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

 

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

Reporter and researcher Oliver Roeder has found that some of the most beloved childhood games – Candy Land, Shoots and Ladders, Monopoly – aren’t very good for the young brain. He says that the best games require meaningful action and decision-making rather than merely blind luck. He recommends a diverse array of lesser-known board and card games including The Little Orchard and Richard Scarry’s Busytown: Eye Found It! for under age 7 and Galaxy Tracker, Puzzle Strike Shadows, BattleCon: Devastation of Indines and Wings of Glory for older kids, all of which are available on amazon.com. tinyurl.com/gvfbcj5

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It can be really difficult to amuse a bored kid when they need to wait around with you for any reason. Here are a handful of great ideas (with more available at tinyurl.com/jqbnm8g).

– Guess what’s in my purse!

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

– Two truths and a lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is silence a key to learning?: When mice are exposed to a few hours of silence each day they develop new cells in the hippocampus (the region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning), according to new studies. Scientists also found that while noise may cause stress and tension, silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study also found that two minutes of silence can be more relaxing than listening to relaxing music. tinyurl.com/j8foz2n

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A new study from Columbia University says moderate video game use is associated with better academic functioning and sociability in grade-schoolers. The study found that kids ages 6 to 11 who played video games five or more hours a week did better in school and suffered no emotional or mental health problems. tinyurl.com/z4wgtdt

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For students who have a valid college ID or college email address, there are some great opportunities for big savings. The list includes Top Shop, J. Crew, Apple, Microsoft, Amtrak, Spotify and dozens more. Students should always ask retailers, museums and fast food places if they offer discounts, because sometimes those are not posted. tinyurl.com/hmpv4rf

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Banking giant Citigroup has announced new programs aimed at attracting young workers by offering them (largely paid) sabbaticals to pursue charitable work. Nine incoming analysts this year are participating in Citigroup’s new service year, in which employees spend a year working with one of 40 organizations. The analysts will earn 60 percent of their normal banking salary and, once the service year is finished, they’ll start work at Citigroup. The bank is also offering employees the opportunity to participate in a four-week program in Kenya on microfinance initiatives. The Wall Street Journal expects other companies to follow. tinyurl.com/j6vnbh2

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

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A registered dietician suggests a quick, easy and free way to test if you or your child really has an intolerance to gluten. She calls it the Spelt Litmus Test. Spelt is an ancient grain and it is a perfect test food to help clarify whether someone’s adverse reactions to wheat-containing foods likely result from a gluten intolerance or a fructan intolerance. People who are truly gluten intolerant should react badly to spelt. People who are not gluten intolerant should tolerate spelt just fine. She suggest buying a primarily spelt food like spelt pretzels, spelt matzoh or spelt “rice cakes” and to eat a few ounces at breakfast or lunch. If there’s no reaction, it’s likely that a person doesn’t have a gluten intolerance at all, but rather just a digestive system that is sensitive to effects of a particularly poorly digested carbohydrate. A full explanation is at tinyurl.com/hgm3yvj.

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The “dumb blonde” stereotype is wrong according to a large new national study. White women whose natural hair color is blonde had an average IQ score within 3 points of brunettes and those with red or black hair. They found blonde-haired white women had an average IQ of 103.2, compared to 102.7 for those with brown hair, 101.2 for those with red hair and 100.5 for those with black hair. tinyurl.com/j8llkb9.

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

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College admission officers and potential employers are scrutinizing what high school students say and do on social media more than ever before. A new survey from an online reputation-management company, found that more than two-thirds of admissions officers admitted to looking up applicants on Facebook. In 2012, only 25 percent of admissions officers at top colleges said they used Facebook and Google to vet applicants. tinyurl.com/z4qoak7.

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It can be painful to fight with a child over homework. There is a good video online explaining why your child shouldn’t come home and sit at a desk to do homework. They say, “Ditch the desk.” It is too similar to how children spend their (long) day. Let them work someplace else like the kitchen table or the floor on a mat. tinyurl.com/z3dzm7s.

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I was interested to learn the 17 verbal habits of likable people. The complete list is at tinyurl.com/zkq6ltl and it includes:

– They are polite when they can be.

-They acknowledge small favors.

– They offer meaningful praise.

– They express sincere empathy.

– They offer to help.

– They share useful information.

– They express their faith in others.

– They make introductions.

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More to worry about: I haven’t given much thought to the ingredients in the products that our family puts on their faces but I guess it is now well known that certain types of makeup, shampoos and lotions can contain high levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals. A new study out of Berkeley found that even a short break can lead to a significant drop in these levels. The bad ingredients to look out for are phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone. They have been shown in animal studies to interfere with the body’s endocrine system. tinyurl.com/zzu55r6

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

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

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There is a move on to teach philosophy in grades K-12. Teachers in England are big believers in the value of the course of study and, according to a new two-year study conducted among 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England, philosophy classes lead to better literacy and math skills. I love the idea of these kinds of courses – ones that get kids thinking about life’s big questions. Because of philosophy’s cross-curriculur appeal, more teachers are thinking about how to weave its content and concepts into class conversations. tinyurl.com/z9la8nk.

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

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Around 70 percent of children in the U.S. are dropping out of organized sports before the age of 13, according to new research from Michigan State. And girls drop out of sports at six times the rate of boys. This trend is particularly concerning because there is a strong correlation between girls’ success in sports and success in the business world (and female athletes are more likely to graduate from college). tinyurl.com/of9mfyo

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Peanut and tree nut allergies nearly tripled between 1997 and 2008. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found giving peanuts to kids early on can protect them from developing a peanut allergy. In the study and a new follow up, high-risk babies under 12 months who were fed a peanut mush were about 80 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy by age 5, and thereafter. tinyurl.com/jmkdz4d.

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

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

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

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

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

5. And send thank you emails to start an upward spiral of happiness. tinyurl.com/jawn8j6

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

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We’re all going blind: I have a daughter who is exceptionally farsighted (+8) so I was surprised to learn that scientists anticipate that half of the world’s population will be nearsighted by 2050. The number of people with vision loss is expected to increase seven-fold because of environmental factors like lifestyle changes resulting from a combination of decreased time outdoors and increased “near work” activities, according to researchers. The Journal of Ophthalmology suggests reduced time spent on activities like electronic devices that require constant focusing up close. tinyurl.com/h9k22u5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Nine out of 10 moms stress about staying fit and attractive. tinyurl.com/hphp2he

Newsela, the free app that lets students of all reading levels access appropriate news content, is getting a lot of press. Readers can see new articles every day from such top news sources as the Associated Press, Washington Post and Scientific American, and adjust the reading level of their articles with a simple two-finger swipe. The company is focused on “unlocking literacy” for all students, and is currently used in 70 percent of schools. More and more schools are appreciating Newsela’s availability of trusted news sources in five different reading levels for students in grades 2 to 12. See more at tinyurl.com/hj7ou2z.

Can you accurately predict a child’s adult height? Doctors typically predict the adult height of a boy by combining the height of both parents, adding five inches and dividing by two. For girls, they combine the height of the parents, subtract five inches and divide by two. Is this true in your family? I was also interested to learn from the New York Times recently that adult height tends to decrease in younger siblings, and younger children may grow more slowly. These held true in our family. tinyurl.com/jfd6z86

Math competitions and math camps are growing in popularity and Atlantic reporter Peg Tyre says that America’s most advanced math students are more advanced than ever before. She says that their parents, many of whom make their living in stem fields, typically supplement or replace what they see as the shallow and often confused math instruction offered by public schools (particularly in the younger grades). The article includes some intriguing enrichment resources. tinyurl.com/z4rb4ps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at tinyurl.com/jdjrbyr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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