school

A More Efficient Way to Study for the AP Tests

Written on May 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm , by

We are in the thick of AP testing in my house. The student—Cole—who is facing these exams is not known for his aggressive study habits. One thing I have discovered is that studying for these tests is slippery. This may be why over half the students who take them don’t get a passing grade. And these tests are expensive. Therefore, I did my part: I nagged. I shut off all the distractions I could control. As the day grew nearer, I asked—with increasing desperation—if he was ready. Most of my efforts were met with an unnerving calm and the insistence, “I got it!” So when McGraw-Hill offered me a demo of its AP test prep program SCOREboard ($20 per test), I was in.

First SCOREboard offers a practice test that assesses where your knowledge stands right now. Then it prepares a customized study plan based on what you don’t know. Next it drills you, watching which answers you get right or wrong and asking how confident you are in your answers to determine whether you are guessing. Then you test again (up to four times). It keeps adapting the questions it asks so that you study only what you don’t know. Because, if you’re anything like my teen, you aren’t going to spend enough time on this and you don’t want to waste any of it. SCOREboard sets you up with a study plan that tells you—based on what you don’t know and how quickly you’re learning–how much time to spend studying before test day.

I came upon SCOREboard a bit late in the year for Cole to use it for any more than last-minute cramming. Still, it did give me another tactic to use while I was nagging. Armed with a code to try a practice test, I knocked on his door. “Are you playing video games or studying for your AP science test?” I asked. (I could see he was playing video games.) “I’m doing both,” he tried. “I’m playing video games while I study. But I’ve got it. Calm down.”

“Take this assessment test,” I responded, sending him the link from my phone. “If you do well on it. I’ll calm down and leave you alone with your video game.” That worked. He took the test, sure he’d ace it and get me to leave him alone. But when I came back to check on how it had gone, he was studying. “How’d you do?” I asked, fully aware that the only thing that would make him study was a very poor assessment. “Yeah. I’m studying,” he growled, clearly chastened by a dose of reality.

Cole took his AP test yesterday and believes he did well. Hopefully, that last-minute, targeted cramming helped. (It certainly did more good than the video game.) But we won’t know till July.

If you have a high school student, you might want to bookmark this site now so that you can get a jump on things early when the tests come around again.

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Your Kid’s Homework Load Isn’t Too Much, New Study Suggests

Written on March 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm , by

So the kids are all right. That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study on homework by the Brookings Institution, which says that the average homework load for 9- to 17-year-olds has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 years. This, of course, flies in the face of all the horror stories we’ve heard about kids drowning in nightly homework, of exhausted parents who can’t cope, and of families fraying at the seams because of it all.

So what to think? My own experience, or I should say that of my 12-year-old, is that she consistently has at least 2 or 3 hours every night—about double what the Brookings study found. She’s not suffering under the load—I half-jokingly describe it as “only mildly soul-crushing”—and our family isn’t falling apart, though it’s still too much. Then again, she’s in an honors program at a public school that’s something of a learning factory, but that was the choice we made, since the alternative was a school that wouldn’t have challenged her enough.

I’m grateful for the excellent education she’s getting. And the homework isn’t busywork. It does what I believe take-home assignments are supposed to do: that is, reinforce the lessons learned in class. So I gripe a little, but not too much. At the same time, I don’t dismiss the complainers as whiners. But here’s the thing—the gap between the homework horror stories and what the study found is a pretty big one, which says plenty about the inequality of education nationwide. That’s a much bigger problem, and one that won’t be easily solved.

Tell us what you think in the comments below. 

Q&A: “I’m a 12-Year-Old Girl Who Doesn’t Like Her New School”

Written on October 9, 2012 at 10:50 am , by

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

Q. I’m a 12-year-old girl who doesn’t like her new school. People aren’t open to helping me, there are so few kids to make friends with and I’m getting frustrated. Is there a way to make things better?

A. That’s terrible! You’d hope everyone would realize how hard it is for you as a new kid. It’s time to take matters into your own hands. First, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you can make one or two friends by spring break, I’d consider that a win. It’s possible the kids in your class have grown up together and that can be really intimidating, but the work you do as a team will give you opportunities to strengthen bonds. Are there any group projects coming up? Things you’re interested in at school that other kids are into as well? If so, invite a group over to your house to work or hang together. Friendships will develop from there.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

Preparing Your Teen’s Computer for Back to School

Written on August 31, 2012 at 5:47 pm , by

School is in session! We are working out the kinks in the morning routine and homework hour is part of our evening ritual. My family is actually used to the new schedule.One reason it’s going well? Technical preparedness.

My son’s laptop is his most-used possession. Before school started, I made him grab it and sit down with me to make sure it was as ready for back to school as the rest of us. I outsourced the time-consuming, patience-demanding portions of this task to a geek-on-call. If you read my column The Benefits of Annual Tech Support Plans you know all about this. But, in a nutshell, I called a toll-free number at McAfee’s Techmaster service (where I have an annual plan), told the tech who answered the phone that I wanted to install new virus protection (his had expired), run a scan for malware, and clean things up so the computer would run a little faster. Then I typed exactly what the rep told me to do into a remote control website, clicked OK a few times, and surrendered control of the computer to the tech on the other end of the phone. Or I should say, I walked my son through doing all of this because I wanted him to know how in case his computer went crazy when I wasn’t around to help him fix it. This took about three minutes. When the tech was done, he wished Cole luck with school and logged off.

After, I told Cole he needed real tools for school: A word processor, digital notebook, presentation program, and more. (He’s been getting by with what came on his computer and Google Docs.) And, as it happens, the not-yet-released Microsoft Office 2013 is available right now for a free download while it is in Customer Preview mode. I’ve been using it myself and I like the new, sleek look, the modern updates, and the way it integrates with Microsoft’s cloud storage SkyDrive.

Cole never takes his laptop to school so he often forgets to put completed homework on a flash drive and take it to school. But using this cloud-based storage system means he can access his files from any school computer. You don’t need to download the Office 2013 Preview to use Skydrive. SkyDrive is free. But it works nicely with the new office, making the cloud an obvious storage option every time you save.

I sent Cole to the link and he figured out the rest. He liked the new tools, too. For now, he has Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook on his laptop so he can’t claim he didn’t have what he needed to complete school assignments. Eventually, the preview period will end and Microsoft will want to charge us to keep using the final product. But by then I will know how much Cole uses it. And my budget will have recovered somewhat from all the other back-to-school expenses.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.

Your Thoughts: Do Kids Really Need Homework?

Written on August 28, 2012 at 9:02 am , by

When we (the editors of Family Circle) started kicking around the idea of a piece on homework, I grabbed the reins because it’s a huge issue in my household. To put it bluntly, after a full day of school, my 8-year-old son doesn’t want to do more work—and frankly, I’m not at all convinced he should have to. I mean, he hasn’t even reached a double-digit age yet. Shouldn’t seven hours of school cover it for younger kids academically?

Apparently not, as evidenced by his homework assignments in multiple subjects. This necessitates me having to suggest, ask, nudge, prod, and finally, flat-out demand that he do the work, which is a dynamic between us that I have come to loathe at the end of the day. (If he’s forgotten a book he needs, because of the crush to pack up quickly, that’s a whole other source of aggravation.)

Of course, absolutely and without exception, whether it is technically “assigned” or not, I would insist he spend time every day reading. I would think that would go without saying, but I will say it lest anyone be tempted to call me out on the reading issue. When I say “homework,” I’m referring to worksheets and similar tasks.

Anyway, I’m fascinated with the writings of educator Alfie Kohn, who makes a convincing case against after-hours assignments. In his piece in Family Circle‘s October issue, he writes:

Doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it’s usually fairly small. And in any case, it’s far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you’re wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.

Other educational experts obviously, and vocally, disagree. In my mind, the topic at least merits spirited debate, rather than just rote compliance.

So speak up! Tell us your stance on homework in the comments below.

Jonna Gallo Weppler is articles director at Family Circle magazine.

How To Talk To Your Kids About Cheating

Written on May 2, 2012 at 11:33 am , by

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

For the last year I’ve been working with NBC‘s Dateline on their “My Child Would Never Do That” series. We started with an episode on what your child would do if she was a bystander to bullying. The series has continued with topics like drunk driving and stranger danger.

For some of these episodes I’ve facilitated conversations between parents and kids to show how parents can guide their children through these tough topics. One of the most important insights I’ve taken away from doing this series is that

Last Sunday, the topic was kids and cheating. To help parents, I’ve come up with some tips.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Cheating

Teaching our children honesty and why not to cheat can be more complicated than it seems. Why? Because we live in a world of mixed messages where the external rewards of winning often seem to outweigh the internal rewards of achieving honestly. From reality show characters who boast, “I didn’t come here to make friends” as a way to justify undermining and deceiving competitors to athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs, our children often see adults acting out the opposite of what many parents want to teach their children.

Use the bad role models in the media as examples. When you see someone in the news who has cheated or been dishonest, ask your kids why they think their behavior is against your family values.

It’s not enough to tell your children to be honest or do the right thing. Talk to them about specific situations in which being honest will be hard—like seeing the questions before a test—and about what you expect them to do. Admit that it doesn’t always feel good to be honest.

If your child is caught cheating, here’s what you can do:

Dig deep. Sometimes children cheat because they feel tremendous pressure to get the high grade or win the game. You need to find out why it was so important to your child to achieve his goal that he was willing to do so dishonestly.

Remind him that the faster he admits what he’s done, the less anxious he’ll feel, and the less trouble he’ll probably get into.

Don’t let your anxiety rationalize getting your kid out of trouble. It’s easy to become too worried about the long-term impact of having something on a student’s permanent record, but if you truly want to raise a child with integrity and self-confidence he has to see that you (1) will hold him accountable when it matters and (2) believe he has the strength of character to get through the process.

Express disappointment, but see this as the learning opportunity it is. Your kid may get really angry at you for holding him accountable, and that’s okay.

Remember that most of us develop integrity through a process of being tested and having adults we respect guide us along the way.

And be sure to watch the last episode about racial discrimination. It airs Sunday May 6 at 7 p.m. EST. It’s guaranteed to be a great discussion starter with your kids. I know I’ll be watching and talking about it with mine.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

Shopping for a Prom Dress: The Odyssey Begins

Written on April 11, 2012 at 1:55 pm , by

Guest blogger Marian Merritt, member of Family Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board, on her “prom mom” experiences.

My nearly 18 year old daughter (I’ll call her “M”) is a high school senior and beginning to plan for the penultimate ritual of finishing high school: the prom. So apparently, that makes me a “prom mom”! And I’m feeling such a bittersweet rush of emotions about this. I suppose that’s normal. Unbidden, fog-laden memories of my own prom come whispering. The dress I selected, after hours spent in the over-lit dressing rooms of now-long-since-gone Los Angeles department stores like Robinson’s, Orbach’s and Bonwit-Teller. Scandia, the glamorous restaurant my prom party went to, is also no longer around.

You may be interested or even shocked to know that my daughter’s high school doesn’t actually allow or sanction the prom. My daughter’s school is a religious one and doesn’t approve of dances. As a result, this is the “MORP” (prom spelled backwards) and is put on by the students themselves, with parents as adult chaperones. The principal is fairly modern and hesitant to speak too harshly against the evening so he limits his concerns to the possibility of foolish and dangerous behavior like underage drinking and the unnecessary expenses for the families of his students. And the principal’s concerns are not unfounded; some of the parents I’ve spoken with are opposed to the prom because it can be so expensive. I’m much more sentimental and am looking forward to the affair even if we have to monitor the spending to not go overboard. I have every expectation that my daughter and her friends will simply have a good time in one last lovely party before they all scatter to colleges, gap year programs and other endeavors near and far.

My daughter’s class is very small and extremely close-knit and she has been dating a boy from another school for several months now. I’m happy for her that the prom will be a celebration of these long friendships and that she will get to go with someone she’s close to. The June event is still several months away but preparing for prom is a journey, a process, and there’s actually a lot to do to help her plan this wonderful evening.

So where are we in all this? M is still at square one, finding the perfect dress. Have you ever met a teen who said “yes” to the first prom dress they saw? If so, she’s not my daughter. So far, M’s been to malls near and far with her friends, looked online and in magazines, hoping to find that ideal combination of glamour and comfort in a dress that flatters her figure, hides her (perceived) flaws and comes in a price tag we can afford. She’s been emailing me links to websites, photos of her in store dressing rooms and showed me clippings of gowns. But so far, she hasn’t allowed me to go shopping with her. I know why. It’s because, as a busy working mom, I tend to make decisions quickly. I get impatient with shopping and after a few hours, my feet hurt. (Just reading that in print makes me feel old.)

Today, that changes. M has asked me to take a long lunch and go with her to a mall nearby for some dress shopping. And if that proves unfruitful, we have a trip back East in a week to look at some of her colleges. Maybe, during some of our downtime we can visit a few stores together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to discover a little boutique in SoHo or a shop in Philadelphia with that unique, perfect, not-too-expensive dress? And to have that experience together? Not only because it will be such a pleasure to help her find this dream dress, but also because the chance to spend time with her is fleeting. She’s so busy, so consumed with decisions about college or perhaps a gap year program, with AP tests and softball practice, with community service hours and socializing, I’m grateful for our family dinners so at least we see her from time to time.

But if I let you in on a secret, the best part so far of being a prom mom is finding out that my big girl, my nearly-old-enough-to-vote daughter still wants my advice and maybe even my approval. M is concerned about spending too much on a dress she knows she’ll only wear once. She’s really so mature and so considerate, it’s one of those “you’re making me proud” moments that can sneak up on you.  And that make you feel like you’re doing something right after all.

Marian Merritt is a mother of three (two teens and a tween) and works for security company Norton by Symantec. You can read her internet safety blog at www.norton.com/askmarian. She serves on Family  Circle’s Tween/Teen Advisory Board and has written the award-winning Norton Family Online Safety Guide, now in its third edition.

Wacky School Fundraisers That Raised Lots of Money

Written on February 3, 2012 at 4:41 pm , by

 

Hi, everyone. I’m Jonna, the articles director at Family Circle and the editor who handled the school fundraising story in our March issue. I’m somewhat new to the school fundraising deal because until this past September, my oldest son was enrolled in a private school that charged a hefty tuition but did no fundraising whatsoever. Yes, you read that right. No fundraising at all. You paid the tuition and that was that. Believe me, it’s only now that I see how great I had it. Now that I am the parent of a public school second grader, I totally get how relentless the fundraising is. And frankly, for the amount of money my husband and I pay in state, city and local taxes, it makes me furious that education gets so short-shrifted and we as parents are charged to make up the difference. We are fortunate in that, we CAN, with a lot of effort on everyone’s part. But what about schools without a dedicated parent population, how does that work then? Then there’s also to Guilt factor: As in, I Feel Guilty if I don’t participate in every fundraiser to the utmost. As a working parent, I have enough to feel guilty about and don’t need something else. So I buy umpteen raffle tickets. I order bakery sweets that I literally give away untouched because I don’t want the calories. And on. And on. So I feel like I’m “helping” and my son does too. I have only been at this for coming up on 6 months. I can’t even imagine how aggravating it will seem in a year or three.

So that’s my rant. (Nice to meet you!) What I am actually going to talk about is wacky-sounding fundraisers, ways to bring in money that don’t scream same-old same-old, been there-done that, however you want to put it. We cover a few in the story and asked our Facebook crew to chime in.

Michelle Miller mentioned a Rock-a-thon, where kids got pledges and rocked in rocking chairs all night. Seems interesting, provided you have access to the right facility and more importantly, the means to pull off the supervision required for an overnight event.

Reader Marilyn Chapman talked up Change for Change, when the principal, teachers and students stood out in front of the school every morning for a week with containers to collect spare change. Each container was marked with a grade level, and the grade that pulled in the most coins got a popcorn party, meaning, virtually every cent collected was profit. Sounds interesting.

From Sarah Rodgers Bechtol came word of a pickle sale, which appeals to me personally because, well, I LOVE PICKLES.

One other response that caught my eye was from Leslie Letourneau Keenan, who suggested something called Bag2School, which buys unwanted clothing and textiles for a set price per pound. On one hand that sounded potentially worthwhile, though part of me feels that no-longer-needed clothes should really go to the needy. Looks like no conflict for me at the moment, Bag2School seem to only operate in the UK.

Anyway, I am looking for fresh, fun, not-terribly-difficult-to-pull-off ideas to pitch to my PTA. Got one? Please comment!

The Pros and Cons of School Fundraising

Written on January 31, 2012 at 10:14 am , by

 

Guest blogger Alina Tugend on school fundraising.

As the mother of a high-schooler and middle-schooler, I’ve now gone through, oh, let’s see, about a dozen years (more if you count pre-school!) of bake sales and car-wash fundraisers and stuffing tubs of frozen cookie dough I don’t particularly want into my freezer to support our schools.

Don’t get me wrong. The public schools my two boys attend in our New York suburb are terrific and I’m happy to support them. But like every parent I know, I’m tired of being hit up for money. And it’s only getting worse. When the economy tanked a few years ago, even solid school systems like ours were hit. Suddenly emails were flying around the community begging families to help raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to keep some of our sports teams going.

While interviewing experts and parents for my article in this month’s issue of Family Circle I found myself constantly nodding in agreement. Yes, all public schools are facing a funding crisis. Yes, private money is needed. But there’s a real danger that goes along with that. Corporate donors can certainly help out, but at what cost? Our children are already slammed with so many commercial messages outside of school – do we want to bring that kind of advertising into schools as well? And how will sponsorship influence what schools buy?

Private money from parents also comes with a price. Will a family that gives big to a sports team or drama club have undue influence when it comes to their child’s spot on that team or in the school play? Won’t such fundraising inevitable exacerbate the already large gap between wealthier and less affluent school districts as richer communities can give far more than poorer ones?

And finally how much time do we want teachers and administrators, already overburdened, to devote to fundraising activities?

But fundraising won’t go away. There are ways to develop programs that do it in the best and fairest way possible. One example is set up a non-profit schools’ foundation for the entire district, so many raised is equitably distributed among the schools. Another is to do bigger but fewer fundraisers over the year, so parents don’t feel they are being hit up at every turn. And schools need to make sure they have strict guidelines in place about who they will take money from and how it will be used.

As all administrators told me, no one likes fundraising, but it’s a necessary evil. The focus in the future should be to do it the best way we can.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Alina Tugend’s book, Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong(Riverhead) is out in paperback this month. She also writes the biweekly ShortCuts column for the New York Times and the parenting column for Worth Magazine. Alina lives in New York with her husband and two teenage boys.

How Far Would You Push Your Kids to Learn a Second Language?

Written on September 19, 2011 at 11:55 am , by

 

In today’s increasingly global society, there’s more emphasis than ever to teach kids a second language. But how far would you go to make your kids bilingual?

This weekend’s New York Times magazine featured the fascinating and thought-provoking piece, “My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling.” The author, Clifford J. Levy, a reporter at the paper, was transferred to Moscow for four years. His family accompanied him abroad. But instead of enrolling his kids (then in kindergarten, third and fifth grade) in an English-speaking international school, he and his wife opted to place them in a Russian school. No matter that they didn’t speak a word of the language and wouldn’t have translators or English-speaking tutors. But Levy and wife hoped they would become fluent by immersion. The kids eventually did, but not without lots of effort, resilience and strife. (Not to mention daily did-we-make-the-right-decision doubt on the part of the parents.)

As someone who only speaks one language, I regret never becoming proficient at another, earlier in life. (Though I’m slowly trying to rectify that by studying Spanish.) But now that I know how important and useful it is to be bilingual, I definitely plan to emphasize language-learning when I have kids–even if it’s not as extreme as four years of Russian immersion in Moscow.

How important is raising bilingual kids, to you? Are you pushing your children to become proficient in a second language? If so, which one? If your family ever moved abroad, would you make them learn the language of whatever country you’re in? Share your thoughts below.

photo via ChernoVAnton/flickr

How Important Are College Rankings?

Written on September 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm , by


Today U.S. News and World Report released their 2012 college rankings. Recently retooled, they’re based on a number of factors, including the schools’ undergraduate academic reputations and student selectivity.  I’m currently a graduate student at NYU. As I read the rankings, my thoughts were, in rapid succession:

  1. Oh, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are in the top 3 slots? Who could have seen that coming? (Please note the sarcasm.)
  2. Sweet – my undergrad and graduate schools got really respectable rankings!
  3. Um…bragging rights aside, I’m not sure this means anything

The way I see it, the rankings are a good place to start your kid’s college search, but they can’t be the only – or the most important – selection criteria. Instead, use them as a jumping off point. Note what they say about academics, class size, diversity, prevalence of Greek life and school setting, but understand that no collection of statistics can really capture the college experience.  Rather than relying on a ranking, have your kid talk to a current student or a recent alum. (College admissions offices will be happy to help you out with that.) Take your teen to the campus and see what vibe she gets.

I knew I wanted to go to Tufts University, my undergrad alma mater, when I first visited and saw the pathways covered in chalk. Amidst landscaped lawns and brick buildings, the colorful chalk announced club meetings, advertised events or just displayed pictures. I figured that a school that was academically respected and yet able to not take itself too seriously was the place I wanted to be. The ice cream in the cafeteria and the five-hour train ride that stood between there and home were draws, too. To this day, I’m not sure the percentage of women vs. men on campus or my average class size, but I remember eating pizza in the library foyer at 3 a.m. during finals week with some friends. My school isn’t in the U.S News top 5 (or 20), but I could not imagine having a better experience anywhere else.

Another reason not to rely on ratings too much? Your kid’s college experience will largely be shaped by what he puts into it—and therefore, what he gets from it. If he works with inspiring professors, tries new things, makes friends and comes away having grown and changed, it may not matter whether he went to an ivy league institution or the University of What’s-It-Called. College is about finding the right fit, then making the most of it.

Readers, what do you think? Are you and your kid combing over the ratings or ignoring them all together? Do you find them useful in your college search? Share your thoughts below.

Should Students Be Required to Take Sex Ed?

Written on August 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm , by

In New York City, they will be. Starting this year, sex ed will be a mandated part of NYC’s public school curriculum for middle and high schoolers. The semester-long, co-ed class for 6th or 7th graders and 9th or 10th graders will include lessons on the proper way to use condoms; discussions about pregnancy and STDs; and role-playing exercises teaching kids how to say “No” when they’re being pressured into sex, according to the New York Times.

The article also notes that nationwide, only 20 states and Washington D.C. require sex and H.I.V. education in schools.

Readers, what’s the sex ed situation where you live? Are you for or against mandated classes in school? And when did you start giving your kids “the talk” at home? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.