Back to school, LinkedIn, teaching boys, the humanities

Do you have a child who struggles with organization or motivation in school?  No?  Well, aren’t you lucky. Blogger Andrea Reiser recently suggested 15 questions to ask your student as he or she heads back to school that might help tackle these issues:

1. What are you most excited about in the upcoming school year?

2. What are you least looking forward to?

3 What do you see as your biggest challenge?

4. Are there any non-academic issues that concern you about the upcoming year?

5. What are your academic goals for the year?

6. What are your personal goals for the year?

7. How can we help to support you in achieving your goals?

8. Is there one general theme you need/want to focus on?

9. What will you do differently from last year?

10. Is there anything in particular that will help motivate or focus you?

11. Do you want to make any changes to your study environment that may improve or enhance your study habits?

12. What are your biggest distractions and how can we help you manage them?

13. How are you planning to prioritize your schoolwork and activities and how can we be of help?

14. Is there anything we can do to help you get/stay organized?

15. What’s the best way for us to keep a pulse on your schoolwork?


We will be reporting in some depth on the Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s new, just-released strategic plan, but if you want to read the document in its entirety right away, it is available at svusdca.org/2013/08/svusd-strategic-plan-2013-2016.html...

LinkedIn is gaining in popularity among college students and recent graduates and now is aiming younger. The job-networking site recently dropped its minimum age from 18 to 14 “to allow teens to build their resumes and connect with colleges on the site.” More than 200 universities now have their own “University Pages” so that potential applicants can learn about their offerings. Access for teens will come with restrictions intended to preserve their privacy.


Just in time for back to school, Pinterest is setting aside a special spot for teachers to share creative classroom ideas, lesson plans and innovative classroom decor. My teenage daughter loves Pinterest for its craft and decorating ideas. Pinterest.com...

Congratulations to Gregory Papadin for winning the 2013 essay contest sponsored by the Sonoma Valley Republican Women Federated. Papadin graduated from Sonoma Valley High School last June and will be a freshman at San Diego State this fall. Papadin wrote about “What makes the United States a unique country?” (svrwf.us)


On Dragon Day, last Wednesday, the high school welcomed back all students with a rally and a special welcome day program for incoming freshman. Some events were captured on video by Peter Hansen’s video arts students. Watch here: https://vimeo.com/7293823.


A study focused on teaching boys found eight categories of instruction that were most successful with boys.  They looked at the best practices in schools of varying size, both private and public, that enroll a wide range of boys of disparate races and income levels.

• Lessons that result in an end product – a booklet, a catapult, a poem or a comic strip, for example.

• Lessons that are structured as competitive games.

• Lessons requiring motor activity.

• Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.

• Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.

• Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.

• Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.

• Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.

A long article about these findings and how our boys tend to be penalized for their classroom behavior ran in The Atlantic this summer.


I can’t get Ken Robinson’s book, “Finding Your Element,” out of my mind.  You might remember Robinson as having the most popular TedTalk of all time.  The book is about how discovering your talents and passions can transform your life. The bestsellers “Lean In” and “Finding Your Element” are this generation’s “What Color is Your Parachute,” but better.


Here is a more complete list of the Sonoma schools on Twitter (all are also on Facebook). The district: @SVUSD1. Andrew Ryan at SVHS: @Dragonryan52, Prestwood: @PwoodPanthers, El Verano School: @evmustangs, Will Deeths (Altimira): @WDeeths, Mary Ann Spitzer (Altimira): @MZSpitz7, Lyndsey Munn (Adele): @LMunnAHMS, Dunbar School: @DunbarSchool, Sonoma Charter: @SonomaCharter and the Sonoma Valley Education: @sonomaschools. What is the allure of twitter? From these educators’ tweets I have learned about activities behind the scenes on our school campuses.


A couple hundred schools have recently purchased bullet-proof white boards for classroom use. The white boards have handles and can withstand multiple rounds from an automatic weapon. The boards cost $299 each from the company Hardwire. Genius or ridiculous?


There is a website that tracks each state’s progress in providing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) instruction for its students. Vital Signs offer the most comprehensive picture of the demand for and supply of STEM skills, what states expect of students, students’ access to learning opportunities and the resources schools and teachers have to do their work. Check it out at vitalsigns.changetheequation.org/.


Middle school students who are considering a private high school that requires admissions testing (Marin Academy, Sonoma Academy, Branson or boarding school) might be interested in the SSAT test preparation course offered by Sonoma Academy this fall.  For more information, visit sonomaacademy.org/welcome/ssat-prep/index.


The ACT college admissions exam will go digital in 2015. Students want their results faster and in theory are now tech-savvy enough to take the exam online. There aren’t big changes planned to the questions or content but portions will be more interactive and there will be places where students explain concepts in their own words. Why is this important?  The ACT is now more popular as a college admissions test than the SAT and, when one company makes a change, the other is likely to quickly follow.


Santa Rosa (#7) and San Francisco (#9) made the top 10 list of the 15 Worst Cities in Which to Have a Baby (The Daily Beast). The researchers analyzed factors ranging from cost of living to availability of ob/gyns to number of playgrounds per capita.


I was surprised to learn that humanities degrees accounted for 17.1 percent of all college degrees in 1970 and continue to account for 17 percent of degrees today (despite all the talk of STEM careers).  While many humanities degree programs have indeed shown sharp declines, the huge increases in enrollment in visual and performing arts has more than covered those losses


“The sciences are the ‘how,’ and the humanities are the ‘why’ – why are we here, why do we believe in the things we believe in. I don’t think you can have the ‘how’ without the ‘why.’” – George Lucas in defense of the humanities


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