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Published September 18th, 2014

The Growing Importance of High School Internships

Contribution by Katie Weigl

hello my name is internInternships are a relatively new part of the academic experience. I remember being in college and my parents being perplexed and also mildly horrified that not only was I expected to work for free, but also that is was virtually a prerequisite if I hoped to ever get hired post-graduation. But to the modern-day student, an internship or two (or three) is as much a part of the academic experience as studying for tests and writing papers.

However, internships are not just for the collegiate set anymore. Rather, internships represent a new frontier for high school students.

A 2014 study conducted by Millennial Branding and Internships.com revealed that 90% of companies surveyed agreed that completing high school internships could give students a competitive edge when seeking a college internship or full-time time job, and could influence acceptance into a better college.

As it turns out, this trend may be fueled by the ambition demonstrated by today’s high school students. Millennial Branding and Internships.com report that high school students actually exhibit a higher rate of entrepreneurial aspirations than college students do.

Employers are happy to respond to this new demand for high school internships. This same study revealed that 50% of employers currently accept internship applications from high school students or plan to launch an internship program within the year.

Are you in agreement with this trend toward high school internships? Do you consider it an invaluable learning experience, or an unwelcome distraction from classroom academics?

Published December 16th, 2014

The Tenets of Productivity: Part IV

Contribution by Scott Doty

Time to give thanks for this, our fourth and final installment of The Tenets of Productivity! We hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and are rockin’ and rollin’ through your to-do list like never before because of it.

If there’s something you’d like to see on the BrainStorm Blog, email katie@stormthetest.com…we’re taking your requests! _
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youve got mailAnd now for Part IV…

Conquer Correspondence. Of all the most common 21st-century distractions, surely correspondence is king. Among the thorny bushes of social media, texting, email, phone calls, & meetings, it is tremendously difficult to create a flowering productivity. Productive people hack away at the bushes: they prune some based on clear usage guidelines (“I will only check my email at 11am and then again at 4pm”), they build skills relating to the bushes (like faster typing and more diplomatically succinct ways to end conversations), and some bushes they uproot entirely (“just say no” to FB).

You HAVE Time; What You Don’t Have Is Priorities. Want to get something done? Ask a busy person. Why is this aphorism true? Because productive people have learned the alchemy that is turning usable hours into productive, enriching opportunities to excel. Part of this alchemy is eschewing the disempowering (and inaccurate) excuse “I don’t have time” and espousing instead the correct philosophy: “I have 168 hours in my week, just like Oprah, and the Pope, and everyone else. Any project I want to get done will get done, if I decide to prioritize it.” Productive people MAKE time for their priorities, and allow the small stuff to fit in around those priorities.

Honor the P’s. Whether you’re trying to study physics or prepare the masterpiece of your culinary career, consider the effect of these 3 P’s on your ability to focus and be effective:

  • Place. Is your space clutter-free and away from distractions like TV? Is it well lit, and not so warm that you feel lethargic?
  • Posture. If the world’s best physics student or cook were to undertake this exact project right now, how would he or she sit/stand? Would his/her outfit or body language reflect the high level of attention about to be given to the effort?
  • Phonics. What sounds make you most productive? Is it silence, or is it binaural beats, or is it the sound of a bustling café around you? If you love music, perhaps you should be listening to lyric-free music while you tackle this high-focus project? (Miles Davis and Mozart have repeatedly been shown to be ideal for this) You can always sing along to Mumford & Sons or Bruno Mars while you wash the dishes—a low-focus activity.

MANTRAS FOR PRODUCTIVITY:

I am worthy of success

I am not afraid of exceptional success

Failure is part of success, so I welcome it

Attitude and effort are up to me

I am already victorious!

Published November 19th, 2014

The Tenets of Productivity: Part III

sherlock holmesContribution by Scott Doty

A new quarter of the academic year represents a fresh slate–and the ideal time to turn over a new leaf. With the first marking period of the school year coming to a close, BrainStorm presents Part III of our multi-part blog series on optimizing productivity.

Multi-Tasking vs. Mono-Tasking. Some to-do’s, such as writing a business proposal or driving on a busy highway, are high focus activities; others, such as chopping carrots or making the bed, require low focus. The essence of good multi-tasking is combining one HIGH focus with one LOW focus activity, such as listening to an engaging TedTalk while folding laundry or reading a cerebral article while running on the treadmill. Productive people separate their to-do lists into “high focus” and “low focus” columns, and look for opportunities to mix & match. They also recognize that some projects are too important to do during multi-tasking—for these, they follow the model of Sherlock Holmes in reveling in the profound productivity of mono-tasking.

Routinize & Batch Small Decisions to Keep Them Small. Unproductive people waste a lot of energy on small decisions like what to wear or where to go for dinner this Friday night. Productive individuals “batch” their small decisions—they do them all at once. For example, they will prepare all of that week’s meals, or choose all of that week’s outfits, or do all of that week’s errands, in one focused batch of energy. Thus, they save themselves the angst of making manifold daily decisions about picayune concerns, and open up mindspace for accomplishing tasks of real value.

Know Thyself. Shakespeare had it right on this topic~ you have to be true to yourself. What time of day do you focus best? Gather your most high-value, high-focus projects into that window. Do you focus best after eating, or before eating? Are you only effectively disciplined when you have an accountability partner? Take the time to know yourself, and then act accordingly and without apology to those who don’t operate as you do.

Our final installment is coming soon! In the meantime, may as well revisit parts I and II…it would be the productive thing to do!

Published November 6th, 2014

The Tenets of Productivity: Part II

Contribution by Scott Doty

Part II of BrainStorm’s blog series on productivity–just in time for final exams!Pomodoro Timer

Eat That Frog! In his book by the same title, Brian Tracy discusses this odd axiom: If you start your day by eating a live frog, the rest of the day will only be better than that moment. In the world of productivity, this translates to choosing the one looming task that you’d most like to see evaporate without your doing anything—the one that is awful and you have trouble bringing yourself to get done—and do it first thing in the day. From that point on, everything else is easy sailing and the day is already in the win column.

Use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage. P’s Law says that the amount of work you have to do will expand, as a gas, to fill the time you allot for it… i.e., if you decide you have until next Thursday at 5pm to plant that garden, you will not get it done a moment before that deadline. Use this natural human inclination to your advantage—set far shorter deadlines for yourself on projects that matter, but that don’t feel urgent. Create a sense of urgency, and you will get it done earlier than you had thought was possible.

Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Also known as timeboxing, this technique entails using one of those tomato-shaped kitchen ticker-timers as your central prop. You set one for 25 minutes (the optimal amount of time the human brain can focus without fatigue), turn off anything correspondence related (unplug/turn off the phone, close email, etc), and dedicate yourself 100% to just one high-focus task until the timer goes off. When it does, force yourself to let the task be done for now. This form of short-burst, high-intensity mono-focus really helps people who are easily distracted or bored by projects; these people often reward their 25-min sprint with something enjoyable (like a meal or a friendly phone call) before starting their next punch on the Pomodoro.

Craving more tips on packing a greater productivity punch? Stay tuned for Part III (Or go back and revisit Part I!).

Published June 12th, 2014

The Tenets of Productivity – Part I

Contribution by Scott Doty

Productivity is commonly mistaken for efficiency (doing something quickly) rather than effectiveness (doing the right thing well). When done properly, true productivity represents the synthesis of the two. To be efficient, we need tools for speed and discipline; to be effective, we need to ascertain what vision of our future “best self” drives us. The latter is more important, and more difficult—finding a mentor or hiring a life coach is often a worthy investment to this end. In this multi-part blog post, I’m touching on effectiveness, but focusing a bit more on efficiency—that is, assuming you’ve got a sense of where you want to go, how might you best ensure that you get there?

Feelings, THEN Tasks. People often chase down a to-do list because they believe accomplishing those tasks will make them feel a certain way. One way to live more effectively is to switch the order: Not “I will get these things done, and then feel accomplished,” but rather “I have decided to feel accomplished right now, and will prioritize my day to get things done while already in that positive emotional place.” This cart-before-the-horse technique is sometimes called “resonance,” and is a powerful tool for effecting a mindshift from “hoping for victory” to “already victorious!” People are usually far more productive when in this mindset.

Body and Soul, or Nothing. In essence, this tenet says “Put first things first.” We all know that we struggle to be productive when we feel physically sick or emotionally wounded—and yet we have been taught to press through, to power through fatigue and pain to the Promised Land of “getting things done” ahead. It’s a deception, a mirage. The PL continues to recede in the horizon as more and more tasks get added to our lists, and our cycle of “doing” continues ad infinitum. We need to break this cycle by prioritizing good food, joyful physical motion, worship, meditation, human connection, rest, and everything else that feeds our body and soul. If we gain the world but lose our (body and) soul, we have nothing. Productive people prioritize physical and spiritual health, because they realize that this is the essence of productivity.

Resist the Tyranny of the Urgent. In Eisenhower’s Urgent vs. Important matrix, focus your energies on prioritizing activities in the “Important but Not Urgent” category—this is where flossing, reconciling with a good friend, pursuing our dream of traveling through Europe for a summer, & the like can be found (usually being ignored by hyper-efficient but terribly ineffective you).

Hungry for more productivity hacks? Part II is coming soon!

Published May 23rd, 2014

In Honor of Mother’s Day: Nature vs. Nurture Examined

Super MomContribution by Katie Weigl

This Mother’s Day, be sure to present Dear Old Mom with an extra-large box of bonbons as a token of appreciation for all the blood, sweat and tears she’s poured into raising you. Why? Conflicting studies show that while some evidence supports the effectiveness of Mom’s valiant efforts, there is a possibility that you may just have been more trouble than you’re worth.

It may sound harsh, but professor/author/blogger Bryan Caplan reports that while parents understandably strive to nurture their children to grow into smart and happy adults, behavioral geneticists find little or no evidence that this effort pays off.

In his interview with now-infamous “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua, Caplan argues, “Parents seem to think their kids are like clay, that you mold them into the right shape when they’re wet. A better metaphor is that kids are like flexible plastic–they respond to pressure, but when you release the pressure they tend to pop back to their original shape.”

A 2010 study of 338 children by the Child Development journal supports Caplan’s position. The results of this study showed that children coping with fighting parents acted out more and performed worse in school than classmates whose parents had undergone an intervention to promote a happier home life, touting the influence of a positive home environment on school-aged children.

On the opposite side of the “Nature vs. Nurture” debate is Yale professor Amy Chua, a notoriously stringent mom of two overachieving daughters and author of the memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

“I tried to find the balance between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised,” says Chua, “and what I see as a tendency in the West to be too permissive and indulgent.”

In Chua’s corner is Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner—today known as the father of behavioral science—whose early experiments produced pigeons that could dance, do figure eights, and play tennis. Skinner went on to prove that human behavior could be conditioned in a similar manner.

The age-old “Nature vs. Nurture” debate runs deeper than the gene pool itself. Based on your own experience, which do you feel is stronger—nature or nurture?

Published May 9th, 2014

To Nap? Or Not to Nap?

Contribution by Katie Weigl

Just say no to naps?

Should you just say “No” to naps?

To take a powernap, or pull an all-nighter? That is the question.

Much of our capacity for productivity is determined by our sleep patterns (or lack thereof), but getting the appropriate amount of rest can be a difficult balance to strike.

So when you’re feeling fatigued, is it best to call consciousness quits for a bit? Or should you simply power through?

Admitted serial-napper and best-selling author Michael Hyatt boasts a daily nap as part of his routine. And he’s in good company! Other notorious nappers include Leonardo da Vinci, John F. Kennedy, John D. Rockefeller and Winston Churchill.

Hyatt touts the benefits of his daily repose, naming improvements such as the restoration of alertness, prevention of burnout, heightened sensory perception, reduced risk for heart disease, and an increase in productivity. (5 Reasons That You Should Take a Nap Every Day)

On the other side of the pillow…er…coin, the Mayo Clinic cautions potential nappers that midday shuteye may not be for everyone, citing drawbacks such as post-nap grogginess and difficulty sleeping at night.

In order to reap the benefits of napping without the potential setbacks, the Mayo Clinic recommends keeping naps short, limiting naptime to the afternoon hours, and taking your naps in a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions. (Napping: Do’s & Don’ts for Healthy Adults)

So, where do you stand? (Or lie?) Does a midday nap help you take on the rest of your day? Or just leave you feeling dazed?

Published April 25th, 2014

One For All? The Great Inclusion Classroom Debate

One for all? The Great Inclusion Debate (specialedpost.org)

One for all? The Great Inclusion Debate (specialedpost.org)

Contribution by Katie Weigl

The very word “inclusion” conjures feelings of harmony. Yet the ongoing debate surrounding inclusion classrooms is incongruously dissonant.

The idea of inclusive education is not new. Special education public programs have been available as early as the 1950s. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s began to change the face of special education, and the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifically supports inclusive thinking and practices (NVPIE.org).

But what exactly is an inclusion classroom?

An inclusion classroom environment is one in which gifted and talented students as well as those with learning disorders work side-by-side with mainstream students under the tutelage of one instructor.

“Of the world’s leading countries in education, the top dozen countries—Finland, Singapore, China, etc—all utilize inclusion classrooms,” says BrainStorm CEO, Scott Doty. “Of course, the ideal inclusion classroom is one led by a truly masterful teacher, equipped with all the necessary methods and tools to effectively educate every type of learner in his or her class.”

Sound too good to be true? It might be. Those who argue against the concept of the inclusion classroom have legitimate concerns about the credentials of the teachers at the helms of these inclusion classrooms.

“One issue you can run into with an inclusion classroom is that even the most capable certified teacher may not have any training in nor certification for teaching students with special needs,” says Kathy Acosta, BrainStorm’s Director of Specialized Academic Coaching.

There is the solution of employing a co-teacher who possesses these qualifications, but it raises another debate—if students with special needs get a separate teacher, is that really “inclusion?”

On the other side of the debate, those in the pro-inclusion camp assert that all students—from those with learning difficulties to those on the gifted and talented tract—will benefit from the implementation of a multilevel, multimodality curriculum, as educators in inclusive classrooms are forced to move toward cooperative learning, whole language, thematic instruction, critical thinking, problem solving, and authentic assessment (ASCD.org).

Another major argument in favor of inclusion classrooms is centered on the social stigma of being removed from the rest of the class—for any reason.

“The message that ‘if you’re different, then you have to leave’ may seriously challenge children’s sense of a secure place in the classroom,” writes Mara Sapon-Shevin of ASCD.

Advocates for students with specialized academic needs, such as Ms. Acosta, will continue to champion the cause to further the effectiveness of these children’s education, whether it’s within the context of a inclusion classroom or not.

What do you think? Are classrooms like Caribbean resorts—where “all-inclusive” gets us the most bang for our tax dollars? Or are an effective education system and inclusion classrooms mutually exclusive?

Published April 11th, 2014

Paying Kids for Good Grades: Does it pay off?

Contribution by Katie Weigl

It’s instilled in us from the time we are children. “Be a good boy/girl and I’ll give you a lollipop.” We see the same principle applied in the workplace as adults. “If you’re good at your job, I’ll give you a raise/promotion.”

So it would seem a no-brainer to offer school-aged children similar incentives for performing well in school.

…Or would it? Cash for grades

The debate—arguably most famously posed by Roland Fryer, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and founder of the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University—is ongoing.

Through his social experiments, Fryer discovered that financial incentives for what he terms “output”—or results—failed across all grade levels and all cities to increase achievement. However, when incentives were offered for improving their “inputs”—factors related to effort, such as attendance and behavior—students demonstrated marked improvement in these areas.

Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the bestseller Freakonomics, spearheaded a similar experiment to test the effects of incentivizing effort, not results.  In Levitt’s study, students were not told of the financial reward in advance; instead, they were informed just as they were sitting down to take their tests. This way, the study measured the success of encouraging students to apply themselves more effectively in the “here-and-now”, rather than prompting additional hours of studying or note-taking ahead of time. Interestingly, Levitt’s study inspired the greatest improvements when students were given a financial reward in advance, knowing that it will be taken away if certain standards are not met.

On the opposite side of the argument, in her article for the National Education Association, Mary Ellen Flannery writes that incentivizing academic performance at all could be detrimental in the long run, especially when it comes to creative pursuits. Financial incentives are considered “extrinsic” rewards, whereas the rewards reaped from learning should be intrinsic. Flannery opines rhetorically, “Isn’t there greater value in reading a good book than a certificate for cheese pizza?”

Still, Greg Toppo of USA Today quotes Gregg Fleisher of the National Math and Science Initiative, who helped launch an initiative to offer urban youth a $100 cash reward for earning passing grades on their AP exams. Fleisher argues “this teaches [students] that if they work at something very hard and have a lot of support, they can do something they didn’t think they could do.”

As with any worthwhile debate, there is no right or wrong answer, and the experts (and the general public) may never agree.

What do you think? Does paying kids for grades pay off?

Published March 27th, 2014
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