August 17th, 2012
04:16 AM ET

How to shoulder a backpack

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) - Pediatric orthopedist Dr. David Marshall is concerned about the weight that students shoulder from their backpacks.

"We're starting to see more and more back pain complaints in the doctors' and the sports medicine offices, and the question is:  Is there a correlation between backpacks and back pain?"

It's true that they're a campus standard when it comes to carrying books, notebooks, computers, papers and pencils around.  But experts say a backpack's weight should be limited to about 10 – 15% of a student's body weight.

If a traditional backpack exceeds that, you may want to consider a rolling backpack (the kind that looks like luggage).

Those who do carry their school supplies on their shoulders can take a few steps to better distribute the weight.
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What not to bring to a dorm room
Styles have changed; square footage hasn't.
August 14th, 2012
06:15 AM ET

What not to bring to a dorm room

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) – One of the best things about college dorms is that you get to leave them eventually.

They’re bare, they’re cramped, they’re never at the optimum temperature – in other words, they’re not home.

There are a number of ways in which college students make them feel even more remote and dingy. And by avoiding these mistakes, you can make your dorm-room memories a little less regrettable.

Bringing everything

You don’t have room for everything; you barely have room for anything. Taking along the extra pillows and stuffed animals and lava lamp and 14 pairs of shoes and unneeded sports equipment is not going to work out well.

One key to surviving dorm life is making the most of the least space. Think of the area under your bed as your closet, and try to fit a season’s worth of folded clothing, shoes, and a much-needed-but-still-mini ironing board underneath.

Plastic bins can help here. Hanging shoe organizers are also a good idea for whatever closet space you do get – or the back of your door, if necessary.

Bringing nothing

You're gonna need some basics, though. Start with sheets, and find out early if you'll need the regular or extra long twin size. Then, choose something comfortable (cotton jersey is a good, affordable option); you might feel a little uneasy sleeping away from your home bed, and you won't want to curl up on sandpaper.

You'll also need a pillow and a comforter, a shower caddy (filled with products that'll get you clean), and a toiletry bag for your toothbrush, cologne, deodorant and makeup. A robe is also a good idea for getting to and from the bathroom.

Leslie Sherman Jackson, a contributor to the Dallas Morning News, points out that "in addition to a folding hamper for dirty clothes, a plastic laundry basket comes in handy for transporting" whatever you need it to transport.
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Where's the cash for college?
July 18th, 2012
06:40 AM ET

Where's the cash for college?

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) – The U.S. economy is tightening its grip on Americans’ options when it comes to paying for college.

And while parents proportionally contribute the most money toward an undergraduate’s degree, the amount they’re contributing has dropped dramatically in recent years.

The information was revealed in Sallie Mae’s National Study of College Students and Parents, which was conducted by Ipsos and found that Americans are relying on a variety of sources for college funding.

For the 2011 – 2012 academic year, the study found that parent and student income and savings combined to make up 40 percent of the total cost of college.

Borrowing by students and parents made up 27 percent. Contributions from relatives and friends added up to 4 percent.

But grants and scholarships made up the single biggest piece of the pie at 29 percent. And what may raise some concern among the nation’s college hopeful is a recent drop in the proportion of families that got scholarship money.
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Ohio links teacher pay to test scores
July 11th, 2012
04:37 PM ET

Ohio links teacher pay to test scores

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) – At a time when test scores are used to determine everything from district funding to whether schools can stay open, they’re taking on even broader meaning in Ohio.

Gov. John Kasich has signed legislation that will partially link scores to what teachers are paid.

In Ohio – and many other states throughout the country – teachers have traditionally been evaluated by observers who’ve determined whether the instructors are satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

Evaluations will continue to play a role in Ohio.  But by the 2013-14 school year, Ohio public school districts will be giving each teacher a grade, and half of that grade will be based on how much students learn, gauged by their test scores.

Decisions about salary, which teachers to promote, and which ones to fire will be based on these results.  Teachers’ seniority will take a back seat in the new policy, and all but the top teachers in the state will be evaluated every year.

There are several reasons for the changes.  One lies in the state budget, which specifies that student academic growth must determine at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

Another is the federal government’s Race to the Top program.  In order to receive funds from it, Ohio is one of several states that have promised to find ways to measure and prove students’ academic growth.

A third reason is that Ohio is one of a majority of states that have gotten an Obama administration waiver from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.  In order to do that, the state has had to devise more detailed evaluations for teachers and base personnel decisions on them.

Some observers point out that the new Ohio law could still be changed or watered down before it goes into effect.

What’s wrong with America’s school system? Tell us here. 

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How graduating on time pays off
June 28th, 2012
06:12 AM ET

How graduating on time pays off

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN)  If you’re planning on getting a four-year degree at college, a newly released study suggests you shouldn’t take five or six years to get it.

An additional year or two could cost you in more ways than the extra tuition.

The University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that people who earned bachelor’s degrees within four years saw, on average, higher wages than those who earned similar degrees within six years.

The difference between the wages of four-year and six-year graduates:  about $6,000.

But it still pays to get an undergraduate degree, even if it takes six years to do it.  Those who earned a bachelor’s within six years made about $6,000 more than students who attended college but didn't earn a degree at all.

The study considered several reasons for the differences in salaries, including the head start that four-year graduates had in the workforce.  The authors also noted that some employers may see a difference in aptitude between those who graduate on time and those who don’t.

According to U.S. News and World Report, most American college students – around 60 percent – don’t graduate on time.  And an extra year of tuition alone sets them back more than $8,000 at the average public university, while private school (take a deep breath) costs an average of $42,000 per year.

While it's true that many Americans place a priority on getting a college degree, millions of future workers may not need it.  A study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education estimates that only a third of new jobs created between 2008 and 2018 will require a bachelor's or higher degree.
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School's out for summer...but why?
June 20th, 2012
06:15 AM ET

School's out for summer...but why?

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) The reasons why America’s students enjoy around two months off every summer probably aren’t based on some archaic, farm-based education schedule, as many people believe.

They’re more likely the result of what was happening in American cities.

Flash back to the mid-1800s.  Students in rural communities were needed to help with farm work, to be sure – but not in the summertime.  Spring was the planting season, and fall was the harvesting one; summer might’ve been a great time to study, as it wouldn’t have been interrupted by work involving crops.

But in U.S. cities, where students were taught throughout the calendar year, some of the education experts and doctors of the day believed too much schooling placed a stress on kids.  And there were several factors that made summertime the ideal time for a break.

For one thing, it was hot.  We can just turn down the thermostat today, but imagine sitting in an unventilated, urban schoolhouse without air conditioning or indoor plumbing as the thermometer pushed 100.  Not a comfortable environment for learning.

For another, wealthier families – and some school administrators – took vacations in the summer.  And teachers often used the warmer months as training time.

So organizers of what came to influence our modern school year thought it best to strike summer from the academic calendar and to allow everyone, urban and rural, some time out of class.
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June 7th, 2012
11:30 AM ET

Keeping students sharp through summer

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN)  Call it the summer slide, the seasonal slump, the brain drain or the summer slowdown.  Just don’t call it new:  The two-month period when students lose some of their academic edge has been observed for over a century.  The good news here is that experts and parents have come up with a number of ways to keep kids sharp through the summer, and we’re sharing some of them with you here.

Learn something new

“We would all expect an athlete’s or a musician’s performance to suffer if they took a long break from practice, and the same is true for our nation’s young people,” says Ron Fairchild, founder of the Smarter Learning Group.

One way to keep your student’s brain in shape is to keep the learning going.  It doesn’t have to be out of a textbook.  Swimming or SCUBA or horseback riding lessons, practicing a language while driving to your vacation destination – it all counts.

In a summer camp – particularly an outdoor one – kids take part in activities they might not otherwise do.  Some learn how to build a fire; some learn to paddle a canoe; some team up to complete a rope course.  (And even if students learn they can’t actually trust others in a “trust fall,” they’ve still learned something, right?)

Picking up a new instrument can also help keep kids engaged with learning, and there are many studies linking music with mathematics.  So if your child has always wanted to play guitar or drums (heaven help you), summer may be the perfect time to do it.
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June 4th, 2012
04:01 PM ET

A dress made from homework

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) Combining her efforts from the school year with some serious, sartorial creativity, Kara Koskowich wove together a garment that truly made the grade.

The 17-year-old Canadian student graduated in a dress made from her homework.

There was literally no chance of her running into anybody else with the exact same dress.  Most graduates never want to look at homework again; Koskowich found a way to look good in it.

She cut, sewed, glued, and eventually tailored a graduation gown out of the assignments that helped her graduate.  It took about 75 pieces of paper.  She said the math work she did made for the best look.

And though she started the project in March, she cut it pretty close to deadline, finishing the dress the night before she graduated.  “I did most of it the last week because I’m that kind of person.  I procrastinate,” Koskowich said.

She wasn’t the only student to skip store-bought couture.  Her friend Dorothy Graham substituted plastic shopping bags for silk and fashioned her own dress.  According to Graham, “It was actually funny because everyone was wearing these elegant dresses, and we’re in dresses that cost nothing, and we were the most popular people there.”

It shows you don’t need a designer label (or any label at all, really) to win acclaim while accepting a diploma.  And if Koskowich never wears the dress again?  Well, it was only homework, after all.

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Sweet 'spell' of success
Sukanya Roy of South Abington Township, Pennsylvania reacts after winning the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition June 2, 2011 in National Harbor, Maryland.
May 30th, 2012
12:02 PM ET

Sweet 'spell' of success

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) It’s not always easy to watch: young people given increasingly difficult words to spell, standing uncomfortably under lights and cameras, their faces strained or frozen under pressure, their parents watching helplessly from their seats in the audience… They’re all components of the tournament that crowns America’s best speller.

If you look back at the National Spelling Bee’s winning words of the 1930s and 40s, you’ll see quite a few you can handle: fracas, knack, torsion, initials, psychiatry. In more recent years, with many more students competing with far more intensity, most of us need a dictionary – not just for the spellings, but for the definitions of the words themselves.

When was the last time you used Ursprache, appoggiatura, Laodicean or cymotrichous in a sentence? (When was the last time you even saw them anywhere?)

Words like these will be either the stumbling blocks or victory laps for the 278 spellers in this year’s Scripps bee. They’re from all over the map, representing ages from 6 to 15. And while they may not be able to drive, buy lottery tickets, vote, or get a beer after the event, they’re all better spellers than we are.

In fact, most of these students are scholars in other areas. Take 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison. She’s been in spelling bees since age 3, but she’s also won awards in mythology and math events. Arvind Mahankali, who’s 12 and came in third place last year, has received an honors award from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. And 14-year-old Nabeel Rahman came in first place in the middle school National Geographic Bee.

Of course, spelling on its own is hard enough. Everywhere you look, there are misspellings – even the very word looks like it has too many consonants. Whenever Germanic, Old Norse, Latin, French, and Old English got together, two things were inevitable: confusion and compromise.

And those are evident across our lexicon. Remember the “i before e” rule? It had a plethora of exceptions, so spelling tipsters added “or when sounded like ‘ay’, as in neighbor and weigh.” But that isn’t enough to go on because words like height and efficient pop up and throw us further off the tracks. So a better, overall summary might be “i before e, except after c…or whenever.”

As anyone who’s ever written anything in English can tell you, there are a lot of exceptions to our rules of spelling, not to mention differences in British and American spellings (see colour, humour, etc.). The bad news is that sometimes, you just have to memorize words on a case-by-case basis.
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Mistakes graduates make
May 22nd, 2012
12:17 PM ET

Mistakes graduates make

By Carl Azuz, CNN

(CNN) Graduates at both the high school and college levels can easily get lost in the complexities of money management, planning and work ethic. But let’s start with the big one. When it comes to common slip-ups by recent graduates, social media are a virtual black hole.

Social media missteps

By now, seniors have heard the warnings – that what they post online is rarely, completely private. You know how you wouldn’t want embarrassing photos or information about your last breakup appearing in a school yearbook? Well, think of Facebook and Twitter as a yearbook for the entire world. And if you're a college graduate whose profile picture reveals a funnel, a frothy drink, and the Jersey Shore (or Lake Havasu…or Daytona Beach…or a Caribbean cruise), there’s a possibility that the company you want to work for will see it.

But while some Facebook pictures and wall posts can be taken down, students won’t get the chance to take down their public tweets. They’re exactly that – public – and they’re now scheduled to stay that way forever.

The Library of Congress is keeping a Twitter archive for posterity. And no matter who you are, how old you are, or what you’ve ever written about in 140 characters or less, every single public tweet EVER is being archived. Does that mean that a potential employer/spouse/child/admissions officer will be able to read what you wrote back in 2009? Yes. Can you take your tweets back? No. The only thing you can do is make your future tweets private – a setting that will keep them from being archived. But everything that’s ever been publicly shared will stay that way.

Summer slacking

Social media aren’t the only danger zones for graduates, of course. Another potential stumbling block is the coveted summer break. Between the ninth and tenth grades, you might've kicked back, relaxed, worked only when needed (or convenient), and ruled the pool. But recent college graduates who stay in that pattern are almost certain to lose whatever jobs are available to those who started their search before they even donned a cap and gown.

And if you’re leaving high school for higher education, you don’t want to be lost when you land on campus. You’ll have to learn how to register for class. Larger campuses will have bus routes you won’t know, and there’s a lot of stuff in your bedroom and your bathroom at home that won’t be included in a dorm. So taking some time to get the lay of the land at college, to do some shopping in advance, or just to work up a transition plan will pay off – and give you more time to go to ice-cream mixers while your dormmates go to Target.

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