Category Archives: Kids & School

‘Safe’ Social Networking Tailored for K-12 Schools

This school year, the students in Robert A. Miller’s 5th grade class at Port Orange Elementary School in Florida have been chatting with historical figures. They’ve given Thomas Jefferson advice on how to write the Declaration of Independence and touched base with Benjamin Franklin. In early spring, they had conversations with explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as the duo made their way west. The explorers sent back detailed descriptions of prairie dogs and the sights they saw on their travels. Students had to restrain themselves from revealing to the explorers the pivotal role that the recent addition to their team—a pregnant Native American woman named Sacagawea—would play.

Students are having conversations with those celebrated figures (played by Mr. Miller), as well as each other and their teacher, using the social-networking site Edmodo, which is designed specifically for use in schools. “It makes learning more interactive” Mr. Miller said. “It’s a way to extend the classroom after hours, but I’m also using it to present lessons.”

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Filed under Education, Kids & School, Social Media

‘Flash Mob’ Serenades Retiring Principal: Get Your Tissues!

Guaranteed to warm your heart, and maybe make you tear up. From the Sierra Madre, CA Patch.

As if I didn’t have enough to cry about at our daughter’s 5th grade graduation this morning, this retiring principal at another school in our district was my husband’s teacher. We have tons of friends at the school now. What an amazing tribute to an amazing educator – and a reminder of the importance of principal leadership, and of the fact that, in the midst of all the contentious debate, a lot is going so very right with public education.

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Nancy Drew: Shadow Ranch App for Kids

Thanks to this review from Common Sense Media I recently downloaded the iPhone version of the Nancy Drew: Shadow Ranch app from Her Interactive for our 10 year old daughter (There’s an iPad version).  She LOVED it! For several days she wanted to use my phone while we were out to continue reading and solving the mystery. We usually take a book with us everywhere; this gave us an interactive book in my pocket. Plus, I felt much better about her spending time with this app than I do when she plays Diner Dash or some other pedicure design game she found. One warning, she was using it in the car and it includes sound effects. Out of nowhere came a loud shriek and my husband and I both thought we’d truly run over a cat. Turns out it was a horse neighing. So the sound went off. It reminds me of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I used to love. Now that she finished it once,  she can create a new user for herself and do it again taking different paths. She’s now eagerly waiting for the next one.

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Filed under Education, Kids & School, Recommendations, Technology

Learning From Hollywood Take 2: Role of Parents

This post is Part 2 of my debrief of the two days I spent at the Learning from Hollywood conference put on by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.  I attended representing ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career. I’ve grouped my thoughts by theme rather than chronology, though please note this post expresses my own opinions and experience not ConnectEd’s. My five themes are:

  • Respect Your Audience
  • It’s the Participation, Stupid
  • Parent Attitudes Matter
  • Digital Media to What End?
  • Cool Stuff to Check Out

In order to respect my audience’s time, I covered the first two in the previous post and now for the other three. Here we go.

Photo from Common Sense Media website.

Parent Attitudes Matter

This would be the topic where my own thinking has challenged most. Frank Gilliam, Dean of USC School of Public Affairs, and Linda Burch, Chief Education Officer of Common Sense Media, talked about research on parent attitudes toward digital media.

Gilliam spoke about the mental models parents and the public have around digital media, around learning, and around early childhood education. (Great video clip here on Henry Jenkins blog.)

I’m big on the idea that unconscious mental models shape how we interact with the world. But I didn’t like hearing what his research had to say about the mental models the public – and parents – hold in these areas. To paraphrase…

  • For the public, digital media = entertainment, a luxury.
  • Entertainment = passive, artificial, dangerous, passive.
  • Therefore, don’t bring that stuff into our schools.

I had a visceral negative reaction. I don’t believe that! My fellow parents don’t believe that! We want more technology in our schools! Continue reading


Filed under Education, Events, Kids & School, Technology

Learning from Hollywood: Or How Twitter Made Me a SuperMom for a Day and Why it Matters

Last week I spent two days at the Learning from Hollywood conference put on by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The conference brought together approximately 200 experts from entertainment, academia, philanthropy, gaming, libraries, journalism and education to talk about how these sectors can collaborate to harness digital media in support of education. The eclectic mix of leaders in their fields made for a constant buzz – and my still-tired synapses. I attended representing ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career and with much thanks to their friends at the Pearson Foundation for securing a somewhat last minute invitation. Here are a few of my takeways grouped by theme rather than chronology, though please note this post expresses my own opinions and experience not ConnectEd’s.

My five themes are:

  • Respect Your Audience
  • It’s the Participation, Stupid
  • Parent Attitudes Matter
  • Digital Media to What End?
  • Cool Stuff to Check Out

In order to respect my audience’s time, I’m going to cover the first two in this post and put the other three in this follow-up post. Here we go.

Respect Your Audience

“Respect your audience” became a conference mantra we all could have chanted in unison by the end of our time together. We heard it over again and again from the most expert storytellers. Producer Marcy Karsey of The Cosby Show and Roseanne fame said, “The very very basic thing is respect the audience. It’s the first and most important thing.” Producer Don Hahn of Lion King and Beauty and the Beast fame said, “Trust the sophistication of the audience.” Producer Peter Gruber of The Color Purple, Rain Man and Batman fame said, “When you try to move folks, are you audience centric? Otherwise you have no chance.”

Several speakers and participants quickly applied that mantra to students as the audience. Continue reading

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Filed under Change, Education, Kids & School, Parenting, Social Media

Our Middle School Decision

Next year, after six years at our neighborhood elementary school, Longfellow Elementary, our daughter will be attending middle school at a private school, the Polytechnic School.

It may seem self-absorbed to be writing such a long (really long) blog post about why we made this decision. Maybe it is. But people have been asking me for months, and it turns out people have been asking our friends for months “what David and Kristin are doing for middle school.”

Why would anyone would care what we do or why? For the past 10 years, we’ve been deeply involved in public education in our community. Seven years ago, my husband and I co-founded with friends the Pasadena Education Network (PEN) to promote parent participation in and family enrollment in our public schools. In addition, I’ve served on local committees, donated my facilitation services, and worked professionally through a variety of foundations to support our District and others like it across the country.

As a result of our involvement, we know plenty of people are genuinely interested in our perspective on this decision. We’re not naïve though. We also know there are people who will choose to judge us for this decision. I decided I’d rather that both those groups have the story straight from us. So here it is.

From the time we started Kindergarten at Longfellow people would ask us, “But what will you do about middle school?” We always answered, “We’ll do the same thing we did for elementary. We’ll assume the best of our public schools. We’ll visit our neighborhood middle school and several other public middle schools. We’ll visit private schools if we feel the need. Then we’ll make a decision that is best for our family.” This is what PEN recommends all families do, and that’s what we did over the last two years with PEN’s help.

We’ve been visiting most of our public middle schools off and on for two years now.  The changes at our public middle schools over the last two to three years as a result of the Excellent Middle Schools initiative are remarkable. Literally every six months, I could see more progress – addition of an advisory period, advanced math options, the start of a foreign language program, new extra-curricular options, and a rise in test scores corresponding to the efforts.

As we visited, David and I both felt that this time around, we also needed to consider private schools. Continue reading


Filed under Education, Kids & School

Is it a “Rug Rat Race” or Something Else?

As my daughter approaches middle school, my anxiety about college increases and I feel a looming pressure on us (okay probably me) to spend time making sure our daughter is in the right school, has access to the right extracurricular activities to be able to get into college – given that getting into college is far more competitive than when my husband and I entered.

I think it was that anxiety that recently led me to read the full report titled “The Rug Rat Race” from the Brookings Institute that was also highlighted in the New York Times column the Motherlode, The College Race Brings Families Together? The report examines data on parental time with children (data I’m very familiar with from writing my book This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today) and data on the competitiveness of getting into college. The researchers, Gary Ramey and Valerie Ramey,  conclude that particularly for college-educated parents, the reason parents started spending lots more time with their children – especially older children – is a “rug rat race” in which parents invest more and more time preparing children for increasingly rare slots in college. Continue reading


Filed under Economy, Education, Kids & School, Money, Time

45 Moms and 3 Dads

I was tired, but tonight I dragged myself out to my favorite bookstore, Vroman’s, for a presentation on the social world of children – especially tween and teen girls. Ours is nine, but holy cow 4th grade seems to be when everything starts exploding socially.

So here’s the thing, the place was packed…with moms…and three dads. Continue reading

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Filed under Assumptions about Mothers, Fatherhood, Gender Issues, Kids & School, Motherhood, Remodeling Motherhood

New Research Shows U.S. Economy Will Grow by Billions of Dollars if High School Dropout Rate is Reduced

The impact of dropouts on local economy is huge.  I’m feeling fortunate that my new job allows me to work on this by supporting schools in building pathways to college and career that are relevant and engaging to students.

Published by news release by the Alliance for Excellent Education:

If just half of the dropouts in an average year graduated, additional tax revenues and increased wages would substantially buoy the local economies of the nation’s fifty largest cities

Washington, D.C. – New game-changing research conducted by the Alliance for Excellent Education (The Alliance) released today shows that the U.S. economy would grow significantly if the number of high school dropouts was cut in half.

Nearly 600,000 students dropped out of the high school class of 2008 in the nation’s fifty largest cities and the surrounding areas. The Alliance’s research shows that, if just half of those students had graduated, on average, they would have earned more than $4.1 billion in additional income every year. In addition, in these areas, state and local tax revenues in an average year would jump by a total of nearly $536 million.

“In these lean economic times, local businesses and governments are looking for any way they can to improve their financial situation,” said former West Virginia Governor and Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise. “These numbers demonstrate clearly that every consumer, business, and taxpayer benefits dramatically when we do what it takes to increase the number of students who graduate from high school with the skills they need to succeed in life. Indeed, the best economic stimulus is a high school diploma.”

The AEE study also found that 65 percent of the additional high school graduates would continue their education with many earning a PhD or other professional degree.

“As a business leader I’m committed to a quality education for all children and to strengthening the vitality of our communities,” said Edward B. Rust Jr., Chairman and CEO of State Farm®. “The new Alliance for Excellent Education model conclusively demonstrates that graduating from high school has significant positive economic and financial consequences for the business community and not just for the individual getting the education. Assuring that all of our students graduate from high school with the skills necessary to compete in a global economy is something all businesses-small and large-should see as a priority.”

While it is impossible to forecast precise values of economic benefits, the Alliance is confident that these figures fall within the range of benefits that each region could expect to see. The economic model used to estimate these economic benefits was developed by the Alliance for Excellent Education with the generous support of State Farm® and in partnership with Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc.

Continue Reading →


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Remodeling Motherhood to Enjoy the Holidays

I am entering the holiday season feeling particularly grateful this year. Since the October 6 release of my book, This is Not How I Thought It Would Be: Remodeling Motherhood to Get the Lives We Want Today,  so many people have been so good to me that I get choked up just thinking about it.

As I travel and fit book related activities in around my job, both my husband and daughter have put up with my absences and demands on my time, plus my husband has taken on the bulk of the family work and daily logistics. The people I met on my travels  let me sleep in their homes, bought me dinner, picked me up at the train station, dropped me off at bookstores, sent out press releases and called on friends to come out and see me, and even gave ME gifts for coming to visit when they were the ones who put in all the work to make it happen.

This busy period of my life foreshadows the craziness many of us feel as we enter the holiday season. Plus, the holiday season often kicks a couple of my outdated assumptions, or mental maps,  into high gear:

  • Mother is responsible for and naturally better at caring for family and home.
  • Mothers who pursue personal fulfillment are selfish.

I know that even before Thanksgiving, I’m already starting to think about good gifts for our daughter, which holiday rituals we can fit in when, what favorite foods to have for special days because that’s what a “good mother” would do. Yet my husband probably isn’t. I know that with my to-do list longer than usual,  I am likely to try to manage every minute of every day more closely and set aside taking care of myself. I know that I am less likely to ask others for help because I assume they must be busy too. Fortunately, the last eight weeks have reinforced for me a few Remodeling Motherhood tips that I think are especially important for all of us to remember during the holiday season.


When I talk with groups about how outdated assumptions keep mothers from taking time for themselves or asking for help,  I often pose this question to the group, “So if a friend called you tomorrow and said I need to (go to a professional networking event/have an hour to myself/fill in the blank), can you watch my kids for a couple hours, how many of you would do it?” Of course, every hand  in the room goes up. Then I ask, “And how many of you have ever asked?” Usually only a hand or two goes up. We think it’s not okay to ask, that we’ll be adding to the burden of someone else, that we ought to be able to do it all on our own. I learned once again on my trip that it is okay for me to ask and that I couldn’t do it on my own. Perhaps more importantly, I was also reminded that the person providing help feels fulfilled and energized, and that asking and receiving help creates rich connections between people.  So this holiday season, ask.


This busy period in my life also reminded me that managing energy is more important that managing the minutes of every day. As I made my way through my whirlwind schedule, always having more to do than the minutes in the day, I made time for exercise and getting enough sleep. I knew those two things would give me the energy I needed to both get things done and enjoy them as they were happening. So ask yourself, what gives you energy and how will you make room for those activities during this busy time?


I’ve also realized it is time for my husband and I to talk about who would do what for the holidays. I’ve already begun in my head to take on responsibility for the perfect holiday. Unless we talk about it, I’ll assume that as the “good mother” I have responsibility for the gifts, the food, the rituals, the calendar. I know if I continue down this path without pausing for us to get on the same page, I’ll get so tired and resentful that I won’t enjoy the season myself and no one will enjoy me!  Plus, I’ll rob my husband of the chance to share the responsibility.  So it’s time for us to talk about what we want the holiday season to be like, what’s important to our family, and how we’ll share responsibility for making it what we want.

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Filed under Articles, Assumptions about Mothers, Family Work, Holidays, Kids & School, Remodeling Motherhood, Remodeling Motherhood Tips