Monday, October 31, 2011

The Importance of Science Education in the U.S.

Few of us would question that science helps us understand the world around us. But in a recent blog for National Public Radio ("Why the U.S. Needs To Learn More Science," October, 19, 2011), Marcelo Gleiser argues that the importance of learning science goes far beyond that: it helps shape our culture and our philosophy. Gleiser cites the shift away from superstition and toward reason, and the changes in the way we view our world and communicate with each other, all thanks to science.

“Science is more than a collection of explanations about the natural world: science is a means to freedom, offering people a way to control their destiny, to choose wisely in what to believe.” Gleiser quotes Gallileo, who insisted, “Think for yourself! Don’t take what people tell you at face value. Do not bow blindly to dogma!”

Gleiser looks to the future as well as nodding to the past, raising issues like genetics in medicine and global warming. “Only a well-informed population is able to make well-informed choices about science and the environment that will shape our future,” he points out. Gleiser recommends a list of scientists who, like himself, view science writing for the purpose of educating the public as part of their mission.  The U.S., he concludes, needs to learn more science.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Liz

Friday, October 28, 2011

Test-Taking Tips From The Experts

Because of the nature of memory, we often tell students that the best way to study for a test is to take practice tests. Research indicates that rereading study material, the method preferred by most people, is less effective than taking practice tests for two reasons: First, our brains have difficulty distinguishing between material with which we are familiar and material which we truly understand. Students may stop studying too early because they recall seeing information before, only to realize during the test that they didn’t actually understand it. Second, answering practice questions gives the brain practice at retrieving information from long-term memory, the process a student undergoes during actual testing. Students who have the opportunity to rehearse “finding” answers are more prepared to do this quickly and easily on test day.

An article in The Wall Street Journal from earlier this week covers this principle and offers other testing tips derived from a number of studies on learning. For example, nearly everybody knows that eating a nutritious breakfast on test day is important, but a recent experiment demonstrated that consumption of a nutritious diet should start a week before the test date for optimum results. The article also discusses how to balance sleeping and studying, and offers tips to help combat test anxiety. 

Students gearing up for the first round of mid-terms can access the full article here.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Steven S.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Find Events for Kids with New York Magazine

In New York City, finding great options to entertain and educate your kids is generally not a problem; rather, parents may find themselves struggling to choose between too many choices. An art class at the Met? A live band performance? Bouldering in the park?

New York Magazine provides a useful tool to help parents navigate the plethora of options. Check out their Kids Agenda (near the bottom right of their main kids page) for a list of all upcoming events in the city. Alternately, you can use the “Find Events for Kids” function to help narrow your search for great options for your little and not-so-little ones. For example, we used the drop-down menus to search for “workshops/classes” in the next 7 days and found 9 results, including a fire-safety tour and simulation, a chance to create nature crafts from natural materials in Prospect Park, and a pizza cooking class. Check-marks appear next to events critics have selected as being particularly promising.

Also on the site are reviews of family-friendly movies, a directory of recommended stores and restaurants to visit with your kids, and more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Quack! for SAT Vocabulary

When your child can’t bear to even look at another flashcard as s/he prepares for the SAT, it’s time to seek alternative measures. Quack! Media’s SAT Vocabulary Success DVD's will not only come as a huge relief to a frustrated teenager, they may be entertaining as well.

The two DVDs in Quack!: Vocab Success for the New SAT painlessly teach 100 words that frequently appear on the SAT. These are no standard vocabulary lessons, however; words are taught with sketches and hilarious, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style dubs that will keep students riveted. Not only will kids be highly engaged, they’ll be provided with images to associate with each vocabulary word, helping them to hold onto its meaning when test time rolls around. Of course, Quack! is a great resource for younger children too, and would be a welcome addition to any middle school student’s classroom or homework session. Creative teachers can even task students with writing and performing their own vocabulary skits for classmates. The package comes with pre- and post-tests and interactive quizzes as well.

Parents and teachers should not be surprised to find themselves just as amused, and enlightened, by Quack! as the teenagers in their lives.

Order the product online here.

-Beth Guadagni, M.A.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dr. Yellin Speaks at Council of Exceptional Children Convention

Dr. Yellin is in Rochester, NY today, speaking to the 58th Annual Convention of  The New York State Council of Exceptional Children, which describes itself as "The Voice and the Vision of Special Education in New York State."

He is joining with Diana Bowers and Peggy O'Connor, Superintendent and Director of Special Education, respectively, of the Hamilton Central School District in upstate New York, to discuss "The Partnership Between Educators and Clinicians." Their talk builds upon an on-site professional development program Dr. Yellin provided for the staff of the district to help them create a meaningful program of Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI is an approach to identifying students with learning challenges by analyzing their response to increasing levels of academic interventions and teaching methods to determine whether and to what extent students may need special education services or settings.

Since Dr. Yellin's visit to Hamilton in July, 2010, the Hamilton professionals -- Principals, Learning Specialists, Reading Specialists, Classroom Teachers, and the District Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, and Superintendent of Schools -- have been applying their new approach and have seen measurable improvement in student performance. It is this exciting result of the collaboration between educators and clinicians that is the focus of today's presentation, which includes a discussion of the training, and success stories of children who have benefited from the implementation of this thoughtful, researched-based RTI program. Dr. Yellin, Dr. Bowers, and Ms. O'Connor previously presented information on their collaboration and the approach used by The Yellin Center team to attendees of the New York State School Boards Association Annual Convention in New York City.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Patrick Ashley

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Keeping Kids in Motion

Most New Yorkers recognize the New York Road Runners as the organizers of the ING New York City Marathon, one of the largest marathons in the world. But did you know that NYRR is dedicated to providing running programs for kids, too? On October 23rd, NYRR will host their semi-annual Youth Jamboree at the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory in upper Manhattan. These Jamborees, which feature track and field events for children from kindergarten through 8th grade, are open to any child who registers. Against the backdrop of the running, jumping, and throwing events, NYRR will offer a family health fair. For more information or to register your child, visit NYRR’s website.

NYRR’s other youth programs are worth investigating as well. Mighty Milers promotes fitness by encouraging kids to integrate exercise into their daily lives. Participants can track their progress online and work toward incentives provided by NYRR. Young Runners is a free program for kids in elementary school up through high school. Kids can join a running team and enjoy regular coaching sessions, entry into races, and more. Young Runners is available to schools, churches, or other organizations. Visit NYRR’s homepage for even more opportunities to help kids get moving.

Image derived from photo used under Creative Commons by Nam Nguyen

Monday, October 17, 2011

Assessing Kindergarten Readiness

New York's Board of Regents, the governing body for the state education system, is considering a proposal at its meeting today that would include assessing all children entering kindergarten to determine their readiness for school. This would move beyond the basic assessments that are now done to look at whether a child may have a disability or limited English language.

We think this is a fine idea, so long as the more extensive assessments are used as a starting point to guide interventions with appropriate follow-up. We already know that all children learn differently, and that young children, in particular, have a wide range of abilities. By identifying early readiness skills schools can provide teachers with helpful data. According to the proposal before the Regents, this assessment would look at language and literacy development, cognition and general knowledge (including early mathematics and early scientific development), approaches to learning, physical well-being and motor development (including adaptive skills) and emotional development. It would not be used to postpone entrance into kindergarten. According to Newsday, this new extended assessment process would affect about 190,000 entering kindergarten students each year and the funding would be provided as part of a package of federal grants designed to broadly benefit early childhood education.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Homework Help from Your Local Library

Homework can pose a challenge not only for students, but for parents as well. There is a fine line between helping your child understand their homework and actually helping them to do it, and this balancing act can be complicated by a number of other issues that parents face -- rusty academic skills; concerns about fostering independence; competition for their child's attention from computers, games, and other activities; and parental exhaustion after their own long day at work.

One place to turn for free help with homework (and, in some instances, for preparation for college admissions exams or advanced placement exams) can be your public library. In Suffolk County, on Long Island, students with a library card (which they can sign up for online) can receive help in a wide array of subjects from tutors who have been trained and cleared with background and reference checks. The service is available every day from 2 until 11 pm. Students can create an account that will allow them to view past sessions and submit questions.

Students in adjacent Nassau County can access a free service that provides online help from tutors who have been vetted by an independent tutoring service.

New York City is served by several independent library systems. Students can access free, in-person homework help through their local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Queens Public Library and New York Public Library patrons have access to numerous online tools to help with homework. Still another resource is provided by the UFT -- the NYC teachers' union -- which provides telephone help from teachers speaking 12 languages.

These support services won't make homework disappear -- but may help make homework a more effective and less stressful tool for learning.

Photo used under Creative Commons by CCAC North Library

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Library of Information for Parents and Students

A wide array of informative booklets, forms, and educational materials are available as free downloads from the website

This updated version of what used to be known as the Government Printing Office now offers only very limited items -- some maps, for example -- as printed publications. Their materials on education include choosing a school for your child, college preparation checklists, and helping your child learn specific subjects such as math, science, and reading. Numerous publications deal with different aspects of financing a college education, including the 2011-12 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms as well as fact sheets on different kinds of government and private student loans and explanations of federal loan programs. Virtually every college requires students seeking financial aid to begin the process by submitted a FAFSA form.

This site also serves as the portal to government publications on more than a dozen other subjects, ranging from consumer protection to travel. It's worth a look.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Writing Difficulties and ADHD

A recent study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, published in the journal Pediatrics, looks at whether children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD, (which is one form of the several attention components we look at here at The Yellin Center) have significant difficulties with written language. Written Language Disorder -- WLD -- is different from the more common language disorders which impact reading. WLD affects how students express themselves in writing and involves such skills as organization and planning, integration of visual and motor activities, finger coordination, and active working memory. The researchers wanted to see how the skills associated with effective written language were impacted in students with ADHD.

The study looked at almost 6,000 students in Minnesota from birth until age 19. The findings were striking. "Among boys, those with ADHD had a nearly 65 percent risk for having writing difficulties, compared to 16.5 percent among those without ADHD. Among girls, the figures were 57 percent vs. 9.4 percent." In addition, for girls with ADHD (but not for boys), there was an increased likelihood that their writing difficulties were accompanied by reading difficulties. Parents and teachers need to be mindful of the interplay of areas of difficulty for students.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Indi Samarajiva

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Study Demonstrates Dyslexia Independent of IQ

Researchers at MIT have released the results of a study that challenges the way many schools look at reading difficulties in children with low IQs. When children with average or above average IQs struggle with reading, schools have generally attributed such difficulties to dyslexia, and have provided the kind remediation that has been proven to be effective for students with dyslexia. However, when children with less than typical IQs struggle to read, their difficulties have too often been attributed to their lower IQ levels. This new study makes it clear that IQ and dyslexia are independent factors.

The study looked at 131 students from 7 to 17 years old, grouped by combinations of reading ability and IQ (typical reader/typical IQ; poor reader/typical IQ; and poor reader/low IQ), using functional MRI studies of six areas of the brain known to be involved in reading. As reported in MIT News, Professor John D. E. Gabrieli of MIT noted, “We found that children who are poor readers have the same brain difficulty in processing the sounds of language whether they have a high or low IQ.”

The authors of the study expressed the hope that their findings will accelerate effective interventions for all students who struggle with reading. As Professor Gabrieli stated to the MIT News, “Now, you basically diagnose dyslexia when a child seems miserable in school. Maybe you could intervene before they ever get that way.” The full study will be published in a future edition of Psychological Science.

Photo Used under Creative Commons by Anders Sandberg

Monday, October 3, 2011

More Helpful Apps for Students

With thousands of applications available for iPhone, iPad, and other smart devices, it can be difficult to figure out which are the most helpful applications for students. As we have done before, we want to bring a couple of apps to your attention, both of which are available for download on  iTunes.

Web Reader

Many students with reading decoding difficulties find audio textbooks to be extremely helpful. Listening to the words while reading along can boost comprehension and make challenging materials more accessible. For reading non-copyrighted materials, like computer documents, there are a number of text-to-speech programs on the market; we think Web Reader can be particularly helpful. Web Reader is an inexpensive (price: $1.99), user-friendly app that reads web pages and PDFs. Users can save the audio as .mp3 files for later listening, too. Web Reader’s voices are, unfortunately, just as canned as those of other text-to-speech programs , but its affordability and portability make it hard to beat. Male and female voices are available, and listeners can adjust not only the volume but also the speed at which the content is read. Web Reader can also work in conjunction with DropBox to read content stored in other formats, like Word or .rtf files.


Few educational apps for "iProducts" are as thoughtfully-designed and as well-reviewed as the KidCalc 7-in-1 Calculator (price: $.99). Parents can download this app to access a plethora of mathematical tools and games for their 2- to 10-year-olds. KidCalc features flashcards and games, but perhaps its best feature is its interactive calculator, which pairs imagery with the numbers the child enters to nurture his/her number sense. This app will take your child’s calculator way beyond just numbers.


Access The Yellin Center's extensive list of resources here.