Education Roundup XLI: The middle school years, smart kids, organization tips and more

Quick summaries and links for dozens of education tips, resources, research items and more (I scour the Internet so you don’t have to).

Middle school advice: Tips and advice abound for students and parents this time of year but one blog really resonated with me. Flown & Grown is a great site for parents of middle and high school students. Here are some of their pearls of wisdom for middle school students:
1. Do one thing well … because part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the orchestra or given a role in the school play.

2. Get enough sleep … as it allows teens to perform better intellectually and athletically, improves mood and helps maintain healthy weight. “Teach your child to worship at the altar of an eight-hour night’s sleep and you have set them up for life.”

3. Model self-control for your children … whether it be your temper or careful driving or moderate drinking.

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Thanks mom: Researchers now believe that mothers are responsible for the transmission of the intelligence genes and a father’s genes affect a child’s limbic system (emotions and drives). That said, it is estimated that between 40-60 percent of intelligence is hereditary. This means environment and stimulation also do play a big role.

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Empty nesting: As I have two kids away at college now, an article titled “Have a Kid Away at College? Ten Things You’ll Feel” hit home. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Having a kid at college is getting fired. Your job was to get this kid to college. Your services are no longer needed. Just. Like. That. No severance, no plaque, no cake, no nothing.

2. Having a kid at college is needing a fix. You said you wouldn’t. You promised. You meant it this time and maybe even truly believed you could do it. But you take a big gulp, and try to hold back the stammer when you call anyway, because your heart can’t take not hearing the sound of his voice.

3. Having a kid at college is a “Spot the Difference” quiz. There’s nothing more discomfiting than a good long look at your college kid’s changing face. Is that a new haircut? Does she wear her glasses all day now? Where did he get that shirt?

4. Having a kid at college is climbing into a time machine set to “Freshman Year.” It all comes back to you: funny stories about dorm-mates; how terrified you were of a certain professor; the shock and awe of first-time life on your own.

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Reading apps: Kids find it easier to read text on phones and iPads than we do. I came across a great list of free reading programs for kids on mobile devices. Some of the best to try out include Farfaria, Bookboard, Timbuktu, Learn with Hom, Oxford Owl and Memtales and I Like Stories.

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Eat your fruit: New research suggests that eating lots of fruit in pregnancy can boost a baby’s intelligence, at least according to a new article in the Wall Street Journal. Each additional regular daily serving corresponded with an increase in cognitive scores. More research is needed but if you’re expecting, it wouldn’t hurt to stock up on extra fruit.

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Good news for annoying moms: British researchers have found that parents who constantly remind their teenage daughters of their super-high expectations raise young girls who will grow up to become successful women. “Behind every successful woman is a nagging mom? Teenage girls more likely to succeed if they have pushy mothers,” said the press release. University of Essex researchers found that girls whose “main parent” – that’s usually the mother – consistently displayed high parental expectations were far less likely to get pregnant at a young age, get stuck in a dead-end/low-wage job and were more likely to attend college.

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Stifled students: Millions of American students are not challenged enough because our schools overemphasize an age-based curriculum, according to the Institute for Education Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. The biggest finding was that the U.S. wastes billions of dollars each year teaching content to students that they already know. Researchers blame the U.S. practice of grouping children in classrooms based on their age not on their level of proficiency. The authors found that between 20 and 40 percent of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading, and 11 to 30 percent score at least one grade level above in math.

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College app news: These days, all students who apply to private colleges use Common App to file their applications online. The site this fall has launched a new, free app to help students manage and keep track of their college applications. The “onTrack” app lets students track their progress in completing applications, add or delete schools from their list and set deadline reminders.

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Homework help: There’s a free new tool for homework help that is worth a try. is billed “a digital tutor in your pocket.” The site uses artificial intelligence and data from millions of student questions to understand where a student is stuck. Students take a photo of their homework question and get explanations and videos instantly. The site is good for science, history, English, economics and more (no math yet).

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Raising brilliant kids: It appears that telling your kids to “zip it” when they are asking endless questions is a mistake. According to “Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children,” science strongly suggests that we should engage at these times and our kids will reap the benefits down the road. Most interesting, though, is the authors’ scalding indictment of schools today. “We’re training kids to do what computers do, which is spit back facts. And computers are always going to be better than human beings at that. But what they’re not going to be better at is being social, navigating relationships, being citizens in a community. So we need to change the whole definition of what success in school, and out of school, means.” This is next up on my bedside table.

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Advice for college freshman: I loved these words of wisdom offered by college professors for their freshman students, as gathered by the Grown & Flown website. Some of the tops suggestions were:

• Show up for class – don’t skip unless you have a contagious illness and don’t sit in the back. As one professor said, “I can practically predict a student’s grade based on where he or she sits.”

• Introduce yourself to your professor and go to office hours. Ask for advice on how to improve your work. “These people will be your references, advocates, and possibly even friends later in life; you want them to remember your name when the semester is over.”

• Affiliate – join something the first week and try out any and all groups that seem interesting until you find your niche.

• Study abroad – because language classes are expensive and hard to schedule in the real world.

• Tap into the resources available to you – whether it career advice, funding for internships, opportunities to work with professors on research or mental health counseling.

The entire list is worth reading at

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The concept of time: Available in both English and Spanish, the new(ish) app KazuTime aims to increase the focus and concentration needed for optimum learning in children ages 3 to 8. By showing time elapsing through visual, auditory, tactile and cognitive cues, children are better able to understand and come to terms with the concept of time.

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Student loan wizard: As parents face huge college bills and try to determine how much is too much to borrow, there is a new site that aims to take the guesswork out of this difficult question. The interactive calculator can determine how much you can afford to borrow in student loan funds based on your future expected earnings and the salary you will need in order to afford your student loan payments.

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Low cost textbooks: The textbook comparison site, TextSurf, can help you find best deal on textbooks. You enter the ISBN number or title of a book and compare prices. The site also provides students with the best sites to sell their books back as well.

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Study abroad app: A new app – called Zipskee – enables university students to safely connect with other travelers or locals when studying abroad. The thought is that the app can help with recommendations on where to eat or what to do on a weekend, in addition to building friendships.

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Rate your teachers:  Have you looked up your students’ teachers on It’s not for the faint of heart, as students can be very critical. On the site, students can publish ratings and comments regarding their teachers. This site could be very helpful for students before scheduling classes to see if a particular teacher will meet their individual needs.

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No liquor at Stanford: You won’t find hard alcohol at Stanford University parties anymore. The university has banned liquors that exceed 40 proof from undergraduate parties, while also prohibiting undergraduate students from having large hard-alcohol containers in student residences. Students who are of legal age can still drink beer and wine. The new policy is a “harm reduction strategy.”

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Staying organized: if your high school or college student struggles with organization skills, there are a handful of great apps to try out. MyStudyLife helps with planning schedules, assignments, exams and essay revisions, and is a great way keep your school work organized in college. myHomework helps you to keep track of homework assignments that are due for each class. You can easily keep track of what’s been completed and what’s late (or about to be). The complete list is at

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Worst case scenarios: Schools in Alaska are beginning an initiative to provide teachers and students, from kindergarten to 12th grade, tips on how to evade a school shooter. The Anchorage School District will use the ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) as already used by 3,700 districts across the U.S.

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Free audio books and movies: I may have already plugged this but I am a huge fan of the our local library’s new service, Hoopla, which lets library cardholders stream movies, television shows, music albums, eBooks, audio books and comics. The service can be accessed through the library website, through or the hoopla digital mobile app for mobile devices. There are thousands of titles to choose from and are available to borrow 24/7.

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Admissions info: If your family is deep in the weeds of building a college list and visiting campuses, there are a few great college admission officer blogs that provide helpful inside information. Even if the colleges on the list aren’t on your teen’s list, the blogs provide useful advice.

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Making money: While getting a degree isn’t all about making money, it is hard to resist peeking at the list of which colleges produce the most millionaires. The most recent ranking lists these as 1-10: Harvard, U. Pennsylvania, Stanford, Oxford, Berkeley, University of Texas/Austin, Cornell, Princeton, Yale and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Family friendly TV: The folks at Common Sense Media have some recommendations for the fall TV season. On their list: “The Kicks” on Amazon (about soccer); “Speechless” on ABC (features a disabled teen); “Pitch” on Fox (female major leaguer), “Timeless” on NBC (historical drama); “Splash and Bubbles” on PBS Kids (from Jim Henson Company); “Anne of Green Gables” on PBS (a strong remake); “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix (strong female leads and outstanding writing).

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Lazy pot smokers: A new study has found that the main ingredient in marijuana causes rats, at least, to be less willing to try a cognitively demanding task. The new research from the University of British Columbia supports the belief that pot smoking causes laziness. The rats ability to do a specific task wasn’t marred, they just didn’t want to it.

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Old and happy: It’s recently been found that adults get happier as they age. New research at UC San Diego: “Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade,” said study author Dilip Jeste, MD. The findings are in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Jeste found high levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety among adults in their 20s and 30s participating in the study. Older participants were far happier and more content.

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Discounted textbooks: High school and college textbooks continue to be shockingly expensive. A new site called offers a low(er) cost e-textbook alternative. A recent search of some common 101 textbooks yielded options at a fraction of the cost.

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Good news on financial aid: This fall, students will be able to file for financial aid for college using prior-prior year tax data. And for the first time, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid will be made available starting Saturday, Oct. 1 – a full three months earlier than previously allowed. The changes will give students an earlier and more accurate idea of anticipated financial aid and college costs, and have the potential to affect college deadlines for applications and acceptances. Under the streamlined procedure, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of additional students will apply for aid, in turn boosting the number of first-generation, low-income students who pursue a college degree.

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Sit with me: A new app aims to make sure that kids no longer dread the lunch room. “Sit With Us” helps students who have difficulty finding a place to sit locate a welcoming group in the lunchroom. Students can designate themselves as “ambassadors” on the app, thereby inviting others to join them. Ambassadors can then post “open lunch” events, inviting kids who don’t know where to sit to join the ambassadors’ table. A 16-year-old Southern California student, Natalie Hampton, designed Sit With Us, after she ate alone her entire seventh grade year, she told LA Daily News. The app is free at

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Teen stories: Teenagers in Times is a monthly round-up of the news and feature stories about young people that have recently appeared across sections of The free access site includes inspiring articles as well as a lesson plan and an activity sheet. The site’s “high-interest” nonfiction can be very appealing to teens who don’t love reading.

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Khan Academy: Not only is the free online tutorial site Khan Academy great for college test prep and elementary and middle school homework help, the site also now has special tutoring sessions for AP classes, including biology, chemistry and art. The site recently added more than 40,000 new interactive practice questions so students of all ages can study anytime, anywhere. If your student is struggling, try first.

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Popular colleges: The 10 colleges that have seen the largest increase in applications in recent years are: 10. University of Washington (Seattle), 9. University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), 8. San Diego State, 7. Tuskegee University (Alabama), 6. UC Irvine, 5. UC San Diego, 4. Texas State University, 3. UC Berkeley, 2. UCLA and 1. New York University. Lots of California colleges on the list.

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Best college towns: Web research company Niche recently ranked the top 30 college towns in America based on rent, nightlife, cost of living, etc. From one to 10, they are Cambridge, Ann Arbor, Ames (Iowa), Boulder, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Princeton, Lawrence (Kansas) and Decorah (Iowa again?). The other California town to make the top 30 was Santa Barbara at No. 19.

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Revised concussion advice: UCLA Health says too many parents are following outdated advice when caring for a child with a concussion, and it could be making their child’s symptoms worse. More than 3 out of 4 parents (77 percent) said they would likely wake their child up throughout the night to check on them, but doctors now think that does more harm than good after the first night. In fact, doctors encourage sleep very early on because that will help the brain heal faster. Basically experts suggest getting back to a normal schedule as soon as possible. Most concussion symptoms subside within two to three weeks according to experts.

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Early morning exercise: According to a recent study, students may do better in class, learn more and better sustain focus after a morning gym class. On days when students didn’t exercise, they were more likely to interrupt, make noise and stare into space. This might suggest a long, brisk walk to school would be a good thing. The study was published in Preventive Medicine Reports.

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If you find these items useful or interesting, please forward this blog or email to your friends, who can subscribe to receive an email from me once a month. I love hearing tips and comments from readers.

Education Roundup XL: team sports, personality tests, teen skills and much more

Quick summaries and links for dozens of education tips, resources, research items and more (I scour the Internet so you don’t have to!)

Are self-made men and women less generous?: “A growing body of evidence suggests that seeing ourselves as self-made – rather than as talented, hardworking, and lucky – leads us to be less generous and public-spirited. It may even make the lucky less likely to support the conditions (such as high-quality public infrastructure and education) that made their own success possible.” – wrote Robert Frank in The Atlantic . Think of the friends you know. Is this the case? The article goes on to point out that when people are prompted to reflect on their good fortune, they are then more willing to contribute to the common good.


Team sports: The Grown & Flown parenting newsletter outlines a powerful argument for why kids should do team sports.

1. Teenagers get into trouble and extra time on their hands doesn’t help.

2. Research shows team athletes are happier than kids who do not participate.

3. Being part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal is always good, always.

4. Being part of a team gives kids a sense of belonging.

5. Even teens who seemed determined to shut their parents out, tolerate mom and dad attending their games.

6. Sports is one of the best places for kids to learn the importance of practice and determination.

7. Getting good at something, as good as your kid can be, through perseverance and repetitive hard work is one of life’s lessons.

8. Athletics encourages strong, healthy bodies. Alcohol and drugs impede performance and every athlete knows that.

9. Sports teams are the stuff of lifetime memories. (


Personality test: An interesting free new personality test is worth taking. The DISC test contains 28 groups of four statements and takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Find out how factors like dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance predict your behavior toward others and the everyday things you do. They also offer interesting free career tests and an IQ test.


Making college worth the money: A massive Gallup poll has found six elements of emotional support and experiential learning in college that are correlated with long-term career and life success. The poll measured the degree to which graduates were engaged in their work and thriving in their purpose, social, financial, community, and physical well-being. They found that graduates who strongly agree they had the following six experiences in college perform markedly better on every measure of long-term success than their peers.

• a professor who made them excited about learning

• professors who cared about them as a person

• a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams

• worked on a long-term project

• had a job or internship where they applied what they were learning

• were extremely involved in extra-curricular activities. (


Learning science by singing: That periodic table song that middle schoolers learn in science may be an excellent idea. A new study indicates that students can indeed learn serious science content via music videos. There are channels on YouTube devoted to science topics –


Skills your teen needs: An article that has caught fire on social media outlines the eight skills that former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims thinks every 18-year-old needs to be able to do without calling a parent for help.

1. Be able to talk to strangers

2. Be able to find his or her way around

3. Be able to manage his assignments, workload and deadlines

4. Be able to contribute to the running of a household

5. Be able to handle interpersonal problems

6. Be able to cope with ups and downs

7. Be able to earn and manage money

8. Be able to take risks

“If they’re calling you to ask how, they do not have the lifeskill,” she says. Read the complete article at



NationStates: I am getting addicted to the new online nation simulation game NationStates. You create your own country, fashioned after your own ideals, and care for its people. Either that or you deliberately torture them. It’s up to you. You shape your nation by answering issues, which pop up several times a day. Teens and adults with opinions will love this game and it is a great jumping off point for discussion.


What students want to hear: A writer for Edutopia surveyed students and teachers to find out, “What does your teacher say to you that feels encouraging or motivating?”

1. “I believe in you. You are going to be successful someday. You’re going to make it! If you apply what I see in you, there is nothing holding you back!”

2. “You have a purpose. I see it and feel it! Let’s have fun and discover what it is. A purpose might change, and that’s a good thing, but it’s there!”

3. Questions. “Ask me how I am. Ask me what I need. Ask me my thoughts and feelings. Ask me what my opinions are, even if my response is ridiculous because I don’t want to stand out in front of my peers! Ask me in private – always in private.”


Born to run: Researchers believe that moms who exercise while pregnant may give birth to children to who like to exercise as adults. A new Baylor University experiment with mice found few differences in exercise behavior between the young mice but as the animals entered adolescence, those born to running moms (even those raised apart from their moms) started to become enthusiastic runners themselves.



Young adult gift:  “The ABCs of Adulthood,” from New York Times bestselling author Deborah Copaken offers 26 genuine and funny bits of advice that are both surprising and sensible. The author says, “Kids are in charge of their lives but have no instruction manual. When my son was a senior, there was no way I could download all the information to him before he left for college.” $15.


Top baby names: For the second year in a row, Emma and Noah are the most popular baby names in the U.S. The top five names for girls and boys in 2015 remained unchanged. Noah was followed by Liam, Mason, Jacob and William. Emma was followed by Olivia, Sophia, Ava and Isabella. Trends now favor names that are short and smooth – Mia, Liam and Noah – and that have a lot of vowels. Two girls’ names that leapt up the ranks – Alaia and Adaline. For boys, the fastest-rising name is Riaan. The first year these top names were tracked, 1880, the top baby names that year were John and Mary.




Life hacks: compiled some of the best “Life hacks” for college students and a few are useful for all students (and maybe parents as well). Here are a few:

1. Remember your schedule by setting the home screen on your phone as a picture of your schedule.

2. Avoid oversleeping by placing your phone in a glass cup to amplify the sound.

3. Organize the cords on your desk with any empty tube, a toilet paper roll works perfectly.

4. Use a coffee machine to cook pasta or hotdogs. Ewww, clean it after.

5. Use soda can tabs to hang a hanger from a hanger, doubling closet rod space.

6. Keep a dorm room smelling good by taping a dryer sheet in front of the fan or AC unit.

7. Chill wine or beer fastest by wrapping in a wet paper towel and placing in freezer for 15 minutes.

8. Create an extra trash can by flipping over a bar stool and put a trash bag in it.

9. Use the inside of a washing machines as a cooler for ice and drinks.

10. Download the SelfControl app to block you from distracting websites for a certain amount of time.
11. Chew a memorable flavor of gum while you’re studying and then chew that same flavor as you’re about to take the exam to trigger your memory.

12. Set your laptop on top of an egg carton to keep it from overheating.


Best unis in the world: Times’ Higher Education World University rankings are out and three of the top ten colleges are in California. From 1 to 10: Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, UC Berkeley, Princeton University, Yale University, Columbia University and California Institute of Technology.


Technology rules: In a bit of a flip, Psychology Today asked kids what technology rules their parents should follow. Approximately 90 percent of their answers fell into a handful of major themes.

• Be present

• Don’t overshare

• Give me some space when I use my devices.

• Don’t text and drive


The T-shaped applicant: When I was applying to college, the well-rounded student was much desired. Today, colleges seem to favor the “T-Shaped” student. According to the Washington Post’s Jeffrey Selingo, “The vertical bar of the T represents a person’s deep understanding of one subject matter – history, for example… The horizontal stroke of T-shaped people is the ability to work across a variety of complex subject areas with ease and confidence.” So why aren’t more students T-shaped? “Here’s the problem: Colleges don’t offer classes, majors or activities designed specifically for building the T-shaped individual, so undergraduates need to direct themselves – to act independently, be resourceful and cobble together experiences inside and outside the classroom to better prepare for the evolving workplace they will face. They need to recognize that in high school, their learning was directed for them by parents, teachers and counselors, and they need to change into students who explore and discover what’s next for them.”


G-Dog: I gather that the new generation of grandparents is having a lot of trouble choosing what they want their grandchildren to call them. I’m less than 10 years away and can’t quite imagine being called grandma. A recent list in the Wall Street Journal of popular choices include Glamma, Bubbles, Birdie, CeCe, Mom-Mom; and G-Dog, Papster, Biggie D, Babar and Skipper.


The Ivy League of internships: Campus grotto has assembled what they describe as the Ivy League of internships – the best and most sought after among the thousands of companies that recruit on campuses each year (and the article details exactly why). And they are: (1 Google, (2) Microsoft, (3) Southwest Airlines, (4) Apple, (5) Genentech, (6) Edward Jones, (7) Nike, (8) Pixar, (9) Oracle and (10) ExxonMobil.


Failure to launch: More young adults ages 18 to 34 now live with their parents than with partners for the first time since 1880, Pew Center Research has found. Around 32 percent of young adults live at home now, 31 percent with spouses/partners, and the rest live alone, with roommates or as single parents. In 1960, the percentage of young adults living with a partner/spouse in their own home was as high as 62 percent. A major factor is the dramatic drop in young adults who are choosing to settle down romantically before age 35.



Good teens: Ready for some good news? Today’s teens smoke less, drink less, and have sex less than any teens on record. The federal government released a huge detailed report finding that teens today also use fewer drugs, fight less and watch television less than previous generations. The percentage of teens who say they’re sexually active is at an all-time low. There is a decline in condom use – but an increase in the usage of long-acting contraceptives, like IUDs and implants. Today’s teens have the lowest rates of ecstasy, heroin, meth and hallucinogenic drug use on record. The only bad news? Almost 45 percent of teens said yes, they’d tried vaping and 41 percent of teens say they use a computer for three or more hours per day, outside of use for school.


Expensive colleges that are worth it: Forbes magazine recently analyzed a length list of colleges to determine which expensive schools are actually “worth every penny.” Of the top 25, three are in California – Cal Tech is No. 2, Stanford is No. 3 and Harvey Mudd is No. 4.



Fast food and hormone levels: People who eat fast food have higher levels of phthalates in their system. The plastic chemical has been linked to hormone disruption and lower sperm count. According to the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, people who ate 35 percent or more of their total calories from fast food had around 24 percent higher levels of DEHP and 40 percent higher levels of DiNP (both are worrisome phthalate byproducts). Read the Time article at


Older mothers: While there are some risks to having children later in life, a huge new study out of Norway has found kids born to older mothers are taller, less likely to quit school, more likely to attend university, and tend to perform better on standardized tests than siblings who were born before them.


If you’d like to wait a little longer: Women in several states can now obtain birth control pills and some other forms of contraception without a prescription from a doctor (with the hope of reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies). There is no age minimum. California is the third state to enact such a law. That said, when I asked about it at my local CVS this week, the pharmacist didn’t know what I was talking about, so call first.


ER docs tell all: What products are so hazardous that most ER docs ban them from their own homes? Trampolines, button batteries, swimming pools, power washers and extension ladders, guns, Ramen noodle soups, old pain pills and high chairs that pull up to the table. You can read the specifics on why (with some grisly anecdotes) at


Lovely new children’s book: I absolutely love the new children’s book, “What Do Grownups Do All Day.” If you are heading to a baby shower or need a gift for a child 0 to 10, this book by Virginie Morgand, which simply explains more than 100 jobs and careers, is another winner.


Moms of middle schoolers: A new study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that mothers with middle schoolers scored highest on measures of stress, loneliness and emptiness, and they also reported the lowest levels of satisfaction and fulfillment. Not only are middle schoolers tough to deal with, but study authors also found that “the developmental trends we documented partly arise from challenges that mothers themselves experience, as they are transitioning to midlife.” Basically your midlife crisis might coincide with your child’s puberty. This problem of middle-school mom unhappiness was most pronounced among highly educated and affluent mothers.


Stoned drivers: Fatal accidents involving stoned drivers have increased dramatically in Washington State since pot was legalized, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana more than doubled in 2014. Pot was involved in 17 percent of fatal crashes in Washington in 2014, up from 8 percent in 2013 – the year before recreational marijuana was allowed there.


Birth order research: I read two interesting things recently about birth order. A new study suggests that first-born children get an IQ boost from having to teach their younger siblings. As a youngest child, my favorite new research though has found that youngest children are the funniest. The eldest becomes overwhelmed with responsibility, leading to a more serious, non-comedic tone. What do you think? Obvious or nonsense? and


Fewer multiples: According to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of triplet and “higher-order” births plunged 41 percent from 1998 to 2014. Non-Hispanic white women had the largest drop, about 46 percent. The decline was nationwide.


“You will almost certainly face deep adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity: the sharp sting of prejudice when it happens. There’s loss of love. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself.

The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. Today I want to talk about what happens next. About the things you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you. The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days – the times that challenge you to your very core – that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”

– Sheryl Samberg’s commencement speech at UC Berkeley (

I love to hear tips, comments and suggestions from readers — and to answer questions. Leave comment below. And please forward this site on to anyone who might be interested.

Education Roundup XXXIX: better games, math enrichment, the importance of silence and more


Quick summaries and links for dozens of education tips, resources, research items and more (I scour the Internet so you don’t have to!)

Reporter and researcher Oliver Roeder has found that some of the most beloved childhood games – Candy Land, Shoots and Ladders, Monopoly – aren’t very good for the young brain. He says that the best games require meaningful action and decision-making rather than merely blind luck. He recommends a diverse array of lesser-known board and card games including The Little Orchard and Richard Scarry’s Busytown: Eye Found It! for under age 7 and Galaxy Tracker, Puzzle Strike Shadows, BattleCon: Devastation of Indines and Wings of Glory for older kids, all of which are available on


It can be really difficult to amuse a bored kid when they need to wait around with you for any reason. Here are a handful of great ideas (with more available at

– Guess what’s in my purse!

– What’s missing? (Place 10 items from your purse on a table. Your child tries to remember what is missing as you remove a few at a time).

– Two truths and a lie.

– How many can you name? (Name a category and your child has 10 seconds to name as many things as possible).

– Penny drop. (Take out a penny and try and drop it so it lands on your shoe without falling off).
– Scrap of paper drop. (Drop a small scrap of paper. Kids try to catch it with two fingers before it hits the ground).

– Would you rather? Ask each other questions which begin “would you rather”?


For teens who love math puzzles, a mathematics professor at Carnegie Mellon University has founded a website called Expii that is sure to keep them engaged. Each week, five free math teasers (that get progressively tougher) are posted on Rather than emphasizing rote memorization and drill-and-kill exercises, these problems focus on logic and critical thinking. Here is one for you:

You live in the south-west corner of Any City, where the streets are laid out as square city blocks (the avenues are the same length as the streets). It is a warm February day and you decide to go out for a walk. At each intersection, you randomly go north or east. If you walk for 20 blocks, how many times more likely are you to be 10 blocks north and 10 blocks east from your starting place, compared to 20 blocks directly north?

A new free app called “Help Me” helps all ages, from 7 to 97, in emergency situations. I just set it up in seconds on my own phone. A big “Help Me” button sounds a warning and sends off a text to two numbers of your choosing with your last known GPS coordinates. The app is offered by the Daniel Morcombe Foundation in honor of the young man by that name who was abducted in Australia in 2003.

Is silence a key to learning?: When mice are exposed to a few hours of silence each day they develop new cells in the hippocampus (the region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning), according to new studies. Scientists also found that while noise may cause stress and tension, silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study also found that two minutes of silence can be more relaxing than listening to relaxing music.


A new study from Columbia University says moderate video game use is associated with better academic functioning and sociability in grade-schoolers. The study found that kids ages 6 to 11 who played video games five or more hours a week did better in school and suffered no emotional or mental health problems.


For students who have a valid college ID or college email address, there are some great opportunities for big savings. The list includes Top Shop, J. Crew, Apple, Microsoft, Amtrak, Spotify and dozens more. Students should always ask retailers, museums and fast food places if they offer discounts, because sometimes those are not posted.

Banking giant Citigroup has announced new programs aimed at attracting young workers by offering them (largely paid) sabbaticals to pursue charitable work. Nine incoming analysts this year are participating in Citigroup’s new service year, in which employees spend a year working with one of 40 organizations. The analysts will earn 60 percent of their normal banking salary and, once the service year is finished, they’ll start work at Citigroup. The bank is also offering employees the opportunity to participate in a four-week program in Kenya on microfinance initiatives. The Wall Street Journal expects other companies to follow.


“The Collapse of Parenting” is a controversial New York Times bestseller that suggests there has been a dramatic transfer of authority from grown-ups to kids over the past decade. Author Leonard Sax argues that rising levels of obesity, depression and anxiety among young people – as well as the explosion in prescribing psychiatric medications to kids – can be traced to parents letting their kids call the shots. He also believes that there has been a troubling breakdown of the traditional alliance between the school and the home. Sax believes that the collapse of parenting is aided and abetted by the culture of disrespect and by American pop culture and he believes that these forces are undermining academic engagement and school achievement.

A registered dietician suggests a quick, easy and free way to test if you or your child really has an intolerance to gluten. She calls it the Spelt Litmus Test. Spelt is an ancient grain and it is a perfect test food to help clarify whether someone’s adverse reactions to wheat-containing foods likely result from a gluten intolerance or a fructan intolerance. People who are truly gluten intolerant should react badly to spelt. People who are not gluten intolerant should tolerate spelt just fine. She suggest buying a primarily spelt food like spelt pretzels, spelt matzoh or spelt “rice cakes” and to eat a few ounces at breakfast or lunch. If there’s no reaction, it’s likely that a person doesn’t have a gluten intolerance at all, but rather just a digestive system that is sensitive to effects of a particularly poorly digested carbohydrate. A full explanation is at


The “dumb blonde” stereotype is wrong according to a large new national study. White women whose natural hair color is blonde had an average IQ score within 3 points of brunettes and those with red or black hair. They found blonde-haired white women had an average IQ of 103.2, compared to 102.7 for those with brown hair, 101.2 for those with red hair and 100.5 for those with black hair.


While 86 percent of colleges enroll students with learning disabilities, only 24 percent of them say they can actually help those students “to a major extent.” Ten colleges are known to do a particularly good job with these students: Marist College, University of Connecticut, Lynn University, Northeastern, American University, University of Iowa, Curry College, University of Arizona-Tucson, Beacon College and Landmark College.


College admission officers and potential employers are scrutinizing what high school students say and do on social media more than ever before. A new survey from an online reputation-management company, found that more than two-thirds of admissions officers admitted to looking up applicants on Facebook. In 2012, only 25 percent of admissions officers at top colleges said they used Facebook and Google to vet applicants.


It can be painful to fight with a child over homework. There is a good video online explaining why your child shouldn’t come home and sit at a desk to do homework. They say, “Ditch the desk.” It is too similar to how children spend their (long) day. Let them work someplace else like the kitchen table or the floor on a mat.


I was interested to learn the 17 verbal habits of likable people. The complete list is at and it includes:

– They are polite when they can be.

-They acknowledge small favors.

– They offer meaningful praise.

– They express sincere empathy.

– They offer to help.

– They share useful information.

– They express their faith in others.

– They make introductions.


More to worry about: I haven’t given much thought to the ingredients in the products that our family puts on their faces but I guess it is now well known that certain types of makeup, shampoos and lotions can contain high levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals. A new study out of Berkeley found that even a short break can lead to a significant drop in these levels. The bad ingredients to look out for are phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone. They have been shown in animal studies to interfere with the body’s endocrine system.


ELSA is a cool new mobile app for language learners to improve pronunciation and reduce accent, utilizing in-house speech recognition, automated feedback and deep learning technology.


For anyone who has ever considered going back to school to get their MBA (master’s in business administration), the cost was likely a deterrent. The two-year degree program ranges from $25,000 at public colleges to over $100,000 at places like Harvard and Stanford. University of the People has just launched the world’s first tuition-free and online, but full accredited, MBA degree.

There is a move on to teach philosophy in grades K-12. Teachers in England are big believers in the value of the course of study and, according to a new two-year study conducted among 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England, philosophy classes lead to better literacy and math skills. I love the idea of these kinds of courses – ones that get kids thinking about life’s big questions. Because of philosophy’s cross-curriculur appeal, more teachers are thinking about how to weave its content and concepts into class conversations.

Female students are more likely to pursue STEM fields in college if their high school had female math and science teachers, according to a recent study. The authors found “a positive and significant association between the proportion of female math and science teachers in high school and young women’s probability of declaring a STEM major.” There was no link between teachers’ gender and the probability of picking a STEM major for young men.


Around 70 percent of children in the U.S. are dropping out of organized sports before the age of 13, according to new research from Michigan State. And girls drop out of sports at six times the rate of boys. This trend is particularly concerning because there is a strong correlation between girls’ success in sports and success in the business world (and female athletes are more likely to graduate from college).

Peanut and tree nut allergies nearly tripled between 1997 and 2008. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found giving peanuts to kids early on can protect them from developing a peanut allergy. In the study and a new follow up, high-risk babies under 12 months who were fed a peanut mush were about 80 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy by age 5, and thereafter.


A UCLA neuroscience researcher suggests four rituals that can make you happier: 

1. Ask yourself “what am I grateful for?”

2. Label your negative feelings. Give them a name – angry, anxious, sad?

3. Make a decision. The act of deciding reduces worry and anxiety

4. Touch people, hug loved ones, as much as possible.

5. And send thank you emails to start an upward spiral of happiness.


A new portable food allergy detector can detect food allergens in just two minutes. You put a small amount of food or drink in a test capsule and the devices provides a smiley face or a frowny face to tell you whether it is safe to eat. Right now, it can only detect gluten but milk and peanut allergy tests are coming out in 2017. ($199 to $249)


We’re all going blind: I have a daughter who is exceptionally farsighted (+8) so I was surprised to learn that scientists anticipate that half of the world’s population will be nearsighted by 2050. The number of people with vision loss is expected to increase seven-fold because of environmental factors like lifestyle changes resulting from a combination of decreased time outdoors and increased “near work” activities, according to researchers. The Journal of Ophthalmology suggests reduced time spent on activities like electronic devices that require constant focusing up close.

I have been binge watching the TV series “Child Genius” on Lifetime. To be honest, it is somewhat like “Dance Moms” but I guess for the well-educated and driven. The competition segments are fascinating. The competition was created in cooperation with American Mensa, and it takes place over 10 weeks and tests a dozen child prodigies on their knowledge in math, spelling, geography and current events. The show is hosted by former NASA astronaut, Leland Melvin.

Early childhood educator Erika Christakis from Yale has written a new book that is an impassioned plea for educators and parents to put down the worksheets and flashcards, and to let children play. “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups” is getting rave reviews and the Washington Post said, this is “a bracing and convincing case that early education has reached a point of crisis . . . her book is a rare thing: a serious work of research that also happens to be well-written and personal . . . engaging and important.”

There is a new free mindfulness computer program and app for kids and adults called Headspace. The app purports to “make meditation easy, in 10 minutes a day” and boasts 5 million users already. You can listen to Headspace on the go and download sessions to use offline. On your computer, you can play any session, any time. You choose your session length and can learn how to apply mindfulness to everyday activities.

In an impactful Ted talk, Ali Carr-Chellman cites some distressing statistics about boys in school today.

– for every 100 girls who are expelled from school, there are 335 boys

– for every 100 girls in special education, there are 217 boys.

– for every 100 girls with a learning disability, there are 276 boys.

– for every 100 girls with an emotional disturbance diagnosed, there are 324 boys

– for every 100 girls with ADHD, there are 400 boys. (source: Hundred Girls project)

And… all of these numbers are significantly higher if you happen to be black, if you happen to be poor, if you happen to exist in an overcrowded school. She also notes that as universities approach a 70 percent female population, administrators are nervous, because girls don’t want to go to schools that don’t have boys. She points the finger at that fact that 93 percent of elementary school teachers are female; most schools have zero tolerance policies; and that “kindergarten is the old second grade.” She says that students are now expected to write legibly in kindergarten and to read fluently in first grade, and if they can’t, they are diagnosed as having a developmental delay.

A survey by the “Today” show proved what I, a mother of three, have always suspected to be true – parents of three children are more stressed out than parents of fewer, or more, children. As “Today” put it, “Call it the Duggar effect: Once you get a certain critical mass of kids, life seems to get a bit easier.” and Insight Express also found:

– 46 percent of moms say their husbands/partners cause them more stress than their kids do.

– 72 percent of moms stress about how stressed they are.

– Biggest cause of stress: 60 percent say it’s lack of time to do everything that needs to get done.

– 60 percent of moms say raising girls is more stressful than raising boys.

– Nine out of 10 moms stress about staying fit and attractive.

Newsela, the free app that lets students of all reading levels access appropriate news content, is getting a lot of press. Readers can see new articles every day from such top news sources as the Associated Press, Washington Post and Scientific American, and adjust the reading level of their articles with a simple two-finger swipe. The company is focused on “unlocking literacy” for all students, and is currently used in 70 percent of schools. More and more schools are appreciating Newsela’s availability of trusted news sources in five different reading levels for students in grades 2 to 12. See more at

Can you accurately predict a child’s adult height? Doctors typically predict the adult height of a boy by combining the height of both parents, adding five inches and dividing by two. For girls, they combine the height of the parents, subtract five inches and divide by two. Is this true in your family? I was also interested to learn from the New York Times recently that adult height tends to decrease in younger siblings, and younger children may grow more slowly. These held true in our family.

Math competitions and math camps are growing in popularity and Atlantic reporter Peg Tyre says that America’s most advanced math students are more advanced than ever before. She says that their parents, many of whom make their living in stem fields, typically supplement or replace what they see as the shallow and often confused math instruction offered by public schools (particularly in the younger grades). The article includes some intriguing enrichment resources.

Back to math … Amazon has launched “With Math I Can,” an initiative intended to push the “growth mindset” in math classes. The site includes a free online collection of resources defining what a growth mindset is. If your student swears that he or she is not good at math, the site is worth a look.

Students who experience test anxiety can be helped in the following ways:

1. Using music to relax and to help a student to feel strong and energized (think “We Will Rock You”).

2. Identifying with a celebrity can help with self-esteem. (“Justin Timberlake has ADHD and it didn’t stop him from achieving his dreams.”)

3. Using powerful posture and sitting up straight to feel more confident. Teach your child about body language.
4. Some kids can feel better with a “lucky charm.”

5. Cute images (think baby animals) can make a child calmer and more productive.

6. Taking a moment to list or remember past achievements can give children the confidence they need to move forward in tough circumstances.

7. The simple act of smiling can slow a child’s heart rate when they are anxious.


Because Los Angeles is one of the largest school districts in the country, the decisions made there are closely followed elsewhere. Single-sex schools, expanded choices of foreign language programs and a greater emphasis on science and math education are among the initiatives that the new superintendent there is expected to pursue.

If you have a sophomore or junior who just got PSAT scores back (Preliminary SAT) you might have been surprised by the following changes:

1. The scale has changed. Perfect on a section is no longer 800. It’s 760.

2. The scores for National Merit award consideration will now equal the math score plus 2x reading.

3. You’ll see two percentiles. The Nationally Representative Sample percentile shows how a score compares to the scores of all U.S. students in a particular grade, including those who don’t typically take the test. The User Percentile — Nation shows how your score compared to others who took the test.

That said, the main value of the PSAT is feedback so students should look at their test booklets to see what they got right and wrong and worry less about their score.

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Education Roundup XXXVIII: Meaningful Free and Low Cost Summer Experiences

Now is the time for teens to be looking into summer programs. The best ones (the ones that don’t cost an arm and a leg or are competitive to get into) have deadlines right now. Below 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).

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 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.

Girls on Ice is an amazing free 12-day program for high school girls on the glaciers of Alaska. The deadline is early.

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 in JuneCampers (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.  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 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.  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.  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 out all aspects of the Naval Academy.  You just need to get yourself to Maryland. My son did the Summer Seminar last year and it was incredible.


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.

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…

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:


Some years, 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.

You can download a list of a ton more general ideas here.

University 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 —

Roundup XXXVII: signs that your child is smarter than average, things I don’t miss about parenting little kids, great new apps and podcast, and more…

Women who graduate from a four-year college are much less likely to get divorced than women with less education, according to a study by Pew Research. The study found that 78 percent of college-educated women who married for the first time between 2006 and 2010 could expect their marriages to last at least 20 years. For women who have a high school education or less, the share is only 40 percent. The data was culled from the National Center for Health Statistics.


Currently, one in 10 kids in the U.S. has an ADHD diagnosis. Time magazine recently ran an article about the pressure that students who are on ADD medicine face to share and sell their pills. It also says the most fraught year is freshman year of high school when students are sometimes bullied for access to their pills. If your child is medicated for ADD or ADHD, it might be important to have a conversation about what to do if they are approached in a joking or serious manner about letting other students try their pills.


Self-learning is probably the best way to get and stay smart as a grown up. The website Despreneur has compiled 25 web sites to make you smarter. My favorites on the list that are free are: Coursera (online classes from 120 top universities), Duolingo (foreign language instruction), Luminosity (try these brain games with your whole family over school break), Spreeder (online speed reading instruction), Quora (a Q&A website run by a community of experts, HighBrow (bite-sized courses emailed to you daily) and Dorm Room Tycoon (interviews with thought leaders in business, design and technology).


There is an adorable online post on “The 12 Things I Don’t Miss About Parenting Little Kids” that is making the rounds at

1. Packing up four people for a trip.

2. Finding a babysitter

3. The stomach bug.

4. Time out! Or reward and bribes.

5. Packing lunches

6. Tiny pets in the house

7. Temper tantrums

8. Lice

9. Watching good shows alone

10. Applying and reapplying sunscreen

11. Pretending everything’s ok all the time

12. The feeling of constant peril. Learn the specifics at


Every 16-year-old in Sweden is going to be given a copy of the book, “We Should All be Feminists” as part of a national campaign to “open up conversations about gender.” The campaign is sponsored by the Swedish Women’s Lobby and publisher Albert Bonniers. The book was written by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie.


There is a new petition going around asking for a change in how computer science is categorized so that it counts as a math or science in California. Right now, AP computer science doesn’t count toward California graduation or college admission requirements, it is just an elective. This discourages kids from taking it and schools from offering it (though SVHS does!). Most of the other states in the country have made this change. You can sign the petition or learn more at


Has your student ever needed/wanted to print a poster but been stymied only being able to print on 8.5”x11” sheets? The Block Posters app lets you print posters, segment by segment, on normal-sized paper. You upload an image, print on normal paper and assemble the pieces to form a poster as large as you want.


I love a good book that causes me to change my mind about something. Each year, Fortune magazine’s staff asks CEOs for the books that “really made them think.”

• The CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooy, chose, “The Road to Character” by David Brooks.

• The CEO of Zillow, Spencer Rascoff, chose “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck.

• The CEO of SoulCycle, Melanie Whelan, chose “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Anchor.

• The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, chose “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander.

There are a dozen more suggestions at


The Wall Street Journal recently recommended three very cool books for the “geek” in your house. “Plotted: A Literary Atlas” contains highly detailed maps of the settings of key literary works. “The Maker’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” teaches you how to MacGyver your way around a zombie invasion. Finally, “The Puzzle Universe” contains brain teasers, puzzles and games from the near and distant past.

★★★ combed through decades of research to compile 13 ways to know if someone is smarter than average. Some you will likely agree with, some may make you mad. You really need to read the entire story to learn the (pretty interesting) explanations behind these (science and research-backed) assertions that there is a correlation between intelligence and these traits.

1. You took music lessons.

2. You are the oldest child.

3. You’re thin.

4. You have a cat.

5. You were breastfed.

6. You’ve used recreational drugs.

7. You are left-handed.

8. You’re tall.

9. You drink alcohol regularly.

10. You’re politically liberal.

11. You learned to read early.

12. You worry a lot.

13. You’re funny.


The Hamlin School, an all-girls K-8 school in San Francisco, has added a “No-Rescue” policy to its parent-teacher handbook. What do you think? Do you bring your children forgotten lunches, homework, calculators?

“In an effort to promote independence and responsibility, the school encourages a policy based on the premise that choices have natural consequences – both positive and negative. Students often learn best when they learn from their mistakes. If a student forgets an item at home or fails to complete an assignment, parents are asked not to bring items to school. If a parent does bring an item for the student, it will be the teacher’s discretion whether or not to allow the student to have it. Allowing girls to work out solutions to their challenges on their own or with a caring adult at school builds confidence and resilience.” – Hamlin handbook.


I love my kids but if they are living in my house well into their 20s and 30s I think that I will be really disappointed. The percentage of young adults, age 18 to 34, living with their parents is higher now that it was during the recession according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. It is estimated that 31.5 percent of young adults were living with their parents in March 2015 – up slightly from the previous year and up from 27 percent in 2005. While some people blame the economy, another explanation is that people are marrying and having children later in life.


In the category of ideas that I love – a Silicon Valley school district has built teacher housing on district-owned property. The 70 apartments are managed by a foundation and the housing is offered to teachers at about half of market value. Teachers said that they would have been unable to accept a job in the district without the housing opportunity, and that living with other teachers is a great perk. Teachers also report feeling more connected to their class because they live in the same town as their students. There is a long wait list at the Santa Clara School District apartment complex.


Meanwhile, there is a growing teacher shortage in the U.S., largely because fewer college students are interested in becoming teachers. Recent research found that voters ages 18 to 29 are the most pessimistic about the teaching profession of all age groups. Less than a quarter are “very likely” to encourage a friend or family member to become a K-12 teacher today. Ideas being suggested to attract more teachers include better teacher training, more scholarships, loan forgiveness, higher salaries, professional mentorship and more time for collaborative work.


I’m not ever sure how to get my mind around the campus protests cropping up around the country (at press time students at at least 51 colleges had “demands” concerning campus racism). Some protests seem to be led by thoughtful students with reasonable complaints about how their campus administrations handle racial issues on campus, while others seem to be led by small groups of outspoken students eager to jump on the bandwagon to get attention. Should buildings and colleges be renamed if they honor historical figures who didn’t stand up against slavery? The most common student “demands” are: increased diversity of professors, required diversity training, funded cultural centers, required diversity classes for students, increased diversity of the student body and tracking of race-related offenses.


Thanks to the FERPA privacy act, colleges can’t share any information with parents about students grades or mental health issues in college, despite the fact that in the vast majority of cases, the parents are the ones footing or responsible for the student tuition (to the tune of $100,000 to $250,000). It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If your child gets into serious trouble or stops going to class and drops out, you won’t be informed unless your child tells you. I understand that kids need increased responsibility and privacy in college but it seems like some tweaking of the law should be considered. What do you think?


In a sweet letter to his new daughter, Max, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, pledged to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares – currently worth about $45 billion. Of greatest interest to Zuckerberg in the realm of education is personalized (or differentiated) learning technologies, so it will be interesting to see where his charitable dollars are directed.


Chinese toddlers are being taught how to code at the same time that they are learning early math skills. Preschool coding classes are even now popular. The Chinese are considering coding a crucial third language for their young students, after Mandarin and English. A lot of a focus is on Scratch and Scratch Jr. – the free, introductory computer programming site that seems the easiest way to introduce the concept of programming to children.


Speaking of computer science and coding – it is so baffling to me that in the 1980s, women held 38 percent of computer science jobs and today that number is down to 20 percent. What is it about the college major/career that is less appealing to young women now?


For the first time, more high-school seniors smoke marijuana daily than cigarettes, mainly because of the rapid decline in cigarette smoking among high schoolers over the past five years. Teens these days are actually doing less of almost every drug other than marijuana. The use of tobacco replacements is high, however, with 20 percent of high-school seniors using hookahs and 16 percent using e-cigarettes. Most concerning to researchers is the growing acceptance of pot among teens. Research indicates that pot can disrupt the wiring process of the teenage brain.


Chronas is an app that lets students play around with interactive historical maps. If you click on Rome in 14 AD, you can watch data on societies and nations—major religions, empires, population—fluctuate throughout history thanks to cool data visualizations.

★★★ is a free enrichment website which emails students math and science challenge problems each week that they complete and then compare against their peers around the world. They can see where they match up against others based on country and age and share strategies with others students. The site also hosts competitions involving game theory and writing algorithms.


Girls Who Code has partnered with Pixelberry Studios to create a free “High School Story” mobile app game about girls in a hack-a-thon competition. “We want to broaden the perception about who is a coder,” said Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani.


I am always looking for fun podcasts to listen to when driving. The latest one I like is “Stuff You Missed in History Class” about historical people and events. It is a good listen for the whole family, with lots of categories to choose from. Maybe try it out on your next long car ride.


Current research suggests that when children learn a second language they may be developing cognitive advantages that will help them with attention and self-control. This year, more than 100 schools across Utah are testing this idea out with dual-immersion programs in Mandarin, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German. Some people support the program because learning a second language will prepare kids for the global economy, others because they are excited to see what this early language learning can do for their children’s brains.


A new article in the Atlantic by a preschool educator lambasts the trend of more academic and less play-based preschools, brought on by new Common Core state standards’ expectations of kindergartners. Today’s American preschools are “print rich” with surfaces covered with alphabet charts, bar graphs and word walls, with more “seat work” and tightly scripted teaching, and less time spent on music, art and play. One study, titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” found that the number of teachers expecting children to be reading by the end of the year is rising, and already exceeds 80 percent today. The article is excerpted from, “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.”


Scientists believe they are close to inventing a patch that will lessen the severity of an allergic reaction for the 1.5 million plus children in the U.S. who have a severe reaction to peanuts. It is almost at the stage of human trials.


Applications were up 5 percent to the California State University system for this fall – with 830,000 prospective students applying for a spot. The number of African-American and Latino students applying to CSU colleges rose about 25 percent each, which suggests that applications from white students were actually down. CSU enrolls about 460,000 students across 23 campuses and is the nation’s largest public university system. Cal State Long Beach received the most applications in the system.


I guess it was only a matter of time, but I gather some college students are making extra cash by renting out their dorm rooms on Airbnb. As the “Fast Company” article sarcastically put it, “What could go wrong?” The housing office at U.C. Berkeley took action against a student when they found out about one listing. Even fraternity houses are getting in on the action.


EPIC is a free site for students that offers a vast library of books to read online. Many are “accelerated reader books,” which is great for those students who also use that program in their classroom. The app has a Netflix-like interface: colorful and engaging. Kids create a reading profile by selecting preferred genres and they receive incentives for reading. EPIC is able to provide the service free at school by charging a monthly subscription fee ($4.99) if the site is used at home.


A new study has found that Millennial moms are more confident of their parenting than older generations of parents. They also rate themselves as more loving but also more strict than their parents. While only about half of American moms give high marks to their child-rearing skills, the majority of Millennial moms think they are doing a great job. What do you think? Are they doing a better job, or just more confident?


It was only a matter of time… The media has named the generation that follows the Millenials “The Founders.” At least that’s the name that MTV will be using for anyone born after 2000. More than 1,000 viewers – all under 15 — participated in an MTV survey and after rejecting “Builders,” “Navigators,” and “the Bridge Generation,” they settled on “The Founders.” Some people refer to this generation as Gen Z. We’ll see who or what, prevails.


A new app called Infant Cries Translator claims that it can determine the type of cry that matches a particular need (hungry, sleepy, in pain or dirty diaper). I would love it if one of my readers would try this out and report back to me. Researchers at the National Taiwan University Hospital helped create the app by recording 200,000 crying sounds from 100 newborns. You upload a recording of your baby’s cry, and ten seconds later, are told which option is causing your baby to cry. The developers claim it is 92 percent accurate for babies one month and under, 85 percent accurate for babies two months and under, and 77 percent accurate for babies four months and under. The team does not recommend using the $4.99 app for babies over six months, as at that age the cries tend to become more varied.


Less than 70 percent of full-time, first-year students who start at public colleges return for their sophomore year, according to US News & World Report. That is a scary statistic. When your high school student is researching colleges, make sure to check the return rate at the schools on their list. And when you drop them off, make sure they know all the resource available to them to help them feel connected and to get help during the challenging transition of freshman year.


Your local Staples likely now offers a service in which it can save an iPhone that has been dropped in water. They guarantee to revive your phone or you don’t pay the $70 repair fee. It worked for us, worth a try!


Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on “How your body language shapes who you are” is one of the most-watched Ted Talks in history (30 million views). Her insight and approach to the topic are relevant to every one of us. If you have ever worried about your posture or felt physically awkward in business or social settings, or if you want your teen to better understand how strangers judge you by your body language, it is worth a watch.


If your child is having trouble visualizing the benefit of practicing his or her musical instrument, you might watch a You Tube video posted by a young Swedish woman. She filmed herself learning the violin and practicing each day and the resulting 4-minute film is inspirational.


Everyone seems to be talking about the new documentary “Making of a Murderer” on Netflix. I held off for a while, not thinking it was not for me, but once I started watching, I was hooked. It is definitely not a show for anyone under 16 but the themes it explores, and the world it provides a peek into, makes for compelling conversations with older children. The title is a little misleading as the show is more an examination of bias than the mind of a criminal. It is not gory. If you loved the podcast Serial, I can almost guarantee you will find it riveting. But watch it quick before someone spoils it by telling you what happens.


I was surprised to learn that the typical adult lives only 18 miles from his or her mother, according to recent data. Americans are currently less mobile than they were in the past and more adults – particularly those with less education and lower incomes – live in or near their hometown, according to a recent New York Times article. Only 20 percent of Americans live more than a couple hours drive from their parents. “Those with college and professional degrees are much more likely to live farther from their parents than those with a high school education, in part because they have more job opportunities in big cities, and especially if spouses are juggling the career aspirations of two professionals,” said the report. Families live closest in the Northeast and the South, and farthest apart on the West Coast and in the Mountain States.


Because I can’t resist, I must share the top 10 baby names of 2015, according to US News & World Report. This list, however, is not based on birth certificate data, but instead research by BabyCenter. I doubled checked after noticing how incredibly “white” these names sounded. The top 10 girl names are (1-10): Sophia, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Mia, Isabella, Zoe, Lily, Emily and Madison. The top 10 boy names are (1-10): Jackson, Aiden, Liam, Luca, Noah, Mason, Ethan, Caden, Logan and Jacob.


The U.S. government has launched a career exploration, training and jobs website called Career One Stop that is worth a look. Students can answer a series of quick questions to get a sense of their interests and skills then learn about careers and find job training.


The Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which eliminates, or forgives, federal student loans for borrowers who are now employed full time in an eligible public service or nonprofit job. This applies to teachers, social workers and almost anyone who works full time at public or nonprofit institutions. The handy guide at has more details.


Hawaii has just become the first state to raise the smoking age to 21. There is now a $10 fine the first time anyone under 21 is caught smoking and a $50 fine for every offense after that. Storeowners will face a $500 penalty if caught selling to teens. The rising popularity of e-cigs drove lawmakers to pass the new legislation, as usage among Hawaiian teens is triple the national average. It will be interesting to see if other states follow suit.


Getting better organized is definitely on my to-do list this year. If it is on yours also, try the new, free Cozi calendar app for families. The app promises to keep track of every family member’s activities all in one place. You can share grocery lists, to do lists and appointments in real time, and access it from any mobile device or computer. It gets great ratings from users.


The free Smithsonian Learning Lab has some pretty amazing art, science and history resources. The site contains more than a million images from the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers and the National Zoo. The search function works great – my kids are fascinated by sloths, and a quick search uncovered no less than143 resources about sloths, including a dozen videos.


If your child struggles with math and math vocabulary, a popular site named may be a big help. The all-ages site is a dictionary of math terms with visual explanations of the concepts behind them, as well as sample problems, games and guides to different areas of math.


A mindset, according to Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, is a self-perception or “self-theory” we hold about ourselves. Believing that you are either “intelligent” or “unintelligent” is a simple example of a mindset, as is “I’m a good friend” or “I’m a bad parent.” Your mindset can have a profound effect on your ability to learn, on your relationships and on your professional success. There are some great free resources available for parents and students at the Mindset Kit website. There are online courses, lessons, and practices for anyone who wants to foster adaptive learning mindsets, all developed by educators at Stanford.


If you enjoyed the content in this blog, please forward it to any friends who might enjoy it as well.

Education roundup XXXVI: Resilient kids, spoiled kids, picky eaters, happiness, the new SAT, ‘A’ colleges for ‘B’ students and more

In his new book, “The Success Disconnect: Why the Smartest People Choose Meaning Over Money,” author Bill Connolly suggests that nine principles repeatedly surface in individuals who feel successful in life:

1. Create often. Successful people report a cathartic and meaningful feeling from being responsible for something new in the world.

2. Understand the self. Truly successful people understand themselves, both their positive and negative traits, including their motivations.

3. Have fun. Incorporating a consistent emphasis on plain old fun and happiness is key to feeling as if you’re building a life you can be proud of.

4. Suspend judgments. Spending time learning from mistakes is productive, but spending time judging yourself or others for mistakes drains valuable energy better used elsewhere.

5. Seek challenges. Failure is not the opposite of success; stagnation is. Push your limits. 6. Pursue meaning. Whatever path you must take to find meaning, take it.

7. Make change work for you. Making the most of the hand you’re dealt is imperative to making progress and achieving success.

8. Develop resilience. Bounce back from setbacks. Find and surround yourself with positive, supportive individuals.

9. Constantly improve. What are the ways that you set up your life in order to grow, achieve and enjoy what you do? You define the narrative of your legacy.

• • •

On the top of my nightstand is “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money.” Author Ron Lieber explains how talking openly to children about money can help parents raise modest, patient, grounded young adults who are financially wise beyond their years. Lieber is both a parent and a personal finance columnist, and he provides nuts and bolts advice on dealing with the tooth fairy, allowance, chores, charity, saving, birthdays, holidays, cell phones, checking accounts, clothing, cars, part-time jobs and college tuition.

• • •

If you have a teen who is a freshman, sophomore or junior and plans on attending a four-year college, you probably have questions about the new SAT. Starting in March, the new test will have two sections, not three (just math and a combo reading/writing). Scoring will return to a 1600 point scale (like it was in my era). There won’t be a penalty for guessing anymore (don’t leave anything blank!) and there will only be four answers to each question, not five. Also, the essay will now be optional. More importantly, the content is going to be quite different – better aligned with the Common Core benchmarks now taught in Sonoma Valley schools. For more information, the New York Times recently ran a great overview article on the changes.

• • •

Eric Greitens, a former U.S. Navy Seal, thinks he knows the secret to increasing resiliency in children. In an interview with Bill Murphy of Inc. magazine, he had 10 tips:

1. Set a great example. If you hope to inspire others, such as your children, it’s crucial.

2. Take responsibility. There are things you can’t control, sure – but know the difference. “Teach your children early not to pass the blame or make excuses, but to take responsibility for their actions,” says Greitens.

3. Seek to serve others. Besides positively affecting the rest of the world, service to others emphasizes that life really isn’t about just one person (you). The act also helps you increase resourcefulness and empathy.

4. Practice daily gratitude. This is one of the things that the most successful people do under any circumstance. Expressing gratitude to others frames your mind to appreciate the things you’ve been given. Because, let’s face it, even on your worst days, you are probably better off than most.

5. Let others solve their own problems. “Your children should know that you’re always there for them,” says Greitens. “But give them the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.”

6. Be a mentor – not a savior. Sometimes the best thing that can happen is to make a big mistake and live with the consequences. It’s better to learn from smaller mistakes while we’re young.

7. Embrace failure. It’s almost a cliché among entrepreneurs, but failure is a prerequisite for success. Nobody accomplishes anything great if he or she is afraid to fail. As Greitens says, “(Through) failure, children learn how to struggle with adversity and how to confront fear.

8. Encourage risk-taking. Risk-taking and failure go hand-in-hand. “To be something we never were, we have to do something we’ve never done,” says Greitens.

9. But assert your authority where it’s sensible. “Not every risk is a good risk to take,” Greitens says. Sometimes we all need more experienced, authoritative people to show us the better way.

10. Express your love for the people you care about. Resilient people know that they rely on the love and care of others in their communities. One of the best ways to reinforce this is to express how you feel to those people often.

• • •

If you haven’t yet seen “Most Likely To Succeed,” I hope that you get a chance to see the film on cable TV or Netflix. The movie really seemed to resonate with the more than 100 local teachers and parents in the audience. Here is my attempt to sum up the key points.

• The schools to which we send our children are based on a model that was developed more than 125 years ago, when times were very different.

• Cramming our kids heads with facts – and judging success based on their ability to spit those facts back – is dumb because they are easily forgotten within months. In addition, memorizing facts is less important now, as they are always at your fingertips.

• We need to focus on teaching kids the things that can’t be done by computers – like creativity, problem solving and people skills.

• Kids are much more likely to be engaged by – and remember – what they learn by “doing” (projects).

• Teachers are happiest when they have a lot of control over how and what they teach.

• Parents are among the first to freak out when schools suggest eliminating textbooks, testing and grades. Learn more at

• • •

The 30 kids honored as Time Magazine’s “Most Influential Teens of 2015” will make great dinner table conversation. The diverse but debatable list includes actors (who your child will recognize even if you don’t), inventors, entrepreneurs, athletes and even a restaurateur.

• • •

A very controversial study was released last week that is purported to have found that kids who are religious are meaner and less generous than their non-religious peers. A study in the journal Current Biology looked at the behavior of Christian, Muslim and atheist children. Researchers found that children from non-religious households are more altruistic, as measured by their acts of generosity toward others. The study looked at 1,100 children ages 5 to 12 in the U.S, China, Canada, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa. The findings came from a game in which children chose their favorite stickers, were told there weren’t enough for all and given the opportunity to share or not share. The researchers believe that “moral licensing” may come into play – if you believe that you are moral because you are devout, perhaps you are less concerned with your day-to-day behavior. It is worth reading more at Interesting fact: Currently 84 percent of the 5.8 billion people on earth identify themselves as religious.

• • •

A new Economist “highest value” college ranking focuses less on prestige and selectivity and more on how much students earn after graduation. Its formula is based on test scores, majors, wages and other factors, resulting in an anticipated median wage for alumni of each school 10 years after graduation. That anticipated figure is compared with the actual median wage of graduates ten years out. Colleges with graduates who outperformed expected earnings by the most ranked the highest. Looking at ten years out is a bit of a problem as students may be in graduate school during that time, and the dataset only includes students on financial aid for some reason. But – there are very different names at the top, which I love to see. The top ten are Washington and Lee, Villanova, Babson, Bentley, Otis College of Art and Design, Alderson Broaddus University, Lehigh, Texas A&M, International University and California State University-Bakersfield.

• • •

If you are concerned that your child’s screen time is overtaking his or her book time, you will want to read “Tap, Click, Read.” According to this new book, the key is for adults to steer kids toward media that promotes literacy instead of undermining it. The book suggests new ways to teach literacy that incorporates technology. The accompanying website provides resources and research like app and website tools and reviews – as well as what parents should look for as they evaluate preschools and elementary schools. Interesting fact: Today, two-thirds of American fourth-graders are not reading at grade level.

• • •

If you have a young Star Wars fan in your house, has a brand new tutorial for the Hour of Code 2015, in partnership with Disney and Lucasfilm — featuring Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Ages 6 and up can learn to program with Java Script to control droids and create their own Star Wars game. For younger learners, a tablet-friendly, drag-and-drop version will be available soon. offers a variety of code-teaching games for all ages.

• • •

Women now make up 40 percent or more of MBA students at the top graduate business schools in the country – Harvard, Wharton, Yale, Northwestern, Dartmouth and MIT, according to a new study by the Forte Foundation. Women have only been accepted into MBA programs since the 1970s, so that is pretty good progress.

• • •

There are some new apps designed to help kids explore their social and emotional sides. The hope is that these apps can help students to practice the skills that are important to emotional intelligence. Sesame Street offers an interesting one called “Breathe, Think, Do” in which characters practice keeping calm and regulating their emotions. “Touch and Learn Emotions” helps kids to read body language and identify facial clues. “Emotionary” encouraged introspection by giving kids the chance to draw a selfie of how they are feeling. Middle schools students might enjoy “IF, the Emotional IQ Game” and “Middle School Confidential.”

• • •

Here is a gift idea for the stressed out adults in your life. Grown up coloring books are all the rage now. These detailed books with complicated patterns are a popular way to relax or alternately, multi-task while watching TV. Amazon has an entire section of its site dedicated to 42 different options. Search “adult coloring books.”

• • •

Bitsbox is an awesome birthday or Christmas gift idea for kids who are interested in learning how to code. Each month, they get a box with dozens of projects, ranging from simple to advanced. They learn to create apps for any mobile device. The cost ranges from $20 a month for a virtual box to $30 to $40 a month for a box with apps, toys, stickers, trading cards and an activity book.

• • •

New screen time research from Common Sense Media has found that:

1. Media use is off the charts – teens use an average of nine hours of entertainment media a day, tweens use six – not counting using media for school or homework.

2. Boys spend more time on video games and girls spend more time on social media.

3. While most teens use social media every day, only 36 percent say that they enjoy it a lot (compared with 73 percent enjoying music a lot and 45 percent enjoying TV a lot).

4. The vast majority of kids just consume media, very few are creating content.

• • •

If you have a child in college or new to the workforce, their chances at quick employment have improved. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employees, 42 percent of employers ranked the job market for students as very good or excellent right now, up from 18 percent just two years ago. NACE also found that the employers surveyed plan to hire 11 percent more new college graduates from the class of 2016 for their U.S. operations than they did from the class of 2015.

• • •

The number of Americans who read regularly continues to plummet across all formats (books, audibooks and ebooks). According to Pew Research, only 72 percent of Americans report having a read a book in the past YEAR, down from 76 percent last year. Kudos to our young adults (ages 18 to 29) who were the MOST likely to have read a book (80 percent); and to women – who read an average of 12 books a year, as opposed to men – who read nine.

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Many students think faster than they type. Google docs now features a pretty cool option under “Tools” called “Voice Typing.” A microphone will appear on the left side of your Google document. Allow Google to access the microphone on your device and your spoken words will turn into text on the document. You must be using the Chrome browser, however.

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Experts seem to agree that Motion Math’s nine online games are the best out there. They have been downloaded four million times and won a ton of awards. You can buy the bundle for $26 but the very best to try seem to be Zoom, Hungry Fish and Pizza. They do a good job of presenting some of the trickiest Common Core standards in a truly engaging way and they are excellent for students who are struggling in math.

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The number of international students studying in the U.S. grew by 10 percent last year – the most of any year in the past three decades. Almost one million international students are enrolled in U.S. universities. These students added an estimated $30 billion to the U.S. economy last year. China sends the most students, followed by India. NYU hosts the most international students, followed by USC, Columbia and Arizona State. California attracts the largest numbers overall, followed by New York.

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You have heard of Instagram, but have you heard of Finstagram? Teens love documenting their life on Instagram but the photos tend to be gorgeous shots depicting the very best aspects of their social life. New to the scene are Finstagrams, private accounts that you only let your closest friends follow. (I gather Finstagram stands for fake Instagram.) Limiting their followers to a handful of closest friends makes sharing more comfortable. Fun fact: More than half of the 92 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 17 who go online daily use Instagram.

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If your student is taking the SAT in March or later this spring, they will be taking the new SAT. And frankly, they should really be preparing for it now. Practice tests are now available online at and Khan Academy already has a host of tutorial videos to help students prepare. It is hard to be the test pigeon, I feel for the students who will be first to take the new test.

• • •

The U.S. government estimates that it will cost almost a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child born today. U.S. News suggests the following ways to cut costs:

• Breastfeed and use cloth diapers

• Furnish a nursery simply, consider used furniture that will suit the child as they get older

• Buy gently used clothing, toys and equipment, wherever possible

• Keep birthday parties simple or save parties for milestone years

• Do the math on child care and pencil out if having both parents work is most cost effective

• Let kids share a room

• Limit extracurriculars to one per season. Kids will appreciate the free time to play.

• Ask others to pitch in whether it is grandparents or through community fundraising

• Focus on less expensive options, typically community colleges and local state public universities

Most importantly, “kids don’t need things; they need you,” said Denise Daniels, psychologist.

• • •

I was surprised to learn that two nearby school districts have implemented a new grading system that make it almost impossible to receive a failing grade. At most schools, anything lower than a 60 percent is an “F.” Under the new system, anything lower than a 20 percent is an “F.” That seems like a big change to me and teachers agree that it sets the bar very low for student success. In the new “equal interval scale,” grades rise in 20-point increments. A score of 20 to 40 percent is a D, 40-60 is a C, 60-80 is a B and 80-100 is an A. So your son’s 80 percent on a math test is now an A-, not a B-. What’s more, students who do not hand in homework, automatically get a 50 percent, no lower. Getting credit for work not done seems to me very counter to life in the real world. Also, I imagine that college admissions officers will be horrified and do their own, quite different, GPA calculations and the discrepancy will upset parents. A Press Democrat story on the change quoted Rancho Cotate English teacher Lanny Lowery as saying, “This is just incomprehensible. I don’t have words.”

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What should parents know about Vine? Vine is a social video-sharing website and app of 10-second videos created by its users. Most Vines are designed to be funny, and many are staged for the camera. Kids and teens love to follow, comment on, and share their favorite Vines. Most of the content is harmless but there is no filter in place. For younger kids, there’s a curated version of the service called Vine Kids that serves up only age-appropriate content. Kids should be made aware that their videos and comments are all public by default; they need to adjust their settings for any privacy.

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Facebook has launched a new site called Tech/Prep to help students understand what programming is, different jobs programmers can have, and how to gain the skills they need to become one someday. It’s a collection of information, resources and videos tailored to a variety of ages.

• • •

I keep hearing great things about the award- winning YouTube channel Vsauce created by Michael Stevens. He posts videos relating to various scientific and philosophical topics, as well as gaming, technology, culture and other areas of general interest. Is the 5-second rule true? What is deja vu? How big can a person get? Why do we have two nostrils?

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October is National Dyslexia Month. As a parent of a dyslexic daughter, I’m happy that awareness is increasing and students are being taught to view dyslexia not only as a challenge, but as a gift. If you think your child might be dyslexic or are just interested in learning more, I recommend the movie, “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia,” which is available for free on HBO or you can buy a download for $10 at There is a free Dyslexia Detector app on the iTunes store but I would recommend just using it as an informal first step. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity has a great site with recommended app and computer programs. In California news, a new law signed by Gov. Brown last week (AB 1369) mandates that “program guidelines for dyslexia to be used to assist regular education teachers, special education teachers, and parents to identify and assess pupils with dyslexia, and to plan, provide, evaluate and improve educational services, as defined, to pupils with dyslexia.” This is a big deal because some states still refuse to recognize dyslexia as a learning difference.

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Filed under the category of things that I wish had existed when I had babies … There is a new LED light bulb that inventors claim provides a very calm environment for babies (and adults) who wake in the night and then are trying to go back to sleep. I gather from the Time magazine article that the blue wavelengths in regular bulbs (and in our smart phones) cause our brains to be more alert.

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A new graphic novel for ages 8-12 teaches computer code. Gene Luen Yang is a National Book Award Finalist, an Esiner award recipient, as well as a long-time computer science teacher. His latest work is called “Secret Coders,” and it is a compelling plot combination reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Matrix that teaches kids binary and other foundations of coding.

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Looking for A+ colleges for B students? U.S. News & World Report has a good list of 50 to consider. These schools have high rankings but also high admit rates. The six schools in California on the list include: University of San Francisco, Pepperdine, University of the Pacific, Westmont College, Thomas Aquinas College and University of San Diego. The complete list is at

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The Peace Corps this year received the highest number of applications in four decades. Applications to join the international service organization jumped 32 percent, with the 23,000 applications received marking the largest number since 1975. Back in 1960, U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy challenged students to give two years of their lives to serve the developing world in 1960, leading to the creation of the Peace Corps.

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As part of its Storybook Project, National Pubic Radio (NPR) asked successful authors, actors, politicians, philanthropists, scientists and musicians to share their five favorite books they’ve read to their kids. On the resulting Tumblr page each week you can see the lists added (Melinda Gates, Ani DiFranco, Maz Jobrani, Adam Scott, Jamie Oliver and more) A few books that show up on more than one list are: “Caps for Sale,” “All The World,” “The Story of Ferdinand” and “The Giving Tree.”

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“What if you could cut your college costs by $10,000 a year … but doing so raised the risk your kid would drop out by as much as 20 percent?” asked Money magazine recently. That’s the dilemma families face when their freshman is debating living at home versus on campus. Room and board at any college now costs around $10,000 a year, but studies have showed definitively that students who live on campus get more out of their college experience and are more likely to graduate. Saving money by living at home saves parents nothing if the student later drops out.

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More than 80 leading colleges and universities have announced potentially big changes in how they accept applications. The universities are creating new online portfolios for high school students, designed to have ninth graders begin thinking about what they are learning or accomplishing in high school and so that they, too, emerge in their senior year with a body of work that could be used to help identify appropriate colleges. These colleges include every Ivy League university, Stanford University and dozens more.

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I love the idea of brain foods and I imagine that I think and write better when I am eating healthy foods. USA Today’s College Blog printed a new list of the top 10 brain boosting super foods, and they are: avocados, beans, blueberries, dark chocolate, eggs, oatmeal, salmon, spinach, walnuts and yogurt.

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Here are 10 great rules for parents of picky eaters (courtesy of Sally Sampson and Natalie Muth, M.D.):

1. As parents, we will be good role models. We will only ask the kids to eat foods that we are willing to eat ourselves.

2. As parents, we will decide what foods are offered, when, and where. As kids, we will decide of the food that is offered, what we will eat and how much.

3. We will value the process of learning to be more adventurous eaters. We will be willing to try new foods, even if it is just a tiny bite.

4. We do not have to clean our plates. We will listen to our bodies and let hunger be our guide.

5. We will not offer food rewards. In other words, we do not have to “eat our vegetables” in order to get dessert. We will not reward good behavior with sweets and “treats.”

6. Mealtimes are a family affair. As often as we can, we will shop, cook and eat together.

7. We are one family, and we will eat one meal. We will not make separate meals. But we will be sure to include at least one thing each family member likes at each meal.

8. We will learn together about food, nutrition, farming and cooking.

9. We will have fun, play and experiment with new foods.

10. We will be consistent in following these rules, but not rigid.

Sampson and Muth also suggest parents not negotiate, bribe or pressure their kids. Ignore their pickiness, don’t give them attention for it; make sure they are hungry when they arrive at the table; and involve them in the preparing the meal.

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Khan Academy, the popular source of thousands of school topic videos (including free SAT prep), has redesigned its free iPhone app and finally added an app for Android phones. Available at Google Play and in the Apple App Store.

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I love tips on happiness (for adults and kids) and UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb’s book “The Upward Spiral” offers these tips:

• The most important question to ask when you are feeling down is “What am I grateful for?”

• Label your negative feelings. Are you sad, anxious, angry?

• Make the decision that is weighing on your mind, it will alleviate your worry and anxiety.

• Touch the people you are close to and enjoy the oxytocin released through contact.

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The Junior Academy is a free, virtual program open to exceptional STEM students ages 13-19 around the world. The ideal student is an enthusiastic learner and problem solver with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). He or she has a desire to learn more about the universe, and aspires to help address the world’s most pressing challenges through research. Applications are due Thursday, Oct. 15.

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With all the amazing advances in technology, the TI-83 graphing calculator accounts for 93 percent of all graphing calculator sales and it has been the gold standard for almost 20 years. That’s about to change as there are new web-based calculators that are finally giving Texas Instruments a run for its money. If you haven’t bought one yet or your student tends to lose or forget his/hers, check out

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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)

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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,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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?

• • •

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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/

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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.”)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

• •

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).

• •

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.

• •

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!