Monday, December 2, 2013

Getting through the last two weeks of a college semester.

  All day on Sunday, the Facebook pages of my friends were all about this moment. We are in crunch time. Only one more week of classes and then finals. Panic ensues. Anxieties rise. That dreaded feeling of all the ways you should have done this or that. But, you didn't, did you? We fell back on bad habits. We went to the soccer game instead of hitting the library. We didn't study as efficiently as we should have or put extra effort into those projects. The time management skills you are supposed to exemplify and apply to real life outside of college fell apart. What do I do now???

  1. Don't panic. 
  2. Breathe.
  3. Cancel plans that do not add value, ie. money and food. 
  4. If taking in a concert is relaxing, then do it. Hanging out with friends for three hours after? Not so much.
  5.  Use timers. Take short breaks often. Even a nap will work.
  It's a bit late to change bad habits now because it will have to wait until next term. However, you can salvage what you have left and still come out just fine! 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Micro-blog: Fun organizational supplies.

  I re-arranged my desk this weekend and I am so glad that I did! I found a few treasures that you may want to hunt down via the interwebs. 

Treble clef paper clips?? So cute! They may be available at Staples. 

Emoticon Paper Clips. Found at Staples in 2009.

Mini magnets, perfect for wipe board calendars! Staples 2009.

  I hope you can find the latter two fun items, especially if you are a visual organizer like I am. It makes it much easier for high school and college students to have these fun reminders.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Creating Value in Nonessential Skills in Public Schools

  This will come as no surprise but over the next decade, I suspect that we will see a rise in the amount of backlash from the community against federal over-regulations in education. The Common Core is not a bad idea but the implementation has been poorly executed. In my definition of nonessential, I am using the term to blanket all the classes that do not receive standardized testing, despite the fact that each state incorporates a framework for these classes. Nonessential classes are Art, Gym, Health, Music, Home Economics, and in many cases, Foreign Languages.
  Most public schools do not teach foreign languages until 6th or 7th grade to students who have high grades in English. As if this is some determination that the student has mastered their language and can move onto another. Throughout most of the world, this is not the case. As it it deemed important for students to begin learning a second language at a much younger age due to cultural exchange value. Cultural exchange value? What is that? What I mean by this terminology is that the local culture finds value in a second language because it is present in their community. This is why foreign languages fit in this context.
  I have already discussed the value of nonessential skills being taught to students but there is another argument to this proposition that I just touched upon above, cultural exchange value. The capability of a thriving community is dependent upon the education of their children. With well-developed, cultured, intelligent minds the community can expand or maintain by being able to bring in and create new business and services as needed by the community or the ability to adapt to new ideologies and technology with demand and competition outside the community. Makes sense, right?
  Think about a recent job interview or meeting with people you did not know. You have to establish a connection, right? What topic is it going to be? We know the three taboo things to discuss when meeting new people are religion, politics, and sex. Just don't. What are you going to talk about? How much you love cooking? The latest exhibit at a museum? The most recent Wynton Marsalis release? The fact that you hit a personal goal at the last 5K? You do know that these seemingly simple topics can make that connection and win over your next major account! Why are we not allowing this to be taught in schools anymore? Here is a simple list of some of the benefits of teaching nonessential skills.

  • Knowing basic car maintenance can save you time, money, and energy. 
  • A community that understands basic economics and personal finance creates growth.
  • Knowledge of cooking and gardening creates a better palate which may translate into healthier restaurants.
  • Who doesn't like a community full of beautiful music and art to look at, reflect, and reduce anxieties?
  • A healthy community is a productive community and does not tax the health system. 
  • How about more planning time for teachers so that they can call parents, attend meetings, give back to the community, and work on renewing their license? 
  Sounds good, doesn't it? A strong education background in nonessential subjects reduces dependence on outside resources and cultivates resources within the community.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bringing Non-Essential Subjects Back into the Classroom

  In a class that I am taking at Roanoke College, we have been in the midst of discussing the role of arts, music, dance, and theatre in public school education. Then an interesting thought came to my  mind, more of a remembrance.
  I remember my middle school days. Built into those days, besides the core subjects, were sets of experiences to enhance and enrich our understanding of the world around us. We were exposed to a new home economics experience every term. One term would consist of Nutrition and Cooking, the next term would be Woodworking, the third term would be Sewing, and the fourth term would be Silk Screening/Metalworking.
  There was another experience we had in middle school unlike any other, a one-hour period called Activity. This would change every term as well and we had a list of activities we could choose from. These activities were based on each teacher's area of interest. I learned Knitting, Chess, and worked on the School Newspaper. It allowed us to interact with teachers we don't normally see and we were learning valuable life skills.
  In other words, besides having Art and Music once a week, we also had gym two to three times per week. We had a truly Liberal Arts education in middle school. What happened to these classes?
  As budgets for public schools shrink, programs like these were shutdown. We are now graduating students who can't cook, sew, perform basic maintenance on their homes, or balance their checkbook. The only students receiving this education are attending private schools or homeschool students. With both parents, and sometimes one parent or guardian, students are being left to fend for self and learn the hard way. Most often, this way is filled with mistakes and tougher consequences.
  Which brings me to this question, should public schools be teaching the nonessentials? And are they really nonessential? If private schools think these life skills are important, why are we not doing them in public schools? Private schools do have the advantage of smaller classes and access but so should public schools and public school children. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Strong Habits of Successful Students

  Many of my friends in college have been posting about their classes for the past several days. Many of them got a head start on their assignments. While this is a good jump on the upcoming semester, keep this list in mind that will help guide and keep you on track! Most students begin falling behind within the first few weeks of classes!

  • Read the syllabus carefully. At certain points during the term, you may want to double check it make sure that you are still on track!
  • Grab your planner and begin to fill it. You will want to schedule in the dates of important tests/exams and due dates of large projects. Make sure you give yourself enough time to devote to review and break down small tasks into an everyday to-do list. 
  • Skim your text. Skimming the text gives you a good idea the concepts you will be learning. If you have discussion questions or problems that are due weekly, read the questions, and concentrate on the sections that focus on notes from class and homework problems. 
  • Keep a journal. Not all professors collect or grade homework. However, you should do all the problems assigned in a composition book. Use hi-liters, post-it flags, or whatever it takes to figure out where the logical issues are and you will be far better prepared to ask your professor about it the following morning. 
  • Create a strong study group. Many times, study groups devolve into a chill and gossip session. Make sure you have a plan. Appoint someone to keep everyone on task but allow for breaks. Create activities that allow everyone to get involved and still learn. 
  • Forgive and forget when you fall behind. Give yourself a break then pull up your bootstraps and keep going! It may mean you have to skip out on an event you want to attend but grades come first!
  • Make sure you can read your notes. Seems obvious but most students do not have a good system of note-taking. Make sure you leave enough room in the margins to correlate text readings and homework problems to the notes or ask questions of the material for review or for clarification in class. 
  • It's ok to Youtube resources. Sometimes everyone needs really complex concepts explained in a different way from your prof. For Physics, I like Feynman's lectures. For a different view of Math, I follow ViHart. Either way, sometimes staring at your notes is not going to force the material to jump in your head any faster.
  • Eat well, don't forget to play, and get plenty of sleep! Often we forget to take care of ourselves properly when we are digging into our classes. Make sure that you are eating healthy, whole foods and getting rest. If you are having sleep problems or increases in anxiety or depression, see a school counselor right away!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revamped English and Science SOL's throw Virginia through a loop, Math scores increase.

  When new standardized tests are given in any subject, you can usually expect a small decrease in scores for the first year or two as teachers adjust to the new testing strategies. The scores should begin improving again by the third year to the same levels seen in 2011-2012. There also may be a few other reasons why scores have dipped and those should be investigated. Here I will concentrate on my strength, Sciences.

  1. Teaching to facts and not teaching for complex synthesis. The old SOL's were highly fact-based tests. The newer tests are not that easy. They are more in-depth and require thought and strategy in solving the problems. They require a full understanding of scientific processes and how they are applied to realistic, everyday situations. Word on the teacher front in May was that this test killed the students while they were taking it. 
  2. Administrative bad attitudes. I know that it is difficult to be the boss. To constantly deliver bad news, or having a correctional meeting with a subordinate, or be held accountable for the performance of your whole team. But that is what it is about. Support. You capture more flies with honey than you do with vinegar! Remember that! 
  3. Lack of administrative support. There is a specific incident that occurred in a local Roanoke school system that I wish to tell you about. A friend of mine, who taught elementary science in 2009, was told by the head of the Science Department, that "we are not concentrating on elementary sciences." Looking at this past year's scores in that school and system-wide, it is apparent that this is the case. In light of the Obama administration's push for early education and STEM introduction in elementary systems, this kind of thinking is completely against the grain. Whether or not you agree with what is going on in education right now with the National Core Curriculum, it is essential that students are competitive in the sciences. 
  4. Don't blame technology. "The students aren't used to the new system." I heard that sentence a few times. If anything, today's students are soaked in technology. I highly doubt that they are afraid of a computer test. However, there is the sentiment that the student may be rushing through the tests and that has to be carefully monitored. Students, especially IEP recipients, will need breaks to avoid becoming supersaturated. 
  So why did students score better in Math this year? The test was revamped last year and most schools systems have caught up with the changes already. The computer-based system has been in place for a few years now, reducing any anxieties about the usability of the program. Click the link to the article where you will find links to school system reports. 

  Most of you know my personal feeling about standardized testing and exactly how the "prepare" students for college. There is not one single standardized test that prepares you for college coursework. The only thing that does is life, creative teachers, and a thirst for knowledge. Excellent teachers are not just teaching the content. They are guiding students and becoming their coaches and cheerleaders. 
  I have not heard one valedictorian speech that thanked the SOLs or SATs for the work that they accomplished in elementary through secondary school. Tomorrow I will discuss highly effective habits of successful college students and who they draw upon for their knowledge.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Classical Explorations Begins Series.

   You have to love the internet. I have met more people face-to-face by connecting with them online. So when my Facebook and Twitter friend, Elizabeth Markham, announced Classical Explorations, I thought, what a great idea! 

  Elizabeth homeschools her own mini-me and was looking for a solution for her daughter's request to spend more time in a classroom setting or getting to be around more kids. All homeschool parents understand this dilemma when they try to create a balance between giving a quality education and time for socialization. If you have a child in the 4-6 yr old category and Tuesday mornings are open, click the link above for more details! Space is limited!  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekly Pinterest Education Round-up

There is no shame in being addicted to Pinterest! Here, I will share a few pins from my Education Board that may be worth trying out at home or in the classroom!

Sheer Post-it Notes from 3M! Write in your books without the mess! 
Use this at the beginning of the year to get to know your students. Way more fun than a regular worksheet with a list of questions.
From Get to know your students! How fun is this?
From Learning Ideas: Music, Science, and Crafts? Yes, please!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting Ready for Back-to-School

Please comment on the blog if there are any school openings that you would like to see listed! I will add them as the requests come in! 

Disclaimer: Many of these ideas are ripped from a book called “Organize Now!” It has lots of great suggestions and divides the tasks up by week to make it easier for any home to become more organized.
§  Schedule all check-up appointments before back-to-school. Doctor, dentist, and eye care if necessary. Many schools require certain vaccinations in order to attend. Plus, if your child is going to engage in fall sports, they will need a physical before they can participate.
§  Create two “drop-zones.” Have issues with stuff getting thrown around as soon as the kids walk in the door? I think every parent has nightmares trying to control the “kid clutter.” I find that having a nice large trunk for backpacks and lunch bags is a great idea. It keeps the mess hidden and it makes these items to locate the next morning. Plus, it will make it easier to do the “backpack dump” so you can find the necessary paperwork/announcements/grades to help your child which becomes your second “drop-zone.” Have a letter tray nearby where the kids can place paperwork after the backpack dump. You may want to set up file folders labeled “Announcements”, “Graded Papers”, and “Sign and Return to School”.

§  Hang a white-erase board. List the child’s name, if you have more than one, and the subjects under the child’s name. If your child has a constant reminder of what needs to be done, they may be more eager to erase each task. You may want to set up a reward system such as 15 minutes of game/TV time for every task finished. Check over your child’s work. This will allow you to know what they are doing and whether or not they understand the material.
§  Designate a study location. Preferably away from any visual stimulus such as the TV or computer, unless the computer is needed for the homework. If you have more than one child, you may want to set up a card table that has all the supplies your children will need in the middle of the table. This makes it easier to clean up and contain.
§  Don’t over-schedule your child. Allow them to pick one or two activities to be involved in. Your child will know when they have surpassed their limit and they will let you know with a lot of push-back and negative behavior and attitude. But do push them to try a variety of activities while they are learning what they are interested in.
§  Poor morning attitude? Pump up the volume! Playing music in the morning may help put your child in the right from of mind for the rest of the day. Choose classic favorites like Motown or old Dance songs. I really like Beyonce’s “Move Your Body” and Chubby Checker’s “Twist“.
§  Give your child a break. I would come home in the afternoons and unwind for half an hour, grab a snack, and allow myself to clear my mind before diving into homework. Your child is not an automaton please don’t think that they can perform like one! Let them have another break when they accomplish difficult homework tasks. It’s difficult to switch your brain from Math to History in one fell swoop!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Organizing Your Student For School

It has been that time of the year since the 4th of July Back-to-School ads. Most students in the area will be heading back within the next month.  Whether or not your child had a successful year last year, both of you will want to look at how you would like to organize and be prepared for the upcoming school year. Let’s take a look at the possible organizational styles your child might have:

§  Over-achiever organization. If your child is more organized than you are, you may want to take notes from him or her! These kids are generally successful already and may not need much help because they already have a system down pat. These kids talk about their schoolwork, what is going on, and are open to discussion. However, if there was one particular class that was troubling or more difficult, you may want to explore different options.
§  So-so organizer. You start off the school year with a bang and then… well… what happened? I would say that the majority of students fall in this area. They begin the school year with good intentions and then they hit a few speed bumps as the year progresses. They start losing their homework and important papers, forget test dates, and find themselves in a pit of despair about school. For these kids, they need more guidance than the over-achiever organizer. My suggestion is to check in with them every day and help them keep up with their binders.
§  Clutter/Chaos organizer. Many of the kids that fall into this category are usually being treated for ADHD or some other form of neurological disorder. However, apathetic kids fall into this category as well. Parents who are permissive or non-existent (never see their child for more than an hour or two a day), may have passed on traits that center around a disorganized domain. However, parents can turn this style around with a lot of work. If your child has a learning disorder, then you will have to guide them more intensely everyday! That means going through the book bag and asking a lot of questions. As they reach later adolescence, they made need less and less guidance if you have helped them build a strong foundation in organization.

Here are some general tips for any style organizer for the upcoming school year.
§  Add bright colors. From binders to dividers to lined paper. Color-code by subject. It’s tougher to get down about school when you have bright colors to look at! Even helps those of us who are visually-impaired.
§  Use graph paper and colored pencils for science and math notes. Handwriting has gone the way of the dinosaurs in most school systems, leading to terrible penmanship and illegible notes. Graph paper helps make the notes more readable and colored pencils help highlight key points for review.
§  Make yourself available to your child every day. I know. It’s tough to do. But you made an unspoken commitment to your child the day they were born.
§  Make sure that a study zone is in place in your house. It should be well-lit with easy access to supplies. Supplies should include: three-hole punch, stapler w/staples, paper clips, binder clips, extra pens/pencils/colored pencils, glue, scissors, and extra paper.
§  Set studying for the same time everyday. If you and your child are having problems and do not have a tutor, don’t wait. Set up an appointment right away. It is much, much more difficult to help students with problems halfway through the semester than at the beginning. Most tutors can work in multiple subject areas if your child has multiple problems to work on.
These are a few of my favorite things:
§  Reinforced College-Ruled Filler Paper they also have Reinforced Graph Paper
§  Weekly Planner/Journal: your child may get this from his/her school on their first day

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nurturing Creativity


With all this talk on trying to measure creativity and intelligence, how should we nurture creativity? Many people do not think that they are creative, but we are all creative humans in one form or another. Remember back to my first blog post on Gardner’s Theory of Multiple IntelligencesEveryone has the capability to strengthen areas of intelligence that they are weak in. Listed below are a few examples on how to nurture your creativity.

§  Learn a new word a day. Use it three times in a sentence, correctly. It will never truly leave your memory once that word is used three times. Use the new word whenever possible. I love what we call “$20″ words. What does antidisestablishmentarianism mean anyways?
§  Learn a new musical instrument in only 15 minutes a day. That’s right. I tell all my students that they need at least 15 minutes a day of practice to maintain or learn new skills.
§  Learn a new language in 15 minutes a day. There is an interactive book series that makes this possible. You can also use audio CD’s in your car on your way to the doctor’s office or any other errand.
§  Scour the internet for projects. Most often, your local parks and recreation departments will have inexpensive classes in art, technology, or physical activities to enjoy.
§  Snag some friends and play board games or console games. Spending time with friends is a must to creativity. Learning from people whose perspective is different from yours allows you to create new solutions to problems.

  Why all this push for creativity? More and more studies are showing that if we remain active and learn new things, it promotes the connection of neural networks in the brain which may stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It also promotes a concept of lifelong learning which America really needs right now in order to fulfill the high technology jobs that are available that do not have enough qualified people to fill them. We are becoming a high tech nation and we have an important job to fulfill in the world economy.

Try some of these out this weekend!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: Learning Outside the Lines

   Learning Outside the Lines may be a book meant for college students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) but can be applied to any student who wants to be successful in college. It's a great guide for those who have been recently diagnosed with any learning disorder and how to navigate your way through the college life frenziness.
  The second section of the book is where I concentrated on reading the most. The authors guide you through note-taking, class discussions, writing papers, and doing well on exams. The book is very realistic since the authors wrote the book based on their experiences at Brown University. The book is set up for quick and easy reading with lots of bullet points for those of us that want to get what we need out of it and move on. Yes, built for short attention spans!
  I learned that I was making my system far more complex than it should be. Color-coding is a definite must and it will take some trial and error to figure our what works and what doesn't. I find a few simple steps will save a lot of time. Digging into the syllabus of your class is a must and so is better time management. I take each class syllabus that first day and plug in all the major tests and assignments into my calendar. If you are paper-based, use pencil. If you are computer-based, it will be easy to add and delete as you go along. I use paper-based in class because I don't always have my electronics on me to toss it into my Google+ calendar. I set aside time each day to add to the computer what is written on the paper-based calendar. Then I look at the upcoming month, estimate how long it will take for me to study and complete major assignments and I will schedule tasks that lead to the completion of each assignment. I also throw in an extra day on major assignments that allows for room to breath if I have a Murphy's Law day in which nothing is going right. I have been using my system since Spring semester and it was far more successful than the previous semester!
  Look this book up in your local library or head to your favorite bookstore and pick it up. Well worth the time and money invested!