Category Archives: Parenting

Roundup XIV

Science Daily reports that happy adolescents are likely to earn more money as adults, even allowing for other influences. The study (conducted by the University College of London) followed 15,000 Americans and found that, even in children growing up in the same family, happier teens went on to earn more money. One main reason, they found, was that happy people are more likely to complete their schooling, to get offered a job and to get promoted than their less happy peers (even peers of the same socio-economic background, location, health and IQ). Read more here.

• • •

A study in Australia has found that children who are taught to swim at a very young age (2 to 5 years old), regardless of their socio-economic level, achieve physical milestones faster and exhibit significantly better fine motor, math skills and oral expression (Science Daily).

• • •

I was interested to read about a study, conducted by researchers at Hofstra University and UC Davis, that found that children who are able to acknowledge and appreciate their good fortune are more likely to be happy and experience lower levels of depression, envy and materialism. Researcher Jeffrey Froh said, “a grateful child feels more connected and loved. After all, if he’s able to understand that many others care enough to make an effort for him, his life is improved.” Girls are thought to be somewhat more grateful in general than boys, and the belief is that understanding the concept of gratitude doesn’t usually kick in until age 10 or 11. Is it too late if your child seems less than appropriately grateful for all that they do have? Froh said that when encouraged by parents to be more conscious of life’s bounties, children can indeed become more grateful.

• • •

Undergraduates who have taken many more classes than needed to earn a degree are dubbed “super seniors.”School officials at the California state schools are saying that the system can’t afford to let students linger without collecting their diplomas, and are debating charging high fees (almost triple the normal cost) to students who have completed five years of full-time undergraduate work. State schools in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina have already done so. Fox News did a piece on the students recently, explaining that Cal State hopes the fees will improve grad rates in the CSU system, from which only 16 percent of freshmen graduate within four years and only 52 percent graduate within six years.

• • •

If your child’s obsession with video games is driving you crazy, here is a small silver lining … High school and college students who are particularly skilled at video games recently went head-to-head with physicians in robotic surgery simulations and the results were presented at a global medical congress. It was found that high school and college students who played two-to-four hours of video games daily matched, and in some cases exceeded, the skills of the medical residents. The competition came about when the lead researcher, Dr. Sami Kilic, saw her son, an avid video game player, wow onlookers on a robotic surgery simulator at a medical convention.

• • •

A 20-year study has found that being raised in a home with lots of books increases the level of education that a child will obtain, no matter if their parents are rich or poor, illiterate or college graduates. Mariah Evans, the lead researcher for the University of Nevada study, found that even having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit. Children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. The study is one of the largest and most comprehensive ever conducted on what influences the level of education a child will attain. Read more here.

• • •

Research shows that children benefit greatly from full-day kindergarten. Studies show that full-day K boosts cognitive learning, creative problem-solving, social competence, gains on literacy and language measures, better attendance and higher achievement in the older grades. Currently 10 states require that school districts provide publicly funded full-day K. An additional 34 states require school districts to provide half-day kindergarten, and six states don’t require school districts to provide any kindergarten at all.

• • •

There is an interesting free quarterly newsletter for parents of students with ADHD  at tinyurl.com/ba78kbq

• • •

Because my children are all very different students, I have always been fascinated by learning styles. If your children (or you) have never taken a learning-style assessment, you might be interested in what you learn. There is a decent, free one available online at learning-styles-online.com. The different types are: visual-spatial, aural-auditory, verbal-linguistic, physical-bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, social-interpersonal and solitary-intrapersonal.

• • •

Payscale, a salary website, recently ran a list of the fields of study (majors) in which students felt best about the impact they were making on the world around them. The results were: 1. nursing, 2. special education, 3. medical technology, 4. biomedical engineering, 5. athletic training, 6. social work, 7. child and family studies, 8. dietetics, 9. biblical studies and 10. health-care administration.

• • •

If you are on Facebook, you can “like” your school and have regular access to all kinds of great news and photos. Virtually every school in our town now has a social media presence, whether it is Facebook or You Tube or Twitter.

• • •

A study published in the summer 2012 issue of Education Next found that delaying the start time of school by one hour increased standardized test scores, with the largest increases for students with below-average test scores. Nationwide, some schools are beginning earlier than 7:30 a.m. and others after 9 a.m. Districts frequently stagger the start times of different schools in order to reduce transportation costs by using fewer buses. A Congressional resolution recommended that secondary schools nationwide start at 9 a.m. or later, but not many public schools have made changes.

• • •

I recently came across a great listing of free summer programs for high school students. Some even provide travel to countries around the globe. Now is the time to act for top-notch summer programs, the best ones, and all the selective free ones have winter deadlines. Examples include a seven-week leadership program at Princeton University for low-income students and six weeks in India on a State Department program. thecollegiateblog.org/2012/08/19/80-free-summer-programs-for-high-school-students/

• • •

California is bucking the national trend to eliminate the teaching of cursive in third grade. It is a divisive topic as some think it is a waste of instructional time (typing skills being more useful) while others think cursive helps to develop fine motor skills and helps students to develop their own unique stamp of identity. California is one of 45 states adopting the national “core curriculum” guidelines but the standards don’t include cursive handwriting and so California has added back in their own cursive requirement.

• • •

Author Lisa Guernsey agonizes in her book “Screen Time” about how much screen time is right for children. Her research led her to focus on the three Cs: content, context, and your child. She suggests that parents be picky about the content of what their children see on-screen, and when choosing interactive titles, seek out those that put children in control. She suggests that you keep an eye on your child’s attitude and behavior before, during, and after they play their games or watch their shows, and to take time to talk about what they’ve seen, and to play some games together. And to accomplish that last C, figure which games and shows really interest your kids and what piques their curiosity and why. Seventy-two percent of iTunes’ top-selling “education” apps are designed for preschoolers and elementary school children, according to a recent report from the Sesame Workshop. lisaguernsey.com

• • •

Gooru is a new free search engine that is billed as tailored for learning. You can search for your favorite science, math or social sciences topic and browse millions of the best online learning resources, organized into thousands of curated collections. Teachers and students can use Gooru to search for rich collections of multimedia resources, digital textbooks, videos, 
games and quizzes created by educators. 
Gooru is free (of cost and ads) and developed by a nonprofit whose mission is “to honor the 
human right to education.” Go to goorulearning.org.

• • •

Does your child have ADD, ADHD, dyslexia or another learning disability? Are you wondering if they are ready for college? There is a free online tool to help you decide, courtesy of Landmark College (which specializes in meeting the needs of students with learning issues). Go to: landmark.edu/news/at-home-college-readiness-test-for-students-with-learning-disabilities/.

• • •

The website Pinterest is all the rage right now as its visual interface allows users to create, share, pin, re-pin, like, follow, search on a theme and share their interests. Educators are using it in the classroom as a tool to promote student participation in classes, showcasing student work, collaborating on coursework and suggesting reading and enrichment ideas. Go to: pinterest.com.

• • •

“What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold,” is a very helpful book by psychologist Dawn Huebner, Ph.D. The book is aimed at helping kids ages 6 to 12 overcome hard-to-stop habits such as nail-biting, thumb-sucking, hair-twirling, scab-picking and shirt-chewing. Huebner offers five strategies and I recommend it for parents to us with your child. Perhaps not exactly what they were hoping for under the tree, but a long vacation is a good time to make progress on breaking a bad habit.

• • •

Hispanic students now make up nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment and are the fastest-growing segment of the school population, but these students rarely see themselves in books written for young readers. Experts say the lack of familiar images and role-models could be an obstacle in engaging young Hispanic readers. The few books that are available from Hispanic writers are not finding their way into classrooms. Read more here.

• • •

Parents of children with food allergies are always worried when their child eats any food not prepared in their own kitchens. UCLA Schools of Engineering and Applied Science has just developed a lightweight device called the iTube, which attaches to a common cell phone to detect allergens in food samples. The attachment uses the cell phone’s built-in camera that runs a test with the same high level of sensitivity as a laboratory. Weighing less than two ounces, the attachment performs an allergen-concentration test. It doesn’t sound ready for the marketplace yet but the invention will be welcome by the parents of the 8 percent of young children who suffer from severe food allergies. Read more here.

• • •

In honor of the current exam period, here are some study tips for students (perhaps to tape inside their notebooks for future reference):

• Try studying for a few minutes right before falling sleep. During sleep, the brain strengthens new memories.

• A relatively new learning technique called “spaced repetition” involves breaking up information into small chunks and reviewing them consistently over a long period of time.

• Turning the details you need to remember into a crazy story helps make the information more meaningful. For example, remember the order of mathematic operations PEMDAS this way: Philip (P) wanted to eat (E) his friend Mary (M) but he died (D) from arsenic (AS) poisoning.

• Research suggests studying the same stuff in a different place every day makes us less likely to forget that information.

• Research suggests we store information more securely when we write it out by hand than when we type it.

• Reading information out loud means mentally storing it in two ways: seeing it and hearing it.

• Research has found just half an hour of aerobic exercise can improve our brain-processing speed and other important cognitive abilities.

• Relieve anxiety and tension by listening to classical music while studying.

• If a computer is necessary for studying, install an app that blocks the Internet for a short period of time.

• Research suggests meditation can reduce anxiety and boost attention span. There’s no harm in trying it out for a few minutes to calm pre-test jitters.

• Aim to get those seven to nine hours a night so sleep deprivation doesn’t undo all the hard work you’ve put in.

• Omega-3 fatty acids, found in certain fish, nuts, and olive oil, are known for their brain-boosting potential. Tips courtesy of USA Today.

• • •

When you head to the store to buy books or videos for your children, keep in mind the great resource of commonsensemedia.org. Not to be confused with conservative censoring groups, Common Sense provides useful information on subject matter of popular movies, books and TV shows. It is particularly helpful when choosing books for students who read far above their grade level and might be wandering into the realm of inappropriate topics.

• • •

Roundup XII

A recent article in Science Daily describes how even a small amount of music training in childhood can go a long way toward improving how the brain functions in adulthood when it comes to listening and the complex processing of sound. The study, conducted by Northwestern University, found that adults with one to five years of musical training as children had enhanced speech and music perception, making them better listeners later in life. This is important news for those of us who have children who didn’t stick with their music lessons.

• • •

I may have mentioned this before, but as our students adjust to the fall school schedule it bears repeating. Preschoolers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep each night; 5- to 12-year-olds need 10 to 11 hours; and teens need 9.25 hours of sleep each night, according to researchers at the National Sleep Foundation. Children operating on too little sleep struggle in school, exhibit great symptoms of attention deficit and are more likely to be anxious and depressed.

• • •

If your teen loves video games as much as mine does, it has likely crossed your mind that it would be great if they could make a living from this time-wasting hobby. The new Khan Academy Computer Science project is designed for students with no programming knowledge who would like to learn how to write code. As always, the videos are completely free at khanacademy.org/cs.

• • •

The Hunger Games trilogy has surpassed the Harry Potter series to become the best-selling series on Amazon.com. I loved both series and have noticed many adults enjoying the “Hunger Games,” so it doesn’t surprise me, except that the “Harry Potter” series is so many more books (seven versus three) and this was accomplished so quickly.

• • •

A new partnership between an online gaming company and Oxford University Press aims to boost student interest in reading through a gaming site dedicated to classic works of literature. The collaborative effort, called “50 Great Reads Before 15,” is part of a growing trend of injecting a gaming component into regular academics. The game introduces characters and storylines from classic literature, including “Alice in Wonderland,” “Macbeth,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Don Quixote” and “Arabian Nights.” What a great idea, if kids take to it. Go to secretbuilders.com.

• • •

Along the same lines, if you are worried about the video games your child enjoys, check out Games for Change. The site has the mission of “catalyzing social impact through digital games.” They curate a group of games that they believe are fun, while also “serving as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts.” See what they offer atgamesforchanges.org.

• • •

I am running to the bookstore to buy “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. I gather the author’s hypothesis is that intelligence has nothing to do with success and that, instead, non-cognitive skills like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are far more crucial to achieving success.

• • •

Every school district is scrambling to make the transition from its State Standards to the new national Common Core standards. The concern is not so much that the Common Core standards are harder, they are just so different that it will involve a lot of teacher training to make the switch. Some specific examples, the Common Core eliminates cursive instruction, it changes the year that multiplication takes place, critical reading will be stressed starting in the lower grades and most importantly, it relies less on memorization and more on real-world challenges and higher-order thinking.

• • •

The website Daily Tekk has created a list of 101 indispensible websites for students (of all ages). Many I had heard of but many are new and truly astounding. Check them out here: tinyurl.com/8mtwchh.

• • •

I was surprised to learn that 85 percent of children’s learning is related to vision, and that in the U.S., 80 percent of children haven’t had an eye exam before they start kindergarten (Science Daily 8/30/12). Make sure your children’s eyes are checked before they start any type of school, including pre-school. Kids can’t tell you that they can’t see well because they have no basis for comparison.

• • •

Maybe our parents were right: the British Broadcasting System (BBC) reported that researchers have found that kids who started smoking pot below the age of 18 – while their brains were still developing – suffered a drop in IQ. For more than 20 years, researchers have followed the lives of a group of people – beginning before any of them had started using marijuana – and then re-interviewed them repeatedly, up to the age of 38. They found that those who persistently used cannabis – smoking it at least four times a week year after year through their teens onward – suffered a decline in their IQ. The more that people smoked, the greater the loss in IQ. The effect was most marked in those who started smoking pot as adolescents, and no loss was found among those who began as adults. Stopping or reducing use failed to fully restore the lost IQ.

• • •

If your son or daughter (of any age) doesn’t love to read, you might try audiobooks, either downloaded to an iPod from audible.com or on CDs from the library. Many kids find that they love to unwind listening to a book at night and many will stick with it for many more hours than they would hold a book.

• • •

“What can parents do to help their children develop skills like motivation and perseverance? The reality is that when it comes to non-cognitive skills, the traditional calculus of the cognitive hypothesis—start earlier and work harder – falls apart. Children can’t get better at overcoming disappointment just by working at it for more hours. And they don’t lag behind in curiosity simply because they didn’t start doing curiosity work sheets at an early enough age. Instead, it seems, the most valuable thing that parents can do to help their children develop non-cognitive skills – which is to say, to develop their character – may be to do nothing. To back off a bit. To let our children face some adversity on their own, to fall down and not be helped back up.”

Those are the words of author Paul Tough, whose book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,” has just been released. The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from the book last week.

• • •

There continues to be a lot of talk in the education press about brain food and the fact that children’s dietary habits can impact their energy level, mood and academic performance. Top of the list to boost brain power are exactly what my children refuse to eat: foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, tuna and other fish. Other top foods include blueberries, spinach and quinoa.

• •

The Harvard Education Letter suggests five interesting ways that schools can build closer relationships with families. Author Richard Milner proposes: 1. Offer language-learning resources for all parents and families. Help parents to help their children to succeed in school by improving their own English skills, and if a school offers more languages than Spanish, offer classes in those languages to the wider school community. 2. Offer parenting workshops that help parents understand how best to support their children in a school culture. These workshops empower parents to be active participants in their children’s education. 3. Encourage school-wide book reading and choose a book that supports a specific theme that the district has chosen that year to pursue. 4. Choose a diversity-related theme that sparks conversations to be explored over the course of the school year. Possible themes, he suggests, are: opportunity, diversity, integrity, community service, poverty, resilience, tenacity and injustice. Students can help choose and teachers can incorporate the theme into the curriculum 5. Offer school-wide movies as an easy way for a community to come together to address issues of importance to a school or district. Some choices he suggests: “Boys in the Hood,” “Crash,” “The Blindside,” “Remember the Titans,” “Something New,” “Finding Forester,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Lean on Me,” andGood Will Hunting.” 6. And finally, offer a community-centered dinner because he suggests there is nothing like food to bring people together. A periodic dinner brings parents, other family members and community members together with teachers, staff, administrators and students.

• • •

There is a new book out titled “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brain Thinkers Will Rule the World,” in which author Daniel Pink puts forth the argument that the future will belong to those with a different kind of mind – “designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers – creative and empathetic ‘right-brained’ thinkers.” He cites a number of global trends that are driving a shift away from the reductive and analytical thinking that has been valued in American society for years, toward a new value placed on creative thinkers.

Roundup XI

There is a new website and app that could help the student athlete in your family get attention from college coaches and perhaps a better chance at a scholarship. View MySport.com is a mix of Facebook and YouTube all with a sports focus. Student athletes build a profile with statistics, pictures and highlight videos. Students can send the profile directly to specific coaches.

•••

There is a great master list online of the top 50 education smart phone applications and online sites at ow.ly/cXGQC. It is worth checking out as there is something there for everyone and most are free or under $5.

•••

Two very different rankings of top colleges were released this month. My favorite is the one prepared by Forbesmagazine, as its metrics are new and very relevant (quality of teaching, employability and amount of student debt … rather than selectivity of the college). Check it out at forbes.com/top-colleges/list. Newsweek and The Daily Beasthave released their own rankings of specific categories (most rigorous, top party colleges, etc.) that is interesting if not too scientific at thedailybeast.com/newsweek/features/2012/college-rankings.html

•••

In the category of “it can’t hurt to try it,” London researchers believe that fish oil capsules can reduce the severity of ADHD-type behavior in some children and some children with reading difficulties (such as dyslexia) have shown major improvement in their reading after taking fish oil (rch.org.au/factssheets)

•••

The big trend in educational web sites and smart phone applications is to make learning more like a video game. A math app that is leading the way is “Math Evolve” for ages 6-14. The site/app combines math practice with classic video game elements with the goal of making math more fun and engaging for students. Designed by an elementary school teacher, Math Evolve combines math practice with arcade-style gameplay. Go to mathevolve.com.

•••

Based on current projections, the top five languages in the year 2050 are expected to be Chinese, Hindi-Urdu, English, Spanish and Arabic (in that order). There is a very interesting web site at http://visual/ly/speakinglanguages which notes that it takes English speakers 22 to 24 weeks of study to achieve general proficiency in Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian and Spanish; It takes 44 weeks of study to learn Albanian, Greek, Hebrew and Russian; and it takes 88 weeks of study to learn Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The website has a wealth of other information about foreign language study.

•••

I am a big fan of summer enrichment for high schoolers and there has to be something interesting for everyone on this list of free online courses: openculture.com/freeonlinecourses.

• • •

If you and your children are traveling overseas this summer you might get a kick out of this new free language app called Word Lens that enables you to take a photo of a sign (in a foreign language) and to get an instant translation.

• • •

The Social Express is an interactive software application designed for children with autism, Asperger’s and ADHD that teaches how to think about and manage social situations through video modeling. The goal is to help children build social-emotional skills and develop the meaningful relationships they need to navigate life. The price ranges from $2.99 for the app to $90 for the complete computer program. Pricey, unless it can help, then it might be a bargain.

• • •

I hope to write about this more next fall, but there is a great belief right now that certificates, not degrees, may be the future of higher education. Certificates are fairly new and they are typically awarded by community colleges for training in a particular occupation, but four-year colleges are now starting to offer certificates. Most take a year, or less to complete. A recent study by Georgetown University found that the American job market increasingly rewards field of study rather than level of degree. In other words: It’s more important what you study than how long you study.

• • •

For-profit colleges continue to garner very negative press coverage. Countless studies show that for-profit college students are most likely to end up in debt and with no diploma. A recent report by the non-profit group Education Sector found that about 10 percent of college students nationwide are enrolled at for-profit colleges, yet the sector is responsible for nearly half of student loan defaults. For-profit schools include online colleges, trade schools and some art schools.

• • •

More than 1.6 million students took the ACT college entrance exam in 2012 and 734 (52 in California) earned a perfect score of 36. This is a huge state so it is amazing to me that 10 of those 52 attended one high school – Irvine University High School (near U.C. Irvine in Southern California) – and the scores have been confirmed as valid.

• • •

I am a big fan of International Baccaleureate high school programs because of their rigor and global focus. Many IB schools will soon begin offering career-related certificate programs for high schoolers in engineering, culinary arts and automotive technology. (www.ibo.org)

• • •

The top 50 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) apps for smart phones and iPads can be found here: tinyurl.com/c5odezo. There are some truly great ones for all different ages to explore this summer.

• • •

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have found that a fifth grader’s understanding of one narrow and particular set of math facts – knowledge of fractions and division – is a very accurate predictor of his or her future math achievement, even after statistically controlling for parents’ education and income and for the children’s own age, gender, IQ, etc. This finding can help teachers and parents focus attention on this key area within general math instruction.

• • •

A new ad campaign by the Autism Speaks Foundation puts forth these three warning signs of autism: no smiles or joyful expressions by six months, no babbling by 12 months and no words by 16 months. Learn more atwww.autismspeaks.org/signs.

• • •

The government has created a new website to try to help parents better understand the costs of various colleges and the aid available. The summer is a good time for parents with high school students to get a head start on thinking about this issue: www.collegecost.ed.gov/.

• • •

Other organizations are following Khan Academy’s lead in offering free online video tutorials. One worth checking out is http://www.sophia.org. Sophia has been described as a combination of Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube, focused solely on education. The site’s 25,000-plus, bite-sized tutorials are tagged to specific academic subjects or topics, including some subjects I don’t see available at Khan Academy. This summer, the site is giving away an iPad every week for students who try their free tutorials.

• • •

I wrote recently about how sugar consumption can mar a student’s success on tests. Unreal Brands, the brainstorm of a 15-year-old, is a new line of candy launching next month at CVS and Target, with natural ingredients but mimicking children’s current favorite name brands. It might be worth checking out.

• • •

US News & World Report recently listed what the richest people in America majored in in college. The 1 percenters’ majors, in order, were: 1. Economics. 2. Political science. 3. Art history (OK, this one took me by surprise). 4. Finance. 5. Religious studies (another shocker). 6. Pharmacy and 7. Accounting.

• • •

Indian Americans have surpassed Latinos as the fastest-growing racial group, and they are the highest-income and best-educated people in the United States, according to the Pew Research Centre. Indian Americans have a median household annual income of $88,000, much higher than for all Asians ($66,000) and all U.S. households ($49,800).

• • •

PBS-TV aired a report earlier this year on child abuse that pointed out that America leads the industrialized world in the number of children under 15 who die from physical abuse or neglect. This piece was titled, “America’s Death Shame,”and it continues to get a lot of press and lots of hits on YouTube. How is it that America has the worst child abuse record in the industrialized world?

• • •

28 U.S. universities – out of a total of 326 participating campuses – have been rated a five-star school in an ongoing assessment of LGBT-friendliness (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) by the national nonprofit Campus Pride.

•••

Everyone assumes that getting a graduate degree will help you earn more money but I recently read an interesting piece about certain graduate degrees that don’t pay off in terms of boosting future earnings (www.bankrate.com).First on the list was an MFA (master’s in fine arts) as it was found to boost income for grads just 3 percent. Second was a computer engineering graduate degree. Students going into computer science just don’t need a grad degree. Next up was any graduate degree in advertising, marketing or public relations. Employers in these fields would prefer to see an MBA. Next up was a law degree from second-rate school. The quality of the law school is paramount is future hire-ability. Finally, degrees in meteorology or atmospheric science were found to add a tiny 1 percent to future earnings. With graduate degrees increasingly expensive and financial aid almost impossible to secure for graduate study, the impact of a higher degree on future earnings can’t be overlooked.

• • •

Online college is not a good choice for your typical recent high school graduate. These programs work best for strongly motivated adults who have a clear career path or want training for specific jobs. They basically increase access by providing less college: less face time with caring teachers, less campus life with other students, less “atmosphere.” A good traditional campus with close faculty member contact is a better choice for most young people.

• • •

Have you heard about Facebook investor Peter Thiel’s $100,000 fellowship grants that require the winning students to drop out of college? Many of these students (all under 20) have already completed a lot of college coursework on their own so it isn’t as controversial as some claim but the accomplishments and plans the fellowship winners have are amazing.

• • •

IBM’s new free CityOne computer game is similar to Sim City but it challenges players to solve real-world business, environmental and logistical problems within retail, banking, water and energy industries as part of the game’s goal of revitalizing a metropolitan area. It is very popular among business school students around the country and worth checking out.

• • •

Sons of fathers with high incomes tend to end up with higher than average incomes themselves. New research shows that it is more dad’s intelligence than his earnings that helps a son on his way. The Journal of Political Economy covered the study which found that human capital endowments passed from father to son – in the form of smarts, advice, work ethic – seems to contribute more to a son’s success than how much money his father makes/made. Why they didn’t also study daughters is beyond me.

• • •

Roundup X

Binging on soda and sweets for as little as six weeks may make you stupid, according to a recent UCLA study. Researchers found that a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning – but that omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the disruption. The Journal of Physiology reports that a high-fructose diet alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. This study is the first to uncover how much sugar influences the brain.

• • •

After much research, I have found that the most reasonably-priced, sleep-away camp option nationwide, for ages 9 to 17, is 4H camps. You don’t need to be active in 4-H and you can choose your location, anywhere in the country. They tend to cost around $125 to $300 a week (residential).

• • •

While the results are controversial, US News & World Report has turned their ranking attention to high schools and posted the top high schools in America. No one made the list in our neck of the woods. You can read the whole list at usnews.com/education/best-high-schools.

• • •

Very early interactive musical training benefits children even before they can walk and talk, according to a new study by McMaster University. Babies who participate in interactive music classes with their parents smile more, communicate better and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music. Two music educators got a grant from the Grammy Foundation in 2008 to study groups of babies and their parents after six months in one of two types of weekly music instruction. Babies from the interactive classes showed better early communication skills, smiled more, were easier to soothe and showed less distress when things were unfamiliar or didn’t go their way.

• • •

The number of male teachers in America is down every year. Only 2.3 percent of pre-school and kindergarten teachers are male; in elementary and middle school classrooms it is 18.3 percent; and in high school classrooms it is 42 percent (according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). These numbers are down from 2007, a fact attributed to the poor economy and pressure to be the family breadwinner.

• • •

A recent study about careers and employment reported in the Wall Street Journal found that 37 percent of recent grads wished they had been more careful in selecting their major or had chosen a different major; 29 percent wish they had done more internships; 24 percent would have started looking for work much sooner while still in college; and 20 percent would have taken more classes to prepare for a career. Food for thought!

 

• • •

I have heard of more and more schools ditching their electronic newsletters in favor of communicating via a school Facebook page. If you have ever been in charge of a school newsletter, you’ll understand the allure. My guess is, give us five years and that will be the case here in Sonoma.

• • •

US News & World Report has some good ideas for preventing summer learning loss in teens. Use these last weeks of school to get suggestions from your child’s teacher. Ask, “What do you suggest my student be doing over the summer? Are there online resources that you can recommend, or are there free or affordable activities … that my student should do over the summer?” • Help your teen find a job: Virtually every single work experience involves reading or reading comprehension. Parents and high school students should be open to internships and volunteer opportunities, too. • Choose fun learning activities: Help your teen to find learning opportunities that relate to their interests. If the teen likes children and sports, for example, he or she could become a camp counselor or even a coach – fun jobs that build skills in communication and organization.

• • •

At my local high school, Sonoma Valley High, 96 students out of 375 are heading to a four-year college next fall (2012). Of those, two-thirds are girls and one-third are boys, exactly on par with the national average today. This is not great news for the future of young men in America.

• • •

The book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain, centers around the belief that today’s crowded and high stimulation classrooms are a nightmare for quiet kids. Cain cites new research that suggests shy students should not be pressured to be outgoing and that all students would benefit from more time to reflect. Since the world sometimes views introverts as inferior, teachers frequently try to turn introverts into extroverts. The book explains the important difference between introversion and shyness (the latter includes anxiety that can be outgrown). Introverted children have a hard time thriving in large and conventional classroom settings and the book proposes some solutions.

• • •

If you are headed on vacation this summer, stop by any college campus in or on your way to your destination with your children, no matter what their age. It is never too early to give them a sense of what college is like. The point isn’t that they will decide to go to the University of Hawaii or Georgetown or U.C. Santa Barbara, just that seeing any college will help them get a sense of their preferences: big, small, urban, rural, etc. You can book a tour in 30 seconds online and they are always free.

• • •

According to the June issue of Psychology Today, “Initiative is developed in adolescence, through mastery experiences and through supportive relationships that teenagers form with adults. These experiences and relationships account for more than 75 percent of life success – more than IQ and genes combined.” The author, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., makes the points that adolescents should choose projects or activities because it gives them internal rewards (creativity, dignity, autonomy, or making a difference in other people’s lives). As teens choose activities, those activities should take place in environments that contain rules and challenges that are inherent in the real world. Also, she stresses that adolescents must learn to sustain activities over time, despite the challenges.

• • •

If you have a student ages 16 to 26 who is interested in studying abroad at some point, I recommend an incredible list of 65 different organizations that provide study abroad grants and scholarships. Read the entire list here:www.gooverseas.com/study-abroad/study-abroad-grants-and-scholarships. This website also has great general information on living and studying overseas.

• •

Some parents prefer a kindergarten experience that is more academic, others feel strongly that kindergarten should be play based and centered on socialization. A local teacher sent me a link to a very interesting TEDx video about the history of kindergarten and how the standards have changed. The speaker is a very dynamic young man who has taught kindergarten for the past 15 years in Santa Monica and he is not a big fan of the worksheets now pressed upon most 5-year-olds in kindergarten programs. www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ye78F4Mnbk

• • •

Are you a teacher or interested in becoming one? Teach.com covers the who, what, where, when and how of being a teacher, including anecdotal and empirical data about what types of people choose to teach and a comprehensive explanation of the responsibilities that are expected of teachers as well as logistical questions regarding certification and testing, and the differing standards between states are listed in order to help teachers find their way.

• • •

I am midway through “The Homework Trap: How To Save The Sanity of Parent’s Students and Teachers” by Dr. Kenneth Goldberg. The book discusses homework issues from the student’s point of view. Goldberg talks about the “homework-trapped child” and why some children, regardless of how bright they are, cannot complete their homework assignments. His recommendations are thought provoking but controversial as they would entail a major shift in thinking by teachers and schools as they center around homework time restrictions and requirements.

• • •

Very early interactive musical training benefits children even before they can walk and talk, according to a new study by McMaster University. Babies who participate in interactive music classes with their parents smile more and communicate better, according to this recent study.

• • •

To that end, high school musicians will soon be able to take a class from the famed Juilliard music conservatory.Julliard is spearheading a series of online K-12 courses that will be available (at a price) to students and school districts starting this fall. The online courses are meant to complement classroom teachers and not replace them. Learn more at: tinyurl.com/8xbdamm.

• • •

A new study published by Science Magazine found that subjects do their most creative thinking in a blue room.They suggest that this is because blue is relaxing and a relaxed state of mind is crucial for creative thinking. Subjects in red rooms exhibited superior accuracy and attention to detail.

• • •

According to the Times Higher Education World University rankings, the top five new-ish universities worldwide are (in order): Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea; Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland; the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; the University of California, Irvine; and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea.

• • •

Increasing the spacing between characters and words in a text improves the speed and quality of dyslexic childrens’ reading. As a parent of a dyslexic child, I was interested to read about this study that found that this basic change results in 20 percent faster reading on average with half as many errors. This may hold true for students who are slower readers in general. The research was conducted at the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive in France. There is a new free app called DYS that can test your child’s success with various text spacing.

• • •

 

Roundup IX

Thanks to a new study, scientists believe they have found the scientific key to what has previously been described as “game intelligence” in top soccer players. With so many players having physical ability and ball sense, why are some players better able to “read” the play, be in the right place at the right time and steal goals? The multi-year study found that game intelligence can be understood scientifically, based on exceptional “executive functions” (creative thinking, finding new solutions to problems, revising behavior based on outcome, flexibility to change tactics). They did extensive cognitive testing on 57 elite soccer players and compared various levels of players with each other and the general population. For details on the study go to ki.se/?l=en.

• • •

A study has found that the small change of making specific references to print in books while reading aloud to children can provide a big boost to their reading skills later on. Preschool children whose teachers used print references during storybook reading showed more advanced subsequent reading skills when compared to children whose teachers did not use such references. See the April issue of the journal Child Development for more details.

• • •

Common Sense Media has shifted through the thousands of apps and websites out that claim to be educational, and they rated and reviewed each one based on its learning potential so you can figure out which apps, games and websites will truly help equip kids and teens with the skills they need to thrive in tomorrow’s world. Check it out at commonsensemedia.org/learning-ratings.

• • •

In Kal Chany’s book, “Paying for College Without Going Broke,” he offers 10 tips for trimming the cost of college:

1. Get the best score possible on the ACT or SAT.
2. Be a smart shopper (comparing schools carefully).
3. Don’t immediately rule out a college because you think it’s too expensive.
4. Apply to “financial aid safety schools.”
5. Consider attending a community college for two years.
6. Be realistic about outside scholarships.
7. Earn college credits while still in high school.
8. Explore whether “cooperative education” (co-op) programs are offered at the colleges on your list.
9. Talk to your parents about maximizing your family’s aid eligibility.
10. Learn as much as you can about how the aid process works.

• • •

As you debate the merits of various camp options or the merits of summer camp in general, there is a terrific article I recommend called “Putting Camp in the Childhood Equation” which you can read at: tinyurl.com/7zgvwwu. The thesis of the article is that unstructured play at camp is valuable to today’s kids and the camp counselor-child relationship can provide a very positive role model for your children.

• • •

I am fascinated by research on happiness because providing our kids the best possible education is only half the battle. So who is happiest? Hawaiians (says a recent Gallup poll); biotech workers (says careerbliss.com); 70-year-olds (that is when happiness peaks according to Stanford); people who enjoy creative pastimes (says the London School of economics); and people who earn $75,000 a year (above that has no discernible effect on happiness according to Princeton economists).

• •

According to an article in the New York Times Magazine, recent studies have shown that exercising increases cognitive flexibility and gives your brain a better chance of resisting physical shrinkage. In fact, exercise does more to bolster thinking than thinking does. Tests on mice found that mice that exercised had far greater cognitive ability than mice that did not.

• • •

There was a terrific and funny essay in the Wall Street Journal about what advice commencement speakers would really give if they were being completely honest (tinyurl.com/7pugwf9). For example, No. 4: “Marry someone smarter than you,” and No. 2, “Some of your worst days lie ahead of you.” If you have a child in high school or college, or just out of college, you and they might enjoy the perspective.

• • •

A noted group of scientists and educators is proposing a dramatically different way that students in K-12 should be taught science. Their 8+1 concept moves away from memorizing scientific facts and focuses on helping students understand eight fundamental science concepts. The “plus one” is the importance of inquiry, the practice of asking why things happen around us – and a fundamental part of science. The 8+1 concepts were derived from two basic questions: What are things made of and how do systems interact and change? The eight concepts are: atoms, cells, radiation, systems change, forces, energy, conservation of mass and energy and variation. This is a big change from science today in the U.S., which is taught in isolated disciplines such as chemistry, biology and physics without clear connections being made between the subjects. See the study at 8plus1science.org/.

• • •

The annual “What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools” report, lists the top 40 books kids in grades 1-12 are reading. For the first time, this year’s report also includes author and educator opinions on what kids should be reading. The report also includes the best Spanish-language books, the top Common Core informational texts and stories and librarians’ picks. You can download a free copy atrenlearn.com/whatkidsarereading.

• • •

California’s state colleges and universities are considering whether to begin asking students about their sexual orientation next year on applications or enrollment forms. The optional questions would be posed because of a state law aimed at gauging the size of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations on campuses. The law encourages UC, Cal State and community colleges to explore whether they are offering enough services, such as counseling, for those students. More schools are sure to follow.

• • •

Next time you’re in a mall, keep your eyes peeled for a new store – Marbles: The Brain Store. I went in one recently and was amazed by the brain teaser-type games they offered that I had never seen before. They are also online atmarblesthebrainstore.com.

• • •

New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that going to sleep shortly after learning new material is most beneficial for recall.

• • •

In related news, majoring in math- and science-focused subjects gets college graduates higher-paying jobs compared to other majors, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Economics, engineering and accounting graduates make $30 an hour or more on average. And a recent study by jobs site CareerCast found jobs requiring math and science skills were superior in terms of wages, work environment and employment opportunities.

• • •

There is a little-known program that offers discounts at public colleges and universities to students from 15 states, most of them in the West. The Western Undergraduate Exchange is an interstate agreement that sets tuition at no more than 150 percent of in-state rates and saves undergraduates on average $7,700 a year. In all, 150 public colleges – some two-year, some four-year – take part; only 10 are in California. For Californians, the most popular destinations are Northern Arizona University, the University of Nevada, the University of Hawaii, Southern Oregon University and New Mexico State University. In California, 10 of the 23 Cal States have joined, with the Humboldt and Chico campuses attracting the most out-of-staters. Other areas of the country have similar arrangements.

• • •

Princeton, Penn and Michigan have joined Stanford and Berkeley as partners of Coursera, a company founded earlier this year by Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng. Together, the universities will produce free, online versions of their courses that anyone can take. Go to coursrea.org. Meanwhile, Harvard University announced that it is joining MIT in offering free online courses – and that the two institutions will together spend $60 million on a project that will grant certificates of completion to those who finish a Harvard or MIT course online.

• • •

According to a recent British Broadcasting Service story, students who bring water with them into exams score higher than students who do not. Can’t hurt to try it.

 

Roundup VIII

Dr. Michael Thompson has written extensively about the social life of children. His main points that resonate with me:

1. Let small children choose their own friends; every other aspect of their life is controlled by you.

2. Don’t get emotionally invested in the idea of “best” friends. Only about a quarter of children have one.

3. Recognize that the school day for students is long, boring and exhausting. Allow them free play after school. Thompson makes a lot of other great points in his books, but those are the ones I took away.

• • •

Textbook publishers plan to go entirely digital by 2020. Right now, publishers make most of their money during the first year a new textbook is on the market. They release new editions every two to three years because used books make money for bookstores, not publishers. As a result, publishers are eager to eliminate the used textbook market.

• • •

Speaking of college planning, check out Mytonomy’s library of student created videos on college applications, college essays, and college reviews. These videos are also in Spanish (mytonomy.com).

• • •

What is the second language that every child needs to learn? Many experts say JavaScript. Computer programming isn’t a core subject in American schools, but perhaps it should be. Java is the main language in developing web pages and mobile apps. The United States is now way behind other countries when it comes to training computer scientists. Most spots at U.S. universities with top science and engineering programs are filled by foreign students. Doug Rushkoff, author of “Program or Be Programmed,” argues that our schools should incorporate computer programming into the core curriculum.

• • •

Teachers are less satisfied with their jobs than they have been in decades according to a recent Met Life survey of public school teachers, parents, and students. Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009 (from 59 percent to 44 percent saying they are very satisfied). This decline is coupled with a large increase in teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today). In addition, 53 percent of parents and 65 percent of teachers today say that teachers’ salaries are not fair for the work they do. It is thought that the economic downturn is one factor in this declining satisfaction and increasing feeling of insecurity. I would be interested to hear Sonoma teacher reaction to this data.

• • •

Community service-minded, Spanish-speaking, students 15 to 18 years of age should consider apply for the AMIGOS Youth Ambassador Program. Selected students will travel free to Paraguay for a three-week international training and exchange from July 10 to Aug. 3. The program is aimed at teens who want to travel to another country and are eager to make a difference in their communities. Apply at amigoslink.org/apply-yap by March 30.

• • •

Khan Academy, the popular educational lecture series for students, has launched a new, free iPad app that includes interactive transcripts of the lectures for easy searching. This iPad app may eventually replace or supplement textbooks, saving cash-strapped schools and students a lot of money. Students can download content and then view it without a laptop or Internet connection. (khanacademy.org).

• • •

Similarly, the folks behind the famous TED talks, last week unveiled a “TED-Ed” initiative for high school students and life-long learners. Their goal is to grow the archive to hundreds of videos within a year. TED-Ed’s mission is to capture and amplify the voices of great educators around the world by pairing renowned educators with animators to produce a library of nop-notch educational videos. education.ted.com.

• • •

Not exactly education, but important for parents of teens … a new app completely disables texting while driving.Textecution ($29.99) is designed for parents to install on their teenagers phone so they know their child is safer behind the wheel of the vehicle. If the user removes Textecution from the phone, it notifies the parent by text.

• • •

A head’s up to high school seniors: Recent reports indicate organizations are researching their scholarship applicants online. Every parent and student should “Google” themselves monthly.

• • •

United States Naval Academy Summer STEM Program is held in three sessions: June 4 through 9 for rising eighth- and ninth-graders; June 11 to 16 for rising 10th-graders; and June 18 to 23 for rising 11th-graders. This residential academic program gives students hands-on practical math and science instruction from Naval Academy professors in world-class lab facilities. Approximately 480 total students will be accepted to STEM. The cost is only $200. Visit usna.edu/admissions/stem.html by April 15.

• • •

Students in small classes in grades four to six have better school achievement and higher wages as adults than those who learned in large classes, according to a recent Swedish study. This study found that those in small classes had better cognitive and non-cognitive skills, had better scores on standardized national tests in grades six and nine, perceived themselves as having more self-confidence and greater endurance. The differences in school outcomes persisted throughout the rest of their compulsory schooling. The probability of going on to higher education was also greater for students in small classes. Finally, those who were in small classes also earned more money as adults. A reduction in class size of five students resulted in more than 3 percent higher wages.

• • •

Dyslexia affects 15 percent of Americans, including one of my children, so here are some smart-phone apps that are particularly good for dyslexic students (or anyone learning to read).

1. Pocket Phonics ($2.99). Ages 2 to 7, uses graphics, sounds and touch to teach letters and how to “blend” letter sounds together to make word.

2. Montessori Crosswords. ($2.99). A fun game to develop spelling, reading and writing skills using a phonics-enabled movable alphabet.

3. Word Wizard (99 cents). This app supports letter recognition, phonological awareness, spelling and self-correction without sacrificing fun.

4. Dragon Dictation (free) is an easy-to-use voice recognition application that allows you to easily speak and instantly see your text or email messages.

5. vBookz ($4.99). This voice reader reads your books outloud and has a magnifying glass that follows the text as you go.

6. Learning Ally ($99/year) enables students with reading disabilities access to a library of 70,000 digitally recorded textbooks and literature titles.

7. Finally, experts recommend the quick word game Boggle (99 cents) because children hear a ping every time a word is spelled wrong and can fix it.

• • •

Circle of 6, winner of the White House “Apps Against Abuse” technology challenge, is a mobile phone application designed to prevent sexual assault and dating violence among young adults. With only two taps, Circle of 6 connects users threatened with possible sexual assault and abuse to a network of friends who have offered to help, using GPS technology. Go to circleof6app.com.

• • •

More than 60 percent of new jobs in the last year have gone to college grads, even though they make up only about one third of the workforce.

• • •

I was interested to read that a new study found that children 6 and under learn about prejudice by direct instruction while by age 10, children begin to rely on their own experiences rather than what people tell them (sciencedaily.com).

• • •

Two great book recommendations for teens who loved “The Hunger Games.” “Ashfall” by Mike Mullins and “The House of Tomorrow” by Peter Bognanni.

• • •

Campusgrotto.com had an interesting list of top 10 ways to ensure success in college, that are largely relevant for all students.

1. Make new friends in class – Step outside your comfort zone and get to know new people. They will open your mind and help you become a more well-rounded student who is able to understand a variety of perspectives.
2. Sit in the front row of every class – The professor will notice you, it will be much more difficult to zone out and you will be more engaged.
3. Visit the career center often – Having direction will give new life to your college experience. Take all the career tests they have. Read books about career discovery. Ask for input on your resume.
4. Get a professorial mentor – Get to know all of your professors and ask them for help in class; then, meet more often with and ask advice of the one you feel you connect with the most.
5. Be a leader in a club – Being a part of clubs is crucial to expand your social network and your professional skills. However, being a leader is where the real magic happens.
6. Do something you never thought you could do – Study abroad. Join a club that scares you. Start a small business. Go on a service trip. Speak publicly. Be the president of a large club. Whatever it is that you don’t actually think you could do – just do it.
7. Get a professional mentor – You’d be amazed at who will talk to you, how valuable their advice is, and where it will lead.
8. Get a fascinating internship – Internships can open doors and help you learn about a career more than anything else.
9. Write down your goals – There can be incredible results from being focused on specific goals.
10. Develop a morning routine – Developing a morning routine helps you focus. When you start the day rushed, you will have a hurried, seemingly unproductive day.

• • •

After a cheating scandal that involved dozens of teenagers in New York using fake IDs to take tests for others, the SAT and ACT will soon require test takers to upload photos that will be checked against the student’s photo ID at the testing site. Students will also have to list their high school so that schools can keep better tabs on test takers. The new rules apply nationwide and will go into effect this fall.

• • •

Human geography, Chinese and environmental science are the three fastest growing Advanced Placement (AP) classes among high schoolers in America. None of these are yet offered in my town, but perhaps they will be in the future.

Roundup VI

A UC Irvine professor has found that math skills among kindergartners turn out to be a key predictor for future academic success. Professor Greg Duncan and his colleagues examined results from studies done on 20,000 kindergartners, following them through elementary school, testing them in reading and math. Even after factoring in differences in IQ and family income, Duncan found that those who learned the most math in kindergarten tended to have the highest math and reading scores years later. He has a book out titled, “Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances.”

• • •

The Obama administration has launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, designed to attract more students into STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.Keep your eyes out for a series of events and announcements designed to bring more students into the fields and address the key components of this (much needed) national priority. Education News points out that in the 1950s, GE printed millions of comic books to interest students in science and math. Word is, an initiative like that might be headed our way next. Not a bad idea.

• • •

A new study found evidence that even a single year with a great teacher can have a lasting impact on your child’s future education and earnings. As the New York Times reported, “Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime – or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class – all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade. … Great teachers not only raised test scores significantly – an effect that mostly faded within a few years – but also left their students with better life outcomes. A great teacher (defined as one better than 84 percent of peers) for a single year between fourth and eighth grades resulted in students earning almost 1 percent more at age 28.” Harvard researcher Raj Chetty based the study on a huge database of 1 million students followed from fourth grade to adulthood. The report received widespread attention in the media on Jan. 11.

• • •

A friend gave me “The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens” by Brooke Hauser, a journalist who spent months following the students at International High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was a quick and very engaging read. I posted on Twitter how much I liked it and got an email from the author. The drama of the book, as she pointed out to me, was that that the students she met “were also learning America: Some had never left their villages before coming to the U.S., and suddenly found themselves having to navigate mass transit in New York City. Other students were dealing with cultural traditions from their native countries that made it harder to adapt to life here – pressure to get married, for instance.” She said, she “admired the staff at the International High School for working with such variable circumstances and trying to see each student in context. It’s important to remember that, while language is a crucial part of a student’s education, there are many social and cultural experiences that should be factored in as well.” I recommend the book highly for anyone interested in education and the challenges and opportunities of successfully integrating an immigrant population.

• • •

A well-educated and successful 46-year-old mother of four felt so bad about the stress that her teenage son was under studying for the SATs that she took the SATs herself, seven times in 2011 trying to get to a perfect score.She was unable … but offers an amusing, insightful chronicle of her exploits on her blog, “The Perfect Score Project” (perfectscoreproject.com) and a recent issue of Psychology Today. She tried almost every major available kind of test prep resource and I’ll post her findings in a future column.

• • •

“It’s painful to watch a child lose. But it’s no favor to the kid to postpone that experience,” writes Julia Steiny in a great piece on theeducationnews.org website, entitled, “We’re On the Verge of Protecting our Kids into Incompetence.” Ouch.

• • •

Hercampus.com did a report on the highest paying jobs right out of college, as well as what kind of companies in those fields are hiring and found:
10. Information sciences $54,038 (Amazon, OkCupid, Merck, Vivismo)
9. Industrial engineer $57,734 (Sony, Toys R Us, Mayo Clinic)
8. Financial analyst $60,000 (Accountants Int’l, Bond St. Group, Vaco Resources)
7. Registered nurse $61,000 (hospitals and clinics)
6. Quality engineer $65,000 (Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Deloitte)
5. Network engineer $68,500 (Bloomberg, Hulu, Vivisimo)
4. Business analyst $69,500 (United Healthcare, Sovereign Bank, CapGemini)
3. Software engineer $72,500 (Sage Software, Yelp, IBM, Google)
2. Investment banking analyst $73,000 (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley)
1. Systems engineer $77,500 (Barclays, Facebook, Salesforce)

• • •

January is when parents and students should be making summer plans if they include camps or summer academic enrichment programs. These sleep-away experiences, even if they are only a week long, are a great way for students to experience life on a campus or away from home. Camps can be expensive though, so I am going to try to pass along information about residential camps and summer programs that are less than $1,000 a week, with some as low as $350. One of my favorites is the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA), a prestigious four-week summer session for ninth-through-12th-graders at the CalArts campus near Hollywood. Students choose their area of concentration and receive intensive training from professionals in music, theatre, video and film, visual arts, dance, creative writing and animation. At $1,550 for four weeks, this is a bargain, as it covers room, board and tuition and further financial aid is available. Applications must be postmarked by Feb. 28 (www.csssa.ca.gov) and about half of all candidates are accepted. If you know of other great, relatively inexpensive programs, please let me know.

• • •

Each fall, the U.S. Department of Education announces which K-12 schools have received “Blue Ribbon” designation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this program “is part of a larger effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about best school leadership and teaching practices.” The other program you frequently hear about run by the Department of Education is the California Distinguished School Award, which honors California’s most exemplary and inspiring public schools. Schools selected for the Distinguished School Award demonstrate significant gains in narrowing the achievement gap.

• • •

Family Circle magazine ran an interesting article in the most recent issue on whether students should get As for doing their homework, being on time and all-around good behavior, or should top marks only go to students who master the material. Amazingly, the article works off the assumption that most schools grade via the former basis, not the latter, but I’ve had trouble finding statistics on this. Author Peg Tyre recently wrote a book titled “The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.”

• • •

The book, “How to Be a High School Superstar,” by Cal Newport, suggests three tips for better grades: 1 – Disconnect. He suggests that each night students unplug the cable that connects their computer to the modem, wrap it around their cell phone and hand the bundle to a parent until the work is done. 2 – Follow the fortnight rule. He says a calendar should be hung in a central location and all deadlines, tests and due dates should be posted. Look ahead two weeks and plan accordingly. 3 – Never highlight. Newport believes that top students all study the same way … by explaining textbook concepts out loud in complete sentences. He says it leads to better comprehension than highlighting, in less time.

• • •

Wondering what all the talk is about regarding common core standards? Up until recently, the standards for what students should know and be able to do has varied dramatically from state-to-state. In 2010, a national initiative was launched with the aim of developing “common core standards” for grades K-12. Calfornia has been very active in helping to develop these standards. Any changes in what the state’s schools teach is now being phased in gradually, but if you want to learn more about how this is playing out at your school in particular, you might ask your curriculum director or principal. The end goal is to be able to compare student performance across states (apples to apples rather than apples to oranges).

• • •

Apple made a big announcement last week that is expected to “reinvent” the school textbook. It announced two new applications: iBooks 2 (a free download for iPads) and iBooks Author (a tool to create interactive iPad lessons. The new interactive books would cost $14.99, much less than today’s paper textbooks, and could be updated continually. Most amazing is that they have teamed up with the publishers responsible for 90 percent of the school textbooks used in the United States today. Apple also said it was expanding iTunes U beyond college content to include elementary and high schools, allowing teachers put their lectures online.

• • •

In the meantime, students at universities or junior colleges, should consider www.campusbookrentals.com to rent their textbooks rather than buying them. On average, it costs about one third as much to rent a book as to buy a used copy. Round trip shipping is free. At the end of the semester, you have the option to buy the book for the used price if you want to own it. Locals have found that, among the various options, www.campusbookrentals is the cheapest and easiest company to work with.

• • •

Research shows that what kids eat can affect their learning in significant ways. Food scientists have identified foods that detract from a child’s brain functions and those that can help build healthy brains today and long-term. The four brain foods they cite that you and your kids might actually enjoy are: oatmeal (has been associated with improved special and short-term memory tests, as well as auditory attention tests); frozen blueberries (contain antioxidants associated with increased memory and cognitive functioning); eggs (high in protein and choline, which is essential to our memory stem cells); and flaxseeds (great source of omega-3s which promote improved learning capacity and can be thrown into most recipes). So what are cited as the brain drain foods? Foods high in additives, food colorings and refined sugar. Read more about brain foods at www.greatschools.org.

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).

• • •

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.”

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

• • •

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.

Roundup III

There is now an app for everything … but this app alerts you instantly if your child is being cyber-bullied or subjected to offensive language online, and it is free. You can go to http://www.eyegardian.com/ and if you have your child’s facebook login password, this site will track any threatening and lewd language linked to your child. It can even screen videos and images.

• • •

The San Francisco Business Times (with Pay Scale Inc.) on Sept. 27 released a report analyzing the median starting salaries and mid-career salaries of graduates from all the Bay Area colleges. Their findings may surprise you! #7: USF, #6: St. Mary’s, #5: San Jose State, #4: Cal Arts, #3: UC Berkeley, #2: Santa Clara, #1: Stanford.

• • •

Have you checked out all the free courses and educational podcasts on iTunes U? The site offers more than 350,000 lectures, language lessons, films, labs and audiobooks. More than 800 universities offer content and many, including Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford and UC Berkeley – distribute their content publicly in the iTunes store. Other schools are using the site to distribute schedules, syllabi, lecture outlines, study guides, notes, maps – even entire books. Stanford was the very first university to sign on and they are now celebrating their fifth year on the site. The computer science courses, for example, being offered for free are incredible but virtually any topic is available. What a great way for a student to explore topics of interest not available at school or without committing to an entire (expensive) course of study. www.apple.com/education/itunes-u

• • •

Earlier this month, I took my family to tour UC Davis with me. What a great college town Davis is! I had never been before and was eager to see the campus. Our youngest is 10 but it is really never too early to tour schools, so I always bring her along. She has seen a number of colleges now and already has opinions on what she likes and doesn’t like about different colleges. We passed the “world’s largest corn maze” on the way there. Throw that incentive in there and your kids are sure to agree to go.

• • •

Speaking of Hollywood, when I read that Shakira has joined the Obama administration as an Educational Advisor, I thought I was reading an Onion headline. Upon reading more, it actually makes a lot of sense. Shakira is a role model to millions of Spanish-speaking children, and in her role on the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, she can likely be quite influential. I didn’t realize she is also very active funding schools in her native Colombia.

• • •

Every single week, the website Zinch.com gives away a $1,000 to a high school student for a winning three-sentence answer to a specific question. Last week it was: Describe a family tradition you’d like to pass down and why it’s important to you. What a great way to win some quick money.

• • •

School districts throughout California are wondering how to carry out a new law requiring that California public schools teach all students, from kindergartners to 12th-graders, about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, added LGBT Americans, European Americans and the disabled to groups whose contributions to U.S. history should added to the social studies curriculum. The next round of textbooks, which must now must include information on the role of LGBT Americans, as well as Americans with disabilities, won’t be required to be purchased in California until at least 2015 due to budget issues.

• • •

The website Edutopia is run by the George Lucas Education Foundation. I just stumbled across it and I particularly like the stories on best practices at schools across the country. As they put it: “In this series, Schools That Work, Edutopia takes a deep look at what school successes are made of. How principals and teachers, parents and students and schools and districts collaborate to change the futures of their young people. We share with you the blueprints that the change makers used – the contracts, lesson plans, and teacher training tools that could be relevant to your school and your path to change.” Check it out at www.edutopia.org/schools-that-work.

• • •

I don’t know of any local schools using it yet, but a new website that features student artwork is gaining popularity across the U.S. Urge your child’s art teacher to check out http://www.artsonia.com. Schools build a gallery of their students’ projects and the website enables family and friends to log on to see the children’s art. Twelve-and-a-half-million pieces of art from students worldwide is already stored there. Friends and relatives can sign up to get alerts when their students’ new masterpieces are uploaded. There is also a cool gift shop where you can buy mugs, coasters, tiles, T-shirts and dozens of other products featuring your child’s art at very reasonable prices. But best of all, schools earn 15 percent when parents purchase these custom keepsakes – which could be a great fundraiser for your arts program. Thousands of art project lesson plans have been submitted by teachers, and are available as a classroom resource. If your school doesn’t register with the site, parents can do it for their child on their own and it is free.

• • •

Does your student in grades fifth through 12 log a lot of hours volunteering? If so, I would love to see them apply for a Prudential Spirit of Community Award. The deadline is Nov. 1. This program is the United States’ largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer community service. Multiple winners at the middle school and high school level in each state receive $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. Ten of the state honorees will be named America’s top 10 youth volunteers of the year, and will receive an additional $5,000, and $5,000 toward the charity of their choice. What is especially nice is that, if I am reading it right, every student who has devoted more than 50 hours to volunteering over the past calendar year will receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Volunteer hours can be accrued through Girls Scouts, 4-H, YMCA, etc. but must be certified by the organization. Visit www.nassp.org/spirit.

• • •

If your teen likes to write, there is a great website called Teen Ink that is a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to writing, art, photos and forums for students ages 13 through 19. The site features a weekly newsletter, an online writing course, writing contests, book reviews, polls, reviews of summer camps and more. It is a great way for your teen to get “published” and to find a community of similarly interested students. www.teenink.com.

• • •

Speaking of writing opportunities for teens … For a year or two, my daughter was a book reviewer for the Sonoma County Library System. Libraries are always looking for teen book reviewers who get to read free copies of popular young adult books before they are even published. Reviews are posted on the teen blog for others to read.

• • •

I am hot on test prep because SAT and ACT scores can have a big impact on the aid a student receives for college. I found another cool prep site called http://www.grockit.com. You can try it for free for a few days and after that it is $10/month, but it is a lot more fun than most other prep sites as you can study, compete and practice alone or with a group online and they have some really creative features.

• • •

There is a terrific site that outlines all the scholarships that are available to children under the age of 13. www.finaid.org/scholarships/age13. One of my favorites is the eco-hero award. This San Francisco-based nonprofit, Action for Nature, invites kids age 8 to 16 to submit self-initiated projects that concern environmental health and conservation for prizes of up to $500. The Davidson Institute invites any student under 18 to submit any “significant piece of work” in the fields of mathematics, science, literature, music, technology and philosophy. Twenty students are chosen each year to receive awards ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. There are also awards for the best linoleum block prints, robots, letters about literature, editorial cartoons, logos and more.

• • •

The National Sleep Foundation, which I assume isn’t trying to sell us anything, recently published a study of how much sleep children really need as they get older. They found: pre-schoolers need 11 to 13 hours, children ages 5 to 10 need 10 to 11 hours and teens need 8.5 to 9.25 hours sleep. According to their researchers, “There is strong evidence that sufficient shortening or disturbance of the sleep process compromises mood, performance and alertness and can result in injury or death.” Yikes! It can also cause cranky, unpleasant children … reason enough to make an effort to make sure they get enough sleep. http://www.sleepfoundation.org.

• • •

Everyone can use great study/memorization tips, no matter what their age. Sue Shellenberger, of The Wall Street Journal, recently summarized the growing body of research on the best study techniques. 1. Review the hardest material right before bedtime. Going to sleep right away consolidates information in your memory. 2. Turn off music, text messages, TV and email. Distractions make you less likely to remember material you were studying at the time. 3. Test yourself repeatedly. Students remember more when they force themselves to retrieve concepts then when they simply reread their textbooks or their notes. 4. Eat oatmeal for breakfast. A balanced, slow-digesting diet provides a sustained flow of glucose to the brain.

• • •

The California Department of Education issued a news release earlier this month announcing that nearly three out of four California high school graduates in 2008-09 enrolled in a college or university somewhere in the nation. 51.3 percent of college-going California graduates in 2006-07 (newest data available) enrolled in a California community college, UC or CSU. That didn’t surprise me, what did was the fact that it seemed to report that of those college-going grads, only 28.3 percent earned at least one year of credit within two years of their enrollment.

• • •

Along those same lines, a recently-released report, by the nonprofit American Institutes for Research, found that from 2004 to 2009, California spent $480 million, far more than any other state, on full-time community college students who dropped out after their first year. The report highlighted a nationwide trend of increasing community college enrollment but declining completion rates.

• • •

The event above will continue an important conversation on the teaching of STEM subjects in this area. A new report has found that that only 10 percent of California elementary school classrooms provide regular hands-on science experiments, and 40 percent of elementary teachers say they spend an hour or less teaching science each week. The report, commissioned by the think tank, West ED, and conducted by UC Berkeley, found analyzed data collected during the 2010-11 academic year and surveyed teachers, principals and school district leaders across the state. The full report is called “High Hope, Few Opportunities: The Status of Elementary Science Education in California.” And it can be found at http://www.cftl.org.

• • •

I was interested to read that a number of high-level executives in Silicon Valley are choosing to send their children to a Los Altos Waldorf school which eschews technology in the classroom and discourages it at home. The New York Times reported on Oct. 22 that the chief technology officer of eBay, as well as many employees of Google, Apple and Yahoo, have gone the Waldorf route and one high-tech executive is quoted saying he feels there will be time enough for technology later on, and no technology aids are needed for an excellent elementary school education.

• • •

That said, if you have a teenager who knows how to write apps and is otherwise technologically advanced, they can access resources, find co-founders and even hunt down job opportunities through a new site, www.teensintechconnect.com. Founded by an 18-year-old, this network provides support and events for young entrepreneurs.

• • •

Roundup II

A recent analysis of the world’s top education systems by McKinsey & Company concluded, “Of all the controllable factors influencing student achievement, the most important by far is the influence of the classroom teacher.” The study also finds that more than 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession after five years. The U.S. is heading toward a teacher shortage, because there are fewer teachers to fill slots as baby boomers reach retirement age.

• • •

Comcast has created an “Internet Essentials” program that offers home Internet service for $9.95 a month, low-cost computers ($149.99) and support classes. The program is being offered to families whose children qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Information for families about this program (endorsed by the American Association of School Administrators) is available at: http://www.internetessentials.com.

• • •

Speaking of technology to support schoolwork, Learning Ally is a great resource if your child needs access to audio versions of textbooks or reading materials. Learning Ally (www.learningally.com) serves more than 300,000 K-12, college and graduate students, veterans and lifelong learners who can’t read standard print due to visual impairment, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Their collection of more than 65,000 digitally recorded textbooks and literature titles – downloadable and accessible on mainstream as well as specialized-assistive technology devices – is the largest of its kind in the world.

• • •

I guarantee that the next time you are at a dinner party and the topic turns to education, someone is going to bring up Khan Academy. If you haven’t checked it out yet, take a second now to go to http://www.khanacademy.org. This nonprofit resource offers more than 2,400 videos covering every possible K-12 academic subject. Their mission: “We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.”

• • •

The buzz continues about Paul Tough and is you don’t have time to read his book, his theories are well summarized in the New York Times article, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure.” Tough contends that character is a far greater measure of future success than test scores. In particular, he cites: grit, zest, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity as better measure of success. I think he is right, but can you teach “grit” or are you just born with it or without it?

• • •

Another hot topic recent article in the The Economist (www.economist.com/node/21529014) contends that after a global examination of education practices, good schooling isn’t about spending money on education: “Though there is no one template, four important themes emerge: decentralization (handing power back to schools); a focus on underachieving pupils; a choice of different sorts of schools; and high standards for teachers.”

• • •

I have heard good things about the SEA program in Woods Hole, Mass., 17-day resident program studying marine science and nautical science, onshore and aboard a 134-foot research sailing vessel in the Atlantic. Days include three-hour marine science classes and labs. One of the best parts is bonding with the 25 other like-minded students and watching the sunrise aboard the ship, as they crewed the early a.m. watch.” This program is pricey but financial aid is available. http://www.sea.edu/academics/high_school_programs.

• • •

There is a great program in International Diplomacy held at American University in Washington, D.C., every July. Sponsored by the National Student Leadership Conference (www.nslcleaders.org), the program choices include engineering, education, entrepreneurship, forensic science, journalism, law and more, ranging from eight to 13 days at a cost of around $1,700-$2,500 (though scholarships are available). There are about 100 students – about 30 percent from overseas – a busy schedule of classes, lectures and visits from State Department dignitaries, an overnight trip to the United Nations and visits to the State Department and various embassies.

• • •

While all rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, the George Bush Presidential Center has just released an interactive “Global Report Card” which attempts to rank every school district in the world by common metrics so you can see how a particular district stacks up against others nearby, in the state, in the United States and around the world. (www.globalreportcard.org/map/html#.) But you can’t be sure they are comparing apples to apples, particularly with schools overseas.

• • •

The National Academy of Sciences has kicked off a multi-state campaign to increase the emphasis on analytical and conceptual thinking in science instruction. California is one of 20 states that will help write new science standards that determine what is taught in K-12 schools across the country. The new standards will encourage students to examine concepts that cross the boundaries of physics, biology and chemistry, according to the nonpartisan/nonprofit organization that is coordinating the effort. There will also be a greater emphasis on engineering. In Sonoma, our K-5 schools received a prestigious federal Investing in Innovations grant in 2010 (out of 1,700 applications, Sonoma was one of only 49 applicants to have received the award). The focus of the exploratorium grant is to emphasize analytical and conceptual thinking so the district here already has this type of change well on their radar. I’ll be keeping on eye on how national science curriculum changes will affect Sonoma students and will keep you informed.

• • •

I just started “The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School” by Alexandra Robbins. It is a very interesting (and quick reading) look at the psychology and science behind popularity and “outcasthood.” I recommend it to anyone who works with teenagers, has a teenager or ever was a teenager.

• • •

Speaking of books, if you have a child who loves to cook but hates studying vocabulary lists, check out “Cook Your Way Through the S.A.T.” Charis Frieman-Mendel, a 14-year-old in Newport, R.I., got the idea to create her own cookbook by combining her love of cooking with the need to fulfill an art requirement and study for the SSAT – the Secondary School Admission Test, which resembles the SAT and is used for admissions into independent junior high and high schools. She developed 99 recipes into which she incorporated 1,000 SAT vocabulary words. Pretty creative idea. You can get it online for $14.99: http://www.createsspace.com/3614473 or at amazon.com.

• • •

Teenagers, teenagers, teenagers … a recent issue of National Geographic has a story titled, “Beautiful Brains: Why Do Teenagers Act The Way They Do” which discusses the science behind teenage behavior and brain development. It is an interesting read: http://www.nationalgeographic.com.

Roundup I

Welcome to my inaugural “Education Round-Up” column.  Every week, this will be the place to read about new initiatives, programs, teachers, noteworthy students, fundraisers, speakers … whatever is happening, pre-K through college.

•••

While I hate to urge anyone to spend more time staring at their phones, there is an amazing array of free SAT prep options now available, for free or for a few dollars, for your smart phone. I’m a fan of the SAT question of the day, which comes by email from http://www.collegeboard.org, but check for others by searching for the word SAT. Students who start prepping for these tests freshman year will be way ahead of the game.

•••

Whether or not college is “worth it” is a hot topic in the news right now. With tuition exceeding $50,000 at some private colleges, the debate is understandable (and important). Georgetown’s Center for Education and the Workforce just released a new study, however, that found that students with a B.A. degree earn 84 percent more over their lifetime than those with just high school only (and that number has increased from 75 percent in 1999).

•••

There is a very cool new website called Scribblitt (www.scribblitt.com) where students can produce their own (self-published) book. The site features writing contests, word games, an illustration center and more. If your child loves to write, or read writing by others, it is worth a look.

•••

How can you tell if your child is over-scheduled? Jacqueline Golding of UCSF says, “If you have to schedule a child’s play dates more than a week or two ahead … or if kids have to stay up at night past a reasonable bedtime more than once in a great while in order to do their homework after their after school activities … they’re definitely doing too much.”

•••

I read an interesting article by Julia Williams on http://www.education.com recently on what teachers really want from parents and her suggestions were:

  1.  Start the day smoothly so the transition to school is an easy one.
  2.  Get to school on time.
  3.  Feed your kids a big breakfast and arrange for a healthy lunch.
  4.  Support good homework habits by setting aside the time and place.
  5.  Plan time to reconnect at the end of the day to hear from your child.

I’m very interested in Teach for America but don’t think any teachers have ever been assigned to this immediate area. I was surprised to learn that spots with TFA are now very hard to come by – this year TFA only accepted 11 percent of its applicants.

•••

What do you think about teachers texting or checking their smart phones during class time? This is an issue that just didn’t exist a decade ago. Teachers never would have made calls during class time but some think a quick text or two is OK. Is it disrespectful to their students, or are students so used to it all around them that they are unfazed by it?

•••

Is it hard to convince your son or daughter to pick up a book on the weekend and read? My son loves good stories but frankly hates to read. We signed up for audible.com and now he downloads the top teen titles onto his iPod and listens for hours while he shoots baskets outside or is falling asleep. Worth a try. Experts seem to agree that listening to books is almost as good as reading them (learning proper spelling is one drawback) but the upside is he sometimes listens for five-plus hours at a time and he could/would never read for that long.

•••

Did you get a chance to read “Memoir of a Tiger Mother” ?

Opinions on the author – parenting role model or crazy mom – are being debated in pick-up lines around town. Did you hear that her oldest daughter was accepted to Harvard? Hmmmm …

•••

US News & World Report recently reported that participation in high school sports has increased for the 22nd straight year, with 55.5 percent of high school students playing a sport. The most commonly offered sport nationwide is basketball and football boasts the greatest number of participants. The fastest growing sport is girls lacrosse. Interestingly, a recent study by Brigham Young University found that females who play a sport in high school are 41 percent more likely to graduate from college.

• • •

Oh dear. A recent study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at California State University, Sacramento finds that California is at or near the bottom in affording university opportunities to its high school graduates. According to the study, the state now ranks dead last in total funding per college student … The study also finds that California ranks 41st in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded per every hundred high school graduates, meaning that fewer Californian are graduating from college.

• • • • •

A front page New York Times discussed how an increased investment in technology in our schools is not necessarily leading to greater achievement or higher test scores and questions if the U.S. is allocating its education resources the wrong way. What do you think?

•••

Send me your news, ideas, comments and questions …