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Back to School: Pick a Hobby!

Hobbies may seem frivolous, or silly -- or maybe just a waste of time. But when so much of life’s energy is dedicated to the challenges of school, jobs, family and more, a hobby can be a source of happiness, confidence and relaxation. Hobbies, therefore should be seen as an asset -- a valuable part of a complete life. But how does one go about choosing a hobby?

1. Think about how you like to spend your time

Do you like to listen to music? Maybe sing? How about reading? Drawing? Or sports? Are you fascinated by computers? Nurturing a pastime you enjoy is a great place to start. It can be a bit overwhelming to consider all the possibilities, especially when one considers the options provided by digital technology, which allow anyone with a computer to dabble in fields as diverse as robotics, fashion design, publishing, filmmaking, and architecture.

So poke around, look inside yourself, figure out what grabs your interest. You might surprise yourself!

2. Don’t be afraid to experiment

When we think of ourselves, we often use labels or stereotypes. This can be very limiting. Even at an early age we can easily be summed up by ourselves or others (athletic, or artistic, or shy, or social). Don’t let this stop you! Get outside your comfort zone and try new things. You might just stumble across activities you love but might not ordinarily have tried.

3. Remember, hobbies are supposed to be fun -- they’re not jobs!

It might be tempting to think strategically about hobbies. For instance, you might think of how certain hobbies might look good on a college application, or perhaps provide networking opportunities. Try to avoid this way of thinking. After all, the point is to find an activity that will give you a break from all of life’s serious endeavours. Focus on finding something that is fun and relaxing. You don’t want your hobby to feel like a chore -- ideally time should fly by when you’re doing it.

4. Be sure to respect your hobby

Try to dedicate a space in your room for your hobby: a space on a shelf, a part of your desk, a part of your wall. By ensuring your hobby has a physical place in your life, you help ensure it has a place in your life. A hobby all too easily fades away if it’s not cherished.

5. Don’t be afraid to share your efforts

One of the great things about a hobby is the social component. It’s great to meet people with similar interests and passions. Even if you’re working alone, it should be easy to find groups online who can offer support, advice and tips. With any luck, family and friends will provide support as well.

6. It’s okay to change your mind

You’re probably going to go down some blind alleys. You’ll try something for a bit, find it’s not to your liking and call it quits. That doesn’t make you a bad person! The important thing is to not give up on the idea of a hobby. In other words, if you try something and don’t like it, then try something else!

How to Choose a Tutor For Your Child

At the start of a new school year, it’s all too easy to fret and worry about your child’s academic success. The good news is, you and your child don’t need to face these worries alone. A skilled tutor can really help a student develop new skills and abilities they never knew they had. In fact, a tutor can make a world of difference in a young person’s life. Choosing a tutor, however, can be challenging, so here are a few tips that might help.

Does my child really need a tutor?

It can be difficult to acknowledge your young person’s academic weaknesses, but it really shouldn’t be. Every human being has weaknesses (as well as strengths). In fact, be glad, because identifying areas that need help is the first step in overcoming those areas. In truth, however, a smart parent doesn’t just hire a tutor to boost grades in problem classes. A good tutor has the skills and experience to help your learner in countless ways. The goal should always be about far more than boosting grades -- it should be about helping your child find excellence in school and in life. A good tutor can help you make that happen.

How can a tutor help my child?

Struggles in school can set up an awful cycle. A learner feels disappointed, then starts to feel increased stress, then starts to lose confidence, then starts to decline academically, and round it goes. A good tutor can help break that cycle. Not only can problem areas be addressed, but the student can learn to cope more effectively with obstacles. Breaking the chain of insecurity and shame can empower a young learner tremendously, equipping them for lifelong success.

What’s more, a dedicated tutor offers much more than academic know-how -- ideally they will not just help your student learn specific subjects, but learn about how to excel in school. This includes study tips, lifestyle changes, organizational improvements and more.

What if my child has an exceptionality?

A huge percentage of young people have learning exceptionalities such as ADHD, dyslexia and so on. Happily, society is gradually abandoning the stigma associated with these challenges. Even better, a growing body of knowledge can equip parents and students alike with the information they need to find a path to educational excellence no matter what issues they may have.

Good tutors have a full understanding of every exceptionality under the sun, and can offer coping strategies and study skills that will not only get them through school but achieve inspiring and amazing feats of academic excellence.

What exactly should I look for in a tutor?

It’s important to be a bit choosy. Sometimes a high schooler with skill in a needed subject area will get the job done. But for the best outcomes possible, it’s important to find a tutor who has a great many skills that go beyond academic subject areas. The best tutor is someone who understands all the complex and overlapping aspects of student life and can help your learner improve not just in one subject area but help them develop as a person. This requires skills, training and experience.

How important is a tutor’s personality?

Don’t underestimate personality. At Tutor Doctor, we employ a tutor matching system that helps connect students with a tutor who is the best fit possible. It’s critically important for student and tutor to connect. This helps the student relax, de-stress and concentrate. Good tutoring is a collaborative effort, and that means everyone involved will have to work as a team -- not just student and tutor but parents and teachers as well.

The most important characteristic is heart. An experienced tutor understands just how much a young person can be transformed with the right sort of help. Imagine an adult thinking back to their school days and pondering the many things they wish they’d known back then. Well, a good tutor will give your student all the tools and knowledge they might otherwise miss.

7 Smart Tips For Back-To-School Shopping

Like clunking machines gearing up in basements across the land, the approach of a new school year is getting families making their preparations for the start of school. This inevitably involves shopping -- you’ve almost certainly spotted the sales. But before you rush out and start spending, a few tips might just make the process a bit easier (and maybe a bit cheaper too).


1. Remember -- it’s a teachable exercise

Back to school shopping is a great way to teach your youngster about smart money management. Involve them in every step of the process, from beginning to end. Get them looking at items online, comparing between different stores. Walk them through the steps in this post, and possibly offer them a small cash prize (or extra item) if they find good deals.


2. Make lists

Before anyone looks for anything, draw up lists of what’s needed. Go class-by-class. See if you already have the necessary supplies. Do a “need” list first to make sure nobody ends up empty handed when school starts. Nothing is too basic to write down, including stuff like pencils, pens, erasers and paper. After that’s all done, if there’s money left over, start thinking about the more fun stuff, like clothes, apps, gadgets and so on.

It’s also important the items on your list match any list sent home by the school. Teachers can sometimes be very specific about what is required for their class, so make sure you’re syncing up with those requirements.

The ultimate goal is to know what you’re looking for before you start shopping. This makes it harder to indulge in expensive impulse shopping. Indeed this is a good tip for adults too!

3. See what you can buy in bulk

A box of pens or a pack of printer paper will almost certainly be cheaper if purchased at a big-box office supply store than at a drug store. Take the same approach to buying other bulk items like socks or binders. Food items too, especially snacks, are often cheaper when bought at a bulk store. Keep in mind that just because it’s at a bulk store doesn’t mean it’s automatically cheaper -- watch those prices!

4. Put a value on recycling

Students may not like hand-me-downs, but you’d be surprised what you can get from friends and family if you ask around. Indeed your student may have items from the previous year, such as binders and notebooks, that can be used again. When shopping for school, as with shopping for anything, saving money is a valuable skill.

5. Understand the value of quality

There may be some things your young shopper just has to have. But it may also be that whatever that item is, it’s cheap, flimsy and likely to be discarded soon. It’s important to remember that getting good value for your purchases is a value all on its own. The last thing you want in your life is another round of back-to-school shopping in the middle of the school year!

6. Minimize conflict

There may be rifts, so pick your battles. Emphasize compromise. After all, this is a time when your young students will be exercising a bit of personal sovereignty -- put another way, they’ll be feeling like a bit of a grown-up. So give them a bit of maneuvering room in making their choices.

7. Always be on the lookout for deals!

Join social media groups, scan the flyers, check the group coupon sites. Be aware that some states offer “holidays” from sales tax before school starts. Think about putting off shopping until after school starts, when the prices drop. Put your kid on it! Ask them every day if they found anything new.

Saving money is a fantastic habit to have, and back to school shopping is a great time to get that practice going!

It’s Time to Get Ready For Going Back to School

“What, already?”

You betcha! It’s never too soon to start talking about returning to school. Indeed when you get right down to it, the earlier the better. Kids can get upset about the prospect of their summer being “ruined” by having to think about school, but that presents a teachable moment. School should not be seen as an awful thing, and with a bit of work you might just be able to soften your kid’s outlook. As you’ll see, sooner is better than later.

Remember: School is year-round

Once upon a time, practically every teenager went out for summer jobs -- but this is no longer the case, with the number of high schoolers doing so dropping from two-thirds in the 1970s to less than one-third today. There are a few reasons why this is happening, but probably the biggest reason is the fact that high schoolers now attend school year round, including the summertime. The warm season has become a time to boost grades, pick up extra credits and so on.

In other words, it’s soon going to become unusual to view summer as a time off from school (and arguably that time has already arrived). And even if your youngster isn’t attending to school obligations every summer, they should at least be thinking of school, reading intensively, familiarizing themselves with the fall courses, exploring careers and more.

Talk now, talk often about school

School shouldn’t be a scary subject. It’s a part of life -- a huge part of life. Think about being a student as having a job. Now there are great jobs and terrible jobs, but anyone thinking they could get through life without working won’t have an easy time of it. So school is inevitable, but does that make it bad? After all, school is just the starting stage for all that follows.

School, work, hobbies, friends, hope, fear -- all of it adds up to what we call life. School is just a part of it. Accepting that will go a long way to reducing a student’s anxiety.

Identify your child’s fears and work to reduce them

Not everyone feels anxiety about school, but for those who do, that anxiety can make life much harder -- or even dangerous. But there’s no single template when it comes to fear and anxiety. Everyone has their own perceptions and their own responses, and furthermore a young person’s anxiety is likely to change over time.

Talk to your child. Be friendly, supportive, non-judgemental. Try to find out what their fears are, not to mention their insecurities. Don’t just say everything’s all right, really talk through the fears and compare them with your own school experiences.

It can also help to make sure your youngster doesn’t feel alone. Whatever struggles they may have, whether socially or academically, help and support will be available. Whether it takes the form of one-on-one tutoring or an increased number of hugs, they will not be alone.

The key is to normalize school. When you really think about it, there’s an awful lot about school that might seem strange and alien, but helping your youngster accept, and even embrace that strangeness can help them relax.

5 Great Apps for Students With Special Needs

It’s a digital world, and mobile devices have become almost universal for people of all ages. Many kids have them too although most of the conversation revolves around the countless apps related to social media and gaming. The truth is, however, that the compact power of mobile computing has led to the creation to apps in fields as diverse as science, medicine, the arts and more. Perhaps best of all are the apps created to help kids with special needs. Here are five!

1. Nonverbal or Verbally-Impaired: CoughDrop AAC (iOS, Android, Amazon, Windows, Web)

For some children, verbal communication can be extremely difficult. In response, experts developed special software for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). These apps allow kids to communicate by touching the screen. In effect, the app gives words to those who can’t speak. AAC technology has proven to be especially useful for children with autism -- indeed, intensive use of AAC apps has been known to dramatically improve the speech abilities of autistic kids.

2. Socialization and Scheduling: ChoiceWorks (iOS)

Many children with special needs have a hard time sitting still and expressing their feelings. ChoiceWorks provide visual cues to help them do both of these things. It’s also a scheduling app, designed to keep your kid’s day organized and structured so they can stick to their all-important routine.

3. ADHD: Unstuck (web app, free downloadable app)

Kids with ADHD tend to have a variety of struggles, but one of the most frustrating is getting mentally “stuck.” A student might be working on an assignment, but just get overwhelmed with information, pressure, and the countless decisions required. Unstuck is a great app for tackling that feeling. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy principles to help steer the user away from unhealthy thinking, all the while helping put words to feelings.

4. ADHD: SimpleMind (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)

Mind Mapping is a very big deal these days, especially in the creative fields. These apps use a graphical interface to visualize thoughts and ideas, and have been used for developing software, writing screenplays and just plain getting organized. Mind Mapping has also shown great promise in helping people with ADHD bring order to their thoughts and feelings and just generally get stuff done.

5. Dyslexia: Ghotit Writer (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac)

Reading and writing can be difficult for anyone, but when dyslexia is part of the equation, it can be a painful struggle. That’s where Ghotit comes in. It helps you read with sophisticated text-to-speech technology, and helps you write by employing a very advanced contextualized spelling and grammar check that predicts the word you’re looking for and catches contextual mistakes that standard spell check software easily misses. Ghotit is an expensive app, unfortunately, but it has received very high marks from parents and educators.


Towards a Better Understanding: PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can be a serious condition, and while we tend to associate it with people who have had dramatic brushes with death (such as combat soldiers), it can affect people from all walks of life, including children and adolescents. While exceptionalities such as ADHD and dyslexia are perhaps more commonly associated with young folk, PTSD can also have a profound impact on learning and achievement. Let us, therefore, take a closer look at this malady.

What is PTSD?

Boiled down to a simple description, PTSD is a mental health disorder that results from a person having an experience that brings them close to death or makes them feel extreme fear. Survivors of natural disasters and terrifying phenomena like car crashes and child abuse are known to experience PTSD as a result. In essence, the brain gets locked into a kind of “survival mode,” as though the traumatic event could happen again at any moment. PTSD afflicts the survivor with flashbacks as well as powerful feelings of anxiety, sadness and/or anger.

Imagine surviving a nightmare such as a plane crash. Now imagine you’re stuck in that moment for years. That is PTSD.


What are the effects of PTSD on young people?

Young folks with PTSD often struggle with school. They can find it very hard to regulate their emotions, sometimes acting out inappropriately and getting in trouble. What’s more, they frequently resort to alcohol or drugs to numb their pain, which in turn can lead to bad choices -- and more trauma.

The worst thing about PTSD is that it usually ends up causing the very worst thing for someone with PTSD: alienation.

How is PTSD treated?

In many cases, the symptoms of PTSD will eventually fade away as the young person begins to feel safe again. In other cases, a variety of treatments are available that have been shown to be very effective. In younger kids, play therapy has shown excellent results, with a combination of play and craft helping the child process their feelings.

In older kids, therapies include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which is designed to modify one’s responses to stimuli -- in this case to train the young person to avert that “survival mode” in favor of something more peaceful. Psychological first aid (PFA) is usually introduced as soon as possible after the traumatic event and is designed to soothe the young person and make them feel safe. Other, more specialized treatments are sometimes employed when necessary (for instance in the case of abuse victims).

The important thing is to seek help as soon as possible, because while left untreated PTSD may go away on its own, it could also result in tragedy.

What’s the most important thing to know about PTSD?

Whether combat veteran or traumatized teen, PTSD is made much worse with social isolation. In our society it is often very difficult to form deep connections with other people, but that is the most important way to help someone overcome their PTSD. That feeling of being understood, of empathy and togetherness, is the very best way to restore a feeling of safety to a survivor of trauma. While high school difficulties such as bullying or gossip might threaten to push someone with PTSD over the edge, things like a tight social circle, unquestioned friendship and unconditional familial love can bring healing.

Unusual High School Sports Around the World

Basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, oh my! We’re used to high school sports having a certain uniformity. That, however, is simply the result of our own cultural experience. While certain sports like soccer and basketball are practically universal worldwide, American football is rarely played outside the United States. Similarly, many sports that are routinely practiced in schools around the world are unique to their cultures. Let’s take a look at some of them!


Judo (Japan)

The sport of judo was created in Japan, but that doesn’t mean it’s ancient. In fact, judo was created in the late 1800s and only became popularized in the 20th Century. Japanese high schoolers compete in this sport in a very big way, though it’s worth noting that judo has also developed a worldwide following as well.


Kung-fu (China)

If you find yourself traveling across China, your wanderings may take you past the occasional high school. And if this should happen, you may be treated to a view that is, in fact, entirely normal for China: large numbers of students practicing kung-fu outdoors on school grounds. Alone or in groups, punching, kicking, blocking, even using swords, halberds or other weapons. Despite the skill required to practice kung-fu correctly, it’s not that big a deal in the nation of its birth. Just another part of school life.


Chinlone (Myanmar)

Here’s one that’s very gentle, even graceful. Chinlone combines team-based ball sports with dance. There is no score, and there are no points. The team passes the ball among themselves, resembling the keep-me-up performed by soccer players. However the kicking is combined with dance, so the whole thing takes on a fascinating, graceful performance as the players try to keep the ball -- which is traditionally woven from rattan -- from hitting the ground.

Australian Rules Football (Australia)

This is a game that may actually cause pain just to watch. Dating back to the mid-1800s, “Footy” (as it’s it’s often called) looks at first blush like an intense game of rugby. However Australian Rules Football does not allow passing, and is a full-contact sport that allows contacts -- without padding -- that can be very intense indeed. However its popularity among Australians continues to grow, with over 600,000 Aussies currently registered as players.


Moraingy (Madagascar)

Originally created centuries ago as a way for young men to prove their worth, Moraingy is essentially a form of bare-knuckled boxing that is now practiced by both boys and girls. However, it is not as rough as it sounds. There is a referee, and they generally aren’t going for knockouts. The sport also has it own set of dance-like moves, and in fact there is a religious component to the sport, as it is usually accompanied by music that is known to lull fighters and spectators alike into a trancelike state. What’s more, between bouts the boxers perform dances.

Capoeira (Brazil)

Not many sports have been listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage assets by the UN and set aside for protection, but Capoeira has. Hundreds of years ago, Brazil, then part of the Portuguese empire, employed huge numbers of slaves, and those slaves would escape into the jungle whenever they could. Those slaves would be hunted down by professional slave-catchers, so the fugitive slaves would have to defend themselves against very well-armed attackers. This led to the creation of Capoeira, a form of unarmed combat that employs wild moves and dodges designed to confuse a foe. After many hundreds of years (and repeated attempts at banning) what was originally a self-defense technique is now much closer to a form of acrobatic performance. Capoeira has been exported around the world and is now performed on every continent, but in Brazil it remains a powerful cultural tradition.

Sign Up For a Summer Reading Challenge!

Reading is a critically important skill for young people to master. Of course it goes without saying that improved reading can help lead to better grades, but decades of study have found a great many other benefits from reading recreationally:

To encourage these and many other benefits, Tutor Doctor is happy to offer our Summer Reading Challenge. This includes a list of suggested reading, put together by a team of respected educational experts. The list covers multiple genres and reading levels, so you’re sure to find lots of reading ideas for your youngster. There’s also a worksheet that will help readers keep track of what they’re reading and what they learned.

Best of all, this Summer Reading Challenge is absolutely FREE.

Click here to download Tutor Doctor’s Summer Reading Challenge

Challenges Facing Rural Schools

Not all school boards are the same -- different boards face different challenges. This is particularly true when looking at rural schools. Around half of America’s school boards are in rural areas, but one thing we can say about rural education is that it is under-served. Students in rural schools are far less likely to attend college, for example, while services and extracurricular activities are generally far less available than in urban areas. This neglect even extends into basic research, with surprisingly few studies being aimed at rural teaching -- despite education being a field with constant studies on every conceivable subject. There is enough data, though, to identify some of the challenges facing rural educators.

Physical distance

City dwellers may reasonably expect to be able to walk their kids to school (or for their older kids to walk themselves), but in rural areas this is frequently impossible. Catchment areas can be very large, making it absolutely essential to arrange a ride to school. Time spent on school buses may easily be counted in the hours per day, while depending on those buses can often mean limited access to after-school activities and sports. Studies have linked long bus times to lowered educational outcomes. But what can be done? The most direct solution would be to build more schools in order to shrink ride times, but in reality rural schools are being shut down and bus rides are getting even longer.

Not only do these drive times hurt grades and after-school activities, they also make it harder to get extra help. Tutor Doctor offers in-home one-on-one tutoring, but other sources of support can be difficult to access due to distance.

Teacher hiring

In many urban areas, there is a glut of talented teachers but not enough jobs available to employ them. In rural areas, though, it can be extremely difficult to attract great teachers. Indeed hiring in general is tougher in rural areas, for fields extending far beyond education. Rural life isn’t for everyone, and a life that’s simpler can seem to some people like a life that’s “less than”. Many services such as health care can be harder to obtain, there may be fewer cultural attractions compared to big cities -- the list of reasons why teachers may be dissuaded from applying for jobs in rural areas can be long.

In reality, rural life and rural teaching offer a great many benefits one can never find in big cities, including an environment that’s cleaner (and safer), cheaper real estate plus a strong sense of community. Perceptions can be hard to fight, though, which can leave rural schools struggling to find staff. The usual approach is to offer higher pay or better side benefits, but this can often be difficult to afford.

Spotty Internet access

People in big cities take broadband Internet access for granted. Not only is it fairly easy to sign up for fast access, people in cities are frequently spoiled for choice. America, however, is still experiencing a digital divide, with, by some measures, more than a third of rural residents lacking access to broadband Internet.

This can drastically affect education. Not only does it make it hard for many teachers to employ digital resources such as YouTube in the classroom, but employing learning management systems (LMSs) such as Moodle can sometimes be impossible. Even accepting digital submissions of homework and assignments can be hard. Also rendered unavailable by slow Internet access are the vast opportunities for digital learning, eBooks, and the ability to collaborate online. Even basic software like Google Docs can be a struggle.

Efforts are still being made to expand rural access to broadband, but progress is slow.


Nowhere is free of poverty, but rates of unemployment, malnutrition and poverty are markedly higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Unlike cities, though, where high population density tends to make poverty more visible, it can be much harder to see in rural areas, which makes it harder to cope with.

Poverty is proven to affect educational outcomes, and frequently leads to increased absenteeism (or early drop-outs). Schools frequently have programs to help, for instance providing meals to children in need, but given the large geographic areas in many rural school districts it’s not unusual for teachers to not know how their students are living.

Teachers need to be entrepreneurial

A little-known fact about rural areas in America: they have a much higher rate of entrepreneurialism. Perhaps the result of a different mindset or the difficulty in obtaining services (or a combination of these or more factors), many people in rural areas are just used to getting things done themselves. This extends to education as well. A teacher with a willingness to jump in and get things done will do far better in rural areas than a teacher who is used to being hemmed-in by a bureaucracy.

In rural areas, it’s not unusual for a superintendent to also serve as a principal and even drive a school bus. A “not my job” attitude can be a detriment in a community where everybody pitches in, and this can make it difficult for teachers who are used to specializing.

Five Abandoned Teaching Methods

There is always discussion and debate about new educational methods. For instance, nowadays there is a gradual move toward student-centered education. Of course there is also intense analysis about just what role digital technology should play in the classroom. Debates like these date from the earliest days of modern education, and have led to many well-established ideas being abandoned. Here are a few.

Huge Classes

We tend to think of early education as taking place in one-room schoolhouses, but the earliest attempts at mass education took place in big cities using the “Lancastrian” model, which had a lecture providing a rote lesson to hundreds of learners of different ages. Those students would then reproduce the rote lesson to other learners, and by a sort of viral process, education would spread. It was a kind of “wholesale” teaching model that didn’t last very long, enjoying its heyday in the early 1800s. The advent of public schools soon put an end to the method.

Rote Memorization

Teachers put content on the blackboard, students write it down. Teachers makes statements out loud, students repeat them. Over and over. Once, you see, it was believed that students are essentially empty vessels, with the teacher’s job being to fill their minds with knowledge. It was very much a one-way communication, with youngsters expected to memorize it with total accuracy. Welcome to education in the 19th Century.

The amount of teaching time devoted to memorization varied from school to school, but it was a key element of classroom life. Teaching culture had not yet been professionalized or studied empirically, so by our standards there were many aspects of Victorian teaching methods that would be highly objectionable today -- for instance there was little attempt made to connect with students as individuals and get them interested in the content, while windows were routinely placed high up so that students couldn’t see out (to prevent distractions).

It might sound like schooling was very boring back then, but students in those days learned very early on that any wavering in their attention resulted in physical pain, because corporal punishment was routine and casual.

Tracking (also called Streaming)

Not every student goes to college, and not every student can become a doctor or a lawyer. Each of us has our own path to follow. But for decades, educators largely made that decision on behalf of students by using a practice known as “tracking.” The process was simple. Early on in a student’s career, students would be separated into “tracks” based on where educators thought the students would end up. At the top were the college-bound, and at the bottom were the “vocational” students who were trained for jobs like carpentry and metalwork.

The system was completely unfair. As we now know, youngsters can struggle in their schoolwork for any of a very long list of reasons, ranging from having an exceptionality like ADHD to trouble at home to just having a different learning style. Today we recognize that given the proper help, including one-on-one tutoring, far more young people can achieve excellence than educators in previous generations would have believed.

The worst part of tracking is, because it relies on a one-size-fits-all view of education, it allows prejudice to become a deciding factor. Students were routinely “downgraded” because they were a different race or religion, or because they were poor.

Eventually, tracking fell by the wayside, essentially disappearing in the 1990s (though it still crops up from time to time).

New Math

People still make jokes about this one. It’s often described as introducing strange, nonsensical math concepts to youngsters, but here’s what happened: in the late 1950s, Americans were shocked out of a sense of technological complacency by the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union. This resulted in a crash program to send Americans to the moon, but it also launched a massive effort to close the perceived “engineer gap” with the USSR by, essentially, upping America’s STEM game.

Thence came the New Math, as it was called. This was the intensive introduction of math concepts into public schools that were far in advance of anything attempted before. Even the teachers were often baffled. The goal was to produce a generation of superhuman mathletes, but instead it generated mass head-scratching and a great many jokes on late-night talk shows. Even distinguished scientists like Richard Feynman came out against the move, pointing out that regular folk, professionals, scientists, engineers and mathematicians all used math in different ways and it made no sense to try shoving everyone into science and engineering.

The new math was only a brief fad, but to this day it remains a synonym for absurd nonsense.

Open Areas

The idea was very straightforward: create a large open area, perhaps by merging several classrooms, then populating it with a wide range of students of different ages and skill levels. Within the open area, students would work according to their skill levels rather than be grouped by age. At the same time, students would help one another solve problems and learn skills, while the teachers would move between the groups providing help and guidance as needed.

In many ways, the open area resembles the student-centered learning techniques that are considered cutting-edge in the 21st Century. However without proper guidance by the teachers, and especially advanced training of those teachers, the whole thing can be a mess. Assessment especially can be problematic.

There have been many advances on the concept in recent years, and similar practices are being adopted in more and more schools. However the open area concept was only briefly employed in the 1970s before being largely forgotten.

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