Calculus for Kidlets

by Ada

It must be time for another calculus topic, right?

I found this article interesting, though a bit naive.I agree with the premise (and might even buy the book and subscribe to the newsletter!).

5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus

Basically:

Finding an appropriate path hinges on appreciating an often-overlooked fact—that “the complexity of the idea and the difficulty of doing it are separate, independent dimensions,” she says. “Unfortunately a lot of what little children are offered is simple but hard—primitive ideas that are hard for humans to implement,” because they readily tax the limits of working memory, attention, precision and other cognitive functions. Examples of activities that fall into the “simple but hard” quadrant: Building a trench with a spoon (a military punishment that involves many small, repetitive tasks, akin to doing 100 two-digit addition problems on a typical worksheet, as Droujkova points out), or memorizing multiplication tables as individual facts rather than patterns.

Far better, she says, to start by creating rich and social mathematical experiences that are complex (allowing them to be taken in many different directions) yet easy (making them conducive to immediate play). Activities that fall into this quadrant: building a house with LEGO blocks, doing origami or snowflake cut-outs, or using a pretend “function box” that transforms objects (and can also be used in combination with a second machine to compose functions, or backwards to invert a function, and so on).

Of course, there is concern that the Tiger Moms will take this too far (not clear exactly how they can be more Tigerish), and, separately, the poor children will be left behind. The author asserts that any “semi-literate” adult can lead kids in this kind of exploration, but I am skeptical the author has ever seen a “semi-literate” person try to teach math.

However, math instruction is one of the reasons I decided to remove my children from the school system. I don’t need them to be accelerated, but I want them to find joy in it. The focus on getting all kids to a certain standard has sucked all magic out of math (at least in the way I have seen it implemented).

The resources we will use this year are Beast Academy and Life of Fred. I find these to be whimsical and thought provoking, though BA does have some serious computation expectations. I also love Kangaroo Math (a international competition that is the only source I could find for challenging math for very young kids). The difficult but solvable practice problems are for kids as young as first grade.

Do your kids love math? Did you? What do you think schools should do differently? How can I get my kids to be the youngest to pass the AP Calc exam ever and win some kind of homeschool award and validation?

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Education attainment levels across America

by Grace aka costofcollege

These educational attainment maps covering the United States reveal stark contrasts in some areas.

Educational Attainment in America

You can take a look at major cities, rural areas, and your own neighborhood.  It appears that my home is in a locale significantly less educated than the areas surrounding me on three sides.

A comment from the original poster of this link on a CollegeConfidential thread.

One of the things that this map reveals is that many cities and towns have very, very discrete divisions between educated and uneducated populations–often a single street, and that street often corresponds with ethnic/racial demographics.

Check out Austin Blvd. in Chicago, the crazy little UWS “peninsula” extending into Harlem in NYC, Palo Alto proper vs. East Palo Alto (divided by Highway 101), Philadelphia (you don’t need me to point it out–it’s obvious), and so many other cities.

We still are very, very segregated.

This NYT article highlights segregation in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Family by Family, How School Segregation Still Happens

Does the map data in your location surprise you?  Does it appear accurate?  Would you use this type of information when house hunting?  Totebaggers probably seek to live among other highly educated people.  Have you ever searched for and moved your family to an educationally diverse neighborhood?

Gifted vs. high-achieving

by S&M

“Giftedness” does not mean “likely to come out ahead in any competition”. Gifted children often are non-neurotypical in other ways as well, in ways that make learning in standard classrooms difficult. How well have your kids’ school done about recognizing this and addressing it through pedagogy (setting up classes according to it)?

The Truth About ‘Gifted’ Versus High-Achieving Students

The Rise and Fall of DARE

by Honolulu Mother

According to this article, DARE has seen its funding mostly dry up in recent years as education departments finally took notice of all the evidence that it didn’t actually work:

DARE: The Anti-Drug Program That Never Actually Worked

Yes, the program known for giving our nation’s police officers a nice family-friendly outing and PR opportunity and for causing a generation of kids to lecture their parents about the beer in the cooler at the family cookout. I don’t know if they’ve stopped offering it in the local schools now, but if so, it was too late for my kids, who all went through it in late elementary and picked up all kinds of interesting alternative facts from the friendly police officers teaching the class. My favorite was the assertion that alcohol and coffee work the same way: first they make you more active, then after you drink more, they slow you down and put you to sleep.

Did you, or your kids, go through DARE? What do you think of it? Are their better alternatives for drug education?

Sausage-making and the SAT

by Honolulu Mother

For those with high schoolers, here’s a deep dive into the sausage-making leading up to the new SAT this past spring. It sheds some light on where it’s coming from and is also entertaining in an industry gossip sense:

College Board faces rocky path after CEO pushes new vision for SAT

For everyone else, sorry about this topic! Perhaps you’d like to discuss actual sausage making? Have you ever tried it? We have and it’s a production, but having a freezer stocked with the end product is nice. Do you have a favorite sausage maker, either a national brand or local product?

Educational Spending and Inequality

by WCE

I enjoyed this map detailing the difference in educational spending between typical and high poverty rate schools by state. Missouri has the biggest gap in spending. What I found more interesting than the within-state gap, however, was the gap between states. Wyoming, Alaska and some New England states have per capita spending in the high teens. Most southeastern states, Oklahoma, Utah and Idaho have below average spending, around $7000. I would guess the national population-weighted average (not the average of 50 states) is $10,000/student, without knowing how technicalities like the need for new buildings being greater in some states is handled.

The site notes that some states have determined that unequal funding between districts within a state is unjust, but this gap is negligible compared to the gap between states. Do you think the inequality between states is unjust? What, if anything, do you think should be done about it? Other than New York, it appears that many states with the poorest students and the most ESL students have the lowest funding.

Map: 41 States are Shortchanging their Neediest Students

Electives, seminars and classes

by Louise

The Editor’s share their favorite electives

This topic is right up the Totebag alley. What is the most fun elective you took in school/college ? What are some interesting seminars or classes you attended where you learnt something outside your field ?

I had limited opportunity to take non core classes at school/college but the few classes that I was able to take taught me things which I still remember and I had fun taking them.

What electives have your kids chosen ? Anything interesting?

Selective Public High Schools

by Honolulu Mother

This Atlantic article discussed a recent study finding that students in selective public high schools didn’t end up with greater academic benefits than similar students at other schools:

The researchers divided schools into four groups: selective, top-tier, middle-tier, and bottom-tier. The first group consisted of schools that admit students based largely on test scores. The latter three groups were ranked by their students’ ACT scores and high-school graduation rates.

The study compared students against peers who attended different-tier schools but were otherwise similar based on traits including past test scores, degree of parental involvement, and home neighborhood. This approach isn’t perfect, but it allows researchers to estimate the impact of schools while holding student characteristics constant.

When simply making raw comparisons between students at selective-enrollment versus other city schools, the differences appear stark: Students at selective schools scored more than seven points higher on the ACT, which has a maximum score of 36. Yet when researchers controlled for a variety of factors to isolate the effect of attending a selective school, the disparities all but vanished. Attending a selective-enrollment school led to only a statistically insignificant bump in the ACT of half a point. The selective schools also seemed to have little or no effect on the likelihood of taking Advanced Placement classes, graduating from high school, or enrolling and staying in college.

The article notes a couple of caveats, though: the comparisons of individual students across schools were not typically across the whole spectrum of schools, but rather from selective to top-tier, or middle-tier to bottom-tier; and the study did find some non-academic benefits as to attendance and suspension rates, peer behavior, perceived safety, and their trust level in teachers.

We don’t have selective public high schools here, so I don’t know to what extent they’re comparable to the selective private schools that we do have (which were not part of the study). Those of you with experience with selective public high schools, do these conclusions ring true to you? And what do you think of selective public high schools in general — are we missing out on a good thing here? Does it require an urban area over a certain population size for the concept to work?

Supersmart kids

by Finn

If we’re all honest with ourselves, many of us have very smart kids. Perhaps they’re not supersmart, but they’re well above average, and common topics of conversation here are related to our kids being smarter than their classmates, and sometimes smarter than their teachers.

So these accounts of a study of supersmart kids will likely be of interest. Some here have mentioned some level of participation in the Johns Hopkins programs for very bright middle schoolers, and my niece participated, but I was totally unaware that the program was part of such a study of supersmart kids and how to help them maximize their potentials.

How to Raise a Genius: Lessons from a 45-Year Study of Supersmart Children

Want to Raise Wildly Successful Kids? Science Says Do This for Them (but Their Schools Probably Won’t)

What are your takeaways from these articles? Do they suggest any possible directions you will take regarding the education of your kids?

Ask the Totebag: Transitions

by Denver Dad

DS just started high school. During the first week, he seemed to be a bit moody and was starting to show signs of the anxiety issues he had a few years. At the end of the week, he sent an email to DW, the gist of it saying that he doesn’t like HS and wants to go to an online school. It was very mature and well thought out. I know HS is a tough transition, and more so when you go from a small school (550 students total in K-8) to a 1,200 student HS. DW and I agree he needs to give it time so he can settle in, and agree that online school is not an option (I am not interested in debating that).

We’ve already talked to our pediatrician about restarting the antidepressant he was when he had the issues a few years ago, and we are working on finding a counselor/therapist as well. We are going to reach out to the guidance counselor to see what she suggests because I’m sure other kids from his previous school have gone through the same thing (a lot of them go to this HS).

My question is, what are some things that you did to help your kids with the HS transition that seemed to help? And conversely, what are some things to avoid saying or doing that just made things worse?

And we can discuss the transition to college as well.

Financial education for kids

by Finn

Having a kid who’s close to graduating from HS, this article caught my attention:

5 Financial Concepts To Teach Your Teen Before High School Graduation

What do you think? Do you agree with the five concepts? Are there any others you think should be added? How do you plan to teach these concepts to your kids?

On a related note, do your kids’ schools offer classes in personal finance? My kids’ school offers one, but DS tells me he won’t take it because he’s already maxed out on the number of classes he’s allowed to take, and doesn’t want to give up any of them.

Next year they plan to offer some short courses, with personal finance being one possible subject. With the PSAT being moved from Saturday to a school day, the school decided to cancel classes on PSAT day, and instead offer things like personal finance seminars for the freshmen and seniors. Another possible time for some short classes is the weeks after AP testing.

University of Adjuncts

by Honolulu Mother

Gawker recently ran a series on the plight of the growing class of full-time-adjunct professors who, more and more, are doing the actual teaching in U.S. colleges and universities. You can see the whole series here:

Your Professors Are in the Struggle and They’re Not Winning Yet

Executive summary: it’s a terrible career path, and adjuncts don’t have the time or institutional support to be available to students outside of class the same way tenure-track professors are.

One obvious takeaway is that getting a PhD with plans to become a professor is highly inadvisable in this academic environment. But this trend may be concerning to Totebaggers for other reasons. For instance, as a parent of kids coming up on college age, I find it striking that the amount an individual college student pays per credit is similar to the amount the adjunct teaching the entire class is being paid per credit. That math seems wrong. And college students are going to find it more difficult to come up with references for first employment or grad school applications if the people teaching their classes are as likely as not to be gone the next year or the year after.

Is this a trend you’ve been following, and what are your thoughts on it?

Charter Schools, Traditional Public Schools, and $$

by Honolulu Mother

Charter and Traditional Public Schools Fight Over Money

The linked American Prospect article discusses conflicts between traditional public schools and public charter schools over the limited available pot of public education dollars. The specifics of the conflict vary from place to place depending on state laws, but I would think that the existence of the conflict must be pretty universal.

To me, both types of school have a place in the public education system, and I think our state does a reasonable job of balancing the interests by limiting the number of charter schools that can be created so that they offer an alternative to, but not a threat to the existence of, neighboring public schools. Our main problem is ensuring that freeing charter schools from the usual bureaucratic oversight doesn’t result in nepotism and other egregious misuse of public money. However, it sounds like some states have been less successful in finding a funding structure that works for both traditional and charter schools.

I’m sure you all have thoughts on this.

Overinvestment in College Lending

by WCE

College Loan Glut Worries Policy Makers

I was intrigued by this article, because both of my babysitters hoped to “go to college to improve themselves” but in my opinion, would have been more suited for a vocational program or apprenticeship.

I think that government continues to loan money to people who are poor risks (housing followed by education) because government is unwilling or unable to discern who is a worthy borrower without appearing racist or classist. Lending laws affecting banks and private lenders may or may not have similar effects, depending on how they are written and enforced. Lending money requires judging people and that’s hard for both social and policy reasons. Repayment depends in part on family/cultural background and not just on individual, statistical creditworthiness, which makes judgement even more complicated in a society where credit decisions are based solely on individual (or possibly married couple) attributes.

Agree or disagree? What do you think about a European-style approach to higher education, where slots are more subsidized but limited to applicants with higher demonstrated academic aptitude?

Excerpt:

The U.S. government over the last 15 years made a trillion-dollar investment to improve the nation’s workforce, productivity and economy. A big portion of that investment has now turned toxic, with echoes of the housing crisis.

The investment was in “human capital,” or, more specifically, higher education. The government helped finance tens of millions of tuitions as enrollment in U.S. colleges and graduate schools soared 24% from 2002 to 2012, rivaling the higher-education boom of the 1970s. Millions of others attended trade schools that award career certificates.

The government financed a large share of these educations through grants, low-interest loans and loan guarantees. Total outstanding student debt—almost all guaranteed or made directly by the federal government—has quadrupled since 2000 to $1.2 trillion today. The government also spent tens of billions of dollars in grants and tax credits for students.

New research shows a significant chunk of that investment backfired, with millions of students worse off for having gone to school. Many never learned new skills because they dropped out—and now carry debt they are unwilling or unable to repay. Policy makers worry that without a bigger intervention, those borrowers will become trapped for years and will ultimately hurt, rather than help, the nation’s economy.

Treasury Deputy Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin compares the 7 million student-loan borrowers in default—and millions of others who appear on the same path—to homeowners who found themselves underwater and headed toward foreclosure after the housing crash.

“We needed individual households to stabilize property values and help revive communities,” she said. “We want to stabilize this generation of student borrowers and revive their prospects for the future. I think students are essential to our future economic growth and contributions to productivity.”…

The Obama administration faced criticism that it was too slow to help ailing homeowners during the foreclosure crisis, which impeded the economy from recovering more quickly from the recession. The administration is determined to avoid similar criticism with student-loan borrowers.

It has already put forth an array of programs to help borrowers, including slashing monthly bills by tying payments to incomes, and forgiving some of their debt. But this time they face a different challenge: How to get borrowers to pay anything—even a penny—for an asset they never received.

Language choices

by Louise

The choice of foreign language comes up during discussion of academic choices. A lot of kids are taking Spanish. Their parents hope that they will be able to communicate with Spanish speakers in the U.S. There are a couple of issues though. The teaching of foreign languages, at the neighborhood schools (excludes language magnets or immersion programs) is not rigorous enough in my opinion. The languages are in many cases taught by non native speakers and the graduation requirement is only two years. It seems that the goal of being fluent in a language is not achieved. I am not sure if fluent in a language was ever the goal of the education system. I know some posters studied abroad during high school and college. What has been your experience as a student or as a parent ? Any language teachers among us who want to weigh in ?

How to diversify elite public schools?

by Lauren

The process for entry into the best academic public high schools in NYC has not changed in the time since I graduated from a NYC public high school in the 1980s. The problem is that the demographics of the city changed during the last 30 years, and many people would like the high schools to be a better reflection of the diverse group of children in the city. There is no question that even though certain minority groups are under represented, the kids that do gain entry actually are a reflection of the economic diversity in the city.

What do you think? Do you think it should continue to be just an entrance exam similar to the SAT, or should other factors be considered to gain entrance to these schools?

Proposals To Diversify NYC’s Top High Schools Would Do Little To Help, Study Finds

Common Core

by laurafrombaltimore

In the interest of setting things off, here are two hot-button issues rolled into one: Trump and Common Core.

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand Common Core (and Neither Do His Rivals)

OK, really, I was more interested in the discussion of Common Core, because the description here fits my experience: there is a huge difference between what Common Core is and what people think it is.

Example: as seems to happen every spring, DD went into one of her periodic grade spirals, and so we did the standard swoop-and-poop (our deal is that she can handle her work on her own, as long as she’s actually handling her work; when she doesn’t, she gets to do it our way). During the discussion of why her math grade went from a 90-something to a 70-something, she exploded about her frustrations with Common Core. ??? Hunh? What does a 14-yr-old know about Common Core?

The answer is that DD had head this from her math teacher. He is having them work in groups, because Common Core “requires” student-led learning, where they all work together to figure out how to approach problems and get to the answer; the teacher explained that he is allowed to ask questions but cannot give them the answers when they get stuck. And DD’s entire group basically cratered on one particular chapter (so, what, I am supposed to be happy that she got a 70-something when the others in her group got a 30-something?).

We had a little re-education of our own at home that night, explaining that Common Core is just the standards kids need to understand. The Board of Ed is the one that determines whatever dumb-@$$ method-du-jour the teachers need to use to get there.

What do you think about Common Core? Have your districts made changes in their teaching methods in an effort to achieve the Common Core standards?

Skills that kids need

by Grace aka costofcollege

The skills Americans say kids need to succeed in life

Pew Research Center recently asked a national sample of adults to select among a list of 10 skills: “Regardless of whether or not you think these skills are good to have, which ones do you think are most important for children to get ahead in the world today?”

The answer was clear. Across the board, more respondents said communication skills were most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork, writing and logic. Science fell somewhere in the middle, with more than half of Americans saying it was important.

Rounding out the bottom were skills more associated with kids’ extracurricular activities: art, music (sorry, right-brained people) and athletics. There was virtually no difference in the responses based on whether the person was a parent of a child aged 18 and younger or not.

20160305.PewKidsSkillsI take it that communication skills include speaking and writing.  Go to the link to see differences based on the respondents’ level of education.

Your thoughts?

Would You Support a Four Day School Week?

by Honolulu Mother

As explained in this Slate article, the idea would be to give kids who struggle one day a week for extra tutoring, while other kids have the option to come to school for enrichment activities, or even to stay home on Fridays.

Can a Four-Day School Week Actually Help Kids Who Are Struggling?

It is true that after our state’s notorious experiment with “Furlough Fridays” six years ago, test scores actually crept up slightly. However, I think that was attributable less to some benefit of cutting instruction time by 20%, and more to the schools having pushed the kids extra hard (and having cut out or cut back on art, music, and PE) during the remaining days.

What do you think of the four day school week idea?

Should kids learn cursive?

by Honolulu Mother

This Vox article, by Libby Nelson, notes that several state legislatures have passed bills requiring cursive to be taught, and questions the necessity of teaching it.

There’s no reason for kids to learn cursive, but politicians keep trying to make them

I learned what must have been somewhere between the Palmer method and the Zaner-Bloser method (loops at the top of all the capital letters like Palmer, but the capital F looked like the later version). I now write chicken-scratchings when I’m marking something up or writing notes, and passable cursive when I’m sending a note to school. My kids’ teachers took a brief stab at the D’Nealian method somewhere around 2nd grade, and then quickly abandoned it. The kids print, but have all made the effort to at least be able to sign their names in cursive.

Do you think cursive should be taught? Do your own kids use it?

School dress codes

by Finn

Do your kids’ schools have dress codes?

The Sexism of School Dress Codes

If so, what are those codes? What do you find good and bad about them? Do the codes treat boys and girls (and others) equally? Are boys, girls, and others treated equally in enforcement of the codes? Is it difficult to find clothes that meet those codes?

What changes would you like to see in your kids’ dress codes and their implementation and enforcement?

The evils of helicopter parenting

by laurafrombaltimore

Yet another article on the evils of helicopter parenting:

Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children

I think the folks here know me well enough to know I’m not a helicopter. But this time, all I could think was “that’s rich.” Why? Because by definition, her experience is with helicoptering that is aimed getting the kids into a “top” college – specifically, Stanford, for which she served as dean for a decade. But that means her experience is based on *the students that Stanford chose to admit* (and via an extremely selective admissions process to boot). She has written a whole book criticizing parents for doing what it takes to get their kids into Stanford – and doing it better than everyone else.

So what’s her analysis of the “college admission arms race,” which she admits drives much of this? It appears to boil down to “well, not everyone has to go to Stanford,” with maybe a soupcon of “not my problem.” All of her suggestions (optional SAT/ACT scores, limiting the number of schools each kid can apply to) impose the constraints on the students, not the college – not to mention make it less likely that those who actually follow her advice will get into that top college (who here really thinks Stanford will choose the kid who “opts out” of the SATs over one with a 1560?). And the colleges are (conveniently) scot-free to continue to operate as they always have.

How about this: if top colleges really care about “life skills and a work ethic,” how about they base their admissions decisions on those criteria? If colleges think it’s so valuable to have kids do chores and have jobs and such, then how about requiring that information on the applications – and actually weighing that more than, say, sitting 4th chair in concert band? Parents who care about getting their kids into a top college are going to do what they think those schools value, period. If the result of that arms race is brittle, helpless kids, then that says as much about those colleges’ admissions priorities than it does about the parents and students who are doing the best they can to play the game based on rules they didn’t write.

Parent Teacher Conference Season

By AustinMom

It’s that time again, the announcement and sign up for parent teacher conferences is here. Elementary conferences were pretty straight forward, with usually only one teacher to visit. If you weren’t certain about what topics to raise a quick search provides a plethora of results.

Middle school and high school conferences, at least in our area, are both set up for you to allow you to visit every teacher, or at least as many as you choose to. For both of our schools, you get a 10 minute slot per teacher, making it important to use that time effectively. With the current technology, we see grades posted online and generally have a good idea in advance of how they are doing from a numeric perspective.

At this level, I find that the teacher rarely has something specific they want to convey and the parent must lead the conversation. I have a few questions I ask every year tailored to each of my kid’s general approach to school. For my introvert, it focuses on class participation and advocating for herself. For my child who receives minimal accommodations, it focuses on feedback that these are working, which generally tells you if the teacher is implementing them. I also always ask for feedback on where each child is compared to their peers, about any standardized tests that have been taken, and anything that is coming up before the end of the semester that I should be aware of, especially if they require parental involvement. In the Spring I ask about next year’s class placements, will they be recommending the more rigorous courses, such as accelerated math in middle school or AP Calculus AB or BC in high school.

Totebaggers, Do you go to the conferences? If so, what do you try to glean from them? Do you have a favorite question or topic to discuss? Or, do you think they are a waste of time?

College rankings

by LauraFromBaltimore

This article follows up on a recent discussion we had:

College Rankings Fail to Measure the Influence of the Institution

The article and accompanying graphic seem to do a decent job of discussing the different ways to measure the value of a college degree, including the pros and cons of each. Personally, I like the “value added” approach they discuss (the revised Brookings approach in the article), because it tries to take away the impact of a number of factors that seem to be self-selecting (and I’m sure it’s, ahem, entirely coincidental that my own alma mater looks a lot better under that analysis than under the College Scorecard approach). But this crew seems to enjoy nothing more than data analysis and college education, so — discuss!

Back to school night

by Denver Dad

What do people thing about back to school night? We’ve usually found it to be pretty informative and worthwhile, but our school changed it around this year and it was pretty much a complete waste of time.

They used to do it the standard way where you started in your kid;s homeroom and then went to their classes where the teacher provided the syllabus and discussed the specific class. You got to meet all of their teachers and find out what would be covered in each class, what they were expecting from the kids, etc. It worked very well.

We have a principal who is starting her second year and she decided to change it up this year to try to fix what she thought the flaws were, which were time spent moving between classes, and juggling classes for multiple kids. So the new format was to have a room for each grade (there are only 2 classes per grade so space wasn’t an issue) and have the teachers come to the room. Then they had a second session, where they would repeat the presentations so you could go to one grade and then to another if you needed to.

However, in our opinion it failed miserably. First, they do performance grouping, and there was only one math and one language arts teacher in each room. I went to 8th grade and DS’ math teacher wasn’t there, and DW went to 7th grade and DD’s math teacher wasn’t there. And they just talked in generalities – all I found out from DS’ LA teacher is that they will read 7-10 books and have to do a 10 page research paper. No specifics as to what books or anything else. The math teacher said they are using a new curriculum this year, but didn’t give any info as to what will be covered at each level. DW said the math teacher in her room went over what they are covering in 7th grade math, but DD is in 8th grade math so that didn’t help.

Then the science and social studies teachers stayed in one room. So all we found out about 8th grade science is they are doing chemistry and physics, there was nobody to answer questions or provide more information. DW said all they heard about social studies was what they read on the PowerPoint slide because nobody in the 7th grade room knew anything about it. And because they were doing two sessions, it was too short. Time ran out before the SS teacher could start his talk in the 8th grade room, so he had to whip through it in about 60 seconds. The Spanish teacher did go to both rooms, but because of the time crunch, she only talked for about 2 minutes and couldn’t get into nearly as much detail as she has in previous years.

How do they do BTS night at your schools? Do you find it worthwhile?

Non-traditional learning

by Louise

Why Unschooling Is the Next Wave of Home-Based Education for Kids

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling 101

I know families who are homeschooling their kids. In these families the mother was already at home and for whatever reason, starting very early the decision was made not to send the kids on to traditional schools. These families follow curriculums put out by publishing companies. For high school they are thinking of supplementing with online courses. This is still not unschooling which goes a step further.

Does your family or people you know follow non traditional learning approaches? How has that worked out?

The Course Not Taken

By Sky

What class do you regret not taking?

While in graduate school in a non-medical field, I had the opportunity to take an EMT course for free, as long as I committed to a certain number of volunteer hours. Back then, I had the time for the class, but not enough to be sure I could do the volunteer hours.

Now I wish I had taken it, even if I had to pay for it.

I have had to deal with all sorts of minor medical kid emergencies, and I really have no idea how to tell a sprain from a break, or the start of anaphylaxis from bad hives. I’ve spent much more in unnecessary co-pays than I would have on the class – today’s jaunt to the x-ray for a possible broken ankle will cost me $800.

What class would you have taken if you could do it over again?

What would you take now if you had more time?

Summer Homework – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by AustinMom

Students scramble to complete summer homework

I came across this article, just after my daughter received her third summer homework assignment. So far, she has to (1) read a novel for English class, (2) read a book for World History, (3) read a couple chapters out of the World History textbook and answer some questions, (4) read a chapter out of one Chemistry text and answer the questions for that chapter, (5) read 2 chapters out of the second Chemistry text and answer the questions for those chapters, and (5) watch 2 Chemistry videos and complete the guided notes. All this is due on the first day of school. She is also expecting some pre-calculus homework as well.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, this is the equivalent of 2-3 nights of homework for each class or similar to what a week will feel like once school starts with her block schedule. If it seems overwhelming now, it will give her the chance to change her schedule the first day from all AP and Pre-AP to a mix that includes some “on level” classes as well. On the other hand, she worked very hard in school all year, she uses summer to catch up on her pleasure reading, and she went to an academic camp for 3 weeks that included reading almost the entire textbook, a short research paper, a presentation on another topic, and small group project. In short, she isn’t vegging out for 11 weeks in front of the tv or computer. But, even if she were, don’t these students deserve down time?

Totebaggers, do your students have summer homework? Did you? Is this summer homework really necessary? Does it only result in students dropping higher level courses to get out of the homework? Do the students benefit? If so, then why is summer homework focused on the higher performing students and not assigned across the board?

Middle School And Beyond

by Louise

Totebaggers – I need a middle school and beyond road map. Basically what exams, classes and camps to look out for. I am swimming upstream not knowing when to sign kids up for PSAT/SAT and other exams, how to have kids prepare etc. Now all school information for parents is online, so if I don’t look carefully I am afraid I’ll miss things.
I know for instance there are 8th grade placement exams – what does that mean?
Not having been through this school system facing decisions on what to have kid take, I value the Totebag collective wisdom.

What Have You Learned Lately?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Learning opportunities are everywhere — your job, your family, books, your community, travel, schools, and the Internet.

Lynda.com is an online education company “offering thousands of video courses in software, creative, and business skills … taught by industry experts. Members have unlimited access to watch the videos, which are primarily educational.”

Lynda Weinman founded Lynda.com in 1995, and recently sold the company to LinkedIn for $1.5 billion.  Weinman was ahead of her time in exploiting the benefits of online education.

“Everything we are talking about right now in online learning—how can we create lifelong learners, how can we support people changing careers, all of this stuff she was doing before it was the hip thing to do.”

Some Lynda.com photography courses caught my eye, and I hope to use them soon to learn more about editing and organizing photos.  A local camera shop may offer supplementary instruction.  I keep meaning to take a course in statistics.  Over the last few years I feel as if I’ve slacked off on learning new skills or improving existing ones.

What have you learned lately?  Do you consider yourself a “lifelong learner”?  Have you tried Lynda.com or something similar?  Or are you in a phase of life that leaves little time to learn new things because you are simply too busy keeping up with your juggle?  (Not that you don’t learn many valuable things just from doing that!)  Maybe when you retire you’ll have more time to focus on your continuing education.  What learning goals, personal or professional, do you have?

News from yesterday:  LinkedIn Offers Users Free Lynda.com Courses for the First Time

Related:  25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

Tell us about your schools

by Grace aka costofcollege

Tell us about your local schools.

Do you have school choice?  Do you have charters, magnets, or other options for selecting public schools outside your neighborhood?  Do you use private schools?

What do you like about your schools?

What do you dislike about your schools?

Have your children been well served by their schools?

What else can you tell us?  Demographics?  Amount of homework?  Grading?  Discipline policies?  Quality of instruction?  Technology?  Communication to parents?  How they address needs of special education and/or gifted students?  Choice of extra-curriculars?  Transportation?  Class sizes?  SAT/ACT scores?  Number of NMSFs?  Anything else?

How about the schools you attended?  Are your kids’ schools better or worse?

Did your local high school make it on the U.S. News Best High Schools Ranking?

Use GreatSchools to complete the following surveys for the HIGH SCHOOL your child attends, attended, or will likely attend.  (Reduced price lunch program information is under the “details” tab.)

Too Much Academic Pressure On Students?

by Sara

Real question: how hard should parents push top academic students without crossing the line. Where is the line? Valedictorian at our school had no friends or hobbies – like an academic robot programmed for Harvard. At our high school, one father said he wouldn’t pay for a non- ivy. Another mother hired tutors for every subject to give her daughter the edge (daughter now struggling academically at an ivy).

How Are You Paying For College?

by Grace aka costofcollege

As the deadline for high school seniors to choose a college approaches, the challenge of how to pay is has been a recent topic of discussion for many families.  Totebaggers are savers and unlikely to qualify for much need-based financial aid, so this timeline may not be relevant to many readers here.  But it does show some generalized steps along the path to saving and paying for college while giving us a starting point for discussion.

20150412.COCPlanningTimelineB

Before High School

Start saving for college ASAP:  This is the relatively uncomplicated part.  Although we can’t predict the costs of college over a child’s lifetime, it almost always makes sense to begin saving early on.  Even if MOOCs or other innovations make higher education more affordable in the future, there’s usually not much of a risk in saving too much since there are options for dealing with “left-over money in your 529 plan”.  Still, it makes sense to look at all the pros and cons of 529 plans.

Before Junior Year of High School

  • NMS potential:  If your child tends to score in the 95%ile of standardized tests, he may have a shot at earning a National Merit Scholarship.  A little test prep can make the difference in qualifying for significant merit financial aid.
  • Base Income Year (BIY): If there is a chance your family may qualify for need-based financial aid, you should explore ways to minimize income during the BIY, which is the 12-month period that begins January 1 during your child’s junior year.  Since the BIY is used as a snapshot for determining financial need, you may want to avoid selling stocks or property that will create large capital gains, refrain from converting to a Roth IRA, and defer bonus or other income if possible.

Junior Year of High School

  • Create list of schools:  Get serious and make a realistic list that includes academic and financial safeties.
  • Can we afford it? 1-2-3:  Determine affordability by using the 1-2-3 Method or something similar.

Senior Year of High School

Senior year is the busiest time for families as they handle the many details of the college application process, including final determination of how they will be paying.  Some important acronyms:

The two main forms used in determining financial aid eligibility are the FAFSA and PROFILE.
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. It is a form submitted to the government that collects the financial information needed to decide eligibility for federal FA. It’s also used by many colleges to determine institutional aid.
PROFILE is the financial aid application service offered by the College Board, used by about 400 colleges to learn if students qualify for non-federal student aid. There is a fee to submit a PROFILE, whereby the FAFSA is free.

The SAR (Student Aid Report) is a summary of your FAFSA responses and provides “some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid”.

What’s your approach in planning on how to pay for college?  Do you feel well prepared, or a bit nervous about how you’ll handle the costs?  If your kids are older, tell us what you learned.  Share your wisdom and ask your questions.

(A version of this post previously appeared in Cost of College.)

Sex Ed

by saacnmama

My son recently brought home a paper from school:

Your son/daughter will be receiving instruction about AIDS/HIV/STDs in the 7th grade. Because of the present lack of a medical solution to AIDS/HIV/STDs, prevention has been identified as the only viable alternative for controlling AIDS/HIV/STDs. Education is the first step to prevention.

The six areas of study will be

• Abstinence
• Facts concerning AIDS/HIV/STDs
• HIV and the immune system
• The transmission of AIDS/HIV/STDs
• Risk behaviors and preventative practices
• A general overview of other sexually transmitted diseases
• Peer pressure refusal skills

Emphasis will be placed on abstinence from sex and drugs as the most effective ways to prevent AIDS/HIV/STDs.

This unit will be taught in Science class. They are just wrapping up a unit on mitosis and meiosis, so this follows logically. Over the years, I have answered lots of questions from my son. Our approach has always been biological. Explaining that the reason sex feels good so that people and animals will do it and procreate, but they sometimes do it “extra” because of that good feeling, makes sense to me as long as he sees no other reason for it. I do not know if the state we live in (Florida) is one of the states required to focus on abstinence, but that would not surprise me. This article gives some interesting information on abstinence teaching and why it may not be most successful at reducing disease and teen pregnancy. The approach it seems to suggest would be very hard to implement as just one parent, because it involves societal values.

The days of the biological scientific approach are limited. His schoolmates apparently give him plenty of examples of sexual desire at work, and he reported that one of the principle ways girls at the first and only school dance he’s been to danced was running their hands up and down their own bodies. I am sure it will not be too long until circuits are connected and his lights and buzzers start going off. He has already begun to ask me questions about my own experiences (beyond the initial “you did that once? I know you did, to make me”). I have far more experience than I think is healthy to discuss with him. I have already mentioned that I did not do a good job picking out a husband or his father (to which he snorted and agreed), that I do not want him to follow in my footsteps, that I want him to have a long and good relationship with his partner. Right now, the system is powered down and this sounds good to him. When his questions become more detailed and insistent, my plan is to switch to “don’t kiss and tell”, including how girls’ reputation, more than boys, can be ruined by this, and that he should never discuss what or he someone else has done sexually.

All of us have been through this ourselves, “in the Dark Ages”, and many of you have guided one or more youngsters through it. What do you recall, and what recommendations can you make?

Slow Or Fast Reading?

by Grace aka costofcollege

Maybe you should slow down your reading speed.

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore….

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

Clicking on links may actually lead to lower comprehension.

Screens have changed our reading patterns from the linear, left-to-right sequence of years past to a wild skimming and skipping pattern as we hunt for important words and information.

More academics and writers are advocating a return to absorbing, uninterrupted reading—slow reading, as they call it. One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Skimming news articles online is different than reading a book or other longer pieces that require closer concentration, and I can see how too much Twitter and Tumblr could create habits that impair reading comprehension skills needed in other areas.  Here’s an antidote:

At Least 30 Minutes of Uninterrupted Reading With a Book or E-Book Helps

What’s your take?  How important are “slow reading” skills, or does a future filled mainly with videos and Tweets make them unnecessary?  Should schools change their instruction in any way?

Test your reading speed by clicking this link: How Fast Do You Read?  I’m betting most Totebaggers are fast readers.


QUESTION FOR EVERYONE:  ARE YOU INTERESTED IN A TOTEBAG BOOK CLUB?
 If so, would you like to suggest a book?  The idea of a book club has come up before, but I don’t remember if anyone expressed a willingness to organize and lead it.  If you are interested in taking on that role, please let me know.