Monday, July 20, 2009

College Roundtable, Part 2

We had a great response to our first College Roundtable, and I'm happy to post answers to our second Roundtable question from four new local college experts:

Research shows that students undergo a sort of "brain drain" over the summer. Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math over the summer months, and low-income students - despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains - also lose more than two months in reading. Given this distressing data, what suggestions do you give students about how to stay engaged and academically active over the summer months? Keeping an eye specifically on college, what should seniors be doing while school is out?

David Montsano, College Match
Based on data showing that students lose two months of learning over the summer in math and in reading, it makes sense to stem the tide of this “brain drain” with a strategy for summer brain maintenance. Many of the students that I coach find that doing an intellectual project during the summer helps stem the tide from brain drain toward a summer spent actively learning.

Rising seniors might use the summer to practice for the SAT in the fall or do a capstone project. These types of activities should help reinforce concepts learned from class work during the previous year as well as provide much needed intellectual spark to avoid the summer doldrums brought by too much tv watching and video games. My advice is for students to find an area of academic passion that they can build a project around. One way to find this is to ask themselves, if I had 30 hours to research something, what would it be? So for example if a student is passionate about food and organics and also likes chemistry, there may be a project around testing organically grown food in different environments—at the grocery store, at an organic food store and at farmers markets. A summer research project while not exactly the same as work done during the school year helps keep the student engaged, provides an opportunity to flex intellectual muscles and sharpens the mind. Colleges like it too.

Kim Glenchur, Choices to College
Summertime for seniors is a busy time. First, academic skills must be at least maintained:
  • Savor literature instead of rushing through chapters to complete an English assignment. Entering "summer reading list" into a web browser will draw up numerous suggestions from many reputable organizations. Most books on these lists will be found in public libraries.
  • Manipulate math problems. The web browser can also look up "summer math activities high school." Cool Math Sites are among several options at all levels of math proficiency.
  • Begin college applications, specifically prep for standardized tests (if not done yet) and write essays. Applications begin to appear around July. Working on them over the summer will reduce stress when classes restart in the fall. For low-income students, federal government TRIO programs were created to address issues of college access. Click on this link for more information: .
Second, identifying college selection criteria begins with self-knowledge. Though maintaining academic skills are vital, for purposes of college, rising seniors should try to participate in a summer activity that tests a favorite interest. Exploring it provides insight into whether to continue that interest to the next level in college. A good activity provides a fair test of that interest or even of related interests. Ideally, active hands-on learning supplements viewing experiences. The exploration process may also identify which colleges offer environments to further develop that interest -- a compelling reason to apply to a particular college. High school teachers, faculty club sponsors, and counselors are excellent information resources.

College applications commonly ask students about their previous summers. Note that an activity need not be costly. For example, one need not travel overseas to engage in a community service project, particularly if numerous local organizations need assistance. Do not discount the experiences gained from employment. Using a web browser to list "high school summer programs" will find over a billion options. Many of these programs will be offered at colleges and universities. Please be aware that attendance during an institution's summer session will not guarantee freshman admission.

Barry Beach, Arts Counselor
For students interested in studying art in college, the summer before their senior year is an important opportunity to take extracurricular art courses. As most students expecting to study art in college will be required to submit a portfolio of their work during the application process, summer is one of the best times to try a new kind of art to expand your portfolio.

Most students have taken drawing/painting courses, but trying more specialized courses in photography, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, etc. are good ideas. Liking a new course can highlight another major to consider. And not liking can be equally important - knowing what not to major in.

Pre-college programs are great for portfolio building, as they give prospective college students a taste of college life and an intense schedule of art-making. However, community colleges and local art centers usually offer numerous choices as well, and tend to be more affordable. One advantage of attending a pre-college program is the ability to select one at the college a prospective student is interested in attending. We artists are usually tactile people, so visiting and experiencing a place is important in the college narrowing process.

Marita Surace, College Applications Advisors
The first thing that comes to mind is preparing for the SAT/ACT (assuming a fall re-take or initial test), as well as keeping the mind in active mode. The best way to do this is to Read - A LOT - with a dictionary close by. Preferably, the reading would be focused on the classics - there are some terrific books that have stood the test of time and they contain many great SAT words and should keep the mind active for reading comprehension on the standardized tests. One could search online for lists of the 100 Greatest Books for High School or College Bound Students, or just walk into a library and ask a librarian for a recommendation at the reference desk. Many libraries have printed lists. Some libraries also have summer reading programs, where a student is rewarded with a free paperback.

An idea for writing would be to journal in any kind of notebook - every day. It keeps the thoughts and words flowing for that ultimate "College Essay" plus the SAT/ACT writing component, and starts the self-reflection process about goals for college. Teenage summers can often be very special and it could also end up as a wonderful longtime keepsake. My other recommendation would be to tutor others in Math. This could be done as a part-time job or on a volunteer basis. We actually learn subjects better when we teach them to others. Older students would benefit by tutoring younger ones in Algebra and Geometry, perhaps younger students who are repeating a class in summer school. This will keep the content fresh for Seniors for the test, and they will be able to list a "meaningful summer activity" on their college application.

I hate to focus so much on the SAT/ACT, but it currently is a reality of the college admission process. However, there will be great knowledge gained by the student, so maybe if they can think of it as self-education for life and not test prep, these activities may seem more interesting.
I know that this is such an idealistic answer. If only the video game companies could create games around classic books and geometry, and engage teens educationally like they did with the Wii for exercise! At least that was a good start.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Alternative Education: Raising Global Students

In today's age of standardized assessments and high-stakes testing, we seem to be sending the wrong message. How do we teach kids that learning goes beyond what they can bubble in on a piece of paper? We all know students learn differently, at different paces, come from different educational backgrounds, and have different needs, interests, and passions, and these all affect how well they do in school. So what are alternative was to teach students, to engage them, to instill in them a love of learning, to give them the skills (rather than the content) so they can keep learning after school ends and after their tutor returns home. What else can we put in their tool kit to encourage a deeper understanding, to show them how to ask the right questions, and how to find the answers on their own? In today's globalized society, how can we raise more "global students"?

A family in Oregon had a bold idea. Maya and Tom Frost sold their house, moved to Mexico, and truly engaged their students in a different model of education. USA Today chronicled the story in a fascinating Q&A: "We wanted our kids to develop full-tilt flexibility, so we sold everything and left our suburban lifestyle behind to have a last-blast family adventure abroad. We didn't have a ton of money, so we had to get creative and figure out how to work virtually while ushering four teenage girls through high school and into college in non-traditional ways... None of them ever submitted an SAT score or took an AP or IB class. They are flourishing -- and financially independent." All four daughters graduated college early, saved thousands by enrolling in high school and college concurrently, and had internships, research projects, and mentoring all over Latin America. Maya calls this the "bold school" approach - opting out of the traditional path and blazing your own trail.

Homeschooling is also picking up steam. Parents homeschool for a variety of reasons, from academic to social to being in line with their family values. It allows for more flexibility and more focus on the interests of their children. Sometimes classes aren't challenging enough, and they want to supplement the school work with their own academic activities. Sometimes kids get too caught up in social activities - or are bullied or left out - and having the control over the social environment at home is crucial. Being able to create your own curriculum, test it and engage your child in ways you know are best, winds up being a great solution for many parents.

With the economy transforming the workforce more than any time in 70 years, parents are coming up with creative ways to educate their global students. A tutor just reminded me of a good quote from Thomas Edison: "The teacher has not taught until the learner as learned." We've always thought of the teacher as the person at the front of the class; maybe now it's time to think of the teacher in different ways.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stay Engaged over the Summer

School is out but that doesn't mean you can't stay engaged and active over the summer. I've been meeting cool people with great ideas about how to do this. The guys at eduFire want to revolutionize the way we learn with online video classes and tutoring for any language and test you can imagine. Shmoop wants to do away with textbooks (who doesn't?!) and create a more vivid, multimedia curriculum for students and teachers. And if you're in the need of fun SAT games, check out Grockit, a more collaborative way to learn online.

Don't succumb to brain drain. Summer is a chance to learn in non-traditional ways. Gone are your teachers and set curriculum for the year; gone is the rigidity of grades, homework, and tests. What the summer presents is a golden opportunity to create your own academic learning - to discover and experience what interests you. Go to a museum, get an internship, work a part-time job, travel, spend time at a non-profit, spend time with a venture capitalist, volunteer at a local hospital, soup kitchen, or summer camp.

Of course there's good ol' fashioned tutoring as well. For students who need to make up classes or get ahead for the fall, there's nothing better than a 1-1 tutor and mentor. Along with Tutorpedia, Meyers Learning Center is creating individual workshops and summer learning plans for students who want to learn in more creative, personal ways. But whatever your summer plans, be sure to mix in a little bit of relaxation with a little bit of learning.