Friday, January 27, 2012

3 Reasons Your Child Should Never Take the SAT Cold

Tomorrow is the first SAT of 2012.  Typically, the January test is filled with seniors who started the process really late, or, in many instances those trying one last time to raise their scores before their applications are reviewed.  I used the word "typically," because there are still quite a few parents who have their 11th graders take the SAT "just to see how they'll do" before they actually start preparing for it in the spring.  Here are three big reasons that this is a BAD, BAD idea:

Reason #1:  The SAT is not a test to be taken lightly
The SAT is a “reasoning skills” exam that tests how well students can reason, think critically and problem solve in math, critical reading and writing.  Unfortunately, for many students, these skills are not cultivated in their regular classrooms and the SAT questions themselves are not as straightforward as those on the standardized tests that most  students are used to.  The test also requires physical endurance--3 hours, 45 minutes of testing is draining, especially when your body has no idea what taking a test this long feels like.

Reason #2:  All SAT scores are “on the record”
SAT scores typically level off and morale starts to drop after a student takes the SAT three or more times, which means that parents have to be very strategic with timing.  Ideally, the best time for most students to take the SAT is in the spring of their junior year.  The best test dates are in March or May—after they’ve had at least one semester of Algebra II and before they get bogged down by finals in June.  If your child needs to take it again after the spring, use the summer to strengthen weaknesses and then plan to take it again in October before the college application process gets too crazy.

Even though most schools will take the highest scores from each section, lower scores can still stand out and draw undue attention.   And while the College Board now allows students to exercise an option called “Score Choice,” where they can pick and choose which scores they want sent to the schools, most schools frown upon this option and ask the student to send all of the scores anyway.

Reason #3:  There are ample opportunities to “see how they’ll do” before the taking the real SAT
The College Board has full-length real SATs with answer keys available both on its website and in its Official SAT Study Guide, available for purchase here.  These, hands down, are the best ways to “see how they’ll do” on the SAT before taking the real thing.  Have your child take the test in a quiet, timed environment where you can serve as the proctor.  Follow the times allotted for each section and give a 5-minute break after every two sections.  If you’re not comfortable proctoring on your own, you should take advantage of the “free SATs” that several test prep companies like Innovative Study Techniques offer, most often with comprehensive score reports included.

Coming next week:  What are the best ways to prepare your child for the SAT?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

5 Ways Parents Can Bring History Alive

Over the weekend, I went to see "Red Tails," the new George Lucas film about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviators in the US armed forces.    There were several children in the audience (including one of my students) watching the movie with their parents.  For many students, history, like science, is one just one of those subjects that you can't just read in a book--you have to experience it in order to really appreciate it.  Here are five ways to bring history to life for your children:

1. Visit a museum

This one's pretty obvious, but I'm still surprised by the number of people who don't take advantage of all the great things that museums, particularly local ones, have to offer.  If you can't get there physically, take a tour of a virtual museum like those offered by the Smithsonian.  To see a list of virtual museums from around the world, click here.

2.  Get some popcorn and watch a movie
If you have a family full of movie buffs like mine, check out a documentary about a particular event or period in history and watch it together.  When I was growing up, I learned so much about the Civil Rights Movement that wasn't taught in school just by watching the "Eyes on the Prize" series on PBS.  PBS has an array of other well-made, interesting documentaries to choose from here.
If documentaries aren't your thing, a great alternative is the historical fiction genre.  In these works, you get a "twofer"--your children can learn about history and be entertained through a work of fiction that grabs their attention, such as a favorite among my students, "The Count of Monte Cristo."  To see a list of the 100 best historical fiction films of all time (most of these are more suitable for older children), click here.

3.  Download an app
An iPad app like Virtual Roma takes the user back in time to visit Ancient Rome, which has been reconstructed in a virtual form that allows you to have a “full-immersion” panoramic experience.  You can see aerial views of the city, statues, monuments and more as you if were right there.  How cool is that?!  To see more history apps, click here.

4. Go on a scavenger hunt
Family scavenger hunts allow you to learn about history and have a little friendly competition at the same time.  At the "The Museum of Natural Hysteria Scavenger Hunt" inside the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, families can "hunt for dinosaurs, stuffed tigers and giraffes, a camping a flossing bison, live insects, the Hope Diamond and other jewels, mummies, and a charred-bone from a real murder mystery."  Watson Adventures offers hunts like this all over the country; to see locations, click here.  If you can't find anything close to you, check out this list of internet scavenger hunts at Education World to go on your own scavenger hunt at home.

5. Take a field trip

When you're planning your next vacation, incorporate a visit to a historic site as part of your trip.  When I was a child, I loved going to visit Colonial Williamsburg, VA.  In the same trip, we could see reenactments of what it was like to live during the American Revolution and  head over to Busch Gardens, where we could get a taste of old-world Europe and ride roller coasters.  To see a list of the "10 Best Historic U.S. Sites for Kids," click here.  Again, if you can't physically visit, consider taking a virtual field trip from the comforts of your own home.  To see a list of some pretty cool virtual trips, click here and here.

*This post was originally published at