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Homework: Yes or No?

The homework debate has fueled many town hall meetings and board rooms since the early 20th century.  Some believe that students need the discipline to do homework to reinforce what is taught in class while others argue that homework is a bunch of busy work that infringes on students’ much needed play time or down time.

I just read a fascinating article “Never Mind the Students; Homework Divides Parents” in the New York Times which addresses the fact that many parents rely on homework to fill the time with productive things for students to do until parents return home from work.  Wealthy families have access to enrichment activities and educational supplements that their kids can do when they don’t have homework, but families with less means typically have less resources available to their children.  This translates to an unequal playing field where the wealthy kids fare far better than their poorer counterparts.

Homework is a complicated concept.  I believe that instruction and introduction to concepts should be done in the classroom and homework should be assigned IF it reinforces what was introduced and IF it is necessary for the student to reinforce those concepts in the first place.  In other words, don’t give students busy work to keep them out of trouble because they’ll resent it and they probably won’t be any better off for doing it.

The tricky part is that every student is different and each student has strengths in some subjects and weaknesses in others.  So how can a teacher assign the right amount of homework to a class of 30 students? Um, not happening.  And we can’t make homework voluntary because kids probably won’t do it and those that do are probably not the students who needed to do it in the first place.  Hmmm.

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Fingerprint Security

I’m a klutz when I text.  My girls laugh at me when I type with one finger on my phone because they have the magical touch and can type 80 words a minute using the sides of their thumbs. I don’t get it.  That’s why when the fingerprint scanner first came out, I had them installed on all of our computers and I bought one of the first Android phones that came with the fingerprint sensor. But now, researchers at New York University and Michigan State University say that fake fingerprints can fool fingerprint sensors 65% of the time.

Now I’m worried.  Considering that I do my banking, financials, and other personal things on my phone and computers, I want to make sure that everything is as secure as possible. I thought that because every fingerprint is unique, there would be no way that anyone could replicate my fingerprint.  I was wrong.

When you set up your fingerprint security on your phone or computer, you usually take about 8-10 images per finger.  This makes it easier for the device to identify the print.  While security is the goal, users want the device to be able to accurately see their fingerprints within the first few swipes.  Nobody wants to have to swipe a dozen times to open their phones.

So, the security verdict is still out on fingerprint pads.  More tests need to be conducted on a variety of cell phones and developers need to improve anti-spoofing techniques to detect the presence of a real finger vs a fake one.

In the meantime, Dr. Boehnen, the federal government’s Odin program, says you can protect yourself by turning off fingerprint authentication for your most sensitive apps, such as mobile payments.  That’s sound advice. In a world of ever-changing technology, I make paper copies of important documents and put them in my safe deposit box.  I guess that’s old fashioned, but it gives me peace of mind. 

Veggies Are Thriving In Our Media Beds!

Our veggies are thriving in the media beds of our aquaponics system.  They’re growing so fast, we can’t eat them fast enough! 

The fish are growing and the floating raft system is stabilizing. 

This system uses no chemicals or fertilizers because the plants get their nutrients from the fish waste and the fish get water that is filtered through the plant root network. 

It’s a perfect system!  

Tips on Preventing Pain after Shots?

Getting my blood drawn and getting shots ranks right up there with – well, having my teeth pulled without pain medication.  I GET STRESSED OUT! I count down the days and then on the day I plan to get the shots, I wake up hoping I have the flu.  My blood pressure skyrockets because all I can think of is the PAIN I’ll feel when the needle goes into my arm.  I’m a complete wreck until I mastermind a way to successfully miss the appointment.  Then I take a deep breath until my denial fades and I have to make another appointment.

Well, about 10 years ago, a nurse promised me that the TDAP wouldn’t hurt because she had a special technique to reduce the swelling and pain.  I didn’t really believe her because nobody knows that I FEEL PAIN MORE THAN OTHERS and that I’m such a baby about needles.  But, what happened that day was amazing.  The nurse massaged my arm before she gave me the injection.  Then, she immediately massaged my arm after the injection for about a minute or two.  I was happy that the shot didn’t hurt the way I was anticipating it to, but the really surprising part was that the next day, my arm didn’t hurt at all.  Phew!

It’s been 10 years, and I just got notification that I’m due for my TDAP.  I inquired about the new “massage technique” at my last doctor’s appointment and the nurse looked at me like I was crazy.  Back to my old tricks, I told her that I was going to find that nurse and have her give me the injection.  Again – I’m sure the nurse and the doctor think I’m a lunatic.  So I called my old doctor’s office but nobody knew anything about this “technique.”  I even went online but couldn’t find anything that resembled this pain-free way to give the TDAP.

So I have decided that I am going to be my own nurse and guinea pig. I will massage my left upper arm for 5 minutes before I get the TDAP and again for 5 minutes afterwards.  I also plan to do arm rotations and comfort the area with a heating pad throughout the day and in the evening. 

If you have any tips, I’m all ears!  I’ll let you know if this technique works.  

SLEEP: The Key to Academic Success

When I ask my students about their plans for the weekend, I hear “SLEEP!” more than any other activity.  At first, I thought it was a fluke – like it must have been a full moon or something that caused so many kids to tell me they were tired that day.  Then, after taking notes after meeting with teens from different schools, socio-economic backgrounds, and levels of popularity, I am now convinced that sleep is the biggest problem students have in school. 

First, schools start far too early.  Most teens are up doing homework until 10:00-11:00 pm, and then they’re on their phones until the wee hours of the night texting friends.  If they also play video games, they may be up when the sun rises – and sadly, parents don’t know because kids won’t divulge info that will cause them to lose privileges. Yup, they’re smarter than we are.

That’s why when I designed the schedule for Merit Academy, classes start at 9:00 am.  So even when kids are up until midnight, they can still get at least 7 hours of sleep.  Besides, students perform better midmorning and early afternoon so why start classes at 7:30 or 8:00 am?

I just read a great article about all kinds of non-drug sleep aids on the market. THIM is a small device that you wear on a finger that trains your body to fall asleep sooner and sleep longer.  During the training period, it actually wakes you up as you fall sleep to retrain your body to fall asleep. 

There’s another device called Dreem.  You can take a quick survey to determine what type of sleeper you are and get tips on how to improve your sleep.  Their new technology will be available this summer.

Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body,” Dr. Walker of U.C. Berkeley said. And every teen needs to embrace this.  Because they are teens, they are not looking at the big picture and really need their parents to step in to give them healthy guidelines to develop good sleep habits.  These tools can lead to less stress and more clairvoyance – and we do want them to be happy, don’t we?

UC Updates!

Now that May 1st has passed and seniors have accepted to their colleges (or you’re waitlisted), here are some important updates.

May 13:  Analytical Writing Placement Exam (AWPE)

May: Freshmen on the waitlists will receive notifications about admissions. If you get accepted to a college on the waitlist, contact the college that you originally accepted to so they know that you will not be attending (and so they can offer your spot to one of their students on their waitlists)

June 1: Transfer SIR (intent to register) deadline

June 30: ELC Student Contact Info Submissions deadline

July 1: Official transcript deadline

July 15: Other documents deadline (AP or IB exam scores for freshmen) or (IGETC certification for transfers)

Stay on top of your grades.  Remember, if any grades drop below a C-, you may lose admission to your college. Contact them right away to discuss your options.  If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

Keeping Our Kids Safe in the Apple World

Last week I blogged about Android apps to keep our little ones from accidentally getting into our personal programs on our phones and tablets.  Today, let’s look at the Apple world.  The good news is that iOS has all kinds of kid-proofing devices that are easy to use.  We all use our iPhones and iPads to entertain our kids when we’re in a pinch so let’s be sure that our kids can’t end up in the wrong places on our devices.

Forget about passwords to get into your device.  If they’re already using it, they’ve got access to everything! But there are some smart things you can do to keep your kids safe.  Use Guided Access to prevent your kids from leaving a particular app.  This means that you can set your iPhone or iPad to have one app open and lock it for the kids to play with it. They won’t be able to use any other programs on your phone or tablet until you unlock it.  You can also set parental controls in the Restrictions menu in Settings.  You can block access to Siri and FaceTime, prevent apps from being installed or deleted, and place age restrictions on music and movies in iTunes.  In Safari, parental controls can filter website to block adult content or limit searches to pre-approved websites.

With a little planning, you can keep your kids safe and out of your private zones.

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Keeping Kids Safe in the Android World

Let’s be honest, we all use our phones and tablets to entertain our kids when we’re in a pinch – right? – so let’s be sure that our kids can’t end up in the wrong places on our devices.

Forget about passwords to get into your device.  If they’re already using it, they’ve already unlocked the key to your entire database. But there are some smart things you can do to keep your kids safe.  Android phones and tablets allow you to set a PIN lock on any app. This means that you can set your phone or tablet to have one app open and lock it for the kids to play with it. They won’t be able to use any other programs on your phone or tablet until you unlock it.  If you want them to access several apps, set up a guest account where you select the apps and they can roam around in their account without having access to yours. To set this up, open the Google Play Store app, go into Settings, and then Parental Controls.

If you need longer entertainment – for say car rides or emergencies -- set up the YouTubeKids app on your phone to ensure that they’re watching the shows and movies you approve. You can also run Kids Place and Kids Zone so your kids can run the apps you’ve approved and nothing else.

For the lucky kids who have their own phones, use MMGuardian to remotely monitor and control which apps they’re using and to create a schedule for when they can be on.

But if your kids have too many apps to keep track of on your phone, it might be easier to use AppLock to put a PIN on your apps that you don’t want them to get into.

With a little planning, you can keep your kids safe from the unsavory part of the world until they’re old enough to deal with it.

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Summer Plans for High School Students

If you’re a parent of a high school student, you’re probably getting a lot of pressure from other families to send your child to some expensive summer camps on prestigious college campuses and load them up with SAT-intensive classes.  Umm. You’re probably hearing about how your neighbor’s kid is booked solid with back-to-back camps and programs that cost thousands of dollars. And, you worry that your child won’t be able to compete in the college admissions race.

But, don’t worry that your child isn’t keeping up with the Joneses this summer because colleges aren’t looking for those kind of students. Nope!  They might want the parent, but certainly not an entitled child whose parents did the research, paid the exorbitant fees, and forced them to participate.

Instead, keep your kids home this summer and encourage them to do a project. That’s right.  By brainstorming about doing something on their own over the summer, they’ll be using their creative parts of their brains and implementing something that they build by themselves.  This teaches kids how to innovate – which will make them more confident and capable young people.  Isn’t that what every parent wants for their children?  We don’t want robots who regurgitate facts or complain about life – we want kids who solve problems by creating solutions.

And, colleges want these innovative thinkers, too!  They don’t want students who insist on having study guides for tests because they don’t want to learn anything that will not be on the test.  They want students who demonstrate that they can start projects that can solve problems or that they do what they are passionate about. 

If you want your middle or high school student to have a life-changing experience this summer, have them do a project!  Check out ProjectMERIT for ideas.

Learn more about specific classes and the many ways we can make your child's summer the turning point in their academic careers!

[Check out the brochure here!]

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