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Has Distance Learning Failed Students?

Nov-16, 2020

child on laptop, distance learning, online instruction, african-american girl wearing headset

Since March of this year, kids across the country have pivoted from in-classroom instruction to distance learning, interacting with teachers and classmates via instant messengers, emails, and video chat. And by and large, the reception of this new form of education has been very negative. From sub-par lesson plans, to a lack of engagement, to technological issues such as a lack of internet or equipment. Some parents have gone so far as to file a lawsuit in Los Angeles over the quality of the education their children are receiving. There’s no denying that, without support, any kind of learning program is doomed to fail, and distance learning presents unique challenges to a population already burdened by unemployment, a lack of child care, and the fear and stress caused by living through this pandemic. So, what are the issues with the current distance learning model, and can it be improved?

It has been proven that without strong, reliable internet, distance learning cannot properly function. Being connected to video calls for hours at a time, as well as uploading and downloading apps and files, puts a tremendous strain on bandwidth. There are still many places in this country where internet access unreliable or even non-existent. Compounded with the cost of internet and electricity bills on families, many of whom have lost their primary sources of income, and the situation is very grim. Fortunately, some cities and districts have responded by adding WIFI hotspots to neighborhoods or making internet access free. But not every child has been offered these solutions, and the access they receive is still sub-par. Dubbed, "the digital divide," lack of access to proper equipment have directly put children at risk, as they must travel outside of the home with a parent to do their schoolwork.

So, if a child does have the proper equipment and internet speed, is distance learning still failing them? The answer is not as simple. While no official data exists, surveys of students and parents reveal mixed feelings. Teachers have reported a major drop in attendance and engagement of their students, and students have reported a lack of quality in their assignments. All agree that it's the content of online programing that makes the difference between an effective program and ineffective busywork. And while it's clear that teachers are trying their best, the model for distance learning that works has not yet been crafted in large-scale way. And all of this puts a tremendous strain on parents, who feel compelled to pick up the slack for their children, all while juggling work, housework, and self-care, which is already not easy to manage in the best of circumstance.

That being said, there are some successful programs which are contributing to children's education during the pandemic. Many apps and after school programs which have already been designed for maximum engagement have proven to be vital components of increasing academic skills. No doubt the coming months will see many more edutainment, guided learning programs, and hands-on education models created and implemented. And, if they are properly integrated into children's education, they can potentially make up for any gaps in the traditional learning model. While it is still too early to tell the major effects the pandemic has had on learning, the most important thing we can all do is stay engaged, stay alert, and keep looking for new opportunities to teach our children something new.

The Best Time to Take the SAT or ACT

Oct-05, 2020

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Essential to a successful college application, a high score on the SAT, ACT, or both is something your child will spend a great deal of their primary and secondary education preparing for. While we strive to provide a well-rounded education for our kids, the importance of the SAT/ACT cannot be overstated. As your child approaches high school age, it's time to put a plan in place so that they can take these tests with confidence.

Students become eligible to take the SAT or the ACT once they begin their freshman year of high school. However, most agree that students should not take the tests until they've completed part of their junior year, in order to have covered in school all areas being tested. However, if your child is enrolled in a supplemental education program like Best Brains, they may be able to take the tests sooner than this.

After a child graduates out of our Math and English curriculum (levels 8 for Math and O1 for English respectively), they become eligible for our yearlong SAT/ACT prep course which covers all aspects of each test. This means that a child educated with Best Brains could potentially be ready to sit the SAT or ACT a year earlier than their peers, or even sooner!

Now, what are the benefits of sitting these tests early? The benefit of time. While most students wait until the last moment to take these tests, a student with test prep under their belt will have the opportunity to take the test multiple times if needed. No matter how much we can prepare, sometimes when we try to do the real thing, it can be quite overwhelming. Taking the test in their freshman or sophomore year means that, should the worst happen, your child can take the test again, calmer and more prepared.

The SATs and ACTs are offered several times throughout the year: March, May, June, August, October, November, and December for the SAT and September, October, December, February, April, and June for the ACT. This gives students and parents a wide variety of options when decided when to schedule these tests. Talk to your child and find when they would be most comfortable. Maybe in August and September when they have had the summer to finalize their preparation. Or maybe in December so that they can enjoy their winter break without any more anxiety. The important thing to remember is that you have options. While a lot of factors can go into which school your child will eventually be enrolled in, there are plenty of ways to take some of the control back to empower your child to achieve beyond any expectation.

What are 21st Century Skills?

Sep-14, 2020

kids holding computers, coding, laptops and tablets

As a parent in 2020, you may have heard or seen the phrase "21st Century Skills" in regards to your child's education. But what exactly are 21st century skills, and why are they vital to your child's success?

In general, 21st century skills refer to the skillset that a child needs to acquire in order to find success in the world, both in their future career and in life. These are based on factors like an increasing digital presence, automation of labor, an increased consumption in creative content, data safety, climate change, and social awareness, just to name a few. Let's take a look at what these skills are, and the role they will play in your child's future.

The 4 C's

When we talk about 21st century skills, we're most often referring to the 4 C's. These are:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Communication

You can see how important these skills are in a business setting, regardless of industry. Critical thinking is vital to job performance and when managing life outside of work. Creativity means innovation, and a drive to distinguish yourself in your own unique way. Communication and collaboration work together not only to create a tight community, but to work together to solve problems and achieve success as a unit. While increased automation has decreased the need for some kind of collaborative labor like building cars, an increasing number of projects require collaboration between teams and individuals in sectors like program design and content creation.

By emphasizing the 4 C's, students are encouraged not only to achieve success alone, but as a unit with their classmates and teammates. Healthy competition has its place, but creating divisions between peers can lead to unhealthy behaviors and assumptions. As groups are encouraged to become more fractured through political manipulation and othering, a focus on the 4 C's combats these attitudes and promotes understanding.

Literacy Skills

Whether it's media literacy, technological literacy, or just basic informational literacy, having a solid knowledge base is vital to success in a 21st century society. These days, it's easier than ever for fact and fiction to be presented side by side, so being able to use literacy skills to analyze and reject fabrication and manipulation will serve your child well. Staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and applications is no longer about following trends. Improvements and new abilities to our technological devices occur every day, so keeping a wide range of knowledge without getting stuck will keep children from getting left behind.

Beyond basic identification, technological literacy also requires understanding of how technology functions. When many are content to view their devices as inscrutable, a 21st century learnerr digs into the core principles of how technology functions. This is important, not only for helping parents to navigate their own devices, but to participate in the future as a knowledgeable consumer and employee, understanding how to make technology work for them.

Life Skills

Also known as FLIPS, Life Skills encompasses the emotional and behavioral traits that set a person apart as a leader, collaborator, and friend. We define 21st century life skills as:

  • Productivity
  • Flexibility
  • Initiative
  • Social Skills
  • Leadership

These skills echo the 4 C's in many ways, emphasizing teamwork, being a self-starter, and continuing to innovate. While 20th century life skills may have been taught in courses like home economics, shop class, and finance, FLIPS are more focused on peer-to-peer interactions and personal accountability.

Interacting with the world from a perspective of inclusivity, celebrating diversity, and respecting boundaries will be the hallmark of 21st century life, so picking up these life skills is invaluable to integrate into a work culture that promotes these values. It will also make your child a better friend, a better neighbor, and a better community member in potentially difficult and divisive times.

Becoming a 21st Century Learner

While all of these skills as vital to being successful in the 21st century, experts agree that knowledge of core subjects and the ability to learn are the foundation upon which these skills build. If you are looking to strengthen your child's knowledge base, consider a program which teaches Math and English concepts with these ideas in mind.

The Ultimate Back-to-School Checklist

Aug-03, 2020

back to school, smiling girl, proud parent, pictures, smartphone

Are you ready to have the best back-to-school season ever? It can happen, we promise! We've compiled a 5-step guide designed to help every family make the most out of their summer and start the new school year with energy, focus, and joy!

Reestablish rules, boundaries, and routines NOW!

We're the first to admit, summer can make the strictest of households a little lax. Whether it's staying up way too late on the weekends, or sleeping in early on the weekdays, playing on our tablets for hours on end, or eating dessert every night, we all indulge in the summertime. And there's nothing wrong with that, especially during stressful and uncertain times. However, when back-to-school time comes around, these little lapses can add up to a huge adjustment and shock for our kids, which isn't fair to them or us.

In order to give your kids the best opportunity to start the new school year right, make a plan with them to slowly ease them back into a normal schedule. Now, nobody needs to be waking up at 6 a.m. or earlier right away! But you can make a week-by-week plan to transition into a school routine so that when the first day of school comes, your kids will already be up and focused on choosing their cool new outfit, not yawning and complaining.

Finish all summer assignments...and summer activities!

Hopefully your kids haven't been putting off any summer assignments until the last minute, but now is the time to make sure that all their summer assignments are completed in plenty of time for the new school year. If they have been procrastinating, better to catch it early while there is still time! Make sure you have a talk with your kids to establish a plan for next year, and remind them how stressful it is to leave assignments until they are due. Remember, once school starts, there's going to be getting a lot more work, so better to start strong than scrambling!

Also important to remember is that, as summertime ends, we need to enjoy every last moment of it! Make a list with the family of all the summertime activities they want to experience. Have plans been modified by recent events? Come up with a new plan to create lasting memories. Partner with friends and family to put together an unforgettable summer staycation! Use the money you might have been saving for a trip and instead Invest in things like a quality grill, new deck furniture, inflatable pools and water slides, or outdoor stereo systems. These things can be enjoyed beyond summer and for years to come.

Get your child’s school supplies in order.

We're all familiar with the list of school supplies our children receive every year. But you may not know that this list can simply be a starting point to creating a well-stocked classroom. If your budget can afford it, consider buying double or triple the amount of supplies on your child’s list. A pro-tip: skip the individually packaged items and check the internet for bulk size supplies intended for offices. It's a fact that many of your child's classmates may have a hard time purchasing supplies, and most teachers use their own funds to make sure their classrooms are adequately supplied and no one is left out. Anything you can do to help will be appreciated by everyone.

Another tip: don't wait until BTS time to get supplies. Keep an eye out for sales and specials throughout the year and make purchases when it's advantageous. You don't have to even store the supplies in your house; your child's teacher will be more than happy to keep them in the classroom or at home and use them as needed.

Want to go above and beyond? Teachers have to not only provide supplies, but often decorate and organize classrooms out of their own pockets as well. You can offer buckets, baskets, toy organizers, shelving, shoe racks, old books, blocks, and crafting supplies. All are welcome! Don't forget the tissues, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, paper towels, and cleaning solutions. It can get messy in the classroom!

Prep your family calendar for the whole year.

We've spoken before about the importance of a family calendar, and back-to-school time is the perfect reason to get yourself ready for the whole year. You'll usually be receiving a schedule of events around this time, and putting everything in your plans now saves remembering later. Also, doing this prep work will get your family ready for the coming seasons. Is there a party before winter break? What charity drives are going on in the spring? Are their late arrival/early dismissal dates in the future which may conflict with other commitments?

Planning ahead for future events will not only help you feel more in control, but it can help with your budgeting too. Is there a cupcake party in March and boxes of cake mix go on clearance in November? You'll know to stock up and hold onto those supplies until they're needed. Kids are going camping on the class trip in April? Start looking now for used supplies in good condition instead of buying all new at last minute. With foresight and planning, you can avoid major headaches and expenses down the line!

Create the perfect learning space.

Our kids may be spending more time than ever doing their learning at home. Now is the perfect time to collaborate with them to find the best space in the house to facilitate their studies, and set it up exactly how they would like it. If you have the space in your house, you can invest in a child size desk and bookshelf and decorate with a calendar, white board, clock, and organization for school and craft supplies. But there's no need to get so fancy. The important factor to remember is that the study space is dedicated to your child's education. If they're working with an afterschool program over the computer, make sure they have access to their handouts and a way to easily connect with their teacher via laptop or desktop. Keep the space free of clutter. If utilizing the family dining room table, make sure that the seat reserved for your child never becomes overwhelmed with dirty dishes, newspaper circulars, or groceries. When things are uncertain, our children need a sense of stability and ownership. Their education should not feel like an inconvenience or an afterthought.

So, do you feel prepared for the school year? Need some extra help? Best Brains is here for you. From child-friendly content on YouTube, to free weekly workbooks, to live tutoring sessions with board-certified teachers, Best Brains can help your family to Be Your Best! Click here to learn more.

Tags Family

Donating Blood - Giving the Gift of Life

Jun-03, 2020

woman with heart symbol Give Blood

“Be nice to me. I gave blood today!” You may have seen this phrase on stickers provided by the American Red Cross and other organizations and worn by adults in your local community. And while we strive to be nice to everyone, blood donation is a powerful gift, and individuals who donate their blood do deserve a little extra care and consideration!

But why is blood donation necessary? Every day, every hour, medical procedures occur in hospitals around the world, and many of them require patients to be given extra blood to make up for any that they are losing. That blood has to come from somewhere! As human beings, we are constantly producing fresh blood to keep our bodies strong and healthy. But did you know that your body can survive with a little less? It’s true! Because of our bodies’ amazing ability to make and replace blood, individuals are able to donate some of their blood to be used in hospitals. Now, this can make you feel a little weak on the day of your donation, but your body gets right back to work and within a day or two, you’re back at full strength. Plus, you’ve made a life-saving donation to someone in need.

So, how do you donate blood? First, you have to be at least 17 years old, but 16-year-olds are allowed to give blood as long as they have parental/guardian consent. This is for your own safety. Then, you find a blood donation drive or center who takes donations. Once you make an appointment with them, you are assessed. Certain individuals are not allowed to donate blood due to illness or potential complications, so a friendly technician will talk to you to make sure you are eligible. You also need to know your blood type. Do you know your blood type? There are four main blood groups: A, B, AB, and O, and each group can be positive or negative, which means there are a total of eight blood types. Some blood types can only accept certain types of blood, so it’s important to know what type of blood you are. One group, O negative, is known as the Universal Blood Type. But why is that? Well, because any human can accept type O negative blood, so people with that blood type are highly encouraged to donate!

In order to donate your blood, a technician will need to put a needle into a vein to get the blood out. While this procedure is safe, sterile, and almost painless, it can make many people uncomfortable. But facing your fears, when done in a kind environment, can help you grow and overcome anxieties. Many people have overcome their fear of needles by donating blood, since they know that they’re doing something good for the world. After you donate blood, it is important to relax. Many centers encourage donors to stay in the center after they finish, and provide sugary snacks like juice and cookies. Think of them both as rewards for a job well done, and fuel for your body as it replaces your blood. Wear your sticker proudly, don’t pick up anything heavy, and get plenty of sleep the night after you donate.

In the US alone, we use 31,000 pints of blood every day to help keep people alive. And it wouldn’t be possible without donations from kind and caring people. Do you know someone who donates blood? Do you plan on becoming a donor when you’re old enough? It would certainly be a very nice thing to do!

Using Pop Culture in the Classroom

Feb-08, 2019

child, classroom, laptop, equations

School photo created by jcomp - www.freepik.com

As technology rapidly changes, classrooms are changing too. It has become common for students to use laptops, iPads, and other technologies as part of the normal school day. In addition to new computing tools, students have all sorts of new cultural tools to help them process the world. For teachers, this presents exciting opportunities to incorporate new music, news, and events to support the standard classroom curriculum.

One of the broadest opportunities to use popular culture in the classroom is to incorporate internet trends and memes in everyday instruction. This can happen in a number of ways. One possibility is to allow students to find images and video online to use as part of a lesson. Students can search YouTube, Google Images, or other popular sites for easily accessible images to illustrate important points from the days’ lessons. Maybe there’s a funny clip about American History that someone can bring into a history class. Or perhaps there’s a comedic clip about grammar that a student can use to help introduce a writing lesson. By allowing students to select and contribute media that they enjoy, teachers can create an environment where students come into the classroom more invested in the day’s lesson.

Another way to use popular culture to enhance the educational mission is to incorporate students’ love of social media. This is an especially engaging form of incorporation because it requires students to engage with their lessons beyond the classroom. In some instances, teachers establish a class Instagram account and assign students a theme with an attached hashtag. Then, for the duration of the lesson, a few days or a week, students will post and tag things that they see that are related to that lesson. So if students are studying world geography, they can post pictures and video of commercials, billboards, magazine articles, t-shirt slogans, and other things that are relevant to that topic. In this scenario, students receive credit for the lesson by posting and participating in the social media exchange.

Finally, teachers can find ways to welcome students’ stories and interest in popular culture into the classroom by opening up time for students to share whatever is interesting to them that day. An instructor might use the first five minutes of class to let students make announcements or talk about stories they’ve heard in the news that week. Then other students can chime in. By allowing students to set just a small part of the itinerary for the day, we can teach them to feel at home in the classroom.

There are of course dozens of other ways to incorporate popular culture into an active and engaged classroom. By being open-minded and proactive, teachers can take advantage of these opportunities to create a classroom where all students energetically participate in the day’s lesson.