Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Podcasts for Growing Minds - Part II

This is the second part of a three-part series on podcasts. Earlier this week we looked at podcasts created for children. Today we are looking a those that will especially appeal to teens (although many parents will find them of interest too). And we will end the week with a discussion about podcasts specifically aimed at parents. 

Podcasts for Teens

1. Radio Rookies (5-30 minutes)

This is a recommendation for the 15-and-up crowd. Radio Rookies is a WNYC series "that provides teenagers with the tools and training to create radio stories about themselves, their communities and their world.” It covers difficult subjects through the eyes of New York teens experiencing them, including race, poverty, domestic violence, parenthood as a young adult, and graduating high school against the odds. Some of our favorite WNYC reporting is done by these radio rookies, who offer a fresh perspective and mature insights into issues that aren’t always truly understood by grown-up professional journalists. This radio show is a good way to show teens their potential and their value, especially if they’re interested in journalism or politics.

2.  Invisibilia (60-65 minutes)

This podcast is amazing long-form reporting on “the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.”  It prompts teens to think more deeply about themselves and the world around them. They’re all amazing, but two recent episodes have looked closely at how our clothes can change our minds and our behavior, and how noncomplementary behavior can be used to prevent terrorism and help us manage our relationships.  There are two seasons out so far, with a total of 13 one-hour episodes that will leave your teens (and you) thinking twice about everything.

3.  Radiolab (35-65 minutes)

We’ve mentioned this fantastic podcast twice previously, but are including it one more time because it’s really a can’t-miss production.  Radiolab has been around for quite some time and has covered everything from the hidden world of plants beneath the ground to the heart-wrenching story of a child born on the cusp of what doctors call the age of fetal viability.  Some of the episodes focus on really difficult subject matter, like how to (theoretically) ration medical supplies during a pandemic when you know you can’t save everybody, or how parents cope with caring for a terminally ill child, but everything is presented in a truly beautiful format, complete with original music.  The podcast is a great way for teens to become engaged in deep moral thinking, as the hosts often go back and forth with each other and with themselves as they grapple with tough moral dilemmas.  

4.  MorePerfect (36-63 minutes)

A miniseries spin-off from some of the talented folks who make Radiolab, More Perfect is great for teens who are interested in government and politics, but without all the messy current events flooding the airwaves.  This six-episode series explores the history of the US Supreme Court and some of its most influential cases that you probably didn’t learn about in school.  The episodes cover issues like cruel and unusual punishment, how the court became the powerhouse it is today, and why it’s so hard to prevent race-based jury selection with a court ruling.  They even came up with a great jingle for remembering the names of all the current (and prospective) Supreme Court justices. 

5. Note to Self  (10-30 minutes)

Not all of the episodes from the podcast for “anyone trying to preserve their humanity in the digital age” will appeal to teens, but many are sure to strike a nerve.  Some of the best episodes look at tech etiquette around the world (phones at the table? Yes in Korea.  No in France.), FOMO vs. JOMO, and the weird world of mood-altering wearable devices.  There are also two challenges, Infomagical and Bored & Brilliant, that will prompt your teen to consider how she or he consumes media and uses electronics.  

6. Freakonomics  (30-60 minutes)

This is another long-time favorite, hosted by journalist Stephen Dubner and his sometimes-partner, economist Steven Levitt. The show uses the theory and methods behind economics to try and explain some very interesting, very non-economic issues.  Some memorable episodes have asked how much does the president really matter, why does everyone hate flying, do boycotts work, and why do people wear belts?  The show has covered a broad range of topics, allowing teens to get a feel for fields that interest them.  The host has interviewed US Senator Cory Booker, NYC pencil-shop owner Caroline Weaver, and everyone in-between.

7. The Moth (20-60 minutes)

The Moth podcast compiles true stories from people all over the world told live on stage without a script at Moth StorySlams and Mainstage events.  They have a regular presence in small NYC venues.  Both the live shows and the podcast are great for exposing teens to what life is like for different kinds of people in different kinds of places and situations.  It can also show young writers or poets models for different ways of expressing themselves and constructing their stories. 

8. ThisAmerican Life (60 minutes)

This is the podcast of podcasts.  The show has been around for more than 20 years, and it’s had the same host, Ira Glass, and his unforgettable voice since its inception.  We can’t tell you how many times this show has made me cry, or how many episode your blogger has assigned as required listening for my undergrads at CUNY, but we do know that the team at This American Life goes above and beyond every week to bring us stories about people and the interconnected lives we lead.  This podcast can help teens feel more connected to our world and to our neighbors.  Two of our recent favorites include #589: Tell Me I’m Fat, and the two-parter, #592/593, in which the producers spent time getting to know some of the people living in refugee camps in Greece.  They also have their own favorites list, currently topped with an episode about two schools right here in NYC that feel like they’re worlds apart.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Podcasts for Growing Minds - Part 1

Podcasts (audio shows you can pre-load onto a smartphone or play through a website) have become the hottest thing since sliced bread. They even have the power to potentially get someone out of jail or connect strangers who are tied to each other in a way you could never imagine. They’ve even made it possible to enjoy emptying the dishwasher and doing laundry! Since the number and types of podcasts have proliferated so much in recent years, it seems like a good time to pick out the best of the best to recommend to families. 

Below are reviews some of your blogger's favorite podcasts for kids.  In subsequent posts we'll look at our favorites for teens and adults. These audio programs are a great way to learn about the world, about ourselves, and about some things we never even realized we wanted to learn about in the first place. In addition to acting as valuable learning resources, podcasts can help kids and teens kick off their mindful relaxation time. They’re also superb conversation starters for families looking to engage in some tough critical thinking or debate. 

1. How to do Everything (20-30 minutes)
This is “half advice show, half survival guide.” It’s guaranteed to entertain both kids and adults – one of the best episodes features Patrick Stewart demonstrating what a cow would sound like depending on the region of England it was raised in. Other recent episodes include talking to scientists about what dinosaurs probably sounded like and why we really do the pee dance (and does it work!?). The hosts bring in consultants to answer these and other extremely important questions, like the “World’s Greatest Extra” who can teach you how to blend into the background on any television or movie set.

2. Brains On! (15-25 minutes)

The host of this podcast and her guests, both kids and adults, answer some of science’s most interesting questions in a very fun way. They’re “serious about being curious.” A recent episode, for example, explored why humans get allergies by interviewing an 11-year-old who has a few allergies and an allergist who can answer her questions. Other episode have explored farts (are they good for you?), the science of baking, and how to translate your dog’s barks or cat’s meows.

3. Can I Pet Your Dog? (45-55 minutes)

Yup, you guessed it. This is a show about dogs and all things dog-related. The first episode features an interview with Hamilton-creator Lin-Manuel Miranda all about his dog Tobi. The hosts discuss dogs they’ve met, dog news, dog care tips, and funny stories from their lives (with dogs, of course). It also has a pretty awesome theme song. This is one of the few podcasts out there for kids that isn’t directly trying to teach them something, but it offers plenty of life lessons without even trying.

The premise behind this podcast is pretty simple. Kids ask questions and the hosts get answers from athletes, engineers, scientists, novelists, artists and others from all across the career spectrum. Recent episodes have looked into why bikes don’t fall over, how it feels when families grow and change, how cheese is made, and why people have different religions.

5. The Adventures of Eleanor Amplified (10-15 minutes)
This one is pure fun. Each episode follows fictional journalist Eleanor Amplified on her “pursuit of truth.” She works hard to defend quality journalism and access to information in the face of evil scientists and politicians who try to stop her. The stories find Eleanor all over the globe in all sorts of sticky situations. If you have a child who is having trouble transitioning from watching too much television to becoming a lover of books, this could be a good first step to help her engage in the art of the story without the provided visuals.

6. Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child (50 minutes)
This is a weekly playlist that helps “kids and their grownups” connect over new and classic music, with songs from awesome artists like They Might Be Giants, Beck, REM, Apples in Stereo, and Kermit Ruffins. Finding intersections between your interests and your kids’ can be hard, so it’s nice to see a podcast that the whole family really can enjoy together.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

All That Isn’t Gold May Not Glitter

With the Olympic torch having been extinguished on Sunday, the athletes are now home with their medals. What do they see when looking at the glistening bronze, silver, or gold? The answer may be somewhat counterintuitive.

While we would generally think of second place as being a more desirable ranking than third place, silver medalists tend to exhibit less happy responses to their Olympic results than bronze medalists. So close to the gold, they are inclined to focus on what they did not achieve; whereas bronze winners are confronted with being so close to not having won any medal at all, and thus tend to be more satisfied with their results. The differences in silver and gold winners’ responses are marked, whether revealed by self-report, observation, or even careful examination of the facial muscle movements and eye positions that differentiate polite smiles from genuine ones.

The phenomenon at work here is counterfactual thinking, i.e., the human tendency to wonder, “What if….?” Upward counterfactuals are better alternatives (e.g., “What if I had won the gold?”) and downward counterfactuals are worse alternatives (e.g., “What if I had not gotten any medal?”), with the salience of either type of counterfactual alternative depending on the situation. The primary function of counterfactual thoughts is to manage ongoing behavior. Considering what might have been is key to improving in the future.

In one interesting study, college students were contacted immediately after receiving an exam grade and asked to write down any counterfactual thoughts that came to mind. In other words, they were to list anything that might have occurred differently that would have resulted in a different grade. The more they thought about how they might have done better, the more they changed their study habits and improved their performance in the future. Counterfactual thinking, it seems, can be a helpful academic tool in the long run, even though it may be unpleasant to go through the "If Onlys" at the time.

While counterfactual thinking may be why a silver medalist is disappointed, it may also be why he or she has been able to succeed to the point of becoming an Olympic athlete to begin with, and with many triumphs along the way. Counterfactual thinking, in healthy moderation, could help nurture the growth of Olympic students as well.

Friday, August 19, 2016

“Plan B” for Challenging Behavior

One book we really like here at The Yellin Center is The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross Greene, Ph.D. The book’s been around for almost 20 years and, despite its name, is a great resource for anyone who is a parent or teacher of children who experience challenging behaviors. Almost every child could use help with some behavioral expectation, whether it’s escalating sibling rivalry or difficulty stepping away from social media as bedtime approaches. Greene’s book outlines a method of collaborative problem-solving, in which children and adults work together to solve problems and curb challenging behavior while improving communication skills.

Dr. Greene starts by debunking those myths we’ve heard so many times – that kids are choosing to behave badly and they just want more attention. The mantra of the book is that kids do well if they can; when the demands of a situation exceed the skills a child has to adaptively respond to those demands, challenging behavior will occur. In other words, lots of children want to succeed and follow the rules, but they are delayed in the development of some of the necessary skills for doing so. Children with executive functioning difficulties are particularly at risk, as they often have trouble with controlling their behaviors and emotions when things start to get heated. The goal then is to figure out what skills the child is lacking and how this is resulting in a behavioral difficulty. The method, which he calls “Plan B,” walks caregivers through three steps:
  • empathizing with the child by seeking out his or her perspective about the difficulties he or she is having
  • sharing the adult’s concerns respectfully by noting how it is affecting the child and other people in the child’s life
  • inviting the child to join in the process of brainstorming potential solutions that address the concerns of both problem-solving partners

“Plan B” helps parents, teachers, and students work on their executive functioning skills while they’re working through challenging behaviors. The book also addresses ways the process can be used with siblings, between two students, and as a collaboration among parents and teachers. Are you wondering why it’s called “Plan B”? The more traditional reward-and-punishment approach (“Plan A”) to sparking behavior change might work for a lot of students; but those who lack some of the executive functioning skills like inhibition, flexibility, and frustration tolerance need something that will help them build those skills up as part of the process. There’s a lot to learn from Dr. Greene’s collaborative approach to problem-solving, and many useful tools are available for free on the website.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Six Questions to Ask Before Using a New Educational App

We talk a lot about the latest ed tech developments here at The Yellin Center. We often share reviews of our favorite learning tools, or suggest where to go to find and vet new resources. However, it can be hard to figure out what tools to use, and how to decide if a digital tool is the best way to meet the specific need of a particular learner. We do not believe in integrating technology for technology’s sake; to be of any value, the tool being used needs to address and support a specific learning need in the student. There are also holistic aspects to consider, like the learner’s interests and affinities, when determining if a specific tool will be the right fit for a specific student.

Through our evaluation process here at The Yellin Center, we determine a specific learning profile for each student that highlights their strengths and challenges. From there, we develop a learning plan that will provide parents, teachers, and the student the tools they require to amplify the student’s learning. In our learning plans, we often suggest a breadth of digital tools after thoughtfully considering the learner and the variety of tools available. Our goal is to connect each student to specific tools that will suit their individual, personalized needs.

How do we decide what tools to recommend? One way is to ask a series of questions, which we thought might be helpful to share with our readers.

1. What are the learner’s specific areas of need and are there apps that target these areas?

For a student who struggles with phonological processing, we will begin by researching tools that address phonology and seeing what is available. For some areas, for example orthographic memory, it is much harder to find educationally robust tools to recommend.

2. What content or skills do we want the learner to learn or practice? Does this app address these needs?

If phonology is the concern and the child needs specific practice in rhyming and blending we will explore the available apps, looking to see what areas of phonology the app addresses to determine if this learner’s needs will be met.

3. Who are the creators of the app and what makes them experts in this learning area?

Most apps have an “about” section that explains who their developers and staff are, which allow us to understand and vet their credentials. Other, more robust, tools will sometimes have research sections on their websites or information about the results of case studies that have been conducted to demonstrate the efficacy of the particular app. These are really helpful in understanding how educationally rigorous a tool is.

4. Is there likely to be transference of the skills learned in app to the real world?

We believe that games can be an effective way to learn, with the caveat that we want to ensure the skills being learned are universal and not specific to the game being played in-app. We always look to see how the skills are being taught in the app, and how likely they are to help the student develop skills across contexts. For example, if the app teaches rhyming, we look to see if it is done in such a way that when a child sees two rhyming words on a pencil and paper task in school that they will have understood the concepts strongly enough to identify the rhyme. 

5. Is there a tracking mechanism to show the child and others the progress being made?

We also believe in the power of play, and that not all play is for “educational purposes”. However, when it comes to academic skill building, we like to see apps that show a student’s progress. We find students feel like their time is well spent when they can see themselves progressing toward their own goals.

6. Is there a comparable or better app at a better price point?

Some apps are expensive, and it isn’t always the most expensive app that is the best. So, we always look and consider the cost of each tool recommended and make sure there isn’t anything out there that is as helpful but more affordable.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Building Success through our Approach to Failure

With this post, we are pleased to introduce the newest member of our blogging team, Yellin Center Learning Specialist Jacqui Kluger, M.S., Ed. Jacqui has spent the past five years as an instructor for graduate and undergraduate psychology and education students in the City University of New York system, as well as working at several public and private schools. Welcome aboard, Jacqui!

We already know that when we view our abilities as plastic, or malleable and always growing, we (and our kids) approach roadblocks and challenges in a more constructive way. The question, then, is how to pass a growth mindset along so students have the tools to persevere in the face of hardships at school. A recent study by Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck began to answer this question. They found that the way a parent approaches experiences of failure predicts how students perceived “being smart.” In other words, parents’ “failure mindsets” were related to whether children viewed their own abilities as fixed or plastic. 

Haimovitz and Dweck point out that a parent’s approach to failure is visible to students through parent behavior towards student failure. How a parent reacts when a student comes home with not-so-good news has a big impact on how that student feels about his or her abilities and intelligence. Some adults have a “failure-is-debilitating” view, which is the belief that failure is a reflection of our ability and is a setback. Others have a view of failure as an opportunity and a time of growth that leads to increased ability and mastery down the road. When parents focus on students’ current performance or fixed ability in the face of failure, kids do the same. When we focus on the opportunity at hand – the learning and mastery that comes after the initial failure – then kids begin to develop the growth mindset we know is so important for academic and socio-emotional success.

All students experience failure at some point in their educational careers, whether it’s a low exam grade or not getting the lead role in the winter play. According to the study, we should react to students’ failure with support for their learning and mastery. This may include providing strategies for different study methods, seeking outside support, promoting interest and enjoyment of material beyond quantifiable performance, or simply highlighting the idea that learning is an ongoing process. Let’s not forget that the journey is more important than the destination.

Photo: Erin Resso for flickr cc

Monday, August 8, 2016

5 NYC Ed Tech Companies Changing the Face of Education

We love Ed Tech! Here at The Yellin Center we take pride in keeping up with the latest developments in educational technology. We strive to know what is happening and what innovations are being made in the field. By staying up to date we are able to suggest the most relevant tools to the students, families, and educators we serve. We do this, however, through a lens of mindfulness. We believe that no app or website is a silver bullet, and that every digital resource is merely a tool to amplify learning, just like paper and pencils tasks.

Here in New York City our neighbors include some pretty influential and innovative ed Tech companies. Some of these companies create tools that we have vetted and have found to be of incredible merit. Frequently, we find ourselves recommending these tools to our learners. We want to showcase some of the great tools and companies that come from our very own backyard, right here in New York City.


Newsela is an online news website for kids that publishes daily articles. They draw their content from sources like the Washington Post but provide the materials across Lexile levels, making the content accessible to readers of all abilities. There are also integrated features that allow students to answer open ended questions about the text or to quiz them on what they learned.


Flocabulary is an online producer of educational songs and videos to help students learn key concepts across curricular areas. Whether a child is learning how to find the perimeter of a rectangle or how to use a comma, Flocabulary has a highly entertaining rap song to help them master the concept. Often the rhythm and rhyme in a song or rap can help students better integrate the concepts and recall the information later. We love what Flocabulary is doing.


Brainpop, like Flocabulary, also produces educational videos, except this time without the rap. They have a robust library of informative animated videos across curricular areas, and include materials for English language learners through BrainPop ESL. For French or Spanish speakers there is also a BrainPOP Français and BrainPOP Español. So, regardless of your abilities, or language background, BrainPop is likely to have a resource to help you learn a new concept.

GameUp is the newest addition to the BrainPop learning resources. GameUp is described as “a vetted and always-expanding collection of cross-curricular digital learning games from leading game designers, paired with implementation materials.”

Code Academy

We've written before about Code Academy, an innovative program to help people learn to code for free. They strive to make their learning interactive, and ensure every learner has access to the tools required to master these pivotal 21st century learning skills.

Learn with Homer

Learn with Homer is a research backed digital reading program to help build children’s early reading skills. We have talked about them before and there is a reason they’re one of our favorite tools. The app is comprehensive, and will build upon previously mastered skills in order to teach new reading skills. They have conducted extensive research and lent their app to researchers around the country to vet - and the results are impressive, to say the least.