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Myths and Recommendations – Understanding and Preparing for the New End of Course Exams

In the U.S., it has become common practice (weather we like it or not), to test our students A LOT.  Often, teachers and students (and parents) are left in the dark about the content of the test, the style of questions and most importantly how to prepare for said tests.

I have been participating in this new End of Course (EOC) based system since its inception several years ago.  What I have seen is a lot of misinformation and a lot of misunderstandings.  This seems to occur on all sides of the fence, teachers, students and parents.  My hope with today’s post is to clear up some of the myths and give parents and students some guidance on what they can and should do when it comes to preparing for these cumulative EOC’s.  The added benefit is these tips also work for SAT’s, ACTs, IB and AP exams as well.


1.  If I do well in a course, I will naturally do well on the end of course exam. 

SOMETIMES TRUE.  This is true if your teacher is mindfully planning and is insisting that you begin a comprehensive review of material starting about 4        months ahead of the exam.  You should also have cumulative unit tests that bring the old information back into the foreground.

2.  The EOCs are not that big of an impact on my overall grade. 

FALSE! It can be between 20-30% of your final grade.  If you go into the test unprepared, you could end up with a B or C (or worse for your final grade).

3.  The teacher is making the course too hard.

FALSE!  Any teacher, who is diligently following the state standards and mimicking the style of questions expected for the EOC will have a very    challenging course. Be thankful your child is sitting in that room, as it is the   best shot they have at getting a passing score on the EOC AND having their          final grade reflect a fair assessment of their overall performance.  Be wary    of classes where your child seems to never have homework, and seems  as if they are challenged very little.  That could be a big warning sign that the necessary learning is not happening.


1.  Students should start studying for their EOCs in January.

  • Create a study guide that identifies the critical topics for the whole year (see YEA! Youth Education Alliance’s Teachers Pay Teachers web page for parent and teacher friendly study guides).
  • Plan out which topics to study each week starting January.
  • In your plan, leave one week right before the EOC for cumulative, intense review.
  • If your child seems lost, hire a tutor or get extra help using tutoring services offered at the school.

2.  Do as many practice tests, as you can.  Repeating the same ones if you are unable  to locate many different ones.

  • Ask your child’s teacher.
  • Subscribe to an online site targeted at that subject.
  • Search for vocabulary practice on sites like Quizlet.

3.  Teach your child some test taking strategies

  • There are sites on the internet that share recommendations
  • YEA! Youth Education Alliance has tutors who specialize in this particular area visit our website for services offered.
  • You can also contact your child’s school to ask about study skills classes that they might offer.


In the end, the most important piece of advice I can give you is the knowledge that we are all in this new system together.  Teachers will continue to learn how best to attack these tests, and every good teacher is dedicated to passing that information on to their students.  We have to work together, and weather the storm. It is my guess that this testing atmosphere is a knee jerk response to the fact that the U.S. is falling behind other nations and the people in charge of policy believe this is the best way to fix it.  It does not matter whether we agree or disagree, right now this philosophy is in place and our kids and teachers need support to try and get through it.  Who knows what the future holds for education, but if we work together we can at least survive this latest idea on how to “fix” our education system.

posted by samantha in Education Advice,End of Course Exams,EOC,Parenting Tips,teaching tips and have No Comments

Get Kids Excited About Reading With These GREAT Story Books!

Having a hard time convincing your kids that reading a good book is just as much fun as a video game?  Or perhaps, you are finding it difficult to find a storybook to read with your kids that doesn’t involve the same old tired storylines?  Today, I am sharing with you my favorite books in the creative storylines category.  Hopefully, you will find more than one book on this list that your child will ask to read again and again (and you will be happy to do so because they are just that good)!!!

Book #1:  Once Upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude 

By:  Kevin O’Malley

He wants ogres, scary motorcyclists, and raging battles.  She wants flowers, hearts, ponies and princesses.  How will they solve the conflict and get a story written and make their teacher happy?  Read and find out!

Book #2:  Pssst!  It’s Me the Bogeyman!

By:  Barbara Park & Stephen Kroninger

This book provides a unique take on scaring children, its from the Bogeyman’s perspective!  Read it to see what has him so upset!

Book #3:  The Day The Crayons Quit

By:  Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

This book is HILARIOUS!  Find out what happens when Duncan goes to get his crayons out of his desk, only to find they have gone on strike!!!                              Peach crayon is my hands down favorite!

Book #4:  Aliens Love Underpants

By:  Claire Freedman and Ben Cort

A story about what REALLY happens to our laundry when it is drying on the clothesline.

Book #5:  I Need My Monster

By:  Amanda Noll

Why would a little boy want a drooling scary monster under his bed?  What lengths will he go to in order to replace his missing monster? This book practically screams READ ME!!!!

posted by samantha in Parenting Tips and have No Comments

Fun With Sight Words: Part II

Continuing our theme of last week’s post on Sight Words made fun, I am posting a list of ideas to keep your kids engaged this week (assuming the kiddos have tired of the Sight Word Munching Monsters that we posted earlier).

The biggest key to sight word success is to interact with the words.  This means building them, writing them, drawing them and yes, even discussing them with mommy and daddy during “play time”.

        Sight Words Ideas

  1. Use wax sticks (like Wiki Stix) to spell out the words and make pictures for words.
  2. Use bathtub paint to draw and write “sight word graffiti” on the wall during bath time.
  3. Use toothpicks or scrabble tiles to spell out the words (for the toothpicks they can glue them down and display the paper on the fridge! :))
  4. Create coloring pages then color them in a creative way (see image below)


For the coloring pages, I would recommend finding a printable that is on a subject your child is interested in (my nephew loves Mario brothers).  I cut up tissue paper into small squares, with a little plate of glue and a pencil you can create the wonderful work of art you see below! (Photo courtesy my nephew!  He was doing color sight words).

posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips and have No Comments

Making Sight Words Fun!

Sight words, the phrase alone is enough to make kids cry and parents desperate for an effective way to inject a little fun into an otherwise overwhelming and tedious job.  Recently my sister and nephew have been embarking on this journey themselves.  In an effort to help, the “Sight Word Munching Monsters” game was born.  My goal in creating this activity was to try and bring back the excitement my nephew first expressed at the prospect of going to kindergarten.  If you are seeking the same thing then try out our monsters game.


  • Hot glue gun
  • Elmer’s glue with paint brush
  • 3 pieces of scrapbooking paper (8 x 11)
  • 1 scrapbooking paper block (small paper size)
  • Scissors
  • Copy paper (1 sheet)
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Clear shipping tape
  • Markers
  • 3 Plastic jars (Crystal Light works really well)
  • Box cutter or Exacto Knife
  • Velcro


  1. Remove wrapping from the Crystal Light jars, discard lids.
  2. Paint Elmer’s glue onto all sides of the jars (excluding bottoms).
  3. Roll the paper onto the jars (be sure to keep the paper even with the bottom).
  4. Set them aside to dry.
  5. While they are drying, create the site word “crackers”.
  6. Take the copy paper and create a 1” x 2” grid, cut the resulting rectangles out.
  7. Write the sight words on to the “crackers” (aka the rectangles).
  8. Laminate them by placing clear tape on the top and bottom and trimming each one.
  9. Once the tubes are dry, cut the excess paper at the top to look like hair. (by cutting “V’s” or skinny strips.
  10. Use the Exacto knife and cut  a hole into one side of the jar, make sure it is a little wider than 2”.
  11. Use the smaller scrapbooking paper to add details to your monsters.
  12. Create 3 circles; color one green one red and one yellow.
  13. Label the green circle “go”, the Yellow “slow” and the red “woah”
  14. Place the Velcro on the back of the circles; stick the other side to the plastic monster bodies.

How To Use Your Monsters:

  1. Lay out the site words in front of the monsters.
  2. Each monster plays a roll:
    • Woah – words needing more study time
    • Slow – words your child almost knows
    • Go – words your child knows
  3. If your child gets the word right they “feed” the site word cracker to the “Go” monster
  4. If they get the word right, but only after some help/clues, the site word gets fed to the “Slow” monster
  5. If they get the word wrong, even with prompting, the site word gets fed to the “Woah” monster.
  6. The goal of the activity is to move all of your crackers into the “Go” monster.
posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips and have Comment (1)

Showcasing Your Student’s Work (It’s Not Just For Refrigerators Anymore!)

Here is an idea that I used in my classroom.  I was looking for a cheap and efficient way to celebrate my students’ achievements by showcasing their work.  It cost me about $10.00 to $20.00 in materials and about an hour of my time.  Turns out it is a great and simple idea for any  parent, teacher, or homeschooling family looking for a way to show off their students’ work!

Here is a picture of the finished wall!


To achieve the Masterpieces Wall, you will need: 

  1. Wooden clothes pins (1 pack of 24)
  2. Duct tape (various decorative colors)
  3. Self Stick Velcro (6 feet should do)
  4. Push pins (one pack)
  5. Decorative lettering

First you have to prepare the clothespins. I tore my duct tape into strips and used it to cover the top surface of the pin.  I then cut the Velcro in half, adhering one side to the clothespin and leaving the other adhesive side covered till I was ready to mount them to the wall.

Once the pins are covered and Velcro attached, measure out a grid on your wall and stick the pins (clip side down) to the wall.  Center your wording above the display and attach them with pushpins (I find the clear colored pushpins are easiest to use and quick to remove if you make an error, and virtually invisible when you put them on the wall).  Finally, attach the work and step back and enjoy!

posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips and have No Comments

To Note or Not to Note, that is the Question…

We’ve all had this experience, you’re sitting in class (or if you’re really lucky, a parent conference) and the teacher is going over what is important for success in class, and they say…”you must take good notes”.

We’ve all heard this piece of advice, but what does it mean?  Why should we take notes, what is the benefit in it, and most importantly, what is the best way to take notes?

Why Should You Take Notes?

As it turns out, the human brain is wired to forget things we learn.  In fact, we begin to forget information as soon as we hear it.  According to researchers at Cornell University, twenty minutes after hearing something, we have already forgotten 47% of it and after two days we have lost 67% of that knowledge!  This is a scary statistic considering students are caught inside an educational philosophy of end of course exams that stress retention of knowledge over the long term.  The days of cramming and forgetting right after the test is taken are dead!  However, no one has alerted the students.  Students are still preparing the way they always have.  The hallway conversation goes a little something like this, “I have a test tomorrow, I better go ahead and start cramming, ugh, it’s going to be a looooonnnnngggg night!”.    While this might have lead to success for students in the past, this practice is not going to be the best strategy any longer.  Given the current state of education, students must be trained in skills that foster long term retention.  The first and most important tool in a student’s kit is effective note taking.  Note taking is important because it is a way for students to combat forgetfulness by providing resources to review the content of a lecture or lesson.  In fact, students who take notes and review the notes regularly will be able to recall 80% of the information contained in the lecture!  However, even though the benefit of note taking is clear, surveys show that only about 66% of all students take notes on a consistent basis.  Wow!

What Style is Right For You?

There are many note taking styles out there from the very structured (like Guided Notes and Cornell ) to more free flow styles (like mind mapping).

Guided Notes:  The guided note style requires participation and preparation by the teacher, in this system the teacher creates an outline with gaps for the student to fill in.  This style of note taking is great for younger children who are just learning how to take notes and will give them a great start in learning how to pick out important information to record for future learning.

Cornell Style Notes:  This note style works for older age groups like middle and high school.  In the Cornell style of notes you have a page that is divided into three sections.  Section one is used for main ideas and recall points.  Section two is used to elaborate on the main ideas. The last section is used to summarize the information received.  Cornell notes are not great for facts recall (that’s more of a guided notes thing), however students who take Cornell notes score higher on tests involving higher level analysis and synthesis type questions.  These are the questions that are typical for advanced level courses and end of course exams. When I coach clients on note taking, one of the things I tell them is that Cornell notes are really great when you are doing a reading assignment.  It is not my favorite for in class note taking.

Outline Style Notes:  Outline style is great for students who like organization and order.  It involves organizing the knowledge into a main topic with smaller secondary and tertiary topics.  The benefit of this notes style is it provides a clean and efficient set of notes that you can review later.

Free Style Notes/Mind Mapping:  This note taking style is best suited for in class lectures because you are making connections as the conversation is happening.  For free style notes, I always recommend that students focus on answering the following questions:

a. Definition of topic/concept.

b. What is the job of this particular thing?

c.  Why is this topic important?

d.  Drawing (if applicable)

e.  Steps (if it is a process)

Writing or Typing, Which is Best?

Research on how the human brain works suggests that the act of writing is more effective than typing.  When you put pen to paper, the areas of the brain that regulate thinking, language and working memory become active.  This unilateral activation is not seen in people who type information on a computer or laptop.  As it turns out the process of forming and connecting our letters actually helps our brain process and store the new knowledge we are being exposed to.

Now, before you rush out and buy an ink well and quill and enroll in that handwriting class you’ve been dreaming of taking, there are some problems with hand writing notes  that you should be aware of.  The major issue is that we cannot write as fast as we can type.  Most people can record about .4 words per second by hand verses 1.5 by typing.  When you factor in that the average teacher says 2-3 words per second you can see the issue here.  So the question then becomes, what is the best way to incorporate the act of writing with effective technology use?

Turns out there are many options out there.  Below are a couple of the ones that I recommend to my clients.

Option 1:   A combination of note taking coupled with a handheld digital recording device.  This system allows students to record notes digitally and provides them the opportunity to go back to the lecture later and fill in any gaps they might have had in their written notes.  This also works well to lesson anxiety over missing something important during the lecture.

Option 2:   Recording pen – The recording pen works like the idea above, but combines both items together into one, which, in my opinion makes it a more efficient system than option one.  However, recording pens and their ancillary supplies can become quite expensive so that needs to be taken into consideration when making the decision on what type of note taking device to use.

Final Thoughts:

It goes without saying that note taking, just like anything else, is a very personal choice.  My suggestion is to try all of the options and find the one that works best for you.  It is not recommended that you choose your note taking style based on what “looks easiest”.  Some of the note taking styles are more involved and take a little more time on the student’s part, but if the payoff is a minimum of 80% on your test, isn’t discovering your style worth the work?

If you have tried all the styles above and none of them feel right for you, please feel free to contact me for further advice and coaching as you might need something more tailored to your personality.  The ideas I have gone over today are the note taking styles that work for the vast majority of students.  However, they are not the only ideas out there!

posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips,Understanding the Human Brain and have No Comments

Choking Under Pressure: Why Performance Anxiety Exists and What We Can Do About It.

We’ve all had an experience in life where we were so nervous and afraid to fail that all we could think about was how nervous we were and how badly we expected to fail.  It’s called performance anxiety.  It is defined as fear of a situation or circumstance, like a big presentation at work or a big test at school.  Anything we consider high stakes can cause us to have anxiety.  This anxiety actually impacts our brain’s function and causes us to do worse on a task then we would have if we weren’t so consumed with worry.

This problem is most frustrating when it impacts our children in the classroom.  For students, learning to overcome test anxiety can mean the difference between passing or failing a course. I recently read an article in the Journal Science, which gave me some perspective on how the brain deals with performance anxiety, how it hinders performance and how to help alleviate the stress. I encourage you to try this strategy with your child.  It will decrease your child’s test anxiety and more than likely lower the stress level in your home.

How Does Test Anxiety Impact the Brain?

Test anxiety impacts an area of the brain called working memory.  This is a critical area for thought processing.  When a student has performance anxiety, this area is fully consumed with worries about failing, leaving little working memory to process calculations and questions on a test.  In experiments involving test anxiety, those students who were not given a coping strategy showed a twelve percent drop in their scores in comparison to students who were asked to use a strategy to help alleviate their stress.

What Can You Do?

Researchers have found significant benefit to having students write about their worries just prior to the test.  Students that engaged in this expressive writing strategy for ten minutes before the high stakes test actually performed five percentage points higher than their peers who did not use the writing strategy.

So it appears there is significant benefit for students to be given an opportunity to write about their fears before they take a test.  It will free up their working memory and give them an opening to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained.  Ultimately, this strategy could transform your child’s opinion on a particular area of study, and quite possibly give them the confidence and courage to pursue a career in a high demand field like science or technology.

For more information, or to get additional test taking strategies, email us:



posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips,Understanding the Human Brain and have No Comments

Naturalist Notebooks Head to the Beach! Exploring our Amazing Coast!

This week’s theme pays homage to the end of summer and the beginning of the school year with a field trip…to…the…BEACH!!!!  What better way to finish off a Florida summer than to spend it learning about the ocean on one of our many beautiful beaches.


Supplies you will need:

A bag

Clear tape


Today is a scavenger hunt.  While at the beach you will be searching for the following common items  once you find them, you can tape them into your notebook, label them to take home and study.  (***NOTE, do not harvest any living organisms while on your quest, plant or animal.  The beach is a fragile ecosystem.*** ) In addition to the items below you need to collect sea shells from the surf to create your craft when you get home.  Be sure the shells are already empty.

Items to collect

A tiny piece of driftwood

The smallest complete shell you can find

A sea grass blade (they wash up on the beach all the time)

A photograph of you playing on the beach

Once you have collected your scavenger hunt items you can take them back to your area and tape them into your notebook (being careful to dry them off first)

Seashell Mobile





Branch from a tree (you can get this from your own yard)

Drill with a small drill bit


1.  Drill holes in all the seashells you are going to string on your mobile.

2.  Cut three to four pieces of string, all different lengths.

3.  Thread the string through the first shell and tie a large knot underneath ( for extra security add hot glue).

4.  Continue threading on the shells, tying knots each time.  Separate and arrange your shells however you would like.

5.  Make loops at the end of the shell strings to hang them from the piece of wood.  Parents: check the mobile for balance as you put them on, too much weight on one side will not let the wood hang flat.

6.  Tie one piece of string to the balance point of the wood; this will become your hanger.

7.  Hang your mobile up wherever you wish.  Perhaps in your room so you can remember your wonderful beach trip or outside on your porch?  The choice is yours.

posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips and have No Comments

Birding Is For The Birds: Teaching Kids to Appreciate Florida’s Native Bird Population

This week’s blog activity is devoted to the bird species of Central Florida, and more importantly to the hobby of birding.  Birding is a very simple pastime requiring only a quiet, natural place, binoculars, a camera and the internet (for identifying the birds that you don’t know).  Today, your family’s naturalist notebook activity will incorporate birding with a follow up craft to be able to attract birds to your own back yard!

For those of you that are looking for a location, other than your own back yard for observing birds, I highly recommend Mead Botanical Gardens.  They are located on 1300 S. Denning Drive in Winter Park, Florida.  They have a bird guide and checklist on their website that can assist you as you view the birds.  Download and print it out at: .

A Few Tips to increase the likelihood you and your children will see birds:

Early is better, the birds are out foraging and hunting.  Last week, while doing summer camp at Mead Gardens we saw a hawk and a barred owl flying around at about 830a.m.!

Quiet is key!  Birds scare easily, so adopt a no talking policy while hunting for birds.

What You Will Need:

Birding Field Trip:




Naturalist Notebook

Snacks and water




Make Your Own Bird Feeder:

Empty juice carton

Acrylic or oil paints

Paint brushes




Single hole puncher

Mesh bags

Bird Seed



Field Trip

You can choose any location you want for your birding field trip.  Then follow these easy steps:

1.  Have your camera and naturalist notebook handy.

2.  Walk around looking for birds, search the trees and the ground especially around a body of water (Florida has A LOT of wading birds, they might be fishing!).

3.  Once you find a specimen, snap its picture or sit down and put your drawing skills to the test.  If you choose the drawing option, this becomes page two of your naturalist notebook (for page one see last week’s blog post).

4.  If you took pictures, go home and print them out, then paste them into your naturalist notebook and hop on the internet to try and identify your birds, write the name of the bird species beside each photo.

Juice Carton Bird Feeder

The night or day before:

1.  Assemble supplies.

2.  Rinse out your juice carton and let it dry.

3.  Prime it with a base color of paint, depending on the colors on the carton you may need to use a darker color.

4.  Cut out holes on each side of the milk carton (see image).

After  the birding trip.

5.  Paint your carton with a colorful and attractive design (you might want to paint it a color that blends in with the environment like green or brown) Parents, you can teach children about camouflage during this activity as well!

6.  Fill the mesh bag full of bird seeds.

7.  Punch a hole through the top edge of the carton and string through your ribbon or hanger material.

8.  Go outside and hang up in a spot and wait for your birds to show up. When they do, you can sketch or photograph them and add them to your naturalist notebook too!

posted by samantha in Education Advice,Parenting Tips and have Comment (1)

Go Wild! Exploring Nature With Your Child!

It’s summer time in Florida, that means…the kids are out of school and if you’re anything like me you want to keep them busy. Productively busy though, not just sitting in front of the TV for hours learning how to rescue the 14th castle – trapped princess in a row.

To help you make learning fun, and get the kids outside for a while, try out our Naturalist Notebook activity!  Through the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to show you how to turn any outdoor space into an awesome nature excursion with a different craft to add to your naturalist journal each time.  Read on for a list of supplies and your first journal activity.

You Will Need:

  • comfortable, light colored clothing
  • water
  • A plastic or cloth grocery bag
  • clear tape
  • googly eyes
  • markers
  • pencil
  • medium sized notebook
  • glue
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • comfortable shoes
  • hat
  • bug repellant
  • clear tape                                                                                  

What are the benefits of allowing children to explore nature in an unstructured fashion?

1.  Unstructured play enhances a child’s creative abilities.

2.  Unstructured play, where a child must ask questions, draw their own conclusions and “test out” the answer allows a child to engage in critical problem solving.

3.  They become natural risk takers as they work to solve problems.

4.  You build a strong relationship with your child as you provide  a safe and encouraging environment for them to “discover” answers and solve problems  ( you should avoid “giving” your child the answer, it will keep them from developing the skills listed in 1-3.  Instead, inquire with them and problem solve with them. Become their partner in this activity rather than their leader).
The Activity #1 – Naturalist Journal : Creating Leaf Critters

You and your child will need a notebook each (yes you should do the activity along with your child! As it turns out, play is good for grown ups too!). Visit our blog each week for a new activity for your journal.


1.  Head out on a nature hike, take your scissors & plastic bag.

2.  Walk around and collect interesting plant parts, leaves, stems, flowers etc.

3.  Place each clipping carefully in the bag.

4.  Bring the bag back home and spread out your plant clippings (See right)

5.  Begin to arrange your leaves to make a creature, use your imagination to create the shape and body parts of your creature.

6.  Glue your creature down (in your journal) and add on googly eyes, mouth, and any other details using construction paper or markers.

7.  Name your creature!

8.  Show off to family and friends.

posted by samantha in Parenting Tips and have No Comments