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.

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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:

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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 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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 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.

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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 or on YouTube.

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