Category Archives: admission

Education Roundup XXVI (links fixed)

You have likely seen age progression drawings in news coverage about missing children. Well, Google and Intel have funded the development of a new computer program that seems able to accurately age a small child so that families will soon be able to quickly and inexpensively know what their kindergartner will look like as an adult. For some reason, I find this very disturbing and sad.

Does it make you cry to calculate how much you have spent on LEGOs for your child over the years? A company called Pley is offering Netflix-type subscriptions for LEGOs. Unlimited rolling access to the large LEGO sets is $39 a month, $25 for medium sets and $15 a month for small sets. Why is this such a good idea? Well, LEGO sets are expensive to buy and it is the building, not the owning of the sets that is fun for children. Pley says it will sanitize each set before sending it out and weigh each package to detect missing pieces. Customers can lose up to 15 pieces without incurring any penalty. pley.com.

Is your child more likely to pick up a book than a LEGO? A new service offers children 12 and under a monthly library of more than 2,000 books available on the iPad for $9.95 a month. The company’s mission is to encourage kids to use iPads for something other than games. For adults, there is already Oyster, an e-book service aimed at adults for $9.95 a month. Meanwhile, Amazon has Kindle Free Time Unlimited that gives families unlimited access to e-books, movies, TV shows, educational apps and games aimed at the under 8 crowd.

 In researching her latest book, author Jessica Lahey asked countless teachers, “What one thing would you want your students’ parents to know?” The same five points came up over and over again:

1. Your kids can do much more than you think they can do.

2. It’s not healthy to give your child constant feedback.

3. We promise not to believe everything your child says happens at home if you promise not to believe everything your child says happens in our classrooms.

4. Your children learn and act according to what you do, not what you say.

5. Teach your children that mistakes aren’t signs of weakness but a vital part of growth and learning.

Her complete write-up on this at tinyurl.com/q92aruk is excellent. Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” comes out next year.

If you think that computer science should count toward graduation as either a math or a science credit (it does not currently in most states), then visit code.org/action/make-cs-count, to sign a petition now. 

In what is sure to be the wave of the future, Stanford University last week announced what it called a “re-imagining of the humanities.” Stanford has created two new “joint majors” that will allow students to earn a bachelor of arts and science in one of two combinations – computer science and English, or computer science and music. The school hopes to redefine what it means to experience a broad liberal education in the 21st century.http://tinyurl.com/m7b49w7

Babies and young children make giant developmental leaps all of the time and it turns out that napping plays a crucial role. Sometimes it seems like babies make huge strides in development overnight. New research has found that infants who nap are better able to gain new skills, and preschoolers are better able to retain learned knowledge, after napping (bonus – mom gets a much-needed break). http://tinyurl.com/moab8ju

Parents have a lot of questions about the new SAT, even though it is not going to be unveiled until 2016. You can see some sample questions here.  To summarize what is known at this time:

• Vocabulary will focus on words widely used in college and career.

• Students will be asked to use source documents to support answers.

• There will be an optional essay, measuring ability to analyze evidence and build an argument.

• The math section will focus on topics that contribute to college and career training.  Math will account for half of the total score instead of 1/3.

• New questions will ask students to analyze text and data.

• Each exam will include passages drawn from either founding documents or key global writings.

• Wrong answers will no longer cause score deductions.

Georgetown professor and MIT Ph.D. Cal Newport predicts that the ability to get and stay focused will be the superpower of the 21st century. He writes a popular blog called Study Hack, and he suggests five tips to improve your attention span:

• Reduce stress, as it makes you frazzled and stupid.

• Work during your prime hours.

•  Dedicate true blocks of time to a project.

• Do one thing at a time.

• Meditation is weight lifting for your attention span.

More specific suggestions can be found at calnewport.com/blog.

Don’t forget that your public library card can get you and your children free or discounted passes to most of your area attractions (children’s museums, science museums, etc.)  You must usually obtain the passes in advance, at your library or online. You need your library number and you can use your last name as your PIN.

Did you know that you are able to lend any book you have purchased for your Kindle or Nook to another person for up to 14 days? Each book may be lent once to anyone else with the same type of device.

Without question, keyboard skills are increasingly important for students. There is no need to buy an expensive typing program as there are many great free typing games available. For beginners, try KeyMan and KeyBricks. For students who can identify the keys on the keyboard, try Trash Typer, Alpha Attack. To increase speed, try Desert Typing Racer, Typing Chef and Spacebar Invaders.

UCLA received a record high 99,559 undergraduate applications this year (including 19,087 transfer-student applications) – more than any four-year university in the country. For specifics on UCLA and other colleges’ admissions figures, visit thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com.

A poll by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that the top five websites used by teachers are: You Tube, Discovery, Scholastic, PBS and Pinterest. Ninety-one percent of teachers use websites to find or share lesson plans, 65 percent to gain professional advice and support and 57 percent to collaborate with teachers they wouldn’t otherwise know.

Khan Academy now offers free Common Core-aligned, adaptive math exercises. Thousands of new, interactive math problems are fully aligned to every standard from K-12 and will be much more similar to what Sonoma students will see on future assessments. The math problems focus on conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and real-world application – and they were created and reviewed by 40 math educators. If you are eager to prevent summer slide with your student, this might be a good first stop – khanacademy.org/commoncore.

Autism diagnoses are up 30 percent in the last year alone. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in 68 children have autism spectrum disorders. The CDC added that the criteria used to diagnose, treat and provide services have not changed. The study focused on “peak age of identification,” which is age 8. You can read more at tinyurl.com/kk8x444.

There is a new free app for mobile devices that enables people to evaluate their abilities to perceive, understand and control emotions. The MEIT test (Mobile Emotional Intelligence Test) is a skill test to evaluate the ability to perceive emotions, the understanding of these emotions and the ability to manage them. emotional-apps.com.

Sleep is so important for teens. Youth athletes who sleep eight or more hours each night are 68 percent less likely to get injured, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Hanging out at the Google lounge at the SXSWEdu conference, I fell in love with the new, white 11-inch Google Chromebook. Besides being a great-looking and inexpensive device at $259, I am thinking there may be advantages to having the same device for home use that a student uses at school.

Despite what feels like significant evidence to the contrary, a new study suggests that our children have no more homework today than we had in 1984. The Brown Center on American Education found that the percentage of 17-year-olds who say they have more than two hours of homework each night has remained unchanged over the past 30 years at 13 percent. Backing up the finding is a UCLA study that found the number of seniors who said they had more than six hours of homework a week dropped from 50 percent in 1986 to 38 percent in 2012. http://time.com/28433/brookings-institute-study-30-years-unchanged/

A number of studies in recent years have attempted to clarify what makes someone mentally tough. A cognitive psychologist boiled down the findings to 12 key attributes of mental toughness in sport, ranked in order of importance:

• Unshakeable self-belief in your ability to achieve competition goals.

• Unshakeable self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents.

• Insatiable desire and internalized motives to succeed.

• Remaining fully focused on the task at hand in the face of competition-specific distractions.

• Regaining psychological control following unexpected, uncontrollable events.

• Pushing back the boundaries of physical and emotional pain, while still maintaining technique and effort under distress during training and competition.

• Accepting that competition anxiety is inevitable and knowing that you can cope with it.

• Not being adversely affected by other’s good and bad performances.

• Thriving on the pressure of competition.

• Remaining fully focused in the face of personal life distractions.

• Switching sport focus on and off as required.

I found these relevant for everyone, not just athletes. Read the complete piece at Scientific American at linkis.com/com/l7UhQ

Should would-be parents be able to “design” their perfect baby? “Preventing a lethal disease is one thing; choosing the traits we desire is quite another,” suggested Thomas H. Murray in a commentary in Sciencemagazine. New techniques are making it possible for parents to do more than screen for lethal diseases. Interestingly, sex selection is prohibited in at least 36 countries, but not in the U.S. http://tinyurl.com/llhp53w

Up on my Facebook page recently popped a photo of an annoyed teenage girl holding a handmade sign that read, “Mom is trying to show me how many people can see a photo once it’s on the Internet.” The photo was dated March 18, 2014. By the time I came across it that same evening, 1.2 million Facebook users had “liked” it, I assume in support of the mom making a good point about her daughter needing to be careful with what she posts online.

K-12 teachers can request free classroom online and print edition subscriptions to USA Today. Grants are awarded on a first come, first serve basis. usatodayeducation.com/k12/usa-today-education-grant-request.

Have you ever said to your son, “Be a man!?” Jennifer Newsome’s newest project is a documentary film called “The Mask You Live In,” which explores how we are failing our boys every time we urge them to “be a man.” Why is she so worried? “Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives.” Source: therepresentationproject.org/films/the-mask-you-live-in/.

How about a free app that helps your child to explore different careers? Build Your Future allows students to explore 100 careers; determine what levels of education are required and learn about potential salaries. Teens are given a Return on Investment (ROI) score between 1 and 5 for various careers. A score of 1 means it will be difficult to pay off the debt accrued based on future income; a score of 5 means they should have no problem paying off debt with estimated future income.

Children from families with regular family routines exhibit greater social-emotional health, according to researchers.Specific results showed that children who participate in five weekly family routines are more than twice as likely to have high SEH and for each additional routine that a parent and child do together, there is an almost 50 percent greater likelihood of having high SEH. Routines include eating dinner together, singing songs, reading books, telling stories and playtime. http://tinyurl.com/mzp6e9u

A study out of Berkeley has found that preschoolers can do a better job of figuring out unusual gadgets and toys than college students, perhaps because their brains are more flexible and less rigid about cause and effect. http://tinyurl.com/m243qx3

Author Hilary Wice has spent the last year researching and writing a book about the six key character strengths that children need to live happy, successful lives. Number one? A love of life. Two through six? Resilience, courage, kindness, honesty and self-control. You can read the thinking behind her research at http://tinyurl.com/mlljxva

I am a big fan of the new College App Map. Students and parents can click on a grade level and, for example, see all the resources that a sophomore might find useful with regard to testing, researching colleges and researching career paths. collegeappmap.org.

I can’t say for sure how well it works, but the free website admitted.ly allows students to take fun personality quizzes and get matched to colleges that are supposedly ideal for their personality, interests and goals.

I read an article recently on the benefits of foreign films for instilling global citizenship in our children/teens. I can be hard to choose the right films because many aren’t rated or widely reviewed. Here are six that are highly recommended by Homa Tavangar, the author “Growing Up Global”:

“Ponyo” (all ages) – Japan

“My Neighbor Totoro” (all ages) – Japan

“Like Stars on Earth” (“Taare Zameen Par”) (all ages) – India

“The Red Balloon” (all ages) – France

“The Cave of the Yellow Dog” (age 7 and up) – Mongolia

“The Story of the Weeping Camel” (age 7 and up) – Mongolia

There were two big announcements last week concerning SAT testing for college. First, there will be sweeping changes to the SAT, taking effect in two years (2016). Scoring will go back to 1600 from 2400, the writing section will no longer be required and the content of the questions will be different, and more aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. Also, the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced a major partnership with Khan Academy to offer completely free SAT prep to all students to level the playing field for low-income students who can’t afford prep classes. http://tinyurl.com/mwkr7hv

Did you know that Amazon.com will give a percentage (.05 percent) of every purchase you make to the nonprofit of your choice? I signed on the moment I heard about it. The program is called Amazon Smiles, most purchases qualify, and you can sign up quickly and easily at smile.amazon.com. After you sign up, the donations are automatic.

I played a crazy new video game on my phone recently that teens might just enjoy. The free app, developed by an ex-con who went on to graduate from the University of Texas, is called SaulPaul’s Dream in 3D. A young guy runs through the halls of his high school dodging babies (who symbolize teen pregnancy), liquor bottles and pill bottles. The babies cling to your legs and slow down your progress (my favorite part) and the liquor makes you weave so you can’t move as accurately and the pills kill you if you don’t avoid them. There isn’t a lot more to it than that but that didn’t stop Flappy Bird from being a hit. http://wedreamin3d.com/

I saw two documentaries at SXSWEdu that I highly recommend (available On Demand or online). Both could be watched by all ages. “American Promise” follows two African American boys from age 5 to 18, navigating life at an elite private school in New York City. The other, “Ivory Tower,” is a fascinating look at the insanely high cost of college, and whether today’s students are really getting anything out of college (spoiler – some really are, some are totally wasting their parents’ money). I also saw the documentary, “Girl Rising,” but I didn’t love it. I am all for improving girls’ access to education worldwide but the hyper-stylization of the film really bugged me. If you loved it, let me know.

TED Talks can be fun for the entire family (7 and up perhaps) and spark great discussions. Blogger Travis Wright is striving to watch every TED Talk (there are thousands now). He recently created a list of “12 seminal TED Talks that every human being should watch.” Why bother? He describes TED Talks as, “the greatest repository of speeches and presentations by the most brilliant minds, most fascinating people, education radicals, tech geniuses, medical mavericks, business gurus and music legends of our time.” http://technorati.com/technology/article/12-ted-talks-that-every-human/

While we are only now getting our winter, now is the time for students to apply to summer programs. I have assembled a database of ideas of low-cost programs for students ages 12 to 21 that can be found on my website at: educationroundupnational.com or http://tinyurl.com/mgve58c.

If you have a smart phone, you have likely heard of Flappy Bird, the app that challenges players to guide a little bird through an obstacle course of vertical pipes. It was a huge hit before the creator stopped offering new downloads. Code.org has resurrected Flappy Bird with a free tutorial that allows kids to code their very own version of the game.

Studies show that we can train our minds to be happy or unhappy. Furthermore, careers such as accounting and law that focus on catching mistakes and errors can result in a pervasive pessimism that carries over into one’s personal life. Eric Barker writes in The Week that you must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Specifically, he suggests that listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference. He also says that one of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad. http://m.theweek.com/article.php?id=256206

It is hard to sustain optimism about the state of education today when I spend my days reading articles like: “What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?: Our high schools are a disaster.”This recent piece in Slate by a psychology professor (Laurence Stein) who has written extensively about teens, states, “It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents – it’s every single thing we have tried. The list of unsuccessful experiments is long and dispiriting … Over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries and performance standards, and despite billions of dollars invested in school reform, there has been no improvement – none – in the academic proficiency of American high school students.” http://tinyurl.com/mjaa3jp

The blogger Emily Mendell has compiled a list of 31 things that your son (or daughter) should be able to do on their own before heading off for college. Rather than make you click a link, here is the complete list: Write a check; pay a bill; make travel arrangements; navigate an airport, train or bus station; deal with a canceled flight; take a taxi; catch the subway; plunge a toilet; change a tire; check the oil; shave with a razor; withdraw cash from an ATM; pay for dinner; self-prescribe over-the-counter meds; call a doctor; cook a meal; cancel a membership; buy clothes; return a purchase; pack a suitcase (without inspection); do the laundry; iron a shirt; go food shopping for themselves; negotiate a deal; make hospital corners; sew a button; remove a stain; replace a fuse; remove a splinter; enjoy a drink responsibly; and say “no” with confidence.

I have been slow to get on the all-organic bandwagon but a recent report by CNN has done the trick. Scientists (including finally the FDA) are now suggesting that certain chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neuro-developmental disabilities among children – such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. Harvard researchers say a new global strategy to control the use of these substances is urgently needed. The list of suspected chemicals is a long one. You really need to read the full article yourself here: http://tinyurl.com/kqv26xn

My kids can’t live without Quizlet. This online learning tool was created by a high school sophomore in Albany, and it is now perhaps the most popular study tool out there. Students can create or share flashcards, track their progress and give themselves graded quizzes. Best of all, it is free. Quizlet.com

Signing on to a college’s Pinterest account is a fun way for potential and future students to learn more about a school.Check out Chapman University’s page to get an idea of what I mean: pinterest.com/chapmanu/

Does your middle-school daughter or her friend ever use baby talk? Why do girls do that? A former teacher writing for The Atlanticfeels it is crucial for teachers to discourage this trend before it becomes a habit. She writes about them developing their outer voices – the ones the world will hear and judge as girls make their way out there.http://tinyurl.com/mvkjsf5

Finally,  interested in what the classroom of the future will be like?  Read the feature story I wrote about the SXSWEdu conference in Austin.  Education technology is completely transforming our children’s education!

Please share this post with friends!  

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Education Roundup XXV

Welcome to this month’s Education Roundup (National Edition)…

My very favorite academic exercise in my entire K-12 career was speed-reading … an activity that has truly gone by the wayside. But a new website called spreeder.com is a free service designed to help students to improve their reading speed and comprehension. I clocked in comfortably reading at 525 words a minute on the site. See if you can top my score. I can see the usefulness of this as a periodic assessment device, but for speed-reading instruction I think they offer a companion computer program that costs money. All things being equal, however, life is easier if you can read quickly. spreeder.com

Kid trackers are a hot topic, and I recommend that you start young if you are interested, as it is very difficult down the road to convince a teenager to submit to this kind of oversight. For the smallest children, the Toddler Tag ($30) beeps if your child moves more than 30 feet away from you. The Filip ($200) bracelet lets your child call you with a press of a button and displays location. And for students getting their first phone, Life360 (free) looks pretty good, as it enables you to keep precise track of your child (via the phone) at all times, whether the app is open or not and whether or not he or she accepts your call.

The blogger Emily Mendell has compiled a list of 31 things that your son (or daughter) should be able to do on their own before heading off for college. Write a check; pay a bill; make travel arrangements; navigate an airport, train or bus station; deal with a canceled flight; take a taxi; catch the subway; plunge a toilet; change a tire; check the oil; shave with a razor; withdraw cash from an ATM; pay for dinner; self-prescribe over-the-counter meds; call a doctor; cook a meal; cancel a membership; buy clothes; return a purchase; pack a suitcase (without inspection); do the laundry; iron a shirt; go food shopping for themselves; negotiate a deal; make hospital corners; sew a button; remove a stain; replace a fuse; remove a splinter; enjoy a drink responsibly; and say “no” with confidence.

Teens are seriously stressed out, according to new research. And this stress is negatively affecting every aspect of their lives. More than a quarter (27 percent) say they experience “extreme stress” during the school year and 34 percent expect stress to increase in the coming year. They aren’t just stressed out by school though. They also cite their friends, work and family. The concern is that they aren’t using healthy ways to cope with stress and they may be setting themselves up for future chronic stress and chronic illness. Researchers haven’t really looked at teen stress before so the report is worth a read if your teen struggles with stress. http://tinyurl.com/l4st9kt

I have been slow to get on the all-organic bandwagon but a recent report by CNN has done the trick. Scientists (including finally the FDA) are now suggesting that certain chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neuro-developmental disabilities among children – such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia. Harvard researchers say a new global strategy to control the use of these substances is urgently needed. The list of suspected chemicals is a long one. You really need to read the full article yourself here: http://tinyurl.com/kqv26xn

My kids can’t live without Quizlet. This online learning tool was created by a high school sophomore in Albany, and it is now perhaps the most popular study tool out there. Students can create or share flashcards, track their progress and give themselves graded quizzes. Best of all, it is free. Quizlet.com

Signing on to a college’s Pinterest account is a fun way for potential and future students to learn more about a school. Check out Chapman University’s page to get an idea of what I mean: pinterest.com/chapmanu/

Does your middle-school daughter or her friend ever use baby talk? Why do girls do that? A former teacher writing for The Atlantic feels it is crucial for teachers to discourage this trend before it becomes a habit. She writes about them developing their outer voices – the ones the world will hear and judge as girls make their way out there. http://tinyurl.com/mvkjsf5

Badges are a hot topic in education. Imagine a marriage between the Girl Scouts and LinkedIn. Prognosticators expect that within a few years, every résume will have badges on it that signify expertise or competency in relevant skills. The badges serve as a hyperlink to details (relevant coursework, honors won, etc.) Read more about it at http://tinyurl.com/orz3t8v.

Work experience during high school is playing a key role in admissions to highly selective colleges these days, as well as quick and relevant employment after graduation from college, according to a recent survey of businesses and students. More and more students are looking for work experience through internships or volunteering. Hiring companies state the most important factors for them in hiring students are the reputation of the high school, high academic performance and references. Go to http://tinyurl.com/kc3hwbd.

A student’s GPA and the rigor of their course load is more important in college admissions than any other factors this admissions season, according to a survey of college admissions officers (National Association for College Admission Counseling). In other news from NACAC, for-profit colleges and two-year public colleges saw declining enrollment while public and private nonprofit colleges continued to grow. http://tinyurl.com/lgsxptl

In the new book, “All Joy and No Fun,” journalist Jennifer Senior looks at all the ways that having children changes parents’ lives. Using sources in history, sociology, economics, psychology, philosophy and anthropology, she questions our beliefs about parenting, what it adds to our lives and what it takes away. It is next up on my nightstand.

More 18- to 31-year-olds live with their parents today than at any other point in the last 40 years (Pew Research). Perhaps today’s teens should be a little nicer to their parents? Those young adults with more schooling were less likely to be living at home. http://tinyurl.com/ktmksnu

I was surprised to read in the Wall Street Journal last week that fewer children are playing team sports today than four years ago. Losing the most ground are basketball, baseball and soccer (all down 7 to 8 percent) while ice hockey is up 64 percent and lacrosse is up 158 percent. Experts can’t agree on why. Some blame video games and others the time pressure of high school extra-curriculars. http://tinyurl.com/mxehxvo

The latest issue of National Geographic is all about the science of the brain. How we learn is a hot topic and scientists seem to be making impressive strides in better understanding brain function, all of which bodes well as educators apply that knowledge in our classrooms. The February issue underlines the point that “scientists are learning so much about the brain now that it’s easy to forget that for much of history we had no idea at all how it worked or even what it was.” Also on the magazine’s website are some great brain games and activities pegged to current events, like the Olympics. education.nationalgeographic.com

Tiger Mom Amy Chua is back in the news with a new book with this thesis: “For all their diversity, the strikingly successful (cultural) groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex – a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite – insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.” The groups she cites as strikingly successful are: Indian-Americans, Iranian-, Lebanese- and Chinese-Americans and Mormons (she cites the fact that Indian-Americans earn almost double the national figure). She also mentions that while “Jews make up only about 2 percent of the United States’ adult population, they account for a third of the current Supreme Court; over two-thirds of Tony Award-winning lyricists and composers; and about a third of American Nobel laureates.” Her new book is “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.”

The Atlantic magazine tackles the subject of teenage risk-taking in a long piece that is both comforting and terrifying for those of us with teens. In a nutshell, the increased natural dopamine being released in the adolescent body “can give adolescents a powerful sense of being alive when they are engaged in life. It can also lead them to focus solely on the positive rewards they are sure are in store for them, while failing to notice or give value to the potential risks and downsides,” said the author, UCLA psychiatry professor Daniel Siegel.tinyurl.com/lfyvb3q.

Researchers have quantified what we have suspected for some time – kindergarten is the new first grade. “In less than a decade, we’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed,” said Dahna Bassok at University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. “Academic skill-building has really taken center stage in today’s kindergarten classrooms, in a way that just wasn’t the case” before the late 1990s. Today’s kindergartens now feature homework, worksheets and an emphasis on learning to read by the end of the year.phys.org/news/2014-01-kindergarten-grade.html

There are dozens of fellowships, workshops, seminars and service trips for teachers who are interested in traveling overseas this summer (at no cost). If you know of a teacher who might be interested, forward them this link:http://tinyurl.com/m6ebjme

There is a growing body of research that questions the merit of stand-alone middle schools (as opposed to K to 8 schools). Educators were previously enamored with the middle-school model but now many are challenging the notion that grouping students in the middle grades is the right approach. (Only 2 percent of sixth- and seventh-graders in private schools attend a stand-alone middle school.) According to a professor at Columbia, “In the specific year when students move to a middle school (or to a junior high), their academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, falls substantially in both math and English relative to that of their counterparts who continue to attend a K to 8 elementary school. What’s more, their achievement continues to decline throughout middle school. This negative effect persists at least through eighth grade, the highest grade for which we could obtain test scores.” educationnext.org/stuck-in-the-middle/

If your student age 13 to 21 is interested in the visual or performing arts, the best list of summer programs around the country and around the world that I have come across is atda.org/podium/default.aspx?t=117646.

Parents spend their time wondering if their sons are geniuses and if their daughters are fat, according to some depressing research conducted by a reporter at the New York Times. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed Google searches and found that parents are two-and-a-half times more likely to Google “is my son gifted?” than “is my daughter gifted?” (despite the fact that girls are surpassing boys in classrooms across the country). And parents are twice as likely to Google “is my daughter fat?” than “is my son fat?” tinyurl.com/pt3hcmw

The British government is requiring that programming (computer coding) be taught in every K-12 classroom in England starting next year. The United States, thanks to Silicon Valley, is the world’s premier technology powerhouse, so it is baffling to me that England has beaten us to the punch. You can read more about England’s coding curriculum at http://tinyurl.com/pdtzvqu.

I am a big fan of audiobooks, both for myself and for children who don’t love to read. While I favor audible.com, there is a site called tales2go.com that streams thousands of name-brand titles from leading publishers and storytellers to students’ mobile devices and desktops. The family subscription is $99 a year for up to five devices. The app and a seven-day trial are free.

Are you interested in game-based learning? If so, you may need to get yourself a Pinterest account just to follow the Game Based learning board. The page offers up dozens of great sites and resources for students and classrooms. pinterest.com/edutopia/game-based-learning

“Giving our kids the option to quit celebrates the idea that they should have the chance to try out new things without the expectation that every new thing will fit,” said author Kristin Levitahn, who is quoted in an article about letting kids quit things (at theatlantic.com). There has been a lot of talk about the value of persistence but she offers forth a valuable argument for being okay with quitting as well.

If you have had the misfortune of spending much time combing through stock photos online, you know how lame most of the pictures are under the category of women or mothers. Lots of cookie baking and sundresses. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation has partnered with Getty Images to change all that and ensure that when a child needs an image for a poster board of professional women, old-fashioned stereotypes can be avoided. As Sandberg explained, “When we see images of women and girls and men, they often fall into the stereotypes that we’re trying to overcome, and you can’t be what you can’t see.”

I have a new favorite website for instructional support and cool new learning tools and resources. Check out edtune.com. My favorite thing about is that you don’t need to register to use it.

Schools in the 40+ Common Core states across the country will take new computer-based standardized tests this year. Because they will be administered on computers, the new assessments will allow for a broader range of test questions than the multiple-choice exams given in the past. They will emphasize critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving – modeling the kind of teaching and learning needed to prepare all students for the demands of college and the modern workplace. No student, school or district scores will be produced from this year’s field test because its purpose is to “test the test” – to determine how well the test questions and technology work.

Studies show that we can train our minds to be happy or unhappy. Furthermore, careers such as accounting and law that focus on catching mistakes and errors can result in a pervasive pessimism that carries over into one’s personal life. Eric Barker writes in The Week that you must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Specifically, he suggests that listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference. He also says that one of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad. http://m.theweek.com/article.php?id=256206

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The BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) has a great Spanish-language game website for elementary students. Students choose an aspect of the language to explore, and are presented with a list games and learning tools to help with mastery. BBC.Co.UK/Schools/PrimaryLanguages/Spanish

Lots of parents are very casual about pot use but a new study has found that exposing adolescent rats to the primary ingredient in marijuana can lead to molecular and behavioral alterations in the next generation of offspring, even though progeny were not directly exposed to the drug (according to researchers at Mount Sinai). “Our study emphasizes that cannabis [marijuana] affects not just those exposed, but has adverse affects on future generations,” said Yasmin Hurd, Ph.D. “Finding increased vulnerability to drug addiction and compulsive behavior in generations not directly exposed is an important consideration for legislators considering legalizing marijuana.” http://tinyurl.com/mp4phb4

It is hard to sustain optimism about the state of education today when I spend my days reading articles like: “What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?: Our high schools are a disaster.” This recent piece in Slate by a psychology professor (Laurence Stein)  states, “It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents – it’s every single thing we have tried. The list of unsuccessful experiments is long and dispiriting … Over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries and performance standards, and despite billions of dollars invested in school reform, there has been no improvement – none – in the academic proficiency of American high school students.” http://tinyurl.com/mjaa3jp

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I just learned that nearly a quarter of American adults did not read a single book last year (and this counts audiobooks, Kindle books, everything). Furthermore, the number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978. The good news? The typical American did read five books last year. http://tinyurl.com/lzhzmzq

The new school analysis site Niche.com surveyed 909 public and private high schools between 2012 and 2014, and ranked schools by students’ average SAT/ACT scores (close to 80,000 score results over two years). The chart is interesting just to see which public and private schools across the country come out on top by this measure.  Check out the ones in your area.  While a lot of people hate to lend weight to SAT scores, a recent study by Case Western Reserve found standardized test scores to be a valid measure of general cognitive ability and these scores still do play a huge role in college admissions.

I am off to the huge South by Southwest Education Conference (SXSWEdu) in Austin, Texas, March 2-6. Last year, attending more than a dozen panel discussions on innovation in education really opened my eyes to changes headed our way. I hope to learn as much this year.

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Education Roundup XXIV

Welcome to this month’s Education Roundup (National Edition)…

 

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be the mother of an Olympic athlete?  What those early years are like? Think…  a lot of driving but also some challenges you might not expect. You can read the complete article at http://tinyurl.com/m59msz4.

Have you ever walked in to find your children watching a TV show that you KNOW they have seen before? It makes me crazy. There is a cool website that features more than 300 mind-expanding documentary films, many of which are appropriate for all ages.  These are also a great classroom resource. Check out the list atdiygenius.com/mind-expanding-documentaries/.

Common Sense Media recommends five important media resolutions that every family should make in 2014.

• Make a detailed schedule that ensures a balance of screen time and other activities.

• Get to know your child’s favorite device. Have them show you their favorite games, apps, etc. You will understand their interest better and you will be better able to assess needed safety and privacy controls.

• Review behavior do’s and don’ts with first-time users. They should have to ask you before they go online and should understand a site’s rule and how to recognize red flags (like someone asking them for private information).

• Establish a charging station in your bedroom and make sure kids hand over all their devices before bed.

• Model the right behavior by never texting and driving or it is hard to expect them to do the right thing when they are alone behind the wheel.

I wish I had thought of these when my children were younger as the longer you wait to establish truly common-sense guidelines like this, the harder it is. I suggest you link acceptance of these guidelines to every new device you purchase. I wish I had.

A new set of studies has found that high praise can actually make some children feel worse about themselves. The name of the study is: “That’s Not Just Beautiful – That’s Incredibly Beautiful: The Adverse Impact of Inflated Praise on Children with Low Self-Esteem.” While it might be counter-intuitive, researchers found that when adults give excessive compliments to children with low confidence, the children were less likely to pursue challenges. http://tinyurl.com/qx4yjmc

A recent Wall Street Journal story came to the conclusion that kids who understand gratitude get better grades and are less likely to get depressed. The author, Diana Knapp, suggests that gratitude is a muscle that must be exercised and saying thanks at dinner on the 364 days a year that are not Thanksgiving can help. The author cites a study from 2008 where sixth- and seventh-graders were assigned to list five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. It found they had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction three weeks later, compared with kids assigned to list five hassles. Depressingly, the author also cites a recent large-scale study that tracked materialism among high school seniors and found that desire for lots of money has increased markedly since the mid-1970s, while willingness to work hard to earn it has decreased. http://tinyurl.com/npkd88j

If your student loves science, there is a very inspiring story about the young winner of the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in 2012 in this week’s Baltimore SunJack Andraka is 16 years old, he is openly gay and he attends public school in Maryland. He invented an early-stage test for pancreatic cancer. His parents speak eloquently in the article about their strategies to encourage their son and to expose him to as much as possible, while still letting him be a kid and enjoy his interests. http://touch.baltimoresun.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-78754377/

San Francisco Unified School District made the national news last week for its innovative school mediation program. While 61 percent of its student population qualifies for the federally funded free or reduced lunch program, the district’s standardized test scores continue to rise and meet yearly state and federal benchmarks. Is it possibly because of a new approach to tackling student stress? Since 2007, the district has included transcendental meditation lessons into twice-daily “quiet time” periods – 15-minute breaks in all classrooms. Other benefits include reductions in truancy and discipline problems to which they credit this program.

Disaster Hero is a free online game designed to teach children (grades 1 through 8), parents, and teachers how to prepare for disasters. The goal is to ensure that kids know what to do before, during, and after a disaster. Disasterhero.com

While I am still not exactly sure what it is, I keep reading about studies that tout mindfulness training as crucial to academic success. The latest study looked at college students (who are notorious for high levels of distraction and stress). Mindfulness training can focus attention and improve learning, according to a new study by University of Miami researchers. Mindfulness is a mental state in which a person pays attention to the present experience without ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness training emphasizes attention-building exercises and learning to observe the activity of the mind.

Do you know of a student ages 14-26 who is, or might be, interested in economics? Last summer my teenage daughter attended an economics seminar put on by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). She lived in a dorm at St. Louis University and attended workshops with dozens of other high school students. Best of all, the seminar was free (room, board, books and tuition all covered, you just have to get there). FEE has just posted their summer 2014 seminars, and topics include: “Making Innovation Possible: The Role of Economics in Scientific Progress”; “Are Markets Just? Exploring the Social Significance of a Free Economy”; and “How Economic Thinking Can Create a Better World.” The closest campus being offered for the program this year is Chapman University (near Los Angeles). Schedules and applications are at fee.org/seminars. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, so apply early.

A happy parent raises a happy child (in most cases). Here are 10 science-based ways to be happier, courtesy of Beth Cooper (at Buffer.com)

1. Exercise: Exercise has a profound effect on our happiness and well-being. It can help you relax, increase your brainpower, and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.
2. Sleep more: Sleep helps our bodies recover from the day and repair itself, and that helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out sleep is also important for happiness.
3. Spend more time with friends/family: Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference in how happy we feel.
4. Get outside more: Spending time in the fresh air can improve your happiness. Spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosts positive mood, but also broadens thinking and improves working memory. Interestingly, studies have also found that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees, so there is even an upside to winter.
5. Help others: To make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, studies suggest that 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.
6. Practice smiling: Smiling can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study. Smiling can also improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks.
7. Plan a trip: As opposed to actually taking a holiday, simply planning a vacation or break from work can improve our happiness – the effect of vacation anticipation can boost happiness for eight weeks.
8. Meditate: Meditation is credited with improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness as well. Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down.
9. Move closer to work: Our commute to work can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness (or lack thereof).
10. Practice gratitude: Taking note of things you are grateful for each day can improve your mood. Research suggests that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits. http://tinyurl.com/kx4nozf

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New research indicates that parental involvement is more important than any other factor in positively influencing the health, growth and even IQ of children. Involvement and family time also plays a huge role in decreasing the stress in a child’s life. While this sounds like another plug for family dinners, what researcher Gail Gross found is that academic and social performance in 3-to-17-year-olds increases significantly with even small increments of focused time with parents. The key, she says, is not the activity you do together, it is simply being fully present. http://tinyurl.com/n53f9dg

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Reading has a positive impact on the brain that researchers are only just now beginning to understand. In a recent experiment, students brains were scanned each morning after having read sections of a thriller novel over nine nights, and then again daily for five days after they finished the book. The scans revealed increases in connectivity in the students’ brains following the assignments, which persisted for the five days after finishing the novel. The parts of the brain associated with language comprehension, sensations and movement benefited the most. http://huff.to/1dkcBoD

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The Hour of Code last month was tremendously successful, with more than 20 million students across the country gaining exposure to coding. The students I spoke to who have tried coding at school have loved it. If you are looking for coding classes or summer camps, you can visit code.org to search for possibilities. http://aws.code.org/. If your child’s classroom is exploring coding, email me the details atourschools@sonomanews.com.

If your kids enjoy science, there is a great list of 60 popular free science games online covering some of the most popular topics within biology, geology, physics and chemistry.stumbleupon.com/su/1phjd9

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Busuu is a community-based language-learning site that offers games, groups, exercises and other free resources for learning Spanish, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, German, Russian, Polish, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese or English.The site has a nice look with illustrations and animation. Like many of the best language sites, after an initial free period, it costs money; membership options range from $20 a month to $150 for a two-year membership. But Busuu’s best feature is free – conversational practice that involves typing and chatting live with native speakers of your language of choice. busuu.com

DragonflyTV is a PBS science education television series for middle-school students, and its website features viewable episodes, games, resources and more. There are fun games and experiments as well as science-based multimedia experiences. Also cool is a science-center locator which returns a list of science museums near your location.

The site Sumdog provides free educational games that make math and reading practice fun for students K-8. Students will like competing against other students of similar ability around the world. But the more they play, the more the games adjust to their skill level. Sumdog automatically begins to present more difficult questions while limiting the allotted time for answers. In addition, a student who incorrectly answers questions on a given topic receives more of those types of questions in ensuing rounds. There are both free and paid versions at sumdog.com.

There is a tabletop board game called Robot Turtles that teaches youngsters ages 3-8 the fundamentals of programming, without words. http://buy.robotturtles.com Children act as programmers, putting instruction cards down, driving the turtles through the maze, but the grownup is the computer, executing commands on the board.

In honor of the winter break, here is a list of 30 of the best educational computer games to amuse your children. Some are new, some are old favorites. The complete list is at:edsurge.com/guide/gaming#View-Product-Comparisons but some of new ones I have not mentioned before worth checking out include: The Oregon Trail ($5), Sokikom ($10), Brain Age ($16), Garry’s Mod ($10) and Second Life (free).

If you are looking for books for the new year, here are 17 ways to get your hands on free books: stumbleupon.com/su/2uCgjG. On the list are lots of websites worth checking out including: Bibliomania, Zunafish, Bookins, BookMooch and Childrens Books Online. Another great article I found offers up ways to get almost any book, study guide, reference text or magazine in the world for free (legally). Read it here: stumbleupon.com/su/1m4OvT

Parents can be very casual about marijuana smoking (“it is just pot”) but new studies are showing that pot smoking among teens can permanently reduce the size of the growing brain. Researchers at Northwestern University found that the section of the brain related to working memory actually reduced in size from pot smoking (which coincided with the teens’ poor performance on memory tasks). The shrinkage was more advanced in people who started smoking marijuana younger. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/mrskfw4.

I felt very guilty after reading an article in the New York Times on “Parenting While Plugged In.” The author suggests that while everyone is worried about the effect of screen time on children, we should also be looking at how our own extended screen time affects our relationships with our children. One researcher spent five years conducting 300 interviews and she found that children can be jealous and hurt, competing with a screen for their parents’ attention. While parents say they need to have their device on because of work, they are actually just engrossed in their connectivity, in the same way that kids are with their devices. It all comes back to the idea of quality time.

A new HBO documentary shines a light on parental obsession with youth sports. If you get HBO, consider taping “Trophy Kids” and watching it with your children. An interesting discussion might result. Without any voiceover shaping the dialogue, filmmakers allow the parents and children to speak for themselves about their emotional investment in organized sports … and the result is tense and emotional. HBO is producing an entire series called “State of Play,” which will examine a variety of sports themes as they influence our society. “Trophy Kids” is playing daily and also available on HBO on Demand.

I was surprised to learn that California teachers are paid more than teachers in any other state in the nation. California teachers have the highest average salary at $64,424 and South Dakota brings up the rear at $36,374. The other states in the top five are New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois. stumbleupon.com/su/2h29Rs

How do you “create good students”? A principal suggests on the website Edutopia that several conditions must exist: more hands-on learning (less time drilling and droning); higher level engagement; articulated learning goals; the right curriculum and technology tools; knowledge of the best way that each individual student learns; learning extended into the home; publishing of student creations; pursuing what students want to explore; and fun (if a teacher isn’t having fun, it is likely the students aren’t either). edutopia.org/blog/creating-great-students-ben-johnson

Class Central is a free online course aggregator from top universities such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard and others. You can search all the MOOC (massive open online course) providers for the topics that interest you. This is great for students who might want to explore a field of study not available at their school or for adults who like the idea of being lifelong learners. class-central.com

A fun exercise to do with your whole family is to take a learning style quiz and discuss and compare results. Quick and easy free ones are available here: edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-learning-styles-quiz or here: educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/learning-styles.shtml

Have you heard about the teen who will serve no jail time despite killing four people in a recent drunk driving accident because his lawyers claimed he is a victim of “affluenza”? His attorneys argued that he was so coddled and spoiled that his parents never taught him right from wrong. He had a blood alcohol level of .24 – triple the legal driving limit for an adult – and was on Valium when he crashed his truck, injuring 11 people and killing four. While intelligent, he was estimated to have the emotional age of a 12-year-old.

I was surprised to learn that even the most rigorous computer science courses do not currently count toward core high school graduation requirements in California and neither the UCs nor CSUs count computer science as fulfilling a mathematics or science requirement. As of right now, 14 states do count computer science as a math or a science, and hopefully California will soon follow. http://tinyurl.com/lr6o94p

Need book ideas for kids of all ages? Check out Amazon’s list of the top 20 most popular books in each category for readers of all ages: baby-age 2 | ages 3-5 | ages 6-8 | ages 9-12. You can see the full list in best-selling order at http://tinyurl.com/k3uw8cb

Along the same lines, greatschools.org released its list of the all-time best book series for kids, by grade level. Some of its top picks: “Maya & Ruby,” “The Elephant & Piggie,” “Peter & The Starcatchers,” “The Babysitters Club” and “Artemis Fowl.” Read the complete list here: http://tinyurl.com/n46nu4q

If you are worried that your teen is smoking cigarettes, I recommend you show him or her the images at http://tobaccobody.fi/n_en.php. It is an absolutely horrifying high-tech, high-def look at how each part of your body is affected by cigarette smoking. I am still cringing.

If you can’t get enough of all things education, there is a list of the best-selling education books of 2013. The top five: 1. “America the Beautiful,” by Ben C. Carson; 2. “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman; 3. “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” by Thomas C. Foster; 4. “How Children Succeed,” by Paul Tough; 5. “The Last Lecture,” by Randy Pausch. My favorite is Paul Tough’s book.http://tinyurl.com/kxh4cs3

An app I have written about here more than once, Duolingo, was just named Apple’s choice for App of the Year. Considering how many apps are out there, that is quite an honor. Duolingo is free, and offers fun language instruction and practice in six languages – Spanish, French, German, Italian, English and Portuguese. The app is like a game and it uses images and your smartphone’s microphone to help you learn words, recite them and write them out. Duolingo.com

A study has found that listening to music can interfere with short-term memory and can be a terrible idea for students doing homework or studying for tests. Students were tested recalling a series of numbers, while listening to different kinds of background music. Interestingly, it didn’t matter if the student loved or hated the music being played. edutopia.org/blog/dont-listen-music-while-studying-david-cutler

I can’t wait to try The Big History Project. Pulled together by a tech guy and a historian, this free online initiative aims to challenge the way history is traditionally taught. Formerly only available to educators, the free game is now open to the public (and it is backed by Microsoft and Bill Gates). There is also a companion TV series on the History Channel. The goal? To bring the full story of humanity to life via a game by viewing history not as a straight line, but as a complex, interconnected web. bighistoryproject.com

Which colleges produce the most ambitious students? Inc. Magazine was curious. Using data from personality tests to gauge ambition, it decided that students from the following colleges are the most ambitious: UC Berkeley, UCLA, Harvard, U. Penn, Stanford, Vanderbilt, London School of Economics, Oxford, University College London and Boston University. Kudos to laid-back California for having three of the top 10 schools. You can read the details here:http://tinyurl.com/ndm4s4m

“IF…,” is a very unusual new online game that asks kids ages 6 to 12 to employ empathy and social-emotional skills in a game setting (for ex. helping cats and dogs in tribes to get along). The game will be available as a free iPad app in January and you can sign up to receive it when it goes live. A lot of attention is paid to the academic development of children, IF … will focus on the 20 or so specific related to self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships and decision-making. Ifyoucan.org/exsel-stats

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Roundup XXIII

Parents need to make adulthood look appealing (and worth the hassle of growing up). It seems obvious but when I heard a high school counselor say this recently it resonated with me. We are sending a very positive message to our kids if we can impress upon them the joy we get out of our work, our marriage and our other responsibilities. It we complain about our lives as adults, we aren’t giving them much incentive to grow up or much to look forward to.

I just stumbled across The Good Men Project. Billed as both a magazine and “a conversation,” the site aims to foster a national discussion centered around modern manhood and the question, “What does it mean to be a good man?” It is not a new post but the site’s “25 Rules for Moms with Sons” has stuck with me. Some of my favorites: teach him the words for how he feels; encourage him to dance; let him lose; give him a way to release his energy; kiss him; and answer him when he asks “why”?

Only 8.3 percent of students from low-income families currently earn a four-year degree by the age of 24. According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, at the current production rate in higher education, the U.S will fall 5 million short of the workers with post-secondary credentials needed by 2020. http://blog.collegepossible.org/view-the-degree-gap-infographic/

I love the website iCivics.org. Students can play civics games (run for president, pass new laws, etc.) and access free resources. http://www.icivics.org/

The free iPad app Mibblio is a musically interactive storybook that gets students excited about reading through the incorporation of music into the story. Children sing along and can play instruments along with the music (guitar, harp, piano, flute, maracas and bongos). mibblio.com

Most members of my book club listened to our most recent selection as an audio book (while driving and/or exercising). The favorite two sites for our group – audible.com (low cost) and our local library (for free). Audio books are also great for kids who say they hate to read or kids who like multi-tasking (listening while shooting hoops or doing chores).

There continues to be evidence that learning a second language can be the key to a student’s success. Not only does it increase cognitive function, it also seems to lead to higher rates of success in school and in the workforce. Of students studying a foreign language in the U.S., 69 percent are studying Spanish, 18 percent French, less than 1 percent other languages, and the remaining 12 percent are not studying a language. Students who study a foreign language for all four years of high school have been found to score 140 to 150 points higher on each section of the SAT, and bilingual workers earn five percent to 20 percent more than their peers who speak only English. The only problem? The number of elementary and middle schools offering world language instruction is decreasing, and in middle school that percentage has dropped from 75 percent in 1997 to 58 percent today. (Middlebury Interactive Languages).

Millennials in college are suffering high rates of depression, according to a recent opinion piece in Slate magazine. They are finding the transition to adulthood completely overwhelming. The issue, said the therapist interviewed, is that people in their 20s no longer view themselves as adults because of benign reasons like longer life spans, and depressing reasons like helicopter parenting and unemployment. Read the entire article here: http://tinyurl.com/kowpkde.

If you are interested in multiple intelligences – the idea that some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners and some learn by doing – then you will enjoy the page of resources put together by the Ed Tech website. The site categorizes apps and learning tools by how well they suit each kind of learner. tinyurl.com/onof5qv

There has been a lot of debate over the results of the recent testing of 15-year-olds worldwide (the PISA literacy, math and science tests are administered in 65 countries every three years). American students score right around the world average in all categories and came in 17th in literacy, 21st in science and 26th in math. While the U.S. Dept of Education was embarrassed by the scores, defenders feel they are perfectly fine considering the socioeconomic challenges of many of our students. Every news article seems to suggest different reasons for the mediocre scores – search “PISA 2013” and you will get the drift. While the differences between the U.S. education system and countries abroad should not be reduced to statistics, Amanda Ripley’s “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way” is a lively read that tries to tease out some answers. Ripley follows U.S. high school exchange students studying overseas and she interviews foreign students studying at our high schools.

Along those lines, I have another book recommendation. “Raising Global Children: Ways Parents Can Help Our Children Grow Up Ready to Succeed in a Multicultural Global Economy” is a combination parenting-advocacy book that details what raising global children means, why global awareness is important and how to develop a global mindset. According to the National Research Council, Americans’ “pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry.”

A recent article in Time Magazine tackles the question of what is “ailing” teenage boys. Only 43 percent of college students today are male, down from 58 percent in 1970. Even more troubling is the fact that 81 percent of suicides in the 10 to 24 age bracket are males. Author Rosalind Wiseman suggests that boys are struggling more with modern adolescence than girls. Her book “Masterminds and Wingmen” is next on my list. Wiseman has also published a book of advice for boys. You can read an excerpt at time.com/boys.

In the category of good news, according to the nonprofit that tracks this data, only 16 percent of teens have had sex by age 15 and in 2012 the birthrate among teens dropped to its lowest level in 73 years. It is currently half what it was in 1991. Over the past 20 years, among high school students, the percentage who say they have ever had sex dropped from 54.1 percent to 47.4 percent. (Source CDC and Guttmacher Institute)

The computer game Minecraft is frequently cited as the best example of the potential of learning through games because it encourages critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving. The PBS website Mindshift suggests six other games that it feels are equally good for the growing brain: Garry’s Mod; Kerbal Space Program, Sound Shapes, DIY, Stencyl and Code Academy. If you go online to read this article, you can access hot links to the game sites. http://tinyurl.com/q9azmgv

I had almost forgotten that comedian Al Franken was elected senator in Minnesota until I saw that he is the co-sponsor of my new favorite bill being introduced in Congress. The bill would create a grant program for universities to “create and expand the use of textbooks that can be made available online” with free access to the public. Students would have access to digital textbooks and not be forced to buy the latest edition from their campus bookstore.

The new and improved SAT has been delayed until 2016, one year later than originally announced. That means this year’s freshmen will likely be the first class to take it. The College Board announced the overhaul, after having been surpassed by the ACT for the first time last year. The new test should be better aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

The author of “Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World,” feels strongly that too many of us do a terrible job of conversing with young girls. When we start every conversation with a compliment on their outfit or appearance, we are sending them a powerful message that Lisa Bloom feels later manifests itself in low self-esteem, high rates of eating disorder and a depressing trend of girls under 12 sporting a full face of makeup. You can buy the book here.

Are you curious where the young inventors, artists and moguls featured in Forbes Magazine’s recent “30 under 30” feature went to college? While many attended Harvard, Stanford and Princeton, the website 60secondrecap hunted down the college affiliation of each of the several hundred people mentioned in the article and found lots of surprises. Interestingly, Arizona State, which accepts 89 percent of its applicants, has more “30 under 30” alumni than the University of Chicago, Duke, Dartmouth and Cornell. Both the original article, and the website’s dissection of it are interesting. 60secondrecap.com/forbes-30-under-30-colleges

Anne Schramm, of Sylvan Learning Center, offers five tips for parents to help their children study more efficiently and effectively in the New Year:

• Planners are a sanity saver. Making sure a student has one central place, such as a log sheet or calendar to track major deadlines, due dates, events and extracurricular activities, will help the student visualize the coming week, manage time efficiently and stay on schedule.

• Breaking it down. When it comes to major tests or big projects, there is nothing worse than not knowing where to start. Knowing when to take a deep breath, step back and break a daunting undertaking into smaller, more manageable tasks is a key skill.

• Organization is a must. By becoming disciplined at keeping reading materials and notes in logical order, students can find what they need right away, cut down on time spent tracking things down and increase time spent actually studying.

• Taking good notes matters. Taking good notes helps keep kids’ grades up, especially in middle or high school. Parents can help children learn to boil down information into note-like form by encouraging them to pick out main ideas in conversations, news reports, church sermons or magazine articles.

• Study like clockwork. The most successful test-takers don’t cram the night before. Students will do their best on tests when they regularly review the information every day at home. Having children work with friends to study, or in small groups outside of school, is a great way to encourage this.

Schramm says children are not born with study skills. “Like most other academic skills, study skills are learned. The good news is, parents can teach their children some simple and effective guidelines and techniques that will help them understand and retain information, unravel complex ideas and feel confident and prepared when test days roll around.”

Just in time for Christmas, I want to again mention the girl-power toy company GoldieBlox. GoldieBlox has developed a set of interactive books, games and toys to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.” CEO Debbie Sterling came up with the idea when she found herself one of the few women in her engineering program at Stanford. Her new gender-stereotype-bashing video for the toys is awesome and is getting a lot of buzz – http://tinyurl.com/nr87hrn

A new list of the top college towns in America is out, from the American Institute for Economic Research. The list goes to 70, but the top five college towns are: Ithaca, N.Y.; Ames, Iowa; State College, Penn.; Crestview, Fla.; and Iowa City, Iowa. Towns were evaluated based on the number and diversity of the college students living there; arts and leisure opportunities; cost of living; earnings potential; and other factors. Read the complete list at aier.org.

Meanwhile, a new global index has ranked 25 of the world’s major cities based on qualities most attractive for people between the ages of 15 and 29. Metropolises were ranked using 80 different indicators, including business, lifestyle and entertainment and they are, from number 1: Toronto, Berlin, New York City, Dallas, Paris, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Seoul. http://tinyurl.com/l5yb356.

Somehow this is both obvious and shocking. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found that university students who were spanked as children are more likely to engage in criminal behavior (no matter where they grew up and no matter how loving and helpful their parents were in general). http://tinyurl.com/ktyx8wq.

Why are young women dominating academically in high school but showing less success in college and in their careers? A recent article in the Huffington Post suggests that girls rapidly lose self-esteem in college. “Female students who enter college as self-assured, ambitious individuals, graduate with less confidence, feeling anxious, doubtful and depressed, and no one can figure out exactly why.” The author, a female college student herself who is experiencing this firsthand, said that in her first week at her dream college she passed a poster in her dorm hall stating, “Don’t worry if you fail your finals; just pray your future husband is passing his!” She has been disheartened by the sexism she has encountered and suggests college and workplace atmospheres may be to blame. Read the entire article here: http://tinyurl.com/mus3o27.

The deadlines are fast approaching for the handful of government-sponsored programs that enable youth ages 15-25 to live/travel/study abroad for free. Go to http://tinyurl.com/mbcoau7

There are definitely good video games and bad video games. Former English teacher and current game developer Catriona Wallis said recently in the Huffington Post, “Good video games can teach kids how to learn things on their own quickly and then use these skills to achieve, make constant and rapid decisions that affect things they do, improve hand-eye coordination, develop creative problem solving skills, exercise control in challenging circumstances, be persistent, pay attention to detail and think strategically and laterally as well as linearly and logically.” Experts suggest you play with your child, and one favorite game cited is Gamestar Mechanic. I would add any of the SimCity games to the list. The resources in her recent Huffington Post article can help you tell the good from the bad. http://tinyurl.com/lgm3bya

Teens who stay up late at night perform more poorly academically and emotionally, according to researchers at UC Berkeley. By graduation, night owl teens had lower GPA scores, and were more vulnerable to emotional problems than teens with earlier bedtimes (Journal of Adolescent Health). The temptations of technology have made it even more difficult for teens to get enough sleep. The good news is that better sleep patterns can be adopted anytime. Read more here.

Newsweek released its list of the top public high school in the country.  Schools are ranked based on how successful they are in producing college ready grads (graduation rate, college acceptance rate, AP/IB tests taken and passed per student and average SAT/ACT scores. (http://tinyurl.com/m6g9t7b)

I have to admit that I always appreciate it when other moms admit how hard they find it to try to “have it all.” A new book, “Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink,” by Katrina Alcorn suggest that working moms, in particular, are always having to say they are sorry … to their husbands, to their kids and to their co-workers … and that they are apologizing for not being able to do the impossible. I haven’t finished the book but it broaches a topic that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

If you have a senior in high school, “17 Things I Want Myself to Remember Senior Year” may be meaningful to you and them. You can read the article by Pennsylvania high school senior Katy Ma here: http://tinyurl.com/n6vpane.   My favorites are: not everything will happen according to plan; bring a camera with you wherever you go; if you haven’t been outside in more than two days, it’s a problem; thank everyone as much as you can; and celebrate the victories but don’t dwell in pride.

Study abroad by American students has more than tripled over the past two decades. Despite these increases, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. college students study abroad during their undergraduate years, even though studying abroad is the same price or cheaper than a semester at a student’s home university. The most popular choice for U.S. students is the United Kingdom (then Italy, Spain and France). In terms of who comes here, China now sends as many students to the U.S. as the next four countries combined: India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada. (Chronicle of Higher Ed)

“I Wonder What It Feels Like To Be Dyslexic” is a cool coffee table book that uses graphic design to provide a visual sense of how dyslexic students see words, giving parents and teachers a much better sense of the frustrations of the learning disability. You can take a look at pages from the book at http://tinyurl.com/lnu9ygw.

Does your student love Khan Academy, the website that has a clear, engaging tutorial video for basically any possible topic at any grade level? If so, consider becoming a beta tester. Students sign into New Feature Explorer and can test features before their release. http://tinyurl.com/l6xr2ft

ClassWish is a free website that organizes cash or supply donations for schools. Teachers and PTOs can create supply wish lists and spread the word with emails and printable flyers. Supporters can get a receipt for their tax-deductible contribution. Classwish.org

Wordplay is a free online game to help students learn and remember Spanish words and phrases. Students can master new words with a simple game that adjusts to each student’s unique needs. The game helps students to learn the proper meaning, pronunciation and spelling of each word. A mastery meter fills as students develop mastery, and turns blue as they build long-term retention. wordplay.com

If your student is transitioning to a new school next year, be it kindergarten, middle school or high school, consider signing up for the new school’s email newsletter today to ease the transition and to learn more about the campus and ways to get involved before next year.

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Roundup XXII

If you are frustrated by your middle schooler’s obsession with computer games, here are five games that a panel of educational experts think have the most potential to educate, engage and empower students: DragonBox, Scribblenauts, Portal 2, Gamestar Mechanic, Minecraft. You can read about these games and others at the great non-profit Institute of Play web site at instituteofplay.org.

In honor of Digital Citizenship Week, here is a helpful visual for students to keep in mind regarding their digital profile (on Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc.). Think….

T – is it true

H – is it helpful

I – is it inspiring

N – is it necessary

K – is it kind.

Hmm, not bad tips for grown-ups too. My least favorite of the new social media sites might just be ask.fm. This digital question and answer site is a haven for bullies who can post anonymously. Ask your teen about it.

I just came across a listing of 50 great resources for the parents and teachers of gifted and talented students (teachthought.com): organizations, blogs, twitter feeds, articles and more. The complete list is here.

Ninety percent of K-12 schools in the U.S. don’t teach computer science, says Code.org. By the end of 2013, it wants to flip that stat around so that 90 percent do teach it. The nonprofit wants 10 million students to participate in the “Hour of Code” during Computer Science Education Week Dec. 9 to 15. Free participation kits are available for schools, community organizations and even local officials.

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The website “Dear Teen Me” made me laugh and cry. Famous authors and other notables submit letters to their teen self. They are all beautifully written and many are sure to strike a chord. dearteenme.com.

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There is a controversial article in the new Harper’s magazine that contends algebra cannot be learned by everyone — that it just can’t.  And that U.S. schools should stop jamming algebra II, in particular, down every student’s throat. The author interviews experts, many of whom are math teachers, who say forcing all teens to take algebra and algebra 2 is disastrous and unfair to students, most of whom, the author contends, will never need that particular math in their lives. (tinyurl.com/lf7cg9o)

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A recent article in the Atlantic Magazine says that ninth grade is the most important year in high school. Educators are finding that how freshman year goes determines whether a young person will move on or drop out of school. I was surprised to learn that nationwide, ninth-graders have the lowest GPA, the most missed classes, the majority of failing grades and get in more trouble than any other high-school grade level. Researchers have found that repeating ninth grade can have terrible results in terms of a child’s motivation and self-esteem and a disproportionate number of ninth-graders who are held back drop out.

What is the hottest job skill today? Translators and interpreters are expected to be two of the 15 fastest growing occupations in the nation (Department of Labor). There are projected to be 25,000 new jobs for interpreters (who focus on spoken language) and translators (who focus on written language), between 2010 and 2020. According to CNN, in the last week alone, roughly 12,000 jobs posted on Indeed.com included the word “bilingual.” In government jobs, being bilingual in Middle Eastern languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Pashto (Afghani) pays the best. In the private sector, employees bilingual in Scandinavian and Asian languages are the highest paid. Read more here.

Stanford Alumni Magazine recently devoted a few thousand words to “what it takes to get into Stanford” and after reading it, I feel slightly nauseous and still can’t tell you the answer. But it is an interesting and detailed look at the process at what is now the most selective university in America. You can read the entire article here.

Time Magazine’s Idea section recently suggested three things that schools can do to better help boys succeed. Quoted is psychologist Michael Thompson, who I think hits the nail on the head when he said, “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.” The three suggestions are:

• Bring back recess. They cite research that since the 1970s, schoolchildren have lost almost half of their unstructured outdoor play time, and that boys seem to react worse to “recess deprivation” than girls.

• Turn boys into readers. Find books that appeal to boys, have a male reading model and help parents support boys’ literacy.

• Encourage the young male imagination. Boys read, write and draw differently. Consider assignments from the point of view of boys.

Read the entire piece here.

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Did you know that you can adjust your iPhone or iPad settings to read all text to you (including choosing what kind of accent, speed, etc.)? You go to “setting” then “accessibility,” then “speak selection” and make your voice and speed selections. After you change the settings, you open a page of text (on Safari, email, anywhere) and highlight the text and click “speak.” I amused myself tremendously having an Irish voice read me my email this morning. Not only might this be terrific for struggling readers, but also to listen to documents while driving, etc.

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My new favorite website is litpick.com and it is perfect for students in grades 4 to 12 who love to read. The site is an online community that offers free electronic books. LitPick receives courtesy copies of new young-adult books from publishers and authors and makes these review copies available to students. As young reviewers, students are asked to offer their opinions of the books in anonymous book reviews posted on the site. This year, Litpick.com was named the best website for teaching and learning by the U.S. Librarians Society. The site is free for eBooks and $15 a year to get print books as well.

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I have lived in five different school districts since our youngest child was born and our children have attended public school, private school, boarding school, parochial school and Montessori. Having peeked under the covers of very different schools across the country, I am fascinated by case studies of successful initiatives at the district and school level. Earlier this fall, the nation’s 2013 Blue Ribbon schools were announced. These 286 elementary, middle and high schools offer promising ideas in very different settings. You can read one-page profiles of each school (including student demographics and exactly why the school was honored) at http://tinyurl.com/kl2geha.

SimCity has launched a new educational game for middle-school students called SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge. The game, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, is designed to engage students while developing real-world skills. Students play the role of mayor in a “real” city, where they must address issues such as reducing pollution while not ignoring other societal impacts such as maintaining employment levels and citizen happiness. Teacher dashboards provide data on student performance and feedback on results so teachers can assess performance in real time.

A company has invented facial recognition software called  Engage-Sense that applies algorithms to what the cameras have recorded during a lecture or discussion to interpret how engaged the students are. The camera captures if students were confused, bored, smiling, focused or looking around. Teachers can then be provided with a report, based on the facial analysis, to learn what aspects of the class were most and least engaging. They expect that in five years, teachers all over the country will be using it. Learn more here.

I have spent countless hours compiling a list of dozens of free (or very low cost) summer programs for students ages 12 to 25. These are free programs overseas or cool offerings on college campuses, with accommodations included. Many of the best ones have deadlines coming up in the weeks ahead so it is not too early to start thinking about next summer,  educationroundupnational.com.

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One terrific program I included is for students ages 15 to 18 (and for teachers) that provides them with as three weeks in Singapore and Malaysia as well pre-and post trip enrichment and training. The American Youth Leadership Program with Singapore and Malaysia is sponsored by the U.S. State Dept. and is completely free. The deadline to apply is Sunday, Dec. 1 – culturalvistas.org/aylp/info.htm. Why am I so excited about these kinds of programs? I have seen first hand how they have changed the lives of several Sonoma students.

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If your child loves the “Captain Underpants” books, you might want to read the scathing review of the books’ misogyny here.  It is pretty compelling.

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Our children need it and perhaps we do as well … SelfControl is a free app that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. You set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click “Start.” Until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites – even if you restart your computer or delete the application.

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I love the premise of the book “Raising Children that Other People Like to be Around” because when it comes right down to it, that is really the end goal. Author Richard Greenberg organizes the process around five basic behavioral “musts” based on the word SMART:

1. Set an Example – Behave as though everything you do will be mimicked by your child – because it will be! And reflect on the examples set for you by your own parents, and discuss them with your spouse or partner.

2. Make the Rules – Decide what values you think are most important to you and your parenting partner. Remember that “rules are the arms in which your children can embrace themselves.” Explain why you created a rule, and the logic behind it, so that your children understand that we weren’t just making them up for fun.

3. Apply the Rules – Once you’ve decided what’s important, you have to stick to your guns. Little children will test boundaries, which is their job. By saying “no” together with an explanation of your reasons, you show them you care. Remember also that every rule you create is a rule you have to enforce and too many rules make life very complicated.

4. Respect Yourself – This one is a biggie. You need to lead with the confidence that generates admiration and respect. Your children are passengers in your cab. You should be far better informed about the local roads than they are. And even if you’re not, you need to make them think you are, for their comfort and safety.

5. Teach in All Things – If you see your child as an “Adult In Training” and you know it’s your job to be their teacher, then everything you do will be informed by an underlying lesson. Once our kids catch on, they begin to see the lessons themselves.

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If you are unclear about the new Common Core State Standards and why your school district is excited about them, there is a very clever three-minute video worth watching at commoncoreworks.org.

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Why are so few girls interested in computer science? It is so puzzling to me. A new report says although 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees are earned by women, women account for only 14 percent of the computer science degrees at major research universities. And furthermore, this number is falling – it was 37 percent in 1985. Today, only 0.4 percent of female college freshmen say they intend to major in computer science.  Read more here.

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Because it is that time of year, I’m offering forth yet another college ranking… this one focused on affordability, future earnings, diversity and student activities (Newsweek’s The Daily Beast). Kudos to California for snagging five spots in the top 15. There are a few names that will surprise you. From #1-15: Yale University, MIT, Stanford University, Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, U.C. Berkeley, Williams College, U. Virginia, U. Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, Rice University, Cal Tech, Pomona College and U.C.L.A. The list goes to 200 here.

What should parents be looking for in a preschool? Tips from Ed Source and the Stanford Children’s Center suggest: 1. Look for signs of purposeful teaching – ask what the teacher is doing and why. 2. Inquire whether teachers have a B.A. or higher, though only a Child Development Associate Permit is required in California. 3. Gravitate toward well-organized, clean, childproofed classrooms with clear sight lines. Low shelves should be well-stocked with creative play items. 4. Ask teachers how they track and communicate child development and screen for potential problems. Ask for the school’s curriculum. 5. Look for engaged teachers and children who show sign of trust and cooperation. Read more here.

Watching movies and educational videos with the captions switched on improves student comprehension, recall and class discussion according to researchers at SF State. Captions are frequently used for English language learners and students with learning disabilities but this study found captions beneficial to all students.  Read more here.

New data out suggests that the teaching profession is attracting “a more academically successful group of people compared to previous years,” according to researchers at the University of Washington. They found that more teachers have their master’s degrees (26 percent in 2008 versus 17 percent in 1993) and the average SAT score for a first year teacher climbed slightly from just below the national average (45th percentile) to the national average 50th percentile. http://educationnext.org/gains-in-teacher-quality/

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Roundup XXI

This week, I celebrate my 100th column appearing in the Sonoma Index-Tribune.  Woohoo!  The best stuff makes its way here (with hot links).

A dad who writes for The Atlantic magazine recently tried to do his 13-year-old daughter’s homework for a week. The results are funny and depressing. He found an emphasis on memorization, not critical thinking, a lot of busywork and little coordination between teachers. I gather that homework loads swing in cycles and our unfortunate children are the top of the pendulum right now.

The Atlantic ran another fascinating article this month titled: “The Case Against High-School Sports.” Author Amanda Ripley contends that Americans waste far more energy and money on high school sports than almost any other country … to our detriment on the world stage. She writes about one Texas town that suspended football for the year and saw 80 percent of (all) students pass their classes, up from 50 percent the previous fall and 160 people at parent-teacher night, compared with six the year before. The article is controversial but a great conversation starter to have with your older children.

If you are interested in delving deep into information about a particular college (how many students were taken off the wait list last year, admissions criteria, test scores of accepted applicants, etc.) then you should search out the “Common Data Set” for that college. It is everything you might want to know in one place, updated annually. Schools do not make it easy to find though. Search for the university name and “common data set” in quotes.  Here is Rice University’s Common Data Set, as an example.

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There is possible hope for teens who have terrible judgment about posting things online. Gov. Jerry Brown of California just signed legislation requiring web companies, starting in 2015, to remove online activity if a minor requests it. This new “eraser” law applies to scandalous posts as well as ones that are just embarrassing. “Kids so often self-reveal before they self-reflect,” said James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, about the law. What a true statement.  Other states are sure to follow.

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If your child enjoys Minecraft (and I have already written about its educational merits) then you might want to explore Eden-World Builder. Players construct with blocks that vary in material, appearance and effect. Players can upload and download maps from a server, explore the maps and modify them. Reviewers say that Eden-World Builder appeals to anyone who loves Legos and wants to experience that kind of fun in a computer game. The app is 99-cents in the iTunes store.

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Researchers have found that students who are taught integrated mathematics, combining several mathematic topics, such as algebra, geometry and statistics, into single courses, do much better on standardized tests than students who take one course at a time. The U.S. is one of the few countries that still clings to rigid year-long courses: algebra I, geometry, algebra II, then pre-calculus and calculus. The researchers expect that these findings may challenge some long-standing views on mathematics education in the U.S.   Read more here.

How terrific that the content on the Khan Academy web site will soon be available in Spanish. The site is translating its 100,000 practice problems and video lessons. On any video, click on “Options > Translated subtitles.” The site is using the collaborative translation tool Crowdin (crowdin.net) to translate all its text into every conceivable language: the homepage, the exercises, the class reports, the video descriptions, the articles and tutorials – everything but the video subtitles. Crowdin is a web service that provides a platform for translation. Visitors to the site are invited to help with the translations.

Similar to Khan Academy, the free ShowMe iPad app lets anyone create lessons using an online whiteboard. There are now millions of ShowMes, across topics in math, science, languages, English and grammar, social sciences, music, art and sports. showme.com/learn.

If your child is at a school that has or is considering 1-1 tablet computers, you will be interested to read the New York Times’  recent piece entitled, “No Child Left Untableted.” It is a thoughtful look at the pros and cons of technology use in the classroom and the role of teachers in successful implementation.  Meanwhile, The Los Angeles’ school district’s $1 billion iPad initiative offers a cautionary tale. The LA Times reported recently that students quickly bypassed security measures to visit unauthorized web sites and so school officials took the new devices back from students, but only two-thirds have been returned. And officials hadn’t decided in advance what consequences there would be if the iPads were lost or stolen.

Emergency room visits for sports-related traumatic brain injuries (such as concussions) increased 92 percent between 2002 and 2011, according to research by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Skiing, sledding, inline skating and skateboarding had the highest ER admission rates.

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If you’re looking for a book to spark great dinner table conversation with your teens (and adults), I highly recommend What Money Can’t Buy by Michael Sandel. The book asks the thought-provoking question, “Are there some things that money can buy, but shouldn’t?” Some examples: a spot in the carpool lane, use of a womb, votes, organs, citizenship, college admissions … The author gives very specific examples and his arguments weave together philosophy, history, sociology, economics and morals.

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I love the idea of kids gaining work experience while still in college and earning money. U.S. News & World Report recently ran a piece on seven of the best jobs you can have while in college to launch your career after graduation. They are: social media coordinator (for your college or local businesses); campus brand ambassador (many large companies hire students to promote their brands on campuses); office of institutional research assistant (this office collects and analyzes data about students, parents and alumni – great practice for investment banking or consulting); career center staffer (my personal favorite as you get early access to jobs and recruiters); group exercise teacher (teaching workout classes shows leadership and the ability to motivate others); and finally chief executive of your own start-up (college is a great time to start a company and use all the on-campus resources for advice and counsel).

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Do tough teachers get good results? I have seen some lively arguments on facebook about Wall Street Journal writer Joanne Libman’s piece lamenting the by-gone days of tough and scary teachers. She writes: “It’s time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here’s the thing: It works.”  Her manifesto centers on these eight principles but I urge you to read it in full:

1. A little pain is good for you.

2. Drill, baby, drill.

3. Failure is an option.

4. Strict is better than nice.

6. Grit trumps talent.

7. Praise makes you weak…

8.…while stress makes you strong.

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A recent study found that e-readers are more effective than paper for some students with dyslexia. Researcher at Harvard University and U. Mass found that about a third to one half of students read more effectively with a device rather than on paper because of the ability to enlarge the type and have fewer words on a page. We are trying it out in our house.

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October is ADHD awareness month, and more than 1 in 10 American kids are now diagnosed with the condition. While most take powerful medication, some experts are now suggesting that many of these children may actually be suffering from sleep disorders. A child who struggles to pay attention or is aggressive or socially withdrawn may actually be exhausted from a lack of quality sleep. Without proper rest, kids’ nervous systems cannot function properly, which particularly affects the area of the brain that deals with focus and attentiveness. Parents should look out for night tremors, bedwetting, sleepwalking and noisy breathing – not just snoring – and discuss options with a doctor if need be.

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If Massachusetts were a country, its eighth graders would rank second in the world in science, behind only Singapore. California came in second to last in math and science among the states who were benchmark participants, just ahead of Alabama – but landed close to the middle of the pack internationally. The survey tests the knowledge and skills of fourth and eighth graders around the world. (More than 600,000 students in 63 nations participated). Massachusetts eighth graders also did well in math, coming in sixth, behind Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. There is good news for the U.S. as a whole as we came in 10th in science and ninth in math, with scores that were above the international average. While achievement tests are not the be-all and the end-all in measuring school effectiveness, I am always curious how the U.S. stacks up beyond our borders.

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I am always writing about free ebooks, but did you know that you can download free music from 150-plus classical composers, courtesy of musopen.org? Musopen provides free public domain scores and a library of recordings by classical composers. You can browse recordings organized by composer, performer, instrument, form and time period. Music can be streamed online for free and if you become a registered user for the site, you can download five tracks per day.

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The controversial website ratemyprofessor.com annually ranks the colleges with the best professors based on student ratings. The top 10 (in order) this year surprised me as there are some names that don’t frequently make top ranking lists: Duke University, Vanderbilt University, Penn State, Stanford University, U. Wisconsin at Madison, U. Georgia, Washington University in St. Louis, Rollins College, Texas A & M and U. Michigan. The list is based on the overall average professor rating and a school’s overall rating. While most of the colleges are huge, supposedly school size does not affect the outcome of the list.

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Eager to see the kind of testing that will accompany the new Common Core State Standards? You can see free grade-by-grade practice tests right now here.  Sign in as a guest, there is no need to provide any personal data.

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If you have a recent college graduate who is looking for work, suggest that they plan a visit back to their alma mater. Even after graduation, the college and career center is willing and eager to help. Graduates can return to search job listings, get help with resumes and interview tips and attend networking events. Many schools even have a job list-serve where open positions are posted in real time.

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The New York Times has a really well-conceived website for teachers, parents and students called The Learning Network. The site features a weekly news quiz, features for ELL students, a word of the day and college advice. Everything on the site is free without needing a digital subscription. It is definitely worth checking out.

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Time Magazine recently printed a list of the all-time best 100 novels. There is no number one or I would share it with you. Instead the list is in alphabetical order and available here: http://ti.me/o98PmV.

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The new app Oyster plans to offer with books what Spotify offers in music. Oyster offers a huge variety of best-selling books and classic novels. Users pay a monthly fee of $9.95 for unlimited access to 100,000 books with more to be added in the weeks and months ahead. oysterbooks.com.

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A major ranking of community colleges was just released by Washington Monthly Magazine. Determining each college’s rank was: the hours spent preparing for class; the percentage of new students who return for a second year; the percentage who graduate or transfer elsewhere within three years; the number of books and papers students are assigned; the amount of interaction with faculty; and the overall ratio of credentials granted for every 100 students enrolled. (washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2013/community_rank.php).

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Edutopia offers an incredible array of free downloadable guides for parents including: A Parent’s Guide to 21st-Century Learning; Mobile Devices for Learning: What You Need to Know; How To Thank A Teacher and more. edutopia.org/classroom-guides-downloads.

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Roundup XX

Researchers have developed an excellent predictor of children’s future emotional health and happiness. The “Do You Know (DYK) Scale” asks 20 questions about a child’s family history. They found that children who provided the most comprehensive answers to the test had a better sense of control in their lives and a greater sense of a well-functioning family life. Why might this be so? The thought is that stories of a family’s history give children a sense of clear values and emotional strength. Other tips for family well-being:  10 great minutes of togetherness at any meal is as good as a family dinner every night; use the word “we” rather than “you” during family squabbles; move living room furniture into an O shape; and the biggie… be honest with children about family setbacks, failures and struggles (children need to know they are part of something bigger than themselves). You can read more and see the questions at: tinyurl.com/mgtssol

LinkedIn is gaining in popularity among college students and recent graduates… and now is aiming younger. The job-networking site recently dropped its minimum age from 18 to 14  “to allow teens to build their resumes and connect with colleges on the site.” More than 200 universities now have their own “University Pages” so that potential applicants can learn about their offerings. Access for teens will come with restrictions intended to preserve their privacy.

National Geographic has launched a new weekly TV series on Friday nights for ages 10 and up called Brain Games. It is a fun and informative look at how the brain works. The web site also has some cool functions that the whole family might enjoy. A recent episode centered why we lie, how often we lie and what goes on in the brain that allows us to lie. The web site then offered games and experiments to underscore the concepts. Learn more about it at: braingames.nationalgeographic.com. There is a companion book that looks excellent, entitled, “Brain Works: The Mind Bending Science of How You See, What You Think and Who You Are” by Michael S. Sweeney.

There is a new web site called Born to Learn with animations that illustrate new discoveries about how humans learn. Students might get a kick out of it as well. Its tagline? “Your brain is the planet’s most powerful learning machine. But our current systems of education aren’t doing enough to unlock our true potential. This is what Born to Learn is all about.” (born-to-learn.org).

Campusgrotto.com consolidated a wealth of advice to come up with 12 habits of successful students. Read the whole thing at: campusgrotto.com. Some of my favorites…    Successful students:

  • set short-term and long-term goals.
  • stick to a weekly study schedule.
  • take advantage of office hours.
  • are active in activities outside the classroom.
  • go to class and participate.The most successful students sit in front and are involved in classroom discussions.
  • get proper sleep. A sharp brain starts with getting enough rest.

If you have a daughter or granddaughter ages 5-9, keep your eye out for a new toy called Goldie Blox. Developed by Stanford-educated engineer Debbie Sterling, the toy aims to challenge gender toy stereotypes.  The toy combines a storybook and a hands-on construction set with small figurines with the hope of getting girls interested in engineering. (goldieblox.com)

The web site CrunchBase has analyzed data to determine which universities are producing the greatest number of successful entrepreneurs. The site checked the alma maters of 6,150 founders from 4,885 companies. No surprise that Stanford came in first.  The rest of the top ten are:  Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, U. Penn, Columbia, Cornell, USC, Yale and U. Michigan.

ADD/HD expert Dr. Kevin Ross Emery has developed a free, unique “Managing the Gift” app, aimed at revealing the potential of children with ADD/HD. Unlike other ADHD apps that are self-diagnostic or generalized, this app provides custom-tailored reports with tips on parenting, guiding, supporting, and educating children with ADHD and ADD. One feature is a personalized interactive tool that defines a child’s distinct ADD/HD personality.

I don’t have room to reprint it in full but if you are or have a college student, you should look at The 20 Things I Wish Someone Told Me at 20 (courtesy of Dr. Karin Smithson and The Huffington Post). Some of my favorites have to do with holding on to your friends, listening to your parents, taking care of your body, kindness, online smarts and asking for help. You can read the complete list at: tinyurl.com/kalleku

A new study out of UC San Francisco and Berkeley found that just one use of cocaine may rewire the brain and drastically affect future decision-making. Other studies have shown the damage cause by long-term use but this study found that the wiring in the brain’s frontal lobe (the area of the brain that handles decision-making and memory) was altered after just one use.

A study focused on teaching boys found eight categories of instruction that were most successful with male students.  They looked at the best practices in schools of varying size, both private and public, that enroll a wide range of boys of disparate races and income levels.

• Lessons that result in an end product – a booklet, a catapult, a poem or a comic strip, for example.

• Lessons that are structured as competitive games.

• Lessons requiring motor activity.

• Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.

• Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.

• Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.

• Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.

• Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.

A long article about these findings and how our boys tend to be penalized for their classroom behavior ran in The Atlantic this summer.

I can’t get Ken Robinson’s book, “Finding Your Element,” out of my mind.  You might remember Robinson as having the most popular TedTalk of all time.  The book is about how discovering your talents and passions can transform your life. The bestsellers “Lean In” and “Finding Your Element” are this generation’s “What Color is Your Parachute,” but better.

I am a huge fan of the web site StumbleUpon. You enter in your interests (education, college, wine, travel, whatever) and each time you enter the site it has accumulated dozens of interesting articles and sites for you to look at. You can quickly swipe between stories. (stumbleupon.com)

I read last week that 31 percent of kids ages 8 to 10 now have their own cell phone. That number increases to 69 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds and 85 percent of those ages 14 to 17. Wow, will the age keep getting lower or are we at the youngest possible point today?

The web site Librophile offers thousands of full-length free audio books and eBooks. Currently up for grabs: The Wizard of Oz, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Homer’s Odyssey, The Red Badge of Courage, Moby Dick and hundreds more. If you have a child who doesn’t love to read, definitely try audio books. They are a big hit with our son. He listens for hours while shooting hoops in the driveway. (librophile.com)

California just became the sixth state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards but there is still no formal timeline for implementing them.  The new science standards stress problem solving, critical thinking and concepts that cut across difference science disciplines. They emphasize scientific thinking and big ideas instead of memorization and focus on the connection between what a student learns in school and what a scientist might use in the workplace. Teachers, academics and experts from 26 states worked for two years to develop the standards. Sadly, district budgets contain no money to train teachers in the new standards and the curriculum framework still needs to be developed. http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards

October is National Dyslexia Awareness Month. Did you know an estimated 10-15 percent of our nation’s school children show signs of dyslexia? My daughter is one of them. I have found that the International Dyslexia Association web site is the best resource out there for more information: interdys.org/.  Was your child slow to learn to read or currently a very slow reader? I recommend speaking first with your school’s learning specialist about the possibility of dyslexia but you can also try another free app: Dyslexia Detector. (itunes.apple.com)

I am excited to tout another math app that is really terrific. Wuzzit Trouble, from InnerTube games, was developed by Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin (the NPR Math Guy). What is unique is the game’s the ability to teach multiple skills simultaneously. Players are able to practice and develop math skills and comprehension appropriate to their particular age and skill level. (innertubegames.net)

There is a new ranking that cites 12 colleges as delivering a terrific bang for the buck. The ranking looked at student debt upon graduation, starting salaries, tuition and room and board for four-year universities, and graduation rates. The top schools from 1-12 are: University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, San Diego State University, University of Houston, Western Michigan University, West Virginia University, University of Arizona, University of Texas, George Mason University, the University of Maryland (Baltimore County), University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M University. It is really nice to see some unexpected names on that list. It is limiting when high school students all focus on the same handful of colleges. (policymic.com)

Do you have a child who struggles with organization or motivation in school?  No?  Well, aren’t you lucky!  Blogger Andrea Reiser recently suggested 15 questions to ask your student as he or she heads back to school that might help tackle these issues:

1. What are you most excited about in the upcoming school year?

2. What are you least looking forward to?

3 What do you see as your biggest challenge?

4. Are there any non-academic issues that concern you about the upcoming year?

5. What are your academic goals for the year?

6. What are your personal goals for the year?

7. How can we help to support you in achieving your goals?

8. Is there one general theme you need/want to focus on?

9. What will you do differently from last year?

10. Is there anything in particular that will help motivate or focus you?

11. Do you want to make any changes to your study environment that may improve or enhance your study habits?

12. What are your biggest distractions and how can we help you manage them?

13. How are you planning to prioritize your schoolwork and activities and how can we be of help?

14. Is there anything we can do to help you get/stay organized?

15. What’s the best way for us to keep a pulse on your schoolwork?

Just in time for back to school, Pinterest is setting aside a special spot for teachers to share creative classroom ideas, lesson plans and innovative classroom decor. My teenage daughter loves Pinterest for its craft and decorating ideas. Pinterest.com

A couple hundred schools have recently purchased bullet-proof white boards for classroom use. The white boards have handles and can withstand multiple rounds from an automatic weapon. The boards cost $299 each from the company Hardwire. Genius or ridiculous?

There is a website that tracks each state’s progress in providing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) instruction for its students. Vital Signs offer the most comprehensive picture of the demand for and supply of STEM skills, what states expect of students, students’ access to learning opportunities and the resources schools and teachers have to do their work. Check it out at vitalsigns.changetheequation.org/.

The ACT college admissions exam will go digital in 2015. Students want their results faster and in theory are now tech-savvy enough to take the exam online. There aren’t big changes planned to the questions or content but portions will be more interactive and there will be places where students explain concepts in their own words. Why is this important?  The ACT is now more popular as a college admissions test than the SAT and, when one company makes a change, the other is likely to quickly follow.

I was surprised to learn that humanities degrees accounted for 17.1 percent of all college degrees in 1970 and continue to account for 17 percent of degrees today (despite all the talk of STEM careers).  While many humanities degree programs have indeed shown sharp declines, the huge increases in enrollment in visual and performing arts has more than covered those losses.

Parents, teachers, coaches and friends have a new way to get news of students after they head for college. Meritpages.com is used by almost 500 colleges to verify and promote achievements and create a positive online presence for students. Parents can “follow” a student’s merit page and receive updates when a college verifies an accomplishment, like making the dean’s list or winning a scholarship. Students can also add campus activities, leadership positions and work experience. The thought is that employers and graduate schools will also find the free site helpful when Googling candidates.

 K-12 educators share ideas on the ThinkTank12 web site. The site recently featured “the best” 11 math game apps for smart phones. Some of their favorites are: Math vs Zombies, Math Motion Zoom and Math Kid. Read the rest here: tinyurl.com/m2dr3en

New research shows that working with pre-schoolers on estimating skills is important. A new study by the University of Missouri shows that preschool children who has trouble estimating the number of objects in a group were more than twice as likely to have a have trouble with math later in school. (tinyurl.com/mpulkd5)

The Chegg blog consolidated data from US News & World Report, Forbes and AOL to come up with a list of the top nine majors that are earning graduates the highest paychecks right now. In no particular order, they are: chemical engineering, accounting/finance, pharmacy, information systems, civil engineering, nursing, pre-med, computer science and computer/mechanical engineering. (blog.chegg.com)

Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck suggests that one little word has the power to inspire your child to do incredible things. Every time your child says “I’m not good at math (or science or Spanish)” or “I don’t get how to ___________ (insert any topic here), say, “You aren’t good at it YET.” Teachers are becoming big fans of Dweck’s books and “the power of YET” is becoming quite a hot topic.

There was a lot of buzz this summer when the Oregon legislature approved a plan for the state’s universities to be tuition free. In exchange, students agree to give up three percent of their income for 24 years. The original idea was hatched by a group of U.C. Riverside students in 2012 (they called it Fix UC). At that time, UC system president Mark Yudof said he found the idea appealing but it never went anywhere. Earlier this summer, two state lawmakers in Ohio proposed following Oregon’s lead. It will be very interesting to see if anyone can make this work. What do you think? Great idea or appalling?

Researchers have long known that exercising can help with learning but new research has found that the exercise timing and intensity are critical in learning and memory formation. In a German study, women who gently rode a bicycle (exercised lightly) while hearing new vocabulary words performed best on later recall tests. They performed much better than the control group who sat quietly and the other group who exercised vigorously before studying the words. You can read more about it here.

My daughter, who takes Mandarin, is attempting to teach herself Spanish through online resources. She is curious how she is actually doing and how far she has gotten. She found this free language profiency testing site helpful.  She also loves the language learning web site duolingo. The site has data that claims it is as effective as university-level courses but its adaptive gaming platform makes irt addictive. Best of all, it is free. It offers instruction in Spanish, French, German, Portguese and Italian. duolingo.com

My kicks and giggles this summer came from a facebook and twitter page and blog from The Honest Toddler. Hard to explain but basically a caustic imp saying what we fear little tykes actually are thinking.

 If you find these resources useful, please consider forwarding this blog on to your friends! — LMS

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

 • • •

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).

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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

• • •

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.

 • • •

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

• • •

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?

• • •

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.

• • •

 

Roundup IV

 

Want smarter kids? Space them at least two years apart. … In a new study, a University of Notre Dame economist found that siblings spaced more than two years apart have higher reading and math scores than children born closer together. The positive effects were seen only in older siblings, not in younger ones. At least part of the difference to older children is attributed to getting more of their parents’ time during the first formative years of their lives before a younger sibling comes along (Journal of Human Resources)

• • •

“There’s no question that a great teacher can make a huge difference in a student’s achievement, and we need to recruit, train and reward more such teachers. But here’s what some new studies are also showing: We need better parents. Parents more focused on their children’s education can also make a huge difference in a student’s achievement.” – so says author Thomas Friedman in an op-ed in The New York Times.

• • •

As students get down to the crunch of finalizing their college list and/or choosing from among the schools to which they are accepted, I urge them to take a moment to visit www.studentsreview.com. The site has more than 100,000 brutally honest reviews from students currently attending 3,000 different schools. It is also fun for alums of a specific school to read what current students are enjoying and complaining about today.

• • •

The idea of students, even motivated students, spending their spare time enjoying math workbooks seems a bit quaint these days. There are, however, some fantastic math apps that your kids might enjoy while killing time in the car, at a siblings soccer game, etc. Top 11, courtesy of www.gettingsmart.com are (most are free):

  • 1. Visual Math: KickBox and KickBox Lite. This is an addictive multistep thinking game from MIND Research Institute featuring JiJi the penguin
  • 2. Numbers: Elevated Math, great for grades four to eight. According to the site, this app can be used for SAT and ACT studying
  • 3. Numbers: Motion Math Zoon is, a free app for elementary students, helps kids learn numbers and decimals.
  • 4. Geometry: iCross helps students dive into geometry concepts with 3D drawings and descriptions of shapes
  • 5. Algebra: HMH Fuse brings an Algebra 1 textbook to life with interactive graphs, tools and equations.
  • 6. Algebra: Algebra Pro features an interactive workbook with 100 practice questions and support videos.
  • 7. Calculus: Video Calculus. More than two hours worth of free calculus instruction through visual videos.
  • 8. Probability & Statistics: Statistics 1 for iPad – interactive tutorials, lessons and quizzes to learn statistics.
  • 9. Applying Math: Rocket Math. Students complete math problems in order to build their own rockets and explore space with 56 math missions. All ages.
  • 10. Applying Math: SpaceTime for iPad or MathStudio. Creating 2D and 3D diagrams using a graphic calculator.
  • 11. Math Game: MathBlaster HyperBlast – for ages 6 and over, three arcade game levels and 30 math lessons.

• • •

When I was graduating from college, most students found themselves happily employable with even a history, philosophy or French degree. In this economy, that is frequently a sure path to unemployment. The book “Change.edu: Rebooting for the New Talent Economy,” by Andrew Rosen, was handed out to journalists at the higher ed seminar I recently attended at UCLA. Rosen says colleges must rethink what they offer their students, why and how, with an eye toward the needs of the workplace … for the good of students and the economy.

• • •

One hot topic right now is how families can compare the price of attending various colleges, after need-based and merit aid is factored in. Frequently, for needy families, the cost of a private college can be lower than that of a state college, but most are scared off by the $50K-plus price tag. I’ve spent hours playing around with the net-cost calculators that all colleges are require to offer on their web sites.  Some are very complicated, some are quick and easy. You enter your data and it estimates what you can expect to pay. Search for the calculator on every college’s website.  Here is the one offered by USC, just as a sample.

• • •

For almost seven years now, The Young Writers Program has helped countless teachers bring noveling to the classroom. The program provides free curricula and student workbooks for all grade levels, as well as classroom kits. Kids and teens also participate independently through their website. National Novel Writing Month challenges students to complete an entire novel in 30 days. Last year, 200,000 adults and 41,000 young writers participated. www.ywp.nanowrimo.org.  There is even a contest for young writers called Write Across America, which he hopes will spread as more authors get involved. www.writeacrossamerica.com.

• • •

Have you ever heard of Cogswell College? Well, I hadn’t either but it is a private, accredited four-year college in Sunnyvale focused on digital animation and video game design majors and entrepreneurial coursework. With technology and gaming companies struggling to find qualified employees, many schools have introduced digital arts programs. DreamWorks employs lots of alums. The college has 300 students now, with room for 800. A rep said, “This is not a place for the conventional kid who loves school … We’re looking for that kid who was daydreaming at school and didn’t quite fit in. They’re the ones we want to help make the next great film or video games.” http://www.cogswell.edu.

• • •

Know someone who is worried they won’t be accepted into any colleges? US News & World Report keeps a list of the colleges with the highest acceptance rates. The colleges in our neck of the woods accepting more than 90 percent of applicants include: Academy of Art University (SF), Cogswell College, American Jewish University (LA), Southern Oregon, Oregon Institute of Technology and Evergreen College (Washington).

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The investigative website, http://www.californiawatch.org recently reported that only 12 percent of Hispanic fourth-graders in California were proficient in reading on the Nation’s Report Card, which places California behind every state in the nation except for Utah and Minnesota. The report continued, “Research has shown that students who miss this goal are at a much higher risk of dropping out of high school. That means California is on track to see millions of students drop out in the coming years. The trend could spell economic disaster for a state that’s already deep in financial crisis, at a time when California is about a million college graduates short of meeting workforce needs, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.”

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I spent hours on this site the first time I visited it. The Chronicle of High Ed has a site where you can search 1,600 colleges to find out the home states of their freshman class. Useful if you love a college and wonder if you might help them achieve greater geographic diversity. Very interesting to look at state colleges to see where their non-residents hail from.

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If you are on Facebook, you likely know about http://www.donorschoose.org which for 10 years has been enabling teachers across the country to solicit funds for pet programs. They have helped 300,000 classroom projects from 165,000 teachers receive more than $80 million in donations. If you go to the site and search for your town, you will see a number of projects in local classrooms that seek donations of various sorts. http://www.donorschoose.

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The website Edudemic.com ran a great story recently called, “65+ iPad Apps Perfect for Elementary School,” (most available for the iPhone as well). Some of my favorites: Keynote (for presentations), Pages (create, edit and view documents), Discover Education (educational videos), CK12.org (free online textbooks), Reading Trainer (speed reading), Mathboard (teaching math), Geo Play 2 and Geomaster (geography) and dozens more to try.

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Is your child an aspiring musician? http://www.smartmusic.com provides unlimited access to the world’s largest accompaniment library for all ages and skill levels. A friend of mine says her kids finally love practicing. As music appears on the screen, they play or sing along with accompaniment and get an immediate assessment, displaying the notes that students performed correctly (green) and incorrectly (red). Students record and listen to each performance to hear how they really sound and how their part fits within the whole. They can send a recording to their teacher who can assess, score and track progress over time. How cool is that? Not free, but at $36/year, less than the cost of a single private lesson.

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Students (and grown-ups) can use free online college courses to supplement their education and learn more about fields of interest. Perhaps the most comprehensive site to explore is www.ocwconsortium.org/courses.