Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Earth Day

The Earth Day Network grew out of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and now, almost 50 years later, works with more than 50,000 partners in over 190 countries, using education, public policy, and consumer campaigns to preserve and improve the environment. The Network notes that more than one billion people world-wide participate in Earth Day activities.

The focus of  this year's Earth Day - this coming Saturday, April 22nd -is on plastic pollution, the bottles and bags that choke our waterways, litter our beaches and streets, and pose a deadly threat to fish and birds throughout the world.

 

While many schools have marked Earth Day with special lessons and events each year, we were impressed with a Climate Education Week Toolkit created by the Earth Day Network, with a week's worth of lessons focused on ending plastic pollution. The Toolkit breaks its resources down by ages - those for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. In addition, for each lesson topic, it has three kinds of activities: those that provide basic information about the subject; those that prompt students to analyze and think about the problem; and those that give suggestions of ways that students in each age group can help address the problem. 

The Toolkit also includes links to videos, such as How Much Plastic is in the Ocean? from PBS, as well as books, TED Talks, and even catchy songs for younger students. We think this is a terrific resource for both educators and parents -- for Earth Day and year round. 
photo credit: Emilian Robert Vicol via flickrcc

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

More Educational Games

Last week we shared some of the educational games we have included in the Resources section of our website. We know that some of the information on our site is tucked away in its "digital corners" and may not be obvious even to families who visit our site often. So we are shining a light on some of these excellent resources that we often recommend to the students and families we serve. Here are our suggestions for games, sites, and apps that build skills in math, language arts, and logic:

MATH

Game Classroom - kindergarten - grade 6
This site is arranged by grade and topic. Each option provides sample problems for students, teaching tips for adults, and links to online resources for more teaching tips. Instructional material is accompanied by complementary games. While many of the games on this site cover topics appropriate for upper elementary school-aged students, their formats are not as appealing as options for younger students.
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Addimal Adventure - kindergarten & 1st grade
Developed by researchers at Columbia, Addimal Adventure gives kids more than drill: it uses a research-based understanding of how brains develop numeracy to teach addition. This app helps kids build a solid base for higher math skills, and the graphics and storyline are top-notch.

Motion Math - preschool - 6th grade
This wonderful suite of games is based on the neuroscience behind learning numbers and developing number sense. There's something here for everyone, from Hungry Guppy (matching digits and amounts) to Zoom (place value and decimals). Kids can practice fractions, math facts, and estimation skills with Motion Math's games. We love them because they cleverly pair conceptual learning with drill to promote learning. 

Invasion of the Moon Monkeys - any age learning multiplication
Practice your facts, and save the world while you're at it! Download this fun, challenging app and prepare to be addicted.

Mathmateer - any age learning multiplication
Another good one for math fact practice. In the game, correct answers will earn players "money" with which to buy new parts for digital rockets they're building. This website, made by the same company, provides practice worksheets and other resources.

For more great math games, jump to our Math page.
LANGUAGE ARTS
Reading Decoding
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StarFall - grades K - 3
This site is divided into four levels. Level 1 is dedicated to learning letter sounds, Level 2 covers the process of sounding out words, and by Level 4, kids can choose from plays, Greek myths, comics, and other genres to practice their reading skills.

Montessori Crosswords - kindergarten & grade 1
Learners are shown a picture and asked to drag letters from the alphabet into boxes to spell the word in this high-quality app.  They can hear each sound by tapping on it, reinforcing phonics skills.

Learn With Homer - ages 2 - 6
The Homer Method infuses the best research on how children learn to read with high quality, engaging art and storytelling. This innovative app is free, though users may wish to supplement material with in-app purchases.

Auditory Processing Practice
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Earobics - pre-kindergarten - grade 3
This multi-sensory software delivers systematic instruction to help students develop phonemic awareness. It also provides resources for helping children learn phonics, develop fluency, build vocabulary, and practice comprehension skills.

Headline Clues -  grades 6 - 12
This is a great reading comprehension game that changes daily with the news. Students read a piece of a news story, then have to fill in the blanks in the partially written headline above to introduce the article.

Rain Words - grades 4 - 12
In this game, players use spelling knowledge to create a correctly aligned crossword puzzle. It’s a great option for improving spelling, critical thinking, and patience.
Other Areas
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Spelling City  - all ages
Kids will love using this fun site to practice their spelling skills and build vocabulary. Students, or their parents or teachers, can enter customized lists, then use the site's flashcards and games to practice. When students have had enough drilling, they can take a test to see how well they remember what they've learned. One nice feature is the ability to view anyone's list, so busy parents can find one that's appropriate for their child easily if there's no time to create one. Access Spelling City on the computer or download the app, where you can create a free account to access pre-loaded lists of spelling words, or enter your own list to play with.

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LOGIC GAMES AND BRAIN TEASERS

Samorost - grade 3 and up
Players must help our hero Gnome navigate his way through a deliciously whimsical world to save his planet from an asteroid by solving a series of puzzles. Part of the puzzle, however, is figuring out what the puzzles are. Solved it? Check out Samorost 2, Machinarium, or some of Amanita Design’s other games. Although Samorost is free, some of Amanita’s other offerings require a fee.

Math.com - grades 3 and up
Play old favorites like Sudoku and Hi-Q, and less known gems like Hare and Hounds and TacTix.

Copy Cat - grades 3 and up
This is a wonderful game for building spatial skills. Players must use patterns on the faces of a spinning solid shape (like a cube) to replicate a picture.

The Set Game - grade 3 and up
In this challenging game, players must group images on digital cards together to form a set based on concepts like the shapes, number of shapes, and features of shapes. This is a great exercise for concept-building, and the website above provides a different challenge each day. Look for the original card game in toy stores, too!

Traffic Jam - grade 1 and up
This classic is now available online! Traffic Jam challenges players to plan several steps ahead as they work to free the red car from a traffic jam. It will take several well-planned moves to do it! This site shows the minimum number of moves required for solving the puzzle, so if kids figure it out in more moves than specified, ask them to try again with fewer moves. You can purchase the actual game from ThinkFun, too.

One Hundred Doors - (age depends; see below)
Available for iDevices and Android, this game is downright addictive. Players must figure out how to open the door in front of them using clues they see around them. The reward for opening a door? Another door, which is slightly harder open. Younger kids will be able to pass the first few levels easily but may become frustrated with the later levels, so it may be best to play with a parent or a friend. (Really stuck? Find videos explaining how to solve each level on YouTube by typing in the name of the game and the specific level.)

Links are provided for informational purposes only. Links do not indicate endorsement of any particular products or services. Some resources may not be appropriate for all learners. We urge you to carefully review any of the products, services, or tools linked to from these pages prior to allowing children to use them without adult supervision.




Monday, April 9, 2018

Vocational Independence Program

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to revisit a program I had first seen a number of years ago. The Vocational Independence Program at the New York Institute of Technology - VIP at NYIT - is now located on the campus of NYIT in Old Westbury, New York. This marks a new location from its original home in Central Islip, Long Island, when VIP first started in 1987.


VIP is one of only a limited number of programs nation-wide that provide a college-like experience for students who would not be able to manage the demands of a typical college program, but who can benefit from the post-secondary opportunity to improve their executive function, communication, social, independent living, and employment skills. It is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.  This status makes it possible for students to apply for federal financial aid, although the cost of the program (similar to a private college) means that even if a student qualifies for some aid, the program may be beyond the means of many families.

VIP students typically have autism spectrum disorders, mild cognitive impairment, or significant learning differences. Some students take credit courses at NYIT, leading to an associates degree after three years and some take a course or two on a non-matriculated basis, but most focus on building the skills that will help them to function as independent adults. There is also a summer program for students considering VIP or planning to enter the following fall.

As noted by Walter Mayer, Associate Director of Admissions and Development, every student has a job coach, academic advisor, social counselor, independent living coach, and banking coach. By the third year of the three-year program, students are typically working three days per week at a VIP-sponsored internship with employers such as hotel chains, restaurants, retailers, hospitals, animal hospitals, and other businesses. Job placement support is also provided to graduates of the program. VIP notes that students finishing the program in 2017 had an 80 percent post graduation employment rate.

Students live on campus, in a dorm located at the adjacent State University of New York at Old Westbury campus, and move back and forth between the SUNY and NYIT campuses via shuttle buses. The residential aspect of the program is an important part of the skills-building that each student works on during their time at VIP.

While improved preparation and support programs at colleges have made college accessible to many students who might not otherwise be able to handle its social and academic demands, there are still many students whose disabilities make it difficult or impractical for them to be successful in a college program. Families want to give these students every opportunity to be successful in their personal and work lives and to give them the skills that will stay them them throughout their lives. The VIP Program is designed to help achieve these goals.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Educational Games

Our Yellin Center website is full of information on who we are, what we do, and how and why we do it. It is designed to let families and students know about our assessment process and what to expect while working with us. But it is also a terrific starting place for specific resources, such as educational games. 

Since our list of educational games is tucked away in a corner of our website, we thought it would be a good idea over the next few posts to shine a light on these resources. We hope you agree.

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Free Rice
General Interest Education Games

Sheppard Software - preschool - grade 6
This site links to quizzes on lots of subjects, including geography, math, written conventions, science, and many more. Unlike other quiz sites, it features an instructional component, as well. Players may require an adult’s help to find appropriate games because there are so many options.

Gamequarium - grades 3 - 6
Find lots of great quizzes on language arts, math, science, and more.

Learning Games for Kids - grades 1- 6
Most of the quizzes on this site are fantastic, covering topics like language arts, math, and science. Also featured are several fun games to help students improve their typing speed and accuracy. Again, players may require an adult’s help to navigate through all the options to find appropriate games.

BBC Bitesize - grades 6 and up
Students can select quizzes on topics like English, science, and math. The graphics are fantastic, and the games, while quite challenging, are very engaging. Levels are designated using British terminology: Foundations is the most basic level, Intermediate is in the middle, and Higher is the most advanced option.

Free Rice - grades 3 and up
Originally only a vocabulary game, Free Rice now features multiple choice quizzes on many other topics such as literature, foreign language, math, and science. Players begin at a basic level, but as they answer questions correctly, the game gains in complexity.

Funbrain - grades 1 - 6
A collection of very appealing math and language games, plus opportunities to read favorite books online (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and to make Mad Libs! Note that while most of the site is very enriching, the “Playground” section, while entertaining, has little educational merit.

Arcademics - grades 1 - 6
Arcademics (arcade + academics) offers a number of fun games to help kids practice various math, reading, spelling skills. One of the best parts of this site is that many games offer chances for friendly competition by pitting players against others from around the web in real time. This design is motivating and discourages mindless clicking.

Links are provided for informational purposes only. Links do not indicate endorsement of any particular products or services. Some resources may not be appropriate for all learners. We urge you to carefully review any of the products, services, or tools linked to from these pages prior to allowing children to use them without adult supervision.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Keeping Open the Possibility of Change

Back in 2010, we wrote about an article written by Robert Dobrusin, a rabbi in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that touched on a topic we think about a great deal here at The Yellin Center - how labels (rather than a description of strengths and challenges) can be unfair to children and how they are insufficiently descriptive of what is really going on with any individual.

Rabbi Dobrusin's article (unfortunately no longer available online) explained how labels have unfairly limited the characters encountered in the traditional telling of the Passover story, a timely topic since this weekend marks both the start of the Passover holiday and Good Friday and Easter. The story of the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, a familiar part of the Old Testament, is told in a ritualized form as part of the Passover celebration. One key part of this ritual telling is the story of four sons: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who cannot even ask a question. Every year, at the Passover meal, families read about these same sons and tell the story of the Exodus to answer these children's questions.

Rabbi Dobrusin noted, "I am troubled by the fact that we don't let them change. Throughout history they will always be wise or rebellious or simple or unquestioning... How can we set them in stone the way we do? There is one simple reason. They don't change because they each have been given a name: wise, rebellious, simple, unquestioning...How much wiser it would have been [if these children had been described] as the one who asked a wise question, the one who asked a rebellious question, the one who asked a simple question, the one who did not ask at all?"

He went on to explain that when we label individuals we can be too quick to jump to conclusions about their actions. Only when we eschew labels and keep open the possibility of change can we then open the door for individuals to move beyond the roles their labels describe to growth and change. Whatever our beliefs, and whatever holidays and traditions we celebrate, it is excellent advice. Indeed, there is strong evidence that labeling or defining children by their limitations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because they tend not to see past their label to the possibility of their own change and growth. 

A strikingly similar view of how people can be limited by thinking that their nature is fixed and unchangeable comes from Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck has distilled years of research on the topics of achievement and success into her book Mindset, which we often recommend to the families we see here at The Yellin Center.  As described on the Mindset website:

"In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities." 

Whatever you may celebrate over the next few days - Easter, Passover, or just a lovely spring weekend - we hope you have the opportunity to gather with family and friends, to practice your traditions, to eat good food, to appreciate the chance to celebrate together , and to keep an open mind about the people in your life, giving them the room to change and grow.

Illustration of the seder meal from a 1929 Passover Haggadah,
 a legacy from Mrs. Yellin's grandparents
 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Demystifying Young Students

Here at The Yellin Center, we've gotten much feedback over the years that our process of "demystification" -- sharing our preliminary findings, with a focus on areas of strengths before we address any challenges -- helps even young children better understand how they think and learn and how to integrate their learning profile into their evolving self-image. With this understanding, they become more comfortable using the learning strategies and supports they need to succeed.

Over the years, we've heard from many parents how children find this process empowering. For example, one young elementary school student brought his "demystification sheet", which listed his areas of strength and challenge in simple language, to school. When his classmates teased him about using a laptop in class, he pulled out the sheet of paper and pointed to it. "Dr. Yellin says I have something called dysgraphia, " he told his classmates. "That means I have trouble writing. So I need to use a laptop to write. You got a problem with that?" We were told that this put the teasing to rest.

sample Yellin Center demystification sheet
Yesterday, we heard from another parent, this time from the dad of a third grader (let's call him "Henry") who attends a terrific school which describes itself as a place where "children learn to think about their thinking" and which helps "them become aware of how their minds work and how they learn best." During a classroom discussion about learning, the teacher reported that Henry made the following comments, which his dad shared with us:

"Our brain is divided into two main things: your strengths and your challenges. Each person’s strengths and challenges are different. You also have long-term memory and short-term memory. Most people think of short-term memory as 'I only remember things for a little bit,' but short-term memory is…things you know off the top of your head. Then long-term memory is down there and you have to look for it. You have to think about those things…[It’s] like a closet. The things you were just using you can just grab out at the top. The things you haven’t worn in like a month are super deep in there."

Clearly, Henry was listening when he sat around the table with The Yellin Center team after his assessment. We're delighted that he brought his insights to share with his class. Thanks, Henry!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Snow Day

Well, it may be the second day of spring, but most schools in the region are closed, including the rarely closed New York City Public Schools. Some districts are running out of snow days, and the novelty of hunkering down while the weather outside is frightful is wearing very thin. To make it worse, many of us have had our power out during prior storms and know that this may happen again later today. We've got some ideas on how to make the best of what is, hopefully, the last blast of winter weather.

Working from Home?
  • Set up young children with their own "office", complete with a work table, paper, a pretend phone, and some "work" to do -- coloring, working on puzzles, reading.
  • Use timers to help children understand that you will be available to them "later" and that they need to wait until the timer goes off to interrupt you (absent an emergency). This works best with shorter periods for younger kids, but shorter periods strung together can still allow some work to be done. 
  • For older children and teens, this is a good time for them to do their own schoolwork, or to work on projects they might not otherwise have time to do. 
  • Cut yourself some slack if you need to use videos or other screen time to allow you to do what you need. An hour or two of cartoons will not impact your child's development. 
Lights Out?
  • Safety requires extra supervision when the house is dark, so put any work away. 
  • Use flashlights, not candles. Hopefully, you have stocked up on flashlights and batteries.
  • This is a great time for old fashioned books and board games. 
Outdoor Time
  • Once the snow has stopped, heading outside can be fun. Make sure there are no trees or limbs in the area that might be stressed or damaged, so that you can all play outside safely.  
  • Children old enough to handle a shovel can help dig out, but only on sidewalks and driveways. Clearing off cars in the street can be dangerous, as plows and other cars go by. 
  • Make sure that no one stays out too long or gets too cold.
  • Hot cocoa may be required when everyone comes back inside, and that's a great thing.

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And Don't Forget...
  • Together with your kids, make sure your elderly or disabled neighbors are okay and help dig them out, if needed. While you are at it, check to see that they don't need other assistance.  
Have fun, stay safe, and think about warmer weather!