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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/ .

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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.”

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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.

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