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Education Roundup XXVII

According to The Wall Street Journal, new research suggests that a summer internship helps a student’s career prospects more than perhaps anything else in their college years. In research conducted with potential employers, the study found that majors didn’t matter, a higher GPA didn’t matter much, all that really seemed to matter from the college years was whether students had a summer internship (work experience). Reporter Brett Arends said, “Candidates whose résumés could point to pre-graduation work experience in the industry they were applying for were 14 percent more likely to get an interview. An English major with an average GPA and a summer internship in a bank was more likely to get a job interview at a bank than an outstanding finance major who spent the summer touring Europe.” Read more here.

Ready for some good news? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a comprehensive report that shows that teens are behaving better today than any other time since the federal government began collecting data. Teen pregnancy is way down and high school seniors are drinking less, smoking less, barely using cocaine and they are exercising more.

According to Ed Surge magazine, today’s college students arrive on campus with an average of seven devices AND 80 percent of these students will carry and use a mobile phone every waking hour of the day. While the device count includes phones, tablets, e-readers, TVs, printers, laptops, game consoles, video cameras, etc. I still found the number disturbing.

New research published in an academic journal about sleep has found that college students who are poor sleepers are more likely to earn worse grades than healthy sleeping peers. The study also found that sleep problems have about the same impact on a student’s GPA as binge drinking and marijuana use.

If you get annoyed by people who confuse their and there, you will love the free new website quill.orgTeachers can also sign up their class and monitor student progress. The site provides fun editing challenges and it covers all of the grammar concepts from the Common Core State Standards for grades 1 through 8.

Do you have a teen or pre-teen who has trouble staying organized? Suzanne Shaffer (Countdown to College) suggest a few apps to help:

1. Evernote. Create virtual notebooks, organize important deadlines and track key documents.

2. GoogleDrive. Create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations and collaborate with others in real time. You can access your documents anytime, and all changes are saved automatically. There isn’t even a save button.

3. Remember the Milk. To do lists with priorities, due dates, time estimates, repeating lists, tags. Get reminders via email or text.

4. inClass. Keeps track of classes and homework and organizes video notes, audio notes, photo notes.

          And she recommends these free apps to help students prep for college:

1. Evernote.  Takes notes, captures photos, creates to-do lists, records voice reminders – and makes these notes completely searchable across all your devices.

2. Find colleges.  Search for information about U.S. colleges and universities.

3. Collegeconfidential.  Read and interact with other users on topics like financial aid, college life, test preparation and more.

4. Quad2Quad.  Curate and assemble the most important college data.

5. College visits.  Search and find schools to add to your list, rate your college visits, keep personal notes on each visit.

6. SAT question of the day.  Real SAT questions and SAT preparation materials from the test maker.

7. StudyBlue.  Review class notes or make flashcards whenever you have a minute to spare.

8. Khan Academy.  More than 4,200 videos on a massive number of topics.

9. Scholarship advisor.  Find money for college.

10.  A database of 2.7 million local, state and national college scholarships.

Teens seem to think that borrowing or buying “smart drugs” – ADD and ADHD medicines like Ritalin and Adderall – is not a big deal, but studies are finding that the possible short-term boost in mental performance may come at the cost of a long-term decrease in brain plasticity, which is necessary for task switching, planning ahead and behavioral flexibility.

A recent study suggests that students who work or study abroad are “smarter.” Students become more open minded when they live abroad and researchers have found that these students are better able to make connections among disparate ideas. Research has also found that the more engaged a student is in multicultural pursuits, the more job offers they receive after their program ends.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, new data proves that college is worth the investment and in fact has never before been more valuable. There was been a lot written about the rising cost of college, but according to MIT economists, the true cost of a college degree today is about negative $500,000 – not going to college will cost about half-million dollars. The pay gap between college graduates and non-grads reached a record high last year, according to Labor Dept. statistics. Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a four-year degree. That’s up from 64 percent in the early 1980s. Said reporter David Leonhardt, “College debt may still be a real fear and hardship, but it’s a relatively small cost in the long term. The average $25,000 in student debt doesn’t hold a candle to the $500,000 to be made over a lifetime.”

Stanford University’s is re-imagining a college education. “What if you were admitted to college not for four years at age 18, but for six years you could use at any time in your life? What if you declared a “mission” rather than a major? What if your transcript displayed not the courses you have taken, but the skills and ideas you have put to work in the world?” This is the first time the university’s famous has applied its “design thinking” processes to the undergraduate experience. The results should be interesting.

News coming out of a related study: less than 2 percent of U.S. employers said they actively recruit liberal arts majors, and most companies feel that cultural fit is more important than GPA when deciding on new hires. Employers said that they have the most openings for engineering and computer information systems majors, followed by jobs for those in medicine and nursing.

Scholastic’s Teachers website offers forth some great ideas to encourage children to read over the summer:

Join a library summer reading program (the competition, log and incentives can encourage children).

Create a calendar with fun activities for students to complete while reading (examples: make a tent and read under it, read to a pet, read to the oldest or youn­gest person you know).

Launch a summer book club. Read the first book of an engaging series, as the summer is a good time to pursue a complete series.

Plan a book swap.  Ask everyone to bring books they are done with and trade books as well as recommendations.

Try out an audio book with babies and toddlers, as well as with children and teens.  Play the book during naptime or convince your teen to try exercising or doing chores to a book instead of music.

In a novel idea for a reading contest this summer, The New York Times will ask teens, “What interested you most in the paper this week?” Anyone 13 to 19 years old can post an answer, and every Tuesday winners will be published on the blog The Learning Network, and all related posts are accessible without a digital subscription.

A student blogger recently posted tips on how to stay focused in class for students of all ages:

— Practice active listening and take notes.

‘;l– Sit in the front section of the room.

— Sit in the same seat every day (It will help you to remember what you learned in the class).

— Avoid sitting in the same seat for multiple classes.

— Participate in class.

Read his full explanations at

As you search for summer reading, movies and websites to amuse your children, don’t forget to check out Common Sense Media. The site can help you find age-appropriate movies, books, apps, TV shows, video games, websites and music with more than 20,000 reviews by age, entertainment type, learning rating and genre.

There is a 99-cent app that might get your kids outside. When you hold The Night Sky app up to the sky, the app identifies the names of the planets, stars and constellations.

There have been interesting shifts in undergraduates’ choices of majors over time, and the shifts don’t really reflect where the jobs are. Among the majors less popular since 1970: education (down from 21 percent of degrees awarded to 5.9 percent in 2011-12); English (7.6 percent to 3 percent); social studies and history (18.5 percent to 10 percent); math and statistics (3 percent to 1 percent); physical sciences and science technologies (2.5 percent to 1.5 percent); and foreign languages, literatures and linguistics (2.5 percent to 1.2 percent). The majors that have gained the most share: business (13.7 percent in 1970-71 up to 20 percent in 2011-12); health professions (3 percent to 9.1 percent); and communication and journalism (1.2 percent to 4.7 percent).

In related news, very few of America’s new teachers took undergraduate coursework in teaching. Today, only around half of all new teachers have an undergraduate teaching degree versus 88 percent prior to 1980. According to the National Center for Education Information, the teaching force is changing due to an influx of people from non-traditional backgrounds. America’s teachers are still mostly white and female (the share of men in the profession fell from 31 to 16 percent over the last 25 years) but they’re getting younger, and studies are finding that they are more open to school reform initiatives, like eliminating under-performing teachers and tying pay to students’ test scores.

Fewer teens are having babies (or abortions). Teen pregnancies, births and abortions have dropped to new lows. In 2010, among teens age 15 to 19, pregnancies are down 51 percent from the peak in 1990. While teen pregnancies declined in all 50 states, New Mexico has the highest rate and New Hampshire the lowest.

I was surprised to learn that only 15 percent of current college students are between the traditional ages of 18 and 22, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. My perception of college is out-of-date with today’s reality. This demographic shift is one of the reasons that the entire notion of how higher education is delivered is being reexamined.

I read a helpful article recently on red flags to look for in teens that might indicate depression, drug use or just general cause for concern. Some are obvious (excessive moodiness, social isolation) but others less so (changes in eating or sleeping patterns, unexplained aches and pains). The complete list and accompanying discussion is helpful.

It can be hard for teens to ask for help in person. Crisis Text Line is a new free service designed to help teens through their hardest times: family issues, stress or suicidal thoughts. Trained counselors text back and forth with advice and resources. Teens text “LISTEN” to 741-741.

Ben Carpenter is author of “The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Start a Business, and Live a Happy Life.” He offers 22 pieces of advice as students look toward the future:

• Do what you’re good at.

• Try out different fields when you’re young.

• Always ask yourself, What’s my edge?

• Think of your boss and your company before yourself.

• Be creative and bold.

• Comfort and success rarely go hand in hand.

• Stay in the driver’s seat of your career.

• Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand.

• When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back.

• Learn to appreciate diverse work styles.

• Know when to look after your own interests.

• Own your mistakes.

• Be a good steward of the “little” things.

• If you want to be a leader, act like one.

• Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.

• Don’t let anyone have anything negative to say about you.

• Don’t complain about your job to your coworkers.

• A single act can ruin your great reputation.

• Don’t pick fights you can’t win.

• Don’t badmouth your coworkers.

• Live within your means.

• Don’t forget to have fun.

Kitestring is a new, free service that alerts your emergency contacts if you don’t respond to its check-ups. The website was founded by an MIT grad student who was worried about his girlfriend traveling alone. Here’s how it works: You or your child start a trip on Kitestring (either on the website or via SMS), and the site texts you later to make sure you’re OK. Reply to the message within five minutes and all is well. If you don’t check in, they alert your emergency contacts that you set up ahead of time. Of course, you can always extend your ETA or check in early.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 59 percent of full-time, first-time students, who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in fall 2005, completed the degree at that institution within six years. Students assume they will complete college in four years, and calculate tuition based on that assumption, but the numbers suggest that finishing in four years is unlikely for many.

Researchers at Stanford have found that walking boosts creativity. A person’s creative output increases by an average of 60 percent when walking, as opposed to sitting. Facebook and Apple executives are famous for meeting while walking, which now doesn’t seem so crazy. Indoors vs. outdoors does not matter.

All the rage among teens across the country is a new game you play on your phone called 2048. My teens love it. Beating the game involves math and strategy. It is better than the pointless Candy Crush type apps, but equally addictive.

Most people agree that apprenticeships are the best way to get employees the skills that companies seek, but apprentice programs have been declining in the U.S. while growing more common in other countries. In Germany for example, there are 17.4 apprentices per 1,000 people, while in the U.S. there are currently 0.9. According to the Department of Labor, formal programs that combine on the job learning with mentorships and classroom education fell 40 percent between 2003 and 2013. Earlier this month, President Obama set aside $100 million to encourage apprenticeships in high-growth industries. Maybe that will help.

The rising cost of college tuition is a hot topic, but only a third of all students at four-year public and private schools actually pay the published price at a college. For the typical student at a private nonprofit college, the net cost of school is less than half the sticker price. While the sticker price at public colleges grew more than 35 percent over the past 10 years, the average out-of-pocket costs for your typical student only grew by 16 percent. At private, nonprofit four-year universities, it was even less.

For the first time, more Latino than white California students have been offered admission to attend the University of California system as freshmen. For next year, around 29 percent of students admitted to a UC campus will be Hispanic, compared to about 27 percent white. Asian students still made up the largest group admitted, at 36 percent.

In related demographic news, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, over the next ten or so years there will be a 16 percent decrease in white students but a 23 percent increase in Asian students and a 64 percent increase in Hispanic students who graduate from high school.

Need five good reasons to take your child to the library? Christine French Cully, editor of Highlights magazine, offers these:

Regular visits to the library inevitably lead to more reading.

When you visit the library, you expose your child to more books and magazines than you can afford to buy.

Your local librarian can recommend books that you might not think to suggest, broadening your child’s tastes, mind and vocabulary.

Library time is active, not passive.

Owning a library card teaches kids responsibility.

Read the complete list at and visit your local library.

For what it’s worth, the new ranking of the best public high schools in America is out, courtesy of U.S. News & World ReportThe methodology is “based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.”

Every Apple computer store will now recycle any old Apple product for free. They will also hand you a gift card if you turn in something that they think they can resell. Announcement of the new initiative was timed to Earth Day.

The Department of Education offers a handful of tips for anyone who is taking out or currently had a student loan:

Keep close track of what you are borrowing (detailed records of the different loans, repayment dates and interest rates).  At, select “Financial Aid Review,” log in, and view all federal student loans in one place.

Make interest payments while still in school. Even though a grace period is available, if you have a part-time job in school, paying back at least some of your student loan interest while you’re in school can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Keep your loan servicer in the loop. Make sure they always have up-to-date contact info for you.

Figure out what your monthly loan payments are going to be before you go into repayment. The same website above has a repayment estimator that allows you to pull in your federal student loan information and compare what your monthly payments would be under the different repayment plans that are offered.

A new study has found that the longer kids spend watching television, the less sleep they get, according to Mass General Hospital for Children and Harvard School of Public Health.Young children who had a TV in their room lost an average of 30 minutes of sleep a night. Previous research has found that even a slight lack of sleep can have repercussions on behavior, learning ability and memory.

Based on the sample questions released last week, it looks like the new SAT will be a harder test. In addition, math will now account for half of a student’s score (800 out of 1600 points) and calculators will no longer be allowed. Students will begin taking the test in spring 2016. You can look at the sample questions at College Board’s site,

A mobile app to help combat jet-lag was released recently by mathematicians who have found a way to help travelers better adjust to new time zones. “Overcoming jet lag is fundamentally a math problem and we’ve calculated the optimal way of doing it,” said Danny Forger, a math professor at the University of Michigan. The free iPhone app, called Entrain, is perhaps the first to take a mathematical approach to “entrainment,” the scientific term for synchronizing circadian rhythms with the outside hour. The researcher/developers calculate ideal light adjustment schedules for more than 1,000 possible trips, a specialized plan and predict how long it will you take to adjust.

A new study has shown that using marijuana even just a few times a week may be enough to cause damage (The Journal of Neuroscience). It turns out that not much research had previously focused on casual pot smoking (fewer than four times a week) but researchers at Northwestern and Harvard in this small study found volume, shape and density changes in two crucial brain areas that control emotion and motivation, and some types of mental illness are affected by even infrequent pot smoking. The more marijuana the students smoked, the more their brains differed from the non-users. As a result, researchers now say they are very concerned about the long-term impacts of even minor marijuana use on the developing brain.

Scientists seem to agree that green tea has many positive effects on health, including enhanced cognitive functions, in particular the working memory. Researchers also think that green tea may help treat cognitive impairments in psychiatric disorders such as dementia.

“In the past generation, the rising preoccupation with children’s safety has transformed childhood, stripping it of independence, risk taking and discovery. What’s been gained is unclear: rates of injury have remained fairly steady since the 1970s, and abduction by strangers was as rare then as it is now. What’s been lost is creativity, passion and courage” – said author Hanna Rosin in a recent cover story in The Atlantic titled, “The Overprotected Kid.” She goes on to say that playgrounds are so safe they are boring, and to quote Ellen Sandester, who said, “When (children) are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience.”

Please do recommend this site to others who might be interested and send any interesting news you see my way at  Happy summer!


Education Roundup XXV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If your student age 13 to 21 is interested in the visual or performing arts, the best list of summer programs around the country and around the world that I have come across is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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Roundup XXIII

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

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

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

I love the website Students can play civics games (run for president, pass new laws, etc.) and access free resources.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Roundup XXII

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

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

T – is it true

H – is it helpful

I – is it inspiring

N – is it necessary

K – is it kind.

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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Meaningful/Enriching Summer Programs On A Shoestring (for ages 12-25)

It is easy to find a terrific summer program for thousands of dollars. The trick is finding fun/meaningful opportunities for your kids that don’t cost a mint.  Free programs are great not only because they are free (!) but they tend also to be much more impressive to colleges (because they tend to be selective). The catch is, the best free or low-cost opportunities are selective and most have deadlines starting now through maybe January.

My rule of thumb for what constitutes a good value is a sleepaway/residential program that is FREE or less than $750/week… so I have about 30 here that are FREE and then some that cost a few hundred dollars.  The sheer volume of ideas here is daunting, so I apologize if any of these have deadlines that have passed or are not being offered this year.  Please let me know what success you have with any of these and add any that I have missed into the comment box.

OVERSEAS —  The American Youth Leadership Program with Singapore and Malaysia is a FREE  international exchange experience for ages 15-17 supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The goal  is to expose high school students and educators to U.S. – Singapore and U.S. – Malaysia relations through the lens of the effect of sustainable development on urban planning.  A pre-departure orientation that prepares participants for a three-week experience in Singapore and Malaysia  (June 28 – July 24, 2014)  Post-program implementation of education and service projects which highlight the learning that took place during the program.  Teachers can also apply to travel with the group. — The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program was launched in 2006 to promote critical language learning among American youth. The U.S. Department of State, in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, awards merit-based scholarships to high school students for summer and academic year immersion programs in locations where the seven NSLI-Y languages are spoken. NSLI-Y immerses participants in the cultural life of the host country, giving them invaluable formal and informal language practice  — Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish.  Students ages 15-18 can apply for this FREE U.S. State Dept. program which is either a full summer or a school year overseas. Students do not need any previous language study.  My daughter did this program in Chengdu, China… comment to me for more information.

Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP)  — American Councils’ longest-running FREE study abroad program provides intensive Russian-language immersion for US undergraduate and graduate students in Russia.

Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS)  — The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical need foreign languages. Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) institutes provide fully-funded (FREE) group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences for seven to ten weeks for U.S. citizen undergraduate and graduate students.

Energy in Central Asia Program (ECAP)  — A four-week Central Asian business culture studies program in Kazakhstan for undergraduate and graduate students as well as working professionals at all levels of Russian-language proficiency. FREE

Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP)  — The American Councils Eurasian Regional Language program provides graduate students, advanced undergraduates, scholars, and working professionals with intensive individualized instruction in the languages of Eurasia. Participants may in enroll in semester, academic year, or summer programs. All courses are conducted by expert faculty from leading local universities and educational institutions. FREE

Youth Leadership Program with Azerbaijan (YLP)  — Students, teachers, and community leaders can apply for the Youth Leadership Program with Azerbaijan (YLP). YLP is a FREE short-term cultural and educational exchange program, the Youth Leadership Program with Azerbaijan is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and administered by American Councils. The program focuses on expanding relationships between the people of the U.S. and Azerbaijan and aims at strengthening ties between the two countries.

American Youth Leadership Program with Cambodia  — The American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP) with Cambodia is a FREE four-week cross-cultural exchange program that is open to American high school students and teachers (who will serve as program leaders and chaperones)  Must be between 15 and 17, have at least one semester of high school remaining, and be US citizens.

Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel — The Bronfman Youth Fellowship offers a 5-week summer program in Israel that educates and inspires exceptional young Jews from diverse backgrounds to become active participants in Jewish culture throughout their lives, and to contribute their talents and vision to the Jewish community and to the world at large.  High School Juniors from the United States and Canada who will be at least sixteen by July of 2012 are eligible for the FREE Fellowship.

CIEE South Korea  — This FREE two-week program includes scheduled excursions, including a day visit to the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, visits to ancient palaces, a home visit with a Korean family, a trip to the National Museum of Korea.  Students must not have visited South Korea in recent years or had much exposure to Korean culture, customs, and/or daily life; be a U.S. citizen; be entering 10th, 11th, 12th grade or have just graduated from high school; have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.


STARTALKFREE government sponsored day camps and residential sleep-away language camp programs across the United State where students ages 12-18 can learn Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. The choices for 2014 won’t be available until late winter but it is worth visiting the web site to get a sense of the many options that existed in 2013 like this one, 2 weeks learning Russia on a college campus, for free, for grades 9-12.  Teachers can also apply.

The Federal Service Language Academy is a great, low-cost idea for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors who want to pursue language studies and possibly a career in the foreign service.  The program runs June 8-27 or July 6-25 for 2014.  For twenty-one days, students are immersed in a foreign language and culture in an academic environment hosted by the University of North Georgia in partnership with the Georgia Department of Education.  You  live in a residence hall in the same vicinity as your fellow students who are learning the same language and are asked to communicate in your language as much as possible. For career exploration purposes, guest speakers from federal agencies like the US Department of State, FBI, CIA, Army or Homeland Security will present information on careers in their specialties. Students may also be awarded one high school unit of academic credit for successful achievement of first or second-year Arabic, Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, or Portuguese proficiency levels.   The cost is $1895 for three weeks.


Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Art Seminar — This prestigious two-week FREE seminar allows students to gain a stronger foundation of skills and understanding in the visual arts through experiencing college-level drawing and painting classes in a group setting.  Open to high school juniors, transportation NOT included.  At Colorado College.

The California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA) is a rigorous pre-professional training program in the visual and performing arts, creative writing, animation, and film for talented artists in grades 9 – 12. Its purpose is to provide a training ground for future artists who wish to pursue careers in the arts and entertainment industries in California. The California State Summer School for the Arts is a state agency funded through a unique public-private partnership.  Students apply for the opportunity to study in one of the School’s seven departments. They may receive 3 units of California State University elective credit for successful participation.  The cost is $1550 for 4 weeks, and students live in a dorm at Cal Arts.


High School Great Books Program at Thomas Aquinas College.  Each summer for two weeks, high school students from around the country join members of the teaching faculty on the campus of Thomas Aquinas College for spirited conversation, engaging firsthand some of the best works of the past 2,500 years. They read and discuss works selected from the masters of the Western intellectual tradition, including Plato, Euclid, Sophocles, Shakespeare, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, and Boethius.  In addition to daily sports, occasional movies, and hiking in the hills surrounding the campus, the program includes trips to the Getty Museum, a concert in Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara for volleyball on the beach and exploration of the historic city. Open to students who have completed three years of high school by summer 2014.  Cost is $975 for tuition, housing, meals, books, and organized activities off campus.

Thomas Moore College in New Hampshire has a very similar Great Books summer residential program for $895 for two weeks.

Princeton Summer Journalism Program.  SJP welcomes about 20 high school students from low-income backgrounds every summer to Princeton’s campus for a FREE intensive, 10-day seminar on journalism.  Low-income high school juniors living in the continental US with at least a 3.5 GPA and an interest in journalism.

TASP  A Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) is a FREE six-week humanities and social sciences educational experience for high school juniors that offers challenges and rewards rarely encountered in secondary school or even college.

TASS   A Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (TASS) is a FREE six-week educational experience for high school sophomore that focuses African-American studies and related fields.  High school sophomores from around the world.

Carleton College Liberal Arts Experience  is a summer program designed for the best and brightest college-bound students representing high schools across the country. The Carleton Liberal Arts Experience (CLAE) will select 50 high school students who have just completed their sophomore year and bring them to Carleton for a FREE one-week summer program. The CLAE program introduces the strengths of a liberal arts education through an array of courses in science, art, social sciences, and technology. In addition, workshops are offered to assist participants with their high school and college careers.

Princeton University offers a Summer Journalism Program for low-income sophomores or juniors with at least a 3.5 GPA. Cost is FREE including travel.


Girls State & Boys State —  American Legion Boys State and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State are the premier programs for teaching how government works while developing leadership skills & an appreciation for your rights as a citizen. 2-3 rising senior boys and 1 rising senior girl from each high school in America is eligible to participate.  Ask your school for details. As a participant in the program you, will run for office, learn public speaking, create and enforce laws and actively participate in all phases of creating and running a working government in this exciting and fun week-long FREE summer program.

Thomas Moore College in New Hampshire has a residential Catholic Leadership Institute summer program for high school students that is $895 for two weeks.

Pepperdine University Youth Citizenship Seminar  The Southern California Youth Citizenship Seminar at Pepperdine University is a five-day, FREE  program designed to provide a creative opportunity for 250 outstanding high school juniors to interact with today’s leaders, explore current national and world topics, discuss constructive solutions to critical issues, and share memorable interaction with your peers.


Chapman University Economic Summer Institute for High School Students.  The objective of these FREE summer workshops on campus at Chapman is to expose students to and get them interested in the foundations of economic analysis using experimental economics..  Students must be high school juniors and seniors.

FEE Summer Economics Seminars for high school and college students are totally FREE and some travel scholarships are available.  My daughter did one in 2013 and it was incredible.  They take place at college campuses in various cities and are just a few days long. For the last 50 years, FEE’s goal in hosting introductory economics seminars has been to give students the tools needed to answer or find answers to some of the most difficult economic questions.  Students with an interest in economics, history, politics, social science, philosophy, education, business, or current events are all encouraged to apply.

Stanford Medical Youth Science Program  The SMYSP Summer Residential Program (SRP) is an annual five-week science- and medicine-based enrichment program that takes place from mid-June to late July, and is held on the campus of Stanford University.  Students live in dorms.  Students must be sophomores or juniors from northern or central California and be low-income or a first-generation college student. FREE

Texas Tech Clark Scholars  The Clark Scholar Program is an intensive seven week summer research program for highly qualified high school juniors and seniors.  The Program at Texas Tech University helps the Scholars to have a hands-on practical research experience with outstanding and experienced faculty. The program is FREE and Scholars will receive a $750 tax-free stipend as well as room and board. Program duration is from June 23 to August 7, 2014.  Applications must be received by February 7.

Summer Math and Science Honors Academy.  SMASH scholars spend five weeks each summer at a SMASH site on a college campus (currently at UC BerkeleyStanfordUCLA and USC) immersed in rigorous STEM classes.  SMASH Scholars live on campus for five weeks each of three summers (after their 9th, 10th and 11th grade years) with other high potential Black, Latino/a, Native American, Southeast Asian or Pacific Islander high school students.  FREE

Summer Program for Mathematics and Science — The Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science is a FREE rigorous residential six-week summer experience at Carnegie-Mellon for good students who have a strong interest in math and science and want to become excellent students.  SAMS applicants must be at least 15 years old and have completed their sophomore year of high school to participate in this program.

Cornell Curie Program Summer residential FREE program for rising junior or senior girls who excel in math and science and want to learn more about careers in engineering.

More math ideas, some free, some not.

Engineering for middle and high school students.  The University of Texas at Arlington offers a series of one-week residential engineering camps for students in middle school and high school.  The camps are $375 for a week camp.  My son did one after 7th grade and I highly recommend them. They live in the dorms and learn about all the different fields within engineering.

NC State University offers rising 11th and 12th grade students the opportunity to explore engineering and college life at NC State through our residential HS programs. Students spend a week on campus, live in the dorms, eat in the dining halls, meet like-minded students from all over the globe and immerse themselves in a specific engineering workshop of their choosing. The cost is $675/week.


Auburn University has a series of very cool one-week residential camps in every possible topic including:

Costs range from $500-$700 for the week.

Clemson University offers a Summer Scholars program of one-week camps for rising 7th – 12th graders at very reasonable prices.  Course choices include:


U.C. Berkeley offers a FREE “experience Cal” program each June for rising seniors.  This two-day residential program on the UC Berkeley campus is for university-bound high school and community college students.  The program is offered at no cost; however, all of our students are expected to provide their own transportation to the Berkeley campus and back.


MITES  is a FREE six-week residential summer program at MIT (for rising seniors) during which students have the opportunity to experience a demanding academic atmosphere and to begin building the self-confidence necessary for success at America’s top universities. This program also stresses the value and reward of pursuing advanced technical degrees and careers while developing the skills necessary to achieve success in science and engineering.

Research Science Institute  The RSI academic program is a FREE intensive, six-week introduction to scientific research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  High school juniors from around the world


National Conservation Crews.  National Conservation Crews help protect America’s national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.  Students must be 15-19 years old  FREE. 15-35 days.  Various locations across the US and Canada

The Appalachian Mountain Club offers 1-4 week trail crews for teens ages 15-18.  These programs cost around $240 a week, which is a donation to the non-profit.  My son did one for two weeks in the Berkshire Mountains in 2013 and absolutely loved it.

The least expensive outdoorsy sleepaway summer camps for ages 10-15 are almost certainly 4-H camps (less than $500 week).  The cool thing is, you can pick a location you (as parents) might want to vacation, and you could always have your child attend camp there.  Three years ago our son did a week at Camp Farley on Cape Cod and had a ball.  His new friends couldn’t believe he was from CA.

WOOFING — Students 18 and up can work on an organic farm anywhere in the world and have room and board covered so that they are just responsible for their travel there.  They can stay a few weeks or a few months. FREE

OTHER LINKS with more ideas

Cogito has a great search function for a wide range of summer programs.

UC Berkeley offers a host of ideas beyond the university

More ideas off the Stanford University website HERE

Check out this resource of ideas:

Here are more ideas for high school students.

More math ideas here.

More engineering options here.

A ton more general ideas here and here.

Know of any other free summer programs? Email me at or use the comment box below.

Roundup XXI

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

1. A little pain is good for you.

2. Drill, baby, drill.

3. Failure is an option.

4. Strict is better than nice.

6. Grit trumps talent.

7. Praise makes you weak…

8.…while stress makes you strong.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Please forward this blog on to any friends who you think might enjoy the content!  Thanks!

Roundup XVII

Anything that helps students better understand their strengths, interests and options seems like a good thing. To that end, there is a quick, free new app to help students of any age to discover careers that fit their personalities. On Compass Lite (, you click through a series of 84 images that ask, “Me or not me?” The data is used to form a personality assessment and career recommendations. There are links to learn more about the salary and job prospects. Users sign on through Facebook (make sure to decline their kind offer to share the results with everyone you have ever met). It may not be scientific but any conversation with your child about their future is likely a fruitful one.

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Back in 1983 (my hey-day), 80 percent of 18-year-olds had their driver’s licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage has dropped to about 65 percent. Seventeen-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 50 percent, and 16-year-olds slipped from 46 percent to 31 percent (source: DMV). I remember being so excited to get my license and thrilled with the independence and freedom it brought. What is going on?

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Do you have a child with special needs (of any variety)? There is an amazing list of 100 apps for children with special needs, organized by grade level and subject as well as by area of concern (organization, motor skills, etc.) See

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I found perhaps the ultimate list for college planning information, thanks to the Independent Educational Consultants Association. This is one to print and save:

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Going to bed at a different time every night in early childhood seems to limit a child’s brain power, according to a long term study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.  Particularly sensitive is the three-year-old brain, according to the study. Researchers found lower scores at that age in reading, maths, and spatial awareness in both boys and girls with unpredictable bedtimes.

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The 2013 rankings contain one of my favorites lists: the campuses with the happiest students (students are asked to rate their own happiness at school). So here we go – in order starting at 10: Vassar College (New York), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carleton College (Minnesota), Colgate University (New York), Brandeis University (Mass.), George Washington University (D.C.), Grinnell College (Iowa), Boston University (Mass.), Barnard College (New York ) … and in the number one slot: University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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Minecraft is considered one of the “good” games if your child is captivated by video games (40 million people are now playing it worldwide). Players traverse landscapes of mountains, forests, caves and various water bodies. Their characters hunt, sail, and farm while constructing homes and objects by breaking and placing textured cubes in a 3D world. The goal is to survive. It actually does encourage creativity as there is a limitless opportunity to build, discover, and problem-solve. Hundreds of schools have even purchased a special version of Minecraft for schools. The computer version is $27 and the smart phone version is $7.

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Shmoop is offering free SAT, ACT, PSAT or AP test preparation. Go to to sign up. Students must sign up by the end of March to receive six months of free test prep. Grockit is another great free test-prep site that also has a free smart phone app.

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Now is the time of year when seniors are frantically searching for scholarships to help chip away at the considerable tuition costs they face over their college years. In addition to the many scholarships that local Sonoma organizations generously offer each year, students and their families should be scouring the web for other sources of scholarship money. To that end, here are some of the best – free – scholarship websites: is easy to use and organized into different searchable categories., the site that runs the SAT testing, lists around 2,300 scholarships with a value of closing in on $3 billion. is another favorite, offering around 1.5 million scholarships totaling around $3.4 billion in funds. This site makes a big effort to delete scholarships whose deadline has passed. And finally, lets you search for scholarships based on your personal information and characteristics.

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I think is a lovely idea. The site is billed as “a community of gratitude that lets you thank a special teacher, advisor or coach.” The site can be searched by name or school or city. I don’t see any Sonoma entries on there yet, but let’s change that pronto. Post a quick thank you or compliment to your favorite teachers. They are sure to appreciate it.

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The college board is planning to redesign the SAT to more closely mirror the work that students do in college. That said, this plan has just been announced and my guess is that it will only impact students currently in middle school (and younger). Nobody knows exactly what this change will mean (perhaps least of all the college board). The SAT has been administered since 1926. The last time the test was overhauled was in 2005, when the writing portion was added and analogies were eliminated. One prediction is that the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which surpassed the SAT in number of tests taken this year for the first time.

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Did you know that all high school juniors and community college students who are interested in attending UC Berkeley (and meet some key qualifications) are invited to the Cal Summer Experience, a free two-day residential program on the Berkeley campus in late June? The college offers one program for high school students and one for community college students. Activities include: faculty lectures; a UC personal statement writing workshop; test preparation, major selection, transcript evaluation and other related advising; a panel of current Cal students. To qualify, high school students must have an unweighted GPA of 3.5. Community college applicants must have completed at least 30 semester transferable units by the end of this school year, with a GPA of 3.4. Applications are due April 2. Email inquiries to What a great, free chance to experience life on a college campus.

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Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate awards cash grants to outstanding public school teachers each year as a way of giving back to the communities in which company employees work and live. Its Education Foundation has granted more than $750,000 to 1,320 school teachers since its founding in 1992. This year, it expects to award approximately 60 teachers grants of $850 that they can use in whatever way they see fit. Nominate a teacher at

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I have written about this before, but the idea that K-12 students should be learning computer coding continues to be a hot topic (“The most important language your child isn’t learning in school” is a frequent headline). There are a lot of ways that you can get your child interested in coding outside of school. is a cool web site for all ages to try computer coding. Computational Thinking at is another. Check out for more ideas and resources.

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Google is offering a free “Maker Camp” online this summer, July 8 through Aug. 16, during which students will make 30 projects in 30 days. Thirteen- to 18-year-olds (as well as their parents and teachers) will have the opportunity to collaborate with popular maker personalities and other creative teens on traditional arts and crafts and science projects, as well as using innovative technologies and processes that will enable them to create something entirely new. Every Monday through Thursday, a Maker Camp counselor will post how-to instructions for a new project on and These projects are great for families to do together or for teens to do on their own.

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College students interested in studying abroad (f0r free) should research the hundreds of critical language scholarships offered by the U.S. State Department. This program ( offers intensive summer language institutes in 13 critical foreign languages as part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. Participants are expected to continue their language study and hopefully use their critical language skills in their future professional careers. The languages offered include Azerbaijani, Bangla/Bengali, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Punjabi, Turkish, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.

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Fifty-four percent of high-income students and 9 percent of low-income students complete a college degree, according a new study out of the University of Michigan. This gap has widened over the past 20 years, mainly because the daughters of affluent families are doing very, very well in school (

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PBS Science has a new show on You Tube called “It’s Okay To Be Smart,” hosted by biologist Joe Hanson. He also has a supporting blog for the show you can find at It is a show the whole family can watch together.

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The free online college course, Coursera (, has announced new international school partnerships, new courses and support for non-English languages. The 29 new universities bring the total number of universities offering courses to 62, including Columbia and Princeton. Courses from the 16 new international universities will be available in Chinese, French, Italian and Spanish. Among the new California universities offering courses online through Coursera, are Cal Arts, UC Santa Cruz and UC San Diego.

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PBS’ first app designed specifically for parents, Play & Learn, has a dozen games parents can play with their kids, each centered around a familiar location – the grocery store, in a car, in the kitchen, etc. The free, bilingual app encourages parents to seize upon daily teachable moments by connecting math and literacy skills to everyday experiences. Each game comes with a parent note that provides information about the math and literacy skills woven into the 13 interactive games and 52 hands-on activities. (

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I just came across an list of 50 great education podcasts. Let me know which ones you think merit a mention.

Roundup XVI

If you lose sleep over your children’s safety and security online, you should check out Everloop, which is described as the safe social network for kids. The free site hopes to revolutionize the way kids under 13 connect online and to provide a unique, age-appropriate social media experience. Kids can connect with friends, play games, share pictures, send messages, learn and have fun. The site employs state-of-the-art privacy protection and monitoring technology to guard its young users against bullying, bad language and inappropriate sharing of information. Parents can dial in the amount of freedom that is right for their child.

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StudentsFirst is a nonprofit led by former Washington, D.C., public school chancellor Michelle Rhee. In the organization’s first “State Report Card” just released, California’s education policies rank 41st in the nation. Check out your state here:

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I got a great tip from a reader about a fantastic free Spanish resource online. The fun and instructive Los Destinos soap opera will help students with vocabulary and grammar, with some history and culture thrown in. There are ongoing chapters that get progressively more difficult.

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According to the 44th annual Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools, Americans see a lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing their schools. Today, 43 percent of parents cite a lack of funding as the greatest problem, versus just 17 percent 10 years ago. Back then, Americans felt the biggest problems facing schools were overcrowding and discipline (fighting, gangs) and drugs. Gallup describes this as the single most significant shift in American public opinion regarding their schools.

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I just switched to a standing desk. If you have a child who both spends a lot of time on a computer and is fidgety, you might rig up a homemade standing desk and try it out for a week. I’ve been reading about schools where students were given the option to switch and the kids loved it. When you think about it, our naturally active children sit for terribly long stretches of time each day at school, on the computer and watching TV.

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The U.S. Dept of Education’s College Navigator is an incredible resource to compare colleges. Most important, perhaps, for college-bound students, would be to check how long it typically takes to graduate from each college on their list. Few colleges are graduating most of their students in four years right now. As you assess college options, not realizing you should be multiplying tuition by six years can make a huge difference (not to mention the loss of two years of income). I spent hours on the site and there is a lot of interesting, easy to navigate data there. Go to for the details.

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Leo’s Pad is a series of animated apps for preschoolers, developed by educational researchers from Stanford University. The apps measure a child’s responses along 70-plus dimensions of learning and automatically adjust in difficulty. The games can identify a child’s strengths and weaknesses across academic, cognitive, emotional and physical skill sets, such as motor control, spatial reasoning, instruction following and empathy. Coming soon is a parent dashboard to show a child’s progress based on a 70-component educational matrix. (Go to

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I read an interesting blog on ways that parents and teachers can use the Oscar-nominated films, “Lincoln,” “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” to teach history. It suggests discussing whether the films reflect reality and, in the case of “Zero Dark Thirty,” looking at how filmmakers obtained their (frequently classified) information. The blog post also includes additional resources and tips for aligning the movie-based lessons to the Common Core standards. ( go to

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I was thrilled to read that the most popular TEDTalk ever, with 16 million views, is about education. If you haven’t seen Sir Ken Robinson’s talk about how our education system is killing student creativity, you should give it a look. He suggests that we radically rethink our approach to schooling. See the talk at

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If you are in your 40s or older, you will be surprised to learn that the ACT has for the first time overtaken the SAT as the most popular (commonly used) college admissions exam.

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Do you have a high school child with a learning disability or ADD/ADHD? You might worry about how they will handle college entrance tests like the SAT and ACT. There is a great website for tips on which test might better suit their learning style –

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According to a recent Gallup Poll of students, a majority of elementary school students – almost eight in 10 – qualify as actively engaged in their schoolwork, but that number drops in the older grades. By middle school, only six in 10 students were found to be actively involved and invested in school and when students enter high school, it drops to four in 10. To measure their engagement, Gallup surveyed 500,000 public school students in grades 5 to 12, asking them to indicate their level of agreement with statements such as, “My teachers make me feel my schoolwork is important,” and, “At this school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

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You have probably noticed that some people are great at searching online while other people aren’t efficient at it. I’m guessing that the critical thinking it requires will be crucial for our children in school and in life. Google’s Search Education feature gives educators free access to lesson plans and classroom activities to help students cultivate better online search skills. The site has in-class lessons; tips and tricks to finding online information quickly and efficiently; and skills challenges and webinars to help teachers integrate search literacy into existing lesson plans.

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Most students think that taking Advanced Placement classes will enable them to graduate faster, but that is typically dependent on scores of four or five (out of five) AND many colleges use AP scores simply for admissions and placement, rather than academic credit. Dartmouth College recently became the latest Ivy to change its policy and no longer accept APs for credit.

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Recent polls show that parents overwhelmingly believe that having more guidance counselors in every school would be more effective than hiring armed police officers. California has one of the worst ratios of counselors per student in the nation. The Association of Counselors recommends a ratio of 1:250. At Sonoma Valley High School, there is one counselor for every 418 students.

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I recently read five succinct homework tips for parents, courtesy of Margaret Yau, an intern at

• Study space: Set up a quiet, well-lit area for your child to complete his or her homework. Try to remove any distractions from the surrounding area, like televisions, computers (unless used for the assignment) and loud conversations.

• Imitation: Children imitate their parents. When your child is focusing on homework, join them in a similar, focused activity. Crack open a favorite novel while they complete their reading assignment, or balance your checkbook while they work through their multiplication tables.

• Time management: Teach your child how to manage their time. Schedule events, homework and tasks at home. For instance, after school, set a specific time as “homework time” and for tasks at home give them time limits.

• Encourage independence: Some homework assignments are meant to be done by the student alone, and hovering can take away from the child’s learning process. Try to step back, and if intervention is really needed, make sure to provide guidance, not just answers.

• Tackle a challenge: Teach your child how to identify the difference between the “hard” homework questions and the “easy” ones. Have them set aside the easier questions for later and tackle the hard ones first.”

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QuotEd (99 cents) is an SAT prep application for your phone that is designed specifically to be read on a phone. The app focuses on reading comprehension, which is a good thing as SAT reading scores nationwide are the lowest they have ever been in 40 years. The app sends out one reading comprehension question a day based on quotes from famous poems, intellectual essays and other sources.

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Educator Kumar Sathy is the author of “Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A National Test Prep Adventure.” I love her idea for helping kids practice their reading. She suggests turning on the closed captioning or subtitles and muting the sound when the TV is on. You use the menu button on your remote to enable this. The TV Guide channel shows the (cc) symbol next to a show if closed captioning is available. This just runs text along the screen at the speed of oral communication, which is the rate your child needs to learn to read as a step toward fluency.

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Registration is open now for the Hayward-LaHonda Music Camp, July 20 to 27 in the Santa Cruz mountains. Now in its 52nd season, the camp inspires students in grades 6 to 12 to achieve their best musically in a variety of creative pursuits and to develop their music skills. The week includes rehearsals, performances, recreation and general camp life. This is a relatively affordable camp experience at $695/week. Go to

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I am a big fan of the Federal Service Summer Language Academy. This three-week, residential summer program for high school students takes place at North Georgia University. Students choose a language to learn: Arabic, Chinese, Russian, German, Korean, French or Portuguese, and earn one high school academic credit. In the afternoon, students hear presentations from FBI and CIA recruiters and representatives from other career areas. There is also a physical fitness component. Students live in dorms on the gorgeous campus. It is not cheap – $1,895 for three weeks ($95 a day) – but costs significantly less than most residential camps of this type, and scholarships are available. Go to

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The Peace Corps is an independent U.S. government agency that has been around for more than 50 years and now has more than 8,000 volunteers in 75 countries. This year, Washington state had the greatest number of students join the Peace Corps across the large school (University of Washington), medium school (Western Washington University) and small school (Gonzaga University) categories nationwide. On the other side of the country, colleges in Washington, D.C., came in a close second. Teach for America also recently released its annual ranking of the schools sending it the largest number of graduates. Berkeley, Northwestern University and Wellesley College topped the list.

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A big MetLife survey found that teacher job satisfaction has hit its lowest point in a quarter of a century, and 75 percent of principals believe their jobs have become too complex. For almost 30 years, the survey has polled 1,000 teachers and 500 principals in K through 12 schools across the country. Only 39 percent of teachers described themselves as very satisfied with their jobs on the latest survey, down from 65 percent in 2008, and down five percentage points just over the past year. Budget cuts, less professional development, less collaboration and stress are the primary factors contributing to lower job satisfaction. I am checking with the district to see if Sonoma polls its teachers in this way.

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The Department of Education last week launched a new college scorecard website, The site is great in that it is designed to help families get, as President Obama put it, “the most bang for your educational buck.” The site lists colleges by their cost, average student debt and student loan default rate (which correlates to student employment after graduation). Interestingly, advocates for liberal arts education worry that the scorecard oversimplifies the college-selection process and places too much emphasis on financial aspects of the decision.

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The education and teaching website,, has published a list of the 50 best books for new teachers. The list is a compilation of the books most recommended for new teachers by experienced teachers and principals. The goal is to provide new K through 12 teachers with a ready-made list of books they can turn to for inspiration and guidance. It is a wide range of titles that share a high level of online recommendations. Go to .

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A new book, “The Rise of Women,” by Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, looks at how and why female students continue to outpace their male counterparts in education. It turns out that the trend began with students born in the 1950s, because since then the rate of men’s college graduation rates stopped growing (settling at around 27 percent), while by 2010, women’s graduation rates had jumped to 36 percent. Today, women outpace men in college enrollment by a ratio of 1.4 to 1. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that women are smarter, but girls have better average social and behavioral skills than boys, and that relates to girls’ higher average grades. “The grade gap isn’t about ability,” said Ohio State’s Claudia Buchmann, who co-authored the study, “it’s really more about effort and engagement in school.”

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There is an interesting conservative news site written by and for college students. bills itself as “Your Daily Dose of Right-Minded Campus News.” Whether or not you lean that way, any site that aims to get kids invested in, educated about, and concerned with current affairs is a good thing.

Roundup XV

TeenTribune, TweenTribune and TTEspañol are great new daily news sites for teens and tweens ( Each day they post the most compelling, relevant and interesting news for kids aged 8-to-18. Stories are selected by teens and tweens working closely with professional journalists. TeenTribune and TweenTribune are easy to use, are updated daily and, most importantly, these sites encourage teens and tweens to seek out news on a daily basis. For English language learners, I also found a great site – – that provides news for students of English. There is a choice of three different reading levels for each current events news story on the site. While you can argue with the merit of much of what you find on the Internet, when I find brilliant free sites like these, I get very excited.

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iTunes U is a depository of free educational courses and content from and for elementary, middle and high schools and colleges.The Beyond Campus section includes lectures and courses from close to a hundred institutions from museums to the San Francisco Symphony to the Lawrence Hall of Science. It is worth a look, even if you have checked it out in the past, as there is vastly more content available now.

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Which college degrees will be in greatest demand by employers hiring 2012 college graduates? A survey shows that employers in pharmaceutical manufacturing; computer and electronics manufacturing; retail trade; finance, insurance, and real estate; management consulting; and professional services expect the greatest increases in hiring. Employers said that they are most interested in students with business-, engineering-, and computer-related bachelor’s degrees. According to Forbes magazine, the good news for college grads is that the 244 large-corporate survey respondents reported they planned to hire almost 10 percent more college grads this year than last. The next most in-demand majors are the more general sciences, followed by liberal arts, communications, agriculture and natural resources.

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A team of researchers analyzed more than 10,000 teenagers across the United States to gain insight into what factors are most important for insuring a child’s academic success. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that students whose families were supportive and involved in school life performed better academically. But it was interesting to read that children with engaged parents who study at weak schools outperformed children with less engaged parents, studying at high-performing schools. Read more about it here.  The paper appeared in the online journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

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The free music iPad app Chromatik ( is a digital music stand that made its first public appearance on American Idol. It is making news because the average user of the app uses it obsessively and it is really taking hold in the musical community. Musicians can upload, record, annotate, and share music as well as record performance, track progress, and give and receive individual feedback. Musicians can also share playlists and recordings. The potential for the app to replace paper sheet music has music classrooms and musicians of all ages very excited.

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In other music news, I’ve been reading about teachers who are trying a very interesting new approach to encouraging reading fluency using music. They select songs and provide the lyrics to students. For 10 to 15 minutes each day, the students enjoy listening to the music and reading along, increasing their fluency and vocabulary and gaining exposure to different musical genres. Teachers sometimes choose songs with specific words or themes. Checking the song for appropriateness first is important, as is making the lyrics text as large and easy-to-read as possible. Another tip is to use several songs frequently to avoid students’ memorizing the words too fast. You want them reading instead of reciting.

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UCLA researchers have determined that IQ does not determine math success, instead, it is determined by motivation and the quality of instruction received. The report in the journal Child Development reviewed the math achievement of 3,500 public school students from the fifth grade through the 10th grade who were given a standardized math exam every year. While children with higher IQs did have higher test scores at the beginning of the study, how much new material the kids learned over the years was not related to how smart they were. IQ does not predict growth in math achievement; it only determines the starting point. Read more here.

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Around 25 percent of all freshmen college students currently do not make it to sophomore year, according to data collected by UCLA. Considering the work that goes into selecting and paying for that freshmen year, that is a high number. Various obstacles students face in their new environment are cited as key factors, including feeling homesick, feeling overwhelmed, feeling isolated, and struggling with time management. Make sure that if you have a child entering college that you help them locate the many resources available to them on campus to get help riding out these initial obstacles.

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One of the nation’s leading experts on choking under pressure, Sian Bellock, has found that students can combat test anxiety and improve their performance by writing about their worries immediately before taking an important exam. The study, just published in the journal Science, found that students who were prone to text anxiety improved their test scores after they were given 10 minutes to write about what was causing them fear. The writing exercise is thought to free up brainpower needed to complete the test successfully.

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New research coming out of the University of Georgia and Columbia University suggests that girls get better grades in elementary school … and boys do better on standardized tests … simply because of the girls’ classroom behavior. The study in the current issue of Journal of Human Resources suggests teachers give girls higher grades than their male counterparts because they are better behaved and easier to teach. This is an interesting and plausible theory, but it does not fully account for the larger trend of decreasing numbers of young men heading for college, compared to young women. Read more here.

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The new free iPad app, “The Fun Way to Learn Algebra: Hands-On Equations,” gives even the youngest students visual and kinesthetic ways to understand abstract algebraic equations. The app is relevant for ages 8 and older, but is also well suited for helping older students who are struggling in traditional algebra classes. Along the same lines, here is a link to more than a dozen terrific new iPad math apps:

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On last year’s application, the University of Chicago included the essay question, “Where is Waldo?” Huh? A new trend has more colleges offering up unusual essay prompts so to as to gain a better insight into candidates’ personalities and, perhaps, to better avoid paid coaching, parent-written essays and plagiarism. Another fun one, from Brandeis University in Boston, asks, “A package arrives at your door. After seeing the contents you know it’s going to be the best day of your life. What’s inside and how do you spend your day?” Consider adding prompts like these to your dinner table conversation with your children throughout their schooling to encourage creative thinking and introspection, or pick up Table Topics (which has some doozies) at one of the many stores where it is sold.

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I came across some cool and unusual tips for students working on learning a second language, particularly if you or your student is feeling stuck at a plateau in language acquisition. 1) Listen to radio broadcasts, movies or audio books in the target language. You can frequently find a free Internet radio station in your target language at Try having the language on in the background all the time. 2) There are some great, free foreign language instruction sites to check out, including Babbel at and Busuu at 3) Visuals speed up learning on any subject. Try placing note cards on household objects in your home to remind you of key vocabulary. 4) Sign up for Voxy ( and the site will send you news snippets in your target language, edited to your language level. 5) Finally, because your goal is to think in your target language, try setting your computer’s default language to your target language – as well as your phone and your TV at home. Set as many electronic devices as possible to your target language and you’ll be forced to think in it. Setting your search engine’s default language could have a huge impact on your language acquisition.

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The book creator at lets you create beautiful books that can be shared with friends and family in its iBookstore and read on your iPad. Writing a short story or producing a memoir of a trip can be a great creative exercise for students.

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The New York Times recently ran a chart of early admission statistics for incoming college freshman (current high school seniors). You can see (school by school) any advantage of applying in the early round of applications, rather than waiting till the regular deadline. Read the complete list here

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Two new companies are offering gift cards that can be used toward a college education. GradSave and Kiva have systems in place that let you make direct donations to a child’s 529 college savings plan. The gift cards are catching on as alternatives to traditional holiday gifts. The physical gift cards come with redemption codes that recipients enter online to transfer the money.

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Absenteeism is a hot topic in school reform as students who are frequently absent have an almost impossible time staying on grade level. Woodland Star recently explained the two key issues of absenteeism well in its parent newsletter:

• “Regular and consistent classroom attendance is important for each child because the majority of the daily lessons are presented orally and as a group interaction. A student who is frequently absent will find it difficult to make up work or fully understand the material. In addition, the class loses its rhythm and momentum. Consistent attendance is very important to your child’s success, and to the unity and success of the class.”

• “Every absence also causes a funding penalty, negatively impacting the school budget with a loss of approximately $35 per day per absent student.(A public school’s) yearly budget is based on regular attendance. The financial health of the school supports your child’s educational opportunities. (But bear in mind, Woodland Star and the Sonoma Charter school are the only schools in our district getting ADA money because Sonoma is a “Basic Aid” district.)”

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Education to Employment is a new report by McKinsey & Company that examines the paradox of widespread youth unemployment and jobs left vacant due to a lack of qualified applicants. The report analyzed 100 skills training programs in 25 countries. They found that part of the problem is poor communication and coordination between employers and education providers (regarding the skills needed). The crux of the problem – fewer than half of employees believe that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions – whereas 72 percent of colleges believe that their students are prepared.

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Teachers rarely have free time to idly browse web resources, but I came across a great list (also useful for parents) of the 100 best Web resources for teachers. Perhaps you can share it with your child’s teacher?

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One reason that I write a lot about SAT and ACT prep classes and sources online is that there is a proven link between students’ scores on these tests and the amount of merit aid they will receive from selective colleges. Students who score in the top 10 percent of test-takers – about 2000 out of 2400 on the SAT or a 28 out of 36 on the ACT – can be offered merit scholarships as large as $20,000 a year at many colleges. You can calculate the impact of higher scores yourself. At Seattle Pacific University, for example, a student with a 3.75-grade-point-average and a combined score of 1110 on the SAT math and reading sections qualifies for a $10,000-a-year scholarship. But if that student were able to score 100 points higher, the scholarship would increase to $12,000, netting the student an additional $8,000 over four years of college. If you are curious about a specific college, go to its Net College Calculator and input the student’s profile information, then change nothing but their SAT or ACT score, and watch scholarship offers increase as the score rises.

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Females represent 50 percent of the American population, but only 24 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the Association for Women in Science. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The Huffington Post has created a new STEM mentorship initiative, connecting high-school and college-age girls with an interest in science and engineering to female leaders in these fields. Girls ages 14-21 can apply now through Jan. 31. Mentors are also needed. Email for more information.

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Full-time teachers and administrators (elementary through high school) should consider applying for a free teacher seminar overseas, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. This is through the same program that brought my daughter to China last summer (all expenses paid). Selected teachers spend two to six weeks in the summer in Brazil, Portugal, India or China and agree to host a teacher from one of those countries during the following school year. The deadline is Jan. 1. Apply and learn more at: The chances of being accepted range from 1 in 3 to 1 in 15, so it’s not impossible.

• • • is a free online textbook platform that hopes to save students money and help them to learn more efficiently. It uses open source documents and information to recreate college textbooks for free, and it has expanded into study guides and tools. You can use Boundless on any device, any time, anywhere.

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Also worth checking out is Bookboon, a Danish company that provides free ebooks and expects to have 50 million downloads this year. The site is free, as it is supported by ads. Interestingly, the site originates in a part of the world (Europe) where textbooks are much more reasonably-priced than they are here.

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I have been skeptical about etextbooks (because many are still so costly) but a recent survey of high school students found some interesting reasons why students prefer them: instant access, portability, the ability to search within the text, the ability to highlight text, and the presence of interactive study guides/quizzes. Only 7 percent of those surveyed said they prefer traditional textbooks (

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Around 65 percent of the world’s population has no access to Internet and, as a result, cannot take advantage of the advances in free online learning now available. Khan Academy is offering a new web app that provides its core content (videos and exercises) without needing Internet connectivity. KA Lite can be accessed at and information then downloaded for use in places where there is no Internet access. I’m thinking you could also download videos for long car and plane trips for your child.

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Every high school student should consider getting a Twitter account. Why? There are dozens of scholarships, essay contests and competitions for middle school, high school and college students posted every day on Twitter. The hot links make it easy to get more information. Students who love to write can promote their blogs and find out about writing contests, opportunities and internships. Best of all, students can also connect with (follow) professionals in their fields of interest and learn about grants, summer jobs and research from notable educators. High school students can learn what is happening on campus at the colleges they are interested in attending. You can also follow me @svhighered for tips on college applications, the kind of research I write about here, enrichment and more.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There is an interesting free quarterly newsletter for parents of students with ADHD  at

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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 The different types are: visual-spatial, aural-auditory, verbal-linguistic, physical-bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, social-interpersonal and solitary-intrapersonal.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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:

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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:

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When you head to the store to buy books or videos for your children, keep in mind the great resource of 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.

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Roundup XIII

Madeline Levine offers 10 great back-to-school resolutions for parents in her book, “Teach Your Children Well.” They include the following: 1) I will make sure my child gets a full night’s sleep. 2) I will not panic over the occasional “B” or “C” because I will remember the success trajectory is a squiggle … not a straight line. 3) I will love the child in front of me. Appreciate your child’s unique gifts. 4) I will not push my child to be perfect. 5) I will not confuse my needs with my child’s needs. This is the most toxic manifestation of overparenting. Get a hobby or a therapist instead. 6) I will not do for my child what he can do for himself. This kills motivation and the ability to innovate. 7) I will not do for my child what she can almost do for herself. At one time your child could almost walk. Now she can walk. Enough said. 8) I will make my child clear the dinner dishes – even on the night before a big calculus exam. 9) I will honor the importance of PDF (play time, down time and family time). 10) I will live my own (adult) life and let my children live theirs. Being a happy, fulfilled adult is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. It makes adulthood look like something worth striving for.

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The completely free six-week program that my daughter did last summer in China, studying Mandarin through the United States State Department, is currently accepting applications for trips to seven countries next summer (as well as full gap-year programs). The goals of this program for students ages 15 to 19 are to improve the ability of young Americans to engage with the people of Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajik), Russian and Turkish-speaking countries; to develop a cadre of Americans with advanced linguistic skills and related cultural understanding to advance international dialogue and compete effectively in the global economy; to provide a tangible incentive for the learning of a foreign language; and to spark a lifetime interest in foreign languages and cultures among American youth. Apply (by Nov. 1) and learn more at

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There is a great website called Brad’s Deals that has compiled a list of the 90 or so major retailers that offer teacher discounts.The list includes bookstores, retail, school supply stores as well as thousands of online coupons and printable coupons that teachers can use as well. You might consider printing it out and handing it to your teacher today. Go to

 • • •

So what is this idea of project-based learning that everyone is talking about? The Buck Institute for Education hired a cool ad agency, Common Craft, to create a short animated video that explains the concept in clear language. You can watch it at:

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I am always concerned that my memory is terrible compared to my peers. I am halfway through a new book by Joshua Foer called “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.” It is a fascinating look at the tricks used by memory contest competitors with specifics tips for everyday use by your average person. I haven’t gotten the hang of the system these pros swear by, but I am intrigued by the science behind it and it is a well-written and entertaining read.

 • • •

Nootropic is a word I just learned and I think you’ll start to hear it in the news if you haven’t already.  It refers to any chemical or group of chemicals that improves cognitive powers.  These “smart pills” include ADD medicines Ritalin, Aderall and commercial drinks like NeuroFuel. Most are stimulants of one kind or another. College students, in particular, are finding misuse of these pills alluring. The long-term effects of non-prescribed stimulant use are not known but are thought to include long-term memory loss and reduced creativity. Author Dr. Leonard Sax ( is really vocal on the potential dangers of the stimulants contained in ADD medications. The most commonly used nootropic, however, is caffeine, which improves attention and manual dexterity.

 • • •

Science Daily recently reported on a study by sociologists from Rice University and Brigham Young University that found that religiously-affiliated youth are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school than unaffiliated peers and 70 percent more likely to enroll in college. The tracking of 8,379 teens across the country found that Catholic and Protestant teens are twice as likely as unaffiliated teens to finish high school and about 80 percent more likely to enroll in college, and that Jewish and Mormon youths have the highest odds of graduating high school and enrolling in college. BYU was a co-author of the study so you can take it with a grain of salt, but it inspires an interesting conversation along the lines of, if this is true, why is it true? Church is free so it is one of the few education conversations you can have and take socio-economic status out of the equation.

 • • •

I heard a good suggestion lately for dyslexic students that might be helpful for all students in the younger grades.When using a computer, show them how you can adjust the brightness of the screen. For some dyslexic students, making the screen half of the full strength brightness makes reading much easier. Font size can also make a big difference for all struggling readers: try a font size 36 instead of the default size of 12.

 • • •

Yahoo Finance has ranked colleges by the average pay of their graduates mid-career. There are some real surprises here. No. 1 is Princeton University; No. 2 is Harvey Mudd College (Claremont); No. 3 is CalTech (Pasadena); No. 4 is the U.S. Naval Academy (Annapolis); No. 5 is the U.S. Military Academy (West Point); No. 6 is MIT (Cambridge); No. 7 is Lehigh University (Bethlehem, Pa.); No. 8 is Polytechnic Institute of New York University (Brooklyn); No. 9 is Babson College (Boston); and No. 10 is Stanford University.

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If your student in grades three-to-12 enjoys entering contests, there is a good one now accepting entries that is free to enter with prizes and recognition in essay, poetry and art categories, broken out by grade level. The first deadlines are in mid-October. Visit and for more information.

 • • •

I read a surprising statistic that the United States recruits only 23 percent of its new teachers from the top third of college graduates, while top performing countries recruit 100 percent, according to McKinsey & Company research conducted last year.

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Who succeeds in college and who is less likely to be able to handle the work? You may want to consider the source, but according to the College Board, SAT test scores are a strong predictor of college success. Of course, the College Board creates the test, but they say that only 43 percent of college-bound students who took the test last year have the skills necessary to succeed in college (or maintain a B- average or higher). Students who do not surpass the SAT benchmark score of 1550 (or approx. 500 or above on each section) have been shown to be more likely to struggle in college.

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Most parents are hoping for merit aid as well as financial aid from the colleges on their child’s list. Merit aid is not need-based, and it is given by colleges to lure students who might choose other institutions. It is renewable all four years and awards tend to range from $5,000 to $10,000. You can see which schools offer merit aid at and Grades and test scores are the important factors for a school deciding how much merit aid to offer a student.

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last week making California the first state to financially protect student athletes who suffer career ending injuries. SB1525 requires that the four universities that receive more than $10 million annually in sports media revenue – the University of Southern California, UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford – give academic scholarships to students who lose their athletic scholarships if they are injured while playing their sport. The legislation starts with the 2013-14 school year.

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I can never resist a great list of educational game web sites. The Tech Learning folks list 40 sites with hot links so you can try them all out straight from their site.

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I am a big fan of CNN’s Student News site. The site provides 10 minutes of commercial-free, cost-free news for middle and high school classrooms via their website, or as a free downloadable podcast on iTunes. I teach a newspaper elective and send the students to the site frequently to see CNN’s (younger-audience) take on the news of the day.

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I have come across some interesting study tips for academic success, some of which I had never heard before:

• Study in the same place each day (comfy is not as important as consistency).

• Complete homework assignments in the same order (math, science, Spanish, etc.) each day when possible (makes homework less stressful and more efficient).

• Set a goal for how many times you should participate in each class. Doing so improves attention, concentration and in-class learning.

• Continually ask yourself “Am I learning, or just doing.”

• Try to predict exam questions and problems, making note of them as you go along.

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There are a few great technology tools for students that are gaining in popularity. The Livescribe Smart Pen ($120) enables students to digitally capture handwritten notes as well as the audio of their lecture while they write. Evernote is a (free) note-taking program that organizes a student’s notes into online notebooks, which are searchable and accessible from all devices. Study Blue is a (free) tool enabling students to create digital flashcards with images and audio and to use them on any smart phone. The app also remembers which cards you got right or wrong.

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The Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 4 that more and more colleges are vetting applicants using social media.There is no way a huge university has time to do it for all candidates but the article cites admission officers on the record discussing how, if they are wary, on the fence, or alerted to look out for something, they will check up on an applicant. Rensselaer Polytechnic recounts quickly and easily finding cases of plagiarism, bullying and accusations of sexual assault. Students, Google yourselves today.

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Most parents are more focused on phonetic awareness than math in the pre-school years. But there is a renewed emphasis on helping pre-schoolers learn about numbers, spatial thinking and measurement. You can download a free book on “Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood” at Or you can find a summary of the math skills that pre-schoolers should have at The two recommended TV programs introducing pre-schoolers to math concepts are Sesame Street and Team Umizoomi. If you are headed to New York City on vacation, bring your children to the new Museum of Mathematics.

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There is an interesting book just published about why so many kids in their 20s are living at home without a plan and without a purpose. The book, “Twenty Something: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?” is by the mother-daughter journalist duo Robin and Samantha Henig, who believe that the reason kids today are still living with their parents and “finding themselves” is that 20-somethings are taking longer and longer to grow up. The book combines science, research, commentary and observation and is getting a lot of attention in the media.

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I love the idea of, which will email you a new math question every day that is appropriate (and fun) to work on with your child (three levels of questions). Here are the questions on the day I checked:

Wee ones (counting on fingers): If 1/2/03 was the cool all-in-a-row date in 2003, what was it in 2004?

Little kids: A couple of years ago we had the date 10/10/10. How many dates like that are there in total between 2000 and 2100? Bonus: How many cool all-in-a-row dates have we had since 2000, including today?

Big kids: ’12 is a great year because lots of numbers multiply out to 12. This year we had 1/12/12, 2/6/12 … how many of those dates does this year have in total? Bonus: What’s the next year when we’ll have as many dates like that?

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Yahoo News has reported that a couple in Hong Kong has sued a Boston educational consultant for the $2 million they say they paid him to get their two sons into top prep schools and, ultimately, an Ivy League university. According to press reports, both boys ended up at elite schools, just not Harvard. That said, the consultant asked for an egregious amount of money.

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Elsewhere in crazy parent news, moms and dads in New York City are notorious for prepping their pre-schoolers for gifted and talented (GATE) program tests. Last year, nearly 5,000 children qualified for kindergarten GATE programs there, more than double the total from just four years ago (meanwhile only 400 spots open up each year). NYC will now rely less heavily on the Otis Lennon Ability Test for its IQ testing and more on the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT). The NNAT is said to be less reliant on language (thus more fair to ELL students), emphasizes abstract spatial thinking and, most importantly, is less vulnerable to test preparation. A NYC bookstore sold out of the $149 NNAT prep book shortly after the news was announced.

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I have a new favorite website: Billed as a homework helper, the graphically appealing site contains hot links to hundreds of resources to help students with virtually any kind of homework or any kind of research.

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October is Learning Disabilities Month. When people talk about learning disabilities, they typically mean dyslexia (reading problems), dysgraphia (writing problems), dyscalculia (math problems), executive function difficulties (problems with organization); or ADHD (trouble regulating attention). The leading website on these issues – – has a lot of great detailed information if you are interested in learning more.

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Professor Word is a free browser “bookmarklet” that helps students learn new SAT and ACT vocabulary words.When you are reading a webpage click on the Professor Word bookmark to identify the SAT and ACT vocabulary words on that page (and definitions for any unfamiliar word). Go to

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 CNN’s Donna Krache recently reported on the five buzz words that you are likely to hear this year when the conversation turns to education, most of which I have written about repeatedly in these pages. The buzz words are: 1. “Common core state standards” refers to the new national curriculum that will help states compare apples to apples in student performance. 2. “Flipped classes” are a trend toward homework during class time and lectures/instruction taking place at home via the Internet. 3.“Gamification” refers to imbuing gaming with education content. 4. “MOOC” refers to massive open online courses, like Coursera and the free MIT classes now available online. 5. “School choice” is not a new concept but is being expanded to online schools and blended learning environments that are a combination of traditional and online instruction.

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The number of freshman applying to college is expected to be lower this spring than a year ago. Some reasons I have heard cited are: a declining population of 18-year-olds; less federal financial assistance; colleges pricing themselves out of the market; and debate about the rate of return on a college degree.

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A huge Swedish study of more than 1 million patients has found that people in creative professions are more likely to be treated for mental illness than the general population. They also found a close correlation between writing and schizophrenia. The Karolinska Institute found that artists and scientists were more common amongst families where bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is present, compared to the population at large, according to a report in Science Daily.

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A study published in the current issue of the Journal of Pediatrics shows for the first time that kids with ADHD can perform better in school after a single bout of exercise. The lead researcher, Matthew Pontifex, is encouraged that exercise could be an important new non-drug tool in treating ADHD, and he feels strongly the findings support the need for more physical activity for all students during the school day. In the past, researchers have found that children with ADHD are less likely to be physically active or to play sports, and combined with reduced recess time at schools nationwide, these findings are important (though do they seem obvious to anyone else?).

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There is an interesting YouTube show called “Prodigies.” The first web-isode was about a 9-year-old student at American River College in Sacramento. It celebrates his brilliance but the show turns a bit sad when it exposes his lack of friends. A new seven-minute episode featuring a different child is released every other week.

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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.

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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.

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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

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The Hunger Games trilogy has surpassed the Harry Potter series to become the best-selling series on 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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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 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.

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“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.

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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.

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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 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 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 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


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 (


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


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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. (

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

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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.

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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

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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:

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Other organizations are following Khan Academy’s lead in offering free online video tutorials. One worth checking out is 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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?

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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 ( 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 This website also has great general information on living and studying overseas.

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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.

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Are you a teacher or interested in becoming one? 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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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