Wednesday, April 28, 2021


More and more in the world of education, particularly in the K-12 realm, the subject of self-advocacy is coming up in discussions. We may hear our teachers, coaches, and guidance counselors using this term in conversations with us from time to time, and rightfully so. Developing self-advocacy skills are critical for success in life and career.
But just what is self-advocacy? What do we mean by this term, and how will developing skills in this area help us in life and career? Let's explore this concept further, because this is a very important and meaningful subject to spend some time on.

Simply put, self-advocacy (also referred to as advocacy, advocating for yourself, or advocating for one's self) means to not be afraid to ask for help or for clarification when the need arises. It means having the courage to speak up for yourself when something doesn't make sense or feel right, or when you need some kind of assistance.

These are necessary skills to develop, and you'll need them all throughout life to be successful in all kinds of situations, life stages, and settings - in school and college, in the workplace, with family and friends, etc.

You should never be afraid to seek help when you need it, and we all do from time to time in a variety of contexts.

A few practical, everyday examples include seeking clarification on a concept, assignment, or task from a teacher, coach, professor, or supervisor / manager; going to, and talking with, your doctor or dentist when something doesn't feel right; communicating with family and close friends when something's been bugging you and you'd like advice and counsel; asking for help with directions because you're lost; or getting ready to make a big purchase, like a car or home, and needing clarification and advice on a few matters before you feel comfortable and informed enough making that big purchase decision.

The key takeaway here is that you should never be afraid to seek help or clarification when you feel you need it. There are plenty of caring people, professionals, and other resources (credible online sources, books, etc.) at your disposal to help you understand options, decisions, assignments and tasks, your health, and so on. Self-advocacy - start practicing this valuable life skill today.

Christian Picciolini on racism and hate

Recently, in a 10th grade World Studies class that I assist in, the classroom teacher shared this video with the class. I found it to be very insightful and thought-provoking, and so I'd like to share it with you here.

Christian Picciolini, a Chicago native who grew up the son of hard-working Italian immigrants, shares his incredible journey of how he left the skinhead movement he helped create and build during the 1980s and 90s.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A Raisin in the Sun study guide

Brief overview: A Raisin in the Sun is a play written by Lorraine Hansberry in 1959. It was the subject of a major motion picture in 1961 starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Roy Glenn, and Louis Gossett Jr.; and a 1989 made-for-television film starring Danny Glover and Esther Rolle. 

The general gist of the story is that the Younger family, a working-class black family living in Chicago in the late 1950s, receives a $10,000 life insurance check after the family's patriarch (father) dies. While that may seem like a nice little pile of cash to do something with, especially in terms of 1950s dollars, reality quickly sets in once several surviving family members reveal their competing hopes, dreams, and goals for how the money should be spent.

Lena (Mama) wants to use the money toward a new home that the family can truly call its own. Currently, the family resides in a cramped, run-down apartment. Walter, Mama's son, wants to invest a good portion of the money in a liquor store with a couple buddies, convinced that such an investment will relieve the family's financial woes. Beneatha, Mama's daughter, wants some of the money to go toward her education. She's currently a college student with ambitions of going off to medical school and becoming a doctor.

As the story goes on, we learn that Mama makes a down payment on a home in an all-white neighborhood. The decision to purchase a home in this neighborhood is a practical financial one, as homes in the all-white neighborhood are far cheaper. She gives the remainder of what's left of the money to Walter, on the condition that he set aside $3,000 for his sister's (Beneatha) education. Walter ends up losing all the money, leaving both he and Beneatha with nothing. One of his connections in the liquor store investment ran off with the money. Meanwhile, the family encounters racial tension and harassment when the neighborhood association of the all-white neighborhood sends its representative, Karl Lindner, to try to persuade the family to accept a buy-out in exchange for not moving into the home. 

In the end, the Younger family rejects Lindner's pressure and ultimately moves into the home. The family's future is uncertain, and the family never seemed to resolve its other conflicts, leaving the audience somewhat hanging and forced to speculate. But the family, despite all its troubles and the harsh realities it's been forced to face, has in the end its pride, dignity, and a home to call their own.

Themes: SparkNotes identifies three main themes in A Raisin in the Sun, including the purpose and value that dreams play in our lives, the importance and value of family life, and our obligation to stand up to racial discrimination.

Throughout the play, dreams have a major role, and they're easy for any of us to relate to and connect with. Beneatha wants to realize her dream of attending medical school and becoming a doctor. While owning a piece of a liquor store isn't necessarily the dream in and of itself for Walter, he sees it as a means for making his real dream possible - Walter simply wants to be able to adequately provide for his family and give them a good life. He's lived in poverty, and he sees the liquor store as a viable vehicle for achieving this dream of his. Mama simply wants to own a home, a place that she and her family can truly call their own and make memories in.

Family life and our obligation to stand up to racial discrimination play a prominent role in the story, as well. In the end, despite their different and often competing goals and aspirations, the family members come together as a cohesive unit to make the dream of home ownership for the family happen. The family, led by Walter, stands up to the racial discrimination that Karl Lindner represents by his pressure to try to get the family to accept a bribe / buyout in exchange for not moving into the home in the all-white neighborhood. The family asserts its dignity and its fundamental right to realize its dream and plot its future.

Perhaps another universal theme that can be discussed, one that isn't identified in the SparkNotes themes, are the two sides money can represent. On the one hand, money provides opportunity to realize many kinds of goals and dreams, and can therefore be a wonderful thing. On the other, though, we know that money can also cause divisions and greed. It has the potential to bring out the worst in people.

Following are some additional helpful resources that may help you better understand A Raisin in the Sun:

SparkNotes themes: 

SparkNotes quiz (25 questions, multiple choice):

Wikipedia entry: 

If you type in "a raisin in the sun" in the YouTube search bar, this series of short videos come up that offer nice summaries of the acts/scenes. Dr. Kristen Over is the presenter. Dr. Over is an associate professor of English at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and she does a great job explaining the play in a relaxed tone and easy-to-understand manner.

To help you get started, here is the Act 1, Scene 1 video:

And here is the Act 1, Scene 2 video:

The rest of the series by Dr. Kristen Over should show up on the sidebar to the right on YouTube.

Here is a brief clip from PBS's American Masters series that offers insight into Lorraine Hansberry's inspiration for the play:

Finally, here is the 1989 made-for-TV movie based on the play:

Sunday, April 25, 2021

How to improve concentration

Three Simple Ways to Improve Your Concentration While Studying

It's easy to become so distracted that you can't properly concentrate on your studies. To give yourself the best chance of being productive during your study sessions, you may need to actively work on improving your concentration. Here are three ways that you can improve your concentration, so your study sessions will be far more effective.

1. Drown out chatter with white noise.

If nearby chatter is ruining your concentration, grab a pair of headphones and drown out the voices by listening to white noise. White noise should be less distracting than any conversations going on around you, so listening to it should help you concentrate on your studies. If you find the sound of white noise to be more off-putting than helpful, try listening to some subdued instrumental music while you study instead.

2. Don't be in a rush.

Being in a rush can make it hard to concentrate on your studies - especially if you are rushing through your studies to finish early so you can move on to more enjoyable activities. To maximize your concentration, slow down while you're studying so you can devote your full and undivided attention to each aspect of the task.

3. Remove obvious distractions.

Take a moment to think about the types of things that distract you the most. If your social media is what often breaks your concentration, then turn off your notifications or mute your devices. If it's the television that is constantly pulling you away from your studies, then turn it off so you can fully concentrate on the task at hand.

Studying is hard when you are unable to concentrate. That's why it is important to find and implement strategies that will help improve your concentration. By using white noise to drown out nearby chatter, not being in a rush, and removing obvious distractions from your immediate vicinity, you should have a much easier time concentrating on the task at hand while participating in future study sessions.

Being a good neighbor on social media

How to Be a Good Neighbor on Social Media

Being neighborly isn't only about pleasant in-person interactions anymore. With more neighborhoods creating social media groups, it's also becoming important to show your neighborly side online. Here are two tips that can help you be a good neighbor while on social media. Be sure to keep them in mind when participating in any online community groups. These neighborhood social media groups can be a wonderful source for networking, making new friends, strengthening ties to your neighborhood / community, finding volunteer opportunities, and simply keeping up on local news and updates.

1. Always show civility when communicating with your neighbors on social media.

Though social media communications may feel rather anonymous at times, remember real people are reading your posts. Do your best to keep your online communications respectful and always show civility when communicating with your neighbors on social media. If you have a personal grievance with a fellow poster, bring it up with them privately, rather than in public for all to see.

2. Always respect your neighbors' online privacy.

Everyone has unique privacy preferences, both online and off. To stop yourself from accidentally revealing a neighbor's private data online, refrain from posting personal information or photos concerning your neighbors without their express consent.

If you have yet to join a community group online, they can be found in a couple of ways. One way to find online community groups is by checking the social media profiles of neighborhood friends to see if they belong to such a group. A second method for finding groups is utilizing the site's search function to look for specific groups focused on your neighborhood.

No-spend days will help you save money

Save Money by Designating No-Spend Days

No-spend days, or days when you actively avoid non-essential spending, can be a great tool for people looking to save some money. The idea is simple - each day you avoid making frivolous purchases is a day you save money. In fact, committing to a single no-spend day per week can help cut frivolous spending by around fifteen percent.

Here are a couple of tips to help keep you on track during your designated no-spend days:

1. Avoid window shopping.

Remove temptation by steering clear of shopping opportunities - both online and off. No-spend days are far easier to adhere to when you aren't confronted with things you want to buy.

2. Look for free activities to pass the time.

To make your no-spend days more enjoyable, find alternative ways to pass the time without spending money. For example, if you feel like going to the cinema, watch a movie at home instead.

Do remember this money-saving strategy can only be effective if you implement it in good faith. If most of your frivolous spending happens on weekdays, for example, then don't designate Saturday or Sunday as your no-spend day because it won't help you save any money.

It's also important to keep in mind that the spending restrictions should only apply to your wants and not your needs. Essential spending, like that for household bills, repairs, gas, and groceries, can and should continue as usual. It's your non-essential spending habits this strategy looks to address.

DIY small repair projects around home

Save Money by Doing Your Own Home Maintenance and Small Repair Projects

If your first instinct is to call a repair person when things aren't working quite as they should, then you could be spending more money than needed. To keep from needlessly spending money when you find yourself facing a home maintenance or repair project, step away from the phone and search for solutions to the problem on YouTube instead. By performing a simple YouTube search, you're likely to find several how-to videos explaining the step-by-step process for completing the task.

There are many reasons for doing home maintenance and small repair projects yourself. Not only can it save you money, but it can also help teach you new skills and make you more confident in your abilities should you face similar tasks in the future. Certain projects may even prove to be so simple that you'll later wonder why you ever thought of paying someone to do them for you.

While there's no shortage of home maintenance and repair tasks that can be safely attempted on your own, some jobs will undoubtedly be harder than others. If, after watching a few how-to videos on the subject, you feel that you don't possess the necessary tools, patience, or skills to safely complete the project, then definitely call a professional to ensure the job is done correctly. If you do feel up to the task, however, then give it your best shot and enjoy the savings.

International travel and vaccinations

International Travel and Vaccinations: What You Need to Know

Different destinations around the world can pose different health risks to travelers. It's to reduce such health risks that officials often recommend you receive certain vaccinations before traveling to specific regions. Depending on your country of origin and travel history, you may also be asked for proof that you've received specific vaccinations in order to enter certain countries. As an example of this - more and more, it's looking like this is going to be the case for COVID-19 vaccinations, as airlines, cruise lines, and leaders of countries are discussing implementing proof requirements demonstrating that travelers have received a vaccine for this virus. These proposed requirements are often being referred to as "COVID passports," "COVID-19 passports," or by similar names in news reports. For these reasons, it's important that you do your research before any international travel. This way, you'll know exactly what to expect and will be fully prepared when you arrive at your destination.

When starting your research, a great first place to look is online. The Web site for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides vaccination information for 245 destinations and can be found at While on this page, simply choose your travel destination from the drop down menu marked "For Travelers", press "Go", and information about specific vaccination recommendations and requirements will be provided to you. Though it's not required, you may also provide additional information to help personalize your results by checking off any of the listed options matching your particular circumstances.

Beyond the detailed information about any recommended or required vaccinations, you may also be presented with area-specific travel health notices that can help you further assess the health risks of traveling to your chosen destination. Any notices, if present, will be classified based on three levels of risk: Watch Level 1, where you should practice usual precautions, Alert Level 2, where you should practice advanced precautions, and Warning Level 3, where you should avoid any nonessential travel to the area.

Once you have a better understanding of your chosen destination's vaccination requirements and recommendations, you should consult your doctor. It's recommended that you visit your doctor four to six weeks prior to any international travel to discuss the possible health risks of traveling to your chosen destination and while there, receive any needed vaccinations. Be sure to also inquire about your proof of vaccination documentation if such documents will be required during your trip.

Because traveling to certain destinations may pose an increased health risk, it is important that you familiarize yourself with such risks and visit your family doctor prior to your departure. By visiting your family doctor, you can receive any recommended vaccinations and acquire any needed vaccination documentation. This will reduce your chances of becoming ill during your next trip or missing out on it altogether from being unable to provide the required proof of vaccination to authorities.

Growing your support network

Three Tips for Growing Your Support Network

As people age, their support network can start to dwindle. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to grow a support network if you are willing to put in the necessary effort. To start increasing your current number of supportive connections, consider trying some or all of the following three suggestions. You'll likely be glad you did.

1. Reconnect with family and friends.

One of the easier ways to grow your support network is by reconnecting with any family members or friends that you have lost touch with. If it has been a while since you last chatted with a particular family member or friend, then reach out and try to re-establish a connection through phone calls or face-to-face meetings.

2. Seek out new friend connections.

Another way to expand your current support network is by gaining new friends. Look to connect with people outside of your current social circle by joining community groups related to your favorite hobbies and interests. You can also make new friend connections by volunteering at local charities and participating in community events.

3. Join a support group.

If you need a specific type of support that your current support network isn't able to provide, then seek out a support group that can fill the void. Support groups are a great place to connect with a network of supportive individuals because fellow group members will likely have a personal understanding of your specific challenges.

Use aromatherapy to improve sleep

Using Aromatherapy to Improve Sleep Quality

It's not always easy to get a good night's sleep. Fortunately, certain changes can be made to your sleeping habits that may help you wake up feeling more rested. One such change you may want to try is experimenting with scents in your sleeping area. By using aromatherapy in the bedroom, you may find it easier to achieve more restful sleep.

Here are three scents that may be helpful to those looking to improve their sleep quality with aromatherapy.


One of the most widely touted scents for improving sleep quality is lavender. The smell of lavender is believed to help calm the body and mind, plus lessen bouts of insomnia and general restlessness.


Another beloved scent used in many bedrooms is cedarwood. The smell of cedarwood is believed to help people fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep for longer.


If you find yourself waking up several times a night, then jasmine may be the most beneficial scent for you. The smell of jasmine is believed to improve sleep efficiency, letting you sleep more soundly throughout the night.

While there are various ways to introduce these beneficial scents to your bedroom, a popular method is using a diffuser to help disperse the desired scent around the room. If you don't have a diffuser handy, you can also apply the scents directly onto an absorbent material which can then be left near your bed.

How to save money on meals

Three Simple Money-Saving Tips for Mealtime

When money is tight, it can be worth examining your current budget to find potential areas of savings. As food is a major expense for most people, mealtime may provide the perfect opportunity to save some money. Here are a few money-saving tips that can help you spend less on your meals.

1. Price match your grocery purchases.

Many grocery stores offer price matching as a way to help their customers save money. If you don't already price match your groceries, then consider doing so from now on. All you'll need in most cases is a current advertisement from another qualifying store showing the same product for a lower price.

2. Go meatless for one or two dinners a week.

Meat is often the most expensive part of any meal. Therefore, if you want to save some money at mealtime, consider going meatless for one or two dinners a week. For a little extra fun, use your new meatless meals as a chance to experiment with new flavors and ingredients.

3. Create a vegetable garden.

Growing vegetables can be a great way to save money at mealtime - especially during the summer months. Even a small windowsill garden can help cut down on grocery expenses if you don't have the time or space for anything larger. If you're feeling especially ambitious, consider renting a plot in a community garden to maximize your savings.

The benefits of rain barrels

Five Reasons Every Gardener Should Own a Rain Barrel

It doesn't take long for the average gardener to learn the importance of watering their gardens. That said, not every gardener has thought about the many benefits of owning a rain barrel. If you are a gardener who doesn't yet have a rain barrel and would like to learn more about the benefits of owning one, then you've come to the right place. Here are five reasons every gardener should own a rain barrel.

1. Creative Garden Décor

Rain barrels have the potential to not only be functional, but also decorative. Many types of rain barrels are designed to be quite visually appealing and can become a uniquely decorative addition to any garden.

2. Alternative Water Supply

It can be hard to keep your garden watered during a drought or when officials have enacted water usage limitations in your area. By installing a rain barrel, you can collect and store an alternative source of water that can be used during such times. This will help your gardens survive an extended drought or water usage ban.

3. Lower Water Bills

Most types of gardens require watering on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your garden, this could cause your water bill to skyrocket. By using naturally-collected water from your rain barrel to water your garden, you'll have less expensive water bills.

4. Hassle-free Watering

You can create a hassle-free watering system by attaching a slow release hose to the bottom of your rain barrel and weaving the remaining hose throughout your garden. Once it's in place, all you'll need to do is control the water release valve and gravity will do the rest. By eliminating the need to manually water your garden, you'll have more time to complete your other tasks.

5. Better Water Quality

Though tap water can certainly be used to water a garden, rain water is often a superior replacement. This is because rain water is naturally free from additives like chlorine, fluoride, and salt which are commonly found in municipal water supplies.

There are many reasons why every gardener should own a rain barrel. Not only can many rain barrels double as unique pieces of garden décor, but they can also collect and store an alternative water supply that can be used during prolonged droughts or water usage bans. By including a rain barrel in your gardening setup, you can lower your water bills while enjoying the benefits of owning a hassle-free, high-quality watering system.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Protection from hackers and scammers

Hackers and cybercriminals are getting smarter and more creative in how they write their e-mails and text messages, and in how they present themselves on phone calls. Follow these tips and strategies to better protect your personal and sensitive information online, and to guard against hacking attacks.

Lately, I've been noticing a sharp increase in e-mails from hackers looking to gain access to my personal information. Often, I'm finding that these e-mails are made to appear like they're coming from legitimate businesses and organizations, like PayPal, Square, Amazon, and various banks. I occasionally receive them "from" my e-mail provider, Yahoo, threatening me with immediate shutdown of my account unless I take action right away and verify my details.

I've also heard from others that there are many telephone scams going around. Again, as with the e-mail hackers, these phone calls appear to come from legitimate businesses, organizations, and even government agencies, but they are anything but legitimate. I've heard about callers pretending to be from the IRS and the local utility company. In these calls, the callers usually tell the would-be victim that s/he is in serious trouble (like facing fines and/or imprisonment, or about to have the electricity cut off), that numerous attempts to resolve the matter have already been made, and that immediate action must be taken in order to avoid any additional trouble.

Finally, I've also received text messages looking to gain access to my personal information. They are usually "from" the United States Postal Service (USPS) or UPS, wanting me to confirm my information due to changes in projected delivery dates of packages that I'm supposedly about to receive.

Here are some helpful tips and strategies to better protect your personal and sensitive information online, and to guard against hacking attacks. By no means is this an exhaustive list, and you should consult other sources to learn additional tips and take in other perspectives. If you have any advice, tips, and strategies of your own to share that can help minimize exposure to hackers and scammers and help better protect personal and sensitive information, we'd love to hear about them in the comments section below!

First, common sense and your intuition may be your best line of defense. If you know where you bank or don't bank; if you know that you don't have a Square account; if you know that you're not expecting any packages; if you know that you've been keeping up with your utility bill; etc., etc., then you can usually tell quite quickly and easily what's going to be a scam attempt.

Remember that the IRS and the Postal Service are not going to contact you by phone or text message. The IRS will communicate with you by postal mail for business matters, and the Postal Service will not call or text you regarding the delivery of packages or to ask you for any personally identifiable information for the purposes of delivery verification. The very rare exception to this general rule of thumb - it is possible that the IRS will contact you by phone for the purposes of resolving tax matters and arranging payment plans, but you will know about their attempts to reach you by phone ahead of time by postal mail. There will be no surprises.

Never pay for a product, service, or a supposed bill that you owe with gift cards. Sadly, this is becoming a very popular scam, and many people are easily falling for it. Someone calls you and wants you to buy something, or you're told that you owe a bill. The caller wants you to pay for the product, service, or bill with gift cards (either by purchasing them online or at a physical store and then either physically mailing the cards somewhere or giving the caller the codes on the gift cards over the phone or by e-mail). What just happened? You just paid for a product or service that you're not going to receive, or you paid off a bill that was fake all along. And you paid for it in gift cards, which are virtually untraceable and extremely difficult to impossible to have any recourse.

If you're ever unsure if an e-mail, call, or text is a scam, verify by contacting the business or organization directly. Don't reply to the e-mail or text. In the case of a live phone call, don't provide any information to the caller. Instead, independently contact the business or organization after researching contact information online. If you receive an e-mail or text appearing to come from someone you know and you're unsure about it, contact the person independently to verify.

If someone is calling you and you're not familiar with the phone number on your Caller ID, let the call go to your voicemail or answering machine. If it's an important call and the caller is really trying to reach you, the caller will leave a message. If there is no message, the call must not be important or even legitimate.

Follow these two general rules that I faithfully subscribe to: Coming back to the last point, I simply don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the number on the Caller ID. I'll let it go to voicemail, and I would estimate that, 99.5% of the time, there's never a message left for me. Must not be important or even simply legitimate. Additionally, if someone legitimate is really trying to contact me, like a creditor, bill collector, government agency, etc., I subscribe to the belief that they can always write me via postal mail. They should have my address on file if they're really looking to reach me. If they don't want to officially notify me by postal mail that there's an issue of sorts, then I don't know one exists.

Implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication for your important electronic accounts. In a nutshell, two-factor or multi-factor authentication means receiving one or more log-in codes or notifications delivered to your mobile device(s) or perhaps sent to another e-mail address when you try to log into your e-mail, bank, social media, or any other important online accounts you may have with your regular password. This way, the account you're trying to log into knows it's really you, and not someone who may happen to have your password.

When using public computers, like at your local public library or an Internet cafe (do Internet cafes still exist??), use private windows in your Internet browser. This way, you're not leaving behind your search history, cookies, any accounts left open by accident, etc.

What advice, tips, and strategies do you have to help minimize exposure to hackers and scammers and help better protect personal and sensitive information? Please feel free to share in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you. Thank you!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Virtual students and breaks during the day

If you're a middle school or high school student learning from home this year due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, it's important to your physical and mental health that you take breaks away from your workspace throughout the school day. Students and parents, read on for more.

At the middle/high school I work at, we implemented for this school year a 10-minute passing time between class periods during the school day. We did this in order to provide for better social distancing and to minimize potential contacts. The logic behind this decision is simple - if students have more time to get to their classes, they won't feel rushed, and, therefore, the halls will be less crowded. I believe our passing time is usually four minutes.

If you're learning virtually from home this school year, no matter what your passing time is, use these times to get away from your workspace for a little while. Make sure you're also treating yourself to several small breaks during your homework time after school/in the evening. 

Breaks during passing times between classes: Instead of sitting at your desk on your phone, get away from the desk and the electronics. Use these passing times to stretch, get the blood flowing, relax the mind, relax the eyes from the electronics. Some ideas: Go outside for fresh air, especially with the weather getting nicer. Do a quick workout with dumbbells, if you have them (perhaps you can knock out two birds with one stone here by using these little workouts for your Online PE exercise logs, if you need to do those!). Grab a quick, healthier snack. Or just get up from your desk to stretch and walk back and forth a little.

Breaks during homework sessions: I have the same suggestions as with the breaks during class passing times - instead of sitting at your desk on your phone or watching a movie or playing video games, get away from the desk and the electronics. Relax the mind and the eyes, and look for ways to stretch and get the blood flowing. Relax the mind to some of your favorite music playing in the background?

Utilizing these simple strategies will help you guard your physical and mental health. It's not good to be seated and in front of electronics all day and night.

What are your thoughts and observations? Have any ideas or suggestions of your own to share? Add them to the comments section below. We'd love to hear, and learn, from you!

How social studies and English relate

Are you a middle school student or high school student that loves social studies, but not so much English? Read on. I may have some suggestions for you.

Recently, I started tutoring a middle school student in several subjects. He absolutely loves social studies (history, civics & government, economics, you name it), but isn't much of a fan when it comes to English. He finds that he doesn't enjoy many of the novels and short stories he has to read and write on, and, because of this, he's not getting much out of the class.

I offered him this advice, which I offer to you, as well: If you're not really enjoying your English class, for whatever reason(s), but you really enjoy social studies subjects, use your love of social studies to get more out of your English class. Here's how - for the stories and books you're reading and writing about in your English class, do some additional research about the various time periods, cities/countries, cultures and customs, etc., etc. that these books cover. YouTube is full of great interviews, documentaries, news reports, historical footage, etc. Movies that are based on true stories or real events may be fun and helpful. And of course, there's plenty of reading available on the Internet. 

Doing this additional research can help you better understand the context and vocab used in the English stories, as well as help you develop a bigger, more complete picture of the world. Additionally, there's always the benefit that you may be learning and developing an interest in subjects that you can turn to for future papers and projects, not only in English or social studies, but in other classes, as well.

This student recently started reading the play A Raisin in the Sun for his English class. I won't get into all the details of that story here (you can read these great summaries on SparkNotes and CliffsNotes), but, in order to get more out of this story, he could research 1950s Chicago, the Civil Rights movement here in the United States, history and cultures in Africa, and African-American history more generally.

Other stories recently read in his English class include Night and The Outsiders. For these, he could have conducted outside research on the Holocaust, World War II more generally, and Europe in the 1930s and 40s (Night); and Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1950s and 60s, social cliques and the social hierarchy in high school, and socioeconomic conflict between groups (The Outsiders), as a few examples.

Hopefully, utilizing these simple tips and strategies can help you develop a greater appreciation for what you're learning in your English class, with the ultimate goal of getting more out of this class. English and social studies subjects often intersect with each other. They're both about people, places, events, conflicts, histories, cultures, and communities.

What are your thoughts and observations? Feel free to share in the comments section below.  

Monday, April 19, 2021

The pitfalls of technology in education

As much as I'm tech-savvy (or at least think I am), I'm still very old-school in many ways, as well. Now age 38, I grew up in between the emerging world of tech, video games, computers, social media, etc., and the previous generation.

I love reading the physical, print newspaper. I love holding physical books and magazines. I use an old-fashioned alarm clock instead of the alarm on my smart phone. And I keep a written calendar. I could never buy into the idea of keeping my calendar on any electronic device. 

Recently, I began tutoring a young man, a middle school student, who can use a little guidance in the areas of study skills and keeping organized. My advice to him right away, and it's the same advice I have for you, as well, is this: Go old-school with lots of paper and writing utensils! Let's explore further.

The student I'm tutoring - and all students these days, generally speaking, find themselves in similar situations simply because of how the classroom has evolved - is so dependent on tech for doing school work and trying to keep things organized. Items like his homework to-do lists, grades, assignments, various classroom and school information, etc., are spread out among several different apps, software programs, and locations. Because of this, it can be very easy to sometimes forget about assignments and miss key details and information. This is where old-school paper and writing instruments come in.

Slowly, I'm working with this student to integrate an old-fashioned system into his daily habits. The tech isn't going away, but the use of paper should help mitigate many of the effects that come as a result of having so many important items spread out among many different apps, locations, and programs. I recommend this same strategy for you, especially if you find yourself having a little difficulty with keeping everything organized and remembering where everything is.

I recommend that you have paper, pens, and highlighters handy. Keep a written calendar/planner, written to-do lists, paper to jot down thoughts and ideas on the fly, etc. at your workspace at home. I love keeping legal pads and a variety of smaller pads around, as well as file folders for different subjects and projects that I'm working on.

If you have specific goals you're working on achieving (like SMART goals), I strongly recommend that you have these goals written down on physical paper and kept in a visible place in your workspace at home where you're going to constantly see them. Before I started working with this student, he had several great SMART goals he was working on, but the goals were stored electronically. The problem with this is that he wasn't looking at his goals very often, and so it became easy to forget about them and to lose focus on what he'd like to ultimately accomplish.

The same goes with thoughts and ideas you may have on the fly - are you really going to want to go through the hassle of logging into your Chromebook in the moment and typing them into a new Google Doc? This is where keeping paper and pens around can be of great help to you.

I'll close with this quick story. Some weeks back, a co-worker of mine who had been tutoring a student in math at the school we work at, shared with me that this student was improving his math skills quite considerably. He was growing more confident in his abilities, and his grade in the class was rising. Then, one day, he had a math quiz. He scored a 67%. He took the quiz again, and he received the same score. He wasn't sure why he was getting this grade. He was truly baffled, and so was my co-worker. The problem? It turns out that he needed to click into a different app/site to do the last five problems. He got the first 10 problems correct both times, but he completely missed the last five. He didn't know they were there, waiting for him in another location. Truly, technology can be a double-edged sword.

What are your thoughts on all of this tech in the classroom these days? Have we become too dependent on it? For all the positive things tech can do for us, is it actually having the reverse effect in the realm of education? Weigh in with your thoughts, observations, and stories in the comments section below.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Common mistakes business leaders make

Common Mistakes Business Leaders Make That Derail Their Success

Young leaders meeting in a board room. Photo credit:

A great leader motivates and inspires workers, paving the path towards business success. Insider has a list of some of the world's most famous business leaders, from Eric Yuan of Zoom to Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson. Want to join the ranks of experts like these? You can! Top leaders aren't born — they're made. From compelling communication to effective collaboration, leadership skills are learnable. Unfortunately, many leaders resist change and derail their own success. Mr. Robertson’s Corner shares some mistakes leaders make that impede their growth.

Not embracing a leadership style

Leaning into your leadership style can boost your confidence. It also allows you to more easily pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses so you can figure out what to leverage — and where to improve. There are many leadership styles, including servant, democratic, autocratic, transformational, and more. Not sure what your leadership style is? Very Well Mind has a simple quiz you can take to figure it out. A leadership coach can help you better understand how to make the most out of your given style.

Refusing to commit to an organization

You may have a map for your career. Maybe you plan to put in X number of years in mid-level management before progressing to senior management and then advancing to the C-suite. Your "map" may also include switching companies. While planning is great, there is a drawback to always eyeing the next move: You fail to commit to your role, your company, and its culture. You won't be able to inspire your employees if you aren't leading by example and embracing the culture. Forbes confirms the significance of corporate culture, explaining that it improves brand identity and attracts better talent — in turn, driving company success.

Neglecting to adapt communication styles

Different people communicate differently. As a leader, you might expect others to adapt to your communication style. However, if you want to sway people and get them to do what you want, you're better off adapting yourself to their style. Fleximize explains that you have to know your audience and identify your objectives. You can then adapt as needed. This is even more critical in an increasingly remote workforce. Harvard Business Review stresses the significance of effective communication when you can't meet employees face-to-face.

Lacking emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is often underrated in the business world. The Corporate Finance Institute defines emotional quotient (EQ) as the ability to manage not only your emotions but also others'. Components of EQ include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Business News Daily goes further, saying that the self-awareness associated with EQ can help ensure leaders still come across as approachable, not arrogant. Arrogance is generally a turn-off and doesn't inspire others.

Failing to pursue self-improvement

With sufficient self-awareness, you can start to identify what areas of your leadership ability you can improve. You may find that you'd benefit from additional education, for example. An online business degree can give you valuable soft skills while also providing important credentials. Focus areas range from online accounting to business management and marketing. Constant self-improvement and continued learning are essential for long-term success.

As the above guide has hopefully made clear, great leaders all share one thing: They are open to change. As a leader, refusing growth opportunities is a surefire way to derail your success. Don't fall into this trap. Follow the above steps to get started.