Thursday, May 27, 2010

168 Hours, on sale today

Dear Gifted Exchange readers:

This is a big day for me. My new book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, goes on sale today. You can follow the link, above, to various online retailers, and it should be in the business/time management sections of your local Borders or Barnes & Noble as well.

What, you may ask, is 168 hours? It's what you get when you multiply 24 x 7. It's the number of hours in a week.

I think this is a much better way to think about our time than the usual 24 blocks. Is Tuesday or Saturday a "normal" day for you? Considering them both gives a better picture of our time. This book is about how people in general spend their time and how we can all spend it better. In particular, I profile many people who do a lot with the 168 hours we all have each week -- building big careers, raising big families, even getting enough sleep! Drawing upon data from the American Time Use Survey and other research, I make the case that many of the ideas we have of how people spend their time now, and in the past, are wrong. This book is for anyone who wants to get more out of their time and their lives.

An added bonus for Gifted Exchange readers: There is more math in 168 Hours than in any other self-help book you will read, ever. Also, many of the people I profile are scientists. Some might accuse me of repackaging the profiles I've done for Scientific American, but hey - I thought they were interesting people!

Anyway, if you've enjoyed my musings here over the years, you might want to give the book a look. BookPage named it the top lifestyle book for the month, and Library Journal called it "worthwhile."

All right, thanks for reading this self-promotional announcement, and we will be back to gifted topics next week.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Promise Keepers: The MBA Oath

We'll put this post in the category of "broadly related to education."

I recently reviewed a book called The MBA Oath for City Journal. The MBA Oath is a pledge that students at various business schools (most notably, Harvard Business School) have started taking as a way to bring discussions of ethics into people's minds during graduation season.

You can read my review, "Promise Keepers" here. I think it is a rather thoughtful book, with lots of ethical case studies, though I am not sure that I buy the narrative about business needing saving (by students, at that). Let me know what you think! Broadly, ethics is a great topic for students of any level. You can use it to discuss real life issues, but also to introduce students to philosophers and other great writers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Segregation in Gifted Programs?

No, not the issue people normally complain of -- that children in gifted programs are disproportionately Asian or white. In New York City, a different form of segregation, within gifted programs, seems to be taking place.

The New York Times has a long story about the TAG School in East Harlem. One of three city-wide schools for gifted elementary school students, the school is open to kids who score at roughly the 97th percentile or above. It is located in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood which turns out to be a bit, well, scruffy. The other two city-wide gifted schools are located in much nicer areas. What this has all resulted in is that white parents have chosen to send their gifted young children to the other two schools. And, it seems from the articles, some black and Hispanic parents prefer to send their kids to TAG because they like its demographic make-up better.

In other words, the gifted programs are fairly segregated. Unfortunately, as part of being in a scruffy neighborhood, the TAG school is also not as nice as the other schools. Parents are banding together to do something about that, but the average income in TAG is lower than in the other gifted schools, which makes fundraising more difficult. And since it's located right beside other schools, there is always the issue of gifted kids getting "better" facilities than their neighbors.

It's a tough issue, defying easy answers, and gives an insight into some of the problems school districts still face when trying to serve diverse students. But we can at least be grateful that NYC is trying. Having three schools for gifted students, even if one is not in a great neighborhood, is much better than most cities do!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cristo Rey, "Skimming," Test Scores, etc.

Over the past few years, I've written several times about the Cristo Rey network of Catholic schools. Indeed, it's been the gift that keeps on giving as far as this freelance writer is concerned. I'm happy editors keep saying yes, because I think the schools are based on a great premise. In order to create affordable, sustainable private schools, high school kids in essence do a "job share" at companies in cities that have a Cristo Rey school. Four kids share a job, the company pays Cristo Rey for the equivalent of a full-time temp, and the money supports the kids' schooling. They are, in essence, working their way through school. They learn a lot about the adult world, and see what they can do later if they go to college. Most do.

I guess I won't be writing about these schools for the Wall Street Journal, since Daniel Henninger's Wonderland column today already covers them ("How About a Good Catholic Story?")

But I wanted to bring up some interesting points here, which I think have implications for education more broadly. Some folks have accused private or charter schools of getting good results due to "skimming" top performers away from the public schools. Cristo Rey specifically chooses kids from the middle of the pack, and then gets most of them attending college a few years later. But of course, this then raises the opposite point: if middling kids can, with a lot of good teaching and hard work, do quite well, does this mean that standardized test scores taken at one point in time mean nothing for a later time?

This is the argument many recent "myth of the gifted child" type articles have made. I (as you can imagine) don't think this is the case. The Cristo Rey schools do an amazing job preparing kids for college with rigorous course work. On the other hand, their standardized test scores are (as principals themselves have told me) not necessarily what they would like. Good but not great. Which suggests that a good school can boost scores, but in and of itself cannot get everyone from a 50th percentile level to, say, the top 5% of SAT scores. Like everything, test scores are likely a combination of hard work, good training, and some individual factors.

Sometimes these individual factors make schools not a good fit - which is one reason Cristo Rey encourages students who are scoring at the very top levels on standardized tests to apply to more elite prep schools that serve big cities. This enables these kids to have their academic needs met, and ensures that Cristo Rey schools are focusing on a group of kids with about the same level of preparation. It is ability grouping by admission, but it is one of the factors that make these schools work. Kids will be neither failing, nor bored.

Friday, May 14, 2010

International Science and Engineering Fair Winner Announced

Congratulations to Amy Chyao of Richardson, Texas, for winning this year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair!

Chyao, 15, won $75,000 for a project involving the use of photodynamic therapy, in which anti-cancer drugs are activated by light energy. Other top winners include Kevin Ellis, 18, of Vancouver, WA, who developed a way for speeding up computer programs, and Yale Fan, 18, of Beaverton, OR, whose project dealt with quantum computing.

The fun part about ISEF is that it really is international. As you can see from Intel's press release, the top winners hail from Brazil, the UK, Mexico, and South Korea, in addition to the US. One of the great problems of American education is that much of what we do is not benchmarked against the rest of the world. Comparisons are largely done within states, as though somehow the economy will just stop right there at the border when these young people graduate.

Which is nonsense. In this wired era, my competition is not other writers in New York City, it is anyone who can write in English , or can find a translator, in the entire world. The same goes for science. Companies like Intel hire globally, as do many science departments at universities. Best to get used to seeing early how everyone stacks up.

I covered the ISEF in Atlanta in 2008 for Scientific American; you can read the intro to it here (then search on site for my name for other posts).

Monday, May 10, 2010

SciGirls on PBS

It is a well-known (and much lamented) truth that women are under-represented in STEM careers. This is a problem as a) women comprise the majority of people earning college degrees these days and b) these professions are expected to grow rapidly in the years to come. If women are over-represented among students, but under-represented in STEM fields, we will face a major talent shortage in the near future.

So what to do about it? PBS (with sponsorship from the NSF and ExxonMobil) is now airing a series called SciGirls as one approach. The show features real girls, age 8-12, doing real world, hands-on scientific inquiry. They think of a problem. With the help of mentors, they figure out an experimental approach, and the audience gets to watch their adventures.

I'm looking forward to taping and watching the show. If any Gifted Exchange readers have seen it, please let me know your thoughts. The New York Times ran a a review the other day pointing out that the girls in the show were awesome (but the animated characters were, most definitely, not). I am not sure how much of the gender gap in STEM fields is due to a lack of tween interest. We've been seeing shows touting science and math for years, and you still hear people say, with no shame, that they are "not math people." But it never hurts to show kids doing science that doesn't involve burying your nose in a text book.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mind in the Making

(cross posted at My168Hours)

Over the past few days I (and apparently a host of other folks) have been reading Ellen Galinsky's book, Mind in the Making. Galinsky is the head of the Families and Work Institute, and is known for her research into both how modern workers combine work and family, and how kids perceive all this. A fascinating study she did several years ago, called Ask the Children, studied what kids wanted from their parents. Keep in mind that this was in the heat of the Mommy Wars narrative, and so many people assumed that the answer would be something like "more time." Nah. It was for parents to be less stressed. Which makes sense. I'd rather have a happy mommy for three hours a day than an unhappy mommy for more.

But anyway, Galinsky followed that impulse to study the modern economy through the lens of children a ways farther down the path with Mind in the Making. In it, she argues that there are 7 life skills that will be critical in the workplace today's children will ultimately enter. These include (1) focus and self control; (2) perspective taking; (3) communicating; (4) making connections; (5) critical thinking; (6) taking on challenges; and (7) self-directed, engaged learning.

For each of these skills, Galinsky suggests games and techniques that will help parents build these skills, based on academic research done by various programs in child development around the country. By sheer volume, this makes Mind in the Making useful for just about any parent. You are guaranteed to pick up something that you'll think is a good idea. For instance, as I've been cranking through, I remembered that watching TV is generally a bad idea for kids, which is what gave me the fortitude during a patch of single parenting this week to keep the set off. I was reminded that blocks help build geometric competence, so Jasper and Sam and I played with them for a while last night. I had Jasper "read" me his stories so he could make connections between pictures and ideas (and work on communication skills). I let him struggle up the chain-link ladder on the playground by himself. I asked him questions like "why do you think Sam is crying?" ("He wants to feed!" -- ok, that was an easy one. But he's still learning perspective taking!)

She makes good arguments that kids do not learn how to write, adequately, with an eye toward getting ideas across (and of course I love the suggestion of having kids write their favorite author!) She also describes the silliness of our widespread math phobia. "Traditionally, parents in the US have viewed mathematics learning as a kind of talent or ability that some people had and some people didn't have," she writes, but this is just not an option for the jobs that will exist 15 years from now. Math is like walking. Yes, some people simply can't do it, but the vast majority of us can and it is just as serviceable to get around in the world.

Of course, since children's brain development is a small (if growing) field, she winds up citing many of the same researchers (like Alison Gopnik) again and again, to the point where I started thinking they should be bummed about not getting cover credit. Galinsky also has the misfortune to have her book come out 7 months after Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock. I believe they were written simultaneously, but they plow much of the same ground (especially on the topics of self-regulation and Carol Dweck's work on praising children for effort rather than ability), so people who read NurtureShock may find much of this familiar.

The premise of the book -- that these are the skills kids need in the future, so here's what parents should do to nurture them -- is also a little thin for larger socioeconomic reasons. Well-educated parents already do much of what she suggests, and their kids are probably going to do well in the global economy anyway. It's the at-risk kids who most need the help. But if you have the kind of parent who studies a book on children's brain development with an eye toward implementing the findings, you are by definition not at risk. So hopefully the preschool and daycare teachers serving such kids will also pick up the book.

Nonetheless, Mind in the Making offers a lot to mull over, and I think parents of gifted kids in particular will enjoy Galinsky's lauding of "lemonade stands" -- which she uses as a metaphor for a project or topic that a child, on her own, becomes passionate about. Toward the end of chapter 7, she shares a story from a parent of a 3.5-year-old girl who is absolutely obsessed with bugs. Finding a spider at a friend's house, she spends the whole meal under the table talking with her new friend. She has similar obsessions, in turn, with dinosaurs and volcanoes (they name a fish Hot Magma).

"I enjoy all of this because I can feel like a kid again," the parent says, "learning about this giant, amazing world as if for the first time. I hope she always stays this curious, this questioning. I hope she has teachers who act graciously toward her and her thirst for learning. Above all, I hope she never stops seeing this world as an incredible place."

I think most of us hope we can say the same for our children.