Category Archives: Curriki News

Practical Tips for Parents of Reluctant Readers

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This week, we’re pleased to feature a guest blog from Young Adult Author Brenda St. John Brown, who recently published the popular novel Swimming to Tokyo. Read her advice to parents of Reluctant Readers (RR) and please let us know what you think!

Author Brenda St. John Brown

Author Brenda St. John Brown

Dear Parents of Reluctant Readers:

The last thing on the planet you want to do is sit here and have someone tell you how important reading is and how you need to get your kid to put down that iPod and crack open a book. You know they’re supposed to be reading, but between fights over homework, wrangling them into bed on time so they don’t fall asleep (for long) during class, and your Blackberry pinging like a slot machine, it’s one fight you just can’t find the energy for.

The very last thing you need right now is for someone to tell you your kid needs to read. You know that. After all, that’s why you’re here.

There’s a lot of parental guilt tied up in our kids’ success in school — even though they’re the ones actually in school. We as parents live a life full of should’s and ensuring your kid is a good reader is right there on the list next to buying organic milk. You want to do it. You believe it’s important in the long run. But it’s not always possible.

However, there’s a long list of what is possible when it comes to enticing a reluctant reader to actually read. Below is a laundry list of suggestions. Feel free to mix darks and lights. When in doubt wash everything in cold.

  • Start when they’re young and establish a reading routine. Before bed, after school, during breakfast – set time aside every day to encourage the habit of reading.
  • Let them see YOU reading. A book, magazine, newspaper, Kindle. Something other than your Blackberry/iPhone.
  • You barely have time to think, let alone read? Flip through a magazine in line for the check out at the grocery store. Look something up online related to the place you were supposed to be 10 minutes ago.
  • Or better yet…get your Reluctant Reader (RR) to do it. Whether it’s getting directions, confirming appropriate attire, opening times, etc., looking things up online requires reading. And a little bit of internet savvy, which never hurt anyone.
  • However, before you send RR off to explore the wilds of the internet, please please please make sure you have parental controls set up! There’s a lot of weird stuff out there.
  • Of course, RR is probably WAY more internet savvy than you, so those parental controls may not be bulletproof, but they will deter. And you still can make RR’s love for his device work for you. Get Grandma to engage in a competitive round of Words With Friends. Introduce RR to Buzzfeed. (Or don’t. But those quizzes ARE fun.)
  • Does RR have a passion? Football? Makeup? Fashion? Minecraft? I’d bet there’s a blog or ten devoted to her interests. Do some web searching, yourself, when you’re stuck on a boring conference call and send her some links to read. Chances are, she’ll then find 20 better ones.
  • Not keen on more screen time? Consider feeding RR’s passion with actual print. Sports scores are reported in newspapers daily. Magazines abound on every subject from cooking to cameras and they have shiny pictures. (Even my RR husband will read a car or a gadget magazine.)
  • Graphic novels and comics count, too! For the RR, the key is finding the right thing to engage them. It may not be a book in a traditional sense, but graphic novels and comics have a story and can often provide an entry point to move on to different types of reading. Series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries and Middle School are all at a higher reading level than you might think and are great gateway books if RR likes graphic novels.
  • And if/when RR is ready to move on, consider the library. It almost sounds old fashioned in this day of Amazon next-day delivery, but libraries are special — and I’m not just saying that because *I* love them. For the “cost” of a library card (FREE), kids have access to a huge variety of books — for FREE — and there’s the added benefit that RR will inevitably see another kid there picking a book, talking about a book, enjoying a book. Reading is a solitary activity, but enjoying books doesn’t have to be. And nowhere embodies book love like a library.
  • When RR chooses a book from those hallowed shelves (or from Amazon — because let’s face it, not everyone can get to the library and that direct-to-your-doorstep delivery IS pretty special), your gentle guidance is helpful. NOTHING discourages RR more than opening a book and thinking, “This is work. This is hard.” Jumping right into Lord of the Rings, for example, may put RR off forever. Likewise, something too easy can be discouraging in a different way. RR declares a book “boring” and all books are boring because, well, they’re books.
  • Guidance, however, is not to be confused with discouraging your RR if he seems dead set on a book. He’s picked Lord of the Rings and won’t be persuaded otherwise? Fabulous. It means he’s MOTIVATED to read it and you can help to facilitate his success. Suggest you take turns reading aloud for the first few chapters until he’s into the plot. Read the same book (or at least several well-reasoned reviews) so you can ask questions. Ask him to keep you company and read while you cook dinner, or keep him company while he gains an extra 15 minutes to read before bed. (This may only work up until a certain age. Your teenager may have mixed emotions about you snuggling up and keeping him company while he reads in bed? More to the point, you may not actually WANT to go in your teenager’s room. In which case…the kitchen it is!)
  • Encourage RR to get at least one more book, too – especially if you’re borrowing for FREE from the library. That way she has another book that piqued her interest enough to actually carry out of the building with her.
  • Both books turn out to be duds? Keep trying! You didn’t give up the first time RR spit out her peas, did you? You kept offering them and offering them and eventually she swallowed them. Reading isn’t quite the same, but for some it’s an acquired taste and it means lots of helpings of lots of different kinds of books.
  • And whatever you do, don’t label your RR a non-reader. Kids live up to the labels we place on them and it only takes a couple of times overhearing a parent say, “Oh, RR just isn’t a reader.” before he starts to embrace it.

Even if you do all of the above, there’s no guarantee at the end of the day, that your RR will love reading. But she might. Or she might at least complain a little less about it and let you move on to more important arguments. Like what exactly is under her bed anyway? And are you really leaving the house in that?

Encouraging Teens to Read: An Interview with YA Author Brenda St. John Brown

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By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

I had a great chat with Young Adult Author Brenda St. John Brown, whose popular novels are about teens and twenty-somethings. One thing she’s really good at is enticing reluctant readers to actually read!

Author Brenda St. John Brown

Author Brenda St. John Brown

Her latest book, Swimming to Tokyo, is a New Adult Contemporary set in the tangled streets of Tokyo, in which a girl and a guy find each other and learn that love, letting go, and language lessons make for an unforgettable summer.

Why are you drawn to writing Young Adult novels?

The awkwardness! And the roller coaster of excitement/angst, excitement/angst. First love/young love is especially prone to this and it’s so fun to write without having to relive it, myself. I also love how intense everything is at this stage of life — even friendships. As a writer, it forces me to stay on top of the story and really hone in on the characters. Otherwise, I end up writing on a tangent about the dog down the street and barely realize I lost my audience two chapters ago.

How can we inspire children to read more?

This is tricky because you have to inspire them without them actually realizing what you’re doing! Let them see YOU enjoying reading. Encourage them to talk about what they’re reading. Literature circles are terrific for this and sparks fly when kids are in a group talking about a book in common. Encourage their passion through print, but also realize that quality reading isn’t always on paper. There’s a lot of great stuff online, too!

Advice to parents to encourage a love of reading?

Start while they’re young! Set aside reading time every day. And don’t be afraid to investigate further if they’re struggling with reading. They may need extra help and that’s okay. It’s better to get it and set them up for success than wait and realize when they’re older and they’ve already decided they hate reading.

What is Swimming to Tokyo about, and what inspired you to write it?

Swimming to Tokyo is a contemporary romance aimed at older teens and early twenty-somethings. The story focuses on Zosia and Finn and it’s about two people who find each other — and themselves — as they explore the temples and the tangled streets of Tokyo.

I was initially inspired to write it after looking at my own photo album from Japan. I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years and it was an amazing experience I was able to revisit through my writing.

Who is the book’s most memorable character?

Lots of readers say they really like Babci, Zosia’s grandmother, and she’s definitely a favorite character of mine. Finn also gets a lot of “book boyfriend” nods. He’s good-looking and more than a little bit damaged, but readers are drawn to him because for all of that he’s not a jerk!

What do you hope readers will learn or remember?

Zosia and Finn both have difficult things to overcome in their pasts. I hope people read the story and think about how their own pasts influence their present and realize they can move beyond the “before” they’ve let define them to create a truer version of themselves. That sounds preachier than it comes across in Swimming to Tokyo, but that was consciously in my mind as I was writing it. Finn has a line in the story: “Honesty is easy. It’s trust that’s hard.”, which is probably my favorite line in the whole book because it is the journey he’s on. In a way, it’s the journey we’re all on.

What was the last book you read?

I read at least two books per week, so whatever I say now will inevitably be out of date by the time this hits the web. Three books I’ve read recently that I recommend 1000% are:

  • THE INFINITE SEA by Rick Yancey
  • WONDER by RJ Palacio
  • THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING by Robyn Schneider

What are some of your favorite books from childhood?

I loved THE SECRET GARDEN and THE LITTLE PRINCESS. The Judy Blume books were a big hit with me and I’m pretty sure I read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN at least 10 times.

Preference: eBooks or “real” books?

I love the instant gratification of eBooks and the ease of taking my Kindle everywhere, but I’m also a huge fan of libraries. I think eBooks probably win, but just barely.

Name your favorite guilty pleasure.

I don’t know if Doritos are considered a guilty pleasure, but if so…I could live on them, I swear! If Doritos don’t count…I’d say the TV show Nashville. I love my weekly fix of that show!

Check out more books by this author and pass along word to a young adult you know!

10 Things To Do Other Than Shop on Black Friday

A woman hand carrying a bunch of colorful shopping bags

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki janetpic_preferred_cropped

  1. Visit your local library. Read a book to learn or experience new worlds. Check out GoodReads Best Books of 2014.
  2. Meditate. Never tried it before? Here’s a simple step-by-step process to quiet your mind and reach a state of inner calm.
  3. Be kind to someone else. Here are 101 Easy Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness.
  4. Ban the use of digital devices for 24 hours. Okay, we agree, that’s virtually impossible, so see how long you can go (4 hours? 8 hours?) Use that time to do something else on this list.
  5. Get some fresh air. Ride a bike, ski, sled, ice skate, run, hike, walk. Of course, if it’s below 20 degrees outside, you may want to make an epic cup of hot chocolate instead.
  6. See a movie. Chances are, theaters will be empty. (But don’t go to a theater that’s located in a mall!) Find what’s playing locally.
  7. Appreciate the gifts you’ve been given. Take a minute to reflect on what you do have whether it’s health, a roof over your head, love, time or something else.
  8. Hug someone (your dog or cat count too!)
  9. Clean out your closet/garage/basement and give to a worthy charity. You’ll feel like a heavy weight has been lifted. (Beware: it’s addicting!)
  10. BUT IF YOU MUST SHOP…visit smile.amazon.com where you can set your charity to Curriki. Once you do, Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchases to Curriki so we can continue to offer thousands of high-quality learning resources for free. Thank you from educators around the world! HUGS! amazonsmile

Higher Income = Higher SAT Scores?

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Currikijanetpic_preferred_cropped

Did you know that Curriki originated from the idea that technology could play a crucial role in breaking down the barriers of the Education Divide, i.e., the gap between those who have access to high-quality education and those who do not?

To this point, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal dubbed the SAT test the Student Affluence Test (aka Scholastic Aptitude Test) and showed some troubling statistics. “On average, students in 2014 in every income bracket outscored students in a lower bracket on every section of the test, according to calculations from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (also known as FairTest), using data provided by the College Board, which administers the test.”

SAT test

Perhaps it’s not surprising that students from more affluent backgrounds scored higher on the SATs. Their parents make more money because they’re likely college-educated. Many live in neighborhoods with higher performing schools. And they have the option to hire in-home private tutors or attend after-school tutoring centers.

But not everyone has those opportunities.

Free Learning Resources Available to Anyone, Anywhere

Here at Curriki, we want to make learning possible for anyone, anywhere in the world. And here’s the best part – it’s completely free. There are more than 57,000 free, high-quality resources for you to download, use, or customize.

For example, you can download SAT Vocab cards or the SAT Math Curriculum Guide for free.

Can’t afford a tutor? Sal Khan’s videos are very popular and you can find tutorials on everything from Algebra 1  to Biology and Projectile Motion.  STEMbite offers some great videos too that cover math and the sciences. There’s also A Survivor’s Guide to College Writing.

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The goal of Curriki is to make a high-quality education universally available. Join Curriki today: http://www.curriki.org

Please help us spread the word by sharing this with your friends and colleagues!

Education Activist Malala Wins Nobel Peace Prize

KimJonesimageBy Kim Jones, CEO, Curriki

We at Curriki are so pleased that education rights activist and student Malala Yousafzai has been selected for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. At 17 years of age, she is the youngest person ever to have won a Nobel Prize.

Malala

Malala has worked fearlessly and tirelessly to promote the rights of girls to receive an education. A Pakistani national, she was attacked and shot two years ago in a cowardly act by Taliban militants in her country, simply because she had been outspoken on the subject of girls’ rights to education. But she would not be cowed. A very eloquent speaker, Malala has had more opportunities than ever to speak out on behalf of the importance of educating girls and supporting their rights.

Here is a video of Malala speaking to the TED community: http://youtu.be/aKSrDScQvkg

Malala is busy with her school studies as well as her promotion of education rights, and she loves physics. Upon hearing the news, Malala said “I’m proud that I’m the first Pakistani and the first young woman, or the first young person, who is getting this award. This is not the end, this is not the end of my campaign, this is the beginning.” Her interview with the BBC is here.

Malala shares the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with 60-year old Kailash Satyarthi of India. He is the leader of the Save the Childhood Movement, which has worked for decades against child forced labor and servitude. The Save the Childhood Movement web site is at http://www.bba.org.in.

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“This prize is a recognition and honor to hundreds and millions of children who are still languishing in slavery, who are still deprived of their childhood, their education, their health care, their fundamental rights” said Mr. Satyarthi.

For children who are subject to forced labor, there is not even the hope of an education and their prospects for a decent future are seriously impaired.

As the Nobel committee puts it in their announcement, they are awarding this 2014 Peace Prize to Ms. Yousafzai and Mr. Satyarthi “… for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” You can read the full announcement here: http://nobelpeaceprize.org/en_GB/laureates/laureates-2014/announce-2014/

Curriki strongly supports the educational rights and aspirations of all girls— indeed all children—around the globe. We provide over 57,000 open source and free educational materials which are available to teachers and students around the world. Please spread the word and help us to increase the access to these and to future new resources provided on Curriki.

Making STEM Learning Fun!

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By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

Whether it’s teaching kindergartners to code, or keeping students’ engineering knowledge “fresh,” I’m amazed at the innovative and entertaining new resources available to enrich the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) learning experience.

Learning should be fun. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

LEARNerds

This is a great idea for students interested in STEM! LEARNerds offers “bite-sized engineering challenges” in the form of a daily question/problem. It’s a fun way to stay on top of engineering fundamentals – especially if you’re studying for Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FE) & Professional Engineering Exam (PE). Can you solve this problem?

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ScratchJr.

Here’s a simple (and free) way for young children to learn coding! ScratchJr is an introductory programming language that enables young children (ages 5-7) to create their own interactive stories and games. Children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves — then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life. ScratchJr was inspired by the popular Scratch programming language (http://scratch.mit.edu), used by millions of young people (ages 8 and up) around the world.

Curriki STEM Resources

Did you know that there are thousands of STEM resources on Curriki? There are simply too many to mention, but here are a few popular ones:

  • STEMbite videos  – A collection of short video clips created by science and math teacher Andrew Vanden Heuvel from Michigan, USA. Using Google Glass he makes these bite-sized videos highlighting the science in our everyday lives and covers: biology, physics, technology and math. stembite
  • Sal Khan videos  – these popular videos from Khan Academy cover mathematical concepts.
  • STEM sheets –  A collection of printable and customizable worksheets, flash cards and more from STEM Sheets.

Do me a favor, please, and share this post with someone who’d enjoy these STEM resources.

Speak Up Against Bullying!

Photo by Eddie~S via Flickr Creative Commonsjanetpic_preferred_croppedBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer

Bullying used to be the tough kid beating up a smaller classmate. Today, cyber bullying is much more prevalent with students using electronic devices to send mean text messages, post rumors on social networking sites, and share embarrassing pictures and videos.

Video – Bullies and Bystanders: What Teens Say

Here are a few concerning facts from 2014 Cyberbullying Statistics:

  • 25 percent of teenagers report that they have experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the internet.
  • Over half (52 percent) off young people report being cyber bullied.
  • Of the young people who reported cyber bullying incidents against them, one-third (33 percent) of them reported that their bullies issued online threats.
  • Over half (55 percent) of all teens who use social media have witnessed outright bullying via that medium.
  • More than 80 percent of teens regularly use cell phones, making them the most popular form of technology and therefore a common medium for cyber bullying.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and now is an ideal time to get your school and students involved.

Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center offers several ways to show your support:

  • Register your school or organization as a Champion Against Bullying
  • Add your name to the digital “The End of Bullying Begins With Me” petition
  • Sign up for the Bullying Prevention Newsletter
  • Talk in your community about bullying prevention and local activities.

Stop Bullying: Take a Stand

StopBullying.gov offers several training resources as part of their Bullying Prevention Training Center, including a Bullying Prevention Training Module Presentation, a Community Action Toolkit that includes materials to create a community event, and Training for Educators and School Bus Drivers.

Student Yash Narayan designed BullyWatch to empower students.

5th grade student Yash Narayan designed BullyWatch to empower students.

Encourage students to make a difference too! Recently, Harker School 5th grade student Yash Narayan received the “Best Educational App” award from iOSDevCamp (normally attended by adults), where he created an innovative app called BullyWatch. Using BullyWatch, when students feel bullied, they press a button that turns orange, expressing emotions to the bully of feeling bullied. Usually bullies will then back off, but if not, the student can press the watch for a few more seconds and it will turn red, sending a text message to school staff with the victimized student’s name and location, thus alerting teachers.

Visit Curriki to find a collection on bullying resources.