Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Camp Options 'Cause Summer is Just Around the Corner...Almost

Summer camps now a days, come in all shapes, sizes, themes and duration.  When I was kid, there were day camps and sleep away camps.  Period.  And, whether you commuted for the day or stayed for a month or two, these camps offered water activities, sports, arts, music and drama.  Today it seems that you can find a summer experience for all kinds of kids, themes, and affinities.

At http://www.camppage.com/ , for example, you can find a multitude of camping options (which you can then search by regional locations) according to "camp type" or by "camp activities":
  • Camp Type
    • day camps
    • residential camps - coed
    • residential boys' camps
    • residential girls' camps
    • adventure travel camps
    • organization camps (such as 4H, Boy or Girl Scouts, JCC, YMCA)
    • religious camps (such as Bible study, Catholic, Christian, or Jewish)
    • special interest camps (such as military, weight loss, or wilderness therapeutic camps)
    • special needs camps (for cancer, asthma, diabetes, learning disabled, ADD, or physically disabled campers)
    • summer retreat camps
  • Camp Activities
    • academic and summer enrichment programs (for academic credit, animal interaction, college and SAT preparation, computers, ESL, general academics, gifted, language immersion, leadership, marine sciences, math, nature, computer programming, science, and space and aviation programs)
    • adventure camps (specializing in travel, canoeing, kayaking, caving, challenge courses, hiking and backpacking, mountain biking, "primitive skills", rock climbing, sailing, scuba, snows skiing and snowboarding, whitewater activities, or wilderness experiences)
    • arts summer camps (music, acting, crafts, ceramics, creative writing, dance, drawing and painting, film making, magic, performing arts, photography, pottery, sculpture, theater, or woodworking)
    • computers and technology
    • robotics
    • video game design
    • horseback riding
    • sports camps
Pretty awesome... I want to go to most of these now, myself! 

Here is a video from ID Game Academy.  At first when seeing this I was saddened to see rows of kids sitting indoors at computer stations working independently for the summer.  I think summer should be fun.  But I realize that  "fun" comes in all shapes and sizes ant that this is AWESOME experience for certain teens:

Today, summering requires attention, research, dialogue, and planning.  Parents need to consider economics along with your kids' needs, affinities, strengths and weaknesses while also evaluating the staff, philosophy and physical aspects of various summering options.  Do you use the summer to get a 'leg up' for school, or is this the time to let your kids relax, breathe, and have fun in (hopefully) stress-free environments? Is there proper supervision and safety concerns?  Who is running the camp?  Who do they hire?  Who will be working and supporting your child? 

For our kids, my husband and I believed summer was the time to regroup, have fun and chill, so we initially sent our (nerdy) kids to a traditional summer camp.  The thing is, they didn't love it.  As a kid, my husband loved camp, while I did not.  So, I understood my kids when they were unhappy.  We were at a loss what to do the following summer.  Then the kids' school contacted me to tell me they were recommending our kids for Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth Program - CTY.

What they meant (after a closer look) was that my fifth grader qualified to take the SAT's and if she scored above the 70th percentile she could attend their summer programs (kids below firth grade take a national high school entrance exam and must meet similar criteria).  Our kids met the CTY criteria and ended up spending many happy summers there, and not only did they love learning some really cool things (cryptology, learning about and creating inventions, history of disease, international study and model UN to name a few of the courses they took), but they made friends they have kept through high school, college and beyond.

Aside from being a place for bright, motivated learners to chose one from a list of dazzling courses to study - CTY offered my kids the opportunity to interact with kids just like them.  For the first time, they felt they belonged.  The classes were small and aside from classes there were afternoon activities (choice of sports, crafts, nerdy games, movies) and weekend dances.  CTY is not for every bright, motivated kid, but it was for my kids.  The point is that sometimes you have think out of the box and use the summer to fill all sorts of social, academic, and /or emotional gaps left open throughout the school year.

I suppose there are so many types of camps because kids are different.  They have different skills, needs and affinities.  Too bad school isn't like this...yet.  Schools and educators have to better accommodate kids with different skill sets, strengths, weaknesses, affinities and learning styles. But, at least kids have the summers to recoup, rediscover and recover from the stresses and challenges of school.

Here are some websites you may want to check out for summer planning:

Please feel free to leave additional summering opinions/ options/ opportunities/ or suggestions in the comments.  In closing, I hope you enjoy this one last video about summer camp from Whose Line:

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Take a Break ... and Bark!

    Breaks are important!

    They help all of us refocus and regroup. They can motivate and replenish. They help hone attention, relieve stress and reinvigorate relationships and perspectives. They allow our brains to take in, reshuffle, organize and expand.

    Breaks are important for kids in and out of school. Between classes, breaks help kids consolidate and filter what was just taught in class, and breaks at home help them focus better on homework.  Breaks are also important at work, home, and school as they help alleviate hand and finger stress (from keyboarding and writing), eye stress (from reading and computer work), and back and neck stress (from prolonged sitting).  Breaks are also great for promoting creativity and helping overcome creative or writer's block.

    To bring this home, here's a wonderful distraction, compliments of Volkswagen. - their "Bark Side: 2012 Volkswagen Game Day Commercial Teaser"

      ... It picked me up considerably and will make you all INFINITELY happy!

    What is worth barking about in your life?

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Average Kids?

    Why is it that (except in athletics or the arts) teens work so hard to be 'average' and fit in, and we as parents want them to stand out or at the very least, excel?

    What is 'average' anyway? When I 'googled' "average" this is what I got:


    The result obtained by adding several quantities together and then dividing this total by the number of quantities; the mean.

    Constituting the result obtained by adding together several quantities and then dividing this total by the number of quantities.

    Amount to or achieve as an average rate or amount over a period of time: "annual inflation averaged 2.4 percent".

    noun.  mean - medium - mediocrity
    I personally don't like the term, "average student" and based on Google's synonyms ("mediocrity") I may not be wrong.  Being "average" seems to limit a teacher's, student's, and parent's vision and expectations.   Every student has strengths and weaknesses that together create who he or she is. They may 'average' out to be a kid who functions somewhere in the middle of his or her peers on various tests and measures of achievement, but to say they are 'average' defeats their accomplishments and potential. Furthermore, I think every kid needs to see him or herself excelling, creating, and contributing in whatever unique way works best for them.

    Howard Gardner addresses this in his Multiple Intelligences (MI) Theory.  Gardner identifies nine different kinds of intelligence, each reflecting different ways of interacting with the world.  Each person has their own individual combination of these intelligences.   His nine intelligences are:
    1. Linguistic Intelligence - the capacity to understand, use, and manipulate language
    2. Logical Mathematical Intelligence - the capacity to understand, manipulate and express numbers, quantities, and numerical operations
    3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence - the capacity to think in music, and to hear, recognize and manipulate music.
    4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence - the capacity to use your body or body parts (hands, fingers, feet, etc.) to solve problems, to interact, and to express oneself (athletics, dance, performing arts are the most common examples of excellence in this)
    5. Spatial Intelligence - the capcity to represent the spatial world internally - to learn and integrate visual stimuli.  Spatial learners, for example, learn best by observing images, photos, graphs, charts (as opposed to listening to lectures or reading long passages).
    6. Naturalist Intelligence - refers to the capacity to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) and recognize patterns and features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations).
    7. Intrapersonal Intelligence - the capacity to understand yourself- who you are, how and why you react to various things the way you do, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, how to avoid pitfalls, etc.
    8. Interpersonal Intelligence - the capacity to understand other peoples' speech, body/facial language, postures, motivations, etc.
    9. Existential Intelligence - the capacity and proclivity to contemplate philosophical questions of life, death, reality, etc.
    Additional resources: Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory explains these areas in more detail. Concepts to Classroom: Tapping into Multiple Intelligences offers a free self-paced workshop (via PBS) detailing MI (Multiple Intelligence) and how it can be integrated into classrooms. Finally, howardgardner.com has more updated work including Multimedia and Multiple Intelligences and Technology and Multiple Intelligences. .

    Schools Attuned and All Kinds of Minds train parents and teachers to look at students along eight different "neurodevelopmental constructs." Much like Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences, we all have our own unique combination of skills which embody our own unique  learning profiles.  These profiles vary along eight different areas:
    1. Attention
    2. Memory
    3. Langauge
    4. Social cognition- understanding how dress, posture, tone, facial expressions, and verbal/nonverbal communication all help us better understand people and social situations around us
    5. Temporal and Spatial sequential processing - understanding time, recognizing how long things take, recognizing and being able to follow schedules and sequences (be this following directions, following time, or telling jokes or stories);
    6. Graphomotor skills - handwriting skills
    7. Fine and Gross motor skills - coordinating large and small muscle groups (for example, throwing a catching a ball involves large muscle groups while knitting involves smaller muscle groups)
    8. Higher order cognition - understanding abstract concepts, brainstorming, creating, analyzing, evaluating, comparing all involve higher order cognition.  It also involves 'metacognition' much like Gardner's Intrapersonal Intelligence - an ability to understand oneself - one's actions, thoughts and motivations.
    Using either one of these approaches - be it recognizing and teaching to multiple intelligences or to recognizing your students learning profiles along various neurodevelopmental constructs has multiple benefits:
    • It validates each of your students, allowing them to excel in their areas of strength while strengthening areas of weakness
    • It helps teachers and students better understand each other, gaining greater self esteem and an ability and desire to take risks and reach for higher goals and expectations
    • It enables students to advocate more effectively for themselves.  Once one has a better understanding of learning strengths and weaknesses, one can seek more specific help in areas of weakness
    • It helps parents, teachers, and students to more realistically evaluate and approach school (and life) related problems.
    I would like to think that each and every one of us has special gifts and skills that should be promoted.  Maybe "average" should be used to help describe performance, but not kids.  What do you think?

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    Teachers' Worth: The Real Zinger...

    From: teacherweb.puyallup.k12.wa.us
    This past Friday, January 6, 2012 the New York Times ran a front page article "Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gain" in which Annie Lowrey reported findings of a recent study by Chetty, Friedman (Harvard) and Rockoff (Columbia).  As I approached the paper and saw the article, I thought sarcastically to myself, "...and this is new?"  But, the first zinger for me was that the this study was not conducted by educators - it was conducted by economists, and I took a closer look.

    These economists examined 2.5 million children (the largest pool of students ever studied) from a large urban school district from 3rd -8th grade and then to adulthood (the longest period one particular subject pool has been studied) looking at a teacher's "value added" score and its impact upon these students over time.  This score was defined as the average test-score gain (in reading and math) for their students, statistically "adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics." These data covered the 2.5 million students and 18 million math and reading tests spanning 1989-2009.

    Here are some of the ZINGERS as reported in the study:
    • When a high value added teacher joins a school, test scores rise immediately in the grade/subject taught by that teacher (and only in what is taught by that teacher), and falls if/when that teacher leaves.
    • On average, having a high value-added teacher for one years raises a child's total lifetime income by $9,000.
    • All else equal, a student with one excellent teacher for one year between fourth and eighth grade would gain $4,600 in lifetime income, compared to a student of similar demographics who has an average teacher.  
    • The student with the excellent teacher would also be 0.5 percent more likely to attend college.
    • Replacing a poor teacher (whose value added score is in the bottom 5%) with a teacher of average quality would generate lifetime earnings gains worth over $250,00 for the average classroom.
    • Controlling for numerous factors including students' backgrounds, the researchers found that the value-added scores consistently identified some teachers as better than others, even if individual teachers' value-added scores varied from year to year.
    • Students with top teachers are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers, are more likely to enroll in college, and are more likely to earn more money as adults.
    In short, this study details lifelong impacts that variations or differences between really good and really bad teachers have on children.  And, while we can all point to pivotal teachers who opened our minds and  various life-line doors -  the fact that this is now backed by economists and with future income studies... is enormous - as are the ramifications for defining, evaluating and using value-added teacher data.

        With all this in mind, I would like to thank the following teachers for having had such an impact on me and or on my kids. [Please leave your own acknowledgements in the comments.]

        My very special thanks to:
        •  Mr. Benami - my high school science teacher who saw through the quiet girl in class, encouraging me to think, grow, and participate.  He set high but realistic goals for me to reach and as a result I have always loved science.
        • Mrs. Gross and Mrs. Pfiefer - my middle school social studies and science teachers who also saw and encouraged my potential WAY before I did.
        • Mr. Sandomir -for understanding my son, validating his feelings, comments and intellect, and for challenging him to write poems and prose that still touch our hearts.  Mr. Sandomir, when teaching Phillip Pulman's His Dark Materials books told his 6th grade class that they were based on Milton's Paradise Lost.  My son was so taken, he read Paradise Lost (NOT your average 6th grader independent reading) and still talks about it.
        • Mrs. Teig - THE BEST math ... ever.  She was tough, demanding and relatively unflexible in her demands.  A bit like Mary Poppins, she would bake and bring wonderful candies and patries to school and nurture each of her students reinforcing their accomplishments and risk-taking while restructuring their mistakes and steps backward.  ALL her students felt her love. Her 5-8 grade math classes put my daughters at the top of their high school math classes to the point that their school had to set up special accelerated math groups for them.  One daughter is now a middle school teacher, the other, having majored in math and physics in college is a materials engineer. 
        And, for all those aspiring to be these 'value-added teachers', here's some sound advice:

          Thanks again to you all - please don't forget to tell us about your value-added teachers in the comments!

          Monday, January 2, 2012

          "Y" is for Yale: How Important is it for Your Child to Attend a "Brand" College?

          In Moby Dick, Ishmael explains that, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."  Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby boasts his Yale roots and in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, the protagonist's boyfriend Buddy Willard is described as being a Yale man.

          Yale alums of television and film include: Rory Gilmore (The Gilmore Girls), Simon Stiles (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons), and Niles (Frasier), Walter (Tom Hanks) and from The Money Pit, Kat (Mystic Pizza).

          What is it about the 'brand' colleges that so compel and attract us?  Is it the education?

          My husband and I are both products of Ivy League colleges.  Our kids are not (though they had the option), and I am NOT convinced that these institutions are the 'ultimate' college destinations - nor are they necessarily THE top educational institutions.  In my experience, the 'college experience' is all about what is taken out of available opportunities:  classes, information, work opportunities, arts and leisure, exploration of self, and yes... the social connections... all of this.

          In deciding what colleges your child might attend, there are two 'first' questions you need to ask:
          1. What does "college education" mean?
          2. What are your personal expectations of the college experience?
          What does "college education" mean?
          • The Free Dictionary defines college as "an institution of higher learning offering courses and granting degrees in a particular field"
          • The Radom House Dictionary of the English Language (Second Edition) and Dictinary.com define college as "an institution of higher learning, especially one providing a general or liberal arts education rather than technical or professional training"
          • On the lighter side, one visitor to Urban Dictionary.com defines college as, "the place where you enter inexorbitant (their spelling) amounts of debt to 'learn' things you never apply once to your actual occupation..."
           While these are all reflect levels of 'truth' and accuracy, I don't find them particularly helpful.  So, I have come up with my own definition (and would love to hear yours in the comments):
          A college education is one which provides opportunities for personal, educational, and social growth.  These opportunities are in part provided via college courses, required readings and through various resource centers on campus, but mostly come from opportunities (jobs, internships, personal interactions with professors and mentors, school and professional clubs) sought after and actively participated in by students.
          The questions one needs to ask though are:  Is college necessary for these experiences, and if so, what type of college.   For many (see my post on the Uncollege) college may not be necessary as the skills and connections they need for the career paths they've chosen are actually better served out of college.  For others who are aware of themselves and their paths and prefer more attention and smaller classes of students, a small college may be best as they have many more opportunities to connect with professors who can provide research opportunities that in larger universities are given to graduate students. Larger colleges also have pros in that there are often more social opportunities and greater varieties of classes offered.

          Do the 'brand' colleges offer more exclusive opportunities?  For some students, maybe, but for most the answer is definitively, "no."

          For many who aspire to Yale, there is WAY TOO MUCH pressure to get into these 'brand' schools while there are truly exceptional opportunities for all kids outside of these institutions.  Furthermore, there really is "that Yale thing..."

          In my opinion, what you get out of college depends to a large part on your goals and expectations, and the maturity the student has for meeting and sustaining them.  And, each of these aspects are highly personal.

          Once, however, you answer all these questions, talk to your child about various options, check them out online, discuss them with a guidance counselor, talk to alum you may know, and visit the schools. Each school, be it a 'brand' school, a college, university, or tech school, has its distinct culture.  See if you and your child are comfortable with it.  And, when you need a break and a laugh, The Onion has some excellent advice for "Choosing A College" (although be warned, this is The Onion and it's content is for 'mature' audiences). 

          Here are just a few of The Onion's suggestions, although it is worth clicking on the link above:
          • "You can never go wrong choosing a college you saw advertised on public transportation"
          • "Schools that boast about their outstanding academic reputation are probably insecure about their inadequacies in other areas"
          • "Be wary of colleges where the chair of the history department keeps using the phrase 'olden times'"
          • "If you are having a hard time deciding between Princeton and Yale, cry me a  ******* river, Fauntleroy"
          If college decisions are looming in your home, I wish you much luck and as little angst as is humanly possible and know that it usually works out in the end...

          ... And to all of my readers, I wish you all a wonderfully happy, healthy, and successful 2012.  May this be a year of record-breaking peace and prosperity for all.