"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

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Strike That, Reform It

Heads butt once again over education reform in the recent Chicago teachers strike.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago teachers certainly have different takes on how to improve Chicago schools. But which path is the right path to take?

Chicago teachers strike

Mayor Emanuel suggests closing poor-performing schools and opening new ones equipped with new teachers and administration. I almost laughed when I read this in the article. Really? That’s like cleaning up your bedroom by removing everything off your floor and hiding it in your closet—problem solved. Or is it?

I get it; he wants a clean plate, a fresh start, but while this may temporarily give some peace of mind, this seems relatively inefficient. There are already great teachers out there, why replace them? We already have a solid structure built, so let’s tweek it and cultivate it, not get rid of it.

Based on the article, it sounds like Mayor Emanuel thinks bad teachers are the cause of under-performing schools. To me, this is illogical thinking. At first glance you would think that a teacher’s effectiveness at teaching should be evaluated by their student’s test scores—a single input and a single output. But education is far more complicated than that, and that is why I believe it is unfair to evaluate a teacher’s performance based on their student’s test scores. A child’s academic performance is a result of many factors, their teacher’s influence is just one of them. Crime, poverty, hunger, problems in the home, and health are all factors that influence a child’s learning. Teachers do not have control over these social issues! So to evaluate them based on students’ test scores is to say teachers are responsible for these factors.

His plan is also inefficient in that it will bring us in a complete circle. Teachers and administrators are replaced. Then what? Replacing teachers doesn’t guarantee more effective teaching practices, and it doesn’t change the fact that some disadvantaged children come to school without basic school supplies. If only the teachers change and nothing else, we’ll end up right where we are now.

Unlike Mayor Emanuel, Chicago teachers are getting to the root of the problem. They are aware of the multiple factors that influence a child’s learning. Their push for more resources in neighborhood public schools is evidence that they are doing what they can to improve these factors.

This is way beyond the job description.


There’s No Place Like Home: Homesick at College

Since I’m about to enter my senior year of college, I suppose that makes me wise and old, and my advice on surviving freshman year worthy of consideration.

Leaving the nest

“Surviving freshman year.” What does this mean?! Sounds foreboding, but the term means something different for everyone because we each face different battles our freshman year. Some struggle getting along with roomates, adapting to college classes, avoiding the aroma of delicious grilled cheese in the café everyday, or making the mile trek to the grocery store—in the rain. It’s all part of the experience, the college life; it’s a right of passage really.

One thing that many new coming freshmen struggle with but do not always disclose is their case of homesickness.  I was one of them, and sometimes still am. Yes this is embarrassing, but I’m sharing this information to let other college students know that they are not alone.

There seems to be this “image” of a college freshman. You’re supposed to go to parties, make a bunch of new friends, and have the time of your life. But where is homesickness in all of this?

I suppose we are all different. Some may not miss home at all and enjoy having complete freedom away from their family and their hometown. But for me, much to my surprise, this was not the case.

Once the excitement of settling into my dorm room and starting new classes died down, I began to think about home. I remember sitting at my desk in the evenings working on awful calculus homework and thinking about what my family was doing right at that moment. They were probably coming home from work, from after school sports, making wise cracks at each other, and settling down to a meal of good ol’ mac and cheese with sliced hotdogs—yum.

I learned something from this experience.  I learned of how much I cared about my family and how much I enjoyed their company. I realized that my parents had build such a wonderful home for my siblings and I, had provided so much love and encouragement that I simply did not want to leave. Is that so terrible? What about growing up? I’m beginning to sound like Wendy in Peter Pan.

I’ve learned not to fight what is. You can try to deny your homesick symptoms, put on your big girl panties, but in the end it’s still there.

My advice: Know that what you are feeling is normal, that you are not alone, and do what you need to do to bring home to you. If you need to talk to your mom everyday, don’t feel embarrassed to do it. And if you feel like watching your family’s favorite comedy, ask your roommate to join you because I’m sure he or she is feeling the same way too.

College is a time of change and with it comes stress, anxiety, and homesickness. Many people experience these things yet no one talks about it.  Perhaps if we got people talking about it, it would make the transition from home to college a lot smoother.

Best Note Taking: Sketchnote On The iPad

Lecture. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Enough with the cramming and the hand-cramping, it’s time to upgrade your note taking with skectchnoting. And if that isn’t futuristic enough for you, try it out on you iPad.

What is sketchnoting?

Sketchnoting is visual note taking. It is becoming more and more popular as a way to capture, understand, and retain content. With sketchnoting you are taking an idea and asking yourself how you can represent that idea visually. The sketcher turns the speaker’s words into symbols, objects, arrows, dividers, bubbles, boxes, colors, and typography.

Why sketchnote?

Your drawings become visual mnemonics. Those who turn their words into drawings, making use of visual thinking, improve recall my 29 percent. Sketchnoting forces you to pay attention. And by making connections between concepts and making the material meaningful to you, you increase your retention of that content. Sketchnoting allows you to ditch the age-old linear note taking and layout your information in a format that flows logically and easily for you.

Another great reason for skechnoting: sketchnotes are more creative and visually appealing than standard note taking. By the end of the lecture you will have a work of art and an interesting study guide for later review!

Upgrading the upgrade: Sketchnoting on the iPad.

If you aren’t fond of dealing with papers, the iPad makes an excellent sketch notebook. You will need a sketch app for iPad.

Apps I recommend for sketchnoting: GoodNotes and Sketchbook Pro.

With Sketchbook Pro you might want to get an iPad stylus (using your fingers may produce undesirable results!).

GoodNotes has some nice features that assist in sketchnoting. What I like about this app is that you can move information/text/illustrations around as you please (no wasting time erasing!). You can also choose what kind of paper you want to use depending on your needs (lined, graphed, plain, or music).

Remember: To get the most out of sketchnoting you’ve got to make your drawings meaningful. If you give your drawings some spunk and personality, the more useful your sketchnotes will be for you.

Happy sketching!


Students and Parents: Education Can’t Change Without You

Much of the talk about education reform has focused on teachers and what they can do to help kids be successful in school. A lot is expected from teachers. They are expected to present material that is engaging, plan hands-on classroom activities, would have conversations with their students, keep up to date on the latest teaching techniques and resources, connect emotionally with their students, and provide encouragement and support. If that lengthy sentence had you feeling exhausted, think of how teachers must feel. Indeed, teachers are in the hot seat when it comes to education reform. But what many people have failed to recognize is that education reform does not rely solely on teachers. In fact, change can only come about with the combined effort of teachers, students, and parents.

What can students do to help? Take initiative and bring your student voice. Speak out and get involved in the talk, the decisions. Education is for the students, and any changes that are made will impact you. Communicate what you want your education to be like. What works/doesn’t work in the classroom for you? What changes can be made to help you succeed? Without your voice you’re like a crying infant, and policymakers are like the mother who is trying to guess what her baby needs. Policymakers are not the ones going to school everyday; you are the expert on schooling.

Parents. Become actively involved in your child’s education and show your support. Communicate with your child’s teacher and know what your child is doing at school. Try to understand your child’s passions, interests, and struggles. Do what you can at home to help them succeed in school. You’re afterschool pick-up conversation shouldn’t just be, ‘did you have fun in school today?’ ‘yep.’ I encourage you to dig deeper. Too many parents drop off their kid at school and make their child’s education the school’s responsibility; it’s passive almost, but it certainly shouldn’t be this way. If you and your child are investing this much time and energy in education, it doesn’t make sense to go through the motions.

If students can voice their opinions and if parents can follow through, I think we’ll be able to connect some pieces of this education reform puzzle.

What are the other missing pieces?

iPad and iPhone Games For Toddlers: Harmful or Helpful?

We’ve all heard that too much TV for your child is a bad thing. But how many of us have stopped to think why this is so? Our child looks fine, happy; there seems to be no negative effect.

Is your child bored but you have to make dinner? Easy, Sesame Street is on. Need to get ready for work? Barney what would I do without you?

But even what seems to be the most educational, mind-stimulating TV shows and videos can be potentially harmful to toddlers. According to the AAP, these educational programs benefit children over the age of two years, but, because children under age two are at a different stage of cognitive development, they do not benefit. Most children under the age of two do not understand the information presented to them from these shows or pay attention to them. Studies have found that these TV shows and videos have a short-term effect on language skill development for children under 2. Children who watch more TV are more likely to exhibit language delays.

It appears there is a correlation between TV viewing and delays in language development in young children, but is TV turning our kids’ brains to mush? Research suggests that it’s what TV is replacing that is the problem. When young children are planted in front of the TV for hours at a time, they aren’t interacting with their parent. When the TV is on, the parent and child aren’t talking or playing, which is crucial to children’s development at this age.

But while some parents have taken the advice and limited their children’s viewing time, there is another crime in the making: iPhones and iPads.

I work in retail, and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t see a flustered parent at check out who handles their child’s whining, or emotional outbursts by handing over their iPhone to them. It’s like a high-tech pacifier.

So the question I have is: are iPhones and iPads for toddlers just as bad for them as as TV? Indeed the two are different. However, apps like Peek-a-Zoo or Elmo Loves ABCs are more interactive and engaging than TV shows or videos, which can be considered a more passive experience.

But TV and smart devices do have something in common; they both take away from engaging activity between parent and child, and along with it, the benefits children under two gain from the interaction.

What is your opinion on toddlers using iPhones and iPads?



STEM Intervention: Passion, Education…And Chemical X

If you aren’t in the loop on our nation’s latest STEM dilemma, let’s get you caught up so you can carry on with the sequel.

By 2018, America will need to fill 1.2 million jobs in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). But this demand will surpass our supply; simply not enough college graduates will be qualified to fill these positions. Our nation’s high school students are lagging behind other countries in necessary skills for theses fields, ranking 25th out of 31 countries in math performance. Interest in STEM fields is low; in fact, only 233,000 out of 3.6 billion end up pursuing a STEM degree in college.

Many propose that we go about this problem by inspiring students to pursue careers in STEM fields. About two years ago Al Gore hosted on a global online town hall “Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation,” hoping to build excitement and spark student interest in STEM related careers. Others, including myself, have proposed that we inspire by increasing hands-on, interactive learning experiences in the classroom to boost STEM popularity.

But from my own personal experiences through schooling, and as I read more and more about the topic, I’ve come to realize that there is a relationship between one’s passion and one’s belief in their capabilities. An example shall we? I love to run; it is my passion. And hey, I just so happen to have a talent for it. Coincidence? Perhaps. But there’s no doubt that many people enjoy doing things they are good at (we like to feel good about ourselves don’t we?) and many people tend shy away from things they are not good at.

Keeping this point in mind, as we try to solve the STEM dilemma I think it’s important that we instill not just passion, but arm students with the necessary skills and confidence. I have a passion for art, but I never pursued the field because, to be honest, I did not think I had the skills or the talent; I was afraid of failure. I believe this is what we need to prevent if we want kids to pursue STEM degrees and careers. We need to let kids know that it’s okay to fail and make mistakes, and our educational system needs to reflect that attitude.

How can we do this? I don’t think we need to abandon our whole grading system; we just need to make some minor tweaks. After getting a poor grade on a math test, a hard-working student may feel defeated, fostering a negative attitude toward math, leading them to shy away from pursuing the field. But what if teachers intervened by reaching out to the students (more than they already are) who are having a hard time in math in science? By offering encouragement, tips, advice, and tools and resource to access from home, perhaps we can avoid the “I hate math” attitude.

Sometimes all students need is a little faith, trust and pixie dust.

Prep Your iPad for College: Best Apps for College Students

I have a sad story to tell you. Last year I was awarded an iPad for my good grades but I’ve been so busy (and somewhat technologically challenged) that I still haven’t explored the wonders of the iPad beyond Safari, Mail, and iBooks. Oh yeah and I still haven’t invested in a case for it. I hope you aren’t too appalled to read on further because I do have some useful information coming your way. Today I decided it’s time to crack down. This iPad is awesome and it’s time the iPad and I got to know each other. How can the iPad be useful for me for college this year? What are the best apps for productivity? This morning I sought out answers to these questions; here is a list I compiled of the best apps for college students:

  1. Graphing calculator HD: You backpack just got lighter. You can even graph up to four functions at a time! Stunning, colorful graphs all for cheaper, beats the TI-83 any day.
  2. Noteability: Has a lot of features packed into one app. While in class you can take handwritten notes or type, record the lecture, and annotate PDF documents. It even has common word-processing tools like spell checker, textbox, and styling features.
  3. iAnnotate: In college PDF files from your professors are constantly thrown at you. This app lets you highlight, underline, take notes, and organize your documents. You can open up several documents at once on different tabs, making it easy to jump back and forth between documents.
  4. iThoughts: For the web-making prone students. If you make concept maps while you study, this is the app for you. Looks pretty too.
  5. Amazon Student: An easy way to browse, purchase, and trade textbooks.
  6. Instapaper Pro: Save articles to your iPad as you surf the web. If you leave Internet connection those articles will still be there for you to read. This is a great app because even if you are on campus with Wi-Fi, it isn’t always reliable or it can be slow.
  7. Evernote: You can take quick notes, save sites from the Internet, make to-do lists, record lectures for review later, and copy and paste information from sites.
  8. Flash my Brain: Turns your notes into flash cards for studying.
  9. Dropbox: Drop your files into the box and you can access them from any of your devices. Thank goodness for this, it’s not practical or particularly smart to carry all your devices on you at once.
  10. Print n Share Pro: Lets you view PDF and Microsoft office documents and print them to all kinds of printers. Great for those days when you have a mini heart attack because you forgot to bring your assignment from home.
  11. Pages for iPad:  A word processor.  Allows you to take lecture notes and save them as a Word document or PDF.
  12. Mathematical formulas: Stuck on a math homework problem? The right formula to help solve it might be in here; gives examples too.
  13. Textbooks: Download a textbook onto your iPad. Don’t lug that thing around like a caveman!
  14. iStudiez Pro: An organizer/task manager geared for college students. Lets you keep track of your assignments, projects, due dates.

Any other useful apps for college students out there that you’d like to share?

Technology and the Transition in Education

Change is in the air. Actually, it’s in the classroom. Education in America has been hit with a wave of technology from iPads to iMacs to electronic whiteboards. It’s exciting; the growth of technology and its application to the classroom allows more opportunity for learning. Teachers can teach more efficiently; no more fussy overheads or booting up the computer for 10 minutes. And with tools like Diigo, teachers can present and share a series of sites to their students instantly.

The possibilities for the use of the iPad for students are endless, and they are undoubtedly sparking creativity. Young elementary school students are using the iPad to make their own digital storybooks, featuring text, photos, and links to other sites and content. High school students are using them for anatomy demonstrations, turning in assignments, recording lectures, creating group presentations, and even for assisting in lab experiments.

With the boom in technology we are also seeing a rise in online education. Top universities are now offering classes online for free for students around the world. All students have to do is locate Internet connection, login, and they have access to assignments, video lectures, tests, and other course material. This is a cheap, efficient way to gain an education; giving even disadvantaged students the opportunity to gain an education (can you see why Bill Gates is working towards increasing Internet access? Brilliant).

Online education certainly has its perks, but when combined with the fact that college tuition is becoming more and more expensive every year, I fear we are headed in a bad direction. Lets face it, online education is cheaper and people may soon come to realize that they can earn their degree without traveling miles away, paying over-priced housing, books, and tuition and putting themselves in student loan debt. People may start to question, is the “college experience” even worth it? It’s society’s future, potential answer to this question that concerns me.

I do believe colleges can and should become more efficient institutions, but is there a way this can be accomplished without robbing students of the crucial ingredients they need to thrive? I’m talking about the physical, hands-on experience of learning, serendipitous discovery, the benefits of interacting with other students, putting our minds together, sharing, and growing together into well-educated individuals. These are all things one can gain from attending class, things no technology can ever fully replace.

This past quarter my lab group in Animal Behavior went out into the field to run our own experiment on crows and their mobbing behavior. We created a mock dead crow (a black sock filled with dirt, complete with fake feathers), laid it out on our established site, and observed crow behavior. This experiment was so fun because we designed it on our own and obtained some interesting results! Crows actually mobbed our fake crow and one feisty one had the nerve to attack it, physically plucking its feathers out! It was experiences like these that made me think, ‘I love college; I love learning.’

Now if higher education transitions to the Internet and college campuses disappear…who will run the crow experiments?


A Different Perspective On Education: What’s Up With Unschooling?

Is it possible for one to learn and grow without traditional schooling? Some parents and educators have questioned this themselves, leading to the philosophy of radical unschooling. This term grabbed my attention just a few days ago. What a unique, strange concept. I, as I am sure is the case for some others, have never considered educating children in ways other than the curriculum of America’s education system. Homeschooling, I believe, still lies under the category of the traditional classroom; or it can be viewed as a variation of it, where children are still presented with material the government expects them to learn well enough to meet standard on national assessments.

So what is unschooling exactly? It is essentially an unconventional way of acquiring knowledge. Unschooling can be thought of as independent or self-directed learning, where children are encouraged to grow and learn naturally through life experiences, pursue their own interests, and ask questions. With unschooling, everyone has his or her own path in acquiring an education; there is no one simple formula.

Many believe that our nation has defined what education is and that education in America rests on the notion that children will not pursue an education on their own. But the philosophy of unschooling believes contrary; kids are naturally inclined to learn, explore, and are innately curious beings.

This seems very interesting to me. I undoubtedly hate doing calculus homework but that doesn’t mean that I don’t’ enjoy learning or don’t have the desire to learn, it just means that I’d rather acquire my knowledge in different ways.

I think this is what unschooling is about, and it forces us to ask one question. Why are we forcing children to memorize, to read and take notes from textbooks, and to take tests if that is not the way they desire to learn? Most people may answer, ‘well that is just how you learn, gain an education, and become successful in life.’

I may sound like the philosoraptor here, but why does America’s curriculum have to be the only means of educating individuals when there are certainly other ways people can learn? Humans learn on their own through real-world experiences, by playing, experimenting, and following their passion; this is how we learn even before we enter preschool, so I wonder why our curriculum does not center on this notion. If it did, there would be an additional option to mark on my multiple-choice exams:  there are many possible answers.

What is your opinion of unschooling?


Should I Send My Child to Preschool?

I remember my first day of kindergarten distinctively. I will never forget the little boy who had an emotional outburst due to anxiety over leaving his mother. Reflecting on this childhood memory, I thought ‘how can a child be best prepared for kindergarten, and not only kindergarten but their future education?’ Many mothers struggle with the decision on whether to send their child to preschool.  In a hunt to answer the question, ‘why preschool?’ I compiled a list of reasons from various sources.

  1. To become accustomed to the structure and routine of a school setting, to follow rules given my teachers and other faculty
  2. Learn how to respect other students, to share and cooperate with them
  3. Become comfortable spending time away from the parent and learn to trust and feel safe with other adults
  4. An opportunity to interact with other students, join in on other student’s play, and learn social skills
  5. To build confidence
  6. Teachers help children learn how to self-regulate their emotions
  7. To make friends
  8. To learn how to help, contribute, to take on responsibilities
  9. Learn behaviors that are essential to the structure and effectiveness of a kindergarten classroom. Example: Wait your turn to talk.
  10. To increase vocabulary
  11. To foster curiosity and interest in learning
  12. An opportunity for imaginary or pretend play, which helps your child build their learning skills
  13. Preschool lies down the foundation for future math and literacy skills, as children are introduced to letters, numbers, and shapes through various games and activities
  14. To develop motor skills (like learning how to hold a pencil)

The goal of preschool is to help your child develop cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically. Probably the greatest thing I’ve learned about preschool programs is that the focus isn’t on hitting academic marks, its on having fun, exploring, and socializing; which is the way it should be for young children right?

Bottom line though, sending your child to preschool is a personal decision. Preschool offers benefits, but home learning does too. I think its about finding the right fit for you and your child and how you think you can best prepare him or her for kindergarten. Remember, you are the expert on your child.

Do you think children who attend preschool are better prepared for kindergarten, for their overall education?



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