Happy New Year! I tried to steer away from the stereotypical "New Year's" blog post but the idea kept drawing me in. Since the advent of social media, I am keenly aware of the New Year's resolutions that my friends, family, and followers create. NBC News found that New Year's resolutions regarding health and organization beat out travel and reading this year. Get Healthy. Get Organized. Live Life to the Fullest. Learn New Hobbies. Spend Less/Save More. Travel. Sound familiar? How many of you made a similar resolution last year? this year?
I was impressed, however, that 4,746,560 searches were made in reference to the New Year's Resolution - Read More! I LOVE this New Year's Resolution. However, I'm not quite sure that this is one that I, myself, can resolve to do. Anyone that knows me will testify that I already read an immense amount! Although, if Hermione's Time Turner really worked, I would surely read more!
Anyways --- Education seems to be a distant thought when conjuring up a new, soon to be broken, New Year's Resolution. So, here are FIVE super-easy New Year's Resolutions to enrich your child's education that you can actually keep!
1. BRAIN FOOD!
Since you, and maybe your entire family, already resolved to 'eat healthy' this year, this resolution should be a no-brainer! Ok, but seriously, how does this enrich my child's education? This answer is simple.
Eating Healthy + Less Sugary Foods = More Focused = Improved Learning
I'm not advocating for an all-out soul-crushing calorie counting diet. I'm not asking you to give up sweets forever, rid your life of gluten, start juicing or embark on one of the many other popular diets of today. As a country, we may resolve to do this every year, but these strict diet resolutions are amongst the first to fail.
Less Sugar. Less Caffeine. That's it. It's that simple.
Your child does NOT NEED that highly caffeinated Frappuccino from Starbucks, the chemically engineered Energy Drink from the convenience store or the sugar coated cereal. Have you taken a minute to look at the ingredients on the back of a box of Lucky Charms? Cinnamon Toast Crunch? We tell children that they can't eat their Halloween Candy for Breakfast but, nutritionally speaking, they already are! Swap water for that Frappuccino and fruits and vegetables for those quick junky snacks. When we opened HEROES Academy I noted that most of our students were coming to class with high caffeine beverages. So, we decided to ban all beverages, excluding water, altogether. The results were miraculous. The students were more focused and more productive. Limiting the sugar intake of your children just might 'cure' them of their hyper-activity. At the very least, it can't hurt!
I know that our phones, tablets, and other devices are our most prized possessions in the 21st century. Amazon's Echo Dot was one of the most popular presents this year. I'm not a huge fan of turning my daily tasks over to a robot but even I took part in this fad...It might seem easier to tell Alexa to "Turn off the Lights," "Convert 1/4 Cup to Tablespoons," "Set a Timer for 30 Minutes," "Read a Bedtime Story," and even calculate interest on your loans but these 'conveniences' are actually putting your brain to sleep! Do you really need Alexa to help you name your un-born child? Do you really need to check your phone every five minutes? What would happen if you didn't check Facebook, Twitter, or E-mail for an hour? Nothing tragic. I promise.
Seriously, spend one hour each day completely unplugged and see the results! Spending time away from the screens can lead to less stress, relaxation, better sleep habits, patience, stronger relationships, and more. Unplugging gives your brain TRUE rest time. Even engaging in brief activities while unplugged means that your brain is more engaged with the task or activity at hand. It helps keep your brain at its cognitive best. This article from Huffington Post provides you with "5 Steps to Making Unplugged Time a Daily Habit." Try it out and let me know the results!
3. GAMIFY YOUR HOME
Over the last few years, 'gamifying' the classroom has grown in popularity. So, why not 'gamify' your home? Gamification is the application of game playing to other activities -- such as learning! Pick one night per week, or even per month, for a family game night! My students LOVE the games we play in the classroom. Try these out:
4. FAMILY READING TIME
Set aside twenty minutes per day to read! Are you wondering what you can possibly do during your unplugged hour? Well, here's your first idea. Spend 20 minutes per day reading. Make it a family activity. If your children see you reading then they'll want to read. Simple, right? One of my students read over 30 books in 4 months. Her younger brother piggy-backed on her reading excitement and read almost the same! His mom reports that he 'won't stop reading.' Over the summer, it was a struggle to get him to pick up a book. What an improvement! Check out this link for book recommendations.
Do you need some motivation? Start a family reading challenge. You can use something super simple such as a sticker chart. The Kindle Reader also allows you to track your reading progress. Pick a few bookmark dates. For example, whoever reads the most books by Easter will receive a certain prize, get to pick a restaurant to eat at or even escape chores for a day or two! The prize doesn't have to be the same for every individual. Pick goals, methods, and rewards that match each person!
5. MATH MINUTES
ONE MINUTE per day! Yep, you heard me. One Minute. That's it! This is yet another brilliant way to spend your unplugged hour! Students must know their math facts to be successful in higher level mathematics. Most of the students at HEROES Academy start out in September barely able to complete 30 math facts up to 6 x 10 in one minute. By the end of December, most students (even those in 2nd grade!) can now complete 60 math facts up to 10 x 10 in one minute! Check out this link for more information on WHY this is important or CLICK HERE for math minute practice sheets!
A New Year's Resolution doesn't have to be big and scary. It doesn't have to take over your life. It doesn't have to make you miserable -- like some dieting and budgeting resolutions can be. These five simple resolutions will enrich your child's learning. They'll do better both in and outside of school. So, which of these will you be trying for the New Year? What's your New Year's Resolution?
Just for kicks, I threw up a volume of revolution problem on the whiteboard in the lunch room when I came in Friday morning. As the girls from Fundamentals of Research filtered in I was pleased to see them drawn to the puzzle. I watched in amusement as they made the problem so much more complex than it really was. It wasn’t the Calculus that stumped them but the failure to recognize simple things: the radius was equal to y which was proportionate to x. They solved it before going to class so I gave them another: could they apply the method of slicing to derive the equation for the volume of a pyramid?
After returning from their visit to the Neuroscience Lab they enthusiastically attempted to tackle this problem, filling the white board with symbols, equations, formulae and sketches. Finally at around 3:30 they found their solution – “He figured it out” they reported, pointing to Lance, the lone boy in the group. “At least it wasn’t one of those kid geniuses in the String Theory class – we would have really felt stupid then,” commented Amanda. Almost on cue, 11 year old Dylan pops his head into the room to report “I got the cross section part. I just forgot one part of the calculus.” My response – “That’s great Dylan, but aren’t you supposed to be in class.” As he returns to class, I close the door, face Lance and the girls: “You didn’t hear that.”
This first week of camp has been such a joy. We have the nicest kids and I’m having a blast tucking in little bonus math tutoring here and there to a very receptive group. It brings back so many memories of people I’ve tutored over the years.
The first person I tutored was my mother. I was in 4th grade when she decided to try to earn her GED. The report showing that she passed the math but failed the English would remain tucked in the top left corner of her dresser mirror for three decades until she finally earned her GED at age 65. My determination to help my mother fulfill a dream destroyed by the Allies Napalm campaign in Japan yielded an ability to teach myself math. I clearly remember the moment of clarity when lying on my bedroom floor with her GED study guide in front of me, I realized I could do anything I wanted to these equations as long as I did the same things to both sides – it was a missing piece to the puzzle I’d pondered for days.
Since that time, I have tutored hundreds of other math students, including several who remain indelibly etched in my memory.
There was the retired school superintendent, now an Alzheimer’s patient determined not to lose her memory without a fight. I slowly watched her deteriorate from not remembering what we did last week to not remembering what we did 5 minutes ago. I admired her courage and determination and felt honored that her loyal husband trusted me to lift her spirit during hours of self-designed experimental treatment.
There was a young boy, a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome victim, who I hoped to at least teach to count money and tell time before the social workers finally removed him from his mother’s house.
There was the middle school girl, who first came to me failing math who I once tutored by camp lantern after driving to her house after a hurricane. Although by that meeting, she had a solid A for the marking period and knew the material well, she needed me to validate her belief that she could Ace the next day’s test and see her first ever A in math on her report card.
As I coach new tutors working for HEROES Academy, I talk to them as much about relationship building and psychology as I do about math. The most important principal I teach them is to help build the student’s confidence. I don’t believe that distributing false praise, watered-down curriculum or inflated grades builds confidence. Children interpret such tactics as evidence that I don’t really believe in their ability. I believe that confidence is developed with the knowledge that they have a solid foundation and experience with successfully solving problems that challenge them.
For a struggling student, this often means working on material that was covered two or three years ago which often makes both parents and students nervous. They come hoping for a magic potion that will insure a passing grade on the next weeks’ exam. What they need is not a quick fix but a long term plan to build a solid foundation.
With gifted kids, I face other challenges. These children often like to fly through material, ready to devour the next concept as soon as they swallow the current one. I’ve met young children with impressive comprehension of regression, integration or linear algebra but have huge gaps in their math education. These children often are not happy when I suggest that we do a chapter by chapter assessment beginning in Algebra I to identify and fill in those holes.
I encountered that just last week after my theoretical physics instructor, Dr. Michael Park, talked to me about the math background of the students in his class. I asked each of the boys to take an algebra test. I received strong resistance, each boy claiming that it was beneath him.
Yesterday, I was working with one of these boys. After graphing a few parabolas, he recalled that he had done this before and was impatient to move on to something new. His complaint was that he needed to get through algebra so he could start calculus.
It’s because I know he can master calculus and beyond that won’t rush him. I pulled out the multiplication tower of math to explain this to him. “If I want to build a short tower, I can build it fast because I don’t have to worry about the strength of the foundation.” I explain to him as I start to haphazardly throw these Jenga-like blocks on top of each other. “But if the foundation isn’t strong, the tower will collapse.” I continue as they all fall down.
“If you want to build a tall tower; if you want to get to higher level math; then you have to take your time and make sure each level is solid before you move on.” I conclude as I carefully build my tower, aligning each level before stacking on new blocks.
If I believe a child can reach for the stars, I am careful to make sure that their foundation is strong before I encourage them to proceed to the next rung on the ladder. Allowing children to progress to new material before they fully understand the required prerequisites, is telling that child that I don’t really believe he or she is really able to understand math. We need to believe that our children CAN really understand math. We need to act on that belief by holding them to a standard that will prepare them to successfully travel along the path to higher learning. They will build confidence as we demonstrate our faith in them. This confidence plus a solid foundation will equal unlimited ability.
Guest Blog by Rita Voit
The sparkle in a child's eyes that accompanies a "Aha" moment is my addiction. As I prepare each lesson, I ponder ways to bring the concept to life, to make it real to each student. at times that may require building a beanstalk number line, sending a student on an imaginary segway tour, or making a game.
I do not believe in giving students formulae to memorize or to allow them to use formalas or procedures that they do not understand.
For my 5th grade and pre-algebra geometry lessons, I wanted students to develop their own formulae for surface area and volume. Even with the use of K'nex, Geo-Shapes and other geometry manipulatives, some students still had difficulty visualizing how specific nets would be be transformed into 3-Dimensional shapes.
I created nets with circles at their vertices and columns along their edges to create a new logic puzzle. I spent my vacation coloring and modge podging these nets to hang throughout the classroom.
This exceeded by capabilities using Paint and Microsoft Word. So, I enlisted the help of my daughter, Danielle -- my business partner, school librarian and language arts teacher. Danielle worked as a graphic designer for a local printer before she was even old enough to drive. This project suddenly took on an entirely new life. Soon, we had nets with mandalas, gardens, fireworks, stars and even Pokemon. Each weekend, students now rush to the library after class to find her newest creations.
As the school librarian, Danielle strives to put books in each child's hand that will transform "Did you do your 15 minutes of reading?" into "Stop reading and go to sleep!"
As the math teacher, I strive to connect children to the beauty of logic that is the core of math, to help them see the rules of math not as confusing constraints but as guides to use for their own creations.
As the math teacher, I strive to connect children to the beauty of logic that is the core of math, to help them see the rules of math not as confusing constraints but as guides to use for their own creations.
3D Coloring and Logic Puzzles has been such a success with my students. Our children live in a 3D world but are increasingly learning in the flat world of 2D screens. Today, many children type and text but do not cut, fold or paste. I would like to print at least 500 copies of this book so we can offer workshops at libraries and schools. Help us make this dream a reality by supporting our Kickstarter!
What is your child's favorite book? Help another parent, leave a suggestion in the comments!
I LOVE 'playing librarian.' If you've been to HEROES, you've seen our library. It's on the small side - with just about 1,000 books BUT I've read every single one of them! This makes it both easy and fun to recommend books to both students and parents. I send more than half of our students home with a new book to read every 1 - 2 weeks! When students take our placement test, I'm able to pinpoint almost exactly what they SHOULD be reading. I'm also able to tell what they ARE reading. These two criteria don't always match and it can be detrimental to student reading growth. So, what SHOULD your child be reading? Well, the answer is both simple and complicated.
Students should be reading at, or slightly above, their ability level. If a student is consistently reading books below their ability level then their reading comprehension skills aren't going to grow. This is a tragedy because books are full of wonderful stories for both entertainment and information purposes. Plus, reading is integral in learning EVERYTHING else. Parents often ask me why their child must qualify in both math and reading to take a math class with us. Reading is a very important aspect to math. Think about it. Math requires vocabulary. Math has word problems. Without word problems, calculations are obsolete. Who cares what "4 x 5" equals if you don't know what you can use it for? The more obvious reason -- textbooks!! Yes, our students read their math textbooks -- and they love them!! Science, history, engineering, computer science --- they all require the ability to read.
So, here are a few easy steps to finding your child the 'right book.'
1. Find out what they CAN read.
The easiest way to find out what your child can read is to have their reading comprehension skills assessed. Our placement test provides us with an RIT score which can be converted to Lexile, A-Z reading scales, and more. I can even pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses by strand -- vocabulary acquisition, literature, and informational text. If this isn't an option, you may be able to find a center near you that offers some sort of reading assessment.
Alternatively, you can talk to your child about what they are reading! Do they know what is happening in the book from start to finish? Can they identify the problem or conflict? Can they compare this text to other texts they've read? Can they explain to you why they liked, or did not like, the book? Do they have a favorite character? Why do they like this character? You don't have to read the book to talk to them about these things! If your child is repeatedly responding to these questions with comments such as "I don't remember," "I don't know," "just because," etc then it is likely that they either (1) did not actually read the book or (2) did not understand the book. In this case, it is probable that the book is too hard. However, I will note that some students will pretend to read books when they find them boring because they are too easy. So, this method requires a bit of insight into your particular child or some experience in reading instruction.
If, however, the child can answer most of these questions, it may be time to explore something a bit more challenging. Is your child reading a chapter book per day? It might be time to step them up to something a bit more challenging. Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan (currently under $7 on Amazon!) is a GREAT place to start. The book might look 'big and intimidating' but it's not! Let them open the book and flip through a few pages. Point out that there really aren't that many more words per page! I bet they can read it in 1 - 2 weeks if they read 20 minutes per day! [Side note: This book is particularly great because it appeals to a younger audience. PLUS, there is a picture book companion! Are they still intimidated by the page count? Let them read the picture book first!]
2. Find out what they LIKE
Is your child an avid reader? Great! Start with their favorite books. Look up the author and find other books that they wrote. Get them!! Technology also makes finding new books really easy. Go on Amazon. Find the most recent book that they read and loved. Scroll down and see what people who purchased this book also liked. The comments and reviews can sometimes be filled with great recommendations too. Added Bonus: Most books on Amazon contain a 'recommended age' and 'recommended grade level' in the details section. It's not 100% accurate and gives you quite a wide range, but it's a great way to evaluate if it is likely to be way too easy -- or way too hard. Alternatively, use Google (or your favorite search engine) to find "Books like ________________" or "Books to read after ________________" if you're in search of something a bit more challenging. If you want to introduce new genres, you can also check out the summer reading lists for other grades in your school district - or other districts! In every case, make sure you keep in mind the reading ability that was assessed in step 1.
Did you ask your child, "What is your favorite book?" and receive nothing but a shrug or mumbled "I don't know?" That's okay too! What does your child enjoy besides reading? Trucks? Science? Sports? Music? Once again, I'm going to recommend Google here. You will be pleasantly surprised at the results when you search, for example, "books about trucks for elementary students." Another great resource is Goodreads. Goodreads allows users to create book lists(Check out my account here). Plus, you'll find book reviews here too. Book lists are generated by individuals, groups and even other educational institutes. If your child is in highschool, or in middle school reading at a high school level, this 100 books to read before college is a GREAT list to work on. I wouldn't recommend this list for students younger than 12, regardless of reading ability.
3. Pick a book or two for yourself!
Now, why would I tell you to find a book to read in a blog post about children's reading? Well, the answer is simple. If your child sees you reading then they'll want to read too!
4. Purchase or borrow some books based on your results from Step 2!
Then, set aside a set time each day to read. It doesn't have to take over your entire evening. Twenty minutes per day goes a long way! It helps to have a comfy reading spot. Orb chairs, giant teddy bears, and bean bags all make great reading spots. Start to track your reading with a star chart. If you're using a Kindle, the Kindle for Kids edition allows you to track how many pages you read per day, week, month, etc. You get medals for reaching certain milestones. It's a lot of fun! I'm not a huge fan of 'digital reading' but, if it helps a reluctant reader find joy in reading then I'll take it!
Check back for book lists, book talks and more!
Many people have told me that I should write a book. It’s a daunting task, so instead I think I’ll try blogging. Eventually, maybe I can edit this and publish a book. I'm still not sure how many people ACTUALLY want to hear my rambling thoughts. We’ll see.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Danielle Voit. The students call me "Miss. Danielle." I am the co-director of HEROES Academy in New Brunswick, NJ. We offer accelerated enrichment for students ages 6 to 17. My position at HEROES isn’t just a job – it’s my life. You’ll frequently hear me refer to my students as “my children.” This might seem a tad possessive, but I truly feel as if they are part of my family. I love watching them learn and grow. The “aha” moment that students get when something ‘clicks’ is the most rewarding moment of my day – my week – my life. I love watching the gears turn in their heads as they figure out something new and their eyes light up at the sudden understanding of the recently unknown. It is these moments that I’d like to share with you – my readers. Or, perhaps, I’m just writing to the dark abyss of the internet right now? Only time shall tell…
Today is the last day of classes before we take a one week break for Thanksgiving. The children are all chattering about their holiday plans – turkeys and cranberry sauce, family vacations and – their favorite – a few days off from school! We are wrapping up units in nearly all of our classes today as we prepare to start new units when we return from break. Per usual, students are nearly galloping into class, as I remind them not to run in the halls. They’re always full of the most energy during the final class before a break.
Our Saturday mornings are always rather quiet. Some of the students had sleepovers last night. I’m still not sure why they are called ‘sleepovers’ because we all know that children NEVER sleep at a ‘sleepover!’ Other students stayed up late watching TV or – my personal favorite! Reading!!!!! [My Pokemon Reading Challenge is evidence that some of the students MUST be staying up all night reading...I'm not sure if I should feel guilty for infecting them with a book obsession?] Regardless, tired-or-not, I'm happy to see them all.
So, the day begins. We have a few absent students who already embarked on their holiday vacations. I’m jealous of their sunny destinations as the cold begins to creep into New Jersey. I’m sure they’ll still be reading their math textbooks while they’re away. Many of my students have read their books more than a dozen times already. I mean, who doesn’t love a math textbook filled with colorful graphics and friendly monsters? Our students LOVE the Beast Academy math series – and so do we! We even play the same 'games' that the monsters from our book play!
I won't go through the events of every class right now, as this post seems to be getting quite lengthy already.
However, here are the highlights of the day: