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All About the Fidget Spinner Craze

What are fidget spinners? They’re small devices, around three inches across, that you hold in your hand and, well, spin. They basically just sort of whizz around on their bearings (and you can make them spin pretty fast) but they serve no real p…

Four Great Outdoor Hobbies for Young People

The summer holidays are swiftly approaching, which means it’s time to start coming up with things to do for your youngsters. While reliable activities such as summer camp, day camp or just plain loafin’ are always there, other possibilities beckon — possibilities that, while being fun, can also be educational.

 

1. Model Rocketry

This hobby has been around awhile, but it’s tons of fun. The way it works is simple: you assemble a rocket (mostly using glue and stickers), insert a standard-sized rocket engine, then insert an igniter into the engine, and then launch it from a simple launch pad using an electric trigger-switch. The rockets and engines vary in size and capability; they can be small and simple or huge and high-flying. Make sure you have access to a very large open field, as the wind can really catch these (especially during the parachute phase). If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can attach experiments, sensors or video cameras to your rocket. Watching them soar into the sky at top speed will thrill your kid every time!

 

2. Geocaching

One of the best uses possible for your kid’s smartphone, geocaching combines socializing, competition, the thrill of the hunt and, of course, high technology. Geocachers leave small items for others to find out in the world. Using coordinates and GPS technology, the goal is to find those items (which only have a token value if any at all). It’s also standard to include a logbook so people can add their name to the list of those who have found it. Now it may sound geeky, but it’s tons of fun and there’s a massive online community of geocachers — chances are there are targets to find near you.

 

3. Gardening

Planting and nurturing flowers and vegetables is both dead simple and incredibly complicated. Plant, water, prune, weed. Pretty straightforward. Except that some plants require more sun exposure than others. Different flowers bloom at different times in the growing season, some plants can only grow in specific climate zones, water demands can vary … things get more complicated the more you do it. But really diving in, starting with plans, keeping a garden journal, and best of all watching life spring from the soil, can be tons of fun. You don’t even need land, a few pots will do.

4. Stargazing

It’s not crazy to think that looking at the stars “properly” requires a hugely expensive telescope equipped with a high-tech motorized mount and an aperture wide enough to drive a school bus through. The truth is, however, such costly tools, while desirable, are not at all necessary. Cheap refractor telescopes, your grandfather’s old binoculars and even a set of opera glasses can reveal amazing sights in the night sky. Even in cities where light pollution renders much of the heavens invisible, it’s still possible to observe the moon, our solar system and even orbiting objects like the International Space Station. There’s tons to see right above your head — just remember to be careful when you’re out at night, and never to look at the sun!

 

Great Resources for Homeschoolers (and Everyone Else)

Educating at home presents many challenges, but thankfully there are loads of helpful resources available that can provide learning content, organizational tools, lesson plans and lots more. Here is just a small selection of the resources available:

 

Google Docs

It’s possible you might think of Google Docs as Microsoft Word for the Internet, but it’s far more than that. In addition to word processing and spreadsheets, Google Docs offers templates, collaboration tools, and integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar. You can even share class time remotely with Google Hangouts. In addition to helping with schoolwork, mastering Google Docs will provide an important life skill.

Project Gutenberg

eBooks can be a very cost-effective resource for homeschooling. eBooks tend to be cheaper than hard-copy books, and screen-focused young people often find them easier to read (and it helps that eReading apps include handy features such as bookmarking and highlighting). But Project Gutenberg is a fantastic site that offers many thousands of classic works for free download. You’re unlikely to find the latest bestsellers, but they do have a veritable ocean of works on every subject up to the mid-20th Century or so. Definitely worth a visit.

Cozi

This is an app that will keep your whole family organized. It provides to-do lists and calendars along with integration with Google Calendars, but it is popular among homeschoolers because it’s great for scheduling lessons too. Definitely a useful way of keeping on top of all your at-home learning.

eLearning for Kids

This is a website run by an international not-for-profit that provides heaps of lessons on every subject imaginable, all for free (though they gladly accept tax-deductible donations). Looking for help teaching calculus? How about biology? Or just tips on mental health and bullying? They have it all.

 

Quizlet

It can be hard to prepare for tests and exams — studying is such a struggle for so many people. Enter Quizlet, which helps out with flashcards and other study tools based on data from thousands of studying sessions in a very long list of subjects. Learning efficient study techniques is a crucial learning skill, and Quizlet can help you do it.

 

Prezi

There are plenty of presentation applications nowadays, including Powerpoint and the previously mentioned Google Docs. One app that’s very popular, however, is Prezi. Students love the ease with which they can create funky presentations that look incredibly professional. You’ll be amazed how quickly your child will master it.

This is just a small sampling of the many apps and websites that can lend a helping hand in the hard work of educating youngsters. There are other resources available, but perhaps the best help can be found in speaking with an educational professional. In-home, one-on-one tutors can fill in any gaps that may crop up in homeschooling.

There Are Extroverts, Introverts — and Ambiverts

When we think about our sociability, we tend to think in either/or terms, as we do with so many aspects of human psychology. In other words, the question always seems to boil down to whether we are introverts or extroverts. Well, a new study suggests that most of us are somewhere in between those poles, falling into a lesser-known category: ambiverts.

For young people, this can be an important question. Socialization can be a real challenge, but using binary labels can put people in a box, build unreasonable expectations or just plain increase stress because they might not fit. The truth, however, seems far more interesting — and holds out the possibility that young people may possess strengths they may not see.

According to a recent study, ambiverts can often possess the strengths of both extroverts and introverts. For instance, an ambivert would be able to talk to people as well as listen intently. The study found that ambiverts, contrary to popular perceptions, actually make the best salespeople:

“Grant’s research also disproved the powerful and widely held notion that the best-performing sales people are extroverts. He found that ambiverts’ greater social flexibility enabled them to outsell all other groups, moving 51 percent more product per hour than the average salesperson. Notice how sales increased as extroversion increased, peaking with those who were just moderately extroverted.”

Research has linked this aspect of sociability with the level of dopamine in the brain. People with higher levels of dopamine are receiving a higher degree of neurological stimulation, so they tend to be introverts — being less social helps them reduce the level of stimulation they receive. Extroverts on the other hand are just the opposite: with less dopamine in their brains, being under-stimulated leads to boredom and isolation.

The vast majority of people, however — around two-thirds of the population, according to the above-referenced study — do not fall into the either/or category. They can be outgoing or not, depending on the situation and their own state of mind.

So if you’ve always found you don’t quite fit either of the introvert/extrovert labels, you might simply occupy a different, more moderate point on the sociability spectrum.

More information on ambiverts can be found here

The Pros and Cons of Smartphones in the Classroom

When you stop and think about it, smartphones are extraordinary devices. They offer multiple forms of communication — voice, text and video — as well as a connection to the Internet, access to audio and video streaming, satellite navigation and a veritable galaxy of apps. It’s no wonder they’ve taken society by storm, especially the world of young people. But are they a bit too powerful? Too dangerous? Too distracting? Should they be banned from classrooms, or embraced as learning tools? Let’s look at some pros and cons:

 

Pros:

Instant access for parents

Any teacher can tell you that parents are a major source of calls and texts in the classroom. Some are simple workaday messages like coordinating after-school pickups, while others are of greater importance, concerning family emergencies. Many parents deeply appreciate being able to reach their kids when necessary.

 

Quick answers

Let’s face it, phones are great for research. They provide ready access not only to the World Wide Web but countless research databases and up-to-date news services. Instead of sitting in their seats not knowing answers to questions, students can find their own answers, bringing a bit of student-centered learning to the classroom.

 

In-class assignments

We’ve now reached the point where real work is being performed on cell phones, up to and including feature films and bestselling novels. Students can easily write assignments, shoot and edit photos, audio and video, and craft presentations, then share their work with the whole class via projector or Smartboard. Properly employed, today’s phones can be powerful tools for learning.

 

Social learning

The standard learning model is not the best for everyone. There are many reasons why a student might be unwilling or unable to speak up in the classroom, including learning exceptionalities and just plain shyness. Social media-based learning models offer a route for broader participation and sharing. Indeed the familiarity most young people have with social media can reduce stress associated with learning.

 

Cons:

Safety of digital devices

Officially, smartphones pose no medical risk to people who use them. However, questions remain about the methods used in dismissing those risks, so the matter, to many people, is far from settled. Even if there is no risk, the fears many parents have can make the use of smartphones in the classroom a controversial choice.

 

Inappropriate content

It can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to control what students view on their phones. We all know that a vast amount of inappropriate content is freely available, and this includes content that is harmful but gets less media coverage — for instance teen gambling is a serious problem. Schools frequently implement firewalls to block such content but tech-savvy students routinely find ways around these measures.

 

Inappropriate contact and cyberbullying

The digital world can be dangerous. Not only are there predators, but students can sometimes be convinced to share compromising imagery. At the same time, some youngsters find themselves the targets of cyberbullying. Using phones in the classroom can inadvertently expose young people to these dangers — the opposite of the goals of educators, who are traditionally devoted to the safety of their students.

 

Distraction from schoolwork

Phones are fun. They’re fun. If adults can have trouble tearing their eyes away from the little things, then so can young people. Classrooms are supposed to be devoted to learning, and if students are using their phones for non-educational purposes, well, the whole endeavor is just a waste of everyone’s time.

The College Essay That Conquered the Ivy League

Applying for college is a long, difficult, even painful process. Young people work so hard to paint themselves as desirable candidates for universities that are all but guaranteed to receive far more applicants than than they can ever hope to approve. Indeed some schools only accept fewer than 10% of qualified applicants. This is certainly the case in the fabled Ivy League, the elite assembly of schools with an admissions process so notoriously difficult as to be effectively out of reach for most young people. Well, wait a minute! Maybe that’s not true. One amazing teen in the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut, managed to gain acceptance to the entire Ivy League — plus Stanford and UC Berkeley. The key to her achievement? A dynamite admission essay.

Cassandra Hsiao is a first-generation immigrant to America of Malaysian/Taiwanese heritage. As a recent arrival, she has struggled to fit in. She has had to learn a new language, of course, and this involves not just vocabulary and grammar but cultural context and slang, which can be so very difficult to grasp. There is also the effort required to adapt to new ways of performing basic tasks we so often take for granted, ranging from banking to driving to doing well in school. And if all this wasn’t enough there is the contrast between daily life out in the world and daily life at home, where older cultural and linguistic norms often stick around for years.

This struggle, and the resulting feelings of alienation, served as the topic of Ms. Hsiao’s admissions essay:

“We were both crying now. My mother asked me to teach her proper English so old white ladies at Target wouldn’t laugh at her pronunciation. It has not been easy. There is a measure of guilt when I sew her letters together. Long vowels, double consonants — I am still learning myself. Sometimes I let the brokenness slide to spare her pride but perhaps I have hurt her more to spare mine.”

Ms. Hsiao really knocked the socks off the admissions officers who read it. Worth noting, however, is the fact that Hsiao is no ordinary high school student. Though still only seventeen years old, she is a practicing entertainment journalist, and has interviewed movie stars. In other words there’s more to her applications than just the essay.

The bottom line, however, is that her applications were accepted on their merits — she had no strings to pull. This is worth considering for ambitious students who might be too intimidated to aim for the top. The truth is, you never know what might happen.

Tutor Doctor Announces Finalists for Tutor of the Year!

Every year, Tutor Doctor recognizes the very best among the many thousands of tutors we employ worldwide. Being named Tutor of the Year is an honor given to those who display extraordinary dedication, passion and sacrifice — those who go the extra mile for their students. This year we received over 450 nominations from 10 countries and through public voting narrowed that down to our 5 finalists. And so, without further ado, let’s meet this year’s finalists!

 

Sara Wade, Florida, USA

Sara is someone who makes an immediate impression. She exudes professionalism and empathy, leaving parents in no doubt that she cares deeply about her work and her students. She has especially won praise from parents of students with learning exceptionalities, helping them find a course of learning full of possibilities where previously there had been so much stress.

Click here to see the full nomination

 

Lara Fincken, Reading, UK

Lara is a gifted tutor who has consistently delivered amazing results. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the kind of student with whom she finds the greatest success. Students living in poverty, or who have survived trauma and abuse often face severe struggles in school, but Lara has the experience required to help these kids. “In my play therapy work I aim to support children in their emotional journey to help them access their education more readily.” Her many successes speak for themselves.

Click here to see the full nomination

 

Cami Smith, Florida, USA

Love. That is the word that kept coming up when parents talked about Cami. The day-to-day work of a tutor demands a lot from all our professionals, but Cami brings something extra to the table. Her students immediately feel the kind of powerful connection that one only experiences when one is under the care of someone who truly cares. Said one parent, “I am very thankful for Tutor Dr. and especially proud to call Cami our friend. I give the highest marks to both Tutor Doctor and our Cami. She is much more than just a tutor.”

Click here to see the full nomination

 

Diana Tran, Ontario, Canada

Diana’s students — and the parents of those students — know full well how dedicated Diana is to helping them achieve new levels of academic success. Her tireless efforts have earned her great praise. Indeed she has earned strong support and an impressive reputation throughout her local community. The area where Diana lives has a great many immigrants whose children often struggle to adjust to a new school, a new culture and a new language. She has shown a particular talent for helping these families overcome these difficulties — a task requiring a level of patience and devotion that can be overwhelming.

Click here to see the full nomination

Tammy Turner, Texas, USA

Tammy works hard for her students, earning praise from grateful students and parents. Being a tutor can indeed be hard work. When Tammy is assigned to a student, it’s probably because that student is struggling. This can mean reduced academic performance but it almost always means stress, fear and lowered self-esteem. In these conditions, it takes a tutor who is calm, caring and professional to help that student turn struggle into success, and insecurity into confidence. Tammy fully embodies all these skills and values.

Click here to see the full nomination

Autism: Toward a Deeper Understanding

Autism and autism awareness are important topics, in society at large as well as within educational circles. However a great many people may have an incomplete or outdated understanding of what autism is, where it comes from and what it means for parents, teachers and the community. So without further ado let’s jump in.

 

What exactly is autism?

 

Previously, autism was perceived as a collection of vaguely-connected disorders, or as varying points on a spectrum. Nowadays, however, it’s viewed quite differently. A diagnosis of autism includes three key disorders:

 

  • Impairments in social interaction

  • Impairments in communication

  • Restricted interests and repetitive behavior

 

Those are the three characteristics that lead to a diagnosis of autism. The thing is, it’s now known that huge differences can exist between children with autism, and that is chalked up to the fact that it affects people in unique ways. It can be mild or intense, or include any number of a basket of behaviors or symptoms that can range from picky eating to sensory abnormalities to unusual abilities, such as superior memorization and perception. In other words, the effects of autism depend heavily on the individual.

What causes autism?

The days of “we have no idea” are over, but there is still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to specifics. For instance, there is definitely a genetic component, but the exact mechanism is unknown. There is no “autism gene,” so it is not inherited. It seems likely that certain genetic changes can happen in utero, caused by external influences such as the mother getting a serious infection or doing drugs while pregnant, and these genetic changes can affect brain development. Mothers who have been exposed to serious air pollution run a higher risk of having kids with autism, but researchers have been unable to find a direct, specific cause-and-effect link between any one cause and the creation of autism.

It’s currently believed that autism is the result of problems with neurological development very early on, soon after conception. It seems to be the result of a confluence of events that involve external factors, stress in the womb and genetic risk factors. There is no single source of prevention, but it appears that prioritizing maternal health can reduce the odds of the development of autism.
 

How soon can autism be diagnosed?

In most cases, parents begin to notice unusual behavior in toddlerhood, but sometimes the symptoms are spotted even earlier. Diagnosis is based entirely on behavior; there is no blood test or scan that can find it. We now know that the sooner intervention is carried out, the better the outcome. However at present there is no “cure” for autism. Sadly, treatment is likely to be very expensive.

What does the future hold for autism?

Young people with autism have long struggled with acceptance in society. Their difficulties in socializing make emotional connections harder to achieve, which makes it easier for them to be dismissed, ignored or judged. The good news is, acceptance is growing as awareness increases. There may yet come a day when autism is viewed as just another exceptionality.

Supreme Court Rules on Students With Disabilities

In a previous blog post, we described the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which explored the degree to which school boards are responsible for accommodating students with serious disabilities.As related in that blog post:The case …

Homeschoolers Still Fighting for Acceptance

Homeschooling is a fairly well-established phenomenon. At present, over 1.5 million students are educated at home, which is double the number estimated in the late 1990s. These youngsters account for around 3.5% of America’s students, a rate tha…

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