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dodgeball-300x266Researchers from three Canadian universities claim that the popular gym class game dodgeball is a tool for certain students to oppress their peers.

This isn’t the first time you have heard this.  People have been talking about dodgeball for a while.  There are two camps: (1) the sissification of American camp, and (2) the dodgeball is a bullying tool of evil.  I see both sides of this and I don’t totally know where I stand as I start this article.  Let’s see where we end up. (Spoiler Alert: I come down softly in favor of dodgeball.)

The Anti-Dodgeball Argument from This Study

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Does summer vacation affect children’s overall academic performance? National Summer Learning Association argues that by 9th grade, two-thirds of the achievement gap between low and middle-income children is due to summer learning loss.  I’ve been hearing these types of arguments forever and have pretty much accepted them as fact.   In part because of this, my wife and I double down on the summer academics to make sure we are moving forward and not backward.

New Study Case Doubt on Theory

Paul T. von Hippel, an Associate Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Texas recently published a study that casts doubt on this assumption that summer break negatively impacts academic performance.  This is important because there is a movement against summer vacation.  Because there are social and economic reasons to preserve summer vacation, we certainly don’t want to change the system that we have unless there is a strong educational reason to do so.

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Kindergarten used to be a place where you really honed in on your napping and fingerpainting skills.

No longer. My youngest son graduated from kindergarten a few weeks ago.   The academic requirements of a kindergartener in 2019 are significantly greater than those placed on my 13-year-old son when he was in kindergarten.

I think this is a good thing.  I think getting ahead academically helps prepare kids for the future.  I’m convinced that not starting from ground zero is a huge help when learning a topic.  I’d rather have my kids doing first-grade math with some early exposure to the concepts. If you can add numbers from 0-9 easily, it will be easier when you are trying to regroup numbers for subtraction.  Certainly, early repeated exposures to the concepts make rote learning much easier.

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My favorite website for teaching children how to read is Starfall.com. Starfall is a (mostly) free website that focuses on teaching children to read with phonics.  I started using Starfall in 2006 before my son turned one.

My kids no longer use Starfall. But I have a six-year-old and I just went back to update this post for 2019.  Sure enough, Starfall has expanded its mission and it has some great new math programs that extend out to 3rd grade.  I don’t really think it is true 3rd-grade math.  It looks to me a bit more like early 2nd-grade math.  It is far from perfect.  It is not adaptive to the child’s individual learning and aptitude like so many modern educational sites and apps do.  Still, I love the feel of the website and I think children are drawn to it.

The site is free but to get all the programs it costs $35 a year.  It really is a steal.

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I’ve been spending a lot of time on Reading Bear with my youngest son.  I always touted Startfall as the single best site to teach young readers.   I think Reading Bear is the next “learn to read” vehicle after you have finished up Starfall.

Reading Bear is a wonderful tool for young readers

Reading Bear is a wonderful tool for young readers

While Starfall does have more advanced stories as readers progress, they are not nearly as much fun or as well done as the original stories with Zach the Rat, Gus the Duck, and their colleagues on Startfall that I have learned to love so much. Starfall’s more advanced stories are hard for “young but advanced readers” because they are dry and don’t maintain interest.  My son is easily bored by these.  Also a factor: you have to pay to get these stories from Starfall.  I still recommend buying the upgraded Starfall because there are good counting and math games we like to use.  But the extra reading is just not fun like the characters in original (and free) stories.

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I look so hard for these on-line. Annoying, North Carolina has some that you can’t print out. So you can put them on line but you take off the print function. I would love to see the meeting where that was decided.

Anyway, I discovered today that the great state of Maine really saves the day. Here are a ton of tests that they have that go back to 2005.

They value in these tests, in my opinion, is that they mimic the kind of testing that these kids are going to see for the rest of their lives.  People eschew standardized tests because they do not represent what they want the world to be.  Fair enough.  I agree.  But the biggest tests our kids are ever going to take is the SAT and any graduate school entry tests (MCAT, LSAT, GMAT) they need to take. These standardized tests are just a ramp up to these tests.  It certainly is the not the most fair system.  But it the system we have and we have to have a children ready to face the challenges these tests bring.

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I’m a big fan of standardized tests. I’m probably the only one. But I think it is helpful to have a measuring stick that cuts down on variables. It also allows you to get a clean handle on what you child needs to work on to get better.

This webpage from Hamblen County, Tennessee (I’ve never heard of it either) has a great collection of different standardized tests administered in different states. I’m a big fan of the California Achievement Test which is on there. I remember the fateful day it replace the Iowa tests when I was in the 5th grade. Or something like that.

A lot of the links are down on this page but most of them work and there a just a lot of good tests here.

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splashmath
Splash Math Makes a Splash

There are a lot – a lot – of iPad math apps for kids. They are multiplying like rabbits in the App Store. The problem is that most are just a replica of the last one.

I’ve used hundreds – literally – of math apps with my kids. The math iPad app I believe in the most is Splash Math. That’s a big statement. Not surprisingly, it is also the most expensive math app we have in our arsenal.

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There has been a lot of debate of late about whether college is for everyone. Robert Samuelson, a noted economist, wrote a editorial in the Washington Post a few weeks ago arguing that the ” college-for-all crusade” is one of those utopia dreams that should come to an end for the good of the U.S. economy.

I agree with this premise: there is little economic utility in trying to get every student to go to college. But I think Samuelson fails to fully appreciate that there is more to life than economics. If a student tries two years of college and fails, he is likely to make less money over the course of his life than if he had gone to, let’s say, trade school. Okay. But is he a better and happier person for the experience? In 2012, we seem to funnel everything through economics. Isn’t there more to life than just money? Couldn’t we at least talk about it?

Anyway, MSN Money put out today a list of the 11 worst public universities by graduation rate. In spite of my little speech above, schools have to give students some chance of success. If kids are just taking out loans and not being properly supported in the path to graduation, that is no opportunity at all.

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flowmath
Flow Math Is an App Worth Trying

FlowMath is a really good iPad math app that helps your child take the leap from memorizing math facts to making use of that knowledge. It is a great bridge from facts to a real math application.

FlowMath gives you an answer. Let’s say it is 11 like the picture here. How do you get to 11? Your child might know that 5+6=11. But, can they figure that out given a bunch of numbers from which to choose? You can choose the numbers and the type of operation – start out with just addition if you child is doing something like this for the first time – and see how fast you can make your way through this twist on arithmetic tables.