Learning Styles

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Knowing your students’ general learning style will make school that much easier.
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As long as there have been teachers and students, we’ve known that not every student learns in the same manner. Everyone processes and stores information differently, and those differences aren’t always minor. Knowing your own learning needs, or those of your child, can be very vital to an education.

There are three basic kinds of learners that are broadly recognized. Auditory learners like explanatory lectures and discussion. Kinesthetic learners need to handle the subject matter, to be able to experiment and move. The simple act of writing things down can help them a great deal. Visual learners need text, graphics, and demonstrations they can watch.

Few people fit purely into any of these categories, and there are really more categories these, but most people do lean a good bit in one or another of these three directions. Knowing in which style your student is inclined can do so much to let you help them.

If you have an Auditory Learner: Ask them to repeat important information back to you. Use word associations. Set them up with others to discuss what they’re all learning. Let them use audio-books, if that’s practical.

If you have a Kinesthetic Learner: Encourage them to take detailed notes. Let them fidget while studying. Encourage highlighting and underlining. Use hands-on activities like model-building and art to reinforce lessons.

If you have a Visual Learner: Use flash cards. Include charts, tables, and maps in lessons. Color-code information. Set up time specifically for reviewing study notes.

Being caught up on your child’s learning style can help you make sure that they are getting the most out of their education. Talk to your teacher about making sure their classes are including strategies for their learning style. Whichever way they lean, they won’t be the only one in a classroom to do so, so you should have little resistance. Being aware of what your kid wants and needs in their education is your responsibility as a parent, and the rewards will manifest in fewer homework struggles, better grades, and a closer relationship with your child.

Beating the Odds

Michelle Obama at a rally in 2014

Michelle Obama’s Beating the Odds summit gave students a chance to take charge of their own education.
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Students do not get a lot of say in how schools are run. Even though their education is supposedly for their benefit, little attention is paid to even the most sincere concerns or well-informed suggestions for change as long as they’re coming from children, teenagers, and even young adults. The overriding message is that students don’t know what’s good for them.

But now we have studies backing up things that students have been saying for decades, like a later start time being better for teenage minds and bodies. And more research is putting to bed the myth that any student who is falling behind is doing so out of laziness or lack of motivation.

This past week, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a summit of more than 130 students at the White House. They came from a broad spread of demographics, but all of those students shared one thing: they strode a path through their education that was filled with obstacles–poverty, disability, families in upheaval. And the goal of this summit is to all them to work together to brainstorm education resources for people on those same paths. Together, they can be listened to as each one of them individually might not be.

Obama has always stood on a platform advocating higher education. This summit acknowledged the difficulties many have in striving towards that goal and sought solutions for those difficulties without the trite and useless “Anyone can do it” and “Hard work will get you what you want.” In a fair world, those would be true. But in the world we live in, not so much.

Most of the attendees at this “Beating the Odds” summit are in their late teens and early twenties, and they have lived with challenges like homelessness, racism, poverty, and disability that affected their odds of succeeding in school.

Early Education Funding

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If early education is so important to so many, why isn’t there more funding for it?
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Early education is a largely safe topic for political candidates to preach on. Everyone is in favor of it, and it has few controversial attachments. Democrats and Republicans alike agree that making preschool and childhood education universally available is a priceless investment for the entire nation.

Early education puts children on a path to early literacy, higher grades, and an increased likelihood of both attending and completing college. There is research showing that pre-K education reduces a child’s chance of being involved in crimes as a teen and as an adult. And according to research by the Brookings Institution, a comprehensive national pre-kindergarten education program could increase our GDP by as much as $2 trillion annually.

But if everyone wants it, and it’s such a sound investment, why is it not a reality yet?

That answer, of course, is funding. Everybody wants universal early education, but no one can agree on who should foot the bill. It is yet another case of up-front expenses being prioritized above much larger long-term gains.

The Save the Children Action Network, an initiative group focused on exactly this issue, has a few ideas to bridge this obstacle, which they outlined in a paper released in mid-July. Their paper, “Innovative Financing for Early Childhood Education,” is more or less a list of possible funding solutions for universal childcare. It includes ideas about raising private investment, excise taxes, and trimming wasteful spending in the existing education budgets, ideas designed to appeal across party lines.

In the near future, the focus needs to be on encouraging the use of both public and private funding on programs both state and local that are already showing successes. Leaders in education need to pursue positive results at the local levels – that is where the ideas for a country-wide solution will come from.

Every political candidate should be talking about early education. The ones that are saying something of substance are the ones to listen to. And whoever gets elected, they absolutely must be held to their educational promises.

American Family of Leaders Honored with Adams Memorial

Home page of AdamsMemorial.org

The Adams Memorial will honor John Adams and several generations of his family of leaders.
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Washington, D.C. is full of memorials to past Presidents and other movers and shakers in the United States, but one notable exception is our nation’s first Vice President and second President of the United States, John Adams. However, the Adams Memorial Foundation is aiming to change that with the construction of the Adams Memorial, which will honor not only Adams, but his family, many of whom were hugely important in American history.

The Adams Memorial Foundation, whose board includes David Topper of General Atlantic, descendent Benjamin C. Adams, and architectural partner Mary Katherine Lanzillotta, is overseeing the site construction and educational programs surrounding the memorial.

The Adamses provided exceptional leadership for several generations from the 1770s to the early 1900s—not to mention two Presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams). According to the legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2001, “Both individually and collectively, the members of this illustrious family have enriched the Nation through their profound civic consciousness, abiding belief in the perfectibility of the Nation’s democracy, and commitment to service and sacrifice for the common good.”

The goal of the memorial, as well as the Adams Memorial Foundation, is not only to honor the Adams family and their accomplishments, but also to educate future leaders about public service, the history of democracy, and personal integrity. This includes bringing not just John Adams and John Quincy Adams to the forefront, but also the Adams women, who were equally important in exemplifying these traits (Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, fought for women’s rights and against slavery; Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, held weekly “drawing rooms” to encourage discussion between eminent diplomats and thinkers of the time).

In addition to overseeing the construction of the memorial, the Adams Memorial Foundation educates the public about the Adams family through collecting and exhibiting memorabilia.

So why haven’t the Adamses received more recognition before now? According to descendent Benjamin Adams, our second President was “difficult and cantankerous and not as charismatic as the Virginians. He was a one-term President, and many of his greatest contributions to the country came before his presidency.”

The only other Adams memorial currently in existence is the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts, which includes the 14-acre home where John Adams was born, as well as a neighboring farmhouse where John Quincy Adams was born. It was inaccessible until 1979 but now draws in about 225,000 visitors a year.

College Cross-Talk

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Here are some important things to keep in mind when discussing college costs.
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There’s an oddly disconnected conversation happening right now in discussion about college prices. On the one side, there’s a massive amount of data showing how low- and middle-income families are slamming up against the rapidly rising cost of college. On the other are arguments that the true cash-in-hand price of college is low or free for the lowest-income students due to grants, loans, and scholarships.

There is no middle ground to these two arguments because they are not taking place in the same dialogue. Those who claim college is affordable are only talking about tuition and fees and what you pay up front. Those on the other side are referring to an entire spectrum of cost that includes years of housing, transportation, loss of income due to not being able to work as much while you study, and the inevitable interest and extra costs of loans.

This isn’t just a philosophical disconnect. The misunderstandings between the two points of view are visible in everything from college advertising to national policy. Here are points that everyone involved in this discussion absolutely needs to remember.

  • The price of college far exceeds tuition. Think double, if you include room and board, transportation, books, and supplies. Double that again to include lost wages for the many who are unable to both study and work full-time.
  • College price–what it costs a student to be a student–goes up. College cost–what it costs the school to provide that education–rises much more slowly. Tuition is not rising because it’s more expensive to teach now than it was ten years ago. It’s rising because the public and the government are less willing to chip in.
  • College students are not children. It’s not a bunch of teenagers studying on Daddy’s dime that we’re talking about. About 40% of college students are older than 25. In community colleges and vocational schools, it’s over 50%. Students are supporting themselves more than ever, even while rising prices are making that increasingly impossible.
  • Loans increase the total price of education, not decrease it. While loans may make it possible for a low-income student to attend college and improve their job chances, accepting those loans may make it impossible for that student to own a home, begin a family, or find financial security for years or even decades. They are in-the-moment help, not true aid.

There’s a lot of talk nationwide about the crisis of college tuition and student loans. It’s important that we all use a common language in this conversation to shine a light through the misunderstandings to the truths of the matter.

Education Linked to Longer Life Expectancy

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Could there be a correlation between education and life expectancy?
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It’s widely accepted that people with more education tend to have better jobs, higher income, and higher social standing. But education may also save your life. A recent study performed by researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found significant correlations between education and premature deaths.

Significantly, they found that the difference in life expectancy between people with and without high school diplomas is about the same as the difference between former and current smokers. Looking at data on more than one million Americans collected between 1986 and 2006, they extrapolated to determine that 145,243 people who died in 2010 could have kept on living if they had a better education.

People with diplomas or GEDs tend to have a longer life expectancy than those who did not complete college, but the numbers look even better for people who attend at least some college, and better still for people with at least a bachelor’s degree. Deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer are the primary deaths included in the study. With more education, people tend to mitigate some of the factors that lead to these issues in the first place. More educated people are essentially healthier, although there are a number of factors that can go into that. Access to safer jobs and the better insurance that comes with higher levels of education should not be discounted, but a stronger ability to understand medical advice and avoid dangerous behavior in the first place is a significant factor as well.

The researchers stress that the health benefits of education should be brought up alongside its economic benefits. Education policy, if spun as benefiting the health of the nation, could get a much-needed boost of federal funding. Medical advances are helping people live longer, but it is the most educated people who are getting the most out of these advances.

Safe at School

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A recent study found that schools are actually safer than ever, though violence and bullying are still a problem.
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We as a nation make a lot of noise about violence in our schools. That’s not a criticism–it’s a topic that deserves a lot of noise. It’s arguably a good thing that the media machine goes on red alert for every phoned-in threat and DEFCON 5 over actual violence. It keeps a bright light pointed at the systems we have for preventing those threats.

But if we’re talking numbers, our schools are actually becoming safer, both in reality and in student perceptions. In 1995, four years before Columbine, surveys found that 12% of students felt afraid of attack or harm during the school year. By 2013, that percentage had dropped to 4%.

Actual violence is in decline as well. Rates of theft, violence, and serious violent crime at schools are all lower today than they were in 1995. Since 2007, the ratio of bullied students has dropped from one in three to one in five, and fewer than 10% of students today will be involved in a single violent altercation their entire student career.

Violent death at school, never a common event, is a minuscule possibility. In the 2011-2012 school year, across the country there were 20 violent student deaths in school property, and five of those were suicide. Quick math puts those odds at approximately one in 2.5 million.

What this does not mean is that we should relax any vigilance on the part of parents, educators, or even students with regards to violence. The improvement is promising, but the goal is for all of those statistics to one day zero out. Zero bullying. Zero fistfights. Zero violent deaths. And that goal means that every single instance of violence in our schools still deserves that media blitz.

Debt Factories

Nametag that mentions student loan amount

A new study found that most of student debt is tied up in graduate school and for-profit college fees.
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It’s not news to anyone that student debt is a huge and growing problem. More money is tied into student debt than credit cards or mortgages, a national burden second only to medical debt. And a massive share of it, nearly half, is shackled to the ankles of graduate students.

What might be news is that the blame for a shocking amount of that debt can be laid at the feet of only twenty universities. Just a score of mostly for-profit and private universities account for $6.5 billion in government student loans annually, a full fifth of the national total.

The worst offender, according to a study by the Center for American Progress, is Walden University, a for-profit school (Sylvan Learning System owns a controlling interest) that focuses on graduate degrees in health, education, and business. It boasts a student body of more than 50,000 students both on campus and online, and they have, among them, racked up more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in federal debt.

And that is in a single school year. Slim comfort to those indebted students that Walden’s financial details are quite public – it has to sting to know that more than a quarter of that price-tag is funneled directly into marketing for the school. Baiting the trap for more borrower-students.

The ubiquitous University of Phoenix takes slot number three on the list, with its 250,000 students borrowing nearly half a billion. Medical and law schools are not as highly represented as one might think, though three US-owned medical schools in the Caribbean make the list. Most degree seekers at the worst offenders are working on degrees in fine arts, journalism, or government. Those fond of conspiracies might make something of that, though exactly what, who knows?

All of the above is ample proof, as if anyone needed that, of why it’s important to Google your school of choice and the word “debt” before making a final decision.

Harvard Chemists Levitate Cancer Cells

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Harvard chemists are developing a way to levitate cancer cells.
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Researchers at Harvard recently discovered a way to levitate single cancer cells with magnets. Aside from just being cool, the levitation process allows scientists to differentiate between different kinds of cancer cells, which makes the diagnosis of many different diseases easier.

The researchers are associated with the George Whitesides Research Group. George Whitesides is the current Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor, a professorship supported by a fund set up by J. Christopher Flowers in honor of his parents in 2006.

The study involved using magnets to levitate individual cells—a method that’s been used before, but never to levitate something so small (previous subjects include frogs and strawberries). The cells are first soaked in a magnetic solution, then put between two magnets. Based on the density of the cells, they levitate higher or lower than the cells around them, making it easier to determine the nature of each individual cell.

This study looked specifically at cancer cells, namely lung cancer, breast cancer, and others.

In addition to the levitation process, researchers were able to see single cells die, noting how their density changed in the process. This could be a new way for scientists to determine how individual cells react to different situations—a great way to test new drugs and to diagnose different diseases.

While the study is a breakthrough, it also brings to light some weaknesses with the method. For one thing, it’s difficult to determine if the magnetic solution affects the density of the cells. It’s also possible that the process of putting the cells between two magnets changes certain properties, which affects the validity of the results.

Still, if the technique can be refined and put into general practice, it could make it easier to process multiple cells at once, giving scientists a quicker, more efficient way to diagnose diseases.

“The nice thing about mag lev is it’s pretty simple to do,” said Whitesides in an interview with New Scientist. “Now what has to be done is the hard work that comes with any new analytical method.”

Running Start

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The Running Start program allows high school students to take college level courses for credit.
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Running’s Start’s name says it all. The dual enrollment program allows juniors and seniors in high school to attend college level courses while counting those credits to finish high school. It gives students a two-year jump on college, both academically and socially. In Washington state, where it was piloted in the early 1990s, enrollment is tuition-free. In Hawaii, the only other state to adopt the program, tuition is income-based, with scholarships available to some. In Washington, the program includes all community and technical colleges both public and private, as well as four major universities. In Hawaii, it is limited to the University of Hawaii.

Running Start is no secret, but many seem to be put off by the application process. However, while the process does have several steps, they’re not too difficult to complete.

You apply to the program through the college you wish to attend. They’ll have their own application. If it isn’t readily available on their website, a quick email to their Counseling Center should net you a link. Complete it, send it in. Due dates for these are usually quite generous, with some as late as June.

Have your school send an official copy of your transcript to the college’s admissions office. Some may give you a sealed envelope and make you do the legwork, but that’s becoming rarer.

Take the college placement test. Most colleges offer this regularly throughout the year, or they’ll be willing to work with you to find a convenient date. Some colleges will even let you do this at your high school. To qualify for Running Start, you need a better than 2.5 GPA and college level test scores in Reading and either Writing or Math on the placement test. Whatever you fall short in, you’ll have to make up before you can take 100-level courses (the lowest ones which will give you college credit), so do your best!

This step is important: Schedule an appointment with the college’s Running Start Adviser. They’re familiar with your situation, especially if you’ll still be taking some classes at your high school. They’ll help you balance and plan your schedule. You and a parent may also be required to take an orientation. Maybe even two–one for Running Start and one for the college.

Thus armed with advice and information, it’s time to register at the admissions office with your registration form and a completed and signed Running Start Verification Form. Then you can pick your classes and begin your first steps into the college life.