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Grit: the hidden factor in school success (and life success)

I wanted to share an article that shows how "grit" plays such a major role in children's success in school and afterwards, as well as my own insights on this. You'll find the article from The Wall Street Journal at the end of this post.   I teach math and what I see over and over again is that when kids are in front of a math problem they go through the following inner process: - they are afraid of "failing" and uncomfortable with "failing" - they clam up and feel not up to task - they want to run away from it and - they hate me for making them do it (this is a joke :), but probably true sometimes).   Math is indeed one of the hardest subjects for most kids and so the way they react to math's difficulty shows how they react to other difficult times in their life.    If we teach them to persevere, to learn to be uncomfortable sometimes, and to be OK with failing (otherwise how could one progress... read more

The need to know History

The world around us can be very dangerous. People need to know what is going on here and outside the country. Some issues are connected. The price of food and fuel go up and down according to events around the world. Also, things that happened in the past can be useful to understand what is going on today. Wars that are about to erupt today can be avoided if people have learned lessons from previous wars. People need to be informed to decide what is the best decision for them to make in case a life changing event. At any stage of your life, you will be confronted with the need to know History. You have to know History to understand the past, the present and the future. Also, History will help you be smart around your immediate world.

The need to know History

The world around us can be very dangerous. People need to know what is going on here and outside the country. Some issues are connected. The price of food and fuel go up and down according to events around the world. Also, things that happened in the past can be useful to understand what is going on today. Wars that are about to erupt today can be avoided if people have learned lessons from previous wars. People need to be informed to decide what is the best decision for them to make in case a life changing event. At any stage of your life, you will be confronted with the need to know History. You have to know History to understand the past, the present and the future. Also, History will help you be smart around your immediate world.

How do I know that my child has a learning disability?

In 2013, I did this talk with teachers & parents, to explain very simply the many myths and misconceptions we have about learning difficulties. Come, watch me take you into the world of the child who struggles:

College Applications and Volunteering / Community Service

As competition among college applicants has become more dog-eat-dog, high school seniors are more pressured than ever to distinguish themselves from other applicants. Volunteering and community service are great ways to do exactly that. What to Avoid Many students nowadays make it obvious that they are volunteering simply because they have to in order to get into college. Many of our students volunteer at one of two places: the library or hospital. When asked why they are volunteering at these locations, they answer, "To get into college." It is important to choose a cause close to your heart. If you love animals, volunteer at the animal shelter. If you are passionate about helping those without food or a place to sleep, volunteer at a homeless shelter. The point is, whatever you do, have a good reason for doing it. It will make you stand out on a college application. How Long to Volunteer Commit to a single cause over a long period... read more

Teenage Boys are Ducks

Of the 400+ hours I have spent working with students I meet through WyzAnt and raising a son, I can’t say I’m an expert on the teenage mind (see link below to a great story I love to send to parents about the findings from medicine, physiology and psychology)--but I have one general observation to share: Teenage boys are like ducks--calm on the surface but paddling madly underwater. Everyone of course is made differently--that’s what keeps tutoring so engaging. But the general idea is that it’s challenging for a teenager to ask for help. It’s not cool. “I got it…” “No problem…” “It’s all good…” Then the midterm report cards arrive and, well, no so much. I like to describe what I do as Academic Coaching. The boys, particularly, think nothing of a coach in their sport getting on them, correcting them or pushing them. But when it’s a parent or a teacher the dynamic changes. The pop-psychology would indicate the reason is one of rank order--school... read more

Reading the the key to good writing

As an undergrad at Northwestern University, I researched the connection between reading and writing.  My discoveries were not surprising:  those who are avid readers tend to be better writers.  There is a direct connection between reading and writing as the old adage says:  What goes in is what comes out.  Feeding our brains with good literature full of challenging vocabulary and sentence structures will, over time and with practice, translate into better and more sophisticated writing.

Professional and Patient Chinese Tutor

China: I lived in China for 20 years and finished from Elementary school to University in China so that not only the language, but I also know China a lot in a way of how to live, communicate, culture. The most important thing is I do have the certificate of Speaking Mandarin Chinese, which is the most difficult certificate that most chinese people do not have, cannot pass or have a lower score of it. The reason I achieved this certificate was because I went to one of the top 10 Chinese Newscaster University studying in News Casting, so for each one of the Newscasters, we must not only pass the Exam but also need a high score of it to pursuit our career, and that is why I can speak standard Chinese than others. Here in America, I obtained the honor of Theater Acting B.A. at UCLA, and I have been teaching and tutoring for 2 year in the U.S.,I can speak both Chinese and English I do have experience of teaching. No worries, I hope I could devote all my efforts... read more

Improve your communication skills in a foreign language

Reminders to improve your communication in the target language: - Pay attention to the facial expressions of the native speakers in order to understand the meaning of their talk. - Identify the key words in the sentences you hear. These are usually content words: verbs and nouns. - Determine by the intonation of the sentences if the speaker is asking or answering questions, describing, or telling a story. - Practice one or two new words, or small phrases regularly with native speakers. - Build the knowledge of the target language with small bricks: memorize nouns and verbs and use them in simple sentences (Noun + Verb + Complement). As you master the use of simple sentences in present tense you can continue progressing by learning more complex sentences and different verb tenses in order to communicate more accurately. - Practice each of the four skills of communication 10-15 minutes every day. These skills are: speaking,... read more

Your Local Library

     Your local public library can be an excellent resource. Not only can children borrow books at no charge (unless the items are returned late), but they can also borrow non-fiction, educational shows on DVD. And, for emerging readers, there are "read-alongs" (books accompanied by audio CDs).  For reluctant readers, there are also books and activities created just for them. For example, in my local library, there is a program called "Paws for Reading," which is a play on words (pause and paws). This activity allows young reluctant readers to practice reading to therapy and rescue dogs in the children's activity room at our library.  It's a great hit with the kids! I absolutely love my library. I have discovered so many excellent books and movies for teaching my subjects that I always include them, along with free printable worksheets, in my lesson plans for my tutoring sessions. I call them my "teaching" books, and...

My favorite things to do indoors - summer, winter, fall & spring

Reading is my favorite activity at any time of the year.   I especially love to read books. Books on religions, theology, art and world cultures.  I read them in hard copy, on-line, and on my Kindle. I also listen to audio-books and books-on-tape/cd's that i borrow from the library.    In the summer I enjoy reading English "tea-cozy" mysteries. "Tea-cozy" mysteries are fun with great plots and are not  too  violent. Violent books and movies give me nightmares, so I don't do "violent".   When I was younger and learning French and Spanish in high school and university, I would read magazines and books in these languages. (I still do.) Of course, I didn't understand all the vocabulary (and still don't) and needed to look up some words. I didn't look up all I didn't know, that would have taken too long, and I was impatient to get on with it.   Somehow the more I read the more I... read more

Breaking the Ice

I've noticed that a lot of students just don't ask for help that they need in algebra. This may be because they are too shy and/or feel that us tutors or other students would think they're "dumb". Students must be encouraged as much as possible to get assistance in whichever subject they are struggling in, and explain to them that everybody is good at different things and it's ok if you're not the best in math when you're probably great at another subject. Everyone has their own strong point(s).

Mathematical Journeys: Carl Gauss and the Sum of an Arithmetic Series

There's a famous (and probably apocryphal) story about the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss that goes something like this: Gauss was 9 years old, and sitting in his math class. He was a genius even at this young age, and as such was incredibly bored in his class and would always goof off and get into trouble. One day his teacher wanted to punish him for goofing off, and told him that if he was so smart, why didn't he go sit in the corner and add up all the integers from 1 to 100? Gauss went and sat in the corner, but didn't pick up his pencil. The teacher confronted him, saying “Carl! Why aren't you working? I suppose you've figured it out already, have you?” Gauss responded with “Yes – it's 5,050.” The teacher didn't believe him and spent the next ten minutes or so adding everything up by hand, only to find that Gauss was right! So how did Gauss find the answer so fast? What did he see that his teacher didn't? The answer is simple, really – it's all about... read more

Keep up Your Language Skills Over the Summer!

Are you taking a foreign language in school? Maybe it is Spanish, or Japanese, or French? Well, that's great! However, summer is typically the time that most of what you have learned in these second languages during the school year wears away, and very fast too.   That's why it's recommended that you keep practicing reading, writing, listening, and speaking in your second (or third) language throughout the summer months. That way, you'll be prepared not only for the next class in the series in the fall, but also keep you from forgetting all of the intricate details that you have mastered already. Don't know how? Well here are some tips to get you started:   Ask your teacher or school librarian to see if you can borrow a used copy of your foreign language book, or perhaps loan out a copy of next year's book early. This way, you can review everything that you have already studied during last school year and even start looking ahead into what's... read more

Defeat the Dread

You practice Geometry Proofs, memorize dates for History, and review flashcards for Spanish. But how do you practice writing? Writing is the one skill you’re guaranteed to use for the rest of your life. The challenge every writer faces is to understand and manage the dynamic between creating and crafting. These are two very different skills that conflict with each other--leading to frustration not to mention procrastination. I'm offering 3 Sunday afternoon dynamic and fun (no grades! no rubrics allowed!) writing workshops with a focus on “hands-on” work. I want to give you insight and confidence as you develop your personalized writing process. You’ll discover how writing is as much a strategy as it is a skill. Invest some time this summer and we know you’ll be less likely to dread your first writing assignment in the fall! The Seminars are designed for High School/College level students who are comfortable with basic grammar but want to... read more

Inputs and Outcomes

One of the challenges for Parents making the case for the value of schoolwork is a student’s perfectly cogent question, “How is learning about (fill in the blank, you've heard it enough times) going to help me later?” Fair question and one that today’s tools make even more challenging to answer. I like to remind the students I work with that being smart isn't “knowing the answer to every question”—it’s knowing where to find the answer. And with practically any answer just a click away memorization of dates, places, events and names can seem even more impractical. You can’t credibly make a case to your kids that they will be writing geometry proofs or discussing the causes of the Civil War as adults. But you can help them understand  by helping them see the practical application of education in general: It's the Learning Process—learning how to understand, think about, write about and solve problems and complete assignments. Information and media... read more

5 Ways to Get Smarter This Summer

There are two things that happen to the brain during the summer: either it gets smarter, or it gets dumber.  If you work on making it smarter this summer, then you'll have a stress free school year when it comes.   To help you on your path of smart awesomeness, I have put together this list of 5 ways to get summer this summer.   Video Games:  Your mom is wrong.  You should play video games.  Show her this YouTube video the next time she gets on your case: Jane McGonigal: The Game that Can Give You 10 Extra Years Exercise Play: Your mom is right.  To become smarter, your brain needs oxygen.  The only way to get oxygen to your brain is to move your body.  But don't do something as lame as exercising.  Get out there and find something fun.  To tell you the truth, I'm such a geek that I like to walk trails while reading my Kindle or listening to music.  Nature is lame.  But, if you are... read more

Reading TV to Improve English Skills

Now that its getting warmer this summer, many of us our spending more time watching TV. But how can watching TV help to improve our English/ESL skills?   One way is to mute the TV and display the closed captioning at the bottom of the screen. That way, you can practice reading English and still enjoy catching up on your favorite shows.   Let me know how it works for you, and have a great summer!

Summer Tutoring

I so admire parents and students who decide to attend tutoring during summer vacation.  These are the folks who realize that they must put in effort and time to get the desired educational results.  They are not lazy.  They do what it takes.  This is an admirable trait in them, that they choose to attend tutoring during what could just be a lazy, relaxing time.  They bring their student for tutoring and the student does his best to cooperate and learn. Results are not always immediate -- they will come in time.  As long as parents and students keep reaching out for education, even when school is not in session!

On Paramount Importance of Mental Math

Summary:  Mental math teaches students to see short, efficient solutions—rather than to blindly follow the brute-force, cookie-cutter, one-size-fit-all, show-all-your-work procedures taught at school.   To my youngest students, I lie—by omission—that vertical arithmetic does not exist.  I can usually get away with it for about a year. Until the school shows them the light.  Say, how to add 25 and 8 vertically, with the carry-over 1 carefully written on top of the 2.  By that time, my students are proficient in mental addition and subtraction of 3-digit numbers: carrying, borrowing, and all.  Of course, they make me proud.  Yet, my goal is by no means to turn them into human calculators.  So then, why bother? Vertical arithmetic is a convenient method for computing numerical answers.  Especially when the numbers to manipulate are multidigit.  But it is a procedure, requiring—once learned—little thought. ... read more

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