Tag Archives: K-12

Roundup XXII

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

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

T – is it true

H – is it helpful

I – is it inspiring

N – is it necessary

K – is it kind.

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.


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


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

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

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

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


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


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 commoncoreworks.org.


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. http://educationnext.org/gains-in-teacher-quality/

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Roundup XX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Lessons that are structured as competitive games.

• Lessons requiring motor activity.

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

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

• Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What are you least looking forward to?

3 What do you see as your biggest challenge?

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

5. What are your academic goals for the year?

6. What are your personal goals for the year?

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

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

9. What will you do differently from last year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundup V

Is your teen causing you to tear your hair out? A friend has recommended the book “Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers,” by Michael Riera. It is widely thought to be the best book out there on communicating with teens on such topics as alcohol, drugs and parties; academics; sex; eating disorders; homosexuality; and divorce. I enjoyed what one reviewer on Amazon had to say: “This book reassured me that my child wasn’t abnormal, that I was right in being confused and sometimes appalled by their behavior. And it let me take a step back and not take it so personally.” Some of Riera’s other books sound interesting as well: “Right From Wrong: Instilling A Sense Of Integrity In Your Child,” “Field Guide To The American Teenager: A Parent’s Companion” and “Surviving High School: Making the Most of the High School Years.”

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A new report from a research group at UCLA finds that colleges can project their graduation rates by analyzing the race, ethnicity, gender, GPA, and SAT/ACT scores of their freshman class. Sadly, the study also found that having divorced parents, having a demanding job in high school and being first to attend college make a student less likely to complete college. The good news is that colleges will use the data to better support these students. The bad news is that in theory they could also use it to decide against admitting candidates with these traits.

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I’ve written about this before but I’ve since gotten some tips from readers on other great colleges for students with learning disabilities. I’m just going to list them here, rather than describe their specific attributes, but the specifics are available on their websites. The list includes: Curry College in Boston; Dean College, 20 miles from Providence, R.I.; Landmark College in Vermont; Lynn University in Florida; Southern Illiniois University at Carbondale; the University of Arizona in Tuscon; the University of Denver; and the University of Indianapolis.

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iTunes University is an excellent way for a high school student to get an idea of what college courses might be like or for an adult to continue their education. It’s free and there is a wide array of subject matter to choose from. You can access it on your iPhone, iPad or iTouch, or by downloading iTunes on your computer.

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Holiday break might be a fun time to sit down as a family and talk about community service projects that you could all do together. After you brainstorm the type of project that everyone would enjoy, there are a number of resources to help get you started. A good first stop is the volunteer binder at Sonoma High, but you can also check the following sites online for more ideas. The Network for Good (www.networkforgood.com) connects people to charities and has a search tool to see which welcome children or teens. Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org) is a great resource to find organizations in the areas that need help. Doing Good Together (www.doinggoodtogether.org) specializes in family-focused ways parents and kids can volunteer together. If your children are all grown or away at school, it can be as simple as entering a benefit 5k run together over the holidays.

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The website edutopia (www.edutopia.com) recently summarized the top education ideas/trends of the year: • Empowering teachers with a do-it-yourself culture, including the encouragement for them to try new ideas, borrow best practices. • The potential of open-source (free) textbooks. • Using educational video games as a learning tool. • Using student data to inform classroom teaching with better understanding of student learning styles. • Flipped classrooms – a new trend toward moving the lecturing in the classroom to home (via online lessons like Khan Academy) and bringing homework back into the classroom where students can be directed in the practice of their learning. • Using Digital Badges to reward self-directed learning. Educators are re-remembering how much students like to compete and to be rewarded for their progress. In the most successful online educational games, students earn and win badges in their progress.   • One idea that I have seen employed here in Sonoma is teachers using a website to enhance and save classroom time. One local fifth grade classroom starts every day with the Brainpop video of the day (www.brainpop.com)

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Marc Tucker, author of “Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems,” recently led a team of researchers in proposing five major ways to “save” the U.S. education system. His ideas, in brief, include: • Making admission to teacher training more competitive. • Raising teacher compensation significantly. • Allowing larger class sizes. • Replacing annual standardized testing with three federally required tests to gauge mastery at the end of elementary school, 10th grade and 12th grade. • Spending more money on students who need more help getting to high standards. These are hot topics and thought-provoking ideas that would be difficult to implement, but are certainly worth discussing.

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I have heard from a number of readers that they enjoy information about free apps relating to education. Behold www.appitic.com – a website that catalogs, in a logical and searchable way, 1,300-plus educational apps. Check it out!

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There was a highly controversial article written by the Associated Press about Asian-American high school seniors not marking “Asian” on college application forms in the hopes of by-passing what is perceived to be an “Asian quota.” Rumors have spread that some Ivy League schools require higher SAT scores for Asians and, for years, many Asian-Americans have been convinced that it’s harder for them to gain admission to the nation’s top colleges. Asian-Americans meet selective colleges’ admissions standards far out of proportion to their 6 percent representation in the U.S. population, and they are thought to need test scores hundreds of points higher than other ethnic groups to have an equal chance of admission.

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Each year, in mid-December, students who applied Early Action (non-binding) or Early Decision (binding) to college will hear back with the decision, several months before their peers who waited for the regular deadline. The advantage of applying early is frequently a significantly better chance of admission. American University, mentioned below, for example, typically admits 43 percent of its applicants in the regular decision pool and last year accepted 79 percent of their Early Decision applicants. Dartmouth accepted 12 percent regular decision last year, and 25 percent ED. The bump can be less significant with Early Action (EA), but Santa Clara, for example, accepted 58 percent in regular round last year and 73 percent EA. Lewis and Clark in Oregon accepted 68 percent regular and 77 percent EA. So why doesn’t everyone apply “Early?” 1. You have to be organized. 2. You have to love one school far more than the others. 3. You can’t compare financial aid packages because you see only one school’s aid offer.

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There are a handful of well-regarded colleges now that specialize in accommodating the unique needs of students with dyslexia, ADD and ADHD and ensuring that these students succeed in mainstream college classes. The top six schools cited by experts are the University of Arizona, the University of Alabama, the University of Denver, Lesley University in Boston and American University in Washington, D.C.

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How far we’ve come … colleges really want to ensure a gender balanced freshman class but girls of most racial groups now outpace their brothers in going to college. A USD law professor recently published an article in “Engage” on the apparently growing practice of sex discrimination of behalf of men in college admissions. Many public and private colleges have admitted that they have “too many” female applicants and are therefore discriminating in favor of men – largely because more women than men apply to college and their academic credentials are in some ways better.

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No matter what your child’s age, it is never too early to introduce them to the concept and value of community service. Not only will they have a better sense of how fortunate they are, it is also a rising factor in college admissions. DoSomething.org has returned with its annual Community Service and College Study. They surveyed admissions counselors at more than half of the top 50 colleges and found that community service now ranks number four in importance in college admissions decisions after GPA, scores and extra-curriculars, and ranks higher than interviews, essays and legacy relationships to the school. Check out http://www.dosomething.org. Instead of staring at a TV screen over the holiday break, urge your high school or college student to use the break to squeeze in a short internship or to volunteer for a position related to their interests. If they are interested in the medical profession, they could volunteer at a local hospital; interested in teaching, contact a local school, library, or childcare provider. Many professional offices are also short-staffed with folks on vacation and might be happy for an extra pair of hands.

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You have likely heard the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). At the Big Ideas Fest, everyone was talking about STEM. Not as a curriculum but as a framework for teaching. With the Arts such a big element of engineering and science, there is logic to this, though controversy abounds. The consensus was that teaching how to think across disciplines is a more effective way to teach and better preparation for real world applications of knowledge.

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If you are looking for ideas for Christmas, this one looks interesting in light of all the recent news reports that young men aren’t succeeding in school in the same way that young women are. “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men,” by Michael Kimmel, details the many challenges modern day young men face in becoming adults. With a diminishing population of young men entering and graduating from college, “Guyland” advocates that each adult has the opportunity to be the charismatic role model that could help to turn things around for a struggling young man. I’m guessing that the Mentoring Alliance folks would agree with that.

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My favorite new college planning website is http://www.meritaid.com. It is the web’s first comprehensive directory of merit scholarships. Merit aid is basically grants and scholarships for high performing middle class (and above) students, and it can reduce the cost of attending a college by tens of thousands of dollars a year. Which colleges grant merit aid is one factor to consider in addition to the other aspects of college fit. And while merit aid is usually higher for students with strong grades/scores, many merit scholarships require only a 2.0 GPA and take into account accomplishments in leadership and community involvement. The site is free.

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There is a lot of talk about college debt but a 2012 story in The New York Times found that only one-tenth of 1 percent of college freshmen, and only three-tenths of 1 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients, accumulate more than $100,000 in undergraduate student debt. Even among recipients of bachelor’s degrees, 90 percent manage to graduate with less than $40,000 of debt.  (Debt is higher for those going on to grad school). When you combine these statistics with all the recent information about how much more employable college grads are than those without degrees, the case for college continues to be very strong.