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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.)”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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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