Monthly Archives: July, 2013

Roundup XIX

I frequently send my kids cheery texts before big tests and exams (“You can do it”) and was chagrined to read a new research study by a Harvard economist Roland Fryer who found that encouraging text messages, like mine, help kids get excited about the idea of doing well but showed absolutely no success in improving results. Fryer was previously best known for proving that paying students for good grades doesn’t work.

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Researchers have some new advice for high school students who want to improve their grades: become friends with high-achieving classmates. A good GPA can be contagious.  Researchers found a direct correlation between student’s grades and the academic environment of their social network. If a student’s class ranking at the start of the study was higher than average for her social network, it tended to fall over the course of the year. Conversely, if a student initially ranked below the rest of her group, her class ranking tended to rise over time. Slate had a similar article on this topic two years ago.

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An article in Psychological Science (and widely reported elsewhere) in May reports on findings that math skills at age 7 predict how much money a child will make at age 42. Kids who were better at math at age 7 ended up in a higher socioeconomic class by age 42, regardless of what other advantages they had. This certainly underlines the importance of quality early childhood education. Read more here.

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Does your child love to write? Kidblog is a safe, age-appropriate blogging site for elementary and middle-schoolers. Teachers have administrative control over all student blogs and student accounts. Students’ blogs are private by default, which means they are only viewable by classmates and the teacher. The site is completely free of advertising, so there no potentially inappropriate sales pitches. Kidblog.org

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For families who don’t qualify for financial aid, finding colleges that offer general merit aid (not need based, students are judged on grades and scores) is critical. The best list I’ve ever seen is at: tjhsst.edu/supportingtj/careercenter/meritscholar.htm.

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Critter Corral is a free iPad game developed at the Stanford School of Education. It uses animals in a Wild West theme to teach pre-schoolers early math concepts. Early math skills are connected not just to better math performance in grade school but also to improved reading skills. Read more here.

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I love free stuff  and the website freenology.com has a list of more than 100 top-notch free ebooks (science fiction, cooking, romance, memoirs, business).

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If you are curious which are the “hot” colleges today, that can be largely inferred from their yield rate – the percentage of students who choose to attend their college over the others they were admitted to. Harvard has always had the highest yield (82 percent) but Stanford is not far behind at 77 percent (higher than most of the other Ivies). Public universities tend not to disclose their yield. A lower than expected yield means that a school will take more students from its wait list. A more complete list is here: thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/college-admits-2013.

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I feel strongly that the single most important book for a 16-to-30-year-old young woman to read today is “Lean In” by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg. Part memoir, part career advice, part research paper, the book really resonated with me and I recommend it highly. She talks a lot about the life choices young women make and what they should keep in mind when they do. Buy or borrow a copy for yourself and your daughter today and let me know what you think.

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There is a very cool new computer game called Progenitor X for grades 7 to 12 in which players are humankind’s last hope for survival against a zombie outbreak. Students use the latest biomedical technology to find and treat humans infected with the disease by manipulating cells. Hidden within the game are core biology science standards taught from middle school to college. The game is based on research being conducted by the University of Michigan but the game is also fun. sciencegamecenter.org.

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I learned recently that India uses same-language subtitling (SLS) as an inexpensive way to boost literacy rates. Research has found even greater results for both children and adults who watched videos with subtitles in a foreign target language. Using movies and other media is a great inexpensive way to immerse yourself in a new language. A new program called Lingual Media Player (LaMP) allows two subtitle tracks to be played alongside a movie or video. LaMP is a free, Windows-only application.

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Just in time for summer, check out Real Simple Magazine’s “50 Great Books That Will Change Your Life” in the June issue. I was both excited and horrified by how few of them I have read. The list ranges from fiction to non-fiction to reference books. realsimple.com.

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Harvard Business Review recently posted online some obvious but important “Twelve Rules for New Grads” reprinted here in summary:

• What you learned in college is a foundation for future learning, nothing more.

• Be someone who your colleagues want to work with.

•You’re not as smart as you think you are, even if you are as smart as you think you are.

• From the very first moment, remember you are creating an impression.

• Do what’s required, from the menial to the extraordinary, to get the job done.

• The harder and smarter you work, the luckier you’ll get.

• Learn to listen, listen to learn.

• Always do your homework.

• Don’t learn the tricks of the trade, learn the trade.

• Embrace your weaknesses.

• Network your brains out.

• Don’t lose yourself trying to be what you think others want you to be.

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Here are a couple of my favorite new apps to check out: Babyphone turns your smart phone into a baby monitor; iHomeopathy is a useful reference of natural remedies for common childhood ailments and injuries; and Artkive stores and organizes digital photos of your child’s art masterpieces on your smartphone.

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Even the most game-savvy teens will get a kick out of the computer game “Civilization Revolution’ while leading a civilization from the dawn of man to the modern age and beyond. Teens go head-to-head with history’s greatest leaders as they wage war, conduct diplomacy, discover new technologies and build the most powerful empire the world has ever known. Players choose from 16 different real civilizations around the world and focus on a specific mode of domination: technology, weaponry, economic or cultural. Check it out here.

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If your kids enjoy Scrabble online or on their smartphone, they will definitely enjoy W.E.L.D.E.R., the word puzzle game app that you play solo. The game is addictive, with the benefit of exercising strategy and logical thinking as you build words, test your vocabulary, spelling, mental agility and planning skills.

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If you are a parent or teacher who found themselves exhausted by the end of this school year, there is a blog that I promise will make you laugh out loud. jenhatmaker.com/blog/2013/05/30/worst-end-of-school-year-mom-ever.

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Harkening back to the days of apprenticeships, a new two-year program called Enstitute teaches skills in information technology, computer programming and app building through on-the-job experience as a possibly appealing alternative to college. The nonprofit offers an eight-hour-a-week curriculum on finance, branding, computer programming and graphic design. Apprentices share a large loft space in Manhattan and work full time, are paid a stipend. Its founders hope to create brand name like that of a top-flight university. Graduates leave with work experience instead of a diploma. enstituteu.com.

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There seems to be a bit of a disconnect … A national survey by the ACT testing company found that 89 percent of high school teachers think their students are either very well prepared or well prepared for college-level work, while only 26 percent of college instructors think students are very well prepared or well prepared for entry level college courses.

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The free cognitive training computer game Double Decision can slow and even reverse the brain functions that come with aging in a way that even crossword puzzles cannot. The Wall Street Journal gave it a rave review. The game challenges players to find matching motor vehicle and road signs despite an increasing array of distractions. Check it out at brainhq.positscience.com

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Applications are open now for a very cool, free, but selective summer program, for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade math and science teachers. The Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy is a week-long camp where 200 teachers learn new ways to teach math and science nstahosted.org/mickelson/. Think about nominating a teacher from your school.  They will be flattered even if they aren’t chosen.

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The Education Index sorts and ranks college and graduate school programs. Interested students can search through more than 19,000 programs at 2,240 universities. By filtering through data such as average SAT scores, retention rates, tuition, and financial aid, students can use the index to eliminate schools from their list inventory that don’t make sense. The site also lets students rank and compare specific programs at multiple schools. phds.org

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I can’t resist reprinting, in full, “25 Things Every Young Professional Should Know by Age 25,” courtesy of Danny Rubin at the Huffington Post.

25. It’s spelled “definitely,” not “definately.”

24. Read an apartment lease before you sign. All of it.

23. An Excel PivotTable will change your life.

22. A cover letter should add color and personality. It shouldn’t summarize your resume.

21. Everyone likes to receive praise, but the smartest young adults actively seek constructive criticism.

20. The days of a college syllabus are long gone. If you’re waiting for someone to give you direction, have a seat. You’ll be there a while.

19. Multi-tasking is great, but some moments require your undivided attention.

18. Take LinkedIn seriously.

17. Understand the pay-stub that accompanies your paycheck.

16. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. However, people who do “break through” tend to start their day while others are still asleep.

15. Know the difference between a Roth IRA and Traditional IRA.

14. Even though college is over, you should still find extracurriculars. Among the many reasons, clubs and organizations are terrific places to network.

13. You’re never too busy to write a thank you note.

12. Negotiate your salary.

11. The ability to follow-through on assignments can take you from 25-year-old newbie to essential team member.

10. You probably make more money than some of your friends and less than others. The only thing that matters is that you pay your own bills on time.

9. Bring a lunch to work. It’s healthier and cheaper than eating out.

8. Don’t step into an interview room without research on the company and questions for the employer.

7. Dropbox: learn it and love it.

6. Treat interns with respect. They’ll provide you with management training and ease your workload.

5. To impress older business associates, ask about their own career path. You may also learn a thing or two.

4. Under-promise. Over-deliver.

3. The less you write, the tighter the message. The less you talk, the stronger the speech.

2. The only failure in your 20s is inaction. Everything else is trial and error.

1. You’re halfway through the most formative decade of your life. You don’t need all the answers, but you must keep asking questions. Start with this one: what’s something new that I can learn right now?

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I laughed really hard watching Stephen Colbert’s recent commencement address at the University of Virginia. If anyone in your house enjoys Colbert, check it out at tinyurl.com/q6k8rct or on YouTube.

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Roundup XVIII

Recent research shows that students perform better when their instructors use hand gestures – a simple teaching tool that could yield benefits in higher-level math such as algebra. A study published in Child Development found that gesturing may have a unique effect on learning. Interestingly, teachers in the United States tend to use gestures less than teachers in other countries.

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To borrow a headline from Slate.com, “Silicon is the New Ivy.” Recent rankings find that Stanford University has replaced Harvard as students’ “dream college,” according to Princeton Review.

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Courtesy of teachhub.com, here are 14 free web sites your student will enjoy this summer (and prevent learning loss). Bridge Builder – learn how to build and design bridges; iCivics – experience what it means to be part of a democracy; Making History: The Great War – World War I strategy game; MidWorld Online – learn French or Spanish while completing conquests; the popular video game Minecraft; Mission US – students role play the American Revolution or the Civil War; Past/Present – life as an American immigrant in the early 1900s; SimCity – learn how to run a city; SimTower – learn how to run a high-rise; Coffee Shop – run a coffee shop business; Electrocity – learn how electricity contributes to the growth of communities; Lemonade Stand – run a lemonade stand business; Life (Insurance) – manage your life and see why insurance is important; and Science simulations – lots of choices for grades 2 to 8.

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Deadly robots, dramatic arenas, and asynchronous strategy are all part of “Hakitzu: Code of the Warrior,” a free game that introduces kids to Javascript, one of today’s most popular programming languages. With no programming knowledge necessary, players develop a range of coding skills through strategic game-play and customizable ‘CodeWalker’ robots. Hakitzu is available to download for the iPad and iPad Mini.itunes.apple.com/app/fetch/id599976903?mt=8.

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Up to 10 percent of the population is now thought to have a learning disability, such as dyslexia (reading), dyscalculia (math) or autism, translating to two or three pupils in every classroom, according to a new article in the magazine Science. The article also explains that children are frequently affected by more than one learning disability. For example, 33 to 45 percent of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder also suffer from dyslexia and 11 percent from dyscalculia.

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Nearly a quarter of surveyed ESL (English as a second language) teachers have showed students episode of the TV comedy “Mr. Bean” during lessons, according to a new study. Close to 60 percent of ESL teachers say they have used TV shows to help students improve their understanding of the English language. In each episode, “Mr. Bean” goes about everyday tasks such as going to the dentist, taking an exam or eating at a restaurant and teachers find these scenarios help with vocabulary and grammar. The TV show “Friends” is second most frequently shown, “The Simpsons” is third and the racy show “How I Met Your Mother” is surprisingly fourth. Kaplan International College surveyed 503 ESL teachers from 40 countries.

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I am not sure what I think of this trend … Startups such as Pave.com and Upstart.com enable investors to give money to promising, enterprising students in exchange for a cut of their future earnings. As Pave.com explains it, students get funding that is not debt, mentorship and connections. Investors get an opportunity to share in financial success and connection to future movers and shakers.

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Google Chromebook’s are becoming a hot item among some educators. Google recently announced that the country of Malaysia will be adopting Google apps and Chromebooks for 10 million students, teachers and parents.

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While it is more than five years old, I recently came across a TedTalk by Julius Wiedemann in which he offers forth “100 websites you should know and use.”  This link provides both his original list and an updated list of 100 by category that I found helpful and contained many I was unaware of at blog.ted.com/2007/08/03/100_websites_yo/

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California scored very poorly on the recent national digital learning report card.  The report card measures state policies on digital learning based on their alignment to the elements of high-quality digital learning. California received an “F” and ranks eighth from the bottom among the 50 states. Look up your state here: digitallearningnow.com/reportcard

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High school students across the country are  invited to compete in a computer hacking competition sponsored by the National Security Agency from April 26 to May 5. “Toaster Wars” is a free, online competition that offers students a fun and legal way to get hands-on hacking experience. The aim of the competition is to motivate students to explore the field of computer science, particularly as it pertains to cybersecurity – a field many high school students know nothing about. All students need to participate is a computer and an Internet connection. It is structured in a way that should appeal to both experienced hackers and first-timers. For details go to picoctf.com.

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Aspiring game developers, ages 9 to 18, are invited to learn coding by developing a video game with Kodu, an easy-to-learn, game-creation toolkit and programming language available for free download on PCs. The Kodu Challenge runs from March 19 through May 17, and invites students in two age brackets (9-to-12 and 13-to-18) to design games. Students compete for cash prizes while acquiring valuable skills, such as critical thinking, storytelling and programming. Details are at kodugamelab.com.

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If your child is struggling in school because of a learning disability, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a crucial way to support his or her educational needs. Every public school child who receives special education and related services must have an IEP. The National Center for Learning Disabilities explains the top 10 things you need to know about an IEP at ncld.org/students-disabilities/iep-504-plan/what-is-iep.

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The best fix for a student who thinks they hate math is a great teacher. But Numberphile.com is a great resource for that teacher (and parents). The site has curated some of the most compelling and engaging math videos.

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I was sent a review copy of “Girl In The Water: A True Story of Sibling Abuse.” The book is a really disturbing memoir about sibling abuse, something I never even knew was a real problem. This isn’t one brother punching another over the remote control. When the author was 9 years old, her 11-year-old sister led her into the scorching midday sun, tied her to a chair, and taped her eyelids to her eyebrows with electrical tape, leaving her helpless for hours to stare into a blinding blue sky. Every time she walked into her own bedroom she had to say: “I am ugly, stupid, and no one loves me.” I’ve since learned that each year, 19 million children are abused by their siblings. You can learn more at sibling-abuse.com

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The Chegg Blog suggests tips for finding student internships. First, start with your high school or university’s career center/department. Useful websites include internships.com which enables you to search by major or zip code. The government offers hundreds of college internships through usajobs.gov. Another good one is groovejob.com, which has lots of part-time, hourly, seasonal, and student jobs and you can search by location and industry. Finally, internmatch.com still has openings listed for this coming summer.

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In round numbers, only 10 percent of low-income youth graduate from a four-year college, compared to more than 25 percent of middle-income and 50 percent of high-income youth, according to research recently released by the Education Trust.  On their site you can look up any college or university and examine its four and six-year graduation rates.

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Roundup XVII

Anything that helps students better understand their strengths, interests and options seems like a good thing. To that end, there is a quick, free new app to help students of any age to discover careers that fit their personalities. On Compass Lite (compasslite.woofound.com), you click through a series of 84 images that ask, “Me or not me?” The data is used to form a personality assessment and career recommendations. There are links to learn more about the salary and job prospects. Users sign on through Facebook (make sure to decline their kind offer to share the results with everyone you have ever met). It may not be scientific but any conversation with your child about their future is likely a fruitful one.

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Back in 1983 (my hey-day), 80 percent of 18-year-olds had their driver’s licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage has dropped to about 65 percent. Seventeen-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 50 percent, and 16-year-olds slipped from 46 percent to 31 percent (source: DMV). I remember being so excited to get my license and thrilled with the independence and freedom it brought. What is going on?

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Do you have a child with special needs (of any variety)? There is an amazing list of 100 apps for children with special needs, organized by grade level and subject as well as by area of concern (organization, motor skills, etc.) See commonsensemedia.org/guide/special-needs.

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I found perhaps the ultimate list for college planning information, thanks to the Independent Educational Consultants Association. This is one to print and save: iecaonline.com/PDF/IECA_Antonoff-Resources-List.pdf.

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Going to bed at a different time every night in early childhood seems to limit a child’s brain power, according to a long term study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.  Particularly sensitive is the three-year-old brain, according to the study. Researchers found lower scores at that age in reading, maths, and spatial awareness in both boys and girls with unpredictable bedtimes.

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The unigo.com 2013 rankings contain one of my favorites lists: the campuses with the happiest students (students are asked to rate their own happiness at school). So here we go – in order starting at 10: Vassar College (New York), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carleton College (Minnesota), Colgate University (New York), Brandeis University (Mass.), George Washington University (D.C.), Grinnell College (Iowa), Boston University (Mass.), Barnard College (New York ) … and in the number one slot: University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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Minecraft is considered one of the “good” games if your child is captivated by video games (40 million people are now playing it worldwide). Players traverse landscapes of mountains, forests, caves and various water bodies. Their characters hunt, sail, and farm while constructing homes and objects by breaking and placing textured cubes in a 3D world. The goal is to survive. It actually does encourage creativity as there is a limitless opportunity to build, discover, and problem-solve. Hundreds of schools have even purchased a special version of Minecraft for schools. The computer version is $27 and the smart phone version is $7.

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Shmoop is offering free SAT, ACT, PSAT or AP test preparation. Go to zinch.com/shmoop-prep to sign up. Students must sign up by the end of March to receive six months of free test prep. Grockit is another great free test-prep site that also has a free smart phone app.

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Now is the time of year when seniors are frantically searching for scholarships to help chip away at the considerable tuition costs they face over their college years. In addition to the many scholarships that local Sonoma organizations generously offer each year, students and their families should be scouring the web for other sources of scholarship money. To that end, here are some of the best – free – scholarship websites: Scholarships.com is easy to use and organized into different searchable categories. CollegeBoard.org, the site that runs the SAT testing, lists around 2,300 scholarships with a value of closing in on $3 billion. FastWeb.com is another favorite, offering around 1.5 million scholarships totaling around $3.4 billion in funds. This site makes a big effort to delete scholarships whose deadline has passed. And finally, CollegeNet.com lets you search for scholarships based on your personal information and characteristics.

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I think teachershoutout.com is a lovely idea. The site is billed as “a community of gratitude that lets you thank a special teacher, advisor or coach.” The site can be searched by name or school or city. I don’t see any Sonoma entries on there yet, but let’s change that pronto. Post a quick thank you or compliment to your favorite teachers. They are sure to appreciate it.

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The college board is planning to redesign the SAT to more closely mirror the work that students do in college. That said, this plan has just been announced and my guess is that it will only impact students currently in middle school (and younger). Nobody knows exactly what this change will mean (perhaps least of all the college board). The SAT has been administered since 1926. The last time the test was overhauled was in 2005, when the writing portion was added and analogies were eliminated. One prediction is that the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which surpassed the SAT in number of tests taken this year for the first time.

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Did you know that all high school juniors and community college students who are interested in attending UC Berkeley (and meet some key qualifications) are invited to the Cal Summer Experience, a free two-day residential program on the Berkeley campus in late June? The college offers one program for high school students and one for community college students. Activities include: faculty lectures; a UC personal statement writing workshop; test preparation, major selection, transcript evaluation and other related advising; a panel of current Cal students. To qualify, high school students must have an unweighted GPA of 3.5. Community college applicants must have completed at least 30 semester transferable units by the end of this school year, with a GPA of 3.4. Applications are due April 2. Email inquiries to cal.experience@berkeley.edu. What a great, free chance to experience life on a college campus.

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Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate awards cash grants to outstanding public school teachers each year as a way of giving back to the communities in which company employees work and live. Its Education Foundation has granted more than $750,000 to 1,320 school teachers since its founding in 1992. This year, it expects to award approximately 60 teachers grants of $850 that they can use in whatever way they see fit. Nominate a teacher at bhghome.com/educationfoundation.

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I have written about this before, but the idea that K-12 students should be learning computer coding continues to be a hot topic (“The most important language your child isn’t learning in school” is a frequent headline). There are a lot of ways that you can get your child interested in coding outside of school. Scratch.mit.edu is a cool web site for all ages to try computer coding. Computational Thinking at google.com/edu/computational-thinking is another. Check out code.org for more ideas and resources.

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Google is offering a free “Maker Camp” online this summer, July 8 through Aug. 16, during which students will make 30 projects in 30 days. Thirteen- to 18-year-olds (as well as their parents and teachers) will have the opportunity to collaborate with popular maker personalities and other creative teens on traditional arts and crafts and science projects, as well as using innovative technologies and processes that will enable them to create something entirely new. Every Monday through Thursday, a Maker Camp counselor will post how-to instructions for a new project on g.co/makercamp and Makezine.com/go/makercamp. These projects are great for families to do together or for teens to do on their own.

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College students interested in studying abroad (f0r free) should research the hundreds of critical language scholarships offered by the U.S. State Department. This program (clscholarship.org) offers intensive summer language institutes in 13 critical foreign languages as part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Participants are expected to continue their language study and hopefully use their critical language skills in their future professional careers. The languages offered include Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

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Fifty-four percent of high-income students and 9 percent of low-income students complete a college degree, according a new study out of the University of Michigan. This gap has widened over the past 20 years, mainly because the daughters of affluent families are doing very, very well in school (tinyurl.com/ahbvflu).

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PBS Science has a new show on You Tube called “It’s Okay To Be Smart,” hosted by biologist Joe Hanson. He also has a supporting blog for the show you can find at itsokaytobesmart.com. It is a show the whole family can watch together.

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The free online college course, Coursera (coursera.org), has announced new international school partnerships, new courses and support for non-English languages. The 29 new universities bring the total number of universities offering courses to 62, including Columbia and Princeton. Courses from the 16 new international universities will be available in Chinese, French, Italian and Spanish. Among the new California universities offering courses online through Coursera, are Cal Arts, UC Santa Cruz and UC San Diego.

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PBS’ first app designed specifically for parents, Play & Learn, has a dozen games parents can play with their kids, each centered around a familiar location – the grocery store, in a car, in the kitchen, etc. The free, bilingual app encourages parents to seize upon daily teachable moments by connecting math and literacy skills to everyday experiences. Each game comes with a parent note that provides information about the math and literacy skills woven into the 13 interactive games and 52 hands-on activities. (pbskids.org/mobile)

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I just came across an edudemic.com list of 50 great education podcasts. edudemic.com/2013/01/education-podcasts/. Let me know which ones you think merit a mention.

Roundup XVI

If you lose sleep over your children’s safety and security online, you should check out Everloop, which is described as the safe social network for kids. The free site hopes to revolutionize the way kids under 13 connect online and to provide a unique, age-appropriate social media experience. Kids can connect with friends, play games, share pictures, send messages, learn and have fun. The site employs state-of-the-art privacy protection and monitoring technology to guard its young users against bullying, bad language and inappropriate sharing of information. Parents can dial in the amount of freedom that is right for their child. www.everloop.com

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StudentsFirst is a nonprofit led by former Washington, D.C., public school chancellor Michelle Rhee. In the organization’s first “State Report Card” just released, California’s education policies rank 41st in the nation. Check out your state here: www.studentsfirst.org.

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I got a great tip from a reader about a fantastic free Spanish resource online. The fun and instructive Los Destinos soap opera will help students with vocabulary and grammar, with some history and culture thrown in. There are ongoing chapters that get progressively more difficult. learner.org/series/destinos/watch/

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According to the 44th annual Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools, Americans see a lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing their schools. Today, 43 percent of parents cite a lack of funding as the greatest problem, versus just 17 percent 10 years ago. Back then, Americans felt the biggest problems facing schools were overcrowding and discipline (fighting, gangs) and drugs. Gallup describes this as the single most significant shift in American public opinion regarding their schools.

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I just switched to a standing desk. If you have a child who both spends a lot of time on a computer and is fidgety, you might rig up a homemade standing desk and try it out for a week. I’ve been reading about schools where students were given the option to switch and the kids loved it. When you think about it, our naturally active children sit for terribly long stretches of time each day at school, on the computer and watching TV. http://tinyurl.com/944fd3l

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The U.S. Dept of Education’s College Navigator is an incredible resource to compare colleges. Most important, perhaps, for college-bound students, would be to check how long it typically takes to graduate from each college on their list. Few colleges are graduating most of their students in four years right now. As you assess college options, not realizing you should be multiplying tuition by six years can make a huge difference (not to mention the loss of two years of income). I spent hours on the site and there is a lot of interesting, easy to navigate data there. Go to nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator for the details.

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Leo’s Pad is a series of animated apps for preschoolers, developed by educational researchers from Stanford University. The apps measure a child’s responses along 70-plus dimensions of learning and automatically adjust in difficulty. The games can identify a child’s strengths and weaknesses across academic, cognitive, emotional and physical skill sets, such as motor control, spatial reasoning, instruction following and empathy. Coming soon is a parent dashboard to show a child’s progress based on a 70-component educational matrix. (Go to kidaptive.com)

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I read an interesting blog on ways that parents and teachers can use the Oscar-nominated films, “Lincoln,” “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” to teach history. It suggests discussing whether the films reflect reality and, in the case of “Zero Dark Thirty,” looking at how filmmakers obtained their (frequently classified) information. The blog post also includes additional resources and tips for aligning the movie-based lessons to the Common Core standards. ( go to tinyurl.com/bdf4gqm)

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I was thrilled to read that the most popular TEDTalk ever, with 16 million views, is about education. If you haven’t seen Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about how our education system is killing student creativity, you should give it a look. He suggests that we radically rethink our approach to schooling. See the talk at
tinyurl.com/bg7zuan.

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If you are in your 40s or older, you will be surprised to learn that the ACT has for the first time overtaken the SAT as the most popular (commonly used) college admissions exam.

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Do you have a high school child with a learning disability or ADD/ADHD? You might worry about how they will handle college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT. There is a great website for tips on which test might better suit their learning style – ncld.org/parents-child-disabilities/teens/choosing-act-sat

• • •

According to a recent Gallup Poll of students, a majority of elementary school students – almost eight in 10 – qualify as actively engaged in their schoolwork, but that number drops in the older grades. By middle school, only six in 10 students were found to be actively involved and invested in school and when students enter high school, it drops to four in 10. To measure their engagement, Gallup surveyed 500,000 public school students in grades 5 to 12, asking them to indicate their level of agreement with statements such as, “My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important,” and, “At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

• • •

You have probably noticed that some people are great at searching online while other people aren’t efficient at it. I’m guessing that the critical thinking it requires will be crucial for our children in school and in life. Google’s Search Education feature gives educators free access to lesson plans and classroom activities to help students cultivate better online search skills. The site has in-class lessons; tips and tricks to finding online information quickly and efficiently; and skills challenges and webinars to help teachers integrate search literacy into existing lesson plans.

• • •

Most students think that taking Advanced Placement classes will enable them to graduate faster, but that is typically dependent on scores of four or five (out of five) AND many colleges use AP scores simply for admissions and placement, rather than academic credit. Dartmouth College recently became the latest Ivy to change its policy and no longer accept APs for credit.

• • •

Recent polls show that parents overwhelmingly believe that having more guidance counselors in every school would be more effective than hiring armed police officers. California has one of the worst ratios of counselors per student in the nation. The Association of Counselors recommends a ratio of 1:250. At Sonoma Valley High School, there is one counselor for every 418 students.

• • •

I recently read five succinct homework tips for parents, courtesy of Margaret Yau, an intern at ed.gov.

• Study space: Set up a quiet, well-lit area for your child to complete his or her homework. Try to remove any distractions from the surrounding area, like televisions, computers (unless used for the assignment) and loud conversations.

• Imitation: Children imitate their parents. When your child is focusing on homework, join them in a similar, focused activity. Crack open a favorite novel while they complete their reading assignment, or balance your checkbook while they work through their multiplication tables.

• Time management: Teach your child how to manage their time. Schedule events, homework and tasks at home. For instance, after school, set a specific time as “homework time” and for tasks at home give them time limits.

• Encourage independence: Some homework assignments are meant to be done by the student alone, and hovering can take away from the child’s learning process. Try to step back, and if intervention is really needed, make sure to provide guidance, not just answers.

• Tackle a challenge: Teach your child how to identify the difference between the “hard” homework questions and the “easy” ones. Have them set aside the easier questions for later and tackle the hard ones first.”

• • •

QuotEd (99 cents) is an SAT prep application for your phone that is designed specifically to be read on a phone. The app focuses on reading comprehension, which is a good thing as SAT reading scores nationwide are the lowest they have ever been in 40 years. The app sends out one reading comprehension question a day based on quotes from famous poems, intellectual essays and other sources.

• • •

Educator Kumar Sathy is the author of “Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure.” I love her idea for helping kids practice their reading. She suggests turning on the closed captioning or subtitles and muting the sound when the TV is on. You use the menu button on your remote to enable this. The TV Guide channel shows the (cc) symbol next to a show if closed captioning is available. This just runs text along the screen at the speed of oral communication, which is the rate your child needs to learn to read as a step toward fluency.

• • •

Registration is open now for the Hayward-LaHonda Music Camp, July 20 to 27 in the Santa Cruz mountains. Now in its 52nd season, the camp inspires students in grades 6 to 12 to achieve their best musically in a variety of creative pursuits and to develop their music skills. The week includes rehearsals, performances, recreation and general camp life. This is a relatively affordable camp experience at $695/week. Go to lahondamusiccamp.org.

• • •

I am a big fan of the Federal Service Summer Language Academy. This three-week, residential summer program for high school students takes place at North Georgia University. Students choose a language to learn: Arabic, Chinese, Russian, German, Korean, French or Portuguese, and earn one high school academic credit. In the afternoon, students hear presentations from FBI and CIA recruiters and representatives from other career areas. There is also a physical fitness component. Students live in dorms on the gorgeous campus. It is not cheap – $1,895 for three weeks ($95 a day) – but costs significantly less than most residential camps of this type, and scholarships are available. Go to northgeorgia.edu/summeracademy.

• • •

The Peace Corps is an independent U.S. government agency that has been around for more than 50 years and now has more than 8,000 volunteers in 75 countries. This year, Washington state had the greatest number of students join the Peace Corps across the large school (University of Washington), medium school (Western Washington University) and small school (Gonzaga University) categories nationwide. On the other side of the country, colleges in Washington, D.C., came in a close second. Teach for America also recently released its annual ranking of the schools sending it the largest number of graduates. Berkeley, Northwestern University and Wellesley College topped the list.

• • •

A big MetLife survey found that teacher job satisfaction has hit its lowest point in a quarter of a century, and 75 percent of principals believe their jobs have become too complex. For almost 30 years, the survey has polled 1,000 teachers and 500 principals in K through 12 schools across the country. Only 39 percent of teachers described themselves as very satisfied with their jobs on the latest survey, down from 65 percent in 2008, and down five percentage points just over the past year. Budget cuts, less professional development, less collaboration and stress are the primary factors contributing to lower job satisfaction. I am checking with the district to see if Sonoma polls its teachers in this way.

• • •

The Department of Education last week launched a new college scorecard website, whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/college-score-card. The site is great in that it is designed to help families get, as President Obama put it, “the most bang for your educational buck.” The site lists colleges by their cost, average student debt and student loan default rate (which correlates to student employment after graduation). Interestingly, advocates for liberal arts education worry that the scorecard oversimplifies the college-selection process and places too much emphasis on financial aspects of the decision.

• • •

The education and teaching website, TopMastersInEducation.com, has published a list of the 50 best books for new teachers. The list is a compilation of the books most recommended for new teachers by experienced teachers and principals. The goal is to provide new K through 12 teachers with a ready-made list of books they can turn to for inspiration and guidance. It is a wide range of titles that share a high level of online recommendations. Go to topmastersineducation.com/50-best-books-for-new-teachers/ .

• • •

A new book, “The Rise of Women,” by Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, looks at how and why female students continue to outpace their male counterparts in education. It turns out that the trend began with students born in the 1950s, because since then the rate of men’s college graduation rates stopped growing (settling at around 27 percent), while by 2010, women’s graduation rates had jumped to 36 percent. Today, women outpace men in college enrollment by a ratio of 1.4 to 1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that women are smarter, but girls have better average social and behavioral skills than boys, and that relates to girls’ higher average grades. “The grade gap isn’t about ability,” said Ohio State’s Claudia Buchmann, who co-authored the study, “it’s really more about effort and engagement in school.”

• • •

There is an interesting conservative news site written by and for college students. Thecollegefix.com bills itself as “Your Daily Dose of Right-Minded Campus News.” Whether or not you lean that way, any site that aims to get kids invested in, educated about, and concerned with current affairs is a good thing.

Roundup XV

TeenTribune, TweenTribune and TTEspañol are great new daily news sites for teens and tweens (teentribune.com). Each day they post the most compelling, relevant and interesting news for kids aged 8-to-18. Stories are selected by teens and tweens working closely with professional journalists. TeenTribune and TweenTribune are easy to use, are updated daily and, most importantly, these sites encourage teens and tweens to seek out news on a daily basis. For English language learners, I also found a great site – newsinlevels.com – that provides news for students of English. There is a choice of three different reading levels for each current events news story on the site. While you can argue with the merit of much of what you find on the Internet, when I find brilliant free sites like these, I get very excited.

• • •

iTunes U is a depository of free educational courses and content from and for elementary, middle and high schools and colleges.The Beyond Campus section includes lectures and courses from close to a hundred institutions from museums to the San Francisco Symphony to the Lawrence Hall of Science. It is worth a look, even if you have checked it out in the past, as there is vastly more content available now.

• • •

Which college degrees will be in greatest demand by employers hiring 2012 college graduates? A survey shows that employers in pharmaceutical manufacturing; computer and electronics manufacturing; retail trade; finance, insurance, and real estate; management consulting; and professional services expect the greatest increases in hiring. Employers said that they are most interested in students with business-, engineering-, and computer-related bachelor’s degrees. According to Forbes magazine, the good news for college grads is that the 244 large-corporate survey respondents reported they planned to hire almost 10 percent more college grads this year than last. The next most in-demand majors are the more general sciences, followed by liberal arts, communications, agriculture and natural resources.

• • •

A team of researchers analyzed more than 10,000 teenagers across the United States to gain insight into what factors are most important for insuring a child’s academic success. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that students whose families were supportive and involved in school life performed better academically. But it was interesting to read that children with engaged parents who study at weak schools outperformed children with less engaged parents, studying at high-performing schools. Read more about it here.  The paper appeared in the online journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

• • •

The free music iPad app Chromatik (chromatik.com) is a digital music stand that made its first public appearance on American Idol. It is making news because the average user of the app uses it obsessively and it is really taking hold in the musical community. Musicians can upload, record, annotate, and share music as well as record performance, track progress, and give and receive individual feedback. Musicians can also share playlists and recordings. The potential for the app to replace paper sheet music has music classrooms and musicians of all ages very excited.

• • •

In other music news, I’ve been reading about teachers who are trying a very interesting new approach to encouraging reading fluency using music. They select songs and provide the lyrics to students. For 10 to 15 minutes each day, the students enjoy listening to the music and reading along, increasing their fluency and vocabulary and gaining exposure to different musical genres. Teachers sometimes choose songs with specific words or themes. Checking the song for appropriateness first is important, as is making the lyrics text as large and easy-to-read as possible. Another tip is to use several songs frequently to avoid students’ memorizing the words too fast. You want them reading instead of reciting.

• • •

UCLA researchers have determined that IQ does not determine math success, instead, it is determined by motivation and the quality of instruction received. The report in the journal Child Development reviewed the math achievement of 3,500 public school students from the fifth grade through the 10th grade who were given a standardized math exam every year. While children with higher IQs did have higher test scores at the beginning of the study, how much new material the kids learned over the years was not related to how smart they were. IQ does not predict growth in math achievement; it only determines the starting point. Read more here.

• • •

Around 25 percent of all freshmen college students currently do not make it to sophomore year, according to data collected by UCLA. Considering the work that goes into selecting and paying for that freshmen year, that is a high number. Various obstacles students face in their new environment are cited as key factors, including feeling homesick, feeling overwhelmed, feeling isolated, and struggling with time management. Make sure that if you have a child entering college that you help them locate the many resources available to them on campus to get help riding out these initial obstacles.

• • •

One of the nation’s leading experts on choking under pressure, Sian Bellock, has found that students can combat test anxiety and improve their performance by writing about their worries immediately before taking an important exam. The study, just published in the journal Science, found that students who were prone to text anxiety improved their test scores after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear. The writing exercise is thought to free up brainpower needed to complete the test successfully.

• • •

New research coming out of the University of Georgia and Columbia University suggests that girls get better grades in elementary school … and boys do better on standardized tests … simply because of the girls’ classroom behavior. The study in the current issue of Journal of Human Resources suggests teachers give girls higher grades than their male counterparts because they are better behaved and easier to teach. This is an interesting and plausible theory, but it does not fully account for the larger trend of decreasing numbers of young men heading for college, compared to young women. Read more here.

• • •

The new free iPad app, “The Fun Way to Learn Algebra: Hands-On Equations,” gives even the youngest students visual and kinesthetic ways to understand abstract algebraic equations. The app is relevant for ages 8 and older, but is also well suited for helping older students who are struggling in traditional algebra classes. Along the same lines, here is a link to more than a dozen terrific new iPad math apps: http://ht.ly/2tYuiL.

• • •

On last year’s application, the University of Chicago included the essay question, “Where is Waldo?” Huh? A new trend has more colleges offering up unusual essay prompts so to as to gain a better insight into candidates’ personalities and, perhaps, to better avoid paid coaching, parent-written essays and plagiarism. Another fun one, from Brandeis University in Boston, asks, “A package arrives at your door. After seeing the contents you know it’s going to be the best day of your life. What’s inside and how do you spend your day?” Consider adding prompts like these to your dinner table conversation with your children throughout their schooling to encourage creative thinking and introspection, or pick up Table Topics (which has some doozies) at one of the many stores where it is sold.

• • •

I came across some cool and unusual tips for students working on learning a second language, particularly if you or your student is feeling stuck at a plateau in language acquisition. 1) Listen to radio broadcasts, movies or audio books in the target language. You can frequently find a free Internet radio station in your target language at radio-locator.com. Try having the language on in the background all the time. 2) There are some great, free foreign language instruction sites to check out, including Babbel at babbel.com/mobile and Busuu at busuu.com/enc. 3) Visuals speed up learning on any subject. Try placing note cards on household objects in your home to remind you of key vocabulary. 4) Sign up for Voxy (voxy.com) and the site will send you news snippets in your target language, edited to your language level. 5) Finally, because your goal is to think in your target language, try setting your computer’s default language to your target language – as well as your phone and your TV at home. Set as many electronic devices as possible to your target language and you’ll be forced to think in it. Setting your search engine’s default language could have a huge impact on your language acquisition.

• • •

The book creator at redjumper.net/bookcreator/ lets you create beautiful books that can be shared with friends and family in its iBookstore and read on your iPad. Writing a short story or producing a memoir of a trip can be a great creative exercise for students.

• • •

The New York Times recently ran a chart of early admission statistics for incoming college freshman (current high school seniors). You can see (school by school) any advantage of applying in the early round of applications, rather than waiting till the regular deadline. Read the complete list here nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/20/education/choice-early-admission-chart-2013.html

• • •

Two new companies are offering gift cards that can be used toward a college education. GradSave and Kiva have systems in place that let you make direct donations to a child’s 529 college savings plan. The gift cards are catching on as alternatives to traditional holiday gifts. The physical gift cards come with redemption codes that recipients enter online to transfer the money.

• • •

Absenteeism is a hot topic in school reform as students who are frequently absent have an almost impossible time staying on grade level. Woodland Star recently explained the two key issues of absenteeism well in its parent newsletter:

• “Regular and consistent classroom attendance is important for each child because the majority of the daily lessons are presented orally and as a group interaction. A student who is frequently absent will find it difficult to make up work or fully understand the material. In addition, the class loses its rhythm and momentum. Consistent attendance is very important to your child’s success, and to the unity and success of the class.”

• “Every absence also causes a funding penalty, negatively impacting the school budget with a loss of approximately $35 per day per absent student.(A public school’s) yearly budget is based on regular attendance. The financial health of the school supports your child’s educational opportunities. (But bear in mind, Woodland Star and the Sonoma Charter school are the only schools in our district getting ADA money because Sonoma is a “Basic Aid” district.)”

• • •

Education to Employment is a new report by McKinsey & Company that examines the paradox of widespread youth unemployment and jobs left vacant due to a lack of qualified applicants. The report analyzed 100 skills training programs in 25 countries. They found that part of the problem is poor communication and coordination between employers and education providers (regarding the skills needed). The crux of the problem – fewer than half of employees believe that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions – whereas 72 percent of colleges believe that their students are prepared.

• • •

Teachers rarely have free time to idly browse web resources, but I came across a great list (also useful for parents) of the 100 best Web resources for teachers. Perhaps you can share it with your child’s teacher?onlinemastersineducation.org/teaching-resources

• • •

One reason that I write a lot about SAT and ACT prep classes and sources online is that there is a proven link between students’ scores on these tests and the amount of merit aid they will receive from selective colleges. Students who score in the top 10 percent of test-takers – about 2000 out of 2400 on the SAT or a 28 out of 36 on the ACT – can be offered merit scholarships as large as $20,000 a year at many colleges. You can calculate the impact of higher scores yourself. At Seattle Pacific University, for example, a student with a 3.75-grade-point-average and a combined score of 1110 on the SAT math and reading sections qualifies for a $10,000-a-year scholarship. But if that student were able to score 100 points higher, the scholarship would increase to $12,000, netting the student an additional $8,000 over four years of college. If you are curious about a specific college, go to its Net College Calculator and input the student’s profile information, then change nothing but their SAT or ACT score, and watch scholarship offers increase as the score rises.

• • •

Females represent 50 percent of the American population, but only 24 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the Association for Women in Science. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The Huffington Post has created a new STEM mentorship initiative, connecting high-school and college-age girls with an interest in science and engineering to female leaders in these fields. Girls ages 14-21 can apply now through Jan. 31. Mentors are also needed. Email STEM@huffingtonpost.com for more information.

• • •

Full-time teachers and administrators (elementary through high school) should consider applying for a free teacher seminar overseas, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. This is through the same program that brought my daughter to China last summer (all expenses paid). Selected teachers spend two to six weeks in the summer in Brazil, Portugal, India or China and agree to host a teacher from one of those countries during the following school year. The deadline is Jan. 1. Apply and learn more at: americancouncils.org/program/4a/EDSPO/. The chances of being accepted range from 1 in 3 to 1 in 15, so it’s not impossible.

• • •

Boundless.com is a free online textbook platform that hopes to save students money and help them to learn more efficiently. It uses open source documents and information to recreate college textbooks for free, and it has expanded into study guides and tools. You can use Boundless on any device, any time, anywhere.

• • •

Also worth checking out is Bookboon, a Danish company that provides free ebooks and expects to have 50 million downloads this year. The site is free, as it is supported by ads. Interestingly, the site originates in a part of the world (Europe) where textbooks are much more reasonably-priced than they are here.

• • •

I have been skeptical about etextbooks (because many are still so costly) but a recent survey of high school students found some interesting reasons why students prefer them: instant access, portability, the ability to search within the text, the ability to highlight text, and the presence of interactive study guides/quizzes. Only 7 percent of those surveyed said they prefer traditional textbooks (edudemic.com).

• • •

Around 65 percent of the world’s population has no access to Internet and, as a result, cannot take advantage of the advances in free online learning now available. Khan Academy is offering a new web app that provides its core content (videos and exercises) without needing Internet connectivity. KA Lite can be accessed at kalite.adhocsync.com and information then downloaded for use in places where there is no Internet access. I’m thinking you could also download videos for long car and plane trips for your child.

• • •

Every high school student should consider getting a Twitter account. Why? There are dozens of scholarships, essay contests and competitions for middle school, high school and college students posted every day on Twitter. The hot links make it easy to get more information. Students who love to write can promote their blogs and find out about writing contests, opportunities and internships. Best of all, students can also connect with (follow) professionals in their fields of interest and learn about grants, summer jobs and research from notable educators. High school students can learn what is happening on campus at the colleges they are interested in attending. You can also follow me @svhighered for tips on college applications, the kind of research I write about here, enrichment and more.

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Roundup XIV

Science Daily reports that happy adolescents are likely to earn more money as adults, even allowing for other influences. The study (conducted by the University College of London) followed 15,000 Americans and found that, even in children growing up in the same family, happier teens went on to earn more money. One main reason, they found, was that happy people are more likely to complete their schooling, to get offered a job and to get promoted than their less happy peers (even peers of the same socio-economic background, location, health and IQ). Read more here.

• • •

A study in Australia has found that children who are taught to swim at a very young age (2 to 5 years old), regardless of their socio-economic level, achieve physical milestones faster and exhibit significantly better fine motor, math skills and oral expression (Science Daily).

• • •

I was interested to read about a study, conducted by researchers at Hofstra University and UC Davis, that found that children who are able to acknowledge and appreciate their good fortune are more likely to be happy and experience lower levels of depression, envy and materialism. Researcher Jeffrey Froh said, “a grateful child feels more connected and loved. After all, if he’s able to understand that many others care enough to make an effort for him, his life is improved.” Girls are thought to be somewhat more grateful in general than boys, and the belief is that understanding the concept of gratitude doesn’t usually kick in until age 10 or 11. Is it too late if your child seems less than appropriately grateful for all that they do have? Froh said that when encouraged by parents to be more conscious of life’s bounties, children can indeed become more grateful.

• • •

Undergraduates who have taken many more classes than needed to earn a degree are dubbed “super seniors.”School officials at the California state schools are saying that the system can’t afford to let students linger without collecting their diplomas, and are debating charging high fees (almost triple the normal cost) to students who have completed five years of full-time undergraduate work. State schools in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina have already done so. Fox News did a piece on the students recently, explaining that Cal State hopes the fees will improve grad rates in the CSU system, from which only 16 percent of freshmen graduate within four years and only 52 percent graduate within six years.

• • •

If your child’s obsession with video games is driving you crazy, here is a small silver lining … High school and college students who are particularly skilled at video games recently went head-to-head with physicians in robotic surgery simulations and the results were presented at a global medical congress. It was found that high school and college students who played two-to-four hours of video games daily matched, and in some cases exceeded, the skills of the medical residents. The competition came about when the lead researcher, Dr. Sami Kilic, saw her son, an avid video game player, wow onlookers on a robotic surgery simulator at a medical convention.

• • •

A 20-year study has found that being raised in a home with lots of books increases the level of education that a child will obtain, no matter if their parents are rich or poor, illiterate or college graduates. Mariah Evans, the lead researcher for the University of Nevada study, found that even having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit. Children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. The study is one of the largest and most comprehensive ever conducted on what influences the level of education a child will attain. Read more here.

• • •

Research shows that children benefit greatly from full-day kindergarten. Studies show that full-day K boosts cognitive learning, creative problem-solving, social competence, gains on literacy and language measures, better attendance and higher achievement in the older grades. Currently 10 states require that school districts provide publicly funded full-day K. An additional 34 states require school districts to provide half-day kindergarten, and six states don’t require school districts to provide any kindergarten at all.

• • •

There is an interesting free quarterly newsletter for parents of students with ADHD  at tinyurl.com/ba78kbq

• • •

Because my children are all very different students, I have always been fascinated by learning styles. If your children (or you) have never taken a learning-style assessment, you might be interested in what you learn. There is a decent, free one available online at learning-styles-online.com. The different types are: visual-spatial, aural-auditory, verbal-linguistic, physical-bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, social-interpersonal and solitary-intrapersonal.

• • •

Payscale, a salary website, recently ran a list of the fields of study (majors) in which students felt best about the impact they were making on the world around them. The results were: 1. nursing, 2. special education, 3. medical technology, 4. biomedical engineering, 5. athletic training, 6. social work, 7. child and family studies, 8. dietetics, 9. biblical studies and 10. health-care administration.

• • •

If you are on Facebook, you can “like” your school and have regular access to all kinds of great news and photos. Virtually every school in our town now has a social media presence, whether it is Facebook or You Tube or Twitter.

• • •

A study published in the summer 2012 issue of Education Next found that delaying the start time of school by one hour increased standardized test scores, with the largest increases for students with below-average test scores. Nationwide, some schools are beginning earlier than 7:30 a.m. and others after 9 a.m. Districts frequently stagger the start times of different schools in order to reduce transportation costs by using fewer buses. A Congressional resolution recommended that secondary schools nationwide start at 9 a.m. or later, but not many public schools have made changes.

• • •

I recently came across a great listing of free summer programs for high school students. Some even provide travel to countries around the globe. Now is the time to act for top-notch summer programs, the best ones, and all the selective free ones have winter deadlines. Examples include a seven-week leadership program at Princeton University for low-income students and six weeks in India on a State Department program. thecollegiateblog.org/2012/08/19/80-free-summer-programs-for-high-school-students/

• • •

California is bucking the national trend to eliminate the teaching of cursive in third grade. It is a divisive topic as some think it is a waste of instructional time (typing skills being more useful) while others think cursive helps to develop fine motor skills and helps students to develop their own unique stamp of identity. California is one of 45 states adopting the national “core curriculum” guidelines but the standards don’t include cursive handwriting and so California has added back in their own cursive requirement.

• • •

Author Lisa Guernsey agonizes in her book “Screen Time” about how much screen time is right for children. Her research led her to focus on the three Cs: content, context, and your child. She suggests that parents be picky about the content of what their children see on-screen, and when choosing interactive titles, seek out those that put children in control. She suggests that you keep an eye on your child’s attitude and behavior before, during, and after they play their games or watch their shows, and to take time to talk about what they’ve seen, and to play some games together. And to accomplish that last C, figure which games and shows really interest your kids and what piques their curiosity and why. Seventy-two percent of iTunes’ top-selling “education” apps are designed for preschoolers and elementary school children, according to a recent report from the Sesame Workshop. lisaguernsey.com

• • •

Gooru is a new free search engine that is billed as tailored for learning. You can search for your favorite science, math or social sciences topic and browse millions of the best online learning resources, organized into thousands of curated collections. Teachers and students can use Gooru to search for rich collections of multimedia resources, digital textbooks, videos, 
games and quizzes created by educators. 
Gooru is free (of cost and ads) and developed by a nonprofit whose mission is “to honor the 
human right to education.” Go to goorulearning.org.

• • •

Does your child have ADD, ADHD, dyslexia or another learning disability? Are you wondering if they are ready for college? There is a free online tool to help you decide, courtesy of Landmark College (which specializes in meeting the needs of students with learning issues). Go to: landmark.edu/news/at-home-college-readiness-test-for-students-with-learning-disabilities/.

• • •

The website Pinterest is all the rage right now as its visual interface allows users to create, share, pin, re-pin, like, follow, search on a theme and share their interests. Educators are using it in the classroom as a tool to promote student participation in classes, showcasing student work, collaborating on coursework and suggesting reading and enrichment ideas. Go to: pinterest.com.

• • •

“What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold,” is a very helpful book by psychologist Dawn Huebner, Ph.D. The book is aimed at helping kids ages 6 to 12 overcome hard-to-stop habits such as nail-biting, thumb-sucking, hair-twirling, scab-picking and shirt-chewing. Huebner offers five strategies and I recommend it for parents to us with your child. Perhaps not exactly what they were hoping for under the tree, but a long vacation is a good time to make progress on breaking a bad habit.

• • •

Hispanic students now make up nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment and are the fastest-growing segment of the school population, but these students rarely see themselves in books written for young readers. Experts say the lack of familiar images and role-models could be an obstacle in engaging young Hispanic readers. The few books that are available from Hispanic writers are not finding their way into classrooms. Read more here.

• • •

Parents of children with food allergies are always worried when their child eats any food not prepared in their own kitchens. UCLA Schools of Engineering and Applied Science has just developed a lightweight device called the iTube, which attaches to a common cell phone to detect allergens in food samples. The attachment uses the cell phone’s built-in camera that runs a test with the same high level of sensitivity as a laboratory. Weighing less than two ounces, the attachment performs an allergen-concentration test. It doesn’t sound ready for the marketplace yet but the invention will be welcome by the parents of the 8 percent of young children who suffer from severe food allergies. Read more here.

• • •

In honor of the current exam period, here are some study tips for students (perhaps to tape inside their notebooks for future reference):

• Try studying for a few minutes right before falling sleep. During sleep, the brain strengthens new memories.

• A relatively new learning technique called “spaced repetition” involves breaking up information into small chunks and reviewing them consistently over a long period of time.

• Turning the details you need to remember into a crazy story helps make the information more meaningful. For example, remember the order of mathematic operations PEMDAS this way: Philip (P) wanted to eat (E) his friend Mary (M) but he died (D) from arsenic (AS) poisoning.

• Research suggests studying the same stuff in a different place every day makes us less likely to forget that information.

• Research suggests we store information more securely when we write it out by hand than when we type it.

• Reading information out loud means mentally storing it in two ways: seeing it and hearing it.

• Research has found just half an hour of aerobic exercise can improve our brain-processing speed and other important cognitive abilities.

• Relieve anxiety and tension by listening to classical music while studying.

• If a computer is necessary for studying, install an app that blocks the Internet for a short period of time.

• Research suggests meditation can reduce anxiety and boost attention span. There’s no harm in trying it out for a few minutes to calm pre-test jitters.

• Aim to get those seven to nine hours a night so sleep deprivation doesn’t undo all the hard work you’ve put in.

• Omega-3 fatty acids, found in certain fish, nuts, and olive oil, are known for their brain-boosting potential. Tips courtesy of USA Today.

• • •

When you head to the store to buy books or videos for your children, keep in mind the great resource of commonsensemedia.org. Not to be confused with conservative censoring groups, Common Sense provides useful information on subject matter of popular movies, books and TV shows. It is particularly helpful when choosing books for students who read far above their grade level and might be wandering into the realm of inappropriate topics.

• • •

Roundup XIII

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

 • • •

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

• • •

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

 • • •

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

 • • •

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

 • • •

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

 • • •

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

• • •

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

 • • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

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

• • •

Roundup XII

A recent article in Science Daily describes how even a small amount of music training in childhood can go a long way toward improving how the brain functions in adulthood when it comes to listening and the complex processing of sound. The study, conducted by Northwestern University, found that adults with one to five years of musical training as children had enhanced speech and music perception, making them better listeners later in life. This is important news for those of us who have children who didn’t stick with their music lessons.

• • •

I may have mentioned this before, but as our students adjust to the fall school schedule it bears repeating. Preschoolers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each night; 5- to 12-year-olds need 10 to 11 hours; and teens need 9.25 hours of sleep each night, according to researchers at the National Sleep Foundation. Children operating on too little sleep struggle in school, exhibit great symptoms of attention deficit and are more likely to be anxious and depressed.

• • •

If your teen loves video games as much as mine does, it has likely crossed your mind that it would be great if they could make a living from this time-wasting hobby. The new Khan Academy Computer Science project is designed for students with no programming knowledge who would like to learn how to write code. As always, the videos are completely free at khanacademy.org/cs.

• • •

The Hunger Games trilogy has surpassed the Harry Potter series to become the best-selling series on Amazon.com. I loved both series and have noticed many adults enjoying the “Hunger Games,” so it doesn’t surprise me, except that the “Harry Potter” series is so many more books (seven versus three) and this was accomplished so quickly.

• • •

A new partnership between an online gaming company and Oxford University Press aims to boost student interest in reading through a gaming site dedicated to classic works of literature. The collaborative effort, called “50 Great Reads Before 15,” is part of a growing trend of injecting a gaming component into regular academics. The game introduces characters and storylines from classic literature, including “Alice in Wonderland,” “Macbeth,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Don Quixote” and “Arabian Nights.” What a great idea, if kids take to it. Go to secretbuilders.com.

• • •

Along the same lines, if you are worried about the video games your child enjoys, check out Games for Change. The site has the mission of “catalyzing social impact through digital games.” They curate a group of games that they believe are fun, while also “serving as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts.” See what they offer atgamesforchanges.org.

• • •

I am running to the bookstore to buy “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. I gather the author’s hypothesis is that intelligence has nothing to do with success and that, instead, non-cognitive skills like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are far more crucial to achieving success.

• • •

Every school district is scrambling to make the transition from its State Standards to the new national Common Core standards. The concern is not so much that the Common Core standards are harder, they are just so different that it will involve a lot of teacher training to make the switch. Some specific examples, the Common Core eliminates cursive instruction, it changes the year that multiplication takes place, critical reading will be stressed starting in the lower grades and most importantly, it relies less on memorization and more on real-world challenges and higher-order thinking.

• • •

The website Daily Tekk has created a list of 101 indispensible websites for students (of all ages). Many I had heard of but many are new and truly astounding. Check them out here: tinyurl.com/8mtwchh.

• • •

I was surprised to learn that 85 percent of children’s learning is related to vision, and that in the U.S., 80 percent of children haven’t had an eye exam before they start kindergarten (Science Daily 8/30/12). Make sure your children’s eyes are checked before they start any type of school, including pre-school. Kids can’t tell you that they can’t see well because they have no basis for comparison.

• • •

Maybe our parents were right: the British Broadcasting System (BBC) reported that researchers have found that kids who started smoking pot below the age of 18 – while their brains were still developing – suffered a drop in IQ. For more than 20 years, researchers have followed the lives of a group of people – beginning before any of them had started using marijuana – and then re-interviewed them repeatedly, up to the age of 38. They found that those who persistently used cannabis – smoking it at least four times a week year after year through their teens onward – suffered a decline in their IQ. The more that people smoked, the greater the loss in IQ. The effect was most marked in those who started smoking pot as adolescents, and no loss was found among those who began as adults. Stopping or reducing use failed to fully restore the lost IQ.

• • •

If your son or daughter (of any age) doesn’t love to read, you might try audiobooks, either downloaded to an iPod from audible.com or on CDs from the library. Many kids find that they love to unwind listening to a book at night and many will stick with it for many more hours than they would hold a book.

• • •

“What can parents do to help their children develop skills like motivation and perseverance? The reality is that when it comes to non-cognitive skills, the traditional calculus of the cognitive hypothesis—start earlier and work harder – falls apart. Children can’t get better at overcoming disappointment just by working at it for more hours. And they don’t lag behind in curiosity simply because they didn’t start doing curiosity work sheets at an early enough age. Instead, it seems, the most valuable thing that parents can do to help their children develop non-cognitive skills – which is to say, to develop their character – may be to do nothing. To back off a bit. To let our children face some adversity on their own, to fall down and not be helped back up.”

Those are the words of author Paul Tough, whose book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,” has just been released. The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from the book last week.

• • •

There continues to be a lot of talk in the education press about brain food and the fact that children’s dietary habits can impact their energy level, mood and academic performance. Top of the list to boost brain power are exactly what my children refuse to eat: foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, tuna and other fish. Other top foods include blueberries, spinach and quinoa.

• •

The Harvard Education Letter suggests five interesting ways that schools can build closer relationships with families. Author Richard Milner proposes: 1. Offer language-learning resources for all parents and families. Help parents to help their children to succeed in school by improving their own English skills, and if a school offers more languages than Spanish, offer classes in those languages to the wider school community. 2. Offer parenting workshops that help parents understand how best to support their children in a school culture. These workshops empower parents to be active participants in their children’s education. 3. Encourage school-wide book reading and choose a book that supports a specific theme that the district has chosen that year to pursue. 4. Choose a diversity-related theme that sparks conversations to be explored over the course of the school year. Possible themes, he suggests, are: opportunity, diversity, integrity, community service, poverty, resilience, tenacity and injustice. Students can help choose and teachers can incorporate the theme into the curriculum 5. Offer school-wide movies as an easy way for a community to come together to address issues of importance to a school or district. Some choices he suggests: “Boys in the Hood,” “Crash,” “The Blindside,” “Remember the Titans,” “Something New,” “Finding Forester,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Lean on Me,” andGood Will Hunting.” 6. And finally, offer a community-centered dinner because he suggests there is nothing like food to bring people together. A periodic dinner brings parents, other family members and community members together with teachers, staff, administrators and students.

• • •

There is a new book out titled “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brain Thinkers Will Rule the World,” in which author Daniel Pink puts forth the argument that the future will belong to those with a different kind of mind – “designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers – creative and empathetic ‘right-brained’ thinkers.” He cites a number of global trends that are driving a shift away from the reductive and analytical thinking that has been valued in American society for years, toward a new value placed on creative thinkers.

Roundup XI

There is a new website and app that could help the student athlete in your family get attention from college coaches and perhaps a better chance at a scholarship. View MySport.com is a mix of Facebook and YouTube all with a sports focus. Student athletes build a profile with statistics, pictures and highlight videos. Students can send the profile directly to specific coaches.

•••

There is a great master list online of the top 50 education smart phone applications and online sites at ow.ly/cXGQC. It is worth checking out as there is something there for everyone and most are free or under $5.

•••

Two very different rankings of top colleges were released this month. My favorite is the one prepared by Forbesmagazine, as its metrics are new and very relevant (quality of teaching, employability and amount of student debt … rather than selectivity of the college). Check it out at forbes.com/top-colleges/list. Newsweek and The Daily Beasthave released their own rankings of specific categories (most rigorous, top party colleges, etc.) that is interesting if not too scientific at thedailybeast.com/newsweek/features/2012/college-rankings.html

•••

In the category of “it can’t hurt to try it,” London researchers believe that fish oil capsules can reduce the severity of ADHD-type behavior in some children and some children with reading difficulties (such as dyslexia) have shown major improvement in their reading after taking fish oil (rch.org.au/factssheets)

•••

The big trend in educational web sites and smart phone applications is to make learning more like a video game. A math app that is leading the way is “Math Evolve” for ages 6-14. The site/app combines math practice with classic video game elements with the goal of making math more fun and engaging for students. Designed by an elementary school teacher, Math Evolve combines math practice with arcade-style gameplay. Go to mathevolve.com.

•••

Based on current projections, the top five languages in the year 2050 are expected to be Chinese, Hindi-Urdu, English, Spanish and Arabic (in that order). There is a very interesting web site at http://visual/ly/speakinglanguages which notes that it takes English speakers 22 to 24 weeks of study to achieve general proficiency in Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian and Spanish; It takes 44 weeks of study to learn Albanian, Greek, Hebrew and Russian; and it takes 88 weeks of study to learn Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The website has a wealth of other information about foreign language study.

•••

I am a big fan of summer enrichment for high schoolers and there has to be something interesting for everyone on this list of free online courses: openculture.com/freeonlinecourses.

• • •

If you and your children are traveling overseas this summer you might get a kick out of this new free language app called Word Lens that enables you to take a photo of a sign (in a foreign language) and to get an instant translation.

• • •

The Social Express is an interactive software application designed for children with autism, Asperger’s and ADHD that teaches how to think about and manage social situations through video modeling. The goal is to help children build social-emotional skills and develop the meaningful relationships they need to navigate life. The price ranges from $2.99 for the app to $90 for the complete computer program. Pricey, unless it can help, then it might be a bargain.

• • •

I hope to write about this more next fall, but there is a great belief right now that certificates, not degrees, may be the future of higher education. Certificates are fairly new and they are typically awarded by community colleges for training in a particular occupation, but four-year colleges are now starting to offer certificates. Most take a year, or less to complete. A recent study by Georgetown University found that the American job market increasingly rewards field of study rather than level of degree. In other words: It’s more important what you study than how long you study.

• • •

For-profit colleges continue to garner very negative press coverage. Countless studies show that for-profit college students are most likely to end up in debt and with no diploma. A recent report by the non-profit group Education Sector found that about 10 percent of college students nationwide are enrolled at for-profit colleges, yet the sector is responsible for nearly half of student loan defaults. For-profit schools include online colleges, trade schools and some art schools.

• • •

More than 1.6 million students took the ACT college entrance exam in 2012 and 734 (52 in California) earned a perfect score of 36. This is a huge state so it is amazing to me that 10 of those 52 attended one high school – Irvine University High School (near U.C. Irvine in Southern California) – and the scores have been confirmed as valid.

• • •

I am a big fan of International Baccaleureate high school programs because of their rigor and global focus. Many IB schools will soon begin offering career-related certificate programs for high schoolers in engineering, culinary arts and automotive technology. (www.ibo.org)

• • •

The top 50 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) apps for smart phones and iPads can be found here: tinyurl.com/c5odezo. There are some truly great ones for all different ages to explore this summer.

• • •

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have found that a fifth grader’s understanding of one narrow and particular set of math facts – knowledge of fractions and division – is a very accurate predictor of his or her future math achievement, even after statistically controlling for parents’ education and income and for the children’s own age, gender, IQ, etc. This finding can help teachers and parents focus attention on this key area within general math instruction.

• • •

A new ad campaign by the Autism Speaks Foundation puts forth these three warning signs of autism: no smiles or joyful expressions by six months, no babbling by 12 months and no words by 16 months. Learn more atwww.autismspeaks.org/signs.

• • •

The government has created a new website to try to help parents better understand the costs of various colleges and the aid available. The summer is a good time for parents with high school students to get a head start on thinking about this issue: www.collegecost.ed.gov/.

• • •

Other organizations are following Khan Academy’s lead in offering free online video tutorials. One worth checking out is http://www.sophia.org. Sophia has been described as a combination of Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube, focused solely on education. The site’s 25,000-plus, bite-sized tutorials are tagged to specific academic subjects or topics, including some subjects I don’t see available at Khan Academy. This summer, the site is giving away an iPad every week for students who try their free tutorials.

• • •

I wrote recently about how sugar consumption can mar a student’s success on tests. Unreal Brands, the brainstorm of a 15-year-old, is a new line of candy launching next month at CVS and Target, with natural ingredients but mimicking children’s current favorite name brands. It might be worth checking out.

• • •

US News & World Report recently listed what the richest people in America majored in in college. The 1 percenters’ majors, in order, were: 1. Economics. 2. Political science. 3. Art history (OK, this one took me by surprise). 4. Finance. 5. Religious studies (another shocker). 6. Pharmacy and 7. Accounting.

• • •

Indian Americans have surpassed Latinos as the fastest-growing racial group, and they are the highest-income and best-educated people in the United States, according to the Pew Research Centre. Indian Americans have a median household annual income of $88,000, much higher than for all Asians ($66,000) and all U.S. households ($49,800).

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PBS-TV aired a report earlier this year on child abuse that pointed out that America leads the industrialized world in the number of children under 15 who die from physical abuse or neglect. This piece was titled, “America’s Death Shame,”and it continues to get a lot of press and lots of hits on YouTube. How is it that America has the worst child abuse record in the industrialized world?

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28 U.S. universities – out of a total of 326 participating campuses – have been rated a five-star school in an ongoing assessment of LGBT-friendliness (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) by the national nonprofit Campus Pride.

•••

Everyone assumes that getting a graduate degree will help you earn more money but I recently read an interesting piece about certain graduate degrees that don’t pay off in terms of boosting future earnings (www.bankrate.com).First on the list was an MFA (master’s in fine arts) as it was found to boost income for grads just 3 percent. Second was a computer engineering graduate degree. Students going into computer science just don’t need a grad degree. Next up was any graduate degree in advertising, marketing or public relations. Employers in these fields would prefer to see an MBA. Next up was a law degree from second-rate school. The quality of the law school is paramount is future hire-ability. Finally, degrees in meteorology or atmospheric science were found to add a tiny 1 percent to future earnings. With graduate degrees increasingly expensive and financial aid almost impossible to secure for graduate study, the impact of a higher degree on future earnings can’t be overlooked.

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Online college is not a good choice for your typical recent high school graduate. These programs work best for strongly motivated adults who have a clear career path or want training for specific jobs. They basically increase access by providing less college: less face time with caring teachers, less campus life with other students, less “atmosphere.” A good traditional campus with close faculty member contact is a better choice for most young people.

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Have you heard about Facebook investor Peter Thiel’s $100,000 fellowship grants that require the winning students to drop out of college? Many of these students (all under 20) have already completed a lot of college coursework on their own so it isn’t as controversial as some claim but the accomplishments and plans the fellowship winners have are amazing.

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IBM’s new free CityOne computer game is similar to Sim City but it challenges players to solve real-world business, environmental and logistical problems within retail, banking, water and energy industries as part of the game’s goal of revitalizing a metropolitan area. It is very popular among business school students around the country and worth checking out.

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Sons of fathers with high incomes tend to end up with higher than average incomes themselves. New research shows that it is more dad’s intelligence than his earnings that helps a son on his way. The Journal of Political Economy covered the study which found that human capital endowments passed from father to son – in the form of smarts, advice, work ethic – seems to contribute more to a son’s success than how much money his father makes/made. Why they didn’t also study daughters is beyond me.

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Roundup X

Binging on soda and sweets for as little as six weeks may make you stupid, according to a recent UCLA study. Researchers found that a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning – but that omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the disruption. The Journal of Physiology reports that a high-fructose diet alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. This study is the first to uncover how much sugar influences the brain.

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After much research, I have found that the most reasonably-priced, sleep-away camp option nationwide, for ages 9 to 17, is 4H camps. You don’t need to be active in 4-H and you can choose your location, anywhere in the country. They tend to cost around $125 to $300 a week (residential).

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While the results are controversial, US News & World Report has turned their ranking attention to high schools and posted the top high schools in America. No one made the list in our neck of the woods. You can read the whole list at usnews.com/education/best-high-schools.

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Very early interactive musical training benefits children even before they can walk and talk, according to a new study by McMaster University. Babies who participate in interactive music classes with their parents smile more, communicate better and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music. Two music educators got a grant from the Grammy Foundation in 2008 to study groups of babies and their parents after six months in one of two types of weekly music instruction. Babies from the interactive classes showed better early communication skills, smiled more, were easier to soothe and showed less distress when things were unfamiliar or didn’t go their way.

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The number of male teachers in America is down every year. Only 2.3 percent of pre-school and kindergarten teachers are male; in elementary and middle school classrooms it is 18.3 percent; and in high school classrooms it is 42 percent (according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). These numbers are down from 2007, a fact attributed to the poor economy and pressure to be the family breadwinner.

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A recent study about careers and employment reported in the Wall Street Journal found that 37 percent of recent grads wished they had been more careful in selecting their major or had chosen a different major; 29 percent wish they had done more internships; 24 percent would have started looking for work much sooner while still in college; and 20 percent would have taken more classes to prepare for a career. Food for thought!

 

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I have heard of more and more schools ditching their electronic newsletters in favor of communicating via a school Facebook page. If you have ever been in charge of a school newsletter, you’ll understand the allure. My guess is, give us five years and that will be the case here in Sonoma.

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US News & World Report has some good ideas for preventing summer learning loss in teens. Use these last weeks of school to get suggestions from your child’s teacher. Ask, “What do you suggest my student be doing over the summer? Are there online resources that you can recommend, or are there free or affordable activities … that my student should do over the summer?” • Help your teen find a job: Virtually every single work experience involves reading or reading comprehension. Parents and high school students should be open to internships and volunteer opportunities, too. • Choose fun learning activities: Help your teen to find learning opportunities that relate to their interests. If the teen likes children and sports, for example, he or she could become a camp counselor or even a coach – fun jobs that build skills in communication and organization.

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At my local high school, Sonoma Valley High, 96 students out of 375 are heading to a four-year college next fall (2012). Of those, two-thirds are girls and one-third are boys, exactly on par with the national average today. This is not great news for the future of young men in America.

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The book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain, centers around the belief that today’s crowded and high stimulation classrooms are a nightmare for quiet kids. Cain cites new research that suggests shy students should not be pressured to be outgoing and that all students would benefit from more time to reflect. Since the world sometimes views introverts as inferior, teachers frequently try to turn introverts into extroverts. The book explains the important difference between introversion and shyness (the latter includes anxiety that can be outgrown). Introverted children have a hard time thriving in large and conventional classroom settings and the book proposes some solutions.

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If you are headed on vacation this summer, stop by any college campus in or on your way to your destination with your children, no matter what their age. It is never too early to give them a sense of what college is like. The point isn’t that they will decide to go to the University of Hawaii or Georgetown or U.C. Santa Barbara, just that seeing any college will help them get a sense of their preferences: big, small, urban, rural, etc. You can book a tour in 30 seconds online and they are always free.

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According to the June issue of Psychology Today, “Initiative is developed in adolescence, through mastery experiences and through supportive relationships that teenagers form with adults. These experiences and relationships account for more than 75 percent of life success – more than IQ and genes combined.” The author, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., makes the points that adolescents should choose projects or activities because it gives them internal rewards (creativity, dignity, autonomy, or making a difference in other people’s lives). As teens choose activities, those activities should take place in environments that contain rules and challenges that are inherent in the real world. Also, she stresses that adolescents must learn to sustain activities over time, despite the challenges.

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If you have a student ages 16 to 26 who is interested in studying abroad at some point, I recommend an incredible list of 65 different organizations that provide study abroad grants and scholarships. Read the entire list here:www.gooverseas.com/study-abroad/study-abroad-grants-and-scholarships. This website also has great general information on living and studying overseas.

• •

Some parents prefer a kindergarten experience that is more academic, others feel strongly that kindergarten should be play based and centered on socialization. A local teacher sent me a link to a very interesting TEDx video about the history of kindergarten and how the standards have changed. The speaker is a very dynamic young man who has taught kindergarten for the past 15 years in Santa Monica and he is not a big fan of the worksheets now pressed upon most 5-year-olds in kindergarten programs. www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ye78F4Mnbk

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Are you a teacher or interested in becoming one? Teach.com covers the who, what, where, when and how of being a teacher, including anecdotal and empirical data about what types of people choose to teach and a comprehensive explanation of the responsibilities that are expected of teachers as well as logistical questions regarding certification and testing, and the differing standards between states are listed in order to help teachers find their way.

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I am midway through “The Homework Trap: How To Save The Sanity of Parent’s Students and Teachers” by Dr. Kenneth Goldberg. The book discusses homework issues from the student’s point of view. Goldberg talks about the “homework-trapped child” and why some children, regardless of how bright they are, cannot complete their homework assignments. His recommendations are thought provoking but controversial as they would entail a major shift in thinking by teachers and schools as they center around homework time restrictions and requirements.

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Very early interactive musical training benefits children even before they can walk and talk, according to a new study by McMaster University. Babies who participate in interactive music classes with their parents smile more and communicate better, according to this recent study.

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To that end, high school musicians will soon be able to take a class from the famed Juilliard music conservatory.Julliard is spearheading a series of online K-12 courses that will be available (at a price) to students and school districts starting this fall. The online courses are meant to complement classroom teachers and not replace them. Learn more at: tinyurl.com/8xbdamm.

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A new study published by Science Magazine found that subjects do their most creative thinking in a blue room.They suggest that this is because blue is relaxing and a relaxed state of mind is crucial for creative thinking. Subjects in red rooms exhibited superior accuracy and attention to detail.

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According to the Times Higher Education World University rankings, the top five new-ish universities worldwide are (in order): Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea; Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland; the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; the University of California, Irvine; and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea.

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Increasing the spacing between characters and words in a text improves the speed and quality of dyslexic childrens’ reading. As a parent of a dyslexic child, I was interested to read about this study that found that this basic change results in 20 percent faster reading on average with half as many errors. This may hold true for students who are slower readers in general. The research was conducted at the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive in France. There is a new free app called DYS that can test your child’s success with various text spacing.

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Roundup IX

Thanks to a new study, scientists believe they have found the scientific key to what has previously been described as “game intelligence” in top soccer players. With so many players having physical ability and ball sense, why are some players better able to “read” the play, be in the right place at the right time and steal goals? The multi-year study found that game intelligence can be understood scientifically, based on exceptional “executive functions” (creative thinking, finding new solutions to problems, revising behavior based on outcome, flexibility to change tactics). They did extensive cognitive testing on 57 elite soccer players and compared various levels of players with each other and the general population. For details on the study go to ki.se/?l=en.

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A study has found that the small change of making specific references to print in books while reading aloud to children can provide a big boost to their reading skills later on. Preschool children whose teachers used print references during storybook reading showed more advanced subsequent reading skills when compared to children whose teachers did not use such references. See the April issue of the journal Child Development for more details.

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Common Sense Media has shifted through the thousands of apps and websites out that claim to be educational, and they rated and reviewed each one based on its learning potential so you can figure out which apps, games and websites will truly help equip kids and teens with the skills they need to thrive in tomorrow’s world. Check it out at commonsensemedia.org/learning-ratings.

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In Kal Chany’s book, “Paying for College Without Going Broke,” he offers 10 tips for trimming the cost of college:

1. Get the best score possible on the ACT or SAT.
2. Be a smart shopper (comparing schools carefully).
3. Don’t immediately rule out a college because you think it’s too expensive.
4. Apply to “financial aid safety schools.”
5. Consider attending a community college for two years.
6. Be realistic about outside scholarships.
7. Earn college credits while still in high school.
8. Explore whether “cooperative education” (co-op) programs are offered at the colleges on your list.
9. Talk to your parents about maximizing your family’s aid eligibility.
10. Learn as much as you can about how the aid process works.

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As you debate the merits of various camp options or the merits of summer camp in general, there is a terrific article I recommend called “Putting Camp in the Childhood Equation” which you can read at: tinyurl.com/7zgvwwu. The thesis of the article is that unstructured play at camp is valuable to today’s kids and the camp counselor-child relationship can provide a very positive role model for your children.

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I am fascinated by research on happiness because providing our kids the best possible education is only half the battle. So who is happiest? Hawaiians (says a recent Gallup poll); biotech workers (says careerbliss.com); 70-year-olds (that is when happiness peaks according to Stanford); people who enjoy creative pastimes (says the London School of economics); and people who earn $75,000 a year (above that has no discernible effect on happiness according to Princeton economists).

• •

According to an article in the New York Times Magazine, recent studies have shown that exercising increases cognitive flexibility and gives your brain a better chance of resisting physical shrinkage. In fact, exercise does more to bolster thinking than thinking does. Tests on mice found that mice that exercised had far greater cognitive ability than mice that did not.

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There was a terrific and funny essay in the Wall Street Journal about what advice commencement speakers would really give if they were being completely honest (tinyurl.com/7pugwf9). For example, No. 4: “Marry someone smarter than you,” and No. 2, “Some of your worst days lie ahead of you.” If you have a child in high school or college, or just out of college, you and they might enjoy the perspective.

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A noted group of scientists and educators is proposing a dramatically different way that students in K-12 should be taught science. Their 8+1 concept moves away from memorizing scientific facts and focuses on helping students understand eight fundamental science concepts. The “plus one” is the importance of inquiry, the practice of asking why things happen around us – and a fundamental part of science. The 8+1 concepts were derived from two basic questions: What are things made of and how do systems interact and change? The eight concepts are: atoms, cells, radiation, systems change, forces, energy, conservation of mass and energy and variation. This is a big change from science today in the U.S., which is taught in isolated disciplines such as chemistry, biology and physics without clear connections being made between the subjects. See the study at 8plus1science.org/.

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The annual “What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools” report, lists the top 40 books kids in grades 1-12 are reading. For the first time, this year’s report also includes author and educator opinions on what kids should be reading. The report also includes the best Spanish-language books, the top Common Core informational texts and stories and librarians’ picks. You can download a free copy atrenlearn.com/whatkidsarereading.

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California’s state colleges and universities are considering whether to begin asking students about their sexual orientation next year on applications or enrollment forms. The optional questions would be posed because of a state law aimed at gauging the size of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations on campuses. The law encourages UC, Cal State and community colleges to explore whether they are offering enough services, such as counseling, for those students. More schools are sure to follow.

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Next time you’re in a mall, keep your eyes peeled for a new store – Marbles: The Brain Store. I went in one recently and was amazed by the brain teaser-type games they offered that I had never seen before. They are also online atmarblesthebrainstore.com.

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New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that going to sleep shortly after learning new material is most beneficial for recall.

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In related news, majoring in math- and science-focused subjects gets college graduates higher-paying jobs compared to other majors, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Economics, engineering and accounting graduates make $30 an hour or more on average. And a recent study by jobs site CareerCast found jobs requiring math and science skills were superior in terms of wages, work environment and employment opportunities.

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There is a little-known program that offers discounts at public colleges and universities to students from 15 states, most of them in the West. The Western Undergraduate Exchange is an interstate agreement that sets tuition at no more than 150 percent of in-state rates and saves undergraduates on average $7,700 a year. In all, 150 public colleges – some two-year, some four-year – take part; only 10 are in California. For Californians, the most popular destinations are Northern Arizona University, the University of Nevada, the University of Hawaii, Southern Oregon University and New Mexico State University. In California, 10 of the 23 Cal States have joined, with the Humboldt and Chico campuses attracting the most out-of-staters. Other areas of the country have similar arrangements.

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Princeton, Penn and Michigan have joined Stanford and Berkeley as partners of Coursera, a company founded earlier this year by Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. Together, the universities will produce free, online versions of their courses that anyone can take. Go to coursrea.org. Meanwhile, Harvard University announced that it is joining MIT in offering free online courses – and that the two institutions will together spend $60 million on a project that will grant certificates of completion to those who finish a Harvard or MIT course online.

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According to a recent British Broadcasting Service story, students who bring water with them into exams score higher than students who do not. Can’t hurt to try it.

 

Roundup VIII

Dr. Michael Thompson has written extensively about the social life of children. His main points that resonate with me:

1. Let small children choose their own friends; every other aspect of their life is controlled by you.

2. Don’t get emotionally invested in the idea of “best” friends. Only about a quarter of children have one.

3. Recognize that the school day for students is long, boring and exhausting. Allow them free play after school. Thompson makes a lot of other great points in his books, but those are the ones I took away.

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Textbook publishers plan to go entirely digital by 2020. Right now, publishers make most of their money during the first year a new textbook is on the market. They release new editions every two to three years because used books make money for bookstores, not publishers. As a result, publishers are eager to eliminate the used textbook market.

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Speaking of college planning, check out Mytonomy’s library of student created videos on college applications, college essays, and college reviews. These videos are also in Spanish (mytonomy.com).

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What is the second language that every child needs to learn? Many experts say JavaScript. Computer programming isn’t a core subject in American schools, but perhaps it should be. Java is the main language in developing web pages and mobile apps. The United States is now way behind other countries when it comes to training computer scientists. Most spots at U.S. universities with top science and engineering programs are filled by foreign students. Doug Rushkoff, author of “Program or Be Programmed,” argues that our schools should incorporate computer programming into the core curriculum.

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Teachers are less satisfied with their jobs than they have been in decades according to a recent Met Life survey of public school teachers, parents, and students. Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009 (from 59 percent to 44 percent saying they are very satisfied). This decline is coupled with a large increase in teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today). In addition, 53 percent of parents and 65 percent of teachers today say that teachers’ salaries are not fair for the work they do. It is thought that the economic downturn is one factor in this declining satisfaction and increasing feeling of insecurity. I would be interested to hear Sonoma teacher reaction to this data.

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Community service-minded, Spanish-speaking, students 15 to 18 years of age should consider apply for the AMIGOS Youth Ambassador Program. Selected students will travel free to Paraguay for a three-week international training and exchange from July 10 to Aug. 3. The program is aimed at teens who want to travel to another country and are eager to make a difference in their communities. Apply at amigoslink.org/apply-yap by March 30.

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Khan Academy, the popular educational lecture series for students, has launched a new, free iPad app that includes interactive transcripts of the lectures for easy searching. This iPad app may eventually replace or supplement textbooks, saving cash-strapped schools and students a lot of money. Students can download content and then view it without a laptop or Internet connection. (khanacademy.org).

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Similarly, the folks behind the famous TED talks, last week unveiled a “TED-Ed” initiative for high school students and life-long learners. Their goal is to grow the archive to hundreds of videos within a year. TED-Ed’s mission is to capture and amplify the voices of great educators around the world by pairing renowned educators with animators to produce a library of nop-notch educational videos. education.ted.com.

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Not exactly education, but important for parents of teens … a new app completely disables texting while driving.Textecution ($29.99) is designed for parents to install on their teenagers phone so they know their child is safer behind the wheel of the vehicle. If the user removes Textecution from the phone, it notifies the parent by text.

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A head’s up to high school seniors: Recent reports indicate organizations are researching their scholarship applicants online. Every parent and student should “Google” themselves monthly.

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United States Naval Academy Summer STEM Program is held in three sessions: June 4 through 9 for rising eighth- and ninth-graders; June 11 to 16 for rising 10th-graders; and June 18 to 23 for rising 11th-graders. This residential academic program gives students hands-on practical math and science instruction from Naval Academy professors in world-class lab facilities. Approximately 480 total students will be accepted to STEM. The cost is only $200. Visit usna.edu/admissions/stem.html by April 15.

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Students in small classes in grades four to six have better school achievement and higher wages as adults than those who learned in large classes, according to a recent Swedish study. This study found that those in small classes had better cognitive and non-cognitive skills, had better scores on standardized national tests in grades six and nine, perceived themselves as having more self-confidence and greater endurance. The differences in school outcomes persisted throughout the rest of their compulsory schooling. The probability of going on to higher education was also greater for students in small classes. Finally, those who were in small classes also earned more money as adults. A reduction in class size of five students resulted in more than 3 percent higher wages.

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Dyslexia affects 15 percent of Americans, including one of my children, so here are some smart-phone apps that are particularly good for dyslexic students (or anyone learning to read).

1. Pocket Phonics ($2.99). Ages 2 to 7, uses graphics, sounds and touch to teach letters and how to “blend” letter sounds together to make word.

2. Montessori Crosswords. ($2.99). A fun game to develop spelling, reading and writing skills using a phonics-enabled movable alphabet.

3. Word Wizard (99 cents). This app supports letter recognition, phonological awareness, spelling and self-correction without sacrificing fun.

4. Dragon Dictation (free) is an easy-to-use voice recognition application that allows you to easily speak and instantly see your text or email messages.

5. vBookz ($4.99). This voice reader reads your books outloud and has a magnifying glass that follows the text as you go.

6. Learning Ally ($99/year) enables students with reading disabilities access to a library of 70,000 digitally recorded textbooks and literature titles.

7. Finally, experts recommend the quick word game Boggle (99 cents) because children hear a ping every time a word is spelled wrong and can fix it.

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Circle of 6, winner of the White House “Apps Against Abuse” technology challenge, is a mobile phone application designed to prevent sexual assault and dating violence among young adults. With only two taps, Circle of 6 connects users threatened with possible sexual assault and abuse to a network of friends who have offered to help, using GPS technology. Go to circleof6app.com.

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More than 60 percent of new jobs in the last year have gone to college grads, even though they make up only about one third of the workforce.

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I was interested to read that a new study found that children 6 and under learn about prejudice by direct instruction while by age 10, children begin to rely on their own experiences rather than what people tell them (sciencedaily.com).

• • •

Two great book recommendations for teens who loved “The Hunger Games.” “Ashfall” by Mike Mullins and “The House of Tomorrow” by Peter Bognanni.

• • •

Campusgrotto.com had an interesting list of top 10 ways to ensure success in college, that are largely relevant for all students.

1. Make new friends in class – Step outside your comfort zone and get to know new people. They will open your mind and help you become a more well-rounded student who is able to understand a variety of perspectives.
2. Sit in the front row of every class – The professor will notice you, it will be much more difficult to zone out and you will be more engaged.
3. Visit the career center often – Having direction will give new life to your college experience. Take all the career tests they have. Read books about career discovery. Ask for input on your resume.
4. Get a professorial mentor – Get to know all of your professors and ask them for help in class; then, meet more often with and ask advice of the one you feel you connect with the most.
5. Be a leader in a club – Being a part of clubs is crucial to expand your social network and your professional skills. However, being a leader is where the real magic happens.
6. Do something you never thought you could do – Study abroad. Join a club that scares you. Start a small business. Go on a service trip. Speak publicly. Be the president of a large club. Whatever it is that you don’t actually think you could do – just do it.
7. Get a professional mentor – You’d be amazed at who will talk to you, how valuable their advice is, and where it will lead.
8. Get a fascinating internship – Internships can open doors and help you learn about a career more than anything else.
9. Write down your goals – There can be incredible results from being focused on specific goals.
10. Develop a morning routine – Developing a morning routine helps you focus. When you start the day rushed, you will have a hurried, seemingly unproductive day.

• • •

After a cheating scandal that involved dozens of teenagers in New York using fake IDs to take tests for others, the SAT and ACT will soon require test takers to upload photos that will be checked against the student’s photo ID at the testing site. Students will also have to list their high school so that schools can keep better tabs on test takers. The new rules apply nationwide and will go into effect this fall.

• • •

Human geography, Chinese and environmental science are the three fastest growing Advanced Placement (AP) classes among high schoolers in America. None of these are yet offered in my town, but perhaps they will be in the future.

Roundup VII

If you have ever looked at a teen and said to yourself: “What was he thinking?” – you should read both the Wall Street Journal article  titled, “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?” and the book “Get Out Of My Life, But First Can You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?” by Anthony Wolf, PhD. The WSJ article was written by Berkeley psychology professor Alison Gopnik and she explains how children today reach puberty earlier and adulthood later. And the book will make every parent feel better about the times their teen children are withdrawn or argumentative.

• • •

Why are our boys not entering and completing college in the same numbers our girls are? It is projected that by 2020, men will represent only 41.1 percent of college enrollees (National Center for Education Statistics). According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, females comprised 56 percent of college applicants to four-year colleges and males 44 percent, for fall 2010 admission.

• • •

Although there is a great deal of talk about our children needing to be global citizens, foreign language offerings are relatively slim in the United States, compared with other countries. Budget cuts and the demands of No Child Left Behind have made language education an easy target. The number of schools offering foreign-language instruction is lower every year and today, only 25 percent of all public elementary schools offer foreign-language instruction and 58 percent of all middle schools, according to a study by the research organization Westat.  At the high school level, 91 percent of all high schools offer foreign languages, but only 46 percent of students actually take them.

• • •

Looking for good books to engage your teen in reading? The Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults was recently awarded to “Where Things Come Back,” by John Corey Whaley.  Honorable mention went to:  “Why We Broke Up,” by Daniel Handler, “The Returning,” by Christine Hinwood and “Jasper Jones,” by Craig Silvey.

• • •

What a lovely website: www.thanksforteaching.us is a place where people share stories about the teachers who changed their lives. I’d be shocked if you can read five stories without getting teary-eyed.

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I love scholarships that are open to kids of all ages, not just seniors. Here are a few … Kohl’s stores are honoring more than 2,200 youth, ages six to 18, who have made a positive impact on their communities through volunteerism, with more than $420,000 in scholarships and prizes; top winners receive $10,000 each. Nominations are accepted at www.kohlskids.comuntil March 15, and nominators must be 21-plus. Two-thousand students will win a $50 Kohl’s gift card, and more than 200 will win $1,000 toward post-secondary education. Ten national winners will get $10,000 in scholarships (and $1,000 for their favorite charity).

• • •

Best Buy is awarding $1.2 million in scholarships to students in grades nine to 12 to recognize and reward extraordinary contributions both inside and outside the classroom. Applicants must have a GPA of 2.5; be involved in community volunteer service or work experience; and be planning to go to a college, university or vocational-technical school following graduation. Up to 1,200 scholarships of $1,000 each will be granted. The deadline is Feb. 15 .www.bestbuy.scholarshipamerica.org/register.php

• • •

A new Harvard University study examined the connection between childhood experiences and adults who demonstrate leadership qualities, starting with children as young as 2. It looked at intelligence, drive, social skills and personality and found that behaviors such as embracing novel experiences are most important. Children who engage in new experiences “tend to become more extroverted, socially engaging and become everyday leaders,” said the Harvard researchers. And, good news for those of us whose children sometimes drive us nuts, they found that the most demanding children are the most likely to be leaders as adults. Encouraging children who show an interest in something was a key area where parental influence was important, as was fostering determination to take on a challenge and pursue it to mastery or success. The data also found that motivation trumps intelligence when it comes to leadership. What can schools do? The study suggests that students should be given access to real-world experiences, the chance to try and fail and try again and the chance for students to discover their passions.

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Teachers should consider applying for one of 400 classroom supply grants of $250 given by the organization “Kids Bowl Free.” The organization works with teachers, school administrators and bowling centers to help provide a safe, fun activity for kids on summer break.  K-8 certified teachers in public, private, charter or parochial schools may apply. Visit www.bowlingtoteachers.com to complete the short application. One-hundred grants a month will be awarded from now through May 2012.

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Last weekend I traveled to Washington, D.C., and toured American University, Georgetown University and George Washington University. I was impressed by all three, but particularly by the gorgeous campuses of the first two, and by the fact that almost 90 percent of students at all three have at least one internship in D.C. before they graduate.

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I hope that all your local students wrote their own college application essays … I’ve just heard about a new software program called Turnitin that’s already being used by more than 100 colleges around the country to detect student plagiarism in the admissions process. Stanford and Penn State have gone on the record about using it and Penn State admissions reps said it has uncovered plagiarism rates of between 3 and 5 percent, an admissions officer told the Los Angeles Times.

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“The Super Bowl: XLVI Is Greek To Kids As Schools Stop Teaching Roman Numerals.” That recent Associate Press headline gave me pause. Those of us in our 40s or older probably can’t remember when we learned Roman numerals but there is no question that we know them. Students today aren’t learning them in most schools. Ask your kids at dinner tonight if they know what number “XXIV” is and let me know.

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The most comprehensive catalog I’ve ever come across for enrichment toys, games and supplies for grades preK-6 is available through Lakeshore Learning (www.lakeshorelearning.com). If you can’t find what you are looking for there, it doesn’t exist.

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I think the gaming web site, iCivics, founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. The site is free and its 16 educational video games provide the most comprehensive, standards-aligned civics curriculum for middle and high school students online. The curriculum includes lesson plans and games that are linked to subjects and skills that various states require students to master. O’Connor founded the nonprofit in an attempt to reverse the decline in civic education in America. For more information, go to icivics.com.

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The latest hot parenting book is called “Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman, an American living in Paris who is amazed and impressed by French parenting. She was inspired to write the book after years observing French children sitting calmly through endless meals, amusing themselves at playgrounds and on plane rides and displaying a distinct lack of tantrums. French parents do not live through their children or hinge their own identities on their offspring. A 2009 study by Princeton researchers comparing French and American parents found that American parents considered it more than twice as unpleasant to deal with their own children as French parents. You can draw your own conclusions, but it is certainly food for thought.

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Moody’s Mega Math Challenge is a free, Internet-based, applied math contest for high school juniors and seniors.Teams of three to five participants are asked to solve an open-ended, realistic problem focused on a real-world issue, using any free, publicly-available and inanimate sources of information, in 14 hours.

Scholarships totaling $115,000 are awarded to the top teams. Sign up by Feb. 24 at m3challenge.siam.org/participate/. The challenge weekend is March 3 and 4.

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USA Today recently reviewed five great new iPhone apps to help students keep track of homework.

1. iStudiez Pro – Price: $2.99. Allows students to organize schedules, prioritize homework, receive notifications before assignments are due and track their GPA.

2. myHomework – Price: free. This app allows students to prioritize homework assignments and track them on a user-friendly calendar, color-coded by category (papers, test, homework).

3. Evernote – Price: free ($5 a month for premium service). Students can also collaborate by sharing notes. Instead of a jumbled mess of notes, Evernote organizes notes via a clear notebook sorting system.

4. School & Stuff, Grades and Timetables  – Price: $2.99: Parents can enter info about each child’s classes, grades and extracurricular activities, creating a family directory. Teachers can input assignments and grades.

5. TeacherPal – Price: Free. TeacherPal enables educators to organize students by grades, by attendance and by assignments. The app also captures extra information, such as parents’ email addresses and phone numbers.

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I don’t know why I had never picked it up before, but I absolutely loved the book “The Element,” by Ken Robinson. In a nutshell, we all need to discover the thing we are both good at and passionate about. If we make that our career, we are destined for happiness and greatness. It sounds so simple, but it can be very hard for children to figure this out on their own. Perhaps our most important job as parents is to help our kids figure out when they are “in their element.”

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Do you know a teen interested in architecture? There is a great website discoverdesign.org/ where students can learn about architecture, share design ideas, get feedback from accomplished professionals and connect with other high school students learning about architecture.

 

Roundup VI

A UC Irvine professor has found that math skills among kindergartners turn out to be a key predictor for future academic success. Professor Greg Duncan and his colleagues examined results from studies done on 20,000 kindergartners, following them through elementary school, testing them in reading and math. Even after factoring in differences in IQ and family income, Duncan found that those who learned the most math in kindergarten tended to have the highest math and reading scores years later. He has a book out titled, “Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances.”

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The Obama administration has launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, designed to attract more students into STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.Keep your eyes out for a series of events and announcements designed to bring more students into the fields and address the key components of this (much needed) national priority. Education News points out that in the 1950s, GE printed millions of comic books to interest students in science and math. Word is, an initiative like that might be headed our way next. Not a bad idea.

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A new study found evidence that even a single year with a great teacher can have a lasting impact on your child’s future education and earnings. As the New York Times reported, “Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime – or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class – all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. … Great teachers not only raised test scores significantly – an effect that mostly faded within a few years – but also left their students with better life outcomes. A great teacher (defined as one better than 84 percent of peers) for a single year between fourth and eighth grades resulted in students earning almost 1 percent more at age 28.” Harvard researcher Raj Chetty based the study on a huge database of 1 million students followed from fourth grade to adulthood. The report received widespread attention in the media on Jan. 11.

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A friend gave me “The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens” by Brooke Hauser, a journalist who spent months following the students at International High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was a quick and very engaging read. I posted on Twitter how much I liked it and got an email from the author. The drama of the book, as she pointed out to me, was that that the students she met “were also learning America: Some had never left their villages before coming to the U.S., and suddenly found themselves having to navigate mass transit in New York City. Other students were dealing with cultural traditions from their native countries that made it harder to adapt to life here – pressure to get married, for instance.” She said, she “admired the staff at the International High School for working with such variable circumstances and trying to see each student in context. It’s important to remember that, while language is a crucial part of a student’s education, there are many social and cultural experiences that should be factored in as well.” I recommend the book highly for anyone interested in education and the challenges and opportunities of successfully integrating an immigrant population.

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A well-educated and successful 46-year-old mother of four felt so bad about the stress that her teenage son was under studying for the SATs that she took the SATs herself, seven times in 2011 trying to get to a perfect score.She was unable … but offers an amusing, insightful chronicle of her exploits on her blog, “The Perfect Score Project” (perfectscoreproject.com) and a recent issue of Psychology Today. She tried almost every major available kind of test prep resource and I’ll post her findings in a future column.

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“It’s painful to watch a child lose. But it’s no favor to the kid to postpone that experience,” writes Julia Steiny in a great piece on theeducationnews.org website, entitled, “We’re On the Verge of Protecting our Kids into Incompetence.” Ouch.

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Hercampus.com did a report on the highest paying jobs right out of college, as well as what kind of companies in those fields are hiring and found:
10. Information sciences $54,038 (Amazon, OkCupid, Merck, Vivismo)
9. Industrial engineer $57,734 (Sony, Toys R Us, Mayo Clinic)
8. Financial analyst $60,000 (Accountants Int’l, Bond St. Group, Vaco Resources)
7. Registered nurse $61,000 (hospitals and clinics)
6. Quality engineer $65,000 (Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Deloitte)
5. Network engineer $68,500 (Bloomberg, Hulu, Vivisimo)
4. Business analyst $69,500 (United Healthcare, Sovereign Bank, CapGemini)
3. Software engineer $72,500 (Sage Software, Yelp, IBM, Google)
2. Investment banking analyst $73,000 (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley)
1. Systems engineer $77,500 (Barclays, Facebook, Salesforce)

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January is when parents and students should be making summer plans if they include camps or summer academic enrichment programs. These sleep-away experiences, even if they are only a week long, are a great way for students to experience life on a campus or away from home. Camps can be expensive though, so I am going to try to pass along information about residential camps and summer programs that are less than $1,000 a week, with some as low as $350. One of my favorites is the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA), a prestigious four-week summer session for ninth-through-12th-graders at the CalArts campus near Hollywood. Students choose their area of concentration and receive intensive training from professionals in music, theatre, video and film, visual arts, dance, creative writing and animation. At $1,550 for four weeks, this is a bargain, as it covers room, board and tuition and further financial aid is available. Applications must be postmarked by Feb. 28 (www.csssa.ca.gov) and about half of all candidates are accepted. If you know of other great, relatively inexpensive programs, please let me know.

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Each fall, the U.S. Department of Education announces which K-12 schools have received “Blue Ribbon” designation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this program “is part of a larger effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about best school leadership and teaching practices.” The other program you frequently hear about run by the Department of Education is the California Distinguished School Award, which honors California’s most exemplary and inspiring public schools. Schools selected for the Distinguished School Award demonstrate significant gains in narrowing the achievement gap.

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Family Circle magazine ran an interesting article in the most recent issue on whether students should get As for doing their homework, being on time and all-around good behavior, or should top marks only go to students who master the material. Amazingly, the article works off the assumption that most schools grade via the former basis, not the latter, but I’ve had trouble finding statistics on this. Author Peg Tyre recently wrote a book titled “The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.”

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The book, “How to Be a High School Superstar,” by Cal Newport, suggests three tips for better grades: 1 – Disconnect. He suggests that each night students unplug the cable that connects their computer to the modem, wrap it around their cell phone and hand the bundle to a parent until the work is done. 2 – Follow the fortnight rule. He says a calendar should be hung in a central location and all deadlines, tests and due dates should be posted. Look ahead two weeks and plan accordingly. 3 – Never highlight. Newport believes that top students all study the same way … by explaining textbook concepts out loud in complete sentences. He says it leads to better comprehension than highlighting, in less time.

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Wondering what all the talk is about regarding common core standards? Up until recently, the standards for what students should know and be able to do has varied dramatically from state-to-state. In 2010, a national initiative was launched with the aim of developing “common core standards” for grades K-12. Calfornia has been very active in helping to develop these standards. Any changes in what the state’s schools teach is now being phased in gradually, but if you want to learn more about how this is playing out at your school in particular, you might ask your curriculum director or principal. The end goal is to be able to compare student performance across states (apples to apples rather than apples to oranges).

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Apple made a big announcement last week that is expected to “reinvent” the school textbook. It announced two new applications: iBooks 2 (a free download for iPads) and iBooks Author (a tool to create interactive iPad lessons. The new interactive books would cost $14.99, much less than today’s paper textbooks, and could be updated continually. Most amazing is that they have teamed up with the publishers responsible for 90 percent of the school textbooks used in the United States today. Apple also said it was expanding iTunes U beyond college content to include elementary and high schools, allowing teachers put their lectures online.

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In the meantime, students at universities or junior colleges, should consider www.campusbookrentals.com to rent their textbooks rather than buying them. On average, it costs about one third as much to rent a book as to buy a used copy. Round trip shipping is free. At the end of the semester, you have the option to buy the book for the used price if you want to own it. Locals have found that, among the various options, www.campusbookrentals is the cheapest and easiest company to work with.

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Research shows that what kids eat can affect their learning in significant ways. Food scientists have identified foods that detract from a child’s brain functions and those that can help build healthy brains today and long-term. The four brain foods they cite that you and your kids might actually enjoy are: oatmeal (has been associated with improved special and short-term memory tests, as well as auditory attention tests); frozen blueberries (contain antioxidants associated with increased memory and cognitive functioning); eggs (high in protein and choline, which is essential to our memory stem cells); and flaxseeds (great source of omega-3s which promote improved learning capacity and can be thrown into most recipes). So what are cited as the brain drain foods? Foods high in additives, food colorings and refined sugar. Read more about brain foods at www.greatschools.org.