Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How Do We Reach Our Goals?

What Matters More Than Accumulating Riches?

Pre-Halloween Lesson Plan

The day before a holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas Break, Easter Break, even a pseudo-holiday like Halloween, is usually just this side of insane. Students don’t want to work. There’s candy everywhere. Gifts are being given. Focus is lost. Just keeping the lid on seems overwhelming; unless you have an educationally sound, kid-approved lesson that keeps them interested, occupied and engaged. Decades ago I created such a lesson. Kids loved it. I loved it. It‘s easy, academic and fun! The bonus of this lesson, it helped with student retention in foreign language classes.

The steps to follow:

1. Completely erase the entire white board. You'll want the space.

2. Number the entire board from 1 to 35. Place holiday appropriate symbols, like pumpkins, around each number.

3. Put a large assortment of dry erase pens at the front of the room. The more color variety the better.

4. After school, the day before a holiday, have each student in your most advanced class go to the board and draw a culturally appropriate picture next to a number. If your class is smaller than 35, they'll need to draw more than one. Be sure to explain to the class the night before they need to come up with three or four ideas for their drawings. Most students are eager, although the shy need some encouragement. After this has become a tradition in your classes, you'll overhear students commenting they look forward to being in the class that gets to draw the pictures. Never let an underclassman participate in putting the pictures on the board.

5. Check each picture as they finish drawing. A few may need a little help so their drawings are clear, and some can be too obscure. You may need to edit, as students can be a bit gross at time. One Thanksgiving students drew a very vivid picture of a turkey being beheaded. I erased that one. Remember, all day students are going to see these pictures. You want to understand them, so you can give hints if necessary. My favorite was The Twilight Zone Marathon. It became a tradition in my program which was passed down each year from class to class.

6. Before the first class arrives the next morning, place a stack of German (French, Spanish, Chinese)/English dictionaries on the first desk of each row. I always had enough dictionaries so students could work in groups of two. Three doesn't work. Working alone is tough.

7. Students should look up what they see on the board, and write the German (French, etc.) on their own papers. Don’t let them put two student names on one paper. This never works. Trust me on this.

8. They must write the definite article and the noun. If there's an adjective, like in a drawing of black cat, they must include the adjective with the correct ending. This allows you to preview grammar not yet taught. Students are very receptive to this, and ask for help. It’s a contest. They want to win.

 9. Buy a small bag of individually wrapped candy, stickers, etc. and give a piece to each member of the first team finished. Be sure to check the work. Sometimes they make errors, of course. Don’t be too picky. Perfection is not the goal.

 10. After the first group finishes, and as each group finishes, they'll help their classmates. You’ll find they don’t give them the answers, but give them hints instead, especially in grammar.  

11. Collect work as it’s finished and the rest at the end of the period. Grading is subjective. First year classes typically have a few students who finish by the end of the class period. Most, however, finish about half of the pictures. Second year will complete more. The majority complete about two-thirds of the pictures. Most third year students finish them all, as do AP/IB/fourth year students.

12. There are several goals in this lesson. Students learn the correct way to use the dictionary. They learn the symbols and abbreviations. It removes the mind-numbing boredom of a typical dictionary lesson, and replaces it with fun. Students learn vocabulary that’s both meaningful, and is usually more advanced than where they are in the curriculum. This they do without complaint. You're able to foreshadow grammar, so when it arrives later in the school year, you’re able to point back to what they discovered at Halloween or Thanksgiving. Finally, it keeps students focused, doing an academic lesson without arguing at a time where students are going nuts in other classes. I had four decades of happy “day before’s” while colleagues were losing their minds.

If you don't teach a foreign language class, adapt this lesson to your subject matter. Remember to keep it relaxed and fun, but academic.­­

If you have Pre-K through High School students in your family, you'll want my new book, Free College, on Amazon (Click Here to Buy). It can help you avoid taking out dangerous college loans.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Back to School Night Made Easy

Back to School Night can be a complete waste of time or an effective tool to help students succeed. You choose. The first several years of my teaching career, I did exactly what administration told us all to do at Back to School Night. I repeated everything I had included in the course outline letter I sent home with students the first week of school. It included the class procedures, expectations, rules, grading system, due dates, homework, etc. Then I realized rereading it aloud was a complete waste of time and insulting to parents. They had already read, signed and returned the letter to me.

Instead, I began to use Back to School Night to help students become more successful. I wrote the night’s agenda on the board each year. The first few items were the main topics from the letter, (so any administrator who entered the room would see that they had been covered). But the rest was what I wanted the parents to do to help their children learn.

1. Eat dinner together as a family. (I explain that all studies show students do better in school and in life if they had dinner with their family at least five nights each week while growing up.)  

2. Check homework. (I remind parents that I assign homework Monday through Thursday each week. It's posted on my website each Thursday for the upcoming week. It's never oppressive or “busy work”.)

3. Turn off electronics two hours before bedtime, and be sure students sleep the recommended number of hours for their age group, 8-10 hours for teenagers. (Studies show that electronic use before bed is detrimental to sleep quality. What is learned each day is moved from short term memory to long term memory during sleep.)

4. Make sure students have a nutritious breakfast each morning. (Students eating a full, healthy breakfast have more success in school than those who drink a fruit smoothie or eat a granola or power bar for breakfast, and often earn more money in scholarships.  I also give parents ideas for how they can do this without it becoming oppressive.)

5. Give their children the book Seven Habits of Effective Teens by Sean Covey, son of Stephen Covey who wrote Seven Habits of Effective People. (The book shows teenagers how they can get what they want in life, makes them happier and easier to get along with at home and at school.)

After I started using Back to School Night to influence the behavior of parents, to get them to do what would make their children happier, healthier, better rested and ready to learn, student success increased. It also had the side benefit of making me feel like going to Back to School Night was not a complete waste of time. 

If you have Pre-K through High School students in your family, you'll want my new book, Free College, on Amazon (Click Here to Buy). It can help you avoid taking out dangerous college loans.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

College and Scholarship Readiness, Part II

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in an online chat by Jodi Okun, author, entrepreneur and founder of College Financial Aid. The chat, #CollegeCash, took place on Twitter. The title of the chat was similar to the title of this article. I decided to expand on my answers on my blog this month. Where you see bold print below, these are the questions and answers which appeared on the chat. I’ve added additional information for this article.

Q3 @ElizaWallace27 Where should parents and students look for scholarships?

A3 Start with family connections at work, church, civic clubs, fraternities, other associations and groups.  Many businesses provide scholarship opportunities for the children of their employees. Check with the human resources department to see if yours does. Also check with any union or professional association to which you belong. Churches and civic organizations often have scholarships or grants available. If yours do not, they can often provide you with alternatives through their connections in the community.

A3 Move on to civic organizations, foundations, local, state and federal grants and scholarships. Various civic organizations, foundations and clubs offer grants to needy families. They also often provide scholarships to an assortment of students. Some scholarships are quite large, apply for those. Others are fairly small, but still worth the effort. Often students overlook small scholarships, but they can be easier to win, for that very reason. There’s less competition. Be sure to look into political groups at all levels, local, state, county and federal. There are grants to be had. Last year, more than $46 billion in grant money was not awarded. Be sure your student qualifies and apply. I’ve known several worthy students who failed to apply for free money. Don’t do the same.

A3 Spread out online, use mobile apps, social media, such as @Scholarships360 and fastweb @payingforschool on Twitter, etc.
I have found several organizations and individuals on Twitter who post scholarship and grant information often. A simple search will show you who they are. In addition to searching under the word, “scholarships”, try adding qualifiers, such as “scholarships for elementary students”. Follow any site which seems to fit your needs. In addition, do a google search using keywords relating to your needs. There are other social media platforms and apps which can help. Find whatever you’re comfortable with using and stick to them. There’s no need to struggle through a site that is too complex, when there are so many others.

Q4 @ElizaWallace27 What are the most important strategies parents and students can use outside of school?  

A4 Enroll children in enrichment courses at a local college beginning in elementary, and continuing through high school. I was very surprised when I found this was the most significant strategy of successful scholarship winners. Every full-ride scholarship winner I interviewed had taken several summer enrichment courses at colleges and universities. It makes sense. Colleges want to be sure students can handle their rigor before they give out free money. Taking these courses shows a willingness to do the work. But don’t think these classes are torture. Take only the offerings which are in areas of your interest, talent or strength. This way you’ll be successful and have a good time too. Start in elementary school, and don’t stop until your senior year in high school.

A4 Find a safe place in the community for students to volunteer. Universities like to see students aren’t one dimensional. They want students to have a cause or purpose outside of themselves. There are many organizations which allow students to “give back”. Locate them through churches, clubs, the school your child attends, the Scouts, etc. Volunteering benefits children in many ways. They develop greater people skills, self-confidence and empathy. You can find organizations all over, but be sure to check them out to make sure they are safe, based on the age of your child. Like with enrichment courses, pick something that interests your child.

A4 Students should learn to play a musical instrument and take lessons through middle school. This was the second surprise in my research. Although I knew the value of studying music for children, I didn’t know there is a great deal of research that supports my belief. I’ve written several blog posts about the benefits of music lessons and where they can be found. Here’s a recent one, Click Here to read it now. I've also dedicated an entire chapter to the subject in my new book.

A4 Stick to all of these over time. Colleges like to see consistency. 
Be sure when children start taking enrichment courses, volunteering or taking music lessons that they stick to what they select. It does not look good to see children being erratic. A consistent history looks far better. Be sure to keep a log of their activities and college letters of recommendation from those in charge. These will come in handy later when applying for college, grants or scholarships. You will find a place to keep all of this information handy in my new book, available on Amazon Free College. I’ve included lined pages after each chapter and at the end of the book for this purpose.

Q5 @ElizaWallace27 When is the right time to visit a college?

A5 Families can visit colleges informally while taking family vacations or attending concerts, festivals and other public events.  When planning Spring Break or Summer Vacation travel, keep in mind that college towns are everywhere. There are several along the Southern California coast as an example, Pepperdine, UCLA, Loyola Marymount, to name a few. You don’t need to go far from home, but if you intend to do so, do a little research and perhaps take in a play or concert at a college near your relatives or wherever you decide to go.

A5 Students should be enrolled in enrichment courses on college campuses each summer. I discussed taking enrichment courses earlier, but remember, when winning scholarships is the goal, enrichment courses taken at colleges and universities are the most suitable. Although a course at a YMCA or youth organization might be quite rigorous, university personnel have a natural preference for courses taught at universities. Use this knowledge to your advantage.

A5 Start making formal visits to tour colleges by ninth grade. Some people think the junior year of high school is optimal for visiting colleges. I believe this just adds stress. Start earlier, when the senior year is still in the distance. By the time it arrives, students are comfortable with the process. I can’t tell you how many freaked out kids come back from college visits in their junior year. It can be overwhelming. It’s wise to begin taking informal tours when a child isn’t even thinking about college, and build up to formal visits later. Don’t wait for the senior year to take the formal tours, however. To do so may cause confusion. I once had a senior come back depressed from visiting MIT, Yale and Harvard. They all offered a full-ride scholarship. Instead of being happy, the student was anxious. This was caused by waiting so late. (Good news, this student graduated from MIT with honors and now is very successful in the software industry.)

If you have Pre-K through High School students in your family, you'll want my new book, Free College, on Amazon (Click Here to Buy). It can help you avoid taking out dangerous college loans.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

College and Scholarship Readiness, Part I

Recently I was invited to participate in an online chat by Jodi Okun, author, entrepreneur and founder of College Financial Aid. The chat, #CollegeCash, took place last week on Twitter. The title of the chat was the same as this article. I decided to expand on my answers this month on my blog. Where you see bold print below, these are the questions and answers which appeared on the chat. I’ve added the rest of the information since.

Q1 @ElizaWallace27 What should parents be doing right now when it comes to preparing their kids for college?

A1 While children are little, read to them and with them, give books as gifts, visit bookstores and libraries. Many studies have shown that children, who have received a great deal of attention and have been spoken to constantly during their first three years of life, do far better in school. Furthermore, making books and songs part of their preschool lives gives them the foundation they need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.

A1 For elementary aged children, enroll them in music lessons. Find lessons nearby and encourage them to continue with these lessons through middle school. Several recent medical studies have found greater development in the left hemisphere of the brains of children who have learned how to play a musical instrument and who have had lessons while growing up. This gives them an advantage in math, science and foreign language classes. I discovered that students who had studied music earned far more scholarship money for college.

A1 Find a sport each child likes and could continue for life, swimming, tennis, track, etc. Encourage them to participate through high school. In addition to the physical and psychological benefits of playing a sport, children also learn teamwork when doing so. Learning and enjoying a lifetime sport or activity means children will have something physical to do in order to stay fit, reduce stress and remain healthy throughout their lives. Medical research shows there are many benefits of staying active, including delaying or preventing dementia. This is a gift parents can give their lives that will continue to assist them forever.

Q2 @ElizaWallace27 Is there a financial aid to-do list for elementary, middle and high school students?

A2 Parents of elementary students should find scholarships and apply for all which are available to the age group of their children. Many parents and students believe college scholarships are only available to high school seniors. This is far from the case. I have seen many scholarships online which are available to students of all ages. Several were aimed at elementary school students. Although these children are too young to fill out the forms alone, parents can do this for them. Start collecting scholarships as soon as possible, so there will be enough money later on to pay for college, without needing to take out student loans.

A2 Help middle school aged children apply for a few scholarships each month. Spend a little time to set up an account on Twitter and/or Facebook, so you can search for college scholarships or grants for your child. Create a routine for doing so. Pick a specific day each week to look for them, and a specific day each month to fill out the forms. Help your child until he/she is old enough to do this on their own.

A2 High school freshmen and sophomores should apply for a one or two each week; while juniors and seniors should apply for a minimum of three each week, and continue until they’ve graduated from college. It is far easier to follow a schedule than to look for scholarships in a haphazard manner. Create a routine so you don’t have to “decide” to do the work. Deciding is the hardest part. Find scholarships by following groups who post them daily on Twitter or Facebook. Then apply for several at one time. Once a day of the week to do the work is selected, the work is fairly simple. I suggest setting aside two hours each weekend to apply for scholarships.  

If you have Pre-K through High School students in your family, you'll want my new book, Free College, on Amazon (Click Here to Buy). It can help you avoid taking out dangerous college loans.

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