Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia Discussion Session Planned.

  The people of Learning Connections and One Degree Forward are pleased to announce a joint ADD meetup session. The event will be held at the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center Tuesday, May 4th, beginning at 7 PM. These meetups occur every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month. This session, we will be discussing two particular learning disabilities, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia. We will discuss the elements behind each disability with suggestions on how to cope and resources to learn more about these very specific conditions! Spread the word!

Cathy Dick of One Degree Forward: Event Hostess
Amanda Wright of Learning Connections: Discussion Leader

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Math Anxiety: A Personal Case Study

 Math anxiety is the major reason why I want to be in education. My liberal arts professors know I could be successful in any area of my choosing, as writing in those subject areas come easier to me than some students. Maybe it sounds like I’m bragging a bit, but I know I could maintain a near 4.0 average in English or History. Those subjects are in my bloodline, it is what my family is good at. When I went back to school, I wanted to do something that was meaningful and something challenging. I began my college career going back to the basics of Algebra and did not begin really struggling until Calculus II. And I thought, why am I having such a difficult time? I created a Math diary to figure out where the problem began. I did not have problems with the homework. But as soon as the test was slapped down on my desk, the old familiar feeling of panic and anxiety arose forcing a sort of “brain freeze.” So I have been researching this subject most of my summer to see what I could do to overcome my anxiety and help other students who I know are in the same boat desparately searching for that proverbial paddle.
  Math is often perceived to be more difficult. As if some people are born to do Math and the rest of the population is not. This is a myth. Anyone and everyone can do Math. There is no Math gene. Stop fooling yourselves and making excuses as to why you can’t do it. It’s a terrible disease in this country that special people are born to do Math. This also goes for the girls too. Research has shown that there is no difference in performance on standardized Math tests. The only difference appears in certain areas of Math where girls are really good with number theory and patterns and boys are more spatially apt. However, it could explain why more men are in engineering and more women are in the financial field.
  Recent studies have shown that Math Anxiety can begin as early as elementary school. Usually with a bad memory. Such as a poor test grade, meetings between the teacher and parents, etc. In many ways, by what most teachers perceive as “helping” could be breaking down the student’s self confidence.
If you are the parent, here is my advice:
§  Don’t freak out on your child. This may elevate already present levels of anxiety. Instead, calmly talk to them . Let them know that you had problems understanding Math (and I know every one of you has!) and that you are willing to help.
§  Do Math homework early and together. This will allow you to see where your child is having problems. If you think that your child might have Discalculia (refer to previous blog in June), have them tested as soon as possible so your student can be put on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Allow your child to take small breaks between groups of problems so it is easier on you and your child to get through it all. Plus, this time together can be used as a confidence builder!
§  Purchase books or games and visit websites that are Math-based. This will give you an assortment of materials to work with when your child does not have homework that night. For students with Math Anxiety, it is recommended that they spend up to an hour per day on Math.
§  Hire a tutor. There will be a point at which you can’t help your child anymore. How long has it been since you did a probability problem? Word problems? Algebra? As adults, if you don’t use it everyday, you lose it. Long Term Memory pushes old information into different areas of the brain or eliminates them to make room for new information. Such as, where are my car keys? Did I remember to pay that bill? Speaking of which, what is my account number? Yep, good old mundane daily living made you forget. That’s why I like using college students as well as teachers, they see it everyday and new studies are showing that students don’t learn any less by having a college student versus having a certified teacher. The difference may be that teachers can access different delivery methods.
For students
§  Read the above and don’t freak out!
§  Build an effective study group. Please visit my earlier blog post about effective study groups. It will help a lot if you have someone to collaborate with to understand the homework.
§  Don’t procrastinate. This will just fuel anxiety. Get it done so you can ask questions about the ones you had trouble with the next day when it is fresh on your mind.
§  Create a Math Journal. Again, please visit my earlier blog post about creating a journal so you can keep a running tab on how far you have come in the learning process and review what may need to be relearned!
§  Change you method of organization. I am blind in one eye and did not know that this can effect how I look at Math! Literally! I have to use graph paper because I lack depth perception and colored pencils so that it is easier for my eyes to distinguish between information. Students with Math Anxiety have problems with processing, encoding, and keeping Math ideas in Long Term Memory.
§  Learn how to relax. Use biofeedback signals to stop panic in its tracks! I use Tai Chi but even deep breathing can help.
It seems like a lot of work and it will be. Don’t get discouraged!

For teachers:
§  Be encouraging, always. Help them develop study strategies and organizational skills to cope with anxiety. Don’t tell them “You could have done better.” That only increases anxiety. Students with Math Anxiety have high standards of themselves, they don’t need anymore help beating themselves up. Instead, start a conversation with “it looks like you were having a bad day, would you like to tell me about it?” I know, it is hard to make time for students, but it is a necessity.
§  Make yourself available after school one day a week. This will give the students who are shy about their Math Anxiety time to go through recent lessons and get a firm grip on the material. You will also be able to have a better look at what might be causing memory interference and help develop strategies to overcome them.
§  Recommend a tutor and other aides to the parents and students. Parents and students trust your knowledge, skills, and background. Why would not they trust someone you recommend? My Algebra I teacher in middle school obtained a high school honor student to tutor me once a week. If it was not a good experience, I would not be bothered with this line of work.

Together, we can break this cycle of Math fears!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Verbal Connections: Learn a new language!

  The first language we learn is the language that our parents speak. For some of you, your first language may be something other than English. What do we consider a language? Language is how a culture communicates among each other. Your native language is not the only way in which to communicate.
  Math and music can be considered “universal” languages in such that they have a universally agreed upon form and pattern that anyone can recognize. Math and music, as a language, is a lifelong learning process. You can never learn everything that there is to know about these two languages. That is what makes them intriguing.
  There is also sign language which uses the whole body to express words, thoughts, and feelings to people who can not hear. Sign language is used in sports, not like formal American Sign Language, but coaches pass on information to players and players to their teammates. This is a great language to learn if you are not sure if you want to learn a foreign language.
  Which brings our focus to foreign languages. I had four years of French in high school. That was 20 years ago. Somehow, even without daily use, I can still remember quite a bit of it. My transfer college requires three semesters of a foreign language. Unfortunately, my high school French classes are far too old to count. The classes for French at my community college did not fit my schedule. However, Spanish is offered online. There are some pros and cons to online learning. These pros and cons can also crop up in a classroom that meets regularly. Here are some helpful tips, which helped me learn French quickly, that can help you learn any language!
§  Practice, practice, practice! To learn a spoken language, you must use everyday. The same principle applies to Math and Music. Mastering a language takes time and practice.
§  Make Flash Cards. Some textbooks offer online flash cards which are great because you can hear the word, repeat, and move onto the next word when you feel that you have mastered how to say it.
§  Look for additional online resources. They are out there and for every language. Here is one for Spanish that I may be using to create my own flash cards and use drills to make the language a bit more permanent in my mind.
§  Find a friend who has taken the language you are learning and have conversations. Part of the practice, practice, practice routine! My mom and I would talk to each other in French when we could to make it easier and more enjoyable.
§  Get your label maker and tag your vocabulary around the house! If you live with your parents, it may be best to get their permission first!

  Learning languages, especially when introduced at a young age, can help break down cultural barriers and bring about awareness of groups within your community.

Carpe Diem!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dyscalculia is as prevalent as Dyslexia

Note: Since this article was first written, I have successfully pre-diagnosed three people, with confirmed diagnosis by a psychiatrist, with dyscalculia. Working one-on-one with these students every day for a minimum of an hour is a must. My recommendation is that the dyscalculic student not take any other strenuous courses during the same semester that they take their math class. As a tutor, you have to have the patience of a saint for students that are diagnosed with dyscalculia because you will not understand why they don’t “get it.”

  New research is showing that dyscalculia may be as prevalent among children at the same rate as dyslexia. Do you remember the kid in grade school who could not understand that 2+2 = 4? At some point we all struggle with Math, but when does it become a disability? Unfortunately, dyscalculia can be inherited and is noticeable as early as primary education. Many of the signs arise during counting exercises, organizing number patterns, and estimation problems.
  Once the problem is diagnosed many teachers and parents do not have enough resources to deal with dyscalculia. Luckily, foraging around the web for activities and help is readily available. Most of the activities involve manipulatives and games. As the school aids the students with Individual Educational Plans, parents will have to work with their child to help them catch up. You will want to hire a tutor as a guide and cheerleader for your student. Positive and consistent reinforcement will go a long way in helping your child cope with dyscalculia!

Here is a list of websites and resources with activities and strategies for parents, teachers, and students.

  I am really in love with the last link since it does talk about Math Anxiety as well. There is a lot more resources and help available since dyscalculia became a formal learning disability. Let’s turn this disability into an ability!
Sometimes Math can look like this jumbled mess to a dyscalculic!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teach Your Kids How to Make Small, Positive Changes

So how are you doing with those goals you made around New Year’s Eve? Are you sticking with them? Or, like most people, have you already forgotten about those changes? Are you like me, who is still struggling with defining and figuring out how to implement them? Did you know that your kids pay close attention to what you do and how you do it? Mimicry is a tool children will use into adulthood. Why not show them how to make positive changes, ones that will reduce anxiety and pressure when obstacles present themselves?
I have always been a bit of a bull in a china shop when it comes to changes. I am also a person who bites off more than they can chew. People like me are usually called perfectionists. It is taking me a long time to “unlearn” perfection and to just go for the sake of learning itself. I am also a “scheduler,” meaning every moment in time is scheduled. I always have something to do at a particular moment. This is not good for my family, who are much more spontaneous than I am. Of course, there is a happy medium and I am determined to find it. Here are some guiding principles to live by with your children:
§  Life is what happens while you are making plans. Nothing is perfect. Help your kids recover when their routine is thrown off. Most kids need some time of unstructured play and discovery. Every moment does not have to be running from one activity to the next.
§  Life is a balancing act. How do you feel when you put in many hours of work and very little downtime? Teach your kids that there is a time for working and there is time to play. Remind them to take breaks from a long assignment. Many times, walking away for a few minutes can reduce stress related to that subject and help them come back to it more focused.
§  Try new time management techniques that allow for breaks. There are a lot of techniques that can help you and your child keep your focus on happiness while getting the chores done! I like the Pomodoro technique. Task for 25 minutes, play or rest for 5. It takes time to get used to. But it is great for nights home and on the weekends. Plus, I did not realize how unrealistic my goal expectations were until I learned how much could get done in 25 minutes! I have had to learn to break things down into smaller components!

§  Live in the moment. Most stress stems from thinking about tomorrow’s to-do’s or yesterday’s choices. Let it go. It will help your children build resiliency when they come across major life events down the road. Give yourself a break. Let your kids know that even adults make bad choices. The importance is to learn from them!
§  When contemplating big changes, like diet and exercise, start small. We forget this one all the time. We want our families to be healthy and happy. Make small changes that the family can do together and teach them the reason behind these changes and what the big goal really is. We have a country that uses too many chemicals in food and does not allow time for exercise. But start small so that each step sticks!
§  Un-schedule one day a month. Why? Too allow time for family bonding and fun! Do something different! Allowing time to do something different nurtures creativity!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Study Skills: Time Management

It’s difficult, as a student, to keep yourself from procrastinating when it comes to homework. I, myself, seem to get caught in the trap of waiting to the last minute to get assignments done. And yet, we all kick ourselves when we do procrastinate because of the added stress of time and worry about lack of quality in the assignment you have to turn in. So what leads, even the best students, to procrastinate?
§  Distractions: television, Facebook, friends, family, pets, work, etc.
§  Special events: family gatherings, get together with friends, and other events
§  Poor attitudeapathy, depression, anxiety, boredom, etc.
Here are a few tips on what to do when you find yourself in the procrastination sand trap.
§  Break down large tasks into chunks. Spending hours on one thing is going to cause brain fry. Working on parts of the project will give you a sense of accomplishment and good feelings.
§  Use a timer. Allow yourself breaks during studying to spend some time on yourself. But set a timer. When it goes off, get back to work. If you think you will ignore your timer, use a small egg timer and put it next to your homework. It will force you to face the issue. And since you are in front of it, you might as well do it.
§  Change your attitude. Write down why you don’t want to do your school work. Talk to a friend. Why are you avoiding it to begin with? Once you understand your lack of motivation, you can overcome it.
§  Form a study session with classmates. Misery loves company, so you might as well get your homework done with a buddy. Group sessions can be good for students who have apathy issues or learning problems. Not every teacher can reach every student but having a friend or two that understands or can show the material in a different way might help.
§  Change your study atmosphere. If you find yourself getting distracted at home, head to a coffee shop or the library. With that said, there are some places I find too distracting to study in. Experiment and see what works for you.
§  Hire a tutor. Tutors have been through what every student has been through before. We can help you set up a study schedule and train you how to study better. Plus, we will hold you accountable. We will reteach the material in the way you learn it. One-to-one and small group tutoring will help the student change their attitude about schoolwork and make it seem more enjoyable!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Verbal Connections: Active Reading

There are several great websites with strategies on active reading. Why would we want to actively read anyways? Besides, isn’t the teacher supposed to tell me what I need to know? Well, let’s nip those ideas in the bud right now. Active reading strategies are tools that you will use for the rest of your life. There will be times where you are required to read material and make a proposal or present a solution to the company that you are working for. You must do research in order to accomplish this. No one can memorize whole books and pages and quotes of things that happen, well almost no one and those people are extremely rare. Here are some guidelines to make your reading times more fun and productive.
§  Find a quiet room and read aloud. That’s right. Aloud. Especially if your musical intelligence is high, this is a great strategy for those of us who like to listen.
§  Write in the margins, unless you don’t own the book. That’s right. Tell the author how you feel. Ask the author questions. This will lead to further exploration outside the material you are working with. It will also lead to a really strong paper because you won’t be chasing after the ideas you just read!
§  Shy about writing in the margins? Create an active reading journal.
§  Explore the author online. Use your interests. I read authors who are very lyrical or I try to connect my subjects back to music a lot. I love Langston Hughes and I discovered how I could tie Jazz Poetry, which he created, back to what he was listening to at the time, Bebop Jazz. For my classes in History and Humanities, I discovered that the Cherokee tribes were influenced by the settlers and were trying to increase cooperation and trade with the Europeans by accepting Christianity. That lead me to learn how reed flutes were made and learn how much the flute is an extension of the tribe’s voice. If there is something you really like, try to find a way to use it in your research.
§  If you are a highly visual person, you may want to use thinking maps instead. Think of writing as a form of art and the words are your media. Create a drawing, picture, or mixed media piece. It will deepen your understanding of how you feel about what you read.
§  If you can’t sit still, act it out! Repeating the action that takes place can tell you what your perspective on that character is. Just don’t do anything illegal or anything that will cause bodily harm, ok?
Strategies like these are used in your child’s classroom. Quietclassrooms don’t exist and, in our opinion, should not exist anymore. So don’t just sit there! Actively read!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shifting College Classrooms from Lecture to Self-Taught Courses.

  I have to give the administrators and a few professors credit at my community college, many of them have embraced classroom technology. Some fully use the tools available in BlackBoard. These tools range from instructional videos to PowerPoint based mini lectures. The professors have been working in the online class format at the school. However, many of the standard classrooms at the college still exist in the engineering and science majors. With all the technology available, why are these classes still behind the times?
§  Unwillingness to learn technology.
§  That is the way they learned how to teach. 
I’m not saying we need to send our college professors back into the classroom, strap them down, and force them to learn new methods of teaching. I’m saying that it is their job to deliver the material, not the best way they know how, but the best way the student learns.
Remember when you were in Kindergarten? Centers are one of the core principles of self-directed classroom. Coming to a college near you!
  One of my professors asked me about how new technology is being used with video instruction. I love it! I like to learn about the class ahead of time. I think class time could be spent more wisely on working the problems we need to solve. Class time should be spent on projects that reinforce the video lecture. It is a way to reach every student with different learning needs.
  The movement in the schools before college is to lead classrooms that are more self-directed, or learner-based. The students that will be entering college have never been without technology. Students remain interested in a course when it is at their speed. Some students take longer to learn than others. This solves the problem of having to repeat classes, such as one with a low grade and then taking the same class to get a higher grade. Why not allow the student to work at their pace within the 16 week time frame? Some students may need to take Calculus II in the form of Parts A and B. Then again, if the class time is spent on working problems and application, then the errors in thinking can be caught and corrected early.
  I have an exciting opportunity to be an Instructional Assistant at my college. I will be helping Algebra students at night learn the material in a technology-based setting. The teacher is still there. But the modules are self-directed. When the student has problems, I will be able to assist them and clarify problem-solving thought processes. I am looking forward to it because I think it is the way of the future.
  Why would I push for more tech in the classroom when I don’t even use a calculator for Math? Several reasons:
§  Obama administration is pushing for more graduates in technology fields.
§  Too many students start out in STEM majors drop out within the first two years because it is too difficult. 
§  The material should be challenging but not impossible to learn. 
§  The US is behind in Math and Science. 

The world is changing faster than most people can keep up with. We need to be able to roll with the changes.