Monday, June 18, 2018

Kids Can be Lifesavers Too

Summer is a time for being outdoors -- at the beach, pool, park, and elsewhere. But all of these wonderful activities also can result in traumatic situations, including drowning or sudden cardiac arrest. While vigilance is the best way to avoid accidents in the water, we all know that these situations can arise without warning and in a brief moment.

We also know that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automatic external defibrillator can reduce the rate of permanent injury or death when there is a water accident or medical crisis. In fact, early and effective "bystander" CPR has been shown to have a positive impact on the rate of survival and longer term recovery from cardiac arrest. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges the  the training of children, parents, caregivers, school personnel, and the public in the provision of basic life support, including pediatric basic life support, as well as the appropriate use of automated external defibrillators (AED).

What is less discussed is the role that even young children can play in helping in these life-threatening emergencies, whether the victim is a child or adult, and the kind of training that is appropriate at each age level. As of the fall of 2017, the American College of Cardiology found that 39 states required CPR training of high school students, although the specifics of such training varied from state-to-state and not all state laws required AED training. Most training was done in school during a required health class. But children who are old enough to use a phone be trained to call 911 and to seek out an adult to help. Children in the older elementary grades or middle school can be taught the rudiments of CPR - chest compressions to an appropriate tune to set the pace ("Stayin' Alive" is often recommended).

Parents can find out what kind of training their child's school offers. If it doesn't take place until the later grades, or isn't sufficient to truly train a child to react in an emergency, classes at the local Red Cross or through another organization may be the way to go. Empowering children to help in an emergency can be a life-changing experience for all involved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Pediatrician Screening for Social Media Use Urged

In the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics, a team from the Baylor School of Medicine has proposed expanding the guidelines for adolescent health screenings to include questions about social media use.

The proposal is based on data that finds teen social use resembles the patterns of substance addiction, with usage increasing over time from an average of 16 minutes a day between ages 10 and 12 to an average of 71 minutes a day during adolescence. Teenage girls report the highest usage, some 142 minutes per day on average. Anxiety during periods of withdrawal increase with age and usage, with 80 percent of college students indicating that they feel anxious when they are not able to access their devices, the authors report.

Furthermore, the proposal notes that research has shown clear relationships between mental health and social media usage. Excessive use of social media may contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety in vulnerable teens. In addition, teens with mental illness may use social media to express their thoughts and feelings.

Because of this, the authors believe that pediatricians need to expand the current standard for psychosocial screening: HEADSSS, which stands for questions about:

  • Home life
  • Education
  • Activities
  • Drugs
  • Sexual Activity
  • Safety
  • Suicide and/or depression.
This kind of screening is generally done without a parent in the room, so the teen will be more likely to be open with the physician. An additional "S" for social media usage should be added, the authors urge, and they suggest that pediatricians should ask all patients older than age 11 the following questions:
  • Which social media sites/apps to you use regularly?
  • How long to you spend on social media sites/apps on a typical day? 
    • suggestions are given for how a teen might track this usage
  • Do you think you use social media too much?
    • If the answer is yes, ask if they have tried to fix this
  • Does viewing social media increase or decrease your self confidence?
  • Have you personally experienced cyberbullying, sexting, or someone online asking to have sexual relations with you?
    • The physician may need to explain to the patient what these terms mean
If social media screening raises concerns, the physician may follow up in one of several ways, including follow up visits or referrals to mental health resources. Parents should make sure that their child or teen's physician uses the HEADSSS screening -- and adds the additional "S" to inquire about social media. 

Photo by on Unsplash

Friday, June 8, 2018

Free Speech Issue for Students

Yesterday your blogger attended the Annual School Law Program given by the Practicing Law Institute here in New York City. Each year, this program features expert speakers on issues of interest to attorneys who work in the field of education and this year's program was especially strong, touching on Section 504, the latest court decisions impacting special education, and ethical issues.

One particularly timely topic, presented by Professor Emily Gold Waldman of Pace University Law School, was student protest and speech and how the courts balance the free speech rights of students with the rights of schools to discipline students for their conduct. Although the U.S. Supreme Court cases in this area aren't new, they are certainly timely in this era of political polarization and student activism.

The earliest of the cases presented by Professor Waldman was Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District , from 1969. It involved students who were suspended for wearing black armbands in 1965 to protest the Vietnam war. The school had learned of this plan and had adopted a policy that anyone wearing a black armband would be suspended. The school followed through on its threat and the students sued. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision by Justice Fortas,  found in favor of the students and noted that,

"In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are "persons" under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State." 

The decision went on to state:

"They neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude in the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. In the circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny their form of expression."

The outcome was different in Bethel School District v. Fraser, a 1986 decision weighing in on a 1983 incident where a student was prohibited from delivering a speech filled with sexual innuendo and references. The Supreme Court noted the Tinker decision, but distinguished it from the situation here, and found in favor of the school district, stating,

"It does not follow, however, that, simply because the use of an offensive form of expression may not be prohibited to adults making what the speaker considers a political point, the same latitude must be permitted to children in a public school."

Two other cases help clarify students' rights. Hazelwood School District. v. Kuhlmeier was a 1988 decision upholding the right of a school district to censor student articles in the school paper. The Supreme Court found that because the the school newspaper was sponsored by the school, it could be distinguished from the situation in Tinker. Likewise, in Morse v. Frederick, decided in 2007, when students held up a banner the school deemed to be offensive ("Bong Hits for Jesus") during an Olympic Torch Relay that the school had taken students to watch, outside the school, the Court found the school could discipline the students since the activity was similar to a class trip and “schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use.” 

Students contemplating protests in and around their schools may want to familiarize themselves with these and similar cases, to understand their rights -- and the limitations that schools can place upon them. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summer Reading Resources

Summer is a great time for children to take advantage of the often slower pace to build their reading skills. It's not always easy to pry kids from their screens, but there are some excellent resources that can help children grow a love of reading that will last well beyond their school vacation.

Once place to begin is with a summer reading initiative from Reading Rockets, called Start with a Book.

Start with a Book allows kids and parents to start with a topic -- music, inventions, science, and many more -- and suggests books at an appropriate level for kids of all ages. The website also contains tips on the importance of reading aloud, how to build a home library, and how to get kids hooked on reading, during the summer and all year 'round.

Closer to home, here in New York City, the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library all have summer reading programs for kids. The Brooklyn Library program kicks off this coming weekend with activities in all branches.  There are also book lists for all ages, as well as challenge contests. The Queens Library has its kick off event tomorrow, at branch libraries throughout the borough. And the New York City Library has a guide to summer reading, with book lists for all ages.

Help your child find a book and make summer more fun while building skills for the next school year.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Carmel Academy - A Unique Program in Connecticut

Earlier this week, Dr. and Mrs. Yellin had the opportunity to visit Carmel Academy, a private K-8 school located on a lovely 17 acre campus in Greenwich, Connecticut. Carmel is a Jewish day school, and religious instruction and Hebrew language lessons are part of its curriculum.

But what makes Carmel Academy unique is the way it integrates a special education program - Providing Alternative Learning Strategies (PALS) - with the general curriculum in which most Carmel students participate. As Jonathan Holub, the Head of the PALS program, explained during his informative tour of the campus, there is a great deal of fluidity between the regular and the PALS classes. Students in the general education track who need some additional support in a particular subject may become part of a PALS class in that subject. Likewise, PALS students who can handle a more advanced class in one or more subjects may spend part of their day with typically learning students. The class schedule for each grade makes this flexible arrangement possible. Students in the PALS program thus feel very much a part of their grade and typical learners interact with the PALS students in class and across other school activities.

The PALS program notes that its basic tenet is that their students are not expected to to meet the demands of the curriculum; the curriculum is expected to adapt to the needs of the student.

Other notable features of PALS include:
  • Small classes, capped at ten students with two teachers in each class, provide hands-on, multi-sensory instruction. Notably, both general and Judaics teachers have special education training.
  • Instruction is thematic and interdisciplinary, so that subjects are connected across all academic areas. 
  • All students are involved in general and Judaic instruction, but the depth of Judaic instruction is individually determined for each student. 
  • On site professionals include occupational therapy (and a sensory gym), speech and language therapy, Orton-Gillingham and Lindamood-Bell reading specialists, a school psychologist and full time nurse. Outside consultants are brought in when needed. 
Clearly, Carmel is not for every student, even for every student seeking a Jewish day school. The PALS program focuses its curriculum on students with language based learning disabilities and would not a good fit for a student with significant emotional difficulties.

For families seeking a Jewish religious school with integration between special education and regular curriculums, Carmel is definitely worth exploring.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Helping to Meet Classroom Needs

A recently released report from the U.S. Department of Education, through its National Center for Education Statistics, looks at spending by classroom teachers on supplies for their students and classrooms.

Based on data from the 2014-15 school year, which included teachers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, fully 94 percent of teachers spent their own money on classroom supplies, without reimbursement. The average expenditure over the course of a school year was $479, with teachers in schools with a high percentage of students who qualify for free lunch tending to spend more.

Clearly, teachers are stepping in to fill gaps in the supplies they believe are needed for optimal learning in their classrooms. But there are things that parents can do to help with this burden. One option is the organization Donors Choose. Donors Choose was founded in 2000 by Charles Best, a teacher at a Bronx public high school who needed books for his students. To date, the nonprofit organization has fulfilled over a million projects for almost 80,000 schools across the country and has a four star rating on Charity Navigator.

The model is a simple one. Teachers post information about the projects or materials they need. Donors can view these requests and fund some or all of a particular posting. Donors Choose keeps an eye on the donation to make sure it is put to good use. Take a look around their website. See their impressive list of corporate partners. And see what you can do to help teachers and schools in your area or around the country.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Changed Perspective

Last Friday, your blogger once again was a guest at HALA, The Hillside Arts and Letters Academy, a New York City public high school located in the historic Jamaica High School building in Queens, New York. Created as part of a New York City initiative to close large, academically failing schools and to replace them with smaller schools, HALA shares its current building with three other schools and all four schools share an auditorium, cafeteria, and sports teams.

HALA opened in 2010 and your blogger has visited for numerous functions over the years; one of the two current Assistant Principals is Matthew Yellin. Matt began his teaching career at HALA and continues to teach a class or two each semester, even as his primary role has changed. And he continues to recruit his family and friends to assist at school events.

But this post isn't about the terrific students I met during Senior Interview Day, when 12th graders prepare a resume and submit to mock interviews for "jobs" in their hoped for fields. It isn't even about the excellent scores this school achieved during its reviews by the NYC Department of Education.

What was striking about this visit was how I felt about the metal detectors that all students and visitors to the building need to pass through whenever they enter. For several years, each time I visited the school, I was troubled by the security procedures, even though the safety officers were always polite to me and seemed efficient. When I mentioned that this must be an issue for the students, it was explained that it was a real inconvenience, especially when large numbers of students were arriving at once. I was told, this level of security went back to the day when Jamaica High School was a single school, with thousands of students. Still, the process made me uncomfortable.

I am still troubled by these devices, but for a different reason. Now I am grateful that the students -- and the staff -- are protected by metal detectors. I am not so naive as to think that these devices or the folks that operate them are foolproof, but I appreciate the level of safety they offer nonetheless. And I am sad that the world in which we live, where school shootings seem to pile one upon another,  has managed to change my mind about the need for this level of security. Very sad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What's Cooking?

Any parent who is faced with providing dinner for his or her family knows that eventually this can become a chore. Deciding on a menu, having the ingredients on hand, and doing the preparation and cooking, not to mention the clean-up, can challenge even the best cooks and most dedicated moms and dads. Furthermore, making sure that everyone gets healthy food and finds something they will eat can add to the job. It's one reason that prepackaged meals that come in a box, ready to cook, are finding an audience.

But neither boxed meals nor dining out is a practical every night solution for most families, and certainly not for those who are concerned with nutrition and budgets. One solution is to enlist children to help with nightly dinners. Sure, busy parents may not want to take the time to involve their children in dinner preparation. It can slow things down and require more thought than working parents can bring to this task. All they want, much of the time, is to get dinner on the table as quickly and easily as possible.

But, with a bit of planning, parents can involve children in this job, making it a time for family interaction, and getting real assistance while teaching children important skills.

Start on a weekend. Spend some time discussing what everyone likes to eat and what might be a healthy way to include that in family dinners. Have kids do a bit of a kitchen scavenger hunt, checking to see what ingredients are on hand. Work with them to make a shopping list for the week's menus. Planning makes everything easier and the skills involved in this part of the job are important ones for children to master. And have the menus for the week readily accessible. 

  • Involve children in shopping. Specific lists are a must. Not just "vegetables" but "two red peppers and three green peppers;" not just "chicken" but "one package of chicken drumsticks, about 10 drumsticks." If you have multiple children, old enough to be on their own in a supermarket, you may want to break the list into parts. If you shop in small neighborhood stores, you may want to have your child ask the counter person for a specific item. And once the shopping is completed, have the children help to unload and put the groceries in their proper place. 
  • Prep in advance. Lots of elements of recipes can be prepared in advance and stored for several days. Chop vegetables and portion and freeze packages of meat or fish. 
  • Assign tasks. This can be by the day - with one child helping on Tuesdays and Thursdays and another on Monday and Wednesday. Or by job, with even the youngest children able to set the table or put bread on a bread board. What about other days? Pizza night works well for many families, as does breakfast for dinner. It's not easy to cook, especially with children, every night and a couple of nights each week of something simpler can keep things doable. 
  • Older children can do real cooking, especially if they have been working up to it with simpler tasks. And everyone can pitch in with clean up!
  • Don't forget the skills that cooking can build: reading directions, writing out lists, measuring, working on the sequential step-by-step tasks involved in cooking. 
With some planning and patience, family dinner preparation can be helpful for everyone.

Photo credit: sydney Rae

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Going Easy on Homework Help

It is rare to speak to a parent who is not somehow involved in their child's homework. From making sure their student has a time and place to work, to answering the occasional question, to actually sitting with their child and providing lessons and guidance, parents seem to be part of the homework process, especially for younger students.

Often, homework is a chore for both child and parent, one that both may dread. Are there ways to make children more independent when it comes to this inevitable part of most school programs? What works best to build skills without fraying tempers?

One answer seems to emerge from a study out of Finland. The First Steps Study is a wide-ranging long-term examination of learning and motivation in some 2,000 Finnish students from kindergarten through high school. In this component of the study, reported in the journal Learning and Instruction, researchers looked at 365 second through fourth graders and at how their mothers supported their children's homework. They found that the more opportunities for independent, autonomous work that the mother offered the child, the more persistently the child worked on his or her school assignments. This, in turn, resulted in the mothers offering more opportunities for independent work.

In contrast, when mothers offered their children concrete homework help, the children were less independent in their work and the mothers responded by offering more and more help. Note that this effect persisted even when the child's ability level was controlled for. Notably, the study does not mention interventions by fathers. The study authors posited, in a press release from The University of Eastern Finland, that,

"One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child's skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities."

Similarly, concrete homework assistance - especially if not requested by the child - may send out a message that the mother doesn't believe in the child's ability to do his or her homework.

It is difficult for some parents to draw down their level of homework involvement. It seems, however, that doing so may have long term benefits for students, and likely for their parents as well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

One Thousand Blogs!

Today marks our 1000th blog post and we are celebrating this milestone with pride.

We began blogging in August 2009 as a way of reaching out to the families we were seeing, to share information about learning, legal issues, schools, and strategies that they would find helpful. Over the years, we have expanded our subject matter and our roster of regular bloggers, including many of our Learning Specialists. Each writer brought their special interests and expertise to their posts, making for a rich array of topics and information.

Beth Guadagni wrote about language and reviewed books, and continues to blog from her current position as a teacher at a school for students with dyslexia. Renee Jordan shared educational games she had created for her own students when she was a classroom teacher, and Lindsay Levy wrote posts on a wide array of subjects, especially how we think and learn.

Currently, our writers include Dr. Jacqueline Kluger, who brings her insights into research and behavior, and Susan Yellin, who writes about legal issues and serves as editor of the blog. Even Dr. Paul Yellin blogs from time to time, when his schedule permits. And no discussion of our blogging team would be complete without noting the enormous contribution of Jeremy Koren, who was our Operations Manager when the blog first started and has written posts, helped with technical issues, and probably had the idea for writing a blog in the first place. From his current job on the west coast, he is always available when needed.

Thanks, Jeremy and all of our writing team, past and present. This celebration is only a brief pause in our mission to keep the students, parents, educators, and others who we serve and who read this blog, entertained and informed about our work and issues related to learning and education. Thank you for taking the time to read our posts!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Schoolhouse Rock

For those folks who were children in the 1970's and 80's, ABC Television's "Schoolhouse Rock!" was most likely a part of their education. The television series ran from 1973-85, and was then brought back from 1993-99, with both new and old material. Finally, new segments were released directly to video in 2009. Many versions of the videos are available online from numerous sources. 

We've been thinking about this show and its impact on generations of students since we heard about the death of Bob Dorough, who died on April 23rd at the age of 94. Dorough -- a jazz pianist and singer -- was approached by the father of a child who was struggling to learn multiplication, even though he had no trouble remembering songs. The initial song, "Three is a Magic Number" was the first one in the Schoolhouse Rock! series.

Not all the Schoolhouse Rock! videos were sung by Dorough, although he had a hand in almost all of them, either as writer or music director. And the series did not stick just to multiplication or even just to math. Grammar was one of the early topics tackled, and Dorough wrote (but did not do vocals) on "Conjunction Junction", which used trains to illustrate the role of conjunctions.

Music is a great way to learn, and Bob Dorough and his colleagues were able to reach children through a medium that got their attention and conveyed information that stuck with them. Dorough was a Grammy winner and was involved in all aspects of writing and recording music over a career that spanned more than 50 years. But the best way to appreciate his diverse and creative endeavors is to hear directly from him, as he explains his life and work, using song,  in a TED-X talk from 2017. Thanks, Bob. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rewriting Equalities to Build Numeracy - Part 2

In our last post, we wrote about the work of Dr. Barbara Dougherty, the Director of the Curriculum Research and Development Group at the University of Hawaii. Dr. Dougherty's work emphasizes the importance of of instilling a solid sense of numeracy (being able to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts) and operations (recognition of the relationships among addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to provide students with a true understanding of math.

One way to do this is to teach students to "Rewrite Equalities", a process that begins with understanding the meaning of = .

How do we do this?

Step 1: Establish an understanding of =

= does not represent “the answer” (as most kids think it does). It means that whatever is on one side has the same value as whatever is on the other side.

This seems simple, but it’s a big intellectual leap for kids. One of the biggest revelations will probably be the insight that it’s possible to have multiple numbers on each side of the =.

Try modeling this with manipulatives and sticky notes. Start with this:

Then show students that you can also do this:

Or this:

Or even this:

In all of the examples above, there are still a total of seven pennies on each side of the =. Challenge them to build their own models.

Step 2: Entry-Level Equalities

When it’s time to move from manipulatives to numbers, the teacher should demonstrate how to rewrite an equality in a few different ways. Begin by writing and explaining a series like this:

3 + 5 = 8

8 = 3 + 5

8 = 4 + 4

7 + 1 = 8

Now, invite students to take over with their own ideas. How many can they come up with? 

The student who remembers the commutative property doubles the number of expressions s/he can write, but don’t tell them this! Wait for someone to figure it out.

In my classroom, after they’ve worked for a while, students pick their two favorite expressions to write on the board and explain to the class.

Questions to Push Thinking:
  • Can you rewrite the equality using a different operator, like a subtraction sign?
  • Can you rewrite the equality by putting two or more numbers on each side of the equal sign?
  • Can you rewrite the expression using decimals or fractions? What about negative numbers?

Step 3: More Advanced Equalities: Focusing on Operations

Challenge students to rewrite an equality using only the numbers in the inequality. They may use any operators and any format they’d like.

So a simple expression like this:

4 + 6 = 10

could be rewritten like this:

10 – 6 = 4

A more complex expression, like this:

3 x 4 x 2 = 24

could be rewritten like this:

2÷24 = 4 x 3

Students will notice that more complicated expressions can be rewritten in more ways.

I’m my classroom, we’ve learned that there is tremendous power in simple activities and procedures. I hope other educators find this activity to be as valuable as we have!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Rewriting Equalities to Build Numeracy - Part 1

Recently, I was fortunate to attend a two-day seminar on teaching math to struggling learners in the middle and upper grades, led by Dr. Barbara Dougherty. Dr. Dougherty, the Director of the Curriculum Research and Development Group at the University of Hawaii, is an insightful and innovative educator with a passion for helping all students develop of deep appreciation for math. If I could sum up the most important lesson I learned during my two days with Dr. Dougherty, it would be with a statement she repeated many times over the course of the conference: Pay now, or pay later.

Dr. Dougherty was referring to the time it takes to build numeracy skills and operational sense. These two critical components of math education are often given a mere nod in the classroom, if not overlooked completely by teachers scrambling to cram as many procedures into students’ memories as possible before exam time. This rushed approach, while understandable, is a mistake, according to Dougherty. A solid sense of numeracy (being able to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts) and operations (recognition of the relationships among addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) underlies a deep understanding of math. Happily, these competencies are available even to students who struggle with numbers and even those with dyscalculia. But learners need time and the right platforms for exploring the relationships between numbers.

There are lots of ways to set the stage for this kind of inquiry, but one of the simplest is an exercise in which students rewrite equalities. This powerful strategy is deceptively simple: give students an equation and ask them rewrite it, keeping both sides equal. So,

6 + 4 = 10

might be rewritten as

10 = 6 + 4

9 + 1 = 10

15 – 5 = 10

5 x 2 = 10

7 + 3 = 20 – 10


My fifth graders have loved this activity, and even those who will swear they hate math cheer when I announce that we’ll be warming up for class with a new number sentence to rewrite. There are lots of reasons to try this in a classroom setting or with an individual student. 

Rewriting equalities:
  • It's fun! – My students, without any guidance from me, treat these challenges like riddles, and they are tickled when they come up with novel solutions.  
  • Builds operation sense – Crunching numbers with a real goal in mind makes practice relevant and motivating. 
  • Builds numeracy – With practice, students develop a sense for how to point the magnitude of a quantity in the direction they want; for example, they discover that most of the time, multiplying by a positive number will make a quantity much larger than adding by the same number. 
  • Accommodates a wide range of skill levels – More advanced students can use fractions, roots, exponents, etc., while those still building basic skills can gain comfort with simpler operations like subtraction or multiplication. 
  • Sets the stage for algebraic thinking – Many teachers take for granted that students who have only ever seen a mathematical expression with a single number to the right of the =, structured like this:  5 + 3 + 1 = 9 will be able to transition to algebra, when problems may have multiple numbers and variables!) to the right of the =, like this: 5 + 3 = 9 – x.
A misunderstanding of = is often behind the confusion because students haven’t been taught to think flexibly about an equality. (Check out Part 2 of this post for examples of how to implement this process in the classroom and for more about the “equals” sign.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Quad Preparatory School

Yesterday, Dr. and Mrs. Yellin had the opportunity to visit Quad Prep - The Quad Preparatory School, located in lower Manhattan. Quad Prep was founded to serve "twice-exceptional" or "2-e" students - gifted children with learning differences.

It was actually a second visit to Quad Prep. Their first visit was shortly after the school was founded  by Dr. Kimberly Busi, a physician who is the parent of a 2-e child, who believes that parents should not have to choose between settings that foster gifted children's enormous academic potential and those that provide appropriate support for their areas of challenge, without sufficient academic stimulation. Dr. Busi took action to address these concerns and Quad Prep was founded with just a handful of students in an East Village location.

Now, only a few years later, the growth and development of the school is astonishing. The attractive and open physical space is on one large floor of an office tower, and has been designed to foster the individualized learning model that is fundamental to Quad Prep's approach. Classrooms have places for one-on-one instruction as well as group activities and there are numerous "nooks and crannies" where support services or individual or small group work can take place. Students range from kindergarten through 12th grade, divided into multi-age groups (within two years) of eight to ten children, based on the students' needs and abilities. Even this arrangement is individualized, so that a third grader with extra skills and interests in chemistry, for example, can work on that subject with a more advanced, older group.

The academic curriculum is rigorous, with emphasis on both STEM subjects and the arts. Upper school students take a foreign language, currently selecting from Latin and Arabic as well as more traditional choices.

However, academics are far from the whole story. Each classroom features a team of teachers, including both academic instructors and clinically trained psychosocial teachers who support the school-wide social-emotional curriculum and who act as liaisons with  the therapists and other specialists who work with each child. There are weekly phone conferences with parents and any outside providers, supplementing the individual instruction and support with a team approach to each student.

The students were saw were thoughtful and engaged in a wide array of challenging activities. As the school notes:
"...If you have met one twice exceptional child, you have met one twice exceptional child. No two Quad Prep students are the same and there is not a specific mold into which we expect or even hope our kids to fit.... We pride ourselves on how well we individualize attention: rather than expect a child to fit us, we truly fit ourselves around each of our students. In turn, each child is given the opportunity to capitalize on their strengths and further develop their passions, while also receiving empathic support and empowerment to cope with challenges."  

These are impressive goals and, for the right student, this is an impressive school.

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:


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.
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.
Reading Decoding
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
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
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.


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. - 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.

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!