Monthly Archives: September 2012

Education Nation Summit 2012: Day 2

Back for Day 2 of NBC News’ Education Nation Summit 2012, the final day of this gathering of thought leaders seeking ways to solve the complex and varied issues of American education. More highlights from today’s speakers and panelists:

  • Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis talked about the importance of making sure students are coming out of school well prepared for the jobs that are available. She emphasized the importance of students being skilled in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses, as this is where the jobs are. If students are weak in any of these areas, they should not give up, but get tutoring. (A recurring theme of the entire summit is that we have to remind students that difficult work can and should be conquered with assistance and persistence.)  Solis believes that students should be encouraged by their teachers to focus on the creative and fun aspects of the STEM curriculum. For example, they use smart phones and remotes, but through STEM courses they can understand how and why these devices work. They play complex video games, but don’t they want to know how to create them? For older students (and parents as well) who want to know what career options they may have with their current skills, the Department of Labor offers the website
  • A panel discussion on teaching bilingual children highlighted the science behind early childhood learning. Research reveals that children who listen to two languages from infancy have better brain development than those who just hear one language. As the brain toggles back and forth between two languages, the brain fiber tracks developed result in better executive functioning (the ability to find alternative solutions when the first one won’t work). The discussion then broadened into a more general discussion of the importance of very early childhood education, another theme of this summit. In discussing the importance of focusing on a child’s brain development and education from birth, Patricia Kuhl, Co-Director of The University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, cautioned that we “should not waste the first 1000 days of a child’s life”, as this is the time for critical brain growth and development.   All the panelists agreed that parental involvement in very early childhood education was key. Richard J. Noriega, President and CEO of Avance, a highly respected parenting/early childhood education program which provides innovative education and family support services to predominantly Hispanic families in low-income, at-risk communities, put it simply and clearly: “The parent is the child’s first teacher; the house is the first classroom.” The panelists also agreed that it takes consistent and hard work to follow the best practices to ensure early strong brain development. Noriega asked, “The science is there..Are we going to have the grit to do what it takes for our children?”
  • A panel about the turnaround success of Worcester Technical High School in Worcester, Mass., showed how a community and its business leaders rallied around a failing school and turned it into a high performing school with a 96 percent graduation rate. The school, which provides students with valuable vocational training as well as rigorous coursework, now resides in a 90 million dollar building with state of the art training facilities. This panel highlighted the importance of vocational training in providing workers ready for today’s marketplace. Principal Sheila Harrity noted that the “3 R”s of education, Reading, “Riting, and “Rithmatic were no longer the guideposts; her school follows the “4 R’s of education: Rigor, Relevance, Relationships, and Responsibility”.  (After two days around these thought leaders, one thing is clear: they all love buzz phrases. But I think this one is a keeper.)
  • President Obama and Governor Romney both visited Education Nation Summit today; President Obama in a pre-taped video interview, and Governor Romney in person. Check out their interviews hereon the Education Nation website.

GCP Takeaway:  After a day and a half of exhaustive examination of the state of American education, I can make the following observations:

Focus on Very Early Education is Key. Parents of infants and very young children need to be doing everything they can to help strengthen and develop their babies and toddlers’ brains. As one panelist said, the science is there. And there is a window of opportunity to improve babies’ brain development, which parents can miss if they are not paying attention. Parents, this doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking hour trying to make your baby smarter. It does mean you’ve got to check out the latest research and incorporate some of these tips and exercises into your routine. It also means that you should incorporate some kind of educational component into your toddler’s daily activities. If he is with a sitter or in day care during the day make sure the people taking care of your child are incorporating educational play into his daily routine. More details and tips on how to do all of this in an upcoming post.

Get Smart on Common Core: 45 states have adopted the Common Core standards to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. The Common Core State Standards are designed to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. Throughout this summit, teachers talked about their excitement about having these standards to follow and emphasized the importance of teacher training to ensure that they are taught well. Check out the Common Core standards here, at

Education is local; Education Reform Leadership is Local: In an early GCP post I lamented the fact that when national educational reform leaders took the stage, there were rarely any African American faces in the group. This summit has helped me to realize that while this still may be true, it is not quite as relevant as I initially thought. This is because actual educational reform is happening in a “bottom up” versus “top down” manner. People of all hues are resolving formerly intractable educational issues locally and trying to figure out how to scale up these successes, rather than looking to national leaders to define and solve big picture problems. This summit demonstrates that it is not so much the new big ideas that will bring about a better educated America, but the growth and implementation of small but important ideas and programs being tested out in communities across the nation.

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Education Nation Summit 2012: Day 1

I spent most of today at NBC News’ Education Nation 2012 Summit, which brought together educators, students, parents, elected officials, and industry and thought leaders for a solutions-focused conversation about the state of American education. Heard lots of thought-provoking and inspirational conversation about what is being done and what can be done to help our nation’s children. Here are a few highlights:

  • In a discussion of “True Grit: Can You Teach Character?” panelists discussed the latest research on how teaching children grit and perseverance can help them achieve. Carol Dweck, noted psychologist and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, talked about how constantly praising children’s intelligence and talents can sabotage their intellectual growth. She suggests that parents and teachers praise children’s effort and resilience instead, and teach them to have a “growth mindset”, in which they believe that continued effort is the way they will learn. Angela Lee Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania professor, spoke about the need to teach children that intelligence is a function of effort, and that deliberate and persistent practice– “effortful practice”–can yield better performance.
  • In “Play to Learn: Teaching Tools for the Digital Era”, Zoran Popovic, director of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington, talked about his work with creating educational video games. His focus is on capturing the engagement which occurs when children play video games and replicating it in an academic setting. Since 77 percent of high school students and almost 100 percent of college students play video games, he posits, why not try to understand and use what gaming teaches? He is using video game techniques and technology to create inspired learners.
  • A panel discussion of the importance of early literacy revealed sobering statistics: 55% of American third grade children from middle and upper income families don’t meet the national threshold of reading standards, and 83% of third grade children from lower income families don’t meet these standards. Children who don’t read well independently by the third grade are unlikely to do well in high school. The panelists agreed that every effort should be made by teachers and parents to assist children having trouble with reading in the early grades, using every possible means necessary, including tutors.
  • The concept of “blended learning environments”–students being instructed in the classroom and online–is growing in popularity nationwide. Teachers should not fear being replaced by technology, one panelist suggested, because technology is a tool for the teacher to do more strategic instruction. The personalized learning that technology offers is increasingly being considered as an important tool for future achievement. Not enough discussion of how the children on the other side of the digital divide will fare.
  • The critical importance of very early childhood education, the education of children in their first five years, was discussed in another panel. Studies show that critical brain development takes place in those first five years, and much can be done by parents and teachers to encourage and enhance this development. The importance of parental activity during this stage is key.

Lots of food for thought and information for more detailed posts. More to come from tomorrow’s sessions, so stay tuned.


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Julian Merchant, Champion Fencer

Have to pass along this inspirational story of Julian Merchant, a New Rochelle, NY high school sophomore who is making his mark on the world of fencing. Read it here, and share with your sons. Maybe they’ll want to give fencing a try!

Kudos to Julian and the Merchant family, and thanks to Roy Johnson for bringing this story to GCP‘s attention!

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Making a Scandal a Teachable Moment

As you have probably heard, as many as 125 Harvard University students, including several varsity athletes, are alleged to have cheated on a take-home final exam in a Government course last semester. While the investigation is still underway, and no students have been sanctioned, some athletes who might be involved in the scandal are taking a leave of absence in order to possibly preserve their playing eligibility. Two senior captains of the basketball team have taken leaves for the 2012-2013 school year.

While Harvard’s president has been quick to point out that athletes should not be singled out for blame in this scandal (as it involves many different student groups), thus far the athletes have gotten much of the attention. As the NY Times reported a few days ago, at the recent Harvard football season opener many were as interested in the scandal as they were in the score. Reporters covering the game noted that several football players were not in uniform, and speculated as to whether they had been implicated in the scandal. (For the football fans among us, Harvard defeated the University of San Diego in their first time matchup, 28-13.)

This cheating scandal gives us a valuable opportunity to talk with our sons about the importance of doing the right thing, regardless of how easy or tempting it may be to follow others down the wrong path. How a lapse in judgment, regardless of how minor it may seem at the time, can have major consequences. As Harvard football coach Tim Murphy eloquently put it in a post-game interview,

I think it’s important as parents and educators that we have to reinforce that crucial life lesson, that inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated. Because down the road, later in life, those consequences can be terminal. They can cost you a marriage. They can cost you a career.

Talk to your school-aged boys about the critical importance of making sound decisions in the context of this scandal. Hopefully they’ll listen and learn.

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A GCP Dad Asks: Are Video Games OK for Young Kids?

Today’s post comes from Oliver C. Sutton III, father of two young boys and a loyal GCP reader. Great to have a GCP Dad’s point of view!

Over the past several months there have been a number of posts here at GCP that I have found enlightening, entertaining and not quite useful to me yet. You see, I am the proud father of two young boys. The oldest is four (going on 14) and the youngest is one and one-half.

A reference in a recent GCP post about video games got me to thinking: Is it ok for young kids to play video games? I was born in the ‘70s. I was one of the lucky kids to have an Atari (Thanks Mom and Dad). I grew up watching cartoons Saturday mornings, then Kung-Fu movies, then, if it wasn’t nice enough to go outside, I booted up the Atari and went to work zapping Space Invaders, navigating a highway for Frogger or avoiding all sorts of Pitfalls. All these years later, you can often find me on the weekends in front of a screen with a controller in my hand.

There have been loads of articles about video games, their effects on people and more importantly, on kids. I played video games growing up; I turned out pretty well (although perhaps my wife might want to weigh in here). Some of you may be wondering why I still play video games. There are loads of reasons; I’m competitive, I’m a bit of a nerd, I’m still a kid at heart and it’s how I like to unwind and clear my mind. There’s nothing like pressing a few buttons and then watching some bad guys go up in smoke. I also enjoy the feeling of tossing a Hail Mary on 2nd down just because you have that option. But seriously, I just enjoy the mental down time some games provide. Some of the games have some pretty tough puzzles to solve and that can be fun too.

But back to the question: is it OK for kids to be playing video games? I say yes. This is not an overwhelming endorsement for kids playing any video game they want; I feel wholeheartedly that there should be limits on what they can play, when they can play and with whom they can play. Like Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi’, I will control my children’s video game interaction with an iron fist.

Take my oldest. He’s at the age where he recognizes video games on any number of platforms, whether it’s a Smartphone, tablet, console or PC. If he sees you playing a game or even just using your phone, he’ll ease over to you, watch for about 15 seconds then ask if he can play ‘Angry Birds’. I do not approve of this particular type of game play, especially on my phone. I’ll let him play a Memory game on my phone, which he seems to enjoy. You see, if I allow my kid(s) to play video games at this age, they will be games with some sort of learning or problem solving component. I know what you are saying (if you know anything about popular video games): ‘But Angry Birds is a problem solving game.” And you are right, but it’s a bit too much for my 4-year-old. He doesn’t get the challenge/reward part of it just yet.

Nor do I let my sons watch me play video games. My video games are not for them. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has a rating system for a reason and I intend to follow it as best I can. I will not let my kids watch me play a First Person Shooter (FPS) like Call of Duty (CoD) or Black Ops (BO). I will not let them watch me play an excessively violent video game like the God of War (GoW), Darksiders or the Dead Space series. They can watch me play racing games and of course they can watch me play Madden. Go Big Blue! Parents, if you aren’t up on the lingo, rest easy. In my next post I’ll try to keep you up to date on some of the popular jargon.

I do let my oldest use the LeapPad to play games. Usually when we are taking a long trip or I need 30 minutes or so to get something else done. ‘What’s a Leap Pad?” you may ask. Check it out here. It’s a great resource. You can download educational and interactive games, short video clips of some of your kids’ favorite characters and even take videos with it!

Video games are an intrinsic part of our society. Whether you play them or not, whether you let your kids play them or not, video games are here to stay and their role in society will likely continue to grow. For example, did you know that the pilot of your plane most likely learned to fly by playing flight simulators? Check out a flight simulator here. Did you know that some surgeons are training on simulators? See this video of surgery simulator here. And those guys that put the rover Curiosity on Mars, did you know they practiced with space training simulators? Check out their space training here. (Only one of these examples isn’t serious, I’ll let you figure out which one.)

I do believe video games have a place in our homes. They can be used to help get a child ready for school by working on basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills or even help develop problem solving skills. They can inspire your sons and daughters to dream about new and exciting worlds, which may spark their interest in the sciences.

GCP readers, what do you think? Are videos games something that we should embrace as a potential learning tool, or avoided? How do you monitor your child’s video play? If you play videos, do you let your children watch?


Filed under Entertainment, Guest Bloggers, Parents, Sports

Raising Financially Savvy Kids

How do you talk to your sons and daughters about spending and saving money? Teaching our children financial responsibility is one of the most important and beneficial things parents can do.’s article “Raising Financially Savvy Kids”, found here, features helpful teaching tips from Mary Hunt’s recently released book, “Raising Financially Confident Kids”. Hunt recommends starting financial conversations early, well before your children are able to handle money on their own. This article is worth reading; even if you learn nothing new it will remind you of ways to stay focused on this issue.

Financial literacy is more than just helping children save money for a new toy or for the collection plate. Our kids need to grow up understanding the power of investing, the use/abuse of credit, and generally how to make sound economic decisions. We at GCP want to develop a broader financial literacy lesson plan for our readers to follow, and we’ll be bringing you advice from people who can help.

We need your help too. Have any tips on or questions about talking to your children about money matters? Let’s hear them!

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Filed under Ages 13-15, Ages 16-18, Ages 8-12, Math

Check Out These Back-to-School Parenting Websites

As your sons (and daughters) head back to school, take a few minutes to look at these sites which are filled with interesting and useful information especially designed for parents. Bookmark the ones you like, and go back to them when you are looking for ways to inspire and help your student. Happy Browsing!

FunBrain for Parents

Educational games are the highlight of this site. The games cover all interest areas and target specific age levels. There are “parent-kid challenges,” “homework relief,” and “books on the run” links. You will also find a link to a family education newsletter that helps with school, life, entertainment, and special needs issues.

PBS For Parents

This site contains guides on a variety of topics including child development, curriculum connections, and technology for kids. There are also games, stories, and guides to the TV programs offered by PBS.

Scholastic for Parents

Here you will find age appropriate guides for helping your child learn to love reading. It also contains resources for helping your child with math, technology and other subjects.

US Department of Education Parent and Family Engagement Website

This new Web page for parents and families has been added to the U.S. Department of Education’s website. It includes links to helpful sites such as “Back to School Tips for Parents” and “5 Ways to Help Your Child Prevent Bullying This School Year”. provides activities, worksheets, videos and advice to give parents information and ideas to help kids from kindergarten through high school reach their full potential.

Get Ready to Read!

Get Ready to Read! is designed to support educators, parents, and young children in the development of early literacy skills in the years before kindergarten.

Helping Your Child Learn Math

The U.S. Department of Education has helped design this site for parents of children aged 5-13.

The Parents Zone: Resources for Parents at Internet4Classrooms

This site links parents to sites for a variety of educational issues, including
Homework Help, Reading Help, Mathematics Help, Parental Involvement at School, and Time Management Help.

How Stuff Works

This is a great site to help you answer questions from even your most curious son or daughter. It examines how things work including: how engines work, how electronics works, how things work around the house, how things work in public, how food works, how your body works, how computers work, and much more.

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Teach Your Children to Vote!!

As I watch the Democratic National Convention this evening, I can’t help but think about the importance of encouraging our 18 year old sons and daughters to register to vote, and to make sure that they vote in the upcoming elections.

We must make sure our children know the history of our struggles to obtain the right to vote, the continuing efforts to restrict these rights, and most importantly, the critical importance of exercising this right in November. It is tempting for many young people to turn away from the bickering, finger-pointing, name calling and stunt casting that often overshadows the discussion of any substantive issues during this campaign. Hard to blame them, when Clint Eastwood’s incoherent chat with an empty chair at the Republican National convention dominates the news cycle. But we must encourage them to sift through the silliness and focus on understanding the issues at stake, determine where each candidate stands on these issues, and develop their own political perspective. We must remind them that they have an important role in determining who will run the country for the next four years, a role too important to ignore or decline.

Even if your sons and daughters aren’t anywhere close to the voting age, take this opportunity to talk with them, in a way that makes sense for their ages, about this election and the importance of voting. Take them into the booths with you in November, and let them watch you pull the levers or push the buttons. It’s a thrilling introduction to a critical process.

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Filed under Ages 16-18, College Bound Students, Parents