SchoolFamily Voices

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In many schools, every student has a laptop or tablet computer on their desk. As a teacher, I have mixed emotions about that! I love that my students have vast quantities of information at their fingertips, and that they can share documents with one another so easily. They can do group projects even when they are not in the same room or involve students from anywhere in the world. The same qualities, however, can be a distraction and keep them from learning what they are supposed to. Students can be surfing the Web looking for information unrelated to class. They may be chatting with friends or shopping instead of working. They may be playing games. Even the best of teachers cannot keep up with what every student is doing in class on their tablet or laptop.

Students need strategies for managing the distraction at their fingertips. It is ultimately their own decision whether to pay attention to the teacher or to their electronic device. Talk with your child about her responsibility for managing her device in class. Websites are designed to distract—ads appear targeted to their interest along with a myriad of other colorful, flashy pictures. It can be hard to focus attention where it belongs. Here are some ideas.

  • Partially lower the screen when the teacher is talking. This removes the distracting screen from sight and allows your child to focus better. This is important, too, when classmates are presenting their work to the class. I have seen students with their computer open working (or playing) while other students are presenting projects in class. This is rude and sends a message that they are not interested in learning from their peers.
  • Keep only the software open you are using in class. Some students keep multiple things running all the time, and the temptation to return to that chat is just too much to overcome.
  • Save social networking and online chatting for after school. Most schools try to block social networks from students, but some students find a way around the firewall. (Most students carry a cell phone with them to school and use it for social networking.) In my classroom, this is the biggest issue. Multitasking (doing more than one cognitive task at the same time) is never effective. At best, students will be slower and less productive. At worst, students do not learn at all.
  • Consider whether the learning task is best done without the computer at all. Some activities do not require a computer. Take the teacher’s lead if she suggests that you don’t need your computer. Leave it safely in your back pack and focus all your attention on learning without it in class.

Computers are fantastic learning tools. When used properly in the classroom, they enhance the learning environment and engage students actively. It is up to your son to use his computer appropriately in class. If he knows he is distracted in class by his laptop, he might consider leaving it tucked away unless he really needs it. When it is out, strategies like lowering the screen, keeping the correct software running, and avoiding socializing online can help.

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Once students leave elementary school, they are expected to be able to read well. But there is little help beyond the elementary school level when a student struggles to understand his textbooks. The reading level of middle and upper school textbooks varies, and certain books can be too hard for some kids to grasp. These students can learn strategies that might help.

Most textbooks used in school have questions to answer at the end of each section. A good strategy is to coach your child to read and think about those questions before beginning to read. The thinking time is to make sure he understands what each question is asking. This provides a framework for him as he begins to read. He can be looking for answers to those questions as he reads. This does more than just provide answers to the questions; it keeps him actively thinking.

Another strategy is to stop reading when confused. Your child should ask herself which part she understands and which she does not. She should annotate the hard part using sticky notes (“I don’t get this.”). She should ask, “Is this a vocabulary problem? Does this rely on earlier learning that I did not understand? Should I reread this part to see if I get it the second time through?” Regardless of her decision, she will know she needs to ask her teacher for help if she takes the time to make note of the problem areas.

It is possible that Rewordify might help your child. It is a free website where you can enter text and have it change it into words that are easier to understand. Unless his textbook is in digital form, though, he will have to type in the passage he is struggling with. Even so, it might be especially useful if the problem is that the textbook has too many difficult words in a passage.

There are many reading comprehension strategies. For more ideas, read Seven Strategies To Teach Students Text Comprehension. The secret is to realize that reading hard school books takes more time than reading for pleasure. Your child should set aside plenty of time when homework involves a reading assignment. Check the questions at the end of each section before beginning to read, stop and think when confused, and try Rewordify. To really understand, your brain has to be actively engaged and you need to take your time.

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Students everywhere will be taking the PSATs and SATs. The PSAT, which occurs in the fall, is a preparatory test for the SAT. The SAT (or another test—the ACT) is required by most colleges as part of the application process. There are some important changes this year on the PSAT and SAT that have implications for how to prepare to take them. The changes are in effect now on the new PSAT for 8th and 9th graders as well as the PSAT that 10th and 11th graders take, and begin in the spring on the SAT.

Two very positive changes affect the scores students get. On the old tests, it was not advantageous to guess at answers if you really did not know the answer. A wrong answer was penalized, so if you missed it you would lose points from the ones you got correct. Now, an incorrect answer doesn’t hurt you. You simply do not get the point for that question. Students should take a stab at every question, even if they do not know the answer. In addition, the multiple choice questions have four choices now instead of five! That means there is a greater chance of guessing correctly.

The math part of the PSAT and SAT tests changed considerably. There are a few trigonometry questions that were not asked on the old PSAT and SAT and fewer geometry questions than before. The biggest change, however, is that there are two parts of the math section. You are allowed to use a calculator in one, and you cannot use a calculator in the other. This change—not being allowed to use a calculator—may affect some students more than others.

Our upper-level math teachers frequently report to me that their students do not remember all of the basic math facts. If your child frequently uses a calculator in algebra or another higher level math class, find out whether he is relying on it for simple facts (like 8 x 9, or 56/8). If so, he will have a lot of trouble on the PSAT or SAT when he is not allowed to use a calculator. There are many apps available for drilling math facts. He should spend 10 or 15 minutes every day drilling until they are automatic. It will help him in math class as well as when taking these tests.

To learn more specific information about the PSATs and SATs, go to the ETS website. There are practice tests available there and tips for how to prepare for the tests. It is a good idea to also check out the ACT. Most colleges will accept either test, and students may submit their best score. The tests are very different, and some do better on one over the other. A final thought—students may take these tests more than once. The first time can be a learning experience to prepare for the next time!

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Parents often push their children to take honors and AP level classes because they want them to be challenged and have a better chance to get into a competitive college. Additionally, they want them involved in extra-curricular activities so they have little free time to get into mischief. For some kids, I agree this is appropriate. For all kids, though, it is important to take a look at their overall schedule to make sure it is reasonable. Students in middle and high school need to have some “down time” in their life, and scheduling too many difficult classes and extra-curricular activities is not healthy for them. How do you know if your child is overscheduled?

If your daughter routinely stays up past midnight to complete her homework, she may be trying to do too much. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get from eight to ten hours of sleep each night. I frequently ask my students how much sleep they get, and most report they only get five or six hours on school nights. They get home from sports or band practice, eat dinner, start their homework, and do not get finished until very late. There are many negative effects of not getting enough sleep, some of which relate to poor performance in school.

Frequently staying home from school is another sign that your child may be overbooked. The stress your son feels from not having any fun time and not getting enough rest, often results in exhaustion and illness. Then, missing school adds to the stress because he has so much work to do to catch up after being out.

Overbooked teens often become anxious. Your daughter may worry about just about everything—pleasing her parents, doing well in school, not letting her teammates down, not having enough friends. She may ask to drop a class from her schedule, which might not be a bad idea. She may need guidance in deciding what she should drop, however. (She may not be thinking logically while anxious.) If your daughter feels anxious about school and life, it is time to take a look at her overall schedule. Consider allowing her to switch some of her classes from honors to regular level or perhaps dropping something from her schedule.

Taking too many upper-level classes and participating in too many extracurricular activities is risky for teenagers. Examine whether your child is getting enough sleep at night and attending school regularly. Note whether he feels anxious a lot. Make sure there is time for him to enjoy being with friends and family, attend social events, and have some time when he does not have to do anything at all. He needs to have some fun to stay healthy and happy.

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Classes in middle and upper school require students to take notes without assistance from the teacher. This is a difficult skill to master for many students, and it is not really taught anywhere in the curriculum. Those who normally use a computer for their homework must decide whether to use it for taking notes, as well. Notes have a purpose—to make sure students remember what they learned each day in class and to help review when time to take the test over the concepts. Here are some important things to consider when learning how to take meaningful notes.

  • What works for one student when taking notes may not work for another. If your daughter is right-brained and creative, she might need a colorful, artistic way to take notes. Her notes may look more like doodling with lots of pictures. There may be very few words, yet her notes make sense to her and help her to remember things. She might use several colors of ink with each color having meaning (i.e. red for new vocabulary terms, and blue to mark something the teacher said is extra important). On the other hand, your son may need to concentrate on listening to the teacher rather than taking any notes at all. I would encourage him to use something like AudioNotes, so he can listen again later if he needs to.
  • Trying to write everything the teacher says usually hurts learning instead of helps. Some research suggests that students who use a computer for notes are more likely to try to type every single word the teacher says, and they perform poorly when compared to students who take their notes by hand. When taking notes by hand, students have to really engage with the learning to decide what is most important to write down. They know there is no way to get everything down on paper. If your daughter is typing on a computer and typing without thinking about her learning, encourage her to think about what the teacher is saying and only type what she thinks is important
  • Leave some empty space on each page of notes. Either write on every other line, or leave the last two inches of each line blank. This space gives room to add more information from the textbook later when doing homework for that class.
  • Each evening during homework time, review the notes taken that day. Highlight the key vocabulary or facts that were introduced. Make flashcards or use Quizlet to study these details before the test. Another strategy when revisiting notes is to make a web of related concepts. This helps make sure you understand how the topics relate to each other. We believe these connections help the brain to create strong memories.

Taking good notes is a skill. All skills need to be practiced to become strong. Discuss some of these strategies with your son who is learning what kind of notes are going to work the best for him. Encourage him to think when writing or typing notes rather than to try to get the teacher’s lecture down word-for-word. Explain the importance of leaving some empty space on the page and show your daughter what she can do each night to make her notes more helpful. Taking good notes is one of the most important student skills to learn. With a little thought and practice, your son or daughter can be the student everyone else asks for copies of their notes!

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by Rose Cafasso


A week from now, I will be an empty nester. Or should I say my husband and I will be empty nesting, for it’s a process, not an identity. It’s another phase of the journey we started when our children were little—slowly but surely letting them go.

Though I hadn’t a clue at the time, I started this process on the first day of kindergarten for my older daughter. Apparently, I couldn’t believe my little curly-haired girl could function independently. So I actually got on the school bus with her. I had no idea that parents simply didn’t do that. The bus driver looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m sure some of the bus stop moms snickered. I slowly backed down the two bus steps and watched her find her way to a seat, giant backpack obscuring half of her tiny body as she made her own way.

Now I am sending her and her younger sister off to college. Last night, the three of us stood in our basement among bags and boxes of stuff—towels, toiletries, mini ironing boards, shower caddies, under-bed storage containers, desk lamps, comforters, and snacks. I offered my best ideas on packing, but they actually wanted to do it themselves. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? They’re now taking the lead; I’m suggesting tips from the sidelines.

But it took me a while to get there.

When my second daughter went to kindergarten, I was a little stronger than when my first one went, so I didn’t try to ride the bus. What I recall is standing with her at the bus stop when she tugged on my arm and said firmly and clearly, “I am NOT going to school.’’ I faltered. Maybe I could drive her? But then I knelt down, looked her in the eye and said firmly, “Yes, you are.” It was the eye contact that did her in, and her quiet acceptance almost killed me.

Then there was the year my older daughter started middle school. She was worried about having to use a locker and in particular, remembering the locker combination. So, we bought her a lock and helped her practice over and over, until she probably could have done it underwater and blindfolded. Still, I worried so much that first day and felt no relief until she returned home to report that the locker experience was a breeze. She had moved on, but I felt 10 years older.

And then high school. I drove my younger daughter her first morning, feeling overwhelmed by this change. But she was in good spirits for she had connected with friends on Facebook to make a plan for sitting together at lunch. As I pulled away from the drop-off line, I felt buoyed by her mood, until I saw a young man—with a full beard, no less—get out of a car and head into the school. I could not believe that someone who could drive and grow facial hair could be a classmate of my daughter. Somehow, I found a way to keep driving instead of running into the school to warn her about male upperclassmen.

Before I knew it, the girls were both finishing up  high school. They had their licenses and were driving to school each day. They would whirl around me in the mornings, sometimes asking for an egg sandwich for breakfast, sometimes ignoring me while they argued with each other about who would drive.

In a few days, we will pack the car (to the brim). My younger daughter goes first to start her freshman year. Then, two days later, we will again stuff the car and take our older girl, who begins her sophomore year. I will do my best not to overstep, to let them take the lead.

And start my own process of empty nesting, the next step in letting them go.


Rose Cafasso is the social media manager for School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives with her family in the greater Boston area.

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Many families are getting ready to go back to school. It is important to give some thought to appropriate clothing to wear. Most schools have a dress code; and, most adolescents don’t like it! Schools have dress codes for a reason, and it helps to understand why. Here are some ideas for talking with your child if she does not agree with the school’s code. Understanding why dressing appropriately is important can make back-to-school shopping easier!

First and foremost, ask her, “Why do you go to school?” Generally, kids will say two reasons in this order—“to see my friends” and “to get an education.” The social aspects of school are extremely important, which is why attire is so important to teens. Your conversation can center on the primary reason for school—to prepare her for her future, whether that is college or career. School is her job right now, and most places have dress codes for their employees.

Second, talk about the importance of first impressions. It can be the deciding factor of who is chosen for a job or elected to an office. I like to find pictures online of people dressed up for a party, dressed for working in the yard, dressed for a casual get-together with friends, and dressed for the swimming pool. Ask your son why the people are wearing what they are wearing. Ask him what people would think if he showed up wearing his swimming suit at school or the clothes he wears while mowing the lawn. Ask him to pick out a successful businessman and why he chose the one he did. The bottom line is that how you look makes an impression on others and that impression can affect success.

Last of all, make the point that the way we dress affects how we behave. Talk about what happens in school on “dress-up” days. We have a spirit week when students choose themes each day such as dressing like your favorite super hero or wearing school colors. Students enjoy each theme and love that the dress code is relaxed to allow hats, flip-flops, and ragged jeans. Teachers report that it is difficult to get students to take their learning seriously when Iron Man and Batgirl are sitting in class or one student is wearing a bright green hat with blinking lights on it. On normal days, when students are dressed for school, students settle down to business much more quickly.

Dress codes do matter. It is a part of our adult life as much as it is life in school. Getting an education is your child’s job right now. Dressing appropriately sends the signal to others, both peers and teachers, that your son or daughter is there to learn as much as possible and that they take their jobs seriously. Take time to examine the school’s dress code and to have this conversation before shopping for school clothes.

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Human beings need the attention of others. We need to interact with one another and to feel accepted and loved. When teens misbehave, they often do so to get the attention of their peers or the adults in their lives. Years ago, an acquaintance talked for 20 minutes about how awful her daughter was without ever saying anything good about her. I asked her, “Do you ever just put your arms around her and tell her you love her?” She said that she didn’t do that because her daughter didn’t deserve it. To me, it partially explained her daughter's behavior. She needed to feel loved by her mother and to have her mother’s unconditional love. Since she couldn’t get that, she at least got her attention by misbehaving. There are times when parents must discipline their children, but children must know that their parents love them despite their poor behavior. How can parents let their kids know how much they love them even when they need to change their behavior?

First of all, parents and teens need to talk to one another often. Ask your son his opinion about important decisions you need to make or what is going on in his life. Ask him probing questions that require more than a one-word answer. Tell him how important he is to you and how much you care about him. If talking to each other like this is normal, then talking about his misbehavior won’t be so stressful. He will already know you love him, because you have told him so many times before.

Second, be aware that your daughter hears what you say about her to your friends. If you need to discipline her about something, do what you need to do and move forward without continuing to talk about it. Tell others about the positive things she is doing and how proud you are of her. When she gets positive attention from you and hears you telling your friends about the good things she does, she will know that you forgave her and that you still love her. This will encourage her to behave well because she gets lots of attention for it.

Finally, learn about ways to manage your son’s behavior effectively. There are many excellent books about how to change behavior without using humiliation or other extreme measures. My favorite is Joanne Nordling’s Taking Charge: Caring Discipline That Works at Home and at School. Nordling outlines a behavior management system based on consequences tied to the behavior you need to change. She also recommends that you carefully choose which behaviors get attention and which do not. Very deliberately, you effectively shape your son’s behavior in positive ways.

Teens need the attention of their parents. If they don’t get enough, they might do something wrong to get negative attention; negative attention is better than no attention. To change this dynamic and strengthen your relationship with your child, talk often, use effective disciplinary techniques, and choose your words carefully when discussing family business with others. Most important of all—make sure she knows how much you love her.

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Summer is an important time for middle and upper school students to think ahead to what they want for themselves after high school. If the plan involves going to college, then taking action now can improve the chance of getting into the college of choice. Our college counselor meets with middle and high school students and their parents. She advises them to choose an extracurricular activity they are passionate about and to stick with it throughout their middle and high school career. College admissions people like to see this for a number of reasons.

First, colleges like to have students who are well-rounded and have passions that involve pursuits other than academics. Playing a sport, taking piano lessons (or another instrument), helping with  Special Olympics, or becoming a Girl Scout or Boy Scout throughout middle and high school all show that there is more to this student than just getting good grades.

Second, staying with a single activity not only shows that your child has passion for it, but also that she can stick with something. If she starts playing a sport and then quits, the message she sends is that she cannot follow through with a commitment. The same is true for music lessons or other extracurricular activities. She doesn’t need to limit herself to only one thing, but ideally there should be at least one that she sticks with for the long term.

Third, deep friendships develop with others who have the same passion. It is likely that your son will bond with other boys who participate in the same activity. When he leaves home to go to college, he may be able to participate in the same extracurricular activities there, where he can make new friends quickly. In some cases, he may get scholarship money because of his skill, but more likely he will participate in club-level extracurricular activities. In either case, colleges like for their students to have close friends and to participate in campus life.

Take some time to talk with your child about how important it is to choose something of interest to her and to stick with it throughout middle and high school. It can be almost anything—from community service to taking art lessons or playing sports. Whatever it is, if your child can demonstrate her commitment to it, she will increase her chances of getting into the college of her choice and make some lifelong friends along the way.

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In a few short days, I will watch another class of seniors walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas. It is always an emotional time, because I have worked with many of these students for several years and seen them grow from insecure middle school students into self-confident seniors. What can we do to make that journey smooth and productive?

First of all, parents should stress the importance of being on time to school and attending every day unless really sick. If you allow your child to stay home every time she feels tired or doesn’t want to take a test, you are setting up a pattern of negative behavior that will impact her college and career success. If she feels anxious about school, it is important to find out what is making her anxious and to help her face her fears rather than run from them. If allowed to avoid it, she will become more anxious the next time.

Second, parents, teachers, and students need to communicate frequently with each other. If parents do not let teachers know when there are problems, then teachers can’t do anything to help. Conversely, if teachers don’t let parents know, then the parents can’t do their part to help. Typically, experienced teachers have seen similar problems and have suggestions for what needs to be done in a given situation; and parents are usually ready to provide support at home when they know it is needed. Adolescents should be contributing to the discussion, as well, so that they can understand the issues and do their part to correct them.

Finally, both parents and teachers must hold students accountable for their actions. Of all the educational issues I have seen that harm children, this is one of the worst. When your son chooses not to do his homework, he should suffer the consequence of having a lower grade for it. This is true even if he had a great reason for not doing it. For example, if he is on the football team and had a late practice after school, he might be very tired and choose not to do his work. The consequence for that choice is a lowered grade. He might have been able to change that situation if he had planned ahead and asked his teacher for an extension. But just choosing not to do it is not the best decision. Parents should not try to intervene to lessen the consequence for the decision. In this way, children learn to make the best choice and to be responsible for their actions.

The path from adolescence to adulthood can be rocky. Parents can help their children traverse it by encouraging good attendance, communicating when there are questions or concerns, and holding their children responsible for their actions. When it is your turn to watch your child walk across the stage at graduation, you will watch a young adult who is ready for life after high school—one who is independent and can be successful in college or career.

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Students are asked to do lots of research, and much of it takes place on the Internet. One of the most difficult parts of Internet research is gathering enough of it to support a thesis and then keeping up with where the research came from in order to cite it properly in the final product. I have students do article summaries in class, and they often do not get finished by the end of the period. They need to be able to find the same article again and remember exactly how far they were with their summary. A social bookmarking tool like Diigo helps with this and makes research on the web more productive.

Diigo is a bookmarking, research, and knowledge-sharing tool that works best with the Chrome browser. Diigo allows you to bookmark, tag, annotate, and highlight on any webpage. When your child is doing research, he can tag all the pages he finds with the same tag, which can easily be found when he searches for it later. When he later wants to find the same page, he clicks the Diigo icon within his browser to find the site again. The page that opens still has his annotations and highlights. Even if the website is actually no longer online, the page he annotated is archived and available to him. 
Diigo is fast becoming my favorite productivity tool for online work. Best of all—it’s free! To use Diigo, you first set up an account at Diigo and then install the extension in your browser. You can also install Diigo on your smartphone. The sites you bookmark are available across platforms—from laptop, tablet, to smartphone. This video shows how Diigo works.

Make online research more productive by using Diigo. It is a simple to use, free social bookmarking tool that is helpful for any type of research, not just academic. I save favorite recipes and articles I want to read later on Diigo. It saves so much time when you need to find a site again that you visited before.

> 6 Helpful Apps and Tools for Note-Taking and Organization

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Students from the school where I teach are off this week to do internships. They are allowed to choose where they want to go, and we have students in several states (and a few out of the country). The students try to find a placement that relates to a career interest they have. We have students working in law offices, government agencies, research facilities, markets, lawn care businesses, veterinarian clinics, nonprofit organizations, and a host of other businesses. This program is one of the most rewarding and beneficial activities we do.

It isn’t easy running an internship program during the school year. Most of the frustrations occur before the internships begin. Students procrastinate in finding a place to intern, and then find it is nearly impossible to get in where they want to work. Students who want to work in hospitals or doctor’s offices often need a physical checkup, a tuberculosis test, and to attend an orientation before being allowed to work. This can take weeks to arrange, which means students need to plan ahead and get their internship set up early enough. Our students are asked to set up their internships themselves rather than relying on their parents to do it for them. This is difficult for them, but it is a good experience that prepares them for college and the workplace. Finding an interesting place that will allow them to intern can also be difficult. Many organizations and businesses accept college students for internships but not high school students. Most of them want the intern to work longer than a week which is not possible for us.

Despite these frustrations, the benefits of doing an internship are unbelievable. When students write about their experiences, they say things like, “I now know for sure that this is what I want to do for a living.” Equally important, they may tell me they know that they do not want to do it! I have heard, “I never worked that hard in my life! Now I know that when my father gives me spending money, he worked really hard for that. I appreciate it so much more.” One student said, “I understand more about food production—from the farmer all the way to the store.” Another, “I just cannot sit that long in front of a computer. I thought I would be up doing active things.” I heard, “I didn’t know that a workplace can be a fun place to be. Everyone had a great sense of humor, and they enjoyed being there!”

These are lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom. Organizing and keeping up with an internship program is a huge job—but, it is definitely worth it for the experiences the students have. If your child’s school does not have a program like this, consider an internship during the summer months when your child is out of school. The lessons your child will learn will last a lifetime.

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When students smoke marijuana, they typically do not do well in school. I was curious about whether the recent state laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use have affected the number of teens who smoke it regularly. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health analyzed the results of the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey taken before and after the laws were passed. This study determined that the use of marijuana by teens did not change significantly after the laws came into effect. What surprised me, though, was the number of students who report using marijuana in the last month is around 21 percent—two out of every 10 students!

Many teens feel that marijuana helps them deal with the stress of being an adolescent, and it is not dangerous. There is a lot of research that suggests otherwise. Marijuana affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain where certain types of learning occur. This can lead to problems studying and learning new things, and it affects short-term memory. Recent studies show that regular use causes a significant drop in IQ which does not come back after quitting. Marijuana also affects the cerebellum which is the control center for balance and coordination. This causes poor performance in activities such as sports and driving. The third area of the brain that is impacted is the prefrontal cortex, where high level reasoning and problem-solving occur. This explains why people under the influence of marijuana can make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors.

The effects of smoking marijuana start quickly and last for several hours. Long-term use may impair brain development and lower the IQ. If your child changes from a sweet, cooperative teen who cares about himself and others into one who seems more argumentative or paranoid, it is possible he is smoking marijuana. Other signs are a sudden drop in grades and uncharacteristically poor hygiene. (For more information, see NIDA for Teens.) If you suspect your child might be using, it is important to find out. The first step is a visit to his doctor. Once you know, you can get professional help for your child to help him learn to cope with normal adolescent stress in healthy ways.

See Help Kids Learn To Manage Stress for ideas about healthy ways to deal with stress.

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Many teachers have flipped their classrooms. What was once taught in class is now homework, and what was once homework is completed in class. Teachers videotape their lessons, and students watch the lessons at home. In class the next day, students can work on their homework when their teacher is there to help. There are many advantages to this approach, the biggest of which is that students can do their homework without asking parents to help them. There are disadvantages as well, though, since not every child has access to a computer and the Internet at home.

Flipped classrooms are successful for a number of reasons. Teams of teachers can work together to create excellent videos for their students to watch. Students can watch them in a distraction-free setting at home where they can get more from the lesson than they could when there are other students around to distract them. Students who need to hear a lesson more than once can watch the video as many times as they need. They can stop it and think about what was said or to look up information in their textbook. Many students learn well when concepts are presented visually.

When students are asked to answer questions or work math problems at home, they often struggle. They need their teacher’s help, but their teacher is not available. With the flipped model, the teacher is present when students need them the most. When it is time to study for a test or exam, students can return to the videos that cover concepts they are still having trouble with. And last, students may be able to watch their lessons even when they are absent from school.

Even though there are many advantages to flipped classrooms, there are some risks. A huge concern is that not every child has access to the Internet at home or there is competition between siblings for one family computer. When students watch their lesson online at home, they do not have the ability to ask their teacher questions along the way. Teachers normally see how well their students are learning in class and adjust their instruction immediately to meet the needs of those students who are not getting it. With this model, there are no students to give the teacher the necessary feedback. If a student does not watch the video for homework, he is totally unprepared for class the next day. Finally, not every student can learn from videos. Without the social interactions in the classroom, these students zone out while trying to pay attention.

If your child’s teacher is flipping his classroom, you should check out Videonot.es to provide an easy way for your child to take notes as she watches her lessons. Videonot.es works with several commonly used video formats that teachers use. It can help your child focus her attention and stay engaged as she watches.

Even though there are some negatives when flipping a classroom, many teachers have had a lot of success with it. Parents like it too, because they are less involved in helping their children with their homework. Most important, students are learning a lot in flipped classrooms, perhaps more than they would have in a traditional classroom.


> The Flipped Classroom: What It Means for You and Your Child

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There is a movement in education to improve what we are offering our students. Some schools have completely revamped their curriculum to make sure they are teaching kids the skills they will need to be successful in the information age. This trend is often referred to as “21st century education” or “21c education.” These skills are typically divided into three categories: learning skills, literacy skills, and life skills. They are skills identified by businesses as necessary for career success in the modern world.

The learning skills are critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborating, and communicating. To teach these skills, teachers might present real-life problems to students who typically work in small groups to solve them. If there is access to the Internet, students often collaborate online when seeking solutions to the problems. They plan their reports back to the class and frequently are required to present orally. The communication component of 21c learning includes all kinds of communication—digital, written, and oral. There is an emphasis on communicating globally, and it is not unusual to see students discussing possible solutions with experts or students in other schools around the world.

Literacy skills include information, media, and technology. Students are bombarded with way more information than they can actually process. They must learn how to find high-quality information and to identify bias. Students learn how to present their work using a variety of media, and hopefully they are at least exposed to a variety of technology solutions to society’s problems. Students are expected to become experts at using and learning new technology.

Life skills such as the ability to take initiative and be productive are extremely important. It is necessary to be flexible when others you work with have different ideas that are equal to or better than your own. Social skills are more important now than ever before, especially since we can now easily communicate with diverse groups of people from around the world. Leadership skills are needed, as well, and schools are increasing opportunities to learn how to lead others. People who are the best at initiation, productivity, flexibility, social skills, and leadership rise quickly up the career ladder.

Most schools are giving thought to providing more 21c learning opportunities for their students. It is difficult and expensive to change from traditional ways of teaching and learning; it will take time before 21c education is widespread. Students in schools where it is the norm report that they enjoy it, and they appreciate the intellectual challenge and authentic learning opportunities. Students who develop these learning, literacy, and life skills should be more competitive in today’s marketplace.

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When reading an academic textbook, students often lose track of the meaning, because there is too much information to hold in working memory. If the words in the text are already known and understood, the meaning is clear. The problem occurs when they come to an unfamiliar word and must stop reading to consider its meaning. A typical scenario goes like this. The student stops reading to think about the new word. He looks it up in an online dictionary, considers what it means, holds it in memory, and returns to the reading. By the time he begins reading, however, the meaning of the word is lost. Each of us has a limited capacity to hold information in working memory, and within seconds the information is lost. This strategy for reading an academic text does not always work well. Here is a different approach to try.

Pretend that the science textbook your daughter is reading says, “The momentum of the train traveling at 30 miles per hour is much greater than the momentum of the car moving at the same speed.” To totally understand this, she needs to understand the concept of momentum. When she looks it up, she finds that momentum is the product of an object’s mass times its velocity. Here is where her strategy needs to vary. Instead of holding that information in memory while trying to apply it to the sentence, she should write it in the margin or jot it on a small sticky note stuck in the margin of the book. When she rereads the sentence, she should read, “The mass times velocity of the train…is much greater than the mass times velocity of the car…” This takes only a few seconds longer than the original strategy, but the result is that she understands the meaning now, since she already knows the meaning of mass and velocity. This does not require her to work with so much information in working memory. She can use her working memory to understand the concept which is what she needs to do.

In general, writing down information that is filling up the working memory capacity is a great strategy. If asked to identify the adjectives and adverbs in a passage, writing a short definition of each can help with the task. Many students have difficulty reading academic textbooks, and using this strategy can help with comprehension.

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Exams are coming up soon in many schools. I have written several times before about exams such as How To Prepare for Semester Exams. Many students know how to make flashcards or to use online apps like Quizlet to learn vocabulary and simple concepts that they need to memorize, but studying for more complex concepts and math require different techniques.

When your child needs to learn complex concepts like Newton’s Laws of Motion, simply memorizing the laws is not enough. He also needs to know what they mean and when each law applies. It is often helpful to meet with a study group to discuss more difficult concepts. Sometimes, drawing pictures of each law can help to make sure he really understands what they mean. He also needs to work the problems from his earlier test on Newton’s Laws to make sure he still knows how to work them. He might have been able to work the problem weeks ago on the test, but that does not necessarily mean he can still work them on the upcoming exam. Other complex concepts are best learned through webbing in order to see relationships between concepts. Refer to Using Webbing To Study for a Test to see how webbing works.

When studying for a math exam, it is imperative that your child works more than one of every kind of problem that will be covered. The best way to do this is to work many of the problems she got correct on the previous tests. This works well because she will have the correct answers from the test to check to see if she still gets the correct answer. For the problems she missed, however, she will need to seek help from her teacher or a friend who got them right. Just doing the problems is not enough! She must make sure she is doing them correctly. Most students do not study for math tests. They rely on their teacher to review in class. For a shorter test that only covers one or two concepts, that might be enough, but for an exam that covers a lot more material, it is not.

Talk to your child about exams. Encourage him to start early, get organized by finding all his tests in each subject, and begin working sample problems. Ask him to explain the more complex concepts on his earlier tests. Suggest that he try a study group, pictures to illustrate concepts, or webbing to help him remember what these concepts mean. Since exams often count more than tests, this in an opportunity to improve semester grades.

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Taking notes is difficult for many students. Teachers often talk quickly, and students are not able to get everything written down. Additionally, students often do not know how to make the best use of their notes once they take them. There are some tricks that can make note-taking easier and the notes more useful. If this is a problem for your child, think about the following.

First, decide how to take notes. While some students do better handwriting their notes, using a computer is more flexible. If your child has a laptop, she can type her notes in a word processor. But I would encourage her not to try to get everything down that the teacher says. It is better to listen and write only what is important. Teachers use key phrases like “listen carefully,” “you will see this later,” or “pay close attention” when they are about to say something that will become the foundation of future learning (or show up on a test or exam). If your child tries to write down everything that the teacher says, she will not be thinking about the key points. It is better to type a few key words and fill in more details later using her textbook. (It is also good to have a note-taking buddy. The buddies can get together after class and compare notes.)

It is important to develop a set of abbreviations for frequently used words. It is a good idea to enter these into the auto-correct feature in your word processor. For example, when I type “govt,” my word processor types “government.” “Imp” turns into “This is important!” As your child is typing notes in class, he can type “Imp” when he hears his teachers say, “You will see this later.”

If your child finds that her teacher lectures from the textbook, she might try to set up an outline before class using the textbook, so that she can listen in class and enter details into the outline.

Just taking notes in class isn’t enough. Students should spend some time after class revising the notes and making sure they make sense. Visual learners should use colors to highlight related information and draw arrows to show cause-and-effect relationships between concepts. Kinesthetic learners should create flash cards (either on paper or electronic) that can be manipulated while studying. Auditory learners should read them aloud and talk about what they mean with other students.

Find out from your child whether their notes are useful when studying. If not, talk about how to listen for key words, use abbreviations, make outlines before class, and spend some time working with their notes after class. With practice, note-taking gets easier and more effective.

To learn about an interesting note-taking technology, see Audionote: A Technological Solution for Note-Taking.

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Several times in the last couple of years, parents have asked for a conference with me. I am always happy to meet with parents, because I see myself as a partner with them to help take care of their child. What these parents really wanted to know was whether the things they were seeing happen with their child were normal. Developmental psychology textbooks don’t really answer the specific questions they asked. The books explain that the teen years are when children begin the process of turning from children into adults, but they often fail to tell you what to expect in terms of family dynamics.

Here are some FAQs about adolescents in middle and high school.

Is it normal that my child doesn’t want to spend time with the family? Your child wants to be independent from you. Every chance he gets, he will isolate himself in his bedroom and play video games, watch television, text friends, or do a myriad of other things that don’t include the rest of the family. The truth is, he still needs you desperately. Physically, he looks like an adult, but he is still a child in many ways.

Why does my child argue with just about everything I say?
This is again part of the process of changing from a child into an adult. She wants to make all her decisions for herself. She is old enough to find herself in situations that can be dangerous for her, yet her brain is not fully developed in order to make the best choices. Arguing with you is her way of letting you know she wants you to see her as an adult. You will have fewer arguments if you allow her to make choices when the consequences for those choices is not too great. (See Adolescents Should Solve Most of Their Problems Themselves for some ideas.) You must stay involved, however, and help her to make the right decisions when the consequences could harm her. Raising teens is hard work! 

Is it normal that my child stays up really late and doesn’t want to get up for school?
The normal sleep patterns for teens shifts later into the night. They frequently stay up past midnight and are sleepy in their morning classes at school. This sleep pattern is perfectly normal. You should encourage her to get to bed earlier, but she may not be able to go to sleep right away. There has been discussion about whether school should start later in the day for adolescents. There are, however, a number of reasons for keeping it the way it is. The current schedule more closely mirrors parents’ work hours, and after school activities like sports and music practice would go too late into the evening hours if school started later. 

My child carries everything he owns in his book bag and doesn’t use his locker. He also forgets to do all his homework. Is that normal?
The part of the brain that governs planning ahead and time management does not fully develop until the early or middle twenties. It is very normal that teens find it easiest to take everything with them rather than to figure out what they can leave in their locker and pick up later in the day. Some teens have a very difficult time with this. (See Executive Functioning—How It Affects a Student in School.)

If you wonder whether your son or daughter is behaving in an unusual way, talk to other parents who have children the same age. It is sometimes hard to tell whether they are behaving like teenagers or whether there is really something bothering them. Talk to them every day, ask good questions, and stay involved despite their desire for you to leave them alone. Once they leave home, they will appreciate that you were always there for them! In the meantime, tell them how much you love them and keep trying to include them in all family activities.

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Many of my students have trouble managing their time. They come to school without their homework and especially long term assignments they have known about for a long time. All of them have digital calendars, apps on their phones, and planners provided by the school. Despite these tools, managing their “to do” list is still a problem. I think the problem might be they have too many tools to use, and they don’t use any of them well. They need something easier.

Since I am good at juggling a lot of deadlines and details, I thought students might be able to benefit from my strategy. Here is what I do.

  • In a small journal that goes with me everywhere, I jot down a few words to remind me of each task I need to do. For example, if a student asks me for another copy of our syllabus, I write “Mary-syllabus” in my journal where I keep a running list of everything I need to do. A student in science class can simply write “science.” Later, when doing homework, she will see that she does have science homework to do. (This assumes that she has a syllabus or online source with the details of what is due for science.)
  • When I get a few minutes to go over my list, I do everything I can do quickly right then and check it off the list. If a task will take some time, I enter a deadline when it needs to be completed into my calendar app with a reminder that pops up several days ahead of time.
  • At the end of the day, I spend just a few minutes going over the list to see if there is something important I need to do before stopping for the day. I start a new page for the next day by copying remaining tasks onto that page.

If your child has difficulty managing his time, this simple strategy might work for him. Combine this with an organized notebook system, and he just might be able to get his work turned in on time! It does require diligence to do it every single day, but since it requires less time than other strategies, he may be more willing to give it a try.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?