Is This a Debt-free College Model

Is debt-free college a possibility and if so what will it look like? Most people I have spoken to don’t want college admissions subsidized or controlled by the government, as they fear a further downhill spiral in education quality. Could the two-year school in San Francisco, Make School, have come up with a solution? Their model allows aspiring app developers and IT entrepreneurs to attend for free. The school’s payback comes in the form of their student’s earnings the first two years they work. Graduates of Make School agree to pay the school 25% of their earnings the first two years they are in the workforce. If the student fails to find work in the tech field or their startup fails then they pay nothing.

This model certainly gives the creators and instructors at Make School an incentive to train and equip their students to be successful. Make School is highly selective in choosing the people they train but I would expect nothing less. The school is investing in their pupils and to continue to educate they need to be successful. The advantage to students attending this type of institution is they enter studies knowing up front what they will be expected to pay in return for their education. Rarely does any college graduate in our country have a clue what their school debt will amount to or how onerous the payback will be. They have no control over tuition increases or interest rate fluctuations. This situation has created mountains of debt, which college graduates often default on creating permanent strikes on their credit histories and garnished wages.

Why can’t Make School’s model be tied to all career paths? Obviously we need any college graduate to be able to find a job and earn a living. The creation of fair and competitive programs has the potential to allow serious young adults an opportunity to obtain an education they can afford.

Children Compose Music Even if They Don’t Play an Instrument

A new game, Compose Yourself, allows children or anyone with no prior musical experience to easily compose and then listen to their musical creations. Philip Sheppard; composer, producer and cellist; is passionate about showing people that everyone has fundamental musical talent and the ability to appreciate compositions. His goal was to show that you can play with music and create works pleasing to the listener. The game distributed by Think-Fun uses modular flashcards of musical fragments, which are combined into musical phrases. The sixty transparent cards can be arranged into thousands of combinations because they have no clef and can be read from the front, back, upside down and right side up. Once the cards are arranged the child enters the number on the card into the website to hear their composition. Professional musicians recorded all of the possible musical versions of each card allowing the listener to hear their composition played with the utmost skill. Once the player is ready to hear their musical composition they have the option of listening to it played by a solo marimba, a full orchestra or marimba accompanied by the orchestra.

Mr. Sheppard’s game may be new but the idea behind it is not. Up against a deadline to complete two new compositions in one evening for a film director Mr. Sheppard remembered learning about a compositional game dating from the days of Mozart and Hadyn. Johann Philipp Kirnberger created a dice game that could compose an endless stream of minuets and waltzes. Each face of the die was assigned one measure of music. When rolled the combinations created random musical melodies. That evening Mr. Sheppard wrote out his own cards with standards of music and used this method to create the pieces needed for his deadline compositions. These cards became the basis of the game, Compose Yourself.

Why is this music discovery important for children? It has been found that this type of musical experience nourishes creativity and inquisitiveness. This in turn builds confidence in decision-making and says yes to individual thinking. There are other digital music options:  Groovy Music, Music Academy Software, O-Generator and Apple’s Garage Band.

Education: Two Approaches

This week if you tuned in to any news medium you would have heard that the first outcome of the standardized test dubbed, Smarter Balanced, was a dismal failure. This set of testing is designed to measure the success of the Common Core teaching curriculum now being used nationally. The Smarter Balanced test is more complex, measures more than previous testing and is designed to provide a more accurate picture of a student’s academic condition. The results of this recent test given to grades 3 through 8 and 11 had students failing to meet a 40% grade-level proficiency in language arts and math.  One educator stated he was disappointed because the school district had put so much effort into preparing for the test. Maybe that is the problem. Shouldn’t more attention be paid to making sure children are engaged in what they are learning and that learning involves thinking and problem solving.

Now we turn to the Design Tech High School, a charter school in Burlingame open to anyone in California. This high school has been so successful that it is now being supported by the  corporation, Oracle. Growth of the high school has been so rapid, that they have been forced to move their location several times since inception. This has led Oracle to design and start construction on a 64,000 square foot building, which will house 500 students and 30 staff members at its Redwood Shores campus. Design Tech open for little more than a year caught the attention of Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, because he wanted to champion a school where children are guided to think. The school’s name is misleading because it is not a technological high school. Co-founder and executive director, Ken Montgomery, related that the school’s name is based on the concept of “design thinking”. “Design thinking” is rooted in the belief that all problems even the most daunting can be solved. Mr. Montgomery a veteran in the education field with a doctorate in administration and policy analysis believes this approach is necessary because the world is changing quickly and unpredictably, meaning any specific skill set could become obsolete.

As parents we all have to decide how we wish to encourage our children to learn. Read carefully and do research on the options offered by public educators, charter schools and homeschooling. Assisting children to become creative and critical thinkers will not only spur them to find careers they enjoy, but will also provide society with productive members.

How Do You Deal With a Procrastinator?

I am not among the ranks of procrastinators and have never understood why people allow themselves to get put in stressful situations, which could have been avoided with planning. A recent book by Kory Kogon, The 5 choices:  The path to Extraordinary Productivity, shed some light on this subject for me. What has been discovered is that working under pressure to meet a deadline gives people a rush and they feel rewarded. This rush is the product of hormonal surges combining dopamine, cortisone and adrenalin. The surge of hormones makes the procrastinator believe the mounting pressure of a looming deadline brings out their best work. In actuality this is not true because as the pressure mounts enthusiasm and energy wane and more often than not quality work is not produced. On occasion working under pressure can produce a breakthrough and sharpen a person’s focus resulting in last-minute insights. The more complex the tasks or issues being tackled the more likely a fired-up brain is to become frazzled and incapable of higher-order thinking. Unfortunately, society also plays a role in rewarding the procrastinator. People believe that if you are not busy then you are not being productive. Therefore, people will look for mundane tasks to perform to stay busy at the risk of putting off important work with deadlines.

How do you tackle procrastination? First acknowledge if you or your child is prone to the behavior. Ask yourself why this scenario happens to you over and over. Do you put tasks off or are you an individual who over commits to projects or takes on the duties of other people? A method developed over fifty years ago is still one of the best ways to deal with procrastination and it is as follows:

  1. Daily list the five most important things you must accomplish.
  2. Start with number one and do not bypass it until it is complete. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it finished but that you stay on task.
  3. Update the list daily

This method had been used with great success by everyone from corporate presidents to students. What this method does is instill focus and discipline. You will be amazed at how productive you become.

Technology Doesn’t Replace a Solid Educational Foundation

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently published a report outlining the use of technology in the classroom. What they discovered from a global sampling of students in more than forty countries was that adding more technology to classroom settings does not lead to a better education. In fact they discovered that overexposure to computers and the internet caused educational outcomes to drop. Researchers have also determined that young people using computers in excess often feel isolated and alone. Could this be why the scores of high school students in the United States have continued their slide through the past few years? What does this say about the use of computers starting in kindergarten? Are we creating a generation of young people, who have no verbal or social skills?

The conclusion the OECD drew and I agree with is that students not possessing a solid educational background do not benefit from technology. The use of computers is only helpful in cases where it furthers the study of a specific subject or after a child has mastered the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics. Good teaching whether in a home setting or in the classroom can be aided by technology but technology cannot replace poor fundamentals or poor teaching. Once again we understand how important it is to be involved in our children’s education and help them cut back on computer time and pursue activities and hobbies, which encourage creativity and critical thinking skills. If your child is bored or seeking conversation, resist the urge to stream a movie, TV show or game to distract them. Take a few minutes of your time to talk to them, draw a picture with them or take a walk. The rewards for both of you will be phenomenal and lasting.

Is “Minecraft” a Viable Teaching Tool?

In the midst of falling test scores and poor performance in our public schools systems, academics are turning to video games to engage children in the classroom. The main reason given for this by teachers is their perception that children connect to this medium intuitively given our current culture. By the fall of 2013 seventy-four percent of teachers surveyed said they were using digital games like “Minecraft”, “World of Warcraft” and other “serious games” to enhance learning experiences in the classroom. Teachers say the children are more engaged in subjects and readily immerse themselves in learning. One teacher believes that using “World of Warcraft” enhanced teamwork and encouraged the children to problem-solve.

When I homeschooled my children, time with video games whether they were to enhance learning or not was limited intentionally. I believed then and still do that children need to acquire the ability to use any and all tools available for learning. It is hard for me to believe that watching a science experiment or building a 3-D world on the computer is as engaging as gathering tools and equipment to do this with your own hands. The 3-D world might look awesome and function but does the child really obtain an understanding of what it takes to stack brick on brick and make adjustments in real-time to correct mistakes? While preparing to perform an experiment or create a tangible project children learn about organization, record keeping and cleaning up after the work is completed. How is this duplicated in a computer game?

The “serious games” being created can have an underlying social message, which many parents might not be aware of. Is this appropriate? In these cases if the material is presented solely at school parents do not have the occasion to talk to their children about what is depicted and discuss both sides of an issue. I am a firm believer in encouraging children to take a subject or social issue and explore all facets and aspects with an open mind. If a “serious game” does not explore all sides of an issue then this can instill intended or unintended biases. Parents should stay informed and talk to their children about what is presented in school and social settings. Remember as a parent you are the greatest teacher you child can ever have.


Let’s Raise the Academic Ceiling for Gifted Children

Chester E. Finn and Brandon L. Wright, fellows at the Fordham Institute have an issue with the “No Child Left Behind” program put forth by our government. The results show it is marginally helping weak students reach low levels of proficiency while at the same time neglecting to push gifted students in the same demographic group to excel. For this reason we see the youth in our nation fall farther and farther behind their global peers. What does this mean for the future? If we don’t take the education of children who can and wish to excel seriously then we will watch as other countries surpass us in producing the scientists, artists, leaders, inventors and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. How do children in a public school setting get the education they deserve?

All students should be screened at a young age and the gifted should be given more challenges. These children could also be allowed to move through curriculum at their own pace and not be stuck in a grade just because of their age. Extra-curricular and social activities could still be age specific. School systems should not only track the low achievers to chart their progress but also follow the gifted to find out what specifics help them to surge forward. School districts can also admit children to schools based on academic potential. It has been discovered that gifted low-income students need this type of support and encouragement at an early age.

For the homeschoolers reading this, you already know the advantages of giving children free rein to learn at their own speed. These children not only excel but they gain confidence, discover what they are passionate about in life at an early age and they readily understand the value of working to be a productive member of our society locally and globally.

College and the Budding Entrepreneur

Launching a business is an exciting endeavor and if you plan to attend college here are some thoughts from Anna Prior of the Wall Street Journal on how to use college as an aid in your endeavor. If you have been to college or have no plans to attend college, you can still learn how to leverage your talents from this advice.

The first point made is that venture capitalists don’t care as much about the college degree or college attended. Their main concern is whether or not a new business is solving a problem for the public or other businesses, and if the founder is the person that can take the idea and make it a winner. Expensive schools are not the key to success.

Networking is considered to be the largest area a would be entrepreneur needs to focus on. For this reason, choose your college and community carefully. Consider if your target business is an important industry in the community where your school is located. When this is the case, there will be more opportunity to network, find mentors and build relationships. Finding mentors and networking opportunities are keys to success but be mindful and always research the individuals you plan to work/study with. Don’t be afraid to ask about the businesses they have launched and the community ties they have developed. Community banks and chambers of commerce are also a good sources to build your adviser network. Community bankers know who the business mentors are and a local chamber of commerce will give clues to the business successes and needs of an area.

Do you need to get a business degree? The answer is no. Advisers encourage students to study what they are passionate about and not get wrapped up in earning the highest GPA possible. They encourage college students to become involved in meaningful organizations on campus, as they can be great sources of opportunity to hone leadership skills. Take classes in theatrics or communications to become more comfortable with reaching out to strangers or public speaking. Summer vacations should also be used as opportunities to learn and network while interning. Successful business people emphasize that the type of job does not matter as much as just gaining experience. Be open-minded and remember finding out what you don’t wish to pursue as a career is vitally important.

Whether you launch your first start-up in college or at the age of 50, be mindful of debt. Nothing can kill a business faster than lean resources. If you have student debt or other financial obligations, make sure you can structure payments to fit your needs but always remember in the end the money has to be repaid. Two organizations offering financial assistance to entrepreneurs are the National Association for the Self-Employed and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Starting your own business offers great freedom and responsibility. Good luck!


What Children Learn from “Real” Summer Jobs

In the not distant past a summer job for a teenager meant painting houses, landscaping, construction work or being a lifeguard. Today we hear about children taking volunteer trips to Africa or Mexico, getting in touch with themselves at an ashram or seeking an internship with a well-known professional. Both of these paths have merits but are we losing the chance to teach our children the value of working to earn a dollar by advocating for the latter. I read an article where a musician spoke to several of his old friends, now famous musicians, and they all mused about the hard work they had done as teenagers. The jobs they had taken and survived ranged from farm workers to cleaning staff at the local deli. What all of these people concluded was that they had learned what it means to work hard for little pay, be responsible and to navigate dangerous situations.

Aside from the fact that it is harder and harder each year for a teenager to find employment, it is a fact that wages along with expenses have grown. Many cities now pay a living minimum wage of $15 an hour, which for a teenager would be exceptional pay if they are living at home and not bearing the burden of household expenses. The challenge is for the teenager with little or no experience to land a job when their competition is an adult.

As parents we all wish our children were more responsible. What better way to teach this trait than to work and know you are a vital part of an organization. It is also true that making a young adult responsible and accountable for their failures along with their successes teaches responsibility. How hard is it to teach someone to say, “I made a mistake and will correct it to the best of my ability.” These words and the sentiment are lost in our society today.

Parents might shrink from the thought that their teenager could be put in a dangerous situation at work but yet they readily give them cars and the means to travel at will. Knowing that life can be dangerous and we must be vigilant and proactive about our safety and the safety of others is a valuable tool to learn at a young age. Before much time passes these young adults will be starting families of their own or leaving home for college and the workforce. Encouraging our children to embrace life and enjoy it does not preclude us from making them aware that disasters do strike. These problems or disappointments are a natural part of life and having the confidence to work through them is a huge lesson worth learning.

So when your son or daughter is weighing the benefits of working for a small business in your area or seeking a lofty internship with a rocket scientist, don’t be so quick to assume the internship will offer the greatest learning experience.

Reading Aloud with Children Promotes Bonding

For all the years I homeschooled my four children one thing was a constant. As soon as they had made their lunches, we all sat down at the table and I read aloud to them as they ate. Naturally this prolonged the lunch hour but that was fine with all of us. We worked our way through classics by Dickens and my children loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. I don’t believe we gave a lot of thought to just how much these shared times meant to us and the bonds we forged. This fact was brought home to me recently when I read a critics discussion of why it is crucial to read aloud to children.

Busy lives and the embrace of technology is forcing the children of today to zoom past childhood and many moments of shared warmth with family members. If families take the time to read aloud to their children then they often stop the practice as soon as the child starts to read on their own or can be read to by a device. I assure you that in our family reading sessions around the lunch table engaged my 12 year-old in what the story shared as much as the 4 year-old. They may have been visualizing the action in different ways and feeling different emotions but they were both deeply enthralled. These moments of reading together not only pulled us together physically but also emotionally and created little points in time where we shared dreams and visions never to happen the same way again.

From a learning standpoint I believe being read aloud to taught my children to listen. to exercise their minds in order to make sense of what they were hearing, ask questions and delve further into subjects they may never had encountered otherwise. Many people will say an iPad or audio book can read aloud but these devices lack the warmth factor. They cannot wrap an arm around a child, share a joke or stop and explain what a “curmudgeon” is. Looking back as a parent I realize those moments shared with my children were as meaningful to me as to them. I will never forget the awe on my children’s face, as I cried while reading about a pet that had died in the night in a book. My children delighted in consoling me and offering assurance that the dog had been old and was no longer suffering. No other means than reading aloud could have created this shared emotional experience. If you can’t read aloud to your child daily then please take the time to do so as often as possible, the rewards you will feel will be outstanding.