Saturday, February 21, 2015

Study Tips to Improve Memory

The following is a (collaborative) guest post from Mentoring Minds. (See Disclosure.)

Whether studying for a spelling test in elementary school or the final examination in a college class, everyone must spend time studying at some point in their lives. Most parents are well aware how difficult it is to get children to study and, for some students, studying does not always lead to success. Test anxiety can be difficult for some students and there are some who have difficult retaining what they do study. These tips, some of which are unique, can help students improve their memory and help them improve scores.

Reward Yourself with Treats

If studying requires reading textbooks, place a small treat on each paragraph (such as Starburst, M&Ms or gummy bears). When the child finishes the paragraph, give the next treat. Place the treat so that the words in the center of the paragraph are covered to encourage the child to begin reading the next paragraph before getting the treat.

Teach Others

Experts say that the best way to know if you have learned a subject well is to try to teach it to others. College or high school students can try to teach parents or siblings some of the concepts they are learning. Set up a classroom for elementary students with stuffed animals, dolls, or other ‘students’ as well as parents and have them “teach” their spelling words, math problems, or history lessons to someone else. Blow the dust off your video camera (or just use your smartphone) and have your child make a video tutorial. Just point it at your child while he/she explains a concept. Then upload it to a video sharing site such as SchoolTube and share it with others, so they can benefit from the explanation. Here's an example of an easy way to make a video tutorial. Thanks to David Fisher and his students for this timeless example.

Create an Association

Steve Jobs often said that “Creativity is just connecting things.” When people are able to connect things they are able to retain the information more easily. When students must learn vocabulary words, connect the word to something that they will remember. For example, the word ‘arduous’ means difficult. If the child remembers it as something silly like “harduous” they may retain the information more easily.
Use Blocking Apps

There are many apps available that will allow students to block distracting websites, such as social media or email. High school and college students benefit most from apps that block sites that can easily distract them. Consider downloading a blocking app in order to keep minds from wandering. Here's a couple to get you started.


Although they are often considered “old school” for studying, flashcards are still an excellent way for students to learn new information or refresh information they have already learned. Use 3x5 or 4x6 index cards, write the question on one side and the answer on the other. The student views the question while someone else views the answer. Students can even use them to study alone by placing them on a table with the answer side down. If you prefer (and I do) use online flashcards. Here's a list of some great online flashcard sites where you can create, and share, your own. Thanks to Richard Byrne over at for curating the best stuff on the web.

Documentary or Mini Series

Today, many networks and studios are creating documentaries, movies, and mini-series on historical events. In addition, many networks, such as Discovery, SciFi and others like Netflix, Hulu, and other on-demand apps, often carry documentaries on educational subjects. Consider watching one in order to get a better grasp of the subject matter, whether it is Tudor England or physics. Don't stop there! Have your child recreate an historical moment and record it on video. Ask "What if" questions such as "What would the United States be like if the North did not win the Civil War?" or "What would be different about our world if people were not allowed to create art?"

These simple tips can help students increase their memory and help them improve their test scores. For more information on learning, visit
Mentoring Minds online today.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Two Tips for Rebooting Your Self-Talk

This may be the beginning of a series of personal and very vulnerable posts. It is the beginning of a journey for me that will be difficult, but should have started years ago. Maybe together we can figure some things out together, or maybe this one isolated blogpost will hang alone on the tree branch of my online space; dangling and just waiting for enough wind to blow it onto the ground, where it will decompose, and then turn back into earth. 

Soon, there will be some big changes in my life that will be positive, but scary at the same time. 

I like the idea of sharing my journey online, but I make no promises on frequency, because the thought of committing to anything right now is too overwhelming. My #1 goal is to keep overwhelming things at bay. 

People tell me that they see me as confident, engaging, and smart. Some tell me they see me as attractive and funny. Often times, I don't take ownership of those things. (More on why in future posts. Maybe.) I know I need to remind myself often to step up, smile, engage, be confident, and be stronger. Mostly I need to remind myself to take deep breaths, because sometimes I find myself holding my breath. 

I know there are other women and men who feel the same way, and may be going through the same things. So, I offer two "tricks" I use that are easy and helpful. I hope you will add your own ideas in the comments, so we can help and support each other. 

  1. Let your password be a mantra for you. Every time you log in to a computer, device, network, email, and hundreds of other services every day, you have to repeat something in your head. Make that "something" work for you. Consider: "5tay_P0sitiv3" or "fear.nOth1ng" Go to and create a mantra AND a secure password at the same time.

  2. Download HotPaw Morse Code Ringtone Maker. You type in any word or phrase and it creates a ringtone or text tone in Morse Code. (Who knows Morse Code? Nobody, which is exactly the point. YOU WILL know what it says every time you get a text.) 
I hope to hear from you in the comments. Let's make it a happy new year.

Creative Commons LicensePhoto Credit: Lee Kolbert 2015 (Central Park NYC 2015)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Another Chance to Win Big and Teach Fiscal Responsibility At The Same Time

Disclosure Statement

H&R Block thinks personal finance education is so important, They're paying people to learn.

You may recall a previous post of mine from early September 2014, where I shared a terrific program put out by H&R Block. Well, another session is coming up and I want to remind my readers about this great opportunity.

Everyone knows money doesn't grow on trees. At least they will if H&R Block has any say in it. By learning strong budgeting skills and fiscal discipline early, kids can gain the knowledge and confidence to manage their own financial future. The free H&R Block Budget Challenge encourages students to learn personal finance in a fun, engaging way while competing against other classrooms and students for $3 million in classroom grants and student scholarships.

Money smarts + classroom grants + student scholarships = 1 challenge worth taking

THE H&R BLOCK BUDGET CHALLENGE Is fun, free, and students love it. Participants encounter real-world personal budgeting situations, problem-solving, and decision-making through an online simulation and accompanying lessons that meet national standards. With sessions October through April, teachers have six opportunities to participate.

The Budget Challenge is open to students 14 years of age or older and enrolled full-time in grades 9 through 12.

Teachers must register classrooms to play The Budget Challenge. Teachers simply visit to begin the classroom registration process. Registration closes one week before the simulation start date, so be sure to sign up before it's too late. Read the FAQs here! 

Quotes from teachers who previously participated: 

"My kids love this challenge. Everyday they are engaged and want to learn more about personal finance—and, more importantly, they are becoming more financially literate." 
"I must thank you for the wonderful resource this simulation is and how useful I'm sure it is going to be for their future financial success. They are checking on their status in class all the time, even when it isn't our scheduled activity. Those who have downloaded the app have found it incredibly useful and convenient as well." 
My Juniors and Seniors do this for a Project grade every Wed. and Fri. We have a good time with this "bonding" experience and there is great laughter as well as dread when they have late fees! I really appreciate the people who put this challenge together. It is wonderful to witness them learning about "real life!" 
"The Personal Finance teachers at our school have incorporated this simulation into our daily class procedures. The students (and teachers) love the real-world components and valuable lessons to be learned. We are very grateful to have this free resource to help students better understand financial responsibility."  
"I am so thankful that you guys have put together such a wonderful curriculum for teens. Every time I am out and someone asks what I do and I tell them I teach financial literacy to teenagers they all say "I wish they had that class when I was growing up." Thank you for everything you do!"
I hope you will participate and share the information with others who may be interested as well.

Disclosure Statement

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Short Film to Keep Testing in Proper Perspective

Something to keep testing in proper perspective from Peter H. Reynolds

“This is my gift to educators to remind them to follow their instincts and remember why they got into teaching in the first place: to see the potential in every child, to nurture those emerging gifts and talents, and to change lives,” Reynolds shared.

The film is being released on the web free of charge by FableVision Learning. Educators, learning communities, parents and caregivers are urged to share The Testing Camera to begin or enhance constructive conversations on how to better support authentic learning in the classroom and beyond. 

The film was produced by FableVision, the transmedia studio in Boston founded by Peter and his twin brother, Paul Reynolds, author of Going Places and the Sydney & Simon series. The Testing Camera was directed by John Lechner with music by Tony Lechner, and animated by a team of young animators interning at FableVision for the summer. Broadway actor Chester Gregory lends his voice to the project.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Vilification of Class Dojo and Other Ways To Avoid Taking Responsibility For Yourself

This is likely to be an unpopular post, much like my I'm Not Who You Think I Am post from 2010. The reason for its unpopularity will be that I am once again, going against the popular grain. Those of you who read this blog and/or who know me, know that I sometimes have a tendency to do that. 

There's been a lot of talk lately about student data, privacy, "the cloud," FERPA, and classroom management.  The latest "evil empire" to be held up as toxic to children is Class Dojo. Much like blaming cellphones for cheating on tests, social media for bullying, McDonald's for spilling our own coffee, and sugary soft drinks for our obesity problems, Class Dojo is being held responsible for punitive classroom management and violating FERPA. It doesn't matter that the TOS state that parental permission is required, schools and teachers apparently aren't to be trusted to read and abide by the TOS.  

Is there anyone left who is willing to accept responsibility for his own actions?

In case you've been living under a rock, Class Dojo gives teachers an easy (and more fair) way to track student behaviors. It helps teachers spend more time teaching and less time on managing their classroom behaviors. I've been following Class Dojo since they won the Innovation Challenge at Education Nation in 2011. I was there in NYC at the event and it was very exciting to hear their pitch, participate in the vote, and see them win the $75K for them to startup. With Class Dojo, teachers decide what to track, what to share, whether the behaviors are positive or negative, etc. Once a teacher and class establishes a class set of rules, she can give points (or subtract points) as she is teaching without interrupting the flow of the lesson. This is similar to checks on the board, stickers on a chart, words of encouragement, pat on the back, wink of the eye, smile, etc. Understandably, people are concerned when it comes to 3rd party companies holding information on our students. Unfortunately, there has been some recent articles where Class Dojo was misrepresented, most recently a NY Times post where even the teachers quoted were mischaracterized. Class Dojo has responded admirably here and here. 

While any tool in the wrong hands can be dangerous, I am still a firm believer in giving teachers some autonomy and subjectivity in running their classrooms. A well-trained teacher will not be punitive and will use explanation, logical consequences, positive reinforcement, behavior tracking, and anything and everything to keep the flow of teaching and learning happening. It is not practical to think that every time a student does something that needs correction, a teacher will stop what she is doing and have a conversation with the child to the point that she understands what she did wrong and what she can do better next time. In an ideal world, yes that would be nice. But, in today's teaching world of too much curriculum to cover, not enough time, and trying to keep up with which students are in the classroom at any given moment, it is just not practical. 

I began my teaching career in 1984. In my first year teaching, my first graders earned stickers to put on their cards. A full card at the end of the week earned a visit to the treasure chest. From there I learned to put checks on the board without interrupting the flow of the lesson, then clothes pins on a chart, and dolphins on a chart, and red-yellow-green cards on a street light, and so on. They all accomplished the same thing; I was able to let students know they needed to put the skids on what they were doing (they KNEW what they were doing was wrong) and they had some leeway before I got their parents involved. I still see my students today (as old as 36) and they appear to be happy, well-adjusted adults, who are successful citizens who contribute to society. Although a few have landed in jail, I'm not sure I can specifically tie those results to their sticker cards. My students often tell me of their fond memories of our class. I've not received a single complaint, nor therapy bill due to damage caused by below sea level dolphins or red lights. 

As for using Class Dojo for keeping parents informed of every little infraction, I would not do that. I would use it (privately) for classroom management and only reach out to parents as needed. Just as I had done since 1984. Students should not be worried that their parents are breathing down their necks and are going to question every mark. In many cases, that would be the case. For example, I would have a student constantly interrupting a lesson. After a few gentle reminders, the student would have to move her dolphin, or clothespin, or turn her card, or whatever. The student would get hysterical because she wouldn't want her parents to find out. If she knew her parents wouldn't find out unless she moved her dolphin two more times that day, it was a lot less stressful for her and she corrected her behavior the rest of the day. And the business of learning continued...

Then, somewhere along the way, someone decided we shouldn't tell students they are doing anything wrong, so their cards should only stay on green, dolphins should only be above the water and sticker cards should always end up full. All kids should get an award. So, teachers started spending more time calling out students who were doing things RIGHT and ignoring students who were doing things WRONG for fear of violating FERPA. Problem was the students who were doing things wrong, weren't getting the message. They were just being ignored and were starting to hate the kids who were always doing things right. We've become a feel-good society where we don't tell our kids anything that might make them feel badly about themselves. 

Look at our youth sports teams. All kids play the same regardless of skill. Everyone gets a medal. I was cleaning out my kids' bedrooms (ages 24 and 21) and I asked them what I should throw away. My 24 year old told me I could throw away all the ice hockey trophies he won throughout the years, except for the ones where they actually won a championship. You see, getting a trophy for participating in the season doesn't mean anything to the kids either. 

Then, someone decided that these systems violated FERPA, so they must be private. Other students must not be privy to the dolphin-status, board checks, or how many stickers other students have. So, now the teachers do not publicly acknowledge students' behaviors right or wrong. Rather, they keep on teaching and if a student is disruptive, the teacher makes a private note and speaks to the student later on, in private. The other students MAY see the private conversation and surmise what it is about. Often, rumors will begin and circulate; rumors that are distortions of the truth. It would be unprofessional and against FERPA to clear the air.

Soon, more FERPA complaints ensue: Students raise their hands to answer questions in class, and some students get the answers right and some get them wrong, and all the students in the class are privy to that information. Some students finish their work more quickly than others, and students are privy to that information. A student leaves to go to the clinic, and other students are aware.

Have we gone too far? How long before this political correctness gets out of hand? I think we are dangerously close.

Some people have asked why we would use a behavior tracking system with students if we wouldn't use them with adults, for example in a faculty meeting or team meeting?

  1. There are a lot of things we do with children we don't do with adults. Children are works in progress. Children, for example, are expected to raise their hands to speak in class. We don't usually do this with adults. 
  2. I think many people would actually welcome some behavior tracking in their work environment, if it were done privately. Negative behaviors are often discussed from an emotional point of view rather than a quantitative point of view. Wouldn't you welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about what you are doing right and what you could improve on?

We really need to take back parenting and teaching. We need to stop letting kids interrupt into adult conversations and asking their permission before we make adult decisions. I'm afraid we've created a generation of youth who do not understand their place in the world. They don't understand patience, respect, courtesy, manners, or authority. 

What will it take to turn things around?