Friday, December 21, 2012

Eagle Snatches Baby from Park

Someone happened to be taking a video in a park in Canada when an eagle swooped out of the sky and grabbed a baby. Fortunately the eagle dropped the baby, who seemed to be all right. Millions of people have seen this amazing video on YouTube.

But the event never happened.

See the video and read or listen to the story: 'Golden Eagle Snatches Kid’: Canadian Student Project Fools the World , PRI's The World, Dec. 20, 2012. Things to talk about:
  • Isn't that an amazing video? Would it fool you?

  • How can you tell what to believe on the Internet? Do you think other people are trying to fool you? Do you think people are sometimes just wrong?

  • The students who made the video are in a program where they will get bachelor's degrees in 3D animation and digital design. In a press release about the video, the school said, "The production simulation workshop class, offered in fifth semester, aims to produce creative projects according to industry production and quality standards while developing team work skills." This video (3:21) shows clips from many students' work. Is that something you could imagine doing one day? What skills do you think you'd need in a program like that?

  • The four students who made that one-minute eagle video estimate that they spent about 400 hours working on it. Do you think it was worth it? What sort of projects would you be willing to work that long on?
More information about computer animation careers:
  • Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, Multimedia Artists and Animators
  • Department of Labor statistics
  • Animation Career Review. (Site includes a directory of art schools with animation programs.)
  • To find programs in Washington State, go to Washington Career Bridge, click on Find Education, then use the Job Title menu to select Multimedia Artists and Animators. You'll see there are different types of programs at different types of colleges and universities.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fun Science Quizzes

The Nature Conservancy has some Nature Trivia quizzes that are fun. They're multiple choice and  you can keep on guessing till you get the answer. The topics are water, the sun, plants, animals, birds, and the oceans. I think the level is maybe 4th grade to 8th grade.

This might be an activity a  student and tutor could do together when homework is done. Each quiz  takes just a short time. Again, something for when a student says  "I don't feel like reading my book."

There's a cute video showing adults and children trying to answer questions: Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? Why do zebras have stripes?

60-Second Science

screen shot with logo
Scientific American offers 60-Second Science -- short (60-second!) podcasts on science topics. I think this could be good for students in middle school or high school:

  1. The stories are interesting.
  2. Students can build general knowledge.
  3. The stories would expose students to good vocabulary words and crisp writing.
  4. Students can read the stories at the same time they listen, to help with pronunciation, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  5. They're short! Teens who say they don't have time to read books can hardly say they don't have time to listen to a one-minute story once in a while.
The podcasts are about many different science subjects, for example:

If you can't talk your students into reading books at home, try challenging them to listen to and read some of these. (Even if they do read books, you can suggest the podcasts as a garnish.) Later, you can have a conversation about what they listened to and learned.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Library Blogs for Teens

Seattle Public Library has a blog written by teens and the librarians who work with teens: Push to Talk. Other blogs to watch for good teen reading, homework tips, etc.:
Teen Reads @ InfoSoup has lots of lists—Adventure Fiction, All One World (Multicultural Fiction), Animal Stories, Award Winning Books, and so on, all the way to Twilight Read-Alikes.

How 10th Grader Uses

Here's an interview with a student who talks about how he's using to learn new words: A High School Sophomore Plays With Friends, blog, Dec. 3, 2012. A 30-second video shows how to play with Facebook friends.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Washington State History


HistoryLink banner is a free online encyclopedia of Washington State history. It's been operating since early 1999, and by 2011 had well over 6,000 essays. It's an outstanding resource.

Washington State Historical Society

Wash St Hist Society banner

The Washington State Historical Society's Featured Collections gives you access to lots of photos, drawings, and maps.

You can see all the tables of contents for Columbia Magazine (the Society's magazine), and selected articles. Topics are varied, for example:
Columbia Anthology banner

The Columbia Anthology "offers a snapshot of Washington history as presented in the pages of COLUMBIA Magazine by our state's leading scholars." It has about 60 articles, arranged by topic (early settlers, explorers, fur trade and missionaries, etc.).

Columbia Kids banner

Columbia Kids was an online magazine for kids. It only ran for four issues in 2008-10, but they're all online still and have lots to look at.

UW Digital Collections

UW Libraries logo
The University of Washington Libraries has a lot of digital resources about the Pacific Northwest, including photos, essays, online exhibits, and maps.

Check out the Seattle Collection to see what our city was like in the past.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest banner

Based at the UW, the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest supports research, teaching, and public programs. Look under Resources for links and research.

The site has material for an undergraduate course on Washington State history. See the course index page for a list of web pages on different topics with lots of wonderful illustrations. 

More  Photos

MOHAI banner

WSU Digital banner

WSU Libraries Digital Collections

Wash Digital Archives banner

Washington State Archives - Digital Archives

You can find all kinds of things in the archives. For instance, here is a picture of prisoners wrestling from sometime in the 1950s or 1960s.'s Photos page includes 79 Historical Photo slideshows, such as Seattle During World War I, Historic Seattle in the Snow, and Seattle History: Northgate Mall.

small snip of PI Photos page

Northgate Mall, 1965

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

History Videos Online

I've started a page linking to videos about U.S. history. There are lots of videos on and other sites that students can watch on their computers. The videos can fill in a lot that the textbooks don't, and in a livelier, more engaging way.

It's pretty cool that so much is available. You can see FDR giving his first inaugural! You can see Martin Luther King deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Poetry Sites 

From the Academy of American Poets, this site has a large selection of poems, as well as biographical information about poets, and other information.
  • Poem-a-Day: You can skim the poems they've posted recently. And you can sign up to get a daily email with a poem to enjoy and think about.
  • Some of the themes listed on
  • Search for poems or look for poems sorted by theme here.
  • Listen to audio (interviews and readings) and watch video here.
  • Poems for Teens has a good selection—35 poems, by my count.
  • The "For Educators" tab lists
    • Tips for Teaching Poetry
    • Poetry Resources for Teens
    • Curriculum & Lesson Plans
    • Great Poems to Teach
    • Essays on Teaching
    • Teaching Resource Center
    • Poetry Read-a-Thon
Users can set up accounts and create "notebooks" of poems. These lists might be good for kids:

The Poetry Foundation has a large selection of poems, listed by subject (Love, Nature, Social Commentaries, etc.), occasions (Birthdays, Weddings, etc.), or holiday. You can also look at poems arranged by the "school" (Augustan, Beat, Harlem Renaissance, New York School, etc.), the poet's birthplace, or the poet's century.

You can also find examples of different verse forms (e.g., haiku, limerick), stanza forms, meters, and techniques (e.g., alliteration, metaphor). (This would have been handy with a high-school student I tutored last year who was studying some of these concepts.)

Whatever search you do, you can filter to include only poems that are good for children. Without any other search terms, there are 175 poems tagged as good for children.

There's a page for audio (readings, lectures, interviews) and a page for video

There's a page for Children's Poetry. A series of videos for kids is The Children's Poet Laureat Presents.  There are three very short (half a minute) videos from Classical Baby (I'm All Grown Up Now).

Poetry Everywhere

Here is a series of short videos of poets and actors reading poetry, produced by a public TV station (WGBH, in Boston) in association with the Poetry Foundation. Most of the videos are recent, but there's one black-and-white video of Robert Frost reading "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

Poetry Everyhwere also includes a collection of 34 short animations created by students at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Students might enjoy these. Who doesn't like clever animation? Plus they could help with reading skills, because you hear the poems read while seeing animated characters and, usually, animated words. Very cool.

Animated poetry menu

(These might require Flash. They don't work on my iPad, anyway.)

Library of Congress Poetry and Literature

If you like videos, check out the Favorite Poem Project, which shows people reading and discussing their favorite poems. A lot of the people in the videos are students or ordinary folks (a construction worker, a doctor, etc.), but some are famous. (Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton each read a poem.)

Poetry Webcasts and Podcasts include readings and interviews with poets.

Poetry Resources has lots of helpful links.

Poetry 180 (collected by Billy Collins)
is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. I have selected the poems you will find here with high school students in mind. They are intended to be listened to, and I suggest that all members of the school community be included as readers.
A poem a day, picked out for students!

This site doesn't indicate who produces it. It has a comparatively small selection of famous poems. It's page listing poetry genres and terms links to Wikipedia entries.

Why list poetry resources?

  1. Most important: students might like it and find it meaningful.
  2. Students who are already interested in poetry can learn more and develop their own craft.
  3. Students might have homework that these resources could help with.
  4. Some of those students who can't be talked into reading a book might be persuaded to try just a poem or two.
  5. Hearing authors and actors read poetry could help reading fluency. Students who are assigned to do interpretive reading in class can hear how it's done.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

True Stories of Quileute Tribe

A couple of years ago, the Twilight books were popular with some of the teen girls at our tutoring center. I'm always happy to see students reading anything, and the Twilight books are appealing because they have interest teens but are comparatively easy to read.  If the movies add a reason to read, all the better.

The stories include a theme about the Quileute Indians being werewolves. They aren't really, of course, but they do have some wolf legends. You can learn more in this post from the Smithsonian Institution and even more in the Real Story of the Quileute Wolves from the Seattle Art Museum. (SAM created an exhibit, which has now traveled to the Smithsonian.)

If you have a student interested in Twilight (and its sequels), it could provide an entree to Native American  culture, Washington State history, or Washington State geography,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Finland's educational success story: Less testing, more trusting

Finland's educational success story: Less testing, more trusting | Local News | The Seattle Times, Nov. 13, 2012.
Sahlberg's message, although he is too polite to put it so bluntly: Stop testing so much. Trust teachers more. Give less homework. Shorten the school day.

Monday, November 12, 2012

This American Life on Middle School

This week's episode of This American Life looks at Middle School. As a tutor whose own middle school years are ancient history, I found this interesting and helpful. One of these days I might look for the book by the woman interviewed in Act One: Not Much, Just Chilling': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers (2003). The Seattle Public Library's catalog record for it is here.

Struggling to Learn

NPR had a very interesting story this morning, featuring a psychologist who compares attitudes toward learning in Asian countries and the U.S.  Broadly speaking (of course there are exceptions!) people in the U.S. tell kids that when they do well it's because they're smart, while  in Asia the message is about working hard. Worth a look (or a listen): Alix Spiegel, Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning, Morning Edition, Nov. 12, 2012. The comments are good, too.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Health Careers has lots of information about a wide variety of careers, including LOTS beyond doctor and nurse—acupuncture practitioner, massage therapist, medical librarian, dental hygienist, environmental health specialist, athletic trainer, . . . even crime scene investigator!

The site also has search feature where you look for careers based on how long you want to be in school and how much money you would like to earn. (It shouldn't be a big surprise that the careers that pay the most often require the most training, e.g., college and medical school.)

If you are a student thinking about possible careers—or if you are a tutor looking for good information to share with your student—this is a great site to explore.

College Application Tips

Check out Do's and Don'ts When Applying to College Part I (Jan. 19, 2012) and Part II (Feb. 16, 2012), from

Tips for Studying Science

Studying Science: The Six Keys to Success (from could be helpful to older students, especially those planning to go to college. The summary:
Key Number 1: Manage Your Time New students often don't know how much time it really takes to study science. You'll need to make the most of every minute. Our time-saving tips may not make you a science whiz overnight, but they will help you get on top of all that studying!

Key Number 2: Create A Study Space Whatever and wherever it is, your study space should be your own personal sanctum sanctorum. Your brain comes to associate that space exclusively with studying - so as soon as you enter it, you just click into the study mode. This, in itself, is an enormous time-saver.

Key Number 3: Master the Textbook Are you intimidated by your science book? If so, you're not alone. Tackling a difficult text can be daunting, even for the most intelligent student. Our experts offer advice about how to approach, read, take notes on, and (best of all) understand those gargantuan science texts.

Key Number 4 - Note-Taking ABCs If you want to be a successful student of science, you need to master two essential in-class skills: effective listening, and effective note-taking. We can help you notice - and take note of - what's most important in the lecture hall.

Key Number 5 - Join A Study Group The best students - like the best health professionals - do not work in isolation. The friends you study with become allies in learning: You cheer each other on, brainstorm together, divvy up topics, and help each other study for exams. There's strength in numbers!

Key Number 6 - Don't Cram For Exams Cramming is stressful and exhausting - but even worse, it's not very effective. Our experts tell you how to be so well prepared that you'll spend the night before your next exam actually sleeping.
Since we tutors spend so much time on reading, the tip on how to read a science textbook is especially worthwhile. Getting the most out of a science textbook takes some differ skills from reading a novel or history book!

Education News, Policy, Commentary

Want to read about education issues? Check out the Washington Post's blog, The Answer Sheet.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Washington State Kids Going to College

The Seattle Times reports that Washington State is near the bottom in the rate of students going to college (two-year or four-year) after high school. There's a companion story about an elementary school in Kent that's trying to get kids thinking about college from the very beginning. Washington has a higher percentage of adults who have gone to college than average and yet a low percentage of young people who go. Why? Because a lot of well-educated people move here. See Trends: Washington state's higher-education paradox, Seattle Times, Sept. 22, 2012. Wouldn't it be great if our own students could get the educations they need to work at Microsoft, Nintendo, Boeing, Amgen, Genentech, and so on?

We need to remember vocational programs in community colleges and technical schools, too. I know a young man who is finishing a two-year welding program at a community college, and he should be able to get a job and make a good living. We need good mechanics, carpenters, chefs, electricians, nurses, medical technicians, dental hygienists, and more. To get training for these fields, students still need to get through high school and enroll in a program. Study skills, reading, math, and language arts will be important to them, even if they don't choose to go to a four-year college.

I have sometimes tutored a teenager who didn't have enough homework for the hour and yet did not want to read a book. If your student is like that, you try reading these articles together and talking about them, for a little reading practice and an opening to talk about what comes after high school. There are some math skills to practice, too—reading charts, talking about percentages.

If your or your student like, try this list based on these news stories.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More Science Videos

There are lots of short and fun science videos on the web. Here are some links:

Science News from the National Science Foundation. Includes:

NASA's Video Gallery (space and planets and astronauts and rockets!)

Smithsonian Videos (not just science!). Science videos include:

MIT Video (over 11,000 videos!). Includes:
The Mechanical Universe (a series of videos about physics by CalTech)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

NBC Learn Videos

NBC Learn has these collections of short videos (and other resources). I like the ones I've watched so far.
Spend a few minutes with these videos -- they're well done and interesting!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Middle School Math and Science

MSP2 (Middle School Math and Science Portal 2) is a social network for educators. SMARTR is a related math and science site by kids for kids.


I was looking for good physics videos for 8th grade or so, and I found these links in MSP2's blog:

A great collection of science-focused videos from NPR's Science Friday.

The Science of Speed The Science of Speed, produced for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and written and hosted by Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, explains the scientific principles that are so essential to the NASCAR experience. Viewers learn how science makes cars powerful, agile, fast and safe – and how these same principles affect their own cars.

Science of NFL Football
In America, the autumn season means two things–back to school and back to football. To celebrate both events, NBC News’ educational arm, NBC Learn, teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Football League (NFL) to release the “Science of NFL Football”–an informative 10-part video series that explores the science behind America’s most beloved sport.

Science of the Olympic Winter Games
NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce Science of the Olympic Winter Games, a 16-part video series that explores the science behind individual Olympic events, including Downhill and Aerial Skiing, Speed Skating and Figure Skating, Curling and Hockey, and Ski Jumping, Bobsledding and Snowboarding. Each video is complemented with lesson plans which include fun classroom activities. The lesson plans were written by teachers at Academic Business Consultants for grades 6-9 and are aligned with California State Standards.

Extreme Adventure
Do you have what it takes to win the Ultimate Race? Find out with the Tryscience Extreme Challenge! Compete on seven courses in four sports- mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and snowboarding. You must train and apply the science behind the sport to beat the challenge time and earn each course medal.

Funderstanding Roller Coaster
A Java applet allows students to manipulate their own simple roller coaster. Students can change the height of two hills and a loop, the speed and mass of the car, and the gravity and friction being applied. By experimenting with these variables, students will see how basic physics principles guide the engineering behind the design of real roller coasters.

Amusement Park Physics
You learn how the laws of physics are applied to many favorite amusement park rides, including roller coasters, bumper cars, carousels, and free fall and pendulum rides. A glossary and related resources are provided.

Centripetal Force: Roller Coaster Loops
What can be learned from a roller coaster ride? This video segment of a real ride explains the difference between centrifugal force and centripetal force and illustrates how roller coasters rely on centripetal force to give you a thrilling ride.

Make Tracks
At this site, you can design a roller coaster and then climb aboard and see how it rides! Watch the ride from right above the car itself or, if your stomach isn’t up to that, from a fixed position away from the track. Students will get a continuous readout of the coaster speed and acceleration. A fun site!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Inside the Mind of Google

Most of our students watch a lot of video—broadcast TV, cable, DVDs, streaming video via Netflix, videos on the Web. I've often tried to talk a student into substituting just a little TV time with some reading time. It's a hard sell. I'm not giving up on that, but I'd like to branch out and encourage students to watch some video that might help them learn about something they're interested in.

Inside the Mind of Google, a 2009 documentary from CNBC, might appeal to some students. Of course they all use and love Google. So where did it come from? Who started it? What's it like to work at Google? Why do people talk about privacy issues? How does Google make money? You can watch it online here. It's also available streaming from Netflix (for students like the one I talked to who watches Netflix on his WII).

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Motivating Students

Here is an excellent article on  motivating students: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic: The Challenge of Motivation, Ecology of Education, Jan. 18, 2012. (Thanks for sharing that, Sarah!)

The hard thing about intrinsic motivation is just that it is intrinsic. Ideally we could always tap into a child's curiosity, excitement at trying new things, and joy at meeting a challenge. But face it, that's not always possible.

It's important to remember that extrinsic motivation (I'll give you a candy bar if you learn this list of spelling words) can work in the short term but doesn't create a lifelong learner.

I read about a study that compared two groups of kids in a reading program. One group of kids was rewarded with pizza for reading books. The other group of kids was still asked to read books but didn't get the pizza. It's not surprising that the kids in the pizza group read more books than the others. What is noteworthy is the follow-up, several months after the program: at that time, the kids who had been rewarded with pizza were reading fewer books than the kids who had no extrinsic reward! The pizza kids had gotten the message that reading was something to do in order to get a prize and didn't pick up the intrinsic rewards of reading. (This is one of many studies described in Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes (1993, 1999) (1999 edition has new afterward), which I highly recommend.

The author of the article above recommends using lots of positive reinforcement. But what kind of positive reinforcement should we use? One point Kohn makes is that it's better to praise what the student does instead of the student's natural ability. Examples:

Say things like this:More than this:
I'm impressed at how you figured out how to do those story problems!You're good at math!
You put a lot of work into that art project. It turned out great!You are a talented artist!
You've been reading a lot on your own, and you've made a lot of progress!You're smart!

Why? Working hard and taking care with projects are things that the student can control, and when things turn out well, the student can justifiably take pride in the results. If everything is attributed to talent or intelligence, then it's out of the student's hands. Maybe this assignment went well, but if the next one doesn't come easily, well, that must just be because the student doesn't have enough talent, and the student can conclude that there's not much point in trying. (By the way, there's a lot of evidence that factors like self-discipline and willingness to keep trying after a failure are much more important to success than native intelligence.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Free Webinar: Reeling in Reluctant Readers

Want to learn about ways to encourage reluctant readers? Check out this free webinar from the American Library Association 11 a.m. Sept. 25:
Reeling in Reluctant Readers
Teachers and librarians are always looking for new ways to connect with children and teens categorized as “reluctant readers.” In this free, hour-long webinar, a reading specialist and literacy coach—along with representatives from Orca Book Publishers and Saddleback Educational Publishing—will discuss strategies and resources effective in reaching struggling readers ages 10 and up, as well as present books that combine high-interest topics with accessible writing. Also hear about new releases and best-selling series from Saddleback Educational Publishing and Orca Book Publishers. Moderated by Books for Youth associate editor Ann Kelley.Register now!

Can't make the date? Register anyway so a link to the video archive of this webinar can be e-mailed to you after the event. 

Why Study Geometry?

Here's an interesting comment I just read:
Younger people may not have taken a geometry class. The subject was reclassified as optionl some years go in the mistaken belief that it was no longer sufficiently relevant to tody's world, a view that demonstrates the ignorance of many of the people who make such decisions. Although it is true that hardly anyone ever makes direct use of geometrical knowledge, it was the only class int he high school curriculum that exposed children to the important concept of formal reasoning and mathematical proof. 
Exposure to formal mathemtical thinking is important for at least two reasons. First, a citizen in today's mathematically based world should have at least a general sense of one of the major contributors to society. Second, a survey carried out by the U.S. Department of Education in 1997 (the Riley Report) showed that students who completed high school geometry performed markedly better in gaining entry to college and did better when at college than those students who had not taken such a course, regardless of the subjects studied at college. As the survey organizers pointed out, the major factor was not how well the students do in such a course. Merely completing it gives them a tremendous advantage in all their other courses.
Keith Devlin, The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p. ___, note 2 (italics are in the original; the large font is my emphasis).

That led me to a speech by then Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, The State of Mathematics Education: Building a Strong Foundation for the 21st Century, Notices of the AMS, vol. 45, p. 487, April 1998. A couple of key paragraphs:
[A]lmost 90 percent of new jobs require more than a high school level of literacy and math skills. An entry- level automobile worker, for instance, according to an industry-wide standard, needs to be able to apply formulas from algebra and physics to properly wire the electrical circuits of a car. Indeed, almost every job today increasingly demands a combination of theoretical knowledge and skills that require learning throughout a lifetime. 
That is why it is so important that we make sure that all students master the traditional basics of arithmetic early on as well as the more challenging courses that will prepare them to take physics, statistics, and calculus in much larger numbers in high school and college.
A recent U.S. Department of Education report demonstrates that a challenging mathematics education can build real opportunities for students who might not otherwise have them. 
It found, for example, that young people who have taken gateway courses like Algebra I and Geometry go on to college at much higher rates than those who do not—83 percent to 36 percent. The difference is particularly stark for low-income students. These students are almost three times as likely—71 percent versus 27 percent—to attend college. 
In fact, taking the tough courses, including challenging mathematics, is a more important factor in determining college attendance than is either a student’s family background or income.
And here's a final point to ponder:
There is a disconnect about mathematics in this country. A recent Harris poll revealed that while more than 90 percent of parents expect their children to go to college and almost 90 percent of kids want to go to college, fully half of those kids want to drop mathematics as soon as they can.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Paying for College

Paying for college can be complicated. A lot of students will end up using a combination of scholarships, loans, and earnings from part-time and summer jobs.

To get an overview of the financial aid world, see Financial Aid Opportunity Pathways, from the Washington Student Achievement Council. And see Searching for Scholarships on the same site. helps Washington students find scholarships they might qualify for. Each student registers and sets up a profile, then the system searches for scholarships that match that profile. The profiles can be very detailed—for instance, including SAT scores, advanced placement courses, clubs, race and ethnicity, and so on.

If you're a tutor or a center supervisor, can you see how the system works? Yes: there's an option when registering to say you're a teacher, parent, counselor, or mentor, and then you can fill out a profile. Of course, only students can go all the way and apply for scholarships, but it's handy to look around and see what students will do when they register.

Want to Go to College Someday? Know How 2 GO!

Know How 2 GO ( a great place for students to start making plans for college. There are pages with concrete advice for students in middle school, 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, and 12th grade.
(Middle school? Yes, middle school! Students can start thinking about college and preparing themselves even in middle school. In fact, if they just drift along until 11th or 12th grade, assuming that all the pieces will fall into place, they will find that they've missed out on some good opportunities.)
Here are the four basic steps, for all students:
Step 1 - Be a Pain!
    Let everyone know that you're going to college and need their help.
Steps 2 - Push Yourself!
    Working a little harder today will make getting into college even easier.
Step 3 - Find the Right Fit!
    Find out what kind of school is the best match for you and your career goals.
Step 4 - Put Your Hands on Some Cash!
    If you think you can't afford college, think again. There's lots of aid out there.
Know How 2 GO is a project of the American Council on Education, the Lumina Foundation for Education, and the Ad Council. Since it's from the American Council on Education, the information is solid. And since the Ad Council is involved, there are some slick public service announcements (PSAs) to help get the messages across. Students might enjoy these ads—designed for TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, and billboards.

If you're the tutor of a teenager, take a few minutes some evening to look at the site with your student. If you're a student, go ahead: explore the site yourself—you don't have to wait for anyone to show it to you!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

PBS Kids

PBS Kids has lots of games and videos for kids.

Some games are aimed at very young kids—e.g., in Bubble Pop the child clicks on bubbles that rise out of Curious George's bathtub and counts them, 1, 2, 3, . . ., while Curious George giggles. Others for little kids help teach colors, shapes, etc.

Some games are aimed at older kids. For example, Cyberchase games are designed for students who are 8-12 years old.

How do you find an appropriate game for the skills your student is working on? Take a look at PBS Teachers. A navigation bar lets you choose a grade level (Pre-K, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). Then you can choose a subject (The Arts, Health & Fitness, Math, Reading & Language Arts, etc.). The result is a long list of videos, interactive games, and offline activities. You can search within the list.

If you're looking for math games, go to the Parent & Teachers page for Cyberchase. And for a variety of science, technology, and math lesson plans and resources, for K-12, see the STEM Education Resource Center A lot of the games require Flash, so will have to be played on a computer.

If a tutor likes to let a student play a game on an iPhone or other mobile device, use the mobile version of PBS Kids (

The PBS sites for parents and teachers have some ads (the ones I saw were for the Seattle Aquarium and Applegate Organic & Natural Meat). The PBSKids site is free of ads—something I look for in sites for students. Kids are exposed to plenty of advertising as it is. Why distract them with ads for, say, KeyBank, Target, Amazon, and Marriott (the ads I saw on Learning Games for when I visited it just now)? I make an exception for Free because the sponsors are supporting world hunger relief. This isn't to say I'd never recommend Learning Games for—or other sites with ads. I just prefer not to have ads.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Biomedical Research Story

Maybe a teen is more interested in medicine than rocket science. Try reading  this recent article about research at the UW: UW researchers see work as step toward regenerating human heart, Seattle Times, Aug. 7, 2012.

Want to work on some of the hard words? Try this vocabulary list on

Rocket Science Story

Here's another fairly short story that might interest some older students who are thinking about careers and college—or loud, exciting rockets that go fast: Student-built rocket with experimental motor blasts to 1st-place finish, UW Today, Aug. 10, 2011.

There's a cool video showing the rocket taking off. It went over 5 miles high!

The team of students worked on the project for a year and a half. That's a lot of work—but designing a new rocket motor is a big deal!

Of course to talk about rocket science, you need some vocabulary, like "propulsion" and "design." A vocabulary list based on the article is here. As with other lists on, it gives you practice with new words (along with points and "badges" when you get them right).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

President Obama's Speech to Students

During President Obama's first year in office, he gave a speech to students at a high school that was televised to schools around the country. You can read the speech and watch a video of it here. (Some students might find it helpful to be able to listen to Pres. Obama speaking as they read the trasncript.) Are some words hard? Check out the vocabulary list at
[T]oday I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education—and do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending some time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you'll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all young people deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you'll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. . . .
But whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes you get that sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work—that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star. Chances are you're not going to be any of those things.
The truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject that you study. You won't click with every teacher that you have. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right at this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
Most students like President Obama: maybe that would help make this a good, short reading exercise—and, of course, an opportunity to talk about starting the new school year with a commitment to engaging with the work.

Hangman from Oxford

Oxford Dictionaries Online includes a free Hangman game. Most of the words are too hard for young students, but it should be a good challenge for teens. Some words should be within any teen's vocabulary ("consumer," for instance). With other words, a student might say that he or she has never heard of it—but even the harder words ("aqueous" or "gorgon," for instance) should be within reach (and are the sort of words that might be on the SAT). If a student is curious, there's a link to the definition.

Saturday, August 4, 2012 is a terrific site. It has a very fast dictionary and lots of tools for helping you learn words. AND it has NO ADS!

 To use the vocabulary lists (and create your own), you need to register (free). You have to be at least 13 years old to register. Once you register, you can keep track of the words you're learning. And the system keeps track of what you've already done so it can help you practice and improve.

There are lots of lists of words that are already put together, at different levels of difficulty. For example, if you like The Hunger Games but you stumble over some of the words, you might decide that it would be helpful to use "The Hunger Games" Vocabulary from Chapter 1.

You can look over the list of words ("canvas," "cocoon," "insist," "scrawny," etc.). Or you can look at a list with definitions. Or a list with definitions and notes, including the sentences from the book where the words are used. Want more? Click and you can read notes about any word. For example, for "venture":
As either a noun or verb, venture implies risk. Your family won't like it if you leave school to go on an artistic venture. Those who chose to venture off school grounds were never seen again.
You've probably noticed that venture is a shortened form of adventure. This happened sometime between 1100 AD and 1400 AD during the time that Middle English was spoken. While the two words are similar in meaning, when you subtract the "ad," you lose a teaspoon or two of fun, and add a heaping tablespoon of risk.
The same page offers more detailed definitions. On the right side, you can click to see the word used in different sentences from the news, sports, business, science, and so on.

You can try out your vocabulary by clicking on "Learn this List."  You get a series of multiple-choice questions about the words in the list. If you guess right, you get a cheery message ("Nice work!"). If you don't, you get another chance, and another. You can also ask for hints—either having the program eliminate two wrong answers or give you a sample sentence. When you don't get a word on the first try, the system remembers it, so you'll get a review later.

After 10 questions, you get a score. You see your best streak (e.g., 6 in a row), and you get a bonus if you got all 10 right.  Then you can keep going to the next round. Getting the scores so often makes it into a game. It's fun to try to get a long streak going or to get a bonus for a perfect round.

After you feel pretty good about the vocabulary from chapter 1, then you can move on to the list for chapter 2, and then chapter 3.

There are lists for famous speeches (e.g., Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech, a speech by Nelson Mandela) and lists for literature (e.g., Walden, The Great Gatsby).

And there are lists designed to help students prepare for standardized tests, like the SAT. is produced by Thinkmap. Thinkmap has other products that require a subscription, but is free. Here is Thinkmap's press release from when it launched  (April 2011).  

In 2012, was an Official Honoree in the Education category of the Webby Awards
The more I use this site, the more I like it.

UW Summer Programs for Minority Teens

Here's an article about summer programs at the UW:
Summer programs aim to encourage and prepare minorities to attend college, UW Today, Aug. 3, 2012.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

More U.S. Geography

screen shot

State Facts for Students from the United States Census Bureau offers interesting statistics about each state — not just overall population, but how many 8-year-olds, how many boys, how many girls, how many zoos, how many dentists.

screen shot is a website from the U.S. Department of the Interior with hundreds of maps that you can print. You can choose the whole country or just one state, and choose different features to include (transportation, geology, environment, agriculture, cities, etc.).

There are also articles about American geography, including topics as diverse as the creation of the interstate highway system, the Civil War, congressional apportionment, and hurricanes. For a local story, see Mount Rainier: Learning to Live with Volcanic Risk.

This site has material for science, economics, history, and government—i.e., pages that would be fun to browse or that could help with a term paper. (Some students who don't want to read books might like looking at pictures and maps.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Here are some good sources for students who want to learn about U.S. Presidents.

(Of course students can use Wikipedia, which often has good articles. Why not stop there? (1) Some Wikipedia articles are written in a style that is hard for some students to read. (2) Some teachers don't want students to cite Wikipedia. (3) Wikipedia articles are unsigned. (4) Wikipedia articles don't give you access to all the great documents and images available in some of the sites listed here.) is the official site for the current administration. It has short biographies of the presidents here.

The site lists its source:
The Presidential biographies on are from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” by Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidey. Copyright 2009 by the White House Historical Association.

screen shot of Presidential Timeline homepage

The Presidential Timeline of the Twentieth Century gives you easy access to digitized material (documents, audio, video) from the 13 Presidential Libraries that are part of the National Archives. It includes: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush.

In addition to the timeline, there are "exhibits" on special topics for most of the presidents—for example, President Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb (1945) and the desegregation of the armed forces (1948-1954).

You can learn more about the Presidential Libraries and find links to them on the National Archives site. This search page lets you search the Presidential Libraries' websites.

Many of the Presidential Libraries' websites have special pages for students. For instance, the Kennedy Library has For Students, the Johnson Library has LBJ for Kids!, and the Eisenhower Library has Student Resources. You can often find these pages under Education.

Some of the "kids" pages will be useful for younger students. Some are written at a high school level.

American Presidency Project homepage

The American Presidency Project at UC Santa Barbara pulls together thousands of documents into one searchable database. You can find speeches, papers, party platforms, and more.

Do you like data? This site also gives you data comparing presidents on number of major speeches made, approval ratings, budget information, and more.

If you want to go directly to the audio and video materials, click on media.

The Library of Congress site, America's Story from America's Library (designed for young people), includes U.S. Presidents. It includes 14 presidents.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Anagram Fun

An anagram is a word or phrase that's formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase. For example, the letters that make up "A decimal point" can be turned into the anagram "I’m a dot in place."
Definition from

(Compare with Which one has lots of ads? Which one is easier to read?)

More from

People mainly make anagrams just for fun, but sometimes they’re used as pseudonyms or codes. For example, the French writer Francois Rabelais published his controversial first book under Alcofribas Nasier, an anagram of his name. The most entertaining anagrams are the ones where the rearranged letters make some sort of comment on the original. "Dormitory" turns into the anagram "dirty room," and "snooze alarms" can be rearranged into "Alas! No more Zs."
People who are good at seeing anagrams are often terrific Scrabble players, because they can look at a tray of seven letters and see new words that those letters can make.

I just came across a site where a programmer made a mock instant messaging app. You exchange comments with Sternest Meanings, who turns everything you say into an anagram.

Here's an example:

sternest: Ahoy mate!
webuser: Hi there, Sternest Meaning!
sternest: I'm the sneering threatens.
webuser: Hey, I'm going to the tutoring center tonight.
sternest: Unremote eighty-eight contorting. To thing.
webuser: Are you coming?
sternest: Gooey cranium.
webuser: What are you reading?
sternest: Graduate on haywire.
webuser: See ya later!
sternest: Steely area.

Give it a try. Can you see how the program makes new words from the ones you wrote?

By the way, "Sternest Meaning" is an anagram of a two-word phrase. Can you figure it out?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Career Info for Young Students

Paws in Jobland is an interactive website that helps elementary school students explore different jobs. It has information about over a hundred jobs. In Jobland, they're grouped by location. For instance, a building site has an archtitect, a bricklayer, a drafter, an electrician, and more. Jobfinder helps students find jobs to look at by asking them a series of questions ("Do you like math?" "Do you like acting?").  You'll never guess how the jobs are arranged in the ABC Search section of the site.

You can run it with or without sound. Without sound, there's more reading, of course.

(Adults will notice that the voices in Jobland have a Canadian accent. The program was originally developed in Denmark, then adapted for England, then adapted for North America—and the North Americans were Canadian. The parent site is by XAP, a company that offers licensed career materials for students, educators, and adults. XAP does business in the US and Canada.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Geography Resources and Games

Table of Contents:
  • United States
  • World
  • Geography Concepts and Geography Generally

Here are some resources for learning about states:

 Explore the States (part of America's Story, from the Library of Congress). logo links to states' websites. These links take you to pages with general information, often aimed at young people—for instance,

Go West graphic

Go West Across America with Lewis and Clark (interactive site from National Geographic)

MapStats for Kids (from FedStats, the statistics site with data from lots of federal agencies). Games show you how to represent data (like number of farms or average income) on maps. They can help you practice finding states on the map, and they're also good practice at working with numbers.

screen shot of atlas puzzle

National Geographic Atlas Puzzles. Choose a map, then see it turned into jigsaw pieces and put it back together.

Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids, Learn About Your State includes a page of basic facts about each state.
Place the State graphic
Ben's Guide to U.S. Government games includes Place the State, a great way to learn where all the states are. links to Travel and Tourism Sites for U.S. States and Territories

GeoNet games (from the textbook publisher, Houghton Mifflin). You can choose US or the world.

Here are some resources for world geography:

screenshot of World Factbook homepage

CIA World Factbook. The Central Intelligence Agency publishes this book (and website) every year to offer basic information about all the countries in the world. Includes:
    pictures of 4 flags
  • Maps of world regions, the world, and the United States. These are great maps to print or download!
  • Flags of the World 
  • Country comparison pages. You can get rankings of all the countries based on different statistics, such as:
    • Population. China has the world's largest population, with over 1.3 billion people. What countries are #2 and #3? What country has the fewest people?
    • Life expectancy.
    • Prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
    • Unemployment rate.
    • Per capita income.
    • Number of mobile phones.
    • How much money is spent on the military.

National Geographic Kids logo
National Geographic's Geography Games.

screen shot of atlas puzzle

National Geographic Atlas Puzzles. Choose a map, then see it turned into jigsaw pieces and put it back together. subjects:
  • Identify Countries on the Map
  • World Capitals
  • World Landmarks
  • Flags of the World

GeoNet games (from the textbook publisher, Houghton Mifflin). You can choose US or the world.

Here are some sites for geography concepts and geography generally:

National Geographic GeoBee Quiz. Ten daily questions from the National Geographic Bee. 

NASA has lots of material, suitable for different ages.
  • Window to Earth uses cool pictures to illustrate basic concepts like "cape" and "glacier."
  • A series of short videos (about 1 min. each) shows features of each continent from space.
  • Lists of materials and games about earth science for grades K-8 are here. (Most of the games seem to be aimed at young students.)
  • Material about earth science for grades 9-12 and adults is here.

Friday, July 6, 2012 Educational and Addictive (in a Good Way!) is a game site that does good. When you play and get right answers, advertisers give to the United Nations World Food Programme (the world's largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger). You get the fun of doing well at the game, and people who need food get food.

The game is simple: you're asked a question and given four possible answers. If you guess the right one, you earn 10 grains of rice. If you guess wrong, you don't. Either way, you keep going.

The game is always challenging (but not too hard), because if you get a lot of questions right, it gives you harder questions, and if you get a lot of questions wrong, it gives you easier questions. So you always end up being at a level where you get some questions right and some questions wrong. It makes you want to try one more . . . and one more . . . and one more.

You can set up an account to keep track of how much rice you've won—and to challenge your friends!

You can choose from different subjects:


For younger students, I recommend English Vocabulary, English Grammar, and Multiplication Table.

For older students, I recommend English Vocabulary, English Grammar, Spanish (if they're taking Spanish!), and SAT.  The SAT practice questions cover both language arts and math. Great practice!

Here's a video made by some high school students who really like Free Rice!