help students find the best textbook deals when they search for their course books. Occupy the Bookstore shows students the best prices on the web as well as on-campus student listings for the book, right alongside the prices that the campus bookstore is offering.

• • •

It was interesting to see the names on a recent ranking of the 25 state universities with the happiest freshman. The top 15 (based on freshman retention rates) are:

1. UCLA 96.9 percent

2. University of California, Berkeley 96.8 percent

3. U.S. Naval Academy 96.5 percent

4. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 96.4 percent

5. University of Virginia 96.1 percent

6. University of California, San Diego 95.8 percent

7. University of Michigan 95.7 percent

8. University of Florida 95.6 percent

9. University of Maryland 95.2 percent

10. University of Wisconsin 94.8 percent

11. University of California, Irvine 94.7 percent

12. U.S. Military Academy 94.6 percent

13. College of William and Mary 94.5 percent

14. Georgia Institute of Technology 94.3 percent

15. University of Georgia 94.1 percent

• • •

Speaking of happiness, I always say that I just want my kids to be happy but decades of research on happiness has discovered that focusing on happiness is not a great way to actually be happy. Psychologist and author Erica Reischer was interviewed about this issue for KQED public radio. She reminded listeners that Dr. Spock once said, “The trouble with happiness is that it can’t be sought directly. It is only a precious by-product of other worthwhile activities.” Reiser explained, “Too often, we parents equate happiness with pleasure and gratification. We try to pick summer camps our kids will ‘like.’ offer them meals they will ‘like,’ organize play-dates with kids they ‘like,’ and so on. Over time, these interactions send the message to kids that happiness is found in feeling good and getting what we want, and that organizing food, activities, relationships and even life itself around our preferences is the way to go.” She said that when kids are engaged and what they are doing has meaning to them, they tend to be happy.

• • •

Some experts contend that happiness is a skill, that it can be learned and/or taught. The Happify app’s free activities and games are based on serious academic research. The program is designed to train people to disrupt patterns of negative thinking, manage stress and build skills to overcome life challenges. Happify recommends daily activities and the site claims it can teach all ages valuable skills to find peace of mind and feel more engaged, motivated and … well, happy.

• • •

There were two pieces of interesting news recently for families dealing with peanut allergies. One study found that eating peanuts in infancy “significantly decreases” chances of a peanut allergy. Another found that children whose family washed dishes by hand (rather than families who used a dishwasher) were far less likely to become allergic to peanuts. The theory behind the latter is that germs are good. You can read the full articles in the most recent issues of The Atlantic and Time magazine.

• • •

The Speakaboos app helps children read, explore and discover books they love based on their interests. The app was developed based on decades of research and testing and it aims to cultivate literacy and language learning skills for children from preschool to second grade. The site provides free storybooks with illustrations, animated characters, story-driven games and touch-screen interactions to keep children engaged while learning. The app works on computers, tablets or mobile devices.

• • •

If you are concerned about your child’s understanding of their online presence, Common Sense Media has introduced a game that introduced middle school students to the fundamentals of digital citizenship. The site offers animated, choose-your-own-adventure interactive experiences. Students can tackle digital dilemmas, make good (and not-so-good) decisions, and try out possible solutions through stories and mini-games – all without risking their real-world reputations.

• • •

Do your children have trouble focusing when they sit down to do homework? These are some good tips. Soloquest’s Deb Stewart suggests a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and some soothing background music (classical is often a good choice) to block other sounds.

• Get your student in their regular homework place, remove any distractions (cell phones, chat windows, TV, etc.).

• Now, add a pair of noise-cancelling headphones (over-the-ear are the most effective) and switch them on. They will immediately eliminate a great deal of background noise.

• Next, play music that will help keep the mind focused.

If you’re just getting started, she suggests Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony Movement #2, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony Movement #2 or Dvorak Ninth Symphony Movement #2.

• • •

Once upon a time, Facebook was reserved for college students only. With grandparents now enjoying the site, college students are loving it a little bit less. A new social network called Friendsy, launched by two Princeton students, offers options for connecting with classmates you might not meet otherwise. The founders were concerned by reports that college students today are feeling less connected with their peers and find it hard to make friends on campus. In less than a year, the site is active on more than 1,600 college campuses.

• • •

My new favorite free math app is TeachMe. This online suite of Internet math games covers math concepts in pre-K to ninth grade and is searchable by Common Core State Standards. TeachMe also has progress reports and dashboards for parents and teachers to track individual student performance.

• • •

Rather than cushy world tours, a new nonprofit called Global Glimpse brings students together from diverse communities for group immersion community service experiences in developing countries. The company provides scholarships on a sliding fee scale that makes the program accessible to low income students. Students pay from $500 to $3,500, which includes airfare, accommodation, and all meals for their 2.5 week trip.

• • •

Speaking of travel, if you know of a student who is planning a trip abroad this summer, they should check out Language Zen. The free personalized site selects vocabulary based on how much it is actually used in the real world.

• • •

A new study has found that parents who tell their kids that they are better than other children can create narcissistic tendencies. Parents are really divided on this topic as the trend in recent years has been unwavering praise and installing in children a sense of how special they are. How do you walk the fine line between promoting healthy self-esteem and creating entitled kids who think the world revolves around them? NPR had a good story on the issue here:

• • •

“Serial” got many teens (and their parents) interested in podcasts. Teachers around the country are using podcasts in the classroom because better listening skills is a critical Common Core educational goal, and students love the format. Studies have found that students can listen to content two-to-three grade levels higher than they can read. Interested in more ideas? Check out Listen Current which has resources to “teach your students to listen with the power of public radio.” If you haven’t tuned in, Serial’s first season consisted of 12 40-to-45-minute “chapters” narrated by a reporter, involving interviews with former witnesses, detectives, lawyers and classmates of a teen who was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend.

• • •

I speak with a lot of parents who are interested in seeing as much data as possible about their child’s school. One easy way to learn more is to look at the School Accountability Report Card that every public school in America must prepare each year. Your school’s 2014 report can be found on the district website. The information contained is very interesting, as it includes proficiency rates by grade, gender, race and income, a-g completion rates, fitness levels, suspension/expulsion information, average teacher salaries and more. It is an informative look inside your child’s school.

• • •

A new report from PayScale found that what you study matters a lot more than where you go to college when it comes to the ROI (or return on your investment) in your college degree. In an article in The Economist, the study authors found that engineers and computer scientists do best, i.e. they get the highest 20-year return on their college fees. Engineering graduates from moderately priced colleges do only slightly worse than those from highly selective ones. Business and economics degrees also pay well, delivering a solid 8.7 percent average return. On the other end of the spectrum, an arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art had a hefty 20-year net negative return of $92,000.

• • •

It was truly disheartening to read The Economist’s article on college completion rates in the same issue. Researchers have found that wealth now predicts whether a child will graduate university better than eighth-grade test scores. “Kids in the richest quarter with low test scores are as likely to make it through college as kids in the poorest quarter with high scores,” found Robert Putnam, author of “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.” Something else I found interesting is that in the 1970s there were no socio-economic differences in the amount of time that parents spent talking, reading and playing with toddlers. But today, the children of college-educated parents benefit from 50 percent more time engaged in these activities. Marriage rates, cultural norms and single parent households all play a role. As The Economist concludes, “a problem this complex has no simple solution.”

• • •

Beyond Minecraft, I know that parents are curious which video games are “good” for their children and which have no redeeming value. Teach Thought evaluated hundreds of games and rated each based on playability, cognitive load and innovation. The unranked list of the 50 best (most educational) includes: Empire Total War, Civilization, Bridge Constructor, Plague Inc., World of Sand and dozens more.

• • •

As part of the White House’s recent ConnectED initiative, it has convinced several prominent tech companies to provide their expensive software to students. If you visit, you can access free design, drafting and engineering software from Autodesk; online AP classes and college courses from elite institutions through edX; and data mapping software from ArcGIS Online Organization.

• • •

In an effort to get all kids creating, collaborating and learning to code, Connected Camps is partnering with Institute of Play to offer a low-cost, four-week online Minecraft camp, beginning July 6. Campers, ages 9 to 13, will be taught everything from the basics of building to coding skills in a safe multiplayer environment. Participants can login from home and the camp features live broadcasts, online discussions with experts, and collaborative design events. Participants can sign up for advanced coding instruction for a fee. The camps will be staffed by trained Minecraft

• • •

If your student is interested in computer coding (or you are!), just in time for summer, EdSurge has produced a great resource guide of coding camps, online programs, clubs and tools.

• • •

Students who are stressing out over their schoolwork might explore the DeStressify app. The app reminds kids of tried-and-true stress remedies including eating right, sleeping well and getting exercise. It offers a way to keep these coping tools in mind, from five-minute yoga exercises to a nutrition pop-up reminder at lunch.

• • •

Because it is the hottest topic in schools today, Edutopia has developed a resource roundup of videos, interviews and articles for adults who are looking to build resilience and grit in young people. Whether it is sticking it out during a challenging freshman year in college or surviving a tough situation at home, everyone seems to want the magic answer: How do you nurture resilience? These resources are a start:

• • •

There is a great free collection of “ScienceTake” videos for students created by the New York Times. Each video explains the science behind some cool idiosyncrasy of everyday life. If your student enjoys the Natural History Museum, they will love these

• • •

As you shop for toys to keep your children amused this summer (perhaps on long car trips or plane rides), you might browse’s new dedicated STEM toy shop. You will find a variety of items that encourage kids to develop science, technology, engineering and/or math-related skills. The site explains why the toys were chosen and groups toys into useful categories (like top picks in circuit toys). Don’t forget to enter the site via to have a portion of your sale go to a school or nonprofit of your choice.

• • •

When a country as well-respected for its educational system as Finland announces changes, the world takes notice. Finland is transitioning from subject-specific lessons (an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon) to “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of math, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills. More academic students will be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union by merging elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography. The other major change is that Finnish classrooms will no longer feature rows of students passively listening – students will work in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.

• • •

If you are trying to find a residential summer academic camp for your teen, post what you are looking for in the comments and I am happy to help. I have a directory of hundreds of camps and workshops lasting one-five weeks that are still accepting applications.

“Nothing will determine our success as a nation in the 21st century more than how well we educate our kids.”

– President Barack Obama

Education Round-Up XXXII — SXSWedu Edition

In four short years, SXSWedu in Austin has established itself as perhaps the most influential education conference in the world. More than 6,000 educators, school administrators and ed-tech entrepreneurs gather to compare best practices, to try out new ed-tech software and hardware, and to debate the changes taking place in education in America, from preschool through college.

Faced with the choice of more than 300 sessions over four days, I crammed in as much as I could on a wide array of topics. My takeaway this year – 10 major trends that you will be hearing more about in the national media in the near future:

1. America must figure out why its college completion rates are so low and develop strategies for improving student success. Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden speaks frequently on community college issues, and her keynote focused on why 45 percent of students who start at four-year colleges do not finish within six years (the lowest rate among developed nations). She also discussed access and equity, and the new accountability that is catalyzing change in higher education.

2. Mindsets and the role of a growth mindset in college completion will continue to be a hot topic. Two McKinsey consultants presented their research on some low-cost and high-impact interventions that can move the needle on completion rates. It can be as simple as hearing other students share how they overcame challenges in school. Meanwhile Google recently announced that it is more interested in hiring students who exhibit a “growth mindset” than those with high GPAs. Social, emotional, purposeful learning and mindfulness were also hot topics.

3. There is a growing disconnect between what students learn in college and what skills employers want in new hires. Why are so many jobs going unfilled while so many recent graduates are unemployed? Employability was a hot topic, as was tapping industry to get involved in both high school and college course planning as a means of boosting career readiness.

4. Right now learning is measured largely by seat time (a year in ninth grade, a year in tenth grade, etc.), but the idea of digital badges (think Boy Scouts) and “credentials” were a hot topic. Some schools now advance students based on competency tests (when you master geometry you move up, no matter what grade you are in). Credentials can also signal achievement and specific knowledge and skills to potential employers (Photoshop, Powerpoint, Java, corporate finance and accounting, etc). The concept is already popular among job seekers switching careers or re-entering the workforce who are investing in new skills.

5. Schools must figure out a way to balance data collection with student privacy. Data is very useful in tracking student progress and boosting college completion rates. Knowing a student’s socio-economic background and parent education levels can help put support in place, but sharing that knowledge and tracking based on a student’s background is controversial. Can innovation and privacy coexist?

6. Technology isn’t going to replace teachers but it can help them be more effective in their jobs. There is no question that technology is here to stay. The ways that it can help teachers to differentiate instruction and make learning more engaging and relevant (adaptive, engaging educational games, for example) were hot topics in almost every session. Will teachers shift from being “content experts” to “curriculum facilitators”?

7. Unique and boldly different new schools are cropping up across the country. Many center around bringing fun into the classroom. I heard presentations about:

• Beaver Country Day, which integrates computer coding into every class taught at the school
• Quest to Learn, a high school in NYC that revolves around games and game design
• High Tech High, a high school completely dedicated to project-based learning = Less talking and more doing. The documentary “Most Likely To Succeed” features the school.

8. Districts are increasingly relying on crowd funding and community donations. One keynote speaker was Charles Best, the founder of Since 2000, DonorsChoose has featured projects from 63 percent of all public schools in the country. The site is a new great way for teachers to avoid red tape around procuring edtech tools. DonorsChoose can also calculate the most-requested books or craft material in a particular area, and can share this data with local districts for planning purposes.

9. A maker space and a coding dojo are coming your way. A good balance to the emphasis on technology is the recognition that kids love to use their hands to make things – and that students should create media, just not consume it. Sonoma Valley High and a dozen other schools in Sonoma County have jumped on the bandwagon with actual maker labs where students have tools to create. CoderDojo and Girls Who Code are launching volunteer-led coding clubs for young people across the country.

10. And finally, and most concretely, the physical classroom space is due for a dramatic makeover. Students need to collaborate, teachers need classroom design flexibility and students should not be sitting all day. I saw a fantastic new chair from Steelcase that holds a backpack underneath, swivels and rolls for collaboration and features a pivoting desk that holds a laptop, tablet or iPhone. Also featured were standing desks and whiteboards that served as room dividers.

As usual, I left SXSWedu with as many questions as answers. But in each auditorium and breakout room, the audience of education thought leaders seem to agree that the sharing of ideas and debate felt very much like the very best classroom imaginable.



Education Roundup XXXI: The best resources, tips and research for parents, students and teachers

Experts are figuring out a lot about how we learn. In a post that originally appeared in the Crew blog, author Belle Beth Cooper summarized six things you should know about the brain and how it takes in and retains information. The entire article is worth a read for the complete explanations.

1. We take in information better when it’s visual

2. We remember the big picture better than the details

3. Sleep largely affects learning and memory

4. Sleep deprivation significantly reduces your ability to learn new information

5. We learn best by teaching others

6. We learn new information better when it’s interweaved.

• • •

Each year, hundreds of colleges and universities administer a freshman survey to hundreds of thousands of entering students during orientation. The survey covers educational and career plans; and values, attitudes and beliefs. The 2014 survey found a few interesting new trends:

• freshmen are increasingly distancing themselves from religion

• freshmen arrive at college having partied less in their high school years

• freshman have more mental health and emotional issues than in the past

Most critically, the emotional health of incoming freshmen is at its lowest point in at least three decades. Students say they are spending more time studying and less time socializing with friends.

• • •

Happiness is a consequence of our actions, not a goal in and of itself. When we say, “I just want my kids to be happy,” we’re actually emphasizing the result. In other words, I may have been going about it all wrong. Read more in this great public radio report:

• • •

I recommend that high school students getting ready to apply for their first jobs create a Linked In profile (you can help for sure). There are some easy tips here on setting up a page. My favorite — claim your unique url ( before someone else claims it.

• • •

What happened to those college kids who Peter Theil paid $100,000 to drop out? At every cocktail party when the conversation turns to the value of college, someone will bring up the Thiel fellows. Here is a balanced update on those students now.…/The-Rich-Mans-Dropout-Club/151703/

• • •

University professor Christopher Blattman offers ten things that he wishes someone had told him to do in college. You can read the entire piece at

1) Try careers on for size

2) Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university

3) Learn how to write well

4) Focus on the teacher, not the topic when choosing courses

5) When in doubt, choose the academic path that keeps the most doors open

6) Do the minimum foreign language classes (do immersion instead)

7) Go to places that are unfamiliar to you

8) Take some small classes with professors who can write recommendations

9) Unless you’re required to write a thesis, think twice before committing to one

10) Blow your mind (He said, “At the end of each year of college, you should look back at your thoughts and opinions 12 months before and find them quaint. If not, you probably didn’t read or explore or work hard enough.”)

• • •

We should all be lifelong learners. Next time you’re watching reality TV on your seat-front screen on a long flight, consider choosing to watch a college lecture instead. Jet Blue and Virgin America have both begun streaming recorded lectures from some of the nation’s top colleges, including marketing classes from Penn’s Wharton School, a Brown University archeology class, and an introduction to guitar and rhythm from the Berklee School of Music. While these aren’t true online courses because they lack a key interactive element, you will also gain valuable insight into the national conversation about online learning.

• • •

CNNMoney/PayScale have developed a ranking of the “Top 10 Best Jobs In America” for 2015, based on growth, great pay and satisfying work. And they are:

1. Software architect

2. Video game designer

3. Landman (oil and gas worker)

4. Patent agent

5. Hospital administrator

6. Continuous improvement manager

7. Clinical nurse specialist

8. Database developer

9. Information insurance analyst

10. Pilates/yoga instructor

While this list shouldn’t convince students to head in one direction versus another, hopefully trend pieces like these provoke interesting conversations in your house.

• • •

The central purpose of the new Common Core State Standards is to help today’s students think critically, rather than just memorize (and later forget) facts. To that end, Common Sense Media has developed a list of games and apps that don’t just have right and wrong answers, but encourage kids to experiment and consider the shades of gray in problems. You can search for recommendations by age, but the very highest marks went to: Number’s League (age 7), Wenonauts Internet Academy (age 8), Gamestar Mechanic (age 10), Super Scribblenauts (age 10) and Budget Hero and Historypin (ages 13 and up).

• • •

These findings are very controversial, but study after study came to very similar conclusions. Your college major is a very good indication of how smart you are. Education majors are furious!

• • •

I always love to hear about new study apps for students. Some good ones are featured here.

• • •

This list is a good starting point if your high school student is looking for a paid internship this summer.  If your student has done one that should be added, please comment below.

• • •

Why are teens so prone to impulsiveness and addiction as why is it so important that we help protect their still-developing brains?  NPR ran a great interview here with neuroscientist Frances Jensen, author of The Teenage Brain, and she runs through the topic at length. I can not wait until my kids successfully make it to 21.

• • •

It was only a matter of time – and such a good idea! Google has partnered with Disney to make a new cartoon series, “Miles from Tomorrowland,” to inspire kids to code. The show is set in space but works in coding, teamwork and critical thinking. Some pretty famous actors voice the characters including Olivia Munn, Adrian Grenier, Mark Hamill, George Takei, Bill Nye and Wil Wheaton. The series premiered on Feb. 6 on the Disney Channel. There is also a Tomorrowland app to accompany the series.

• • •

Slate’s Jordan Weissmann pondered last week why around 15 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds still live with their parents, despite an improving economy and job market. He suggests that greater student debt is to blame, as is the fact that young adults are getting married later. He notes that marriage rates have declined most among Americans who never went to college, that same group among whom living with parents is commonest and has grown fastest.

• • •

The commonly used pesticide deltamethrin may increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, according to a new Rutgers study. Researchers found that mice exposed to deltamethrin while in the womb and via breastfeeding exhibited features of ADHD. These findings have been deemed to provide strong evidence. More boys are diagnosed with ADHD than girls, and in this study, the male mice were affected more than the female mice. Products that contain the pesticide include Raid Max Bug Barrier, Harris Flea & Ticket Killer, Delta Dust and dozens more. In a related study, the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) found that kids with high levels of this pesticide in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

• • •

Less access to after-school programs is pushing disadvantaged kids further behind, according to a major study featured in a recent Atlantic magazine article titled “The Activity Gap.” The study examined trends in extracurricular participation among kids in the U.S. from the 1970s until today. The researchers described their findings as “alarming.” While upper- and middle-class students have become more active in school clubs and sports teams over the past four decades, the participation rates of their socio-economically disadvantaged peers started plummeting in the ’90s, the study found. Why do extracurriculars matter? “Extracurricular activities instill the skills and values that matter most for upward mobility,” said the researchers. Those skills and values they refer to – self-esteem, resilience, leadership, engagement, etc. The entire article is worth a read:

• • •

Filling out the FASFA (the federal financial aid form) as soon as possible after Jan. 1 increases applicants’ chances of getting the best financial aid packages. Those who file the form from January through March receive, on average, twice the amount of grant money as those who file later, said Mark Kantrowitz, of the financial aid website

• • •

There are at least 10 new apps offering ways for parents to easily create an online baby book. Many parents are hesitant to post baby photos on Facebook so these apps fills that gap of providing an easy way to upload cute photos from your phone (rather than print them out to make an album) while still keeping the images private.

• • •

If you are looking for some cool educational games for your child to play online, check out BrainRush. The site has lots of free options for a wide variety of games, on topics from the periodic table to grammar to state capitals to the water cycle. The games are challenging because they adapt to student success and students are prompted to review concepts after play.

• • •

If your child is an avid reader who is always looking for book recommendations, they should explore This site provides an online community for young readers to find new books and connect with each other for peer recommendations.

• • •

I am a sucker for great news outlets, particularly ones that might get students interested in current events. The Tween Tribune produced by the Smithsonian is one such site. Content is grouped by grade (K-4, 5-8 and 9-12) and also available in Spanish. Some of today’s topics – the top sellers on iTunes, how color is used as a hidden persuader by advertisers and humpback whale sightings near New York City,

• • •

Khan Academy is gearing up to a free comprehensive SAT prep class. This month they are seeking a few thousand high school students to beta-test the online tool. Students will have access to an unreleased SAT practice test.

• • •

The blog Momastery posted some great suggestions by teens for teens who find themselves in tricky situations and don’t know what to say to extricate themselves. Here are a few:

• When someone offers you a beer: “No, thanks. I’m allergic to alcohol. Totally blows.” (Then go fill up a cup with water and nurse that all night to avoid 40 million more questions.)

• When someone offers you weed: “My mom used to smoke pot when she was younger and now she can smell it from a mile away. She checks my clothes every night. Can’t do it, man.”

• You find yourself in a sexual situation you’d prefer not to be in: “Hey, I like you too much for this to go down this way.”

• A kid is being teased by another kid in the hallway: “Hey. I don’t want anybody to get in trouble here. Why don’t you follow me out of here? I’ll walk you to class.”

• Someone is about to drink and drive: “Don’t risk it, man. My dad’ll get us home – no questions asked. He’d rather pick us up here than in jail.”

• • •

New studies show that binge drinking among teens and young adults impairs the body’s ability to heal from injuries and also disrupts a healthy immune system. Study participants drank four or five shots of vodka. Measured at two hours and five hours after peak intoxication, their immune systems had become AND STAYED less active than when sober. The study was published in Alcohol, an international, peer-reviewed journal.

• • •

I’m going to keep reminding everyone that the time is now to research great summer programs for your teen. Summers are a great chance for them to practice being away from you, explore an interest and meet students outside of their comfortable circle. The best programs are those that cost the least. Here are some to get you started. If the link is broken (some change every year) then just Google the program name.

Please forward this site to anyone you think might be interested!

Education Roundup: XXX

While many of us still drink out of plastic water bottle and heat food in plastic, more and more studies are showing what a bad idea that is. New research has found that prenatal exposure to the phthalate chemicals in plastic can result in a lower IQ in children. The researchers recommend that pregnant women not microwave food in plastics, avoid scented products like air fresheners and dryer sheets, and not using recyclable plastics labeled as 3, 6, or 7.

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How many of you still hit the space bar twice at the end of the sentence? Today, the rule is one space, not two spaces, after a period. Period. For those of us over 40, it is almost impossible to break the habit but ask kids today about it and they will not even understand the question. Unless you are typing on an old-fashioned typewrite, get over it. The rule is one space. How do I remember? Well, I usually don’t and it infuriates my copy editor.

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Most kids (ages 6 to 17) say that they would read more books if they could find ones they like, according to research by It also found that kids age 6 to 8 are more likely than older kids to want books with characters that look like them; kids age 9 to 11 are more likely than younger kids to want books that have a mystery or problem to solve; kids age 12 to 14 are more likely than older kids to want books with smart, strong or brave characters; and kids age 15 to 17 are more likely than younger kids to want books that let them forget about real life for a while. Get suggestions at

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Baby Center has announced the most popular baby names of 2014 and there isn’t a Mary, John or Anne to be found. The top girls names from one to 10 currently are Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Isabella, Mia, Zoe, Lily, Emily and Madelyn. The top boys names are Jackson, Aiden, Liam, Lucas, Noah, Mason, Ethan, Caden, Jacob and Logan. You can read the complete list at

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I loved playing around on the new personality quiz website Traitify. You answer a series of quick easy questions about your personality and the site provides insight into your dominant traits. It is fun for both kids and grown-ups, and at least right now appears to be free. It might be a fun activity after a big holiday meal. There is also an option where you can explore which careers you would be best suited to and better understand your leadership style.

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AdmitSee is a new website where students applying to college can advise each other on their essays. The site gives applicants and parents insight into essays that worked, school faculty can use the free admissions resources on the site, and college students can get paid for sharing their college applications materials. Yes, that last part is a bit horrifying. Supposedly the site works closely with schools to prevent plagiarism. I believe the site replies heavily on – a plagiarism detection service that provides “originality checking.” The website was created by four UC Berkeley students and it authenticates not only college essays but also other scholarly writing.

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High school students are talking about the new (mostly free) Test Precision app because of its personalized SAT and ACT prep services. The site’s rapid diagnostic test offers to help students decide on which of those two tests they will do better. There are a host of other to-notch online test prep sites at

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President Obama wrote his first line of code at the White House in Dec., the first president to do so. He joined and a dozen students to kick off the Hour of Code and Computer Education Week. He wrote a line of JavaScript that, I kid you not, moved Elsa from the movie Frozen 100 paces forward. Ask your children if they did anything for the Hour of Code in their classroom.

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It can be hard to explain to child why you might not open your wallet every time you pass a homeless person or are asked to donate to a charity. The holidays are a good time to teach your child about charitable giving.†You can explain how charities work and the research that should be done before money is donated. The website had some helpful articles on evaluating charities and signs of a charity scams.

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Is your child or teen obsessed with Harry Potter? J.K. Rowling began releasing new stories about Harry and his wizarding world on Dec. 12 and she released a new one every morning through Christmas. Sign up at to get the free stories via email.

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According to the website, the average American child can identify 1,000 corporate logos but cannot name 10 plants or animals native to his or her region. The site, a partnership between the Ad Council and the U.S. Forest Service, seeks to encourage todayís youth and their parents to re-connect with nature with tips and resources for experiencing it first-hand.

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Did you graduate from college in four years? Today, only 19 percent of full-time students who are studying at non-flagship public universities earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. The number is, however, higher at privates universities and flagships (36 percent) like Berkeley and UCLA. As for students enrolling at a public junior college like SRJC, only 5 percent of full-time students receive an associate’s degrees after their planned two years. (

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The nonprofit Making Caring Common, led by a Harvard psychologist, suggests five strategies to raise moral, caring children:
1. Make caring for others a priority.
2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.
3. Expand your child’s circle for concern beyond their family and friends.
4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor.
5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings (like anger, shame and envy).

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The Huffington Post headline read: “You are more likely to inherit your dad’s social status than his height.” I had to think about that for a moment. The article cites a new study out of UC Davis and the London School of Economics indicating that there is very little social mobility these days and the correlation is stronger for income than height.

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The annual Google code-in challenge invites students worldwide to put their technology skills to work. Students (13 to 17 years old) complete coding, documentation, and quality assurance tasks to win prizes and everyone who receives a certificate and T-shirts for completing tasks. Grand prize winners receive a trip to Google’s headquarters. The challenge began yesterday, Dec.1 and runs for seven weeks.

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If you’re looking for book ideas for your daughters, you’ll get a kick out of the website, A Mighty Girl. The site features reviews and recommendations of more than 2,000 books with girl-empowering female characters. You can search by reading level, awards won, issues covered and more. The site also has a great gift guide.

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My how the times have changed – approximately 26 percent of all college students today have dependent children. The number of college students with dependent children grew by 50 percent from 1995 to 2011. Today the 4.8 million college students with children represent about 26 percent of all college students in the nation.

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Do you have a child who is interested in learning more about specific careers and you just can’t answer their questions? I spent a few hours exploring a government website that provides really useful pay, qualification, training and employment outlook information on hundred of careers, from private investigator to wind turbine mechanic to massage therapist to line cook. The site’s format is easy to use and it includes sections on the fastest growing careers, highest paying and more.

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More and more students are getting internships in college as a way to increase their chances of getting a great job after graduation. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the top 10 colleges for internship and co-op programs and there are some less familiar names on the list. From one to 10: Belmont University (Tenn.), Berea College (Kentucky), Butler University (Indiana), Cornell University (New York), Drexel University (Penn.), Elon University (North Carolina), Georgia Tech, Northeastern University (Mass.), Purdue University (Indiana) and Rochester Institute of Technology (New York).

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I get nervous when my 13-yr-old explores YouTube. Cakey is a new free app that lets kids safely watch YouTube videos without coming across inappropriate content. Your child can only watch videos you add in the app or that you choose from the thousands of suggestions shared by other parents on the web site. It also provides an age rating (best for ages 3+, for example) for each video. You remove YouTube from your child’s iPad and replace it with Cakey.

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There is a lot of talk in the education world these days about data literacy. More and more teachers are creating lesson plans to teach students to collect and analyze data (beyond math and science). The goal is to prepare students today to not only be qualified for careers that depend on data analysis but also just to be capable of deriving opinions from real-world data. Recent research finds that the U.S. faces a shortage of workers with analytical expertise, particularly managers and analysts who can make decisions based on big data analysis.

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Are you worried that your children’s brains are turning to mush over the holidays? The Fit Brains Trainer is an app that offers more than 360 brain games. I found it addicting and a lot of fun.

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It is time to start researching summer experiences for your children. The best ones books early. While it might be counter-intuitive —  the less expensive the program is (free is best) typically the more prestigious it is. You can get a lot of ideas here:

Special Edition: Educational (but fun!) toy gift ideas for the holidays

Here is an excerpt from my recent newspaper article on holidays gifts for kids. In the spirit of shopping local I have focused on ones available at most small town toy stores:


Trends in education are having an impact on the toys that families will see on the shelves this holiday season. While perennial favorites like crafts, trains and board games continue to be readily available, the bulk of the new toys released and selling briskly this year seem to have a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focus.

Building Toys

The toy company Mechanical Science offers a number of elaborate building kits. Kids ages 6-14 use a multidimensional construction system to build structures and machines. Models include an oil drill, a flying eagle, a crane, a pulley, levers and more ($50).

Marble mazes have come a long ways since the 1980s. The Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 line offers kids ages five and uo the chance to create marble maze sculptures in the form of animals, geometric shapes, and other designs ($17-$28). Also for sale in town is the Gravity Maze by ThinkFun. The colorful Falling Marble Logic Game is aimed at ages 8 to adult and it comes with cards with 60 different challenges from beginner to expert ($30).


Especially for Girls

I wrote about the hot new “girl power” toy company GoldieBlox last year but it merits another mention. The current line extension, geared at girls ages 4-9 explores a different engineering concept in each set (belt drive, zip line, dunk tank) but makes it so fun that kids don’t realize how much they are learning as they play ($20-$30).


Perhaps even more popular with young girls today, however, is Roominate for ages 6-12. These colorful kits feature DIY wired dollhouse building sets are aimed at getting girls excited about STEM. Through hands-on building and circuits, Roominate brings together creativity and engineering ($30-$60).

Brain Games

I am a sucker for brain games and Brain Baffler’s IQ Collection offers several different mind exercising and mind bending challenges for kids ages 8 and up. Our local store sells the Periscope and Orbite challenges ($10-$13).


Along the same lines, Mindbending Toys is offering at least six all-new editions of Speed Puzzles, Brain Trickery, Lateral Thinking Puzzles and Optical Illusions ($9).


There is new toy category called Baby Lit. I got a huge kick out of the Little Miss Austen and Little Miss Bronte series available at our local toy store. The novels are simplified for young children and some contain cut out wood figures in period dress. Other toddler titles include Sense and Sensibility, Anna Karenina, Romeo & Juliet, Moby Dick and a dozen more ($8 and up).


Flashcards and Early Learning Toys

It is a whole new era in flashcards. There are three different hand-held electronic flashcards made by Learning Resources – one for counting and colors, one for money skills and one for telling time ($18).

Learning Resources offers some fun gift “games in a can” called Cracker Stackers geared at reinforcing early learning. The Picture Alphabet game is geared at ages four and up, the Sight Words game is for ages five and up and the Opposites game is for ages five and up.


French and Spanish bingo sets by Eeboo can sneak in some foreign language practice. The store also offers license plate bingo cards, number fluency cards and a few other fun car games ($12-15).

Wood kits

If your child is more interested in low-tech building projects, the Adventure Station Whittling Kit is a terrific option. Kids learn how to handcraft items out of real wood and a single kit can result in a LED lighthouse, a sailing ship or several other projects ($30).


Many stories are now offering wood building kits. Our local store is offering a wood birdhouse, dump truck and a bulldozer (for ages eight and up) from the company RED Toolbox ($13-$45).

Robots and Programming Toys

While most programming games require screen time, ThinkFund’s Robot Turtles is billed as a game for little programmers. The board game introduces basic coding concepts to preschoolers, ages four and up ($25).

Most toys stores offer a few building kits – one of which combines gyroscopes and robots. This award-winning Gyrobot by Thames & Kosmos kit has 102 pieces and seven different projects inside. The same company also offers kits for ages eight and up to build a air-driven hovercraft and other remote controlled machines ($50).

Elenco offers a series of Snap Circuits kits that will be fun for any kids ages eight and up who love hands-on electronic building projects. Kids can build a real, working motion detector, a flying saucer, a strobe light, a robot and more. Our local store had a wide selection of choices when I visited ($30-$80).

Fun for the Whole Family

I love the retro feel of the new Matchbox Trivia games: Quick Fire Quiz, Great Debate, Devilish Dilemmas and After-Dinner Quiz. The Great Debate offers 80 debatable subject cards for all ages in clever matchbox packaging ($6).

Long time favorite strategy board game The Settlers of Catan is having a resurgence. According to the Wall Street Journal, Settlers has become so popular in Silicon Valley that it’s now being used as an icebreaker at some business meetings. The game, and its many game expansion packs, are a great option when the entire family wants to play one game together ($40).

While all of these toys were available locally in Sonoma, if you want or need to shop online, try Fat Brain Toys or Educational Insights for other ideas of educational toys for all ages.


Education RoundUp XXIX: College for free, college tips and resources, free test prep, moral children, where billionaires went to college

CNN has looked at which colleges worldwide have produced the most billionaire graduates. Not all billionaires went to elite colleges and 35 percent of billionaires didn’t graduate from college at all. That said, here we go with the top ten and how many billionaires each produced:

University of Pennsylvania – 25; Harvard – 22; Yale – 20; University of Southern California -16; Princeton – 14; Cornell – 14; Stanford – 14; UC Berkeley – 12; University of Mumbai – 12; London School of Economics – 11.

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Peers play a critical role in high school success, according to a recent study in the journal Social Science Research. The research found that actively participating in an extracurricular activity during high school increased the odds of a student enrolling in college. Participating with peers who have higher-than-normal GPAs makes the student twice as likely to go to college. Among the groups with the highest GPAs were honor society, math students, science students, debate team members, student council members, orchestra members and tennis players. Football and wrestling students had by far the lowest GPAs, and the lowest percentage of students who would later enroll in a four-year college. Academic extracurriculars (debate, math club, etc.) were more powerful indicators of college-attendance than sports, performance and student leadership. According to the study, participating in more than one extracurricular had no extra benefit.

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Does your child’s backpack seem astoundingly heavy? The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that the weight of a backpack should be less than 10 percent to 15 percent of a child’s body weight. Signs of a too heavy pack: grunting when picking up a backpack, red marks on shoulders and complaints or arms or fingers “falling asleep.”


Roominate are terrific new architecture and interior design building kits aimed at young girls. Kids can build multiple floors, balconies, and columns, place working lights, and fans and design furniture and floor plans. It is considered one of the best STEM toys of the year. The Roominate line was created by two female engineers out of Caltech, MIT and Stanford on a mission to get more girls interested in engineering. They believe that early exposure through the toys will inspire the next generation of female technology innovators.


If your teen is making you crazy, here is a comforting quote from popular parenting author and Ph.D., Wendy Mogel:  “Don’t take it personally if your teenager treats you like crap. Judge his character not on the consistency of in-house politeness, clarity of speech or degree of eye contact but on what teachers say, whether he’s welcomed by his friends’ parents, and his manners towards his grandparents, the neighbors, salespeople and servers in restaurants.”


High school students all seem to fixate on the same top colleges. recently released a list of the most underrated universities in each state. On our coast, the schools named were UC Santa Cruz, Oregon State and Washington State University. See the complete list at


While it is great when teens can visit the colleges on their list before applying, sometimes it just isn’t possible. I recommend your student spend some time looking through online reviews posted by current students as part of their research. While it makes sense to take student comments with a grain of salt, these reviews do provide a sense of any college’s strengths, weaknesses and culture. College Times TV has compiled a list of 17 web sites that run real student reviews at Their favorites are and


Algebra is widely regarded as a gatekeeper subject, in that it indicates future success and acts as the key entrance point into advanced math. To that end, the website offers 20 great enrichment resources for teachers and parents that just might help make the difference in your student’s algebra proficiency. Check them out at


A new study shows that offering daily, before-school, aerobic activities to children could help in reducing the symptoms of ADHD in the classroom and at home. Students with signs of ADHD (inattentiveness, moodiness and difficulty getting along with others) responded positively to morning exercise. “Early studies suggest that physical activity can have a positive effect on children who suffer from ADHD,” said the researchers. (Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology). In related research, a recent Finnish study shows that higher levels of physical activity are related to better academic achievement during the first three school years, particularly in boys. Students getting greater physical activity at recess, and walking or biking to and from school, were related to better reading skills and higher arithmetic tests than less active boys. The results did not hold true for girls.

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Thanks to a slew of hot titles published in their formative years (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc.), millennials read more books than the over-30 crowd, according to research released last week (Pew). Almost 90 percent of Americans younger than 30 said they read a book in the past year compared with almost 80 percent of those older than 30. Americans are also buying more books than they borrow from libraries.

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College students are on their phones nine hours a day? I checked this statement twice because I didn’t think I could be reading it right. A recent study on cell phone activity conducted at Baylor University, and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, found that female college students spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cell phones, and male college students spend nearly eight (this includes multi-tasking).

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While students should find and follow their passions in college, I can’t resist sharing with you the 10 “worst” college (undergraduate) majors for today’s job market, based on underemployed findings and median pay research conducted by the web site PayScale. By underemployed, they mean holding a job not in your field and/or one that leaves you overeducated, underpaid, or not able to make ends meet. #10 – psychology, #9 education, #8 liberal arts, #7 graphic design, #6 English language and literature, #5 sociology, #4 general studies, #3 health care administration, #2 business management and administration and #1 criminal justice.

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Here are some tips on ways to spot a great teacher, courtesy of Wall Street Journal reporter Dana Goldstein? She concluded that great teachers:

“Have active intellectual lives outside their classroom … the best teachers often love to travel, have fascinating hobbies or speak passionately about their favorite philosopher or poet.”

“Believe intelligence is achievable, not inborn. Effective educators reject the idea that smarts are something that only some students have; they expect all children to perform at high levels, even those who are unruly, learning disabled or struggling with English.”

Are data-driven. “Effective teachers assess students at the beginning of new units to identify their strengths and weaknesses, then quiz students when units end to determine whether concepts and skills have sunk in.”

Ask great questions. Great teachers focus on conceptual not factual understanding – not when was the Depression, but what factors led to it. (WSJ Sept. 6.)

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The Chinese, Turkish and Korean languages are said to express number concepts more clearly than English – one possible explanation for why it is harder for young American children to learn basic math skills. The Wall Street Journal tackled this topic recently, reporting that this language gap is gaining attention from educators and psychologists. An example – we have the word 11, in many other languages the word is ten-one, helping with understanding of place values. The author suggests some math video games that can help: Addition Blocks, Hungry Guppy, Hungry Fish and Monster School Bus, to name a few. WSJ, Sept. 10.


Students struggling with algebra should check out the free, online, easy-to-use online site Algebra Nation. The site offers a lot of options that can support a student’s in-class algebra


I love the idea of heralding up-and-coming colleges and universities that are making innovative changes in their academics, student life and diversity. A list of the top 10, announced by U.S. News & World Report last week, are: Tulane University, George Mason University, Drexel University, Biola University, Portland State, Clemson University, Indiana University, Purdue University, Georgia State University, University of Southern California, Northeastern University, University of Central Florida, Arizona State (Tempe) and University of Maryland (Baltimore).


While no student should rely on rankings when developing their college list, it is always interesting to me to see how organizations rank colleges differently. The 2014 list of the world’s best colleges by the Times of London honors the following top 10 (in order from the top): Cal Tech, Harvard University, University of Oxford, Stanford University, University of Cambridge, MIT, Princeton University, UC Berkeley, Imperial College London and Yale University (tie). Other California colleges making the top 50 were: UCLA (12), UC Santa Barbara (37), UC San Diego (41). Berkeley and UCLA have the honor of being the two highest ranked public universities on the list.

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For the first time ever, 15 nonprofit organizations have joined forces to support the parents of (the one in five) children with learning and attention issues. The site brings together technology, resources and access to experts in an online community. I’m impressed by all the resources they have gathered in one place.

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A new website called Packback offers a growing collection of 3,000 digital textbooks in 21 subjects that students can rent for $3 to $5 per title in a 24-hour period. Books can add thousands to the cost of a college education (and private high school education) so sites like these – as well as digital ebooks – are certainly the wave of the future. For any of you who have had a child leave a crucial textbook at school or temporarily misplace one, paying $3 for 24 hours access almost sounds like a bargain. And your first rental is free. Have you seen the TV show Shark Tank where contestants pitch business ideas? The site first hit it big there.

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There is a new online service that isn’t cheap but promises to help students better understand their interests and aptitudes. YouScience claims to use the latest psychology and technology available to predict precisely the majors and careers where a student is most likely to succeed. Founders say their goal is to stop teens from wasting their first two years of college. Students participate in a series of game-like exercises to discover their optimal college and career path. Creators claim this is not an intelligence test and goes far beyond what Kuder, or similar in-school interest and skills assessments, can offer. The cost ranges from $79 to $249.

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There is a new PSAT, SAT and ACT app called Play2Prep that offers simulated tests and timed games that students can play on their own or against their friends. The free site includes a progress tracker. Full disclosure – one of my good friends developed it – but it is getting great reviews from major media outlets.


With all the focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) major and careers, most students don’t know what kind of occupations fall under the STEM heading. For a good list, visit The list ranges from web developers to animal scientists to astronomers to math and science teachers. Discussion of what people in these careers do might be a good conversation to have with your middle school or high school students.


There was a terrific article recently in the New York Times on what kids around the world eat for breakfast. The photographer for the story visited kids in seven countries and chronicled their morning meal. There are some intriguing ideas for parents looking to expand their children’s palates beyond sugary, bready American staples.


If college in the U.S. is just too expensive and your teen loves the idea of living abroad, how about college in Germany? All German universities are now completely free to Americans (and all other foreign students). No time to learn German? Many of the universities offer international studies degrees taught in English.


Yik Yuck. Yik Yak is a terrible free new social media app enabling high school and college students to post anonymous comments about each other. When you log in, you see comments from other posters within 1.5 miles of your location (so every person posting in theory goes to “your” school.) You might taking a look to see what your teen is seeing. Maybe if enough parents log in the site will become uncool. I guarantee you will be upset. One local teacher said he is having a huge problem with the app as a distraction in class.


While you are tearing your hair out of Yik Yak, “Why Kids Sext” is the issue posed by this month’s cover story in The Atlantic. Author Hanna Rosin found that the girls she interviewed were largely unembarrassed by naked photos of themselves being passed around and unaware that possessing or sending a nude photo of a minor – even a selfie – can be prosecuted as a felony under state child-porn laws. The article delves into why teens are so fascinated by sexting, and is worth a read for parents and teens both.


Do you have a daughter who enjoys playing chess? If so, make sure to tell her about California native Jennifer Yu, 12, who last month became the first American girl in 27 years to win the World Youth Chess Championship.


Are you concerned about how best to talk to your child about ebola? Reporter Juliana Minter suggests some tips in the Washington Post:

1. Stick to the facts

2. Assure them they are safe

3. Explain that West Africa and their country are very different.

4. Teach them way to protect their own health.

5. Use this as a learning experience (a chance to discuss global issues, health and more). Read the complete article at

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While the videogame Minecraft is frequently praised by educators for improving spatial reasoning, math and logic, reporter Clive Thompson wrote recently in Wired Magazine about how it can also be good practice for reading and writing. It is rare that a player doesn’t delve into Minecraft wikis and players guide manuals. Thompson notes that these texts are complex, challenging material written at a high school level, yet are frequently pored over by elementary school students. If your son or daughter likes gaming more than reading, this sounds like an excellent way to sneak veggies into their brownies.

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Linkedin is quickly catching on among high school and college students as a way to create and share their academic credentials and work and volunteer experience. The site has a new college-planning feature and to promote it, the site is giving away $100,000. All you need to do is go to Linkedin and create a Decision Board. You add universities and your potential field of study. You can then share it with others to get advice on your big decision. If you share it with at least one person, you are entered to win. Share your board with at least one person to finalize your entry (due by Friday,Nov. 7)

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The Economist magazine recently attempted to quantify the monetary value of being fluent in a second language. While the educational benefits are clear, MIT economist Albert Saiz found the monetary benefits are smaller – and vary based on which language you know. Thanks to basic supply and demand, a crunching of the numbers found worse returns for Spanish study in states with a larger share of Hispanics. He suggests instead that students learn a language in high demand, but short supply. He found knowing a language gives you an average 2 percent bump in pay over your lifetime but just 1.5 percent for Spanish, 2.3 percent for French and 3.8 percent for German.

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It is a great idea to expose students to all different forms of writing. If you have a student who might enjoy reading movie scripts, you can access legal downloads of more than 80 recent films at

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In an article titled, “Welcome to 13th Grade!,” Slate magazine reports on the Oregon high schools that are offering a fifth year of high school. Reporter Rebecca Schuman suggests that every district consider it but admits that as a teen she would have set her house on fire if she had been forced to stay in school another year. The pilot allows students to earn college credit that final year (without paying tuition) and to enter college as sophomores.

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All high school students (and their families) who are researching four-year colleges should spend some time at the White House’s College Scorecard site. You can find out more about a college’s affordability and value search colleges based on programs or majors offered, location, and enrollment.

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My readers liked the information about German college being free to Americans. As a follow-up, the Washington Post this week wrote about a few others countries where college is free or almost free to U.S. citizens: Finland, Norway, Slovenia, and Brazil. In France, fees are less than $14,000 a year and in Sweden Ph.D. programs are free. Most offer at least some programs entirely in English.

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Has your K-12 child tried “” yet? It is really quite an amazing free resource for homework, school projects, research, and getting questions answered by experts.I logged on and researched a few questions that a middle schooler might be tackling and was impressed. “The reference desk” includes biographies, encyclopedias, safe search engines, statistics and more. There is a section on science fair support, SAT prep, I could go on and on.

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Khan Academy is diving into college admissions. It makes sense as the generation that uses and trusts Khan Academy progresses through high school that the site would add these resources. The new robust section of the website offers advice for every step of the process from high school course planning to surviving freshman year in

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A segment on public radio recently described up five addictive but educational games that kids can play on their phones to enhance their physics skills (without even knowing that they are exercising their brain). Urge your student to try out: Crayon Physics Deluxe, World of Goo, Coaster Crafter, Amazing Alex and Tinkerbox. For older students, the reporter (from Common Sense Media) recommends Valve’s Portal, Antichamber and Quantum Conundrum.

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Are your kids lukewarm on history but love movies? A homeschooling/blogging mother of nine recently created a timeline from 1630 to 2000, broken down into 12 eras and listing the most important people and events. She then found period movies for each time period. In theory, you could teach your children all of American history using her detailed timeline chart. It is something to behold. You can download a pdf of all at

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I am afraid I can’t stop harping about how bad pot is for the teenage brain. Harvard researchers recently studied a composite scan of the brains of 20 pot smokers, ages 18 to 25 and found that even with smoking pot just once or twice a week, there were changes in two significant regions of the brain. The more the subjects smoked, the greater the differences. Researchers are realizing that old research is irrelevant now as pot is much more potent today.

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In researching tutoring options recently I came across WyzAnt, which bills itself as the leading tutoring marketplace on the web with 72,000+ tutors offering private lessons in hundreds of subjects like math, science, test prep, foreign languages, music and computers. Pick a subject, any subject, and you are likely to find a dozen tutors in or around Sonoma already registered on the site (with their background, specialty and prices listed). It’s a worth a look.

• • • is a useful (free) tool in comparing colleges based on a wide array of factors (is the admission rate higher for men than women, how many sex offenses happened on campus last year, what is the school’s admissions yield, percentage of students from overseas, etc.). It is definitely worth a look. Or check out your alma mater to see how things have changed since you\

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Does your child enjoy math and like competing against others? The Caribou Mathematics Competition is a worldwide online contest held six times a year for grades 3 to 12. The cost is $12 to enter each

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I am always on the lookout for great foreign language learning apps because the daily practice that these apps can provide is a great supplement to in-class learning. The website recommends newcomers HelloTalk, Memrise, busuu and Voxy for learning English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, French and more. Most are free.

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Study tips billed as the shortest, secret formula to getting good grades:
1. Go to every class.
2. Sit in the front row.
3. Spend at least two hours of study time in the library for every hour you have in class, every week.
4. Ask for help when you need it.
5. Repeat.

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Have you seen the hit new animated movie, “Big Hero 6?” We enjoyed it and it makes being an engineering nerd look incredibly compelling. If your child enjoyed it, make sure to check out this website where they explain how all the cool inventions were

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There is a new font called Dyslexie, created by a Danish designer, that is thought to make it much easier for dyslexic students to read. We are trying it out at our house right now. Parents can download it for free at and it took me less than a minute to get it listed as one of my choices in Microsoft Word going forward. It is compatible with most programs.

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Have you checked out Course Hero? This site enables students to browse millions of study resources, ask tutors for help and to share study materials with each other. The site claims that 93 percent of its members have earned better grades since joining. Some of the site is free, some parts have a cost.

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Has your child ever been deep into their homework, long past their bedtime when you realize you are out of graph paper, lined paper or music paper? The free Printable Paper website lets you print out 1,450 different sheets of paper.

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There are more changes ahead for the AP courses offered to high school students nationwide. The College Board is in the process of revising many of its 36 courses. The goal is to cover†fewer topics, and reward imaginative thinking more than rote memorization. A new AP Biology course went into effect two years ago and the physics courses are different as of this fall. AP European History and AP Art History will be changed for next year.

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And in news from the College Board about the SAT test – it has been confirmed that the new, completely revamped SAT will be unveiled in spring 2016. Sorry sophomores!

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As part of National Teen “Don’t Text and Drive” Week, Amica Insurance offers the following safety tips:
• Encourage teens to turn cell phone notifications off. If they can’t see or hear their phone go off, they will be less tempted to pick it up.
• Start a new rule: While driving, cell phones go in the backseat or another spot where they cannot be reached.
• Download an app that will temporarily disable the phone while driving (Live2Tsxt, DriveOFF and DriveScribe).
The app Canary goes one step further ñ it alerts you when your child is speeding or has traveled beyond a predefined area.

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Almost every grown up I can think of would enjoy the gift of a copy of the new book, “How We Learn” by New York Times reporter Benedict Carey. I heard him speak at an education conference at Stanford University last week and his engaging book provides a peek inside how our minds work and easy ways we can all learn and remember better. Brain science has come a long way in the last decade. I highly recommend it.

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I am not Catholic but I enjoyed Pope Francis’ tips on being a happier person, summarized here on the website The Higher Learning:
1. “Live and let live” – by this he basically means, “Move forward and let others do the same.}
2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”
3. “Proceed calmly” in life.
4. Pursue a healthy sense of leisure.
5. Sundays should be holidays. “Sunday is for family,” he said.
6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people.
7. Respect and take care of nature.
8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem.”
9. Respect others’ beliefs. The church should grow by attraction, not proselytising, the Pope said.
10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted.” (

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Virtual career fairs might sound dubious but the online textbook site Chegg builds a solid case for them being the wave of the future. At most college host career fairs, attendance tends to be limited to employers nearby. Chegg bills a virtual fair as speed dating with recruiters from all over. Students fill out profiles explaining who they are and what they are looking for in a career, recruiters specify the type of employee they are seeking. Then, in an eight-minute “chat,” recruiters and students meet, ask questions and share information – just like a regular career fair. Students can register with LinkedIn.

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The website CollegeMatchmaker has compiled a list of  “111 Ridiculously Awesome Full Tuition Scholarships.” I posted it in my education tips Facebook group ( and one member quickly replied that her sister had gone to college for free thanks to one of the scholarships listed. It is absolutely worth a look if you have a high school student.

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According to the ACT (testing company), the greater your academic achievements, the farther from home you are likely to attend college. The study examined ACT scores of more than a million students in the high school graduating class of 2012, revealing that as scores went up, so did students’ distance from home. (Other studies have revealed a similar pattern for SAT scores.) They couldn’t say exactly why except that the higher your score, the more choices you have and the study also found that the higher the parents’ level of education, the farther away students went to attend college.

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While there is a lot of talk about how many international students now attend U.S. colleges, the fact is that currently only 4 percent of U.S. undergraduates are international students. At elite colleges, the undergraduate percentage is higher. For example, at UC Berkeley, almost 20 percent of the freshman class is comprised of international students. (Source: UC Berkeley 2013-14 Common Data Set)

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If you continue to have questions about how the new Common Core State Standards are changing classroom instruction for your child, you might want to listen to the four-part National Public Radio series on reading in the age of the Common Core. The series highlights changes†in reading instruction brought on by the Common Core State Standards: an increased emphasis on evidence-based reading, writing and speaking; increased use of nonfiction; and a the effort to get students reading more “complex texts.”

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My post was much delayed this month so I’ll be out with another one over the holidays.  Please go to to sign up to receive these posts by email. And please forward this email to any friends who might enjoy it.  Happy Holidays!

Education Roundup XXVIII: free books, playing sports in college, budding artists, apps for toddlers, badges, standing desks

Here are some sobering statistics for high school athletes from the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the Department of Education:

• 59 percent of high school football and basketball players believe they will get a college scholarship.

• 98 out of 100 high school athletes never play collegiate sports of any kind at any level.

• Less than one out of every 100 high school athletes receive a scholarship of any kind to a Division I school.

According to their data, the hardest sport to play at the college level is basketball. The point of this is not to squash dreams, but to highlight the importance of athletes not neglecting their academics. Great data on this and more is at

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Do you have a budding writer or artist in your house? There are a number of terrific places where students can submit art and writing to be published. These publications are real, not the kind that are out to get your money. For high school artists taking their work to the next step, aiming for publication can really make a difference with colleges. Information about the 16 or so places that publish student work appears at:

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The Maze Runner” by James Dashner is one of the most popular books for teens right now. Many students are scrambling to get a copy before the movie comes out later this month. Did you know that book and thousands of other popular titles are available at your local public library not only in print but also as an audiobook on CD, as a downloadable audiobook and as an ebook for readers like Kindles and iPads? Check out your library’s web site for details.

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Was the transition to school morning start schedules painful in your house? The American Academy of Pediatrics announced last week that it wants all U.S. middle and high schools to permanently delay their opening times to 8:30 a.m. or later. Currently, only 15 percent start after this time. Widespread sleep deprivation among teenagers coincides with the tendency of puberty to turn teens into night owls. A later start time has been shown to result in fewer car accidents, higher grades and test scores, and a lower risk of depression, moodiness and obesity. Studies have shown that 59 per cent of middle school students and 87 per cent of high school students aren’t getting the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours sleep on school nights.

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The possible applications of 3-D printing seem truly endless and now the technology is being used to allow visually-impaired children to experience illustrated storybooks. The Tactile Picture Books Project at University of Colorado Boulder is creating versions of children’s books like Goodnight Moon and Harold and the Purple Crayon with 3-D images in place of typical illustrations. Visually impaired kids can feel the images and get the full experience of picture books. Eventually, parents will take pictures of pages from books and send them to a 3-D printer, and make their own copies of books tactile.

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Washington Monthly’ has a unique means of ranking colleges, focusing on “bang for the buck.” Check it out here:

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In other college ranking news, the e-transcript web site Parchment has analyzed which colleges students tend not to say “no” to. It is called yield, as each college hopes that its offers of admissions yield a “yes” from accepted applicants (that they don’t choose to go elsewhere). The College Choice study is based on enrollment decisions from more than 27,000 U.S. in-bound college students at 700 universities. Stanford topped the list for the second consecutive year. One interesting trend was more students choosing military schools over Ivy League institutions, as the U.S. Air Force Academy ranked higher than Columbia, Brown and Dartmouth this year, perhaps suggesting the growing, undeniable appeal of a free education.

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My book recommendation of the week?  I really enjoyed Dave Eggers’ new book “The Circle” (now in paperback) and recommend it as a great discussion starter for teens and parents. The plot centers on a young woman working at a Facebook/Google-like company that is secretly aiming for world domination.

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I was surprised to learn that 27 percent of children in the U.S. live apart from their fathers. If you are interested in the role of fathers, there is a great new book on the science of fatherhood by Paul Raeburn called “Do Fathers Matter?” Raeburn also writes the About Fathers blog at

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Here is a great quote on the value of arts education from Pixar President Ed Catmull:  “My view is that the purpose of art is not to teach us how to draw but how to see. To observe. That’s really what art is about.  When you take art classes you are observing the world. You’re capturing … you’re paying attention to what’s going on. And if you develop those skills of observation and seeing what’s going on, then that skill is useful in science. In medicine. And engineering. And that’s the value of it.”

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Apps are being created aimed at younger and younger children. Let’s Play is a free app for parents of ages 0 to 3 that suggests fun activities, organized by age and routine, to help support their young child’s early learning.

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Tween geeks perhaps can take comfort from a new study showing that tough times lie ahead later in life for the coolest kids in middle school. The study, published in the journal Child Development, followed socially precocious cool kids for a decade and found that their social status often plummeted in high school and they began struggling in many ways. It seems to be a student’s longing to impress friends and subsequent brazen behavior can lead to difficulties with intimate relationships, alcohol and marijuana.

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Sheet music can be expensive. offers arrangements of classical pieces for free download. The site offers 1,272 pieces that are in the public domain, including works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Handel, Mozart and many others for piano, guitar, cello, voice and more.

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The free smartphone app Word Lens enables you to point your phone at a road sign or restaurant menu in another language and see an immediate translation from six languages, including Spanish. No Internet connection is needed. This would be handy when travelling but might also be fun to try out with your kids in

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Teachers around the country are flocking to Google Classroom. This new tool for creating and managing online assignments may be the next big thing, particularly for Chromebook users. Google Apps for Education are really catching on – it is a platform for free, web-based email, calendar and documents for collaborative study anytime, anywhere. Imagine no more assignments left at home, no more excuses for not knowing what the homework is.

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Did your student find the best part of girl scouts or boy scouts to be the badges? If so, they will absolutely love The site offers badges for exploring interests and completing challenges. Whether your child is an actor, angler, animator, or an archer, an architect, an astronomer or an athlete – you get a sense of the fun from just the A category.

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Studies of students who transfer between two-year colleges and between two and four year colleges have found that 39 percent of transferring students lost all their credits in the switch, and 28 percent were only able to transfer some credits. The takeaway for me was that students interested in transferring should get qualified help and advice early in the process, and only take courses at fully accredited institutions. Source: National Center for Education Statistics.

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It is a popular classroom tool right now for teachers to ask students to instruct each other on material learned in class. Studies have found that even just telling a student that they will later be teaching the information changes their mindset enough so that they learn and recall better.

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Schools across the country are adding standing desks as a means of increasing alertness and fighting childhood obesity. More than one third of American kids are now overweight or obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A research team out of Texas A&M found that students in standing-desk classrooms love them and burned more calories per hour than sitting students. Teachers loved the desks, seeing greater focus, improved student behavior and classroom performance. The study was funded by United Way and the CDC and was published in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers expect standing desks to be more common in classrooms in the next three to five years.

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OK, here is my App of the Week: Bookster is a free, read-along storytelling app that reads to your kids, records and plays their voices, and teaches vocabulary along the way. It has turn-able pages that let kids move at their own pace, and the pages are interactive with tap-able words. It is easy to use and seems quite engaging.

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Education Roundup XXVII

According to The Wall Street Journal, new research suggests that a summer internship helps a student’s career prospects more than perhaps anything else in their college years. In research conducted with potential employers, the study found that majors didn’t matter, a higher GPA didn’t matter much, all that really seemed to matter from the college years was whether students had a summer internship (work experience). Reporter Brett Arends said, “Candidates whose résumés could point to pre-graduation work experience in the industry they were applying for were 14 percent more likely to get an interview. An English major with an average GPA and a summer internship in a bank was more likely to get a job interview at a bank than an outstanding finance major who spent the summer touring Europe.” Read more here.

Ready for some good news? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a comprehensive report that shows that teens are behaving better today than any other time since the federal government began collecting data. Teen pregnancy is way down and high school seniors are drinking less, smoking less, barely using cocaine and they are exercising more.

According to Ed Surge magazine, today’s college students arrive on campus with an average of seven devices AND 80 percent of these students will carry and use a mobile phone every waking hour of the day. While the device count includes phones, tablets, e-readers, TVs, printers, laptops, game consoles, video cameras, etc. I still found the number disturbing.

New research published in an academic journal about sleep has found that college students who are poor sleepers are more likely to earn worse grades than healthy sleeping peers. The study also found that sleep problems have about the same impact on a student’s GPA as binge drinking and marijuana use.

If you get annoyed by people who confuse their and there, you will love the free new website quill.orgTeachers can also sign up their class and monitor student progress. The site provides fun editing challenges and it covers all of the grammar concepts from the Common Core State Standards for grades 1 through 8.

Do you have a teen or pre-teen who has trouble staying organized? Suzanne Shaffer (Countdown to College) suggest a few apps to help:

1. Evernote. Create virtual notebooks, organize important deadlines and track key documents.

2. GoogleDrive. Create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations and collaborate with others in real time. You can access your documents anytime, and all changes are saved automatically. There isn’t even a save button.

3. Remember the Milk. To do lists with priorities, due dates, time estimates, repeating lists, tags. Get reminders via email or text.

4. inClass. Keeps track of classes and homework and organizes video notes, audio notes, photo notes.

          And she recommends these free apps to help students prep for college:

1. Evernote.  Takes notes, captures photos, creates to-do lists, records voice reminders – and makes these notes completely searchable across all your devices.

2. Find colleges.  Search for information about U.S. colleges and universities.

3. Collegeconfidential.  Read and interact with other users on topics like financial aid, college life, test preparation and more.

4. Quad2Quad.  Curate and assemble the most important college data.

5. College visits.  Search and find schools to add to your list, rate your college visits, keep personal notes on each visit.

6. SAT question of the day.  Real SAT questions and SAT preparation materials from the test maker.

7. StudyBlue.  Review class notes or make flashcards whenever you have a minute to spare.

8. Khan Academy.  More than 4,200 videos on a massive number of topics.

9. Scholarship advisor.  Find money for college.

10.  A database of 2.7 million local, state and national college scholarships.

Teens seem to think that borrowing or buying “smart drugs” – ADD and ADHD medicines like Ritalin and Adderall – is not a big deal, but studies are finding that the possible short-term boost in mental performance may come at the cost of a long-term decrease in brain plasticity, which is necessary for task switching, planning ahead and behavioral flexibility.

A recent study suggests that students who work or study abroad are “smarter.” Students become more open minded when they live abroad and researchers have found that these students are better able to make connections among disparate ideas. Research has also found that the more engaged a student is in multicultural pursuits, the more job offers they receive after their program ends.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, new data proves that college is worth the investment and in fact has never before been more valuable. There was been a lot written about the rising cost of college, but according to MIT economists, the true cost of a college degree today is about negative $500,000 – not going to college will cost about half-million dollars. The pay gap between college graduates and non-grads reached a record high last year, according to Labor Dept. statistics. Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a four-year degree. That’s up from 64 percent in the early 1980s. Said reporter David Leonhardt, “College debt may still be a real fear and hardship, but it’s a relatively small cost in the long term. The average $25,000 in student debt doesn’t hold a candle to the $500,000 to be made over a lifetime.”

Stanford University’s is re-imagining a college education. “What if you were admitted to college not for four years at age 18, but for six years you could use at any time in your life? What if you declared a “mission” rather than a major? What if your transcript displayed not the courses you have taken, but the skills and ideas you have put to work in the world?” This is the first time the university’s famous has applied its “design thinking” processes to the undergraduate experience. The results should be interesting.

News coming out of a related study: less than 2 percent of U.S. employers said they actively recruit liberal arts majors, and most companies feel that cultural fit is more important than GPA when deciding on new hires. Employers said that they have the most openings for engineering and computer information systems majors, followed by jobs for those in medicine and nursing.

Scholastic’s Teachers website offers forth some great ideas to encourage children to read over the summer:

Join a library summer reading program (the competition, log and incentives can encourage children).

Create a calendar with fun activities for students to complete while reading (examples: make a tent and read under it, read to a pet, read to the oldest or youn­gest person you know).

Launch a summer book club. Read the first book of an engaging series, as the summer is a good time to pursue a complete series.

Plan a book swap.  Ask everyone to bring books they are done with and trade books as well as recommendations.

Try out an audio book with babies and toddlers, as well as with children and teens.  Play the book during naptime or convince your teen to try exercising or doing chores to a book instead of music.

In a novel idea for a reading contest this summer, The New York Times will ask teens, “What interested you most in the paper this week?” Anyone 13 to 19 years old can post an answer, and every Tuesday winners will be published on the blog The Learning Network, and all related posts are accessible without a digital subscription.

A student blogger recently posted tips on how to stay focused in class for students of all ages:

— Practice active listening and take notes.

‘;l– Sit in the front section of the room.

— Sit in the same seat every day (It will help you to remember what you learned in the class).

— Avoid sitting in the same seat for multiple classes.

— Participate in class.

Read his full explanations at

As you search for summer reading, movies and websites to amuse your children, don’t forget to check out Common Sense Media. The site can help you find age-appropriate movies, books, apps, TV shows, video games, websites and music with more than 20,000 reviews by age, entertainment type, learning rating and genre.

There is a 99-cent app that might get your kids outside. When you hold The Night Sky app up to the sky, the app identifies the names of the planets, stars and constellations.

There have been interesting shifts in undergraduates’ choices of majors over time, and the shifts don’t really reflect where the jobs are. Among the majors less popular since 1970: education (down from 21 percent of degrees awarded to 5.9 percent in 2011-12); English (7.6 percent to 3 percent); social studies and history (18.5 percent to 10 percent); math and statistics (3 percent to 1 percent); physical sciences and science technologies (2.5 percent to 1.5 percent); and foreign languages, literatures and linguistics (2.5 percent to 1.2 percent). The majors that have gained the most share: business (13.7 percent in 1970-71 up to 20 percent in 2011-12); health professions (3 percent to 9.1 percent); and communication and journalism (1.2 percent to 4.7 percent).

In related news, very few of America’s new teachers took undergraduate coursework in teaching. Today, only around half of all new teachers have an undergraduate teaching degree versus 88 percent prior to 1980. According to the National Center for Education Information, the teaching force is changing due to an influx of people from non-traditional backgrounds. America’s teachers are still mostly white and female (the share of men in the profession fell from 31 to 16 percent over the last 25 years) but they’re getting younger, and studies are finding that they are more open to school reform initiatives, like eliminating under-performing teachers and tying pay to students’ test scores.

Fewer teens are having babies (or abortions). Teen pregnancies, births and abortions have dropped to new lows. In 2010, among teens age 15 to 19, pregnancies are down 51 percent from the peak in 1990. While teen pregnancies declined in all 50 states, New Mexico has the highest rate and New Hampshire the lowest.

I was surprised to learn that only 15 percent of current college students are between the traditional ages of 18 and 22, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. My perception of college is out-of-date with today’s reality. This demographic shift is one of the reasons that the entire notion of how higher education is delivered is being reexamined.

I read a helpful article recently on red flags to look for in teens that might indicate depression, drug use or just general cause for concern. Some are obvious (excessive moodiness, social isolation) but others less so (changes in eating or sleeping patterns, unexplained aches and pains). The complete list and accompanying discussion is helpful.

It can be hard for teens to ask for help in person. Crisis Text Line is a new free service designed to help teens through their hardest times: family issues, stress or suicidal thoughts. Trained counselors text back and forth with advice and resources. Teens text “LISTEN” to 741-741.

Ben Carpenter is author of “The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life.” He offers 22 pieces of advice as students look toward the future:

• Do what you’re good at.

• Try out different fields when you’re young.

• Always ask yourself, What’s my edge?

• Think of your boss and your company before yourself.

• Be creative and bold.

• Comfort and success rarely go hand in hand.

• Stay in the driver’s seat of your career.

• Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand.

• When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back.

• Learn to appreciate diverse work styles.

• Know when to look after your own interests.

• Own your mistakes.

• Be a good steward of the “little” things.

• If you want to be a leader, act like one.

• Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.

• Don’t let anyone have anything negative to say about you.

• Don’t complain about your job to your coworkers.

• A single act can ruin your great reputation.

• Don’t pick fights you can’t win.

• Don’t badmouth your coworkers.

• Live within your means.

• Don’t forget to have fun.

Kitestring is a new, free service that alerts your emergency contacts if you don’t respond to its check-ups. The website was founded by an MIT grad student who was worried about his girlfriend traveling alone. Here’s how it works: You or your child start a trip on Kitestring (either on the website or via SMS), and the site texts you later to make sure you’re OK. Reply to the message within five minutes and all is well. If you don’t check in, they alert your emergency contacts that you set up ahead of time. Of course, you can always extend your ETA or check in early.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 59 percent of full-time, first-time students, who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in fall 2005, completed the degree at that institution within six years. Students assume they will complete college in four years, and calculate tuition based on that assumption, but the numbers suggest that finishing in four years is unlikely for many.

Researchers at Stanford have found that walking boosts creativity. A person’s creative output increases by an average of 60 percent when walking, as opposed to sitting. Facebook and Apple executives are famous for meeting while walking, which now doesn’t seem so crazy. Indoors vs. outdoors does not matter.

All the rage among teens across the country is a new game you play on your phone called 2048. My teens love it. Beating the game involves math and strategy. It is better than the pointless Candy Crush type apps, but equally addictive.

Most people agree that apprenticeships are the best way to get employees the skills that companies seek, but apprentice programs have been declining in the U.S. while growing more common in other countries. In Germany for example, there are 17.4 apprentices per 1,000 people, while in the U.S. there are currently 0.9. According to the Department of Labor, formal programs that combine on the job learning with mentorships and classroom education fell 40 percent between 2003 and 2013. Earlier this month, President Obama set aside $100 million to encourage apprenticeships in high-growth industries. Maybe that will help.

The rising cost of college tuition is a hot topic, but only a third of all students at four-year public and private schools actually pay the published price at a college. For the typical student at a private nonprofit college, the net cost of school is less than half the sticker price. While the sticker price at public colleges grew more than 35 percent over the past 10 years, the average out-of-pocket costs for your typical student only grew by 16 percent. At private, nonprofit four-year universities, it was even less.

For the first time, more Latino than white California students have been offered admission to attend the University of California system as freshmen. For next year, around 29 percent of students admitted to a UC campus will be Hispanic, compared to about 27 percent white. Asian students still made up the largest group admitted, at 36 percent.

In related demographic news, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, over the next ten or so years there will be a 16 percent decrease in white students but a 23 percent increase in Asian students and a 64 percent increase in Hispanic students who graduate from high school.

Need five good reasons to take your child to the library? Christine French Cully, editor of Highlights magazine, offers these:

Regular visits to the library inevitably lead to more reading.

When you visit the library, you expose your child to more books and magazines than you can afford to buy.

Your local librarian can recommend books that you might not think to suggest, broadening your child’s tastes, mind and vocabulary.

Library time is active, not passive.

Owning a library card teaches kids responsibility.

Read the complete list at and visit your local library.

For what it’s worth, the new ranking of the best public high schools in America is out, courtesy of U.S. News & World ReportThe methodology is “based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.”

Every Apple computer store will now recycle any old Apple product for free. They will also hand you a gift card if you turn in something that they think they can resell. Announcement of the new initiative was timed to Earth Day.

The Department of Education offers a handful of tips for anyone who is taking out or currently had a student loan:

Keep close track of what you are borrowing (detailed records of the different loans, repayment dates and interest rates).  At, select “Financial Aid Review,” log in, and view all federal student loans in one place.

Make interest payments while still in school. Even though a grace period is available, if you have a part-time job in school, paying back at least some of your student loan interest while you’re in school can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Keep your loan servicer in the loop. Make sure they always have up-to-date contact info for you.

Figure out what your monthly loan payments are going to be before you go into repayment. The same website above has a repayment estimator that allows you to pull in your federal student loan information and compare what your monthly payments would be under the different repayment plans that are offered.

A new study has found that the longer kids spend watching television, the less sleep they get, according to Mass General Hospital for Children and Harvard School of Public Health.Young children who had a TV in their room lost an average of 30 minutes of sleep a night. Previous research has found that even a slight lack of sleep can have repercussions on behavior, learning ability and memory.

Based on the sample questions released last week, it looks like the new SAT will be a harder test. In addition, math will now account for half of a student’s score (800 out of 1600 points) and calculators will no longer be allowed. Students will begin taking the test in spring 2016. You can look at the sample questions at College Board’s site,

A mobile app to help combat jet-lag was released recently by mathematicians who have found a way to help travelers better adjust to new time zones. “Overcoming jet lag is fundamentally a math problem and we’ve calculated the optimal way of doing it,” said Danny Forger, a math professor at the University of Michigan. The free iPhone app, called Entrain, is perhaps the first to take a mathematical approach to “entrainment,” the scientific term for synchronizing circadian rhythms with the outside hour. The researcher/developers calculate ideal light adjustment schedules for more than 1,000 possible trips, a specialized plan and predict how long it will you take to adjust.

A new study has shown that using marijuana even just a few times a week may be enough to cause damage (The Journal of Neuroscience). It turns out that not much research had previously focused on casual pot smoking (fewer than four times a week) but researchers at Northwestern and Harvard in this small study found volume, shape and density changes in two crucial brain areas that control emotion and motivation, and some types of mental illness are affected by even infrequent pot smoking. The more marijuana the students smoked, the more their brains differed from the non-users. As a result, researchers now say they are very concerned about the long-term impacts of even minor marijuana use on the developing brain.

Scientists seem to agree that green tea has many positive effects on health, including enhanced cognitive functions, in particular the working memory. Researchers also think that green tea may help treat cognitive impairments in psychiatric disorders such as dementia.

“In the past generation, the rising preoccupation with children’s safety has transformed childhood, stripping it of independence, risk taking and discovery. What’s been gained is unclear: rates of injury have remained fairly steady since the 1970s, and abduction by strangers was as rare then as it is now. What’s been lost is creativity, passion and courage” – said author Hanna Rosin in a recent cover story in The Atlantic titled, “The Overprotected Kid.” She goes on to say that playgrounds are so safe they are boring, and to quote Ellen Sandester, who said, “When (children) are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”

Please do recommend this site to others who might be interested and send any interesting news you see my way at  Happy summer!

Education Roundup XXVI (links fixed)

You have likely seen age progression drawings in news coverage about missing children. Well, Google and Intel have funded the development of a new computer program that seems able to accurately age a small child so that families will soon be able to quickly and inexpensively know what their kindergartner will look like as an adult. For some reason, I find this very disturbing and sad.

Does it make you cry to calculate how much you have spent on LEGOs for your child over the years? A company called Pley is offering Netflix-type subscriptions for LEGOs. Unlimited rolling access to the large LEGO sets is $39 a month, $25 for medium sets and $15 a month for small sets. Why is this such a good idea? Well, LEGO sets are expensive to buy and it is the building, not the owning of the sets that is fun for children. Pley says it will sanitize each set before sending it out and weigh each package to detect missing pieces. Customers can lose up to 15 pieces without incurring any penalty.

Is your child more likely to pick up a book than a LEGO? A new service offers children 12 and under a monthly library of more than 2,000 books available on the iPad for $9.95 a month. The company’s mission is to encourage kids to use iPads for something other than games. For adults, there is already Oyster, an e-book service aimed at adults for $9.95 a month. Meanwhile, Amazon has Kindle Free Time Unlimited that gives families unlimited access to e-books, movies, TV shows, educational apps and games aimed at the under 8 crowd.

 In researching her latest book, author Jessica Lahey asked countless teachers, “What one thing would you want your students’ parents to know?” The same five points came up over and over again:

1. Your kids can do much more than you think they can do.

2. It’s not healthy to give your child constant feedback.

3. We promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home if you promise not to believe everything your child says happens in our classrooms.

4. Your children learn and act according to what you do, not what you say.

5. Teach your children that mistakes aren’t signs of weakness but a vital part of growth and learning.

Her complete write-up on this at is excellent. Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” comes out next year.

If you think that computer science should count toward graduation as either a math or a science credit (it does not currently in most states), then visit, to sign a petition now. 

In what is sure to be the wave of the future, Stanford University last week announced what it called a “re-imagining of the humanities.” Stanford has created two new “joint majors” that will allow students to earn a bachelor of arts and science in one of two combinations – computer science and English, or computer science and music. The school hopes to redefine what it means to experience a broad liberal education in the 21st century.

Babies and young children make giant developmental leaps all of the time and it turns out that napping plays a crucial role. Sometimes it seems like babies make huge strides in development overnight. New research has found that infants who nap are better able to gain new skills, and preschoolers are better able to retain learned knowledge, after napping (bonus – mom gets a much-needed break).

Parents have a lot of questions about the new SAT, even though it is not going to be unveiled until 2016. You can see some sample questions here.  To summarize what is known at this time:

• Vocabulary will focus on words widely used in college and career.

• Students will be asked to use source documents to support answers.

• There will be an optional essay, measuring ability to analyze evidence and build an argument.

• The math section will focus on topics that contribute to college and career training.  Math will account for half of the total score instead of 1/3.

• New questions will ask students to analyze text and data.

• Each exam will include passages drawn from either founding documents or key global writings.

• Wrong answers will no longer cause score deductions.

Georgetown professor and MIT Ph.D. Cal Newport predicts that the ability to get and stay focused will be the superpower of the 21st century. He writes a popular blog called Study Hack, and he suggests five tips to improve your attention span:

• Reduce stress, as it makes you frazzled and stupid.

• Work during your prime hours.

•  Dedicate true blocks of time to a project.

• Do one thing at a time.

• Meditation is weight lifting for your attention span.

More specific suggestions can be found at

Don’t forget that your public library card can get you and your children free or discounted passes to most of your area attractions (children’s museums, science museums, etc.)  You must usually obtain the passes in advance, at your library or online. You need your library number and you can use your last name as your PIN.

Did you know that you are able to lend any book you have purchased for your Kindle or Nook to another person for up to 14 days? Each book may be lent once to anyone else with the same type of device.

Without question, keyboard skills are increasingly important for students. There is no need to buy an expensive typing program as there are many great free typing games available. For beginners, try KeyMan and KeyBricks. For students who can identify the keys on the keyboard, try Trash Typer, Alpha Attack. To increase speed, try Desert Typing Racer, Typing Chef and Spacebar Invaders.

UCLA received a record high 99,559 undergraduate applications this year (including 19,087 transfer-student applications) – more than any four-year university in the country. For specifics on UCLA and other colleges’ admissions figures, visit

A poll by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that the top five websites used by teachers are: You Tube, Discovery, Scholastic, PBS and Pinterest. Ninety-one percent of teachers use websites to find or share lesson plans, 65 percent to gain professional advice and support and 57 percent to collaborate with teachers they wouldn’t otherwise know.

Khan Academy now offers free Common Core-aligned, adaptive math exercises. Thousands of new, interactive math problems are fully aligned to every standard from K-12 and will be much more similar to what Sonoma students will see on future assessments. The math problems focus on conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and real-world application – and they were created and reviewed by 40 math educators. If you are eager to prevent summer slide with your student, this might be a good first stop –

Autism diagnoses are up 30 percent in the last year alone. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in 68 children have autism spectrum disorders. The CDC added that the criteria used to diagnose, treat and provide services have not changed. The study focused on “peak age of identification,” which is age 8. You can read more at

There is a new free app for mobile devices that enables people to evaluate their abilities to perceive, understand and control emotions. The MEIT test (Mobile Emotional Intelligence Test) is a skill test to evaluate the ability to perceive emotions, the understanding of these emotions and the ability to manage them.

Sleep is so important for teens. Youth athletes who sleep eight or more hours each night are 68 percent less likely to get injured, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Hanging out at the Google lounge at the SXSWEdu conference, I fell in love with the new, white 11-inch Google Chromebook. Besides being a great-looking and inexpensive device at $259, I am thinking there may be advantages to having the same device for home use that a student uses at school.

Despite what feels like significant evidence to the contrary, a new study suggests that our children have no more homework today than we had in 1984. The Brown Center on American Education found that the percentage of 17-year-olds who say they have more than two hours of homework each night has remained unchanged over the past 30 years at 13 percent. Backing up the finding is a UCLA study that found the number of seniors who said they had more than six hours of homework a week dropped from 50 percent in 1986 to 38 percent in 2012.

A number of studies in recent years have attempted to clarify what makes someone mentally tough. A cognitive psychologist boiled down the findings to 12 key attributes of mental toughness in sport, ranked in order of importance:

• Unshakeable self-belief in your ability to achieve competition goals.

• Unshakeable self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents.

• Insatiable desire and internalized motives to succeed.

• Remaining fully focused on the task at hand in the face of competition-specific distractions.

• Regaining psychological control following unexpected, uncontrollable events.

• Pushing back the boundaries of physical and emotional pain, while still maintaining technique and effort under distress during training and competition.

• Accepting that competition anxiety is inevitable and knowing that you can cope with it.

• Not being adversely affected by other’s good and bad performances.

• Thriving on the pressure of competition.

• Remaining fully focused in the face of personal life distractions.

• Switching sport focus on and off as required.

I found these relevant for everyone, not just athletes. Read the complete piece at Scientific American at

Should would-be parents be able to “design” their perfect baby? “Preventing a lethal disease is one thing; choosing the traits we desire is quite another,” suggested Thomas H. Murray in a commentary in Sciencemagazine. New techniques are making it possible for parents to do more than screen for lethal diseases. Interestingly, sex selection is prohibited in at least 36 countries, but not in the U.S.

Up on my Facebook page recently popped a photo of an annoyed teenage girl holding a handmade sign that read, “Mom is trying to show me how many people can see a photo once it’s on the Internet.” The photo was dated March 18, 2014. By the time I came across it that same evening, 1.2 million Facebook users had “liked” it, I assume in support of the mom making a good point about her daughter needing to be careful with what she posts online.

K-12 teachers can request free classroom online and print edition subscriptions to USA Today. Grants are awarded on a first come, first serve basis.

Have you ever said to your son, “Be a man!?” Jennifer Newsome’s newest project is a documentary film called “The Mask You Live In,” which explores how we are failing our boys every time we urge them to “be a man.” Why is she so worried? “Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives.” Source:

How about a free app that helps your child to explore different careers? Build Your Future allows students to explore 100 careers; determine what levels of education are required and learn about potential salaries. Teens are given a Return on Investment (ROI) score between 1 and 5 for various careers. A score of 1 means it will be difficult to pay off the debt accrued based on future income; a score of 5 means they should have no problem paying off debt with estimated future income.

Children from families with regular family routines exhibit greater social-emotional health, according to researchers.Specific results showed that children who participate in five weekly family routines are more than twice as likely to have high SEH and for each additional routine that a parent and child do together, there is an almost 50 percent greater likelihood of having high SEH. Routines include eating dinner together, singing songs, reading books, telling stories and playtime.

A study out of Berkeley has found that preschoolers can do a better job of figuring out unusual gadgets and toys than college students, perhaps because their brains are more flexible and less rigid about cause and effect.

Author Hilary Wice has spent the last year researching and writing a book about the six key character strengths that children need to live happy, successful lives. Number one? A love of life. Two through six? Resilience, courage, kindness, honesty and self-control. You can read the thinking behind her research at

I am a big fan of the new College App Map. Students and parents can click on a grade level and, for example, see all the resources that a sophomore might find useful with regard to testing, researching colleges and researching career paths.

I can’t say for sure how well it works, but the free website allows students to take fun personality quizzes and get matched to colleges that are supposedly ideal for their personality, interests and goals.

I read an article recently on the benefits of foreign films for instilling global citizenship in our children/teens. I can be hard to choose the right films because many aren’t rated or widely reviewed. Here are six that are highly recommended by Homa Tavangar, the author “Growing Up Global”:

“Ponyo” (all ages) – Japan

“My Neighbor Totoro” (all ages) – Japan

“Like Stars on Earth” (“Taare Zameen Par”) (all ages) – India

“The Red Balloon” (all ages) – France

“The Cave of the Yellow Dog” (age 7 and up) – Mongolia

“The Story of the Weeping Camel” (age 7 and up) – Mongolia

There were two big announcements last week concerning SAT testing for college. First, there will be sweeping changes to the SAT, taking effect in two years (2016). Scoring will go back to 1600 from 2400, the writing section will no longer be required and the content of the questions will be different, and more aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. Also, the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced a major partnership with Khan Academy to offer completely free SAT prep to all students to level the playing field for low-income students who can’t afford prep classes.

Did you know that will give a percentage (.05 percent) of every purchase you make to the nonprofit of your choice? I signed on the moment I heard about it. The program is called Amazon Smiles, most purchases qualify, and you can sign up quickly and easily at After you sign up, the donations are automatic.

I played a crazy new video game on my phone recently that teens might just enjoy. The free app, developed by an ex-con who went on to graduate from the University of Texas, is called SaulPaul’s Dream in 3D. A young guy runs through the halls of his high school dodging babies (who symbolize teen pregnancy), liquor bottles and pill bottles. The babies cling to your legs and slow down your progress (my favorite part) and the liquor makes you weave so you can’t move as accurately and the pills kill you if you don’t avoid them. There isn’t a lot more to it than that but that didn’t stop Flappy Bird from being a hit.

I saw two documentaries at SXSWEdu that I highly recommend (available On Demand or online). Both could be watched by all ages. “American Promise” follows two African American boys from age 5 to 18, navigating life at an elite private school in New York City. The other, “Ivory Tower,” is a fascinating look at the insanely high cost of college, and whether today’s students are really getting anything out of college (spoiler – some really are, some are totally wasting their parents’ money). I also saw the documentary, “Girl Rising,” but I didn’t love it. I am all for improving girls’ access to education worldwide but the hyper-stylization of the film really bugged me. If you loved it, let me know.

TED Talks can be fun for the entire family (7 and up perhaps) and spark great discussions. Blogger Travis Wright is striving to watch every TED Talk (there are thousands now). He recently created a list of “12 seminal TED Talks that every human being should watch.” Why bother? He describes TED Talks as, “the greatest repository of speeches and presentations by the most brilliant minds, most fascinating people, education radicals, tech geniuses, medical mavericks, business gurus and music legends of our time.”

While we are only now getting our winter, now is the time for students to apply to summer programs. I have assembled a database of ideas of low-cost programs for students ages 12 to 21 that can be found on my website at: or

If you have a smart phone, you have likely heard of Flappy Bird, the app that challenges players to guide a little bird through an obstacle course of vertical pipes. It was a huge hit before the creator stopped offering new downloads. has resurrected Flappy Bird with a free tutorial that allows kids to code their very own version of the game.

Studies show that we can train our minds to be happy or unhappy. Furthermore, careers such as accounting and law that focus on catching mistakes and errors can result in a pervasive pessimism that carries over into one’s personal life. Eric Barker writes in The Week that you must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Specifically, he suggests that listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference. He also says that one of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.

It is hard to sustain optimism about the state of education today when I spend my days reading articles like: “What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?: Our high schools are a disaster.”This recent piece in Slate by a psychology professor (Laurence Stein) who has written extensively about teens, states, “It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents – it’s every single thing we have tried. The list of unsuccessful experiments is long and dispiriting … Over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries and performance standards, and despite billions of dollars invested in school reform, there has been no improvement – none – in the academic proficiency of American high school students.”

The blogger Emily Mendell has compiled a list of 31 things that your son (or daughter) should be able to do on their own before heading off for college. Rather than make you click a link, here is the complete list: Write a check; pay a bill; make travel arrangements; navigate an airport, train or bus station; deal with a canceled flight; take a taxi; catch the subway; plunge a toilet; change a tire; check the oil; shave with a razor; withdraw cash from an ATM; pay for dinner; self-prescribe over-the-counter meds; call a doctor; cook a meal; cancel a membership; buy clothes; return a purchase; pack a suitcase (without inspection); do the laundry; iron a shirt; go food shopping for themselves; negotiate a deal; make hospital corners; sew a button; remove a stain; replace a fuse; remove a splinter; enjoy a drink responsibly; and say “no” with confidence.

I have been slow to get on the all-organic bandwagon but a recent report by CNN has done the trick. Scientists (including finally the FDA) are now suggesting that certain chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neuro-developmental disabilities among children – such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. Harvard researchers say a new global strategy to control the use of these substances is urgently needed. The list of suspected chemicals is a long one. You really need to read the full article yourself here:

My kids can’t live without Quizlet. This online learning tool was created by a high school sophomore in Albany, and it is now perhaps the most popular study tool out there. Students can create or share flashcards, track their progress and give themselves graded quizzes. Best of all, it is free.

Signing on to a college’s Pinterest account is a fun way for potential and future students to learn more about a school.Check out Chapman University’s page to get an idea of what I mean:

Does your middle-school daughter or her friend ever use baby talk? Why do girls do that? A former teacher writing for The Atlanticfeels it is crucial for teachers to discourage this trend before it becomes a habit. She writes about them developing their outer voices – the ones the world will hear and judge as girls make their way out there.

Finally,  interested in what the classroom of the future will be like?  Read the feature story I wrote about the SXSWEdu conference in Austin.  Education technology is completely transforming our children’s education!

Please share this post with friends!  

Revised: Meaningful/Enriching Summer Programs On A Shoestring (for ages 12-25)

I know that summer just ended but I have gotten a lot of questions about summer programs so here are new listings and revised links. Some of these programs change their web site addresses annually. If the link I provide doesn’t work, don’t give up, just google the program name and let me know. If you would like me to delve into new areas, send me a request.

Free programs are great not only because they are free (!) but they tend also to be much more impressive to colleges (because they tend to be selective). The best ones (free and selective) require applications prior to Christmas.

My rule of thumb for what constitutes a good value is a sleepaway/residential program that is FREE or less than $750/week… so I have about 30 here that are FREE and then the others are around $500 for the week (or less).  I have tried to group them by category, please scroll to the very bottom to see them all.  Comment with any that I might have missed. I apologize if any prices have changed since I gathered the data.


Appalachian Mountain Club Trail Crew –– My son did this and loved it. Kids 15+ can get work experience and/or volunteer hours working with other teens on the AT.  The cost is around $280 a week.  They live in tents and food, etc. is provided. Locations in MA , NH and ME but teens from all over are welcome.  The cost is tax-deductible.

Habitat for Humanity offers 7-10 day Learn & Build project trips for $550 (also tax-deductible) for teens ages 16-18.  You choose your job site building houses and living with your team.  You need to get yourself to the site but there is likely to be one near you. My son did this in Milwaukeee last year and loved it.

The National Park Service has a Youth Conservation Corps. program where teens spend 8-10 weeks living at a National Park site, working for pay on the trails with other teens.

The Student Conservation Assoc. invites students  ages 15-19 to work on a National Crew from 3-5 weeks at a key national Park Service site somewhere in the country. The crew lives in tents and cooks their own meals. FREE and all meals, accommodations are covered, you just need to get yourself to the site.

Vermont Trout Camp is June 22-26, 2014Campers (age 13-16) will be introduced to the basics of fly fishing through a series of fun and engaging outdoor activites. Participants will learn from some of Vermont’s most accomplished fly anglers and conservationists.  Campers will learn about fish biology, fish habitat and stream ecology as well as aquatic entomology. $450.  There is also a Maine Trout Camp.

WOOFING — Students 18 and up can work on an organic farm anywhere in the world and have room and board covered so that they are just responsible for their travel there.  They can stay a few weeks or a few months. My daughter is WOOFing in Ireland this year.  FREE

The least expensive outdoorsy sleepaway summer camps for ages 10-15 are almost certainly 4-H camps (less than $500 week).  The cool thing is, you can pick a location you (as parents) might want to vacation, and you could always have your child attend camp there.  Three years ago our son did a week at Camp Farley on Cape Cod and had a ball.  His new friends couldn’t believe he was from CA.

OVERSEAS —  The American Youth Leadership Program with Singapore and Malaysia is a FREE  international exchange experience for ages 15-17 supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The goal  is to expose high school students and educators to U.S. – Singapore and U.S. – Malaysia relations through the lens of the effect of sustainable development on urban planning.  A pre-departure orientation that prepares participants for a three-week experience in Singapore and Malaysia  (June 28 – July 24, 2014)  Post-program implementation of education and service projects which highlight the learning that took place during the program.  Teachers can also apply to travel with the group. — The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program was launched in 2006 to promote critical language learning among American youth. The U.S. Department of State, in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, awards merit-based scholarships to high school students for summer and academic year immersion programs in locations where the seven NSLI-Y languages are spoken. NSLI-Y immerses participants in the cultural life of the host country, giving them invaluable formal and informal language practice  — Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish.  Students ages 15-18 can apply for this FREE U.S. State Dept. program which is either a full summer or a school year overseas. Students do not need any previous language study.  My daughter did this program in Chengdu, China… comment to me for more information. The deadline is November.

Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS)  — The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical need foreign languages. Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) institutes provide fully-funded (FREE) group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences for seven to ten weeks for U.S. citizen undergraduate and graduate students.

Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP)  — The American Councils Eurasian Regional Language program provides graduate students, advanced undergraduates, scholars, and working professionals with intensive individualized instruction in the languages of Eurasia. Participants may in enroll in semester, academic year, or summer programs. All courses are conducted by expert faculty from leading local universities and educational institutions. FREE

Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel — The Bronfman Youth Fellowship offers a 5-week summer program in Israel that educates and inspires exceptional young Jews from diverse backgrounds to become active participants in Jewish culture throughout their lives, and to contribute their talents and vision to the Jewish community and to the world at large.  High School Juniors from the United States and Canada who will be at least sixteen by July of 2012 are eligible for the FREE Fellowship.

CIEE South Korea  — This FREE two-week program includes scheduled excursions, including a day visit to the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, visits to ancient palaces, a home visit with a Korean family, a trip to the National Museum of Korea.  Students must not have visited South Korea in recent years or had much exposure to Korean culture, customs, and/or daily life; be a U.S. citizen; be entering 10th, 11th, 12th grade or have just graduated from high school; have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. More info is here.

These listings change each year.  Read about the complete set of offerings here.


STARTALKFREE government sponsored day camps and residential sleep-away language camp programs across the United State where students ages 12-18 can learn Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. The choices for 2014 won’t be available until late winter. For the residential programs, students live on a college campus. Teachers can also apply.

The Federal Service Language Academy is a great, low-cost idea for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors who want to pursue language studies and possibly a career in the foreign service.  The program runs June 8-27 or July 6-25 for 2014.  For twenty-one days, students are immersed in a foreign language and culture in an academic environment hosted by the University of North Georgia.  You  live in a residence hall with students who are learning the same language and communicate in your language as much as possible. Guest speakers from federal agencies like the US Department of State, FBI, CIA, Army or Homeland Security will present information on careers in their specialties. Students can get academic credit for successful achievement of first or second-year Arabic, Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, or Portuguese proficiency levels.  The cost is $1895 for three weeks.


Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Art Seminar — This prestigious two-week FREE seminar allows students to gain a stronger foundation of skills and understanding in the visual arts through experiencing college-level drawing and painting classes in a group setting.  Open to high school juniors, transportation NOT included.  At Colorado College.

Auburn University Summer Symphonic Band Camp — You won’t find a better bargain than $350 for a week of sleep away band camp for middle and high school students.

The California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA) is a rigorous pre-professional training program in the visual and performing arts, creative writing, animation, and film for talented artists in grades 9 – 12. Its purpose is to provide a training ground for future artists who wish to pursue careers in the arts and entertainment industries in California. Students apply for the opportunity to study in one of the School’s seven departments. They may receive 3 units of CSU elective credit for successful participation. The cost is $1550 for 4 weeks, and students live in a dorm at Cal Arts.

University of Michigan Summer Performing Institutes  — MPulse is on the Ann Arbor campus and designed to inspire high school students to exciting new levels of excellence in music performance, music technology, musical theatre, theatre, and dance.  MPulse provides an opportunity for approximately 200 young musicians and performing artists to gain exposure to the rigorous training provided by the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). $500, grades 9-12.

There is an inexpensive residential Fashion Design Camp at Texas Women’s University for ages 10-18. And one for middle school students at University of Georgia, that my daughter did last summer.

Northern Illinois University has a variety of residential camps for middle and high school students at around $500 for the week..

University of Wisconsin offers both a middle school and a high school residential Summer Art Studio Camp that is $559 for the week.


High School Great Books Program at Thomas Aquinas College.  Each summer for two weeks, high school students from around the country join members of the teaching faculty on the campus of Thomas Aquinas College for spirited conversation, engaging firsthand some of the best works of the past 2,500 years. They read and discuss works selected from the masters of the Western intellectual tradition, including Plato, Euclid, Sophocles, Shakespeare, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, and Boethius.  In addition to daily sports, occasional movies, and hiking in the hills surrounding the campus, the program includes trips to the Getty Museum, a concert in Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara for volleyball on the beach and exploration of the historic city. Open to students who have completed three years of high school by summer 2014.  Cost is $975 for tuition, housing, meals, books, and organized activities off campus.

Thomas Moore College in New Hampshire has a very similar Great Books summer residential program for $895 for two weeks.

Princeton Summer Journalism Program.  SJP welcomes about 20 high school students from low-income backgrounds every summer to Princeton’s campus for a FREE intensive, 10-day seminar on journalism.  Low-income high school juniors living in the continental US with at least a 3.5 GPA and an interest in journalism. Travel is paid for as well.

TASP  A Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) is a FREE six-week humanities and social sciences educational experience for high school juniors that offers challenges and rewards rarely encountered in secondary school or even college.

TASS   A Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (TASS) is a FREE six-week educational experience for high school sophomore that focuses African-American studies and related fields.  High school sophomores from around the world.

Carleton College Liberal Arts Experience  is a summer program designed for the best and brightest college-bound students representing high schools across the country. The Carleton Liberal Arts Experience (CLAE) will select 50 high school students who have just completed their sophomore year and bring them to Carleton for a FREE one-week summer program. The CLAE program introduces the strengths of a liberal arts education through an array of courses in science, art, social sciences, and technology. In addition, workshops are offered to assist participants with their high school and college careers.

Auburn University’s Creative Writing Studio for rising 9th -12th graders is $475 for a residential experience.


Girls State & Boys State —  American Legion Boys State and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State are the premier programs for teaching how government works while developing leadership skills & an appreciation for your rights as a citizen. 2-3 rising senior boys and 1 rising senior girl from each high school in America is eligible to participate.  Ask your school for details. As a participant in the program you, will run for office, learn public speaking, create and enforce laws and actively participate in all phases of creating and running a working government in this exciting and fun week-long FREE summer program. My daughter did this in 2013 in CA.

Thomas Moore College in New Hampshire has a residential Catholic Leadership Institute summer program for high school students that is $895 for two weeks.

Pepperdine University Youth Citizenship Seminar  The Southern California Youth Citizenship Seminar at Pepperdine University is a five-day, FREE  program designed to provide a creative opportunity for 250 outstanding high school juniors to interact with today’s leaders, explore current national and world topics, discuss constructive solutions to critical issues, and share memorable interaction with your peers.

The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis offers several FREE programs for high school students.  Students are invited to spend a week checking our all aspects of the Naval Academy.  You just need to get yourself to Maryland. 


Stanford Medical Youth Science Program  The SMYSP Summer Residential Program (SRP) is an annual five-week science- and medicine-based enrichment program that takes place from mid-June to late July, and is held on the campus of Stanford University.  Students live in dorms.  Students must be sophomores or juniors from northern or central California and be low-income or a first-generation college student. FREE

Texas Tech Clark Scholars  The Clark Scholar Program is an intensive seven week summer research program for highly qualified high school juniors and seniors.  The Program at Texas Tech University helps the Scholars to have a hands-on practical research experience with outstanding and experienced faculty. The program is FREE and Scholars will receive a $750 tax-free stipend as well as room and board. Program duration is from June 23 to August 7, 2014.  Applications must be received by February 7.

Summer Math and Science Honors Academy.  SMASH scholars spend five weeks each summer at a SMASH site on a college campus (currently at UC BerkeleyStanfordUCLA and USC) immersed in rigorous STEM classes.  SMASH Scholars live on campus for five weeks each of three summers (after their 9th, 10th and 11th grade years) with other high potential Black, Latino/a, Native American, Southeast Asian or Pacific Islander high school students.  FREE

Summer Program for Mathematics and Science — The Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science is a FREE rigorous residential six-week summer experience at Carnegie-Mellon for good students who have a strong interest in math and science and want to become excellent students.  SAMS applicants must be at least 15 years old and have completed their sophomore year of high school to participate in this program.

University of Michigan offers a one-week residential Summer Engineering Exploration Camp for $495 for rising sophomore, juniors and seniors from anywhere in the country.  The tuition covers room and board but you have to get yourself there.

Santa Clara Summer Engineering Seminars are for rising seniors.  The week living on campus at Santa Clara is completely FREE.

Mizzou Engineering — The University of Missouri offers a weeklong residential engineering camp for $500. There are two sessions in July — Come see how your math and science talents can pave the way for a rewarding career in engineering.

KU Engineering — Project Discovery is a weeklong, intensive (residential) learning camp for high school students entering the ninth through 12th grades. Two sessions are offered, one in June and the second in July. Campers choose from different engineering disciplines and work closely with KU faculty and graduate students as they complete a hands-on project.  The cost is $500

SAME are Army Engineering & Construction Camps for rising juniors and seniors. There are several residential options and locations.  The cost is just $50.

ASM Materials summer residential (week-long) programs for rising juniors and seniors are completely FREE.

More math ideas, some free, some not.

Engineering for middle and high school students.  The University of Texas at Arlington offers a series of one-week residential engineering camps for students in middle school and high school.  The camps are $375 for a week camp.  My son did one after 7th grade and I highly recommend them. They live in the dorms and learn about all the different fields within engineering.

NC State University offers rising 11th and 12th grade students the opportunity to explore engineering and college life at NC State through our residential HS programs. Students spend a week on campus, live in the dorms, eat in the dining halls, meet like-minded students from all over the globe and immerse themselves in a specific engineering workshop of their choosing. The cost is $700/week.


These camps are surprisingly hard to find…

Chapman University Economic Summer Institute for High School Students.  The objective of these FREE summer workshops on campus at Chapman is to expose students to and get them interested in the foundations of economic analysis using experimental economics..  Students must be high school juniors and seniors.

FEE Summer Economics Seminars for high school and college students are totally FREE and some travel scholarships are available.  My daughter did one in 2013 and it was incredible.  They take place at college campuses in various cities and are just a few days long. For the last 50 years, FEE’s goal in hosting introductory economics seminars has been to give students the tools needed to answer or find answers to some of the most difficult economic questions.  Students with an interest in economics, history, politics, social science, philosophy, education, business, or current events are all encouraged to apply.

OLAB (Opportunities to Learn About Business) — This camp in mid-July is for risings seniors is completed FREE (business sponsors cover your cost).  The camps is at Wabash College in Indiana.  It is a one-week hands-on introduction to business and the market economy.

The Model UN Summer Institute at Harvard Business School is a surprising bargain at $595 for the week.


The California Cadet Academy is a FREE residential summer camp in Napa for high-school aged students who are interested in becoming Firefighters, Police officers and Emergency Medical Technicians. Cadets who attend the Academy are trained in fire science, law enforcement and basic first aid (CPR certificate issued).   It is open to non-CA residents I think. If not, each state has one.

The NH Police Cadet Training Academy is open to non-NH students. $135.


Auburn University has a series of very cool one-week residential camps in every possible topic including:

Costs range from $500-$700 for the week.

Clemson University offers a Summer Scholars program of one-week camps for rising 7th – 12th graders at very reasonable prices.  Course choices include:


U.C. Berkeley offers a FREE “experience Cal” program each June for rising seniors.  This two-day residential program on the UC Berkeley campus is for university-bound high school and community college students.  The program is offered at no cost; however, all of our students are expected to provide their own transportation to the Berkeley campus and back.


MITES  is a FREE six-week residential summer program at MIT (for rising seniors) during which students have the opportunity to experience a demanding academic atmosphere and to begin building the self-confidence necessary for success at America’s top universities. This program also stresses the value and reward of pursuing advanced technical degrees and careers while developing the skills necessary to achieve success in science and engineering.

Research Science Institute  The RSI academic program is a FREE intensive, six-week introduction to scientific research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  High school juniors from around the world

OTHER LINKS with more ideas

Cogito has a great search function for a wide range of summer programs.

UC Berkeley offers a host of ideas beyond the university

More ideas off the Stanford University website HERE

Check out this resource of ideas:

Here are more ideas for high school students.

More math ideas here.

More engineering options here.

A ton more general ideas here.

Unviersity of Georgia offer some programs for middle school students here.

Know of any other free summer programs? Email me at or use the comment box below.  Please send the link to my web site to your friends who might be interested —

Education Roundup XXV

Welcome to this month’s Education Roundup (National Edition)…

My very favorite academic exercise in my entire K-12 career was speed-reading … an activity that has truly gone by the wayside. But a new website called is a free service designed to help students to improve their reading speed and comprehension. I clocked in comfortably reading at 525 words a minute on the site. See if you can top my score. I can see the usefulness of this as a periodic assessment device, but for speed-reading instruction I think they offer a companion computer program that costs money. All things being equal, however, life is easier if you can read quickly.

Kid trackers are a hot topic, and I recommend that you start young if you are interested, as it is very difficult down the road to convince a teenager to submit to this kind of oversight. For the smallest children, the Toddler Tag ($30) beeps if your child moves more than 30 feet away from you. The Filip ($200) bracelet lets your child call you with a press of a button and displays location. And for students getting their first phone, Life360 (free) looks pretty good, as it enables you to keep precise track of your child (via the phone) at all times, whether the app is open or not and whether or not he or she accepts your call.

The blogger Emily Mendell has compiled a list of 31 things that your son (or daughter) should be able to do on their own before heading off for college. Write a check; pay a bill; make travel arrangements; navigate an airport, train or bus station; deal with a canceled flight; take a taxi; catch the subway; plunge a toilet; change a tire; check the oil; shave with a razor; withdraw cash from an ATM; pay for dinner; self-prescribe over-the-counter meds; call a doctor; cook a meal; cancel a membership; buy clothes; return a purchase; pack a suitcase (without inspection); do the laundry; iron a shirt; go food shopping for themselves; negotiate a deal; make hospital corners; sew a button; remove a stain; replace a fuse; remove a splinter; enjoy a drink responsibly; and say “no” with confidence.

Teens are seriously stressed out, according to new research. And this stress is negatively affecting every aspect of their lives. More than a quarter (27 percent) say they experience “extreme stress” during the school year and 34 percent expect stress to increase in the coming year. They aren’t just stressed out by school though. They also cite their friends, work and family. The concern is that they aren’t using healthy ways to cope with stress and they may be setting themselves up for future chronic stress and chronic illness. Researchers haven’t really looked at teen stress before so the report is worth a read if your teen struggles with stress.

I have been slow to get on the all-organic bandwagon but a recent report by CNN has done the trick. Scientists (including finally the FDA) are now suggesting that certain chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neuro-developmental disabilities among children – such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. Harvard researchers say a new global strategy to control the use of these substances is urgently needed. The list of suspected chemicals is a long one. You really need to read the full article yourself here:

My kids can’t live without Quizlet. This online learning tool was created by a high school sophomore in Albany, and it is now perhaps the most popular study tool out there. Students can create or share flashcards, track their progress and give themselves graded quizzes. Best of all, it is free.

Signing on to a college’s Pinterest account is a fun way for potential and future students to learn more about a school. Check out Chapman University’s page to get an idea of what I mean:

Does your middle-school daughter or her friend ever use baby talk? Why do girls do that? A former teacher writing for The Atlantic feels it is crucial for teachers to discourage this trend before it becomes a habit. She writes about them developing their outer voices – the ones the world will hear and judge as girls make their way out there.

Badges are a hot topic in education. Imagine a marriage between the Girl Scouts and LinkedIn. Prognosticators expect that within a few years, every résume will have badges on it that signify expertise or competency in relevant skills. The badges serve as a hyperlink to details (relevant coursework, honors won, etc.) Read more about it at

Work experience during high school is playing a key role in admissions to highly selective colleges these days, as well as quick and relevant employment after graduation from college, according to a recent survey of businesses and students. More and more students are looking for work experience through internships or volunteering. Hiring companies state the most important factors for them in hiring students are the reputation of the high school, high academic performance and references. Go to

A student’s GPA and the rigor of their course load is more important in college admissions than any other factors this admissions season, according to a survey of college admissions officers (National Association for College Admission Counseling). In other news from NACAC, for-profit colleges and two-year public colleges saw declining enrollment while public and private nonprofit colleges continued to grow.

In the new book, “All Joy and No Fun,” journalist Jennifer Senior looks at all the ways that having children changes parents’ lives. Using sources in history, sociology, economics, psychology, philosophy and anthropology, she questions our beliefs about parenting, what it adds to our lives and what it takes away. It is next up on my nightstand.

More 18- to 31-year-olds live with their parents today than at any other point in the last 40 years (Pew Research). Perhaps today’s teens should be a little nicer to their parents? Those young adults with more schooling were less likely to be living at home.

I was surprised to read in the Wall Street Journal last week that fewer children are playing team sports today than four years ago. Losing the most ground are basketball, baseball and soccer (all down 7 to 8 percent) while ice hockey is up 64 percent and lacrosse is up 158 percent. Experts can’t agree on why. Some blame video games and others the time pressure of high school extra-curriculars.

The latest issue of National Geographic is all about the science of the brain. How we learn is a hot topic and scientists seem to be making impressive strides in better understanding brain function, all of which bodes well as educators apply that knowledge in our classrooms. The February issue underlines the point that “scientists are learning so much about the brain now that it’s easy to forget that for much of history we had no idea at all how it worked or even what it was.” Also on the magazine’s website are some great brain games and activities pegged to current events, like the Olympics.

Tiger Mom Amy Chua is back in the news with a new book with this thesis: “For all their diversity, the strikingly successful (cultural) groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex – a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite – insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.” The groups she cites as strikingly successful are: Indian-Americans, Iranian-, Lebanese- and Chinese-Americans and Mormons (she cites the fact that Indian-Americans earn almost double the national figure). She also mentions that while “Jews make up only about 2 percent of the United States’ adult population, they account for a third of the current Supreme Court; over two-thirds of Tony Award-winning lyricists and composers; and about a third of American Nobel laureates.” Her new book is “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.”

The Atlantic magazine tackles the subject of teenage risk-taking in a long piece that is both comforting and terrifying for those of us with teens. In a nutshell, the increased natural dopamine being released in the adolescent body “can give adolescents a powerful sense of being alive when they are engaged in life. It can also lead them to focus solely on the positive rewards they are sure are in store for them, while failing to notice or give value to the potential risks and downsides,” said the author, UCLA psychiatry professor Daniel

Researchers have quantified what we have suspected for some time – kindergarten is the new first grade. “In less than a decade, we’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed,” said Dahna Bassok at University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. “Academic skill-building has really taken center stage in today’s kindergarten classrooms, in a way that just wasn’t the case” before the late 1990s. Today’s kindergartens now feature homework, worksheets and an emphasis on learning to read by the end of the

There are dozens of fellowships, workshops, seminars and service trips for teachers who are interested in traveling overseas this summer (at no cost). If you know of a teacher who might be interested, forward them this link:

There is a growing body of research that questions the merit of stand-alone middle schools (as opposed to K to 8 schools). Educators were previously enamored with the middle-school model but now many are challenging the notion that grouping students in the middle grades is the right approach. (Only 2 percent of sixth- and seventh-graders in private schools attend a stand-alone middle school.) According to a professor at Columbia, “In the specific year when students move to a middle school (or to a junior high), their academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, falls substantially in both math and English relative to that of their counterparts who continue to attend a K to 8 elementary school. What’s more, their achievement continues to decline throughout middle school. This negative effect persists at least through eighth grade, the highest grade for which we could obtain test scores.”

If your student age 13 to 21 is interested in the visual or performing arts, the best list of summer programs around the country and around the world that I have come across is

Parents spend their time wondering if their sons are geniuses and if their daughters are fat, according to some depressing research conducted by a reporter at the New York Times. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed Google searches and found that parents are two-and-a-half times more likely to Google “is my son gifted?” than “is my daughter gifted?” (despite the fact that girls are surpassing boys in classrooms across the country). And parents are twice as likely to Google “is my daughter fat?” than “is my son fat?”

The British government is requiring that programming (computer coding) be taught in every K-12 classroom in England starting next year. The United States, thanks to Silicon Valley, is the world’s premier technology powerhouse, so it is baffling to me that England has beaten us to the punch. You can read more about England’s coding curriculum at

I am a big fan of audiobooks, both for myself and for children who don’t love to read. While I favor, there is a site called that streams thousands of name-brand titles from leading publishers and storytellers to students’ mobile devices and desktops. The family subscription is $99 a year for up to five devices. The app and a seven-day trial are free.

Are you interested in game-based learning? If so, you may need to get yourself a Pinterest account just to follow the Game Based learning board. The page offers up dozens of great sites and resources for students and classrooms.

“Giving our kids the option to quit celebrates the idea that they should have the chance to try out new things without the expectation that every new thing will fit,” said author Kristin Levitahn, who is quoted in an article about letting kids quit things (at There has been a lot of talk about the value of persistence but she offers forth a valuable argument for being okay with quitting as well.

If you have had the misfortune of spending much time combing through stock photos online, you know how lame most of the pictures are under the category of women or mothers. Lots of cookie baking and sundresses. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation has partnered with Getty Images to change all that and ensure that when a child needs an image for a poster board of professional women, old-fashioned stereotypes can be avoided. As Sandberg explained, “When we see images of women and girls and men, they often fall into the stereotypes that we’re trying to overcome, and you can’t be what you can’t see.”

I have a new favorite website for instructional support and cool new learning tools and resources. Check out My favorite thing about is that you don’t need to register to use it.

Schools in the 40+ Common Core states across the country will take new computer-based standardized tests this year. Because they will be administered on computers, the new assessments will allow for a broader range of test questions than the multiple-choice exams given in the past. They will emphasize critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving – modeling the kind of teaching and learning needed to prepare all students for the demands of college and the modern workplace. No student, school or district scores will be produced from this year’s field test because its purpose is to “test the test” – to determine how well the test questions and technology work.

Studies show that we can train our minds to be happy or unhappy. Furthermore, careers such as accounting and law that focus on catching mistakes and errors can result in a pervasive pessimism that carries over into one’s personal life. Eric Barker writes in The Week that you must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Specifically, he suggests that listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference. He also says that one of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.


The BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) has a great Spanish-language game website for elementary students. Students choose an aspect of the language to explore, and are presented with a list games and learning tools to help with mastery. BBC.Co.UK/Schools/PrimaryLanguages/Spanish

Lots of parents are very casual about pot use but a new study has found that exposing adolescent rats to the primary ingredient in marijuana can lead to molecular and behavioral alterations in the next generation of offspring, even though progeny were not directly exposed to the drug (according to researchers at Mount Sinai). “Our study emphasizes that cannabis [marijuana] affects not just those exposed, but has adverse affects on future generations,” said Yasmin Hurd, Ph.D. “Finding increased vulnerability to drug addiction and compulsive behavior in generations not directly exposed is an important consideration for legislators considering legalizing marijuana.”

It is hard to sustain optimism about the state of education today when I spend my days reading articles like: “What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?: Our high schools are a disaster.” This recent piece in Slate by a psychology professor (Laurence Stein)  states, “It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents – it’s every single thing we have tried. The list of unsuccessful experiments is long and dispiriting … Over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries and performance standards, and despite billions of dollars invested in school reform, there has been no improvement – none – in the academic proficiency of American high school students.”


I just learned that nearly a quarter of American adults did not read a single book last year (and this counts audiobooks, Kindle books, everything). Furthermore, the number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978. The good news? The typical American did read five books last year.

The new school analysis site surveyed 909 public and private high schools between 2012 and 2014, and ranked schools by students’ average SAT/ACT scores (close to 80,000 score results over two years). The chart is interesting just to see which public and private schools across the country come out on top by this measure.  Check out the ones in your area.  While a lot of people hate to lend weight to SAT scores, a recent study by Case Western Reserve found standardized test scores to be a valid measure of general cognitive ability and these scores still do play a huge role in college admissions.

I am off to the huge South by Southwest Education Conference (SXSWEdu) in Austin, Texas, March 2-6. Last year, attending more than a dozen panel discussions on innovation in education really opened my eyes to changes headed our way. I hope to learn as much this year.


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Education Roundup XXIV

Welcome to this month’s Education Roundup (National Edition)…


Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be the mother of an Olympic athlete?  What those early years are like? Think…  a lot of driving but also some challenges you might not expect. You can read the complete article at

Have you ever walked in to find your children watching a TV show that you KNOW they have seen before? It makes me crazy. There is a cool website that features more than 300 mind-expanding documentary films, many of which are appropriate for all ages.  These are also a great classroom resource. Check out the list

Common Sense Media recommends five important media resolutions that every family should make in 2014.

• Make a detailed schedule that ensures a balance of screen time and other activities.

• Get to know your child’s favorite device. Have them show you their favorite games, apps, etc. You will understand their interest better and you will be better able to assess needed safety and privacy controls.

• Review behavior do’s and don’ts with first-time users. They should have to ask you before they go online and should understand a site’s rule and how to recognize red flags (like someone asking them for private information).

• Establish a charging station in your bedroom and make sure kids hand over all their devices before bed.

• Model the right behavior by never texting and driving or it is hard to expect them to do the right thing when they are alone behind the wheel.

I wish I had thought of these when my children were younger as the longer you wait to establish truly common-sense guidelines like this, the harder it is. I suggest you link acceptance of these guidelines to every new device you purchase. I wish I had.

A new set of studies has found that high praise can actually make some children feel worse about themselves. The name of the study is: “That’s Not Just Beautiful – That’s Incredibly Beautiful: The Adverse Impact of Inflated Praise on Children with Low Self-Esteem.” While it might be counter-intuitive, researchers found that when adults give excessive compliments to children with low confidence, the children were less likely to pursue challenges.

A recent Wall Street Journal story came to the conclusion that kids who understand gratitude get better grades and are less likely to get depressed. The author, Diana Knapp, suggests that gratitude is a muscle that must be exercised and saying thanks at dinner on the 364 days a year that are not Thanksgiving can help. The author cites a study from 2008 where sixth- and seventh-graders were assigned to list five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. It found they had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction three weeks later, compared with kids assigned to list five hassles. Depressingly, the author also cites a recent large-scale study that tracked materialism among high school seniors and found that desire for lots of money has increased markedly since the mid-1970s, while willingness to work hard to earn it has decreased.

If your student loves science, there is a very inspiring story about the young winner of the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in 2012 in this week’s Baltimore SunJack Andraka is 16 years old, he is openly gay and he attends public school in Maryland. He invented an early-stage test for pancreatic cancer. His parents speak eloquently in the article about their strategies to encourage their son and to expose him to as much as possible, while still letting him be a kid and enjoy his interests.

San Francisco Unified School District made the national news last week for its innovative school mediation program. While 61 percent of its student population qualifies for the federally funded free or reduced lunch program, the district’s standardized test scores continue to rise and meet yearly state and federal benchmarks. Is it possibly because of a new approach to tackling student stress? Since 2007, the district has included transcendental meditation lessons into twice-daily “quiet time” periods – 15-minute breaks in all classrooms. Other benefits include reductions in truancy and discipline problems to which they credit this program.

Disaster Hero is a free online game designed to teach children (grades 1 through 8), parents, and teachers how to prepare for disasters. The goal is to ensure that kids know what to do before, during, and after a disaster.

While I am still not exactly sure what it is, I keep reading about studies that tout mindfulness training as crucial to academic success. The latest study looked at college students (who are notorious for high levels of distraction and stress). Mindfulness training can focus attention and improve learning, according to a new study by University of Miami researchers. Mindfulness is a mental state in which a person pays attention to the present experience without ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness training emphasizes attention-building exercises and learning to observe the activity of the mind.

Do you know of a student ages 14-26 who is, or might be, interested in economics? Last summer my teenage daughter attended an economics seminar put on by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). She lived in a dorm at St. Louis University and attended workshops with dozens of other high school students. Best of all, the seminar was free (room, board, books and tuition all covered, you just have to get there). FEE has just posted their summer 2014 seminars, and topics include: “Making Innovation Possible: The Role of Economics in Scientific Progress”; “Are Markets Just? Exploring the Social Significance of a Free Economy”; and “How Economic Thinking Can Create a Better World.” The closest campus being offered for the program this year is Chapman University (near Los Angeles). Schedules and applications are at Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, so apply early.

A happy parent raises a happy child (in most cases). Here are 10 science-based ways to be happier, courtesy of Beth Cooper (at

1. Exercise: Exercise has a profound effect on our happiness and well-being. It can help you relax, increase your brainpower, and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.
2. Sleep more: Sleep helps our bodies recover from the day and repair itself, and that helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out sleep is also important for happiness.
3. Spend more time with friends/family: Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference in how happy we feel.
4. Get outside more: Spending time in the fresh air can improve your happiness. Spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosts positive mood, but also broadens thinking and improves working memory. Interestingly, studies have also found that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees, so there is even an upside to winter.
5. Help others: To make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, studies suggest that 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.
6. Practice smiling: Smiling can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study. Smiling can also improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks.
7. Plan a trip: As opposed to actually taking a holiday, simply planning a vacation or break from work can improve our happiness – the effect of vacation anticipation can boost happiness for eight weeks.
8. Meditate: Meditation is credited with improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness as well. Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down.
9. Move closer to work: Our commute to work can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness (or lack thereof).
10. Practice gratitude: Taking note of things you are grateful for each day can improve your mood. Research suggests that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

• • •

New research indicates that parental involvement is more important than any other factor in positively influencing the health, growth and even IQ of children. Involvement and family time also plays a huge role in decreasing the stress in a child’s life. While this sounds like another plug for family dinners, what researcher Gail Gross found is that academic and social performance in 3-to-17-year-olds increases significantly with even small increments of focused time with parents. The key, she says, is not the activity you do together, it is simply being fully present.

• • •

Reading has a positive impact on the brain that researchers are only just now beginning to understand. In a recent experiment, students brains were scanned each morning after having read sections of a thriller novel over nine nights, and then again daily for five days after they finished the book. The scans revealed increases in connectivity in the students’ brains following the assignments, which persisted for the five days after finishing the novel. The parts of the brain associated with language comprehension, sensations and movement benefited the most.

• • •

The Hour of Code last month was tremendously successful, with more than 20 million students across the country gaining exposure to coding. The students I spoke to who have tried coding at school have loved it. If you are looking for coding classes or summer camps, you can visit to search for possibilities. If your child’s classroom is exploring coding, email me the details

If your kids enjoy science, there is a great list of 60 popular free science games online covering some of the most popular topics within biology, geology, physics and


Busuu is a community-based language-learning site that offers games, groups, exercises and other free resources for learning Spanish, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, German, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or English.The site has a nice look with illustrations and animation. Like many of the best language sites, after an initial free period, it costs money; membership options range from $20 a month to $150 for a two-year membership. But Busuu’s best feature is free – conversational practice that involves typing and chatting live with native speakers of your language of choice.

DragonflyTV is a PBS science education television series for middle-school students, and its website features viewable episodes, games, resources and more. There are fun games and experiments as well as science-based multimedia experiences. Also cool is a science-center locator which returns a list of science museums near your location.

The site Sumdog provides free educational games that make math and reading practice fun for students K-8. Students will like competing against other students of similar ability around the world. But the more they play, the more the games adjust to their skill level. Sumdog automatically begins to present more difficult questions while limiting the allotted time for answers. In addition, a student who incorrectly answers questions on a given topic receives more of those types of questions in ensuing rounds. There are both free and paid versions at

There is a tabletop board game called Robot Turtles that teaches youngsters ages 3-8 the fundamentals of programming, without words. Children act as programmers, putting instruction cards down, driving the turtles through the maze, but the grownup is the computer, executing commands on the board.

In honor of the winter break, here is a list of 30 of the best educational computer games to amuse your children. Some are new, some are old favorites. The complete list is but some of new ones I have not mentioned before worth checking out include: The Oregon Trail ($5), Sokikom ($10), Brain Age ($16), Garry’s Mod ($10) and Second Life (free).

If you are looking for books for the new year, here are 17 ways to get your hands on free books: On the list are lots of websites worth checking out including: Bibliomania, Zunafish, Bookins, BookMooch and Childrens Books Online. Another great article I found offers up ways to get almost any book, study guide, reference text or magazine in the world for free (legally). Read it here:

Parents can be very casual about marijuana smoking (“it is just pot”) but new studies are showing that pot smoking among teens can permanently reduce the size of the growing brain. Researchers at Northwestern University found that the section of the brain related to working memory actually reduced in size from pot smoking (which coincided with the teens’ poor performance on memory tasks). The shrinkage was more advanced in people who started smoking marijuana younger. Read more at

I felt very guilty after reading an article in the New York Times on “Parenting While Plugged In.” The author suggests that while everyone is worried about the effect of screen time on children, we should also be looking at how our own extended screen time affects our relationships with our children. One researcher spent five years conducting 300 interviews and she found that children can be jealous and hurt, competing with a screen for their parents’ attention. While parents say they need to have their device on because of work, they are actually just engrossed in their connectivity, in the same way that kids are with their devices. It all comes back to the idea of quality time.

A new HBO documentary shines a light on parental obsession with youth sports. If you get HBO, consider taping “Trophy Kids” and watching it with your children. An interesting discussion might result. Without any voiceover shaping the dialogue, filmmakers allow the parents and children to speak for themselves about their emotional investment in organized sports … and the result is tense and emotional. HBO is producing an entire series called “State of Play,” which will examine a variety of sports themes as they influence our society. “Trophy Kids” is playing daily and also available on HBO on Demand.

I was surprised to learn that California teachers are paid more than teachers in any other state in the nation. California teachers have the highest average salary at $64,424 and South Dakota brings up the rear at $36,374. The other states in the top five are New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois.

How do you “create good students”? A principal suggests on the website Edutopia that several conditions must exist: more hands-on learning (less time drilling and droning); higher level engagement; articulated learning goals; the right curriculum and technology tools; knowledge of the best way that each individual student learns; learning extended into the home; publishing of student creations; pursuing what students want to explore; and fun (if a teacher isn’t having fun, it is likely the students aren’t either).

Class Central is a free online course aggregator from top universities such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard and others. You can search all the MOOC (massive open online course) providers for the topics that interest you. This is great for students who might want to explore a field of study not available at their school or for adults who like the idea of being lifelong learners.

A fun exercise to do with your whole family is to take a learning style quiz and discuss and compare results. Quick and easy free ones are available here: or here:

Have you heard about the teen who will serve no jail time despite killing four people in a recent drunk driving accident because his lawyers claimed he is a victim of “affluenza”? His attorneys argued that he was so coddled and spoiled that his parents never taught him right from wrong. He had a blood alcohol level of .24 – triple the legal driving limit for an adult – and was on Valium when he crashed his truck, injuring 11 people and killing four. While intelligent, he was estimated to have the emotional age of a 12-year-old.

I was surprised to learn that even the most rigorous computer science courses do not currently count toward core high school graduation requirements in California and neither the UCs nor CSUs count computer science as fulfilling a mathematics or science requirement. As of right now, 14 states do count computer science as a math or a science, and hopefully California will soon follow.

Need book ideas for kids of all ages? Check out Amazon’s list of the top 20 most popular books in each category for readers of all ages: baby-age 2 | ages 3-5 | ages 6-8 | ages 9-12. You can see the full list in best-selling order at

Along the same lines, released its list of the all-time best book series for kids, by grade level. Some of its top picks: “Maya & Ruby,” “The Elephant & Piggie,” “Peter & The Starcatchers,” “The Babysitters Club” and “Artemis Fowl.” Read the complete list here:

If you are worried that your teen is smoking cigarettes, I recommend you show him or her the images at It is an absolutely horrifying high-tech, high-def look at how each part of your body is affected by cigarette smoking. I am still cringing.

If you can’t get enough of all things education, there is a list of the best-selling education books of 2013. The top five: 1. “America the Beautiful,” by Ben C. Carson; 2. “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman; 3. “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” by Thomas C. Foster; 4. “How Children Succeed,” by Paul Tough; 5. “The Last Lecture,” by Randy Pausch. My favorite is Paul Tough’s book.

An app I have written about here more than once, Duolingo, was just named Apple’s choice for App of the Year. Considering how many apps are out there, that is quite an honor. Duolingo is free, and offers fun language instruction and practice in six languages – Spanish, French, German, Italian, English and Portuguese. The app is like a game and it uses images and your smartphone’s microphone to help you learn words, recite them and write them out.

A study has found that listening to music can interfere with short-term memory and can be a terrible idea for students doing homework or studying for tests. Students were tested recalling a series of numbers, while listening to different kinds of background music. Interestingly, it didn’t matter if the student loved or hated the music being played.

I can’t wait to try The Big History Project. Pulled together by a tech guy and a historian, this free online initiative aims to challenge the way history is traditionally taught. Formerly only available to educators, the free game is now open to the public (and it is backed by Microsoft and Bill Gates). There is also a companion TV series on the History Channel. The goal? To bring the full story of humanity to life via a game by viewing history not as a straight line, but as a complex, interconnected web.

Which colleges produce the most ambitious students? Inc. Magazine was curious. Using data from personality tests to gauge ambition, it decided that students from the following colleges are the most ambitious: UC Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard, U. Penn, Stanford, Vanderbilt, London School of Economics, Oxford, University College London and Boston University. Kudos to laid-back California for having three of the top 10 schools. You can read the details here:

“IF…,” is a very unusual new online game that asks kids ages 6 to 12 to employ empathy and social-emotional skills in a game setting (for ex. helping cats and dogs in tribes to get along). The game will be available as a free iPad app in January and you can sign up to receive it when it goes live. A lot of attention is paid to the academic development of children, IF … will focus on the 20 or so specific related to self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships and decision-making.

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