Monthly Archives: November 2011

Math in Preschool: Firm Foundation for the Future

Here’s yet another interesting educational piece in the news: Today’s Wall Street Journal features an article about how Chicago preschool and kindergarten teachers are integrating math concepts into daily classroom activities, giving young students firmer footing when they learn more complex math concepts in later grades. The teachers are being trained by The Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development which was co-founded by Barbara Bowman, mother of White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Erikson’s Early Mathematics Education Project grew out of the school’s findings that only 21 percent of Chicago early education teachers regularly taught math to their students, while 96 percent regularly taught language arts. This program trains teachers to focus on teaching mathematical thinking, rather than basic math procedures, and to make math an integral part of the children’s school day. As of the program’s professors explains, learning mathematical thinking at this young age helps students develop skills in reasoning and logic which prepare them to become not only better math students, but more focused students in any subject.

The Wall Street Journal article can be found here, and more information about the Erikson Institute can be found here.

How much math do your preschool and kindergarten children get in their day? Ask your schools if you don’t know.

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Xmas Gift Idea: Blocks!!

Thinking about what to get for your toddler, preschooler or kindergarten child for Christmas or an upcoming birthday? How about blocks? Yes, those solid, wooden, indestructible blocks that we all loved to stack up and noisily knock down when we were young. According to an article in today’s New York Times, found here, blocks are having a resurgence in popularity in play-spaces and classrooms. Block play has been shown to help children absorb math concepts, help their fine motor skills, and engage in imaginative, creative play. Blocks also help children learn how to play in an unstructured environment, a skill that is fading as video screens become the playthings of choice for younger and younger children.

Parents can and should get down on the floor and participate in block play as well. The Times article describes parents crowding into a “Workshop on Block Building” (of course, this is New York City), but you can figure out all sorts of fun ways to play even without special training. Here are a few helpful hints: Follow your child’s leads and instructions, don’t ask a million questions or try to take over the project, take pictures of the masterpieces you’ve created, and then have a great time (when your son says it is time) knocking it all down!!

School supply companies are generally the best places to look for the wooden blocks we used as kids, which are still readily found in classrooms. Two companies which feature blocks are Becker’s School Supply (www.shopbecker.com) and Lakeshore (www.lakeshorelearning.com). As you will see on these sites, these blocks are not cheap, but they are a good investment in your son’s learning and development. More importantly, it’s a great way to have fun with your little one!

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Coach Natalie Randolph: Teaching on the Field and in the Classroom

Here’s an inspirational story from The Washington Post to savor along with your Thanksgiving leftovers: Coach Natalie Randolph, an African American believed to be the only woman currently coaching a high school football team in the country, led her Coolidge High School Colts earlier this week to the Turkey Bowl, Washington D.C.’s public school football championship. This was the Colts’ second appearance in the game since 1987 and the first under Coach Randolph.

But Coach Randolph has done much more than improve the on-field stats of these high school athletes. With her focus and discipline in the classroom as an environmental science teacher, she has inspired the players to improve their overall grade point average from 2.75 last fall to 3.0 this season. Under her watchful eyes, one of her starting linebackers improved his GPA from 2.0 to 3.5. “She motivated me to become a better person” he explains. As the Post article, found here, notes, “Coolidge players say that in Randolph they see a uniquely genuine person, someone who is tough when needed (‘no study hall, no practice’) but will cheer louder than anyone when they earn an A”.

The players respect Coach Randolph and want her to see them succeed. “It makes me feel great that we can do this for her and do this for ourselves, to take the first lady to the Turkey Bowl in her second year,” senior wide receiver-defensive back Calvin Brown said. “That’s a great accomplishment. It pays off, the hard work that we put in pays off to the Turkey Bowl.” Although the Coolidge Colts were defeated in the Turkey Bowl by Dunbar, a D.C. football powerhouse, the team knows that the hard work they put in to get there will continue to pay off for them.

Coach Randolph teaches three environmental science classes while coaching the football team, and has seen great results in the classroom as well as on the field. She is a shining example of what GCP has focused on in several previous posts: the good things that happen when the motivation and discipline that boys accept and absorb from coaches is brought into the classroom. (See, “What Teachers Can Learn from Coaches”, 4/8/11, and “What We All Can Learn from Coaches”, 10/18/11) As Coach Randolph demonstrates, teaching and coaching is truly a winning combination.

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Texting, Sexting: What You and Your Children Should Know

GCP recently attended a seminar on “Texting, Sexting, Facebook and Cyberbullying” conducted by New Jersey Police Detective Sergeant Thomas Rich. Sgt. Rich has worked on the issues of Internet safety for over ten years, and through his company, “Always Connected”, advises law enforcement, educators, parents and children of all ages how to utilize technology in a positive way. Here in part one of our coverage are highlights of his presentation on Texting and Sexting :

Texting: How many text messages would you guess are sent in one month in the U.S.? In June 2008, 75 billion messages were sent in a month, up from 7.25 billion in 2005. According to Sgt. Rich, “Children don’t talk now, they just text”. They can be more comfortable communicating in text form than they are with talking–you will often see groups of kids walking together but with each of them focusing on his or her phone.

Texting is changing the way children interact with friends and peers. Insults are much more easily written and sent than said to someone’s face. Arguments among teens which begin with an exchange of texts can quickly escalate to physical fights, spurred on by the many who are included in the text exchange. Once the teens meet in person, there is often no opportunity to back down or seek alternative means of resolving the issue, since no words need be spoken.

So is the answer to ban your son or daughter from texting? No, as this is unrealistic, as well as quite difficult to enforce. Rather, teach your children that texting is better done in moderation, and here’s the key: If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t text it or say it on line. Parents should also focus on reminding children to look people in the eyes when they meet them or speak to them–communicating in person is becoming a lost art.

Sexting: For those who may not be familiar with this term, it describes sending illicit pictures or videos (the new trend) over the internet. Sgt. Rich quoted a recent statistic that 22% of teen girls surveyed had sent or posted nude images of themselves in an email. According to a teen profiled in a recent Good Morning America (GMA) segment on this subject, “It starts with a picture, then gets more involved with video”. The pressure on teens to send illicit pictures has been reported to start as early as the seventh grade. After the breakup, the ex sends the pictures around to friends, and sometimes to the entire school and beyond. Boys or girls who sent pictures or videos suddenly find themselves being called “porn star” or worse by strangers in and out of school. Some of them can’t handle it, and leave school or even attempt suicide. GMA profiled a girl who attempted suicide and now counsels teens, who warns would be ‘sexters’: “Not even the chance that it could [be sent around] makes it worth doing”. So why do teens continue to do this? According to Sgt. Rich, they don’t know or believe there is a consequence–they don’t believe that these horror stories could happen to them.

Parents with children in high school and even in the later grades of middle school should have conversations about sexting with them, and try to help them understand its consequences. Asking your child, “Do you know anyone who has received any pictures?” is a good way to begin the conversation, as it moves the spotlight away and might make him or her feel more comfortable talking with you about this. Even if they don’t know anyone now, warns Sgt. Rich, it is not a matter of if they will hear about or get an illicit image of a peer, but when.

In addition to telling your children why taking and sending these pictures are dangerous activities, warn them that in most states it is an actual crime to get this kind of image, show it (especially to another minor), and transfer it in cyberspace. Tell them that if they receive such an image, they should not send it on and should just delete it. You can also tell them that adults don’t always learn this lesson either (see, Tiger Woods, Ashton Kutcher and Brett Favre, to name recent examples), and talk about the damage their actions caused.

Sgt. Thomas Rich is an engaging expert in this field who relates equally well to parents and to children as he talks about the positive uses of technology as well as the dangers it can present. Having done over 100 presentations and spoken to over 30,000 children within the last 3 years, he has become known as the “cyber bullying expert” who is making a difference in the lives of children one school at a time. Go to his website http://www.alwaysconnected.org for more information or to request a presentation.

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Learning to Play the Game

The New York Times, always a good source of articles about education, today includes an article which is particularly noteworthy to GCP readers. “Learning To Play the Game to Get into College”, found here, chronicles Boston high school senior Nathaly Lopera’s impressive efforts to get extra help with school and the college prep process. Among the resources she finds and uses is a free program called “Let’s Get Ready”, which helps students fill out college applications, write essays, practice interviews and prepare for the SAT. This is a moving story of how drive and tenacity can make so much difference in a student’s academic journey.

While this is an inspirational article for all readers, it raises several issues which GCP parents should especially focus upon with respect to our sons:

1) The Importance of Asking for Help: A key component of Nathaly Lopera’s success thus far is her willingness to recognize when she needs help and to ask for it. We cannot emphasize this enough for our boys. Some students tend to feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and are hesitant to let their teachers know that they aren’t understanding the material. Ms. Lopera, who is generally excelling in school, routinely seeks help with academic and social issues from the teachers and counselors there. It is our responsibility as parents to help our sons understand that asking for help is a sign of strength, and remind them that getting help to conquer difficult material builds life skills that have value far beyond any classroom. More on this in issue 3 below.

2) Grades Aren’t the Only Things That Matter: According to the article, Nathaly is getting a college recommendation from a teacher who gave her a C in a math class, because that teacher will talk about the incredible work ethic Nathaly demonstrated after doing poorly in several units in the class. The teacher explained “You know, I didn’t care about the final grade…Nathaly showed me a work ethic that will make her successful in college and life, that’s what matters.” We have high expectations that our sons will get good grades, and we naturally focus on whether they are doing so. But along the way we also have to help them understand that grades, be they very good ones, or terrible ones, are not the sole means of measuring their progress and worth as students and human beings. Emphasizing that they put forth their best efforts (their input), rather than focusing exclusively on their grades (the outcome), gives them tools to face challenges in and outside of the classroom.

3) Factor in The “Boy” Factor: The article includes a sobering statistic about the “Let’s Get Ready” college prep program: More than 70% of the programs’ students are girls. Not surprising, when you consider that boys, especially boys of color, are becoming an endangered species on college campuses across the nation. For whatever reasons, boys generally tend not to be as focused on and willing to pursue academic help as girls can be. (You may call this a gross generalization if you’d like, but parents who have both boys and girls know there to be truth to this.) But it doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than shake our heads and wonder “What’s wrong with that boy?” when our sons don’t independently seek the help they need, let’s take the extra time and energy to direct them towards ways to find it. Coddle them? Do the work for them? Absolutely not. But we should not shy away from acknowledging that they need all the help they can get from us, as well as from their schools, and focus on giving it to them. We’ve got to do all we can to make sure our boys are learning to play the game to succeed in school and in life.

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Better Teachers? Yes, But Better Parenting Too

While better teachers can certainly help a student achieve, better parenting can make a huge difference in a student’s academic achievement as well. GCP has been shouting this from cyberspace rooftops since the day we launched, and a column in today’s New York Times confirms that we need to turn up the volume. In “How About Better Parents?”, found here, Pulitzer prize winning columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes that better parenting can make a huge difference in a student’s academic achievement across all economic strata.

Friedman cites a recent study conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment (“PISA”), the people who test teenagers around the world on their math, science and reading skills, and then compares countries scores. In an effort to determine what factors enable students in various countries to perform better than others (and many countries perform better than the U.S), PISA researchers interviewed the parents of students in 23 countries about how they raised their children and then compared the interview results with the test results. Two weeks ago, PISA published the three main findings of their study, which were that:

• Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all;
• The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background; and
• Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.

The study also notes that the quality of parental involvement matters. Reading, telling stories and talking about the day with your child has a greater positive impact than just playing with him. This study is worth reading and can be found here. It concludes with a powerful “bottom line”: “All parents can help their children achieve their full potential by spending some time talking and reading with their children – even, perhaps especially, when their children are very young. Teachers, schools and education systems should explore how they can help busy parents play a more active role in their children’s education, both in and out of school.” To which GCP says a hearty “Amen!”

Friedman also cites a recent study by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education, which further determined the kinds of things parents can do to help student academic achievement. He notes “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.” GCP advocates that parents try to find ways to do as many of these things as possible, as they help your child consider himself an integral part of his school, and keep you in the loop as to what is going on there. However, if you find yourself spending more time volunteering at school than focusing on your son’s daily schoolwork, a shifting of priorities is in order.

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Young Chess Masters

Now here’s some good and inspirational news for everyone: three African American teenaged boys are among the youngest players to ever be named chess masters, each obtaining this advanced rank before their thirteenth birthday. The article in today’s New York Times, found here, notes that these three young men, Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black, Jr., while rivals, are all friends and all live in the New York City area. They understand that they are, as James noted, “pioneers for African American kids who want to take up chess”, and they are comfortable in this role. James’ father, James Black, says that all of the boys’ parents acknowledge what their sons represent. The parents are careful not to pressure their sons too much, but the boys know “that pressure comes along with the territory”.

The boys study chess with professional grandmaster coaches, a fairly expensive endeavor, which the families have found sponsors for or paid for themselves. The boys all aspire to be grandmasters by the time they graduate from high school, which only a few dozen players of any race have ever done. Maurice Ashley, the only African American to have ever earned the top title of grandmaster, is now 45, and he earned this title at age 34. He is very impressed with these young men, but is not sure that their success will inspire other young African Amercians to play, noting “chess isn’t that big in the African American community.” But he is pleased to watch the phenomenal rise of the young masters. As he states in the article, “It is special, and that we know for a fact”.

These are the kind of stories we at GCP love to bring to your attention: young black men excelling in a field which they are passionate about, being solidly supported by their families. Congrats to the boys and their families!

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Saturday Academies of American History

GCP is always on the lookout for ways to help our sons (and daughters) learn and excel. Here is a great one: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History offers Saturday Academies of American History, which provide free elective courses for high school and middle school students on Saturday mornings. Gilder Lehrman Saturday Academies are held in eighteen schools and museums across the country, offering innovative courses in interesting and fun topics not typically covered in American history classes, along with SAT prep courses. Courses offered by some of these academies include Comics in American Culture, Presidents During Key Movements in American History, America’s Greatest Battles, and Hollywood vs. History: the Computer’s Effect on American Society. New Yorkers take note: ten of the eighteen schools and museums are located in New York City boroughs. More information about the Saturday Academies can be found on its website here.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute’s Saturday Academies Program was recently chosen as one of twelve winners of the 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its partner agencies. First Lady Michelle Obama presented the award, which recognizes outstanding after-school and out-of-school programs that transform the lives of young people.

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