Roundup XIII

Madeline Levine offers 10 great back-to-school resolutions for parents in her book, “Teach Your Children Well.” They include the following: 1) I will make sure my child gets a full night’s sleep. 2) I will not panic over the occasional “B” or “C” because I will remember the success trajectory is a squiggle … not a straight line. 3) I will love the child in front of me. Appreciate your child’s unique gifts. 4) I will not push my child to be perfect. 5) I will not confuse my needs with my child’s needs. This is the most toxic manifestation of overparenting. Get a hobby or a therapist instead. 6) I will not do for my child what he can do for himself. This kills motivation and the ability to innovate. 7) I will not do for my child what she can almost do for herself. At one time your child could almost walk. Now she can walk. Enough said. 8) I will make my child clear the dinner dishes – even on the night before a big calculus exam. 9) I will honor the importance of PDF (play time, down time and family time). 10) I will live my own (adult) life and let my children live theirs. Being a happy, fulfilled adult is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. It makes adulthood look like something worth striving for.

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The completely free six-week program that my daughter did last summer in China, studying Mandarin through the United States State Department, is currently accepting applications for trips to seven countries next summer (as well as full gap-year programs). The goals of this program for students ages 15 to 19 are to improve the ability of young Americans to engage with the people of Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajik), Russian and Turkish-speaking countries; to develop a cadre of Americans with advanced linguistic skills and related cultural understanding to advance international dialogue and compete effectively in the global economy; to provide a tangible incentive for the learning of a foreign language; and to spark a lifetime interest in foreign languages and cultures among American youth. Apply (by Nov. 1) and learn more at www.nsliforyouth.org/languages-and-programs.

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There is a great website called Brad’s Deals that has compiled a list of the 90 or so major retailers that offer teacher discounts.The list includes bookstores, retail, school supply stores as well as thousands of online coupons and printable coupons that teachers can use as well. You might consider printing it out and handing it to your teacher today. Go to bradsdeals.com/blog/teacher-discounts/.

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So what is this idea of project-based learning that everyone is talking about? The Buck Institute for Education hired a cool ad agency, Common Craft, to create a short animated video that explains the concept in clear language. You can watch it at: edudemic.com/2012/10/what-is-project-based-learning/

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I am always concerned that my memory is terrible compared to my peers. I am halfway through a new book by Joshua Foer called “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.” It is a fascinating look at the tricks used by memory contest competitors with specifics tips for everyday use by your average person. I haven’t gotten the hang of the system these pros swear by, but I am intrigued by the science behind it and it is a well-written and entertaining read.

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Nootropic is a word I just learned and I think you’ll start to hear it in the news if you haven’t already.  It refers to any chemical or group of chemicals that improves cognitive powers.  These “smart pills” include ADD medicines Ritalin, Aderall and commercial drinks like NeuroFuel. Most are stimulants of one kind or another. College students, in particular, are finding misuse of these pills alluring. The long-term effects of non-prescribed stimulant use are not known but are thought to include long-term memory loss and reduced creativity. Author Dr. Leonard Sax (leonardsax.com) is really vocal on the potential dangers of the stimulants contained in ADD medications. The most commonly used nootropic, however, is caffeine, which improves attention and manual dexterity.

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Science Daily recently reported on a study by sociologists from Rice University and Brigham Young University that found that religiously-affiliated youth are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school than unaffiliated peers and 70 percent more likely to enroll in college. The tracking of 8,379 teens across the country found that Catholic and Protestant teens are twice as likely as unaffiliated teens to finish high school and about 80 percent more likely to enroll in college, and that Jewish and Mormon youths have the highest odds of graduating high school and enrolling in college. BYU was a co-author of the study so you can take it with a grain of salt, but it inspires an interesting conversation along the lines of, if this is true, why is it true? Church is free so it is one of the few education conversations you can have and take socio-economic status out of the equation.

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I heard a good suggestion lately for dyslexic students that might be helpful for all students in the younger grades.When using a computer, show them how you can adjust the brightness of the screen. For some dyslexic students, making the screen half of the full strength brightness makes reading much easier. Font size can also make a big difference for all struggling readers: try a font size 36 instead of the default size of 12.

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Yahoo Finance has ranked colleges by the average pay of their graduates mid-career. There are some real surprises here. No. 1 is Princeton University; No. 2 is Harvey Mudd College (Claremont); No. 3 is CalTech (Pasadena); No. 4 is the U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis); No. 5 is the U.S. Military Academy (West Point); No. 6 is MIT (Cambridge); No. 7 is Lehigh University (Bethlehem, Pa.); No. 8 is Polytechnic Institute of New York University (Brooklyn); No. 9 is Babson College (Boston); and No. 10 is Stanford University.

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If your student in grades three-to-12 enjoys entering contests, there is a good one now accepting entries that is free to enter with prizes and recognition in essay, poetry and art categories, broken out by grade level. The first deadlines are in mid-October. Visit poeticpower.com and celebratingart.com for more information.

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I read a surprising statistic that the United States recruits only 23 percent of its new teachers from the top third of college graduates, while top performing countries recruit 100 percent, according to McKinsey & Company research conducted last year.

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Who succeeds in college and who is less likely to be able to handle the work? You may want to consider the source, but according to the College Board, SAT test scores are a strong predictor of college success. Of course, the College Board creates the test, but they say that only 43 percent of college-bound students who took the test last year have the skills necessary to succeed in college (or maintain a B- average or higher). Students who do not surpass the SAT benchmark score of 1550 (or approx. 500 or above on each section) have been shown to be more likely to struggle in college.

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Most parents are hoping for merit aid as well as financial aid from the colleges on their child’s list. Merit aid is not need-based, and it is given by colleges to lure students who might choose other institutions. It is renewable all four years and awards tend to range from $5,000 to $10,000. You can see which schools offer merit aid at www.meritaid.com and www.finaid.org. Grades and test scores are the important factors for a school deciding how much merit aid to offer a student.

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last week making California the first state to financially protect student athletes who suffer career ending injuries. SB1525 requires that the four universities that receive more than $10 million annually in sports media revenue – the University of Southern California, UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford – give academic scholarships to students who lose their athletic scholarships if they are injured while playing their sport. The legislation starts with the 2013-14 school year.

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I can never resist a great list of educational game web sites. The Tech Learning folks list 40 sites with hot links so you can try them all out straight from their site. bit.ly/PyvGXN

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I am a big fan of CNN’s Student News site. The site provides 10 minutes of commercial-free, cost-free news for middle and high school classrooms via their website, or as a free downloadable podcast on iTunes. http://www.cnnstudentnews.com. I teach a newspaper elective and send the students to the site frequently to see CNN’s (younger-audience) take on the news of the day.

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I have come across some interesting study tips for academic success, some of which I had never heard before:

• Study in the same place each day (comfy is not as important as consistency).

• Complete homework assignments in the same order (math, science, Spanish, etc.) each day when possible (makes homework less stressful and more efficient).

• Set a goal for how many times you should participate in each class. Doing so improves attention, concentration and in-class learning.

• Continually ask yourself “Am I learning, or just doing.”

• Try to predict exam questions and problems, making note of them as you go along.

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There are a few great technology tools for students that are gaining in popularity. The Livescribe Smart Pen ($120) enables students to digitally capture handwritten notes as well as the audio of their lecture while they write. Evernote is a (free) note-taking program that organizes a student’s notes into online notebooks, which are searchable and accessible from all devices. Study Blue is a (free) tool enabling students to create digital flashcards with images and audio and to use them on any smart phone. The app also remembers which cards you got right or wrong.

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The Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 4 that more and more colleges are vetting applicants using social media.There is no way a huge university has time to do it for all candidates but the article cites admission officers on the record discussing how, if they are wary, on the fence, or alerted to look out for something, they will check up on an applicant. Rensselaer Polytechnic recounts quickly and easily finding cases of plagiarism, bullying and accusations of sexual assault. Students, Google yourselves today.

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Most parents are more focused on phonetic awareness than math in the pre-school years. But there is a renewed emphasis on helping pre-schoolers learn about numbers, spatial thinking and measurement. You can download a free book on “Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood” at nap.edu. Or you can find a summary of the math skills that pre-schoolers should have at everydaymath.uchicago.edu/parents/pre-k/goals/. The two recommended TV programs introducing pre-schoolers to math concepts are Sesame Street and Team Umizoomi. If you are headed to New York City on vacation, bring your children to the new Museum of Mathematics.

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There is an interesting book just published about why so many kids in their 20s are living at home without a plan and without a purpose. The book, “Twenty Something: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?” is by the mother-daughter journalist duo Robin and Samantha Henig, who believe that the reason kids today are still living with their parents and “finding themselves” is that 20-somethings are taking longer and longer to grow up. The book combines science, research, commentary and observation and is getting a lot of attention in the media.

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I love the idea of bedtimemath.org, which will email you a new math question every day that is appropriate (and fun) to work on with your child (three levels of questions). Here are the questions on the day I checked:

Wee ones (counting on fingers): If 1/2/03 was the cool all-in-a-row date in 2003, what was it in 2004?

Little kids: A couple of years ago we had the date 10/10/10. How many dates like that are there in total between 2000 and 2100? Bonus: How many cool all-in-a-row dates have we had since 2000, including today?

Big kids: ’12 is a great year because lots of numbers multiply out to 12. This year we had 1/12/12, 2/6/12 … how many of those dates does this year have in total? Bonus: What’s the next year when we’ll have as many dates like that?

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Yahoo News has reported that a couple in Hong Kong has sued a Boston educational consultant for the $2 million they say they paid him to get their two sons into top prep schools and, ultimately, an Ivy League university. According to press reports, both boys ended up at elite schools, just not Harvard. That said, the consultant asked for an egregious amount of money.

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Elsewhere in crazy parent news, moms and dads in New York City are notorious for prepping their pre-schoolers for gifted and talented (GATE) program tests. Last year, nearly 5,000 children qualified for kindergarten GATE programs there, more than double the total from just four years ago (meanwhile only 400 spots open up each year). NYC will now rely less heavily on the Otis Lennon Ability Test for its IQ testing and more on the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT). The NNAT is said to be less reliant on language (thus more fair to ELL students), emphasizes abstract spatial thinking and, most importantly, is less vulnerable to test preparation. A NYC bookstore sold out of the $149 NNAT prep book shortly after the news was announced.

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I have a new favorite website: bjpinchbeck.com. Billed as a homework helper, the graphically appealing site contains hot links to hundreds of resources to help students with virtually any kind of homework or any kind of research.

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October is Learning Disabilities Month. When people talk about learning disabilities, they typically mean dyslexia (reading problems), dysgraphia (writing problems), dyscalculia (math problems), executive function difficulties (problems with organization); or ADHD (trouble regulating attention). The leading website on these issues –ldonline.org – has a lot of great detailed information if you are interested in learning more.

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Professor Word is a free browser “bookmarklet” that helps students learn new SAT and ACT vocabulary words.When you are reading a webpage click on the Professor Word bookmark to identify the SAT and ACT vocabulary words on that page (and definitions for any unfamiliar word). Go to professorword.com.

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 CNN’s Donna Krache recently reported on the five buzz words that you are likely to hear this year when the conversation turns to education, most of which I have written about repeatedly in these pages. The buzz words are: 1. “Common core state standards” refers to the new national curriculum that will help states compare apples to apples in student performance. 2. “Flipped classes” are a trend toward homework during class time and lectures/instruction taking place at home via the Internet. 3.“Gamification” refers to imbuing gaming with education content. 4. “MOOC” refers to massive open online courses, like Coursera and the free MIT classes now available online. 5. “School choice” is not a new concept but is being expanded to online schools and blended learning environments that are a combination of traditional and online instruction.

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The number of freshman applying to college is expected to be lower this spring than a year ago. Some reasons I have heard cited are: a declining population of 18-year-olds; less federal financial assistance; colleges pricing themselves out of the market; and debate about the rate of return on a college degree.

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A huge Swedish study of more than 1 million patients has found that people in creative professions are more likely to be treated for mental illness than the general population. They also found a close correlation between writing and schizophrenia. The Karolinska Institute found that artists and scientists were more common amongst families where bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is present, compared to the population at large, according to a report in Science Daily.

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A study published in the current issue of the Journal of Pediatrics shows for the first time that kids with ADHD can perform better in school after a single bout of exercise. The lead researcher, Matthew Pontifex, is encouraged that exercise could be an important new non-drug tool in treating ADHD, and he feels strongly the findings support the need for more physical activity for all students during the school day. In the past, researchers have found that children with ADHD are less likely to be physically active or to play sports, and combined with reduced recess time at schools nationwide, these findings are important (though do they seem obvious to anyone else?).

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There is an interesting YouTube show called “Prodigies.” The first web-isode was about a 9-year-old student at American River College in Sacramento. It celebrates his brilliance but the show turns a bit sad when it exposes his lack of friends. A new seven-minute episode featuring a different child is released every other week.

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