Creating a Special Summer Project

It’s been a tough year and online learning may have taken its toll. Your children may be numb, zoomed out, and possibly dulled to learning. Now the summer stretches before us and we plan to fill the time with summer school, camps, maybe dance lessons. All great ideas. But the question remains: What will rekindle your child’s love of learning?

What will spark their curiosity? What might fire up their imagination? Well, what about a special summer project?  What if your child identified just one thing they are interested in, however tangentially, and pursued that to wherever it landed? A deep dive, so to speak, into one subject. For example, they may ask, How do things fly? Well, we have just opened up aerodynamics! Many things are now available for exploration, such as, What keeps up a regular balloon vs. a helium balloon? A kite? A plane? What animals fly that really shouldn’t be able to? Yes, there are fish that can fly. How? There are even birds that can fly backwards. Structurally, a bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly but it does. How? Can man fly? What are the considerations to lift the weight of a man? How high could he go? Did you ever dream you were flying? What would it feel like to fly? Draw a picture. Make a collage. Write a poem. 

Pick up any useful object and ask some questions. How can we drink out of a glass when its main ingredient is sand? Why is glass transparent? Which then leads to questions like, What is a chemical reaction? How does chemistry work?

Pick a topic. Any topic. WWII submarines. Roller Coasters. The Ecosystem. India. Your student could be in 1st grade or 12th but could follow one idea down the rabbit hole and come out an expert. I mean, why IS the sky blue? How do you make the color blue? You get the idea! Yes, it will take some guidance and patience on your part. Or you can hire a tutor, teacher, or educational specialist. However you help them, the results will be memorable!

Mother and daughter examining molecular model


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10 Top Educational Studies in 2020

There were a lot of educational studies done this year —covering topics from virtual learning to the reading wars to the decline of the standardized test. Here are some of the top findings.

1.  If You Want Children to Learn Vocabulary, Encourage Them to Be Thespians
Researchers asked 8-year-old students to listen to words in another language and then use their hands and bodies to mimic the words—spreading their arms and pretending to fly, for example, when learning the German word flugzeug, which means “airplane.” After two months, these young actors were a remarkable 73 percent more likely to remember the new words than students who had listened without accompanying gestures.

2. Neuroscientists Defend the Value of Teaching Handwriting Again
Brain scans of preliterate children revealed crucial reading circuitry flickering to life when kids hand-printed letters and then tried to read them. The effect largely disappeared when the letters were typed or traced.
Studies of older children—seventh graders—while they handwrote, drew, and typed words, and concluded that handwriting and drawing produced telltale neural tracings indicative of deeper learning.

3. The ACT (and SAT) Just Got a Negative Score
ACT test scores, which are often a key factor in college admissions, showed a weak—or even negative—relationship when it came to predicting how successful students would be in college. Students with very high ACT scores—but indifferent high school grades—often flamed out in college, overmatched by the rigors of a university’s academic schedule. High school grades were stronger predictors.

4. A Rubric Reduces Racial Grading Bias
When grading criteria are vague, implicit stereotypes can insidiously “fill in the blanks,” explains the study’s author. But when teachers have an explicit set of criteria to evaluate the writing—asking whether the student “provides a well-elaborated recount of an event,” for example—the difference in grades is nearly eliminated.

5. What do Coal-Fired Power Plants Have to do with Learning? Plenty
When three coal-fired plants closed in the Chicago area, student absences in nearby schools dropped by 7 percent.The stunning finding underscores the role that often-overlooked environmental factors—like air quality, neighborhood crime, and noise pollution—have in keeping our children healthy and ready to learn.

6. Students Who Generate Good Questions Are Better Learners
Some of the most popular study strategies—highlighting passages, rereading notes, and underlining key sentences—are also among the least effective. A 2020 study highlighted a powerful alternative: Get students to generate questions about their learning, and gradually press them to ask more probing questions.

7. Did a 2020 Study Just End the ‘Reading Wars’?
A 2020 study sounded the death knell for practices that de-emphasize phonics in favor of having children use multiple sources of information—like story events or illustrations—to predict the meaning of unfamiliar words, an approach often associated with “balanced literacy.” Lucy Calkins seemed to concede the point, writing that “aspects of balanced literacy need some ‘rebalancing.’”

8. A Secret to High-Performing Virtual Classrooms
The report noted that logistical issues like accessing materials were often among the most significant obstacles to online learning. The study highlighted the crucial need to organize virtual classrooms even more intentionally than physical ones. Remote teachers should simplify communications and reminders by using one channel like email or text; and reduce visual clutter like hard-to-read fonts and unnecessary decorations throughout their virtual spaces.

9. Love to Learn Languages? Surprisingly, Coding Might Be Right for You
Learning how to code more closely resembles learning a language such as Chinese or Spanish than learning math, a 2020 study found—upending the conventional wisdom about what makes a good programmer.

10. Researchers Cast Doubt on Reading Tasks Like ‘Finding the Main Idea’
“Content is comprehension,” declared a 2020 Fordham Institute study, sounding a note of defiance as it staked out a position in the ongoing debate over the teaching of intrinsic reading skills versus the teaching of content knowledge. The researchers, focusing on the time spent in subject areas like math, social studies, and ELA, found that “social studies is the only subject with a clear, positive, and statistically significant effect on reading improvement.” In effect, exposing kids to rich content in civics, history, and law appeared to teach reading more effectively than our current methods of teaching reading.

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Do Your Child’s ISEE or SSAT Scores Really Matter?


The results of a standardized admissions test indicate to the school what your child knows and doesn’t know academically. Essentially, it would serve no purpose to accept your child only to have her flounder academically. You would be unhappy. Your child would be miserable. The school also would be in the difficult position of not being able to deliver the kind of academic results it is capable of achieving. To avoid this losing situation, most private schools will insist on all applicants taking a standardized admissions test.

 “The most important advice any teacher will give your child is to start well in advance – like a year or so – assessing her strengths and weaknesses. Then remediate those weaknesses.”

After that, have her take as many practice tests as she can before the test date. If she has never taken a standardized admissions test and has no clue what’s expected of her, how can she possibly relax and do her best? 

Understand how the admissions tests work early on in the school search process. Do not leave test preparation until the last minute. Six to eight months before the test date is not too early to start. That will allow you time to fix any gaps in your child’s knowledge and skill base. Then, all that will be left is to practice, practice, practice.

–“The Private School Review”
Read full article here.

Academic Achievers offers ISEE Diagnostic Assessments
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The Characteristics of Grit

  • 5 Characteristics Of Grit — How Many Do You Have?

1) Courage

  • Hard to measure, but directly proportional to your level of grit.
  • Relates to your ability to manage fear of failure.
  • The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process.
  • The supremely gritty understand that there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of perseverance is requisite for high achievement.

2) Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable

  • Five core character traits from which human personalities stem are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neurotic. Conscientiousness is most connected to GRIT.
  • The achievement-oriented individual is one who works tirelessly, tries to do a good job, and completes the task at hand.
  • The dependable person is more notably self-controlled and conventional.
  • Achievement orientated traits predicted job proficiency and educational success far better than dependability.
  • In the context of conscientious, grit, and success, it is important to commit to go for the gold rather than just show up for practice.

3) Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through

  • Long-term goals are achieved when practice has purpose. This is the difference between someone who succeeds and someone who is just spending a lot of time doing something.
  • Long-term goals provide the context and framework in which to find the meaning and value of your long-term efforts, which helps cultivate drive, sustainability, passion, courage, stamina…grit.

4) Resilience = Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity

  • A key component of grit is resilience.
  • Resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way.
  • Gritty people believe, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

5) Excellence (not perfection)

  • Excellence is an attitude.
  • The word excellence is derived from the Greek word Arête, which is bound with the notion of fulfilment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue.
  • Excellence is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement.
  • Excellence allows for disappointment, and prioritises progress over perfection.
  • Perfection is someone else’s perception of an ideal, and ultimately unattainable. Anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and clinical depression are only a few of the conditions ascribed to “perfectionism.”
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9 Kindergarten Readiness Skills Your Child Needs

“I believe it’s important for pre-kindergarten children to be able to follow directions and to have the ability to express their feelings.” says K-12 principal Jolene Jackson. “Some of the reading and math skills I would like to see kids now coming into kindergarten are their letters and be able to describe some of the sounds, recognition of numbers 1-10, and be able to write and recognize their name and be able to cut with safety scissors,”

Here are 9 kindergarten readiness skills and how you can teach them to your child.

1. Shapes and Colors

  • Kids love colors. Help them learn different colors by adding a little food coloring to their milk.
  • Play games in which your child finds objects of particular colors and shapes around the house or in the neighborhood as you drive.
  • Teach difficult shapes such as pentagons and diamonds by showing them how to draw them on paper and then cutting them out.

2. Cutting

  • To begin teaching your child to cut, allow them to rip or tear little pieces and strips of paper
  • Purchase a good pair of child-safe scissors and let your child practice cutting/snipping along a straight line drawn on a piece of paper and progressing to cutting out different shapes.
  • Use old magazines and let your child practice cutting photos out and have them make a collage of their favorite pictures.
  • Cutting play dough is also fun for children.

3. Writing

  • Have your child practice writing the alphabet and pick out the letters that spell their name.
  • Teach them how to write their name and the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Use play dough and have them create different letters with it. This will not only help make reading and writing fun, but also improve their motor skills.

4. Letter Recognition

  • Purchase a large set of letter refrigerator magnets. This allows your child to make learning fun as they move letters around to make simple words.
  • Develop games and song rhymes to make learning letters and fun and engaging.
  • Write a series of words on a piece of paper, for example, box, ran, back, fan, boy. Ask your child to circle all the words that begin with the letter b.

5. Number Recognition and Counting

  • Grab two dice and a piece of paper with the numbers two through twelve written on it. Have your child roll the dice, count all the dots, and circle each number until you’ve rolled them all.
  • Make counting part of everything. Have them count how many spoons are on the dinner table, how many socks you are folding.
  • Use spare change and teach them the different amounts each coin represents. Then have them count out a specific amount like 55 cents.

6. Sounding out Letters

  • Teach your child that letters represent sounds and that each one makes a different sound.
  • Overemphasize the first sound in words to help your child hear the difference.
  • Find items around the house that begin with the same sound and have them identify the letter that makes that sound.

7. Reading Readiness

  • As you read to your child, run your finger under the words as you move through the sentence. This will teach them that words move left to right and top to bottom.
  • Clapping out syllables of words (example; Pu-ppy has two syllables, A-man-da has three syllables)
  • Playing a word game that separates the beginning and ending sound of a word. This allows them to put the sounds together to guess the word (example; say we are going to play a game. I am going to say the beginning and ending sound of a word, and you tell me what the word is. What is the word if I say b-all (ball), m-an (man), c-at (cat), com-pu-ter (computer)
  • Read to your children every day using tools like song books, picture books, rhyming books and alphabet books.

8. Following Directions & Paying Attention

  • Give your child a simple set of two and three step directions to follow. It could be something like; put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, and turn on your nightlight.
  • Play the classic “Simon Says” game with them. It’s a great game for following directions and paying attention to the changes in the words.

9. Develop Social Skills

  • Teach your child to express their feelings in a way that isn’t aggressive or involve crying.
  • Give your children the opportunity to interact with other children in early learning centers, church or at the park.
  • Talk about problems they might have, don’t just tell something is wrong, explain to them why it is.

As you probably already know, there’s no secret sauce when it comes to preparing your child for kindergarten. It takes consistent learning and challenging them. The points mentioned above highlight simple and effective strategies that are easy to modify for your child. Chances are you’re already practicing many of these skills with your preschoolers now. Remember to not to rush or stress them, keep learning casual and entertaining. With just a little fun practice, your child will be prepared for the step into their kindergarten career.

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The Gifted Learner

During infancy, the brain experiences a large amount of growth. There is an explosion of synapse formation between neurons during early brain development.

This rapid period of synaptic growth plays a vital role in learning, memory formation, and adaptation early in life. At about 2 to 3 years of age, the number of synapses hits a peak level. But then shortly after this period of synaptic growth, the brain starts to remove synapses that it no longer needs.

Once the brain forms a synapse, it can either be strengthened or weakened. This depends on how often the synapse is used. In other words, the process follows the “use it or lose it” principle: Synapses that are more active are strengthened, and synapses that are less active are weakened and ultimately pruned.

The gifted child seems to have an increased cell production that also increases synaptic activity and thought process. The neurons in the brain of the gifted child seem to be biochemically more abundant and, as a result, the brain patterns that develop are intrinsically able to process more complex thought.

To encourage higher order thinking, there is no substitute for stimulating curriculum and inspired instruction. Gifted learners need learning experiences that are rich. They need learning experiences that are organized by key concepts and principles of a discipline rather than by facts.  They need content that is relevant to their lives, activities that cause them to process important ideas at a high level, and projects that cause them to grapple with meaningful problems and pose defensible solutions.

The desire to provide optimal and appropriate educational challenges for the gifted child has prompted many parents to consider alternative forms of education. The choice to withdraw gifted learners from the traditional classroom for all or part of the school day is gaining popularity nationwide, as parents of gifted learners seek to find more personal solutions.

Academic Achievers Academy was created to answer the needs of the gifted learner. Master teachers plan and research diligently to tailor a curriculum to match each child’s unique strengths and interests, and implement careful, thoughtful educational approaches. Both short- and long-term educational goals are essential to your child’s educational success. If your child is not thriving in a traditional classroom, perhaps it is time to consider a more customized, hands-on alternative.

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How to Be a Better Test-Taker

The Reality
Many capable, hard-working students perform poorly on exams because they’ve overtaxed their “working memory” – mental scratchpad on which we combine information from our long-term memory with the specific of the problem in front of us, in the service of finding a solution.

The Problem
“When students are anxious about how they’ll do on an exam,” says Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, “their worries use up some of their working memory capacity, leaving less of this cognitive horsepower to apply to the task at hand.”

How To
Dr. Beilock, the author of “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To,” offers two interventions that can free up working memory in students caught in the grip of test anxiety.

The first involves shifting how they interpret their bodies’ cues.  Faced with a high-stakes situation, almost everyone has some physical symptoms of stress: sweaty palms, racing heartbeat.  But people interpret these cues differently, with important consequences for their performance.

In a study published last year in the journal Emotion, Dr. Beilock and four coauthors found that with students anxious about math, the more stress hormone they produced, the worse they did on a test; students with low math anxiety did better the more cortisol they produced.  “The first group,” she said “felt the rising anxiety in their bodies and reacted by thinking, ‘I’m really nervous about this test.  I’m afraid I’ll fail.’”  They choked.  “The second group told themselves something like, ‘I’m really psyched up for this test!  I’m ready to go!’”  Dr. Beilock recommends consciously adopting positive self-talk.  Remind yourself that damp palms and a pounding heart accompany all kinds of enjoyable experiences: riding a roller coaster, winning a sports match, talking to someone you have a crush on.

A second approach involves a simple exercise just before a test.  For 10 minutes, write about your feelings regarding the exam to clear your mind of test-related concerns, freeing working memory that can be applied to the exam.  In a study published last year in the journal Science, Dr. Beilock and her co-author, Gerardo Ramirez, said the technique worked both in the lab and in classrooms.  Used by a group of ninth graders facing a biology final, the expressive writing test effectively eliminated the relationship between test anxiety and poor test performance: even highly anxious students performed just as well as non anxious classmates.

Plan B
Cognitive scientists have not yet settled on how to expand working memory, but there are ways to make it more efficient.  We can hold only four facts or ideas at a time in working memory, but we can pack more information into those four slots by engaging in chunking: linking multiple pieces of information into a few meaningful groups.

More room can also be created in working memory by making mental operations automatic.  Practicing a necessary skill until it’s second nature – say, memorizing a set of basic equations – relives the working memory of the need to perform yet one more task during testing. Of course, the more you practice, the better you will do.

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Private School Entrance Exams: ISEE, SSAT, HSPT

If you are just beginning on the private school application journey, you may ask, what are these tests? How do they differ? How important are they?

Here’s a short overview:
The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is the most common entrance exam required by LA private schools for grades 5 and above. The ISEE is offered by the ERB (Educational Record Bureau) which also administers the CTP (Comprehensive Testing Program). Your student may have taken the yearly CTP in school. The CTP is content specific and curriculum based, whereas the ISEE tests the student’s achievement and reasoning skills.

The SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test) is requested by some Los Angeles private schools and required by all boarding schools. Both the SSAT and the ISEE tests math and verbal skills; both the ISEE and the SSAT are divided into grade appropriate levels (Lower, Middle, and Upper); and both the ISEE and the SSAT are scored on a curve against the other grade-level test-takers on a 3-year rolling norm.

Some differences between the two tests are that the SSAT penalizes for incorrect answers (1/4 point) but the ISEE does not; the SSAT has 5 answer options, the ISEE has 4; the SSAT combines the math scores into one score and the verbal 2, the ISEE presents all 4 scores separately.

Other differences to note are the reading passages: The SSAT passages are a mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and the ISEE passages are non-fiction, science and history. The questions in the SSAT reading passage may be more complex and allow for more creative thinking and the ISEE reading passages are more straight forward and detail oriented.  Both tests contain questions about inferences, main ideas, attitude, tone and vocabulary.  In the verbal reasoning section, along with synonyms, the SSAT includes analogies, and the ISEE includes words in context.  Since the SSAT does not give the test-taker any word context, students with a robust vocabulary will probably excel on the SSAT verbal section.

The math portions of both the ISEE and the SSAT includes numbers and operations, measurement, probability, data analysis, algebra and geometry. The ISEE math is considered more difficult as it also may include algebra 2, trigonometry and pre-calculus. The ISEE also provides less time per math problem. Students strong in math will usually do better with the ISEE math portion.

Both tests require an ungraded essay, the SSAT at the beginning of the test, the ISEE at the end, and both tests are long, averaging 2 hrs. and 45 minutes. Both tests are scored as a percent, a scaled score, and a percentile rank.  Ultimately the ISEE receives a stanine from 1-9 in each area. Scores of 5 or above in each category are considered competitive, although each school adjusts to its own set of factors in weighing the importance of these scores.

The HSPT (High School Placement Test) is the entrance exam requested by Catholic high schools. It has only one level (Upper) and 5 sections, 3 verbal and 2 math. The HSPT is similar in content to both the ISEE and the SSAT but the questions tend to be less intensive and complex and it is much faster paced. The math includes arithmetic, exponent rules, order of operations and math fluency. The verbal is mostly synonyms, the reading is from humanities and history, the language section focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, parallelism and subject/verb agreement. Although the material itself is less difficult than the other exams, the timing is by far faster.

Certainly, none of the private school admissions tests is easy. They are cumulative achievement and reasoning tests based on many years of academic foundations. However, preparing to take these exams can actually present an exciting opportunity for a student.

Every student is different. Every student will have their own areas of strengths as well as areas in need of improvement.  Preparing for the ISEE, SSAT, or HSPT presents an opportunity for a student to not only learn test-taking technique but also to address possible deficits in their educational foundations. If done correctly, test prep can be a game changer for many students.

Working individually with a private test prep tutor allows for a thorough and customized academic review. In a student’s life, there will be many exams. Learning a way to approach them is invaluable.


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Anxious Children and Learning

Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are getting neither treatment nor accommodations, according to the Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.

Because anxiety is a normal response to stress factors, parents often believe that even severe and disabling anxiety symptoms are just a phase, and on average, there is a two-year lag between the time children develop anxiety and the time they get help. “It’s bad for these children’s brains,” he said. “Having your brain’s thermostat miss-set is not good for your brain.”

“Anxiety can manifest itself along a continuum,” said Rachel Busman, the senior director of the anxiety disorders center at the Child Mind Institute. The report shows that there is some overlap with physical illnesses, such as chronic headaches or stomach aches, often coordinated with school. “That could be a kid’s way of saying, ‘I’m anxious,’” she said.

Anxiety often causes a child to act out., Dr. Busman said, that child may start throwing things, or running and hiding, and that “bad behavior” may represent the fight or flight response of anxiety. “We’ve also seen kids who have intense social anxiety and their way of managing it is to be class clown,” she said.

If your child’s anxiety is starting to affect their interest or performance in school, they may need to step out of the traditional classroom to an environment where they can learn at their own pace and in their own way.

Your child is one-of-a-kind. Traditional classrooms are not.
Academic Achievers Academy provides a safe nurturing alternative that allows each child to thrive.

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The Importance of GRIT

According to CCRS (research predictor of post-secondary and career success) the predictors of future success for middle grades students include meeting the benchmark scores on cognitive assessments, such as the Grit Scale, which measures student characteristics (e.g., focus, interest levels, commitment, and follow-through) that have been shown to predict student ability to continue the pursuit of academic goals despite uncertainty, risk of failure, or feelings of frustration.
High scores on the Grit Scale are correlated with positive outcomes at multiple levels.
In the middle grades, high scores are correlated with higher student GPAs, and one study asserts that, in adulthood, high scores also correlate with fewer career changes over time (Duckworth & Quinn, 2009).
Achievement Oriented vs. Dependency.
The ability, drive, desire, and follow-through to complete the task. That is the value we stand by and the value we hope to instill in our students.
Academic Achievers’ CORE values include GRIT: Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenancy
To take on a challenge when you don’t know if you will succeed, takes Guts.
The ability to spring back from set-backs takes Resiliency
Being self-motivated and stepping up takes Initiative.
To persevere, especially when things look difficult, takes Tenacity
Grit is necessary for success at any level.
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