Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Science of Sports

Do you have a middle schooler who loves sports and is not so crazy about science? Have him take a look at these videos which could make learning science more fun.

“Science of NFL Football” on, found here, is a 10-part video series funded by the National Science Foundation and produced in partnership with the National Football League. “Science of NFL Football” teaches a variety of scientific concepts using examples from professional football. The videos feature footage and contributions from NFL football players and NSF scientists on a variety of topics including Newton’s laws of motion, vectors, projectile motion and parabolas, torque and center of mass, nutrition and health and the Pythagorean theorem. The videos are fun to watch, make scientific concepts easier to understand, and encourage children to think about the uses of science in everyday life.

“Sports Science”, an award-winning series aired on ESPN, uses the principles of momentum and friction and the laws of gravity to uncover sports myths and mysteries. If your son can’t easily watch the shows on TV, the Sports Science website, found here, has loads of video from the shows. Rather than use examples from the sports world to teach specific concepts, “Sports Science” focuses more on running superior athletes through series of tests to try to understand the science behind their abilities. Not as instructional, but gives viewers fun ways to think about the practical applications of scientific principles.

Tell your sports-loving son to check out these videos. He is likely to learn a few things, and he may better appreciate the wonderful world of science!!

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Filed under Academics, Sports

SEO Scholars Program: Closing the Achievement Gap

A few days ago, GCP attended the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) 2012 Annual Awards Dinner in New York City. Founded in 1963, SEO began as a privately funded mentoring program designed to help underserved high school students get accepted to college. In 2005, SEO determined that more than mentoring was needed to ensure that students would not only gain admission to college but be academically prepared to thrive there. They designed a four-year after school and Saturday curriculum which students begin in the 9th grade and continue throughout high school. These students get college admissions and financial aid guidance as they near the end of high school, and continue to receive academic, social and emotional support until they graduate from college. Over 1,000 high school freshmen applied last year for one of about 120 spots in the SEO Scholars program. Once in, all expenses, including books and transit fare, are covered by the program.

Rather than focus on advancing the very high achievers or rescuing the very low achievers, SEO targets the students in the middle of the pack. SEO President William Goodloe explained in a recent USA Today article about SEO found here: “the ones in the middle, who just attend school every day…they’re completely neglected. That’s who we serve; the ones who people think are going to be OK, but they’re really not going to be OK”. Last year SEO sent 100% of their SEO Scholars to four-year colleges.

An independent research organization recently concluded that the SEO Scholars Program is closing the achievement gap by enabling their scholars to get better grades and higher SAT scores in high school, and get into better colleges. (“Preparing for College Success: Evaluation of the Educational Impact of the SEO Scholars Program”, a report prepared by Policy Studies Associates.) This is quite impressive, but as the SEO leaders lamented that evening, since their resources limit them to help only 120 out of the 1000 who apply each year, they are reaching precious few of the many students who need their help.

Most impressive that evening were the group of graduating SEO scholars who stood on stage and talked about how the program had changed their lives. Each one talked about the importance of giving back to their families and community in recognition of having been given so much through the program. So inspiring to see what a difference an educational opportunity can make.

SEO sponsors additional programs such as SEO Career, which recruits, trains and mentors college students of color and places them in internships in banking, corporate finance, and corporate law, and SEO ALternative Investments, which trains and mentors young professionals in the alternative investments sector. You can learn more about all of SEO’s good work at its website,

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 8-12, Resources

Boy Trouble

Today’s NY Daily News features a piece by Rishawn Biddle, author and editor of online education news magazine Dropout Nation, and Richard Whitmire, an author of books about educating boys. Biddle and Whitmire use the presidential campaigns’ very public debate about who has done more to help women to suggest that the candidates should be more worried about helping boys. Most significantly, this article reminds us that the crisis of underachieving boys is a national one, which cuts across all racial and economic lines.

It’s boys who are in trouble
By Rishawn Biddle And Richard Whitmire

We have no way of knowing who will win the “war on women” political debate now topping broadcasts and newspaper pages. But with great certainty, we can identify the losers in this battle: boys.
Contrary to what you hear in the political campaign broadsides, females are actually doing pretty well. In our elementary, middle and high schools, they earn the best grades, win most of the academic prizes, get suspended less and graduate at very high rates. That success helps explain why women currently dominate higher education, with many college campuses spilling over the 60% female threshold.
Workforce trends favoring women continue to rain down, with record numbers of women in the workforce. Well-educated women living in large cities out-earn their male counterparts. Their biggest challenge: finding equally educated males to marry.
But that’s not what you’ll hear from either President Obama or Mitt Romney.
Earlier this month, the White House released a “special report” on women in the economy, which promoted “an economy that’s built to last for America’s women.”
Most Presidents try to keep their children out of the public debate, but in this case, Obama made an exception: “As a father, one of the highlights of my day is asking my daughters about theirs. Their hopes and their futures are what drive me every day I step into the Oval Office.”
Obama, of all people, knows that boys, not girls (especially his two daughters attending the elite Sidwell Friends School) are the ones in trouble. There is no way he is unaware of the alarming social indicators we see among African-American males.
But we should not be surprised by the President’s opportunism. Obama won the White House with 8 million more female votes than male votes. If he can’t re-create that same gender vote cushion, he’s toast.
As for Romney, his latest push is to claim most of the jobs lost during the Obama years were female-held positions. So? Not only is workforce participation by females pushing all-time highs, but the striking number of well-educated females hovering just outside the labor market means that number may go even higher.
By contrast, male employment rates among those 25-and-older have been in steady decline.
Again, a politician has his reasons for glossing over the more important gender trends. Romney’s numbers among female voters look abysmal, especially among college-educated white women.
Here’s why we need politicians to get past the pandering and posturing and propose solutions for the group truly in trouble: Boys account for three out of every five high school students who drop out of school. Boys make up 67% of the 5.8 million kids relegated to special education programs. The likelihood of any boy in special education graduating by age 21 is bleak.
Boys, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic class, are also more likely to struggle in reading. Forty percent of Asian fourth-grade boys who qualified for free or reduced lunch were functionally illiterate versus 32% of their female peers, while 37% of fourth-grade black boys who didn’t qualify for free or reduced lunch read at “below basic” proficiency, versus 26% of their female peers.
Young male high school dropouts are at least five times as likely to land in prison by adulthood than peers who graduate, according to Princeton University researcher Bruce Western, in part because boys who struggle in reading in first grade begin acting out and become discipline problems. They are also less likely to marry by the time they reach middle age because women with higher earnings don’t consider them marriage material. They are also more likely to have children out of wedlock, perpetuating the social ills that plague low-income black, white and Latino communities.
Educational and political leaders have long known the consequences of these boy troubles, yet have done little to address illiteracy and the other underlying factors.
Both Obama and Romney have put forth visions of a better educated, more competitive America. As long as the “war on women” dominates the political discourse — and the battle for the future of boys is ignored — those visions will remain on hold.

* * * *

We know the problems. We need to make sure we are part of the solutions. We at GCP are determined to identify ways parents can help our boys and encourage us all to use them.

Thanks to Jemina Bernard for the heads up on this article.



Filed under Books

A Teacher’s Perspective on Parent-Teacher Clashes

Yesterday’s New York Times “Motherlode Blog”, found here, featured advice from a middle school teacher on how parents can best and most productively interact with teachers when problems arise. The teacher, who is also the mother of two boys, acknowledges that as much as she dreads facing angry parents with issues, she has had her moments as an angry parent with teacher issues as well. Having been on both sides of the battleground, she shares her rules of parent-teacher engagement.

This is a worthwhile quick read from someone with a valuable perspective. While none of her advice is groundbreaking, her tips are all valid and worth hearing, even if we have heard them before. When we are outraged with a teacher’s behavior, and are about to make our next move loaded for bear, it is good to remember that it is not about us against them, but about us working with them towards the common goal of a successful educational experience for our children.

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Filed under Academics, Parents

The Importance of Being Disconnected

While walking down a busy city street a few days ago, I overheard a mother and her young teen son fussing with each other. The son was complaining that his mom had been on her phone rather than watching him play during a recent game. The mom barked, “Of course I was watching! I saw that every time they threw the ball at you, you couldn’t catch it. Why couldn’t you catch the ball?” Even as I cringed at this mother’s remark, I knew that her response was more a defensive reaction to his criticism about the phone rather than a desire to belittle her son’s athletic ability. I shook my head at her insensitivity, but I have to admit that her tone sounded familiar, as I too have been defensive about this issue on more than one occasion.

“Mommy, get off the phone! Stop checking your blackberry!” I cannot be the only person who regularly hears this from a middle schooler. (My college sophomore and high school junior don’t complain as much, since texting is our primary mode of communication.) In our technology filled universe, where you have the freedom to be anywhere but everyone you know is always able to reach you, it can be pretty tough to remember to turn off the outside world when it is time to focus on your children. I see examples of this everywhere: mothers pushing strollers down the street chatting on the phone rather than talking to their toddlers, families out to dinner bringing the conversation to a dead halt while they check their buzzing devices, and yes, parents at sporting events with their eyes flickering between the action on the court and on their small screens. It is so tempting to be able to accomplish two or more things at once. But is it really a better way to operate?

Recent studies and articles suggest multitasking is not the best use of brain power. A study conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry found that excessive use of technology reduced user’s intelligence. According to this study conducted for Hewlett-Packard, people distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point drop in their IQ – more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana. (Really bad news for marijuana smokers who multitask.) A Harvard associate professor of Psychiatry recently noted in an article on the Harvard Business Review’s blog found here that multitaskers are more prone to making mistakes, more likely to miss important information and cues, and less likely to retain information in working memory, which impairs problem solving and creativity. Studies by Gloria Mark, an “interruption scientist” at the University of California, show that when people are frequently diverted from one task to another, they work faster, but produce less and report significantly higher stress levels, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.

Although the effects of parents excessively multitasking around their children have not been widely studied, experts suggest that this behavior could have a negative impact. Manhattan speech pathologist Shari Harpaz suggests in a piece found here that toddler’s parents who are too focused on their devices can interfere with their children’s language development. Learning social language requires stimulation and the back-and-forth of talking to someone, most often a parent, she notes, and that happens far less often when mom or dad stays on the phone while pushing the stroller. Child psychiatrist Michael Brody, a professor at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, laments the fact that parents’ cell phone use can prevent them from keeping up with what’s going on in a child’s life. “Five years ago, parents would bring a child to see me, and I’d know at least they had spent 15 to 20 minutes together in the car. It’s a great opportunity to talk to a kid,” said Brody, who chairs the television and media committee of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “When you drive through the streets [now], everyone is talking on the phone.” We may complain that our teenagers are incessantly texting or talking on the cell phone, but can you blame them if we are always checking email as well?

OK, so a case can be made that our obsession with staying connected may be diminishing our parenting skills. What can we do about it? Well, there is an obvious answer: make a conscious effort to put the phone away when we are spending time with our children. Or at least vow to spend a certain period of time with your children smartphone free. If they are old enough, you can discuss with them what that time should be.

This advice is so much easier to give then to take. Ask my twelve-year-old son, who believes that I am the last person who should advise anyone on curbing smartphone use. I am getting better, however: I now put the phone away while we walk a few blocks together towards his school each morning. I won’t check emails when I chat with him in the evening about how the school day went. He’s asked that I go email and text free on his birthday, and I’ve agreed. In any event, being conscious of the importance of being disconnected is a big first step. I invite you all to take it with me.


Filed under Entertainment, Parents

Portland High School’s Impressive AP Math Class

A recent story from a Portland high school, found here, demonstrates what we already know — young Black men (and women) can excel in challenging subject areas if given the opportunity.

Portland’s De La Salle North Catholic High School, which enrolls students from low-income backgrounds who come to 9th grade an average of 18 months behind academically, has an AP math class where two thirds of its students are Black. Scott Reis, who teaches this class, arrives early, stays late and meticulously plans each lesson to give his students maximum chances of success on the AP exam. “He will literally stay hours after school to help you understand one concept,” student Shawn Yoakum says. The students respond to his dedication and enthusiasm by supporting one another in their efforts to master calculus, and seeking Reis’ help when they need it. Says another student, “We learn to catch on quickly. If you don’t talk in class and try to come to an understanding and make sure your understanding is correct, you’re not going to get it and remember it. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s a lot of work. I don’t let Mr. Reis leave after school until I understand.”

Kudos to Reis and De la Salle for giving their students the encouragement and support to reach for the stars academically. The valuable lessons those students are getting about how to learn–Talk in class. Come to an understanding, make sure it is correct. Don’t let the teacher leave until you understand.–can and should be passed on to our boys as well. These are keys to success in any academic endeavor.

We need to make sure we give our sons these keys, and stay vigilant to ensure that they are taking the most challenging and high level courses that they can, including AP classes. A recent College Board study revealed that 80% of the Black students taking the PSAT in 2011 whose scores indicated that they could have done well in AP classes never enrolled in them. In the class of 2011 only nine percent of the AP exam takers were Black. It is important that we stay focused on these issues for our boys!!

Thanks to Lisa Davis for this post.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Math

And Now For Some Good News from Urban Academy Prep

For the third year in a row, Chicago’s Urban Academy Prep, an all male charter school in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, will be sending its entire senior class of 85 young men to four-year colleges or universities. As reported in the Huffington Post article found here, the school also boasts an impressive record with respect to how their graduates fare in college. 83 percent of 2010 Urban Prep graduates who went on to college have stayed there, compared to a national average of 35 percent among African-American males. The school has come an impressively long way since its founding in 2006, when only four percent of the school’s freshman class read at grade level when they entered the high school.

How are they consistently achieving such great results? Principal Dennis Lacewell says the keys to the school’s success are high expectations and having a culture that expects students to go to college. “The third line in our creed that we say every day is, ‘We are college bound,’ so from freshman year all the way through senior year, they’re saying that every day,” Lacewell said.

Congrats to Urban Academy Prep for continuing to build a strong legacy of success for its young men.

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Filed under Academics, Ages 0-5, Ages 13-15, Ages 8-12