Category Archives: apps

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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