Category Archives: GradeLeap Articles

Tips and Articles shared from education experts!

Tips to Help Students Transitioning from Elementary to Middle School

Parenthood is full of transitions. The change from being a person without children to being a parent, the first day of childcare, the first day of preschool, the first day of kindergarten, and more. But going from elementary to middle school can be a profound and intimidating transition for both parents and children.


Transition to Middle School – Challenges for Parents:

Transitioning from elementary to middle school can have a big impact on a family. The location of the child’s school, the cultural influences around the family, and economic factors will all have bearing on how big a challenge this change presents to parents. So how is middle school different from elementary school? Here are some changes that will affect parents of students transitioning into middle school

1. School location:

In some school systems, the change from elementary to middle school might simply involve moving to a different hall in the school or a different room, but in larger districts, your child is likely to be enrolled in a different school. When this is the case, there could be challenges with getting your child to and school, and getting him or her back home again. It could mean a change in the neighborhood through which he or she will need to walk to and from school, raising potential safety considerations

2. School Supplies:

Parents will notice a definite change in the type and cost of school supplies required. Students might be asked to provide a calculator, specific notebooks for a variety of classes, colored pencils, or markers instead of crayons. School supplies at the middle school level can include items such as index cards or even document sleeves.

3. Communication with Teachers:

Throughout elementary school, students spend most of their day with one specific teacher, even though they might attend special classes such as art, music, or physical education with other teachers. At the middle school level, different teachers will focus on a specific subject area. Parents will need to meet with each teacher individually for parent/teacher conferences.

Pete Lorain, former middle school principal and former president of the National Middle School Association, recommends that parents attend any Parent Nights hosted at the school in order to establish relationships with teachers. When contacting the school for information about grades or other matters, parents will need to be very specific about which class they are asking about. If the child is sick, parents will need to request homework from multiple teachers.

4. Communication with the School Administration:

It is always a good idea, as a parent, to attend Open House and to read all notes that come home from school. Pete Lorain recommends that parents attend school meetings to familiarize themselves with issues or concerns their children may have. Since middle school children tend to become less communicative, occasional unannounced “check-in” visits or phone calls when nothing, in particular, is going on will establish a pattern of partnership with the school leadership. If your child has special needs, make contact with the middle school counselor, and make sure that he or she knows anything about your child that may need their attention at some point. This is particularly important when the special consideration involves medical needs, or if your child participates in ongoing therapy of any kind.

5. Emergency plans:

Set up a plan for what to do in the event of an emergency. This can range from your child becoming ill while at school, to all-out disasters. Make arrangements with a family member or friend to be available to your child on those occasions when you are too far away or too busy at work to be there. Develop a plan for how to find each other in the event that your local government infrastructure is interrupted.

6. Expanded curriculum choices:

Middle school students will continue to refine reading, writing and math skills, but might have additional course choices. For example, a student might have a choice between band, choir or fine-arts as an elective credit.

7. Extracurricular Events:

More extracurricular events become available to students at the middle school level in most school districts. These create a need for added planning. They can involve transportation, club dues, special uniforms, craft supplies and more. In addition, most parents enjoy attending sports events or performances where their child is involved.

8. Clothing:

Unless the child attends a school that requires uniforms, clothing expectations sometimes change. Before buying a fall wardrobe for a middle school child, parents are well-advised to request and read the school dress code policy for students. Furthermore, some parents might need to become creative when dealing with clothing requirements for some classes, such as physical education. You may also need to provide safety gear for some classes.

9. Portable electronics:

Cell phones, tablets and other small electronics can become problematic in the school setting. Learn what your school’s policy is on such items before supplying them to your child or allowing them to go to school.


Transition to Middle School – Challenges to Children:

1. Personal Change:

Middle school encompasses the years from age eleven through age thirteen. Girls grow a lot while in middle school, and most will experience the girl issues that every parent dreads at some time during these years. Most boys will experience their growth spurts later, but they also are beginning to have physical changes. For a brief time, girls might be taller and heavier than their male classmates. Both become excruciatingly self-conscious as they experience changes in their bodies and in their ways of thinking. Be prepared.

2. Multiple Classrooms:

As noted previously, your elementary-age child spent his or her days with a primary teacher. Now, he or she will change classes multiple times during the day. This will require your child to be able to either quickly access a school locker or to carry multiple items to and from classes. In order to manage this efficiently, he or she will need to develop new organizational skills. Part of Gradeleap’s mission is to help kids become better at organization with school assignements.

3. New Friends, New Enemies:

The school environment is like a little community. Leaders rise to the top, groups develop, friendships are made, and even feuds happen. Affiliations that were innocent in elementary school take on a new significance as students reach puberty. Personality conflicts that were once resolved through a teacher or counselor can now spill over into extracurricular activities or even into the world at large. Middle school students are old enough and big enough to cause actual damage during physical altercations. They also have full command of language that can either support or hurt classmates.

4. Online threats:

If your child is attached at the thumbs to the greater community, he or she can come directly into conflict with school authority. Furthermore, children who are electronically connected through social media are at risk for inappropriate or even dangerous contacts. On the flip side, texting can be a great family communication method and a solution for staying connected in emergency situations.

5. Academic Changes:

Teachers are fully aware that middle school students are experiencing many internal changes. Therefore, much of the curriculum taught at this level is repetition and refinement of material presented in elementary school. However, it is presented differently. Students might be more involved in projects and be expected to take greater responsibility for their completion

6. Greater Expectations at Home:

Parents might begin to expect a middle school child to take more responsibility for home chores. He or she might be expected to wash dishes, keep an area of the house clean (in addition to their personal space), or even do their own laundry.


Transition to Middle School – Help Your Child Make the Change:

The hardest part of helping your middle school child make the change might be accepting the changes in your child and in your relationship. He or she might have emotional outbursts or retreat into silence. It is important to accept that pre-teens’ bodies and thought processes are changing.

  1. Plan Ahead:
    1. Check with your school to see if they have an Open House or even if they have a day in the spring when your child can visit the middle school to see what it will be like. If you are not moving, many school districts now have a day when elementary students visit the middle school as a group and have a chance to meet teachers, see the classrooms and eat in the cafeteria.
    2. Set aside extra money to deal with added school supplies and unexpected expenses. Budget a small, but reliable, allowance for your child to cover incidentals such as club dues, charitable collections, and fundraising events. Explain how the money is to be used, and that once it is gone, there will not be any advances or loans before the next allowance.
    3. Buy the school supplies that are requested by your school – no more, no less. Added supplies can actually cause problems within the classroom. Lack of a particular item, such as a pencil, appropriate notebook or calculator can make it difficult for your child to complete the required work.
    4. Visit the school with your child during Open House. The Open House at the beginning of the school year is one of the important transition activities for middle school students. Help your child learn how to open the school locker. Take some time to let the student practice opening the locker quickly. Tour the building so that you and your child have a good idea of where the classrooms, library, gym and cafeteria are located.
  1. Practice the art of letting go:

Encourage your child to do as much for him or herself as is practical or possible.

    1. Provide an alarm clock to help with self-starting mornings
    2. Set up a bulletin board where all family members can leave notes.
    3. Minimize rules, but make them clear and practical.
    4. Respect your child’s emotional response to situations. Remember that he or she is becoming a young adult, and treat him or her as such.

Transition to Middle School – Maintain Awareness and Communication:

Read all communication from your child’s school, and be proactive in inquiring about your child’s well-being if you have not had any recent communication. Many schools now provide students with planners, and require parents to sign off on homework, field trips, and disciplinary notes. Keep up your end of this type of communication.

Pete Lorain advises that parents learn about pre-teens and young teens and their developmental stages. Pre-teens can be moody, but be alert to sudden mood changes, sadness or anger that seems to continue past a reasonable amount of time. Lorain recommends that parents emphasize the positive aspects of middle school to their children, while also watching for any signs of depression.

Transition to Middle School – Remember that this is your beloved child:

In spite of moods, homework, grades and chores, this is your child. He or she is unique, individual and only young this one time. Celebrate this milestone in your child’s life.


Lorain, Pete. “Transition to Middle School.” Rss. NEA, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2015.


Review Websites That Help Students Learn Typing, Writing, Math, & More

Online educational website ideasIf you are looking for ideas to supplement your child’s education with online instructional websites, apps or other educational material, we’ve compiles a list of online websites and resources for you! We plan to continue to update this list through time, so check back every now-and-then if you want more ideas. There is no shortage of enriching, educational material available on the internet. However, it’s nice to have a little guidance. We will share some of the ones we like in this article.

Is technology and online material suitable for kids?

Not long ago, people debated whether or not technology was helpful for children, and whether it should even be allowed in the classroom. Actually, we’re still having this debate. But, it is clear that computers, tablets, and cell phones are going to be an integral part of the classroom scene forever. Many schools require and offer netbooks or similar small computers to their students. As such, children today should be exposed to and become extremely familiar with computers and online resources. Jobs, businesses and just about every facet of life will involve computers and technology. There is no getting around the fact that computers are the future.

While most children can find their favorite Rockstar on YouTube, many still need some guidance in finding good educational websites – and so do their parents and teachers. Here are just a few websites that might be of interest to you.


National Geographic Kids

National Geographic has a kid-friendly section that has copious amounts of great information for young minds. From dinosaurs to planets, National Geographic is chalk full of engaging material for children of all ages. The site hosts written content, videos and games.

All About Birds

Encourage your young ornithologists with this website that can help them identify birds in their community, and learn about birds in other locations. All About Birds help students make the connection between what they see on screen and in the real world.

Ask Dr. Universe

If you want to know the answers to tons of science-related questions, Ask Dr. Universe is bound to keep your child entertained. You click on a tag, like “bees” and be directed to a myriad of “bee-related” questions, like, “Why do bees make hexagons?” It’s an amazing amount of knowledge at your fingertips. And it’s a great way to let children explore science.

Bill Nye the Science Guy

Bill Nye has been an icon in the science world for years. He’s created so many videos on such a wide array of subjects that you have to do yourself a favor and let your child learn from them. They are entertaining and educational.

Color Matters

Every wondered about color? What makes blue, blue and red, red? Why are school busses yellow? Do animals see color? How does color affect mood? Color Matters is dedicated to understanding color in our lives.

Exploring Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci was an amazing person. He was an artist and inventor who revolutionized science during the enlightenment. Exploring Leonardo is a niche site about understanding how Leonardo da Vinci impacted humanity.

Extreme Science

Extreme Science explores the extremes in our universe.  World records in a variety of science subjects such as earth science, biology, physics, and more are covered.Extreme Science is a great resource for students working on science fair projects. It’s also wonderful for teachers who are looking for ideas for lesson plans.

Funology is a site whose mission is to make science fun. Kids can find games. Teachers can find science experiment ideas. Parents can discover crafts they can do with their children. You’ll also find recipes, magic tricks, jokes, and more.

Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century

The world changes more in the 20th century than any other time in humanity. The automobile, the airplane, radio, the personal computer, and more. You can learn all about them and see timelines about how each of the 20th-century inventions evolved.



Foreign Language Learning


Duolingo is a tutorial website for learning languages. While it is not a complete language instruction site, it is an excellent resource for building basic vocabulary and for spelling practice. It increases student excitement through mini-contests and badges.


Memrise is an easy-to-use language learning website that also supports offline courses. Memrise allows students to learn a myriad of languages. You can go simple or skip to advanced. It also includes iOS and Android apps.


Civics Education

Ben’s Guide

Ben Franklin’s Guide that is. Ben’s Guide is an interactive, online “Civics” website for kids. It helps students learn the workings (debatable) of the United States government in fun and imaginative ways. Geared toward students from age ten through eighteen, it is really a good reference for the rest of us, as well. It pares down the workings of the Federal government to a digestible level for everyone.


The goal of iCivics is to provide free resources to civics teachers that improve their classroom engagement. iCivics includes games and other resources that teachers can use to help students. There is also content that parents can use at home, too.


Learn Typing

Dance Mat Typing

Your middle school kid might have lightning fingers when it comes to texting, but can he or she type? Typing programs that gamify the process of learning to type can help bridge that gap between texting and typing. Dance Mat Typing, from BBC, is a personal favorite of ours. It entertains young typists while offering a solid grounding in the use of a standard keyboard.


Reading Open Book

Storytime Online

While the stories are geared toward the K-2 crowd, these videos of celebrities reading picture books aloud can help your middle school students gear up for a session or series of reading aloud to lower grade students. This can be an inspiring event for both the new readers and for middle school students who are still perfecting their reading skills.


Students and other readers often have a hard time finding a good book to read. Good Reads is a user-powered review site where users can read about books and can post their reviews. More than that, they can participate in discussions, read blogs, participate in reading challenges, and explore the world of writing through “Ask the Author.” Good Reads is also interactive with “Library Thing,” the cataloging tool offered by ALA for individuals and small libraries.

Library Thing

Library Thing is the library cataloging tool developed and sponsored by American Library Association. The cataloging tool is free to individuals and available at a low cost to small library locations, such as classrooms, churches, and private schools. It also has a check in/check out utility for those who need to track the location of the books in their collection.


Geography Learning

Learning isn’t just about reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Sometimes the three “R’s” must give way to other types of learning. Kids Geo explores the world as it is today – no out-of-date maps or dusty textbooks involved. Students explore the earth from the center of its core (as we know it) out to the limits of the stratosphere. Kids Geo is part of Kids Know It Network:


Writing Online Learning

Nanowrimo for Young Writers

Get kids excited about becoming novelists by turning your English or Communications classroom into a daily writing workshop. Encourage students to interact with other student writers. Adult novel writers are expected to write 50,000 words for a “win.” Young writers need only write 20,000 words. Writers of all ages are encouraged with pep talks, badges, events and more.

My Story Book Online

My Story Book Online is a quick, easy way for young writers to create a picture book. The book allows writers to create text, add premade backgrounds and pictures to their story.


National Art Gallery for Kids

National Art Gallery for Kids is a fantastic website for young art enthusiasts. However, teachers and parents, be sure to select the “for kids” version, as some of the adult artists take a “Michelangelo” approach to human figures. The kids’ version steers viewers to collage works, scenery, and similar pictures. The Adventures in Art page explores the life and times of various artists and art movements.


Coding Online Resources

Hour of Code

Hour of Code is now a global project that helps kids all over the world learn how to code in a fun and interactive way. The method uses blocks that kids can drag and drop to complete coding puzzles or goals. Basically, it makes coding a visual learning experience. They’ve turned coding into a fun game, which helps kids want to learn how to do it.


Udemy is an online course mega-site that has online courses for so many things it’s hard to categorize it. Anyone can create an online course. You can teach anything you want. Many courses are coding related, so we are including it here, but you can actually learn anything from Udemy. Some courses are free. Most are paid, but you can likely find some of the courses on sale from time-to-time.

W3 Schools

W3 Schools has a lot of material to help learn to code. It includes help with:
  • HTML.
  • PHP.
  • SQL.
  • Jquery.
  • More.
Students can learn via online tutorials, taking tests, and interactive coding. If student wish to pay for credentials, they can take a test at the end of a subject and receive a certificate of completion.


Online Education

Khan Academy

What can we say about Khan Academy? It’s fantastic! This website offers tutorials in just about anything you might need to learn. It is organized by grade level and sorted by topic. Information ranges from basic skills for Kindergarten to advanced skills for college students. Students can answer questions, watch videos, and use a scratchboard and other learning tools. The classes are currently free because Khan Academy is funded through donations.


Udemy is an online course mega-site that has online courses for so many things. We added it to this page twice because you can learn anything that people want to teach on the site. Some of the courses are free. Most are paid, but you can likely find some of the courses on sale from time-to-time.

Google Docs

While Microsoft Office seems to have become the standard in document processing, not every family has the money to pay for Office Suite. Google Docs is available to anyone with an Internet access. Items created – word documents, spreadsheets and more, can be shared with instructors or with other students for collaborative projects.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is an academic search tool offered by Google. Keywords will bring up the pertinent section of a book or article. The search results are pulled only from scholarly resources. It is is an invaluable resource for older students. Middle school students might find the content challenging. However, parents can help them learn it.

In Summary

These websites are only a few of the many that are available for students today. Schools and public libraries also often list websites that they encourage their students to use. Some school systems provide dedicated reference services to students of all ages. These resources can be of great value, not only for your students but for the whole family. Sharing them with your middle school or high school student can be exciting for everyone, and can be a way to bring family members together with shared interests.

If you have any sites or ideas you’d like to suggest, please post them below. We’d love to hear from you!

The Correlation Between Education Spending and Performance

School FundingEducation in the youth of today is an investment in society’s tomorrow. We shouldn’t argue about things that are simply fact. But we do. One of the arguments that is commonly used is that academic performance does not improve with more money spent on education. There are several anti-public-education groups who attempt to make this argument. But is it true?

At the time the data used in the infographic below was compiled, the best-performing state in the country was Massachusetts. Massachusetts spent $15,087 per student. That number is significantly more than the average amount spent per student in the United States, which was $11,518 per student. However, it wasn’t the highest. New York spent the most per student at $20,610 per student in 2014. Yet, New York was number 9 on the list; not number 1.


New York has a lot of extremes. It has very affluent people. It also has very poor people. It has areas that have a lot of crime. New York is also inherently expensive. Salaries for staff are higher. Property costs are higher. All of these above-average expenses are passed on to taxpayers. High-cost-of-living locations will naturally have a higher amount spent per student.

At the same time, many the worst performing states have very low costs-of-living, yet they cannot seem to drive academic performance up with the spending-does-not-improve-academic-performance mindset. If spending didn’t matter then you would see states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Nevada doing well. But they don’t. There are among the worst-performing schools in the United States. And the United States ranks lower than many other developed countries, which means Alabama, Mississippi, and Nevada are among the weakest links in the world, not just the United States.

Does school spending lead to better grades?

The short answer is yes. We compiled this information in the infographic below so you can easily see how educational spending correlates to student performance.

Proper funding is one component of education that leads to better academic performance, but it is not the defining metric. You cannot simply assume that more money per student means better performance. Consider a district that is in decline. In such a district, people move away to go to better school districts. This causes the number of students remaining in the district to decrease. This artificially and temporarily inflates the cost per student since there are fewer students. That happens until teachers get laid off and staffing expenses are lowered to compensate for the lost tax revenue. The point is that one set of metrics alone cannot tell the whole story.

Please feel free to share this infographic with anyone.

correlation between education spending and performance

Want to change study habits? You need to understand the Slight Edge.

The Slight Edge AcornLet’s talk about trees. In the book, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, Mr Gladwell points out something interesting about the mightiest trees. He writes, “The tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured.” The above quote leads to some interesting insights. Many acorns could have grown up taller. The tallest might have come from a hardy acorn, but there is a good chance that many hardier acorns simply didn’t have all of the other important pieces fall into place for them. We all want to be successful. We all want to know the secret to make it happen. The honest truth is that smarts and DNA are not the most important ingredients to success, whether that be in school or in life. In fact, success can be achieved by some very small things, if done consistently. This is the Slight Edge.

Slight Edge defined

The Slight Edge is, first of all, a book written by Jeff Olson with John David Mann. The full title is, The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness. It is a self-help book, and like many such books, it uses many pages and lots of testimonies to get across a simple message. That message is that each day we make small choices. When we consistently make good choices, we reap a harvest of good benefits. When we make poor choices, we reap a harvest of undesirable results.

The book also examines the idea that happiness is more a state of mind than the actual product of events. Of course events, conditions, and circumstances can bring us down. But, the book reminds us, we have the choice of whether or not to dwell on negative feelings. It deals realistically with the thought that emotions are difficult to manage, and can sometimes overwhelm even very sensible people. And, it points out that happiness is not attained by having money, dream jobs, or the love of your life.

Since we’re talking about acorns, in a nutshell, the Slight Edge is the ability to consistently and patiently do small things that are proactive, positive and beneficial. It is the ability to repeatedly make good choices, coupled with the habit of correcting poor ones. The book conveys that many people make many small, poor choices that add up to significant undesirable results.

Applying the Slight Edge

Teachers – particularly elementary teachers – already understand and apply the principles laid out in Slight Edge. Sports and fitness coaches use these principles when they promote several short practices in lieu of a once-a-week mega-practice. Music instructors use the principles of the Slight Edge by encouraging their students to practice fifteen to thirty minutes every day. Small and consistent are the two key factors for each of these professions.

The same principles apply to non-physical learning. Students who complete homework assignments on the day they are given, who break up longer assignments into segments, and who practice math and reading skills consistently over time, have better results than students who wait until the last minute and then engage in marathon study sessions.

Why is it called a Slight Edge?

One reason it is called a slight edge is the people who practice this principle are not necessarily any smarter or any luckier than anyone else in their peer group. They might come from the same neighborhood. They could have very similar backgrounds to others who do not practice this principle. It doesn’t need to be a big difference. But the effects are dramatic. Little, consistent gains over time will eventually put a practitioner of the Slight Edge on a much more successful path.

Difficulty with Putting the Slight Edge into Practice

Putting the Slight Edge into practice can be difficult because it isn’t showy, it isn’t flashy, and sometimes you have to give up something to do it. It takes a lot of time to develop a good habit. For example, if you are in the habit of coming home from school and immediately playing your favorite video game, that is a consistent habit. However, it will not do much for your math or reading skills.

To succeed academically, you might have to rearrange your priorities. To lose weight or to gain muscle, you might have to spend more time exercising and track what you eat. Becoming good at a musical instrument means practicing often. In every endeavor that you wish to be good at, you need to commit to giving up something that interferes with it. Playing a game is not a bad thing, unless it keeps you from succeeding at other things.

Giving up something you enjoy is not an easy thing to do. It can make you feel unhappy, temporarily. However, usually in life, the hard thing to do is the right thing to do. You know what the right thing to do is. It’s just a matter of forcing yourself to do the right thing so the right thing becomes habit.

Finding Happiness, Creating Rewards

Students who have locked themselves into behaviors that give them pleasure, but do not help them to develop physically or mentally, might struggle with developing good habits. Some students might be able to self-motivate. Others might need assistance from parents or teachers to make a change. But a steady commitment to developing healthy habits will work. There will be setbacks, but the only real trait that matters is persistences. If you do not give up, you will win.

So the question becomes how to create a good feeling about giving up or delaying something you love? The answer is that you are giving up something to gain something that you know will lead to much more happiness in the long term. It’s the difference between being a short-term thinker and a long-term thinker.

Incrementally Changing Behavior

Think small steps. Don’t try to change everything at once. Whether you are the student, or you are a parent or teacher who cares about the student, it is better to work on one or two small changes. Work on those small changes consistently, over time, and the other changes will follow. Create small rewards given consistently, over time, and habits change.

Researchers have found that it takes anywhere from 3 weeks to 9 months to change a habit. That’s a significant difference. The low end is likely for easy-to-change habits with little chance for returning to the old habit. The high-end is most likely for difficult-to-change habits that are plagued by the temptation to return to one’s old ways. Each person and each habit is different.

Be patient and keep the changes small. Insert a small amount of proactive behavior, and use a slightly lessened amount of the pleasurable activity as a reward for the achievement.

Over time, the desired habit – such as completing a math assignment, carrying out the trash before sitting down at the computer, or taking a brisk walk around the block – begins to create its own set of positive intrinsic rewards. These rewards might be teacher praise for completing the assignment, parental approval for chores completed or just a feeling of self-satisfaction. The results – slow though they might be in arriving – eventually become their own rewards.

As you notice people who seem to have it better, think about the habits they might have that are getting them there. Reflect on the acorn, and remember The Slight Edge.

How Time-Blocking Eliminates Distractions to Help Students Study Faster

Time BlockingTime-blocking is a method of mapping out the most important tasks for your day so you can strategically complete them. If used correctly, time-blocking can drastically increase productivity for students or anyone who is trying to get more work done in less time. But the benefits of time-blocking are not limited to increased productivity. Time-blocking allows you to dedicate more time to things you enjoy. Students who master the habit of time-blocking can expect better grades and less time studying.

What is time-blocking?

Time-blocking is a play on words. In one sense the word block means to carve out a chunk, or block, of time to work on specific tasks. Each block of time should be dedicated to the particular task you plan to work on. The idea is that you estimate the time you need to complete the task, then you focus only on that task during the duration of the time-block. Avoid multitasking or getting side-tracked on anything that is not directly related to your time-blocked task.

The other meaning of the word block is a barrier. Think of your time-block as a barrier to distractions that prevent you from accomplishing your goal. This means the location matters. Location, location, location. Do not attempt to work in an environment that is conducive to distractions. Strategically block them. Each distraction severely sabotages your productivity.

Here is a question: Who is more productive?

John studies for 4 hours in his living room. During that time his mom, dad and kid sister walk through the room 6 times. Each time they ask him something small, such as, “What are you working on,” or “How’s your homework coming along?” His phone is nearby, and he replies to 2 texts and a phone call for 5 minutes. He also gets up to get a snack in the Time Blocking no Distractionskitchen once.

Mike, in contrast to John, studies in his basement office for one hour. He listens to concentration music, and he has no distractions for the entire one-hour time-block.

So who got more done?

John had a total of 10 distractions in his 4 hours of studying. Each distraction can result in 15 to 25 minutes to refocus. That’s backed by considerable science. Assuming 20 minutes for each disruption multiplied by 10 distractions is 200 wasted minutes. That is 3 hours and 20 minutes pretty much wasted because of poor planning by John. That means John’s 4 hours was worth less than Mike’s 1 hour.

Too many middle school students and high school students attempt to study in an environment littered with distractions. Cut them out of your time-blocks and watch how much more you get done in less time.

There are a lot of resources online dedicated to time-blocking. We created a short video to show how you might use Gradeleap along with an online tool called Plan to time-block your homework or studying assignments. You can watch that below.

Students already have a lot of time pre-blocked. Your school days, extracurricular activities, family time, and sleep time are all examples of pre-blocked time. Your time-blocks need to fit around the pre-blocked times or within them.

Fitting time-blocks around pre-blocked times

If you get home from school at 3:30 and dinner is at 6:00 you have 2.5 hours to get something done. You probably need a little time to unwind, but let’s assume you decide you have 2 hours before dinner to dedicate to your schoolwork time-block. You might simply schedule time-blocked assignments from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Fitting time-blocks within pre-blocked times

You want to avoid multitasking. But that doesn’t mean you cannot do two things at the same time. It only means you cannot do two tasks at the same time. Tasks and things are different. A task is something you need to mentally focus on. You cannot effectively focus on studying for a Math test and writing an English term paper at the same time. However, you can study for the Math test on your ride home from school. That is an example of fitting a time-block within a pre-blocked time. If you can eliminate distractions well enough to study on the ride home, you can make use of that otherwise wasted time.

By creating a visual schedule of expected events and activities in Plan and loading Gradeleap with assignments, you can stay ahead of scheduled assignments so you do not get caught off guard. Large tasks, such as a project or research paper can be broken down into smaller parts that can be completed each day, leading up to a finished product. There is an added benefit, as well. Completing assigned work in a subject each day keeps it fresh in your mind. You slowly add new skills, as you complete the daily assignments. When test time arrives, you are well prepared instead of having to stay up late the night before, cramming for an exam. You’ll simply spend the night before reviewing the main points and getting a good night’s sleep, and you’ll be mentally sharp and alert while taking the test.


Simple Tips to Read & Comprehend Nonfiction for Students

Reading NonfictionReading nonfiction requires a different skill set than reading fiction does. While some might read nonfiction for pleasure, it is typically read to gain information or to learn how to do something, especially in a school setting. Nonfiction reading often includes catalogues, biographies, history, manuals, directions, recipes, newspapers, magazines and internet articles. Becoming a better reader of nonfiction is a valuable skill that will improve students’ grades and lead to better opportunities in the future.

Reading Nonfiction for Pleasure

Many people read nonfiction for pleasure. Sports fans might read the sports sections of a newspaper, the biography of a favorite player or even a manual about rules for play. Hobbyists might read magazines or books about their particular craft or collection. History buffs might read works that center around a particular time period or biographies of certain historical figures. Reading nonfiction for pleasure is similar to reading fiction for study. The biggest difference for a student is that they are innately interested in nonfiction that they choose to read for pleasure.

Reading Nonfiction as Homework

Reading a chapter in a textbook is a common type of assignment for many students. There are strategies that students can use to comprehend better the material that they read. Assume you are a student who has been assigned to read a chapter in a textbook. First look at the chapter heading. It should give some clue as to the content of the chapter. Next, quickly skim the bold headings that separate out the sections of the chapter. Look for a common thread in the content. Glance at pictures, graphs and other items of interest that within the material. Read through the chapter summary and any questions that are included at the end of the chapter – particularly if a set of the questions have been assigned as homework.

Don’t actually read the chapter until you do the steps above. This will greatly help you pick out the important content that you read. With the general theme of the chapter in mind, go back and read the chapter through. Be sure to read text boxes and captions under pictures. After reading the chapter through, take any special notes – such as dates, names, or special events or ideas. Answer any questions provided by the instructor.

Reading Nonfiction for Directions

Reading directions is a crucial skill for students to acquire. Directions will likely accompany each quiz, test or homework assignment a student will have. Later in life, directions will often be included with items that come “with some assembly required.” Cooking recipes are another good example of a task that requires direction-reading skills.

The basic three-step process of working through a set of direction is:

  1. Read the direction through. Including special notes such as ingredients or tools needed.
  2. Assemble all needed items for the process.
  3. Read each step carefully, and complete each one before moving on to the next step.

Reading Manuals

Schools and businesses often issue manuals to students or their personnel. Reading a manual can help prevent misunderstandings and unnecessary questions. The most common issue that people have with reading a manual is that it is typically dry material. One tip that can help reduce the amount of content in a manual you might have to read is to use a highlighter. If the manual is yours to keep, skim it with a highlighter in hand, and highlight those sections you are likely to need.

Some items to which you might want to pay close attention include regulations regarding attendance, personal appearance, scheduling, and transportation. You will also want to make note of any items that involve a cost, such as textbooks or uniforms.

Make a list of any special items you will need – such as textbooks, school supplies for students or tools for workers. Pay close attention to regulations regarding interaction with other students or workers.

Reading Advertisements

You might not consider advertising to be nonfiction, but it is. And students are a target market for many types of ads, so understanding how to interpret advertisements is very important. Reading ads can be tricky because retailers are often experts at conveying ad copy in ways that “stretch” the truth a bit. A common strategy that ad copy uses is to list something as “90% better” or “100% more nutritious,” without providing an item that the product or service is being compared to. To be sure of getting a good deal, one needs to pay attention to information about the amount being sold, the size of the item and whether or not it will do the job specified.

If buying on credit is involved, be sure to read the fine print about the amount of interest that is going to be charged on the item. Advertisers will sometimes say things like, “No interest the first three months,” or “No interest until after the New Year.” They do this because most people don’t pay off the item and are ultimately charged interest.

Also watch for other charges, such as shipping and handling or fees for gift wrapping. If you are buying online, make sure that the company is reputable and that you are not authorizing an unscrupulous agency to access your financial information.

Reading Nonfiction for Research

Library research (commonly done by students of all ages) involves reading material to gain particular facts. The goal is for students to gather and use the information to write a paper or give a speech presentation. To ethically use information provided in printed resources, the reader must make a proper note of bibliographic information about the article, book, newspaper or internet resource.

It is best practice to note of all of the bibliographic information about a source before beginning to take notes from the source. This information includes the name of the item, publishing agency, the date publication. The following lists the bibliography information that should be included for different types of material:

  • Books: If it is a book, the information needs to include the name of the book and the author.
  • Magazines: If it is a magazine article, it should include the name of the magazine, and the name of the article as well as the author, publisher and date of publication.
  • Internet articles and blogs: Internet articles should include the name of the website and the name of the web page within the website, and the URL.

If this sounds like a lot of writing before you even get started taking notes, simply remember you are going to need this information to give credit to your source. Fortunately, there are websites like that make creating citations simple. Not giving proper credit is considered plagiarism, and it sadly gets students in a great deal of unnecessary trouble.

Write the bibliographic information at the top of a sheet of paper, then underneath it write down information from the material you are using for research. It is not necessary to read a long work completely through to use it for information. However, you need to be careful not to take information out of context – that is quote it in such a way that it says something different from what the author intended. Look for chapter headings, bold text, text boxes and summaries to help you digest a lot of information fast. When writing down dates, people’s names and similar information, make notes that tell what information goes with that item. This tip will help to avoid frustration later.

Students may also benefit from using a style manual. Style manuals such as one from MLA or APA tell how to write up bibliographic information in a resource list, how to use it inside your work to give credit. But again, the internet sources like have largely alleviated this frustrating part of research writing.

Judging the Value of Nonfiction Work

Whether you are reading nonfiction for fun, homework or to prepare a library research paper, selecting quality information is important. Here are some tips to determine if the information is worthwhile:

  • Check the copyright date: If the information is too old, it may not be appropriate for what you are writing. This depends on the context of what you are researching.
  • Compare two or more sources: Don’t necessarily jump on the first source you find. Another similar source might be much better.
  • Check the author’s credentials: Especially for research writing, the credentials of the author you are citing give credibility to the document you create. For example, a chef with experience in a restaurant and a degree in food preparation might carry more weight when talking about preparing a banquet for a crowd of 300 people than a mother of two. However, a grandmother who has been cooking for 30 or more years for a family might have better ideas about how to get through a busy evening when cooking for all of the relatives.
  • Pay attention to bias: What is writer’s point of view? For example, a person who belongs to a gun club might be more likely to support laws that legalize gun ownership than a person who has a long-standing reputation for supporting gun control.
    Information can sometimes come from surprising sources, however, so be prepared to see many sides of an issue.

Reading Nonfiction for Inspiration

Some nonfiction is designed to be read a little bit at a time. Self-help books, inspirational essays and even poetry can fall under this heading. Reading a little bit each day can lift your spirits, inspire, and give you the courage to keep going.

Wrapping it up

Reading nonfiction uses different reading skills than reading fiction does. Some nonfiction reading requires the development of a skill set to do properly. Don’t dismiss this. Acquiring this skill set will likely lead to better grades and many other rewards throughout life.

How Parents Can Help Students Write the Way Teachers Want

Grammar Errors and StudentsTeaching English to English speaking students should be easy. Linguistic scholars say that youths who have reached twelve to fourteen years of age have developed excellent internal grammar in their native language, whether it is English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese or any other language for that matter. But if you are a teacher who deals with persuading students to write in formal style, then it all becomes a little more challenging.

Consider this story: A home-school mom contacted a retired teacher – who just happened to be her mother. “Mom,” she asked, “What do you think of Cindy’s paper?” The retired teacher mulled over the child’s work. It wasn’t a bad piece of writing coming from a thirteen-year-old author, but it had many mistakes that needed to be addressed when turning in the final version. The draft was riddled with punctuation errors, typos, and misspelled words. “It is a good first draft,” the retired teacher said. “But mom, that’s her final draft, and I think she is done,” the home-schooling mother replied.

The home-schooling mother was faced with a dilemma frequently encountered by English teachers: Do you praise the creativity and the organization, letting the grammar, punctuation, and spelling go? Or do you discourage a budding author/writer/researcher by insisting that the errors be repaired? That’s tricky.

As with many things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle because creativity and enthusiasm are essential to encouraging young writers to write and to enjoy their topic of choice. Squelch that, and you have possibly squelched the next generation of talent – or at least alienated student and teacher.

However, somewhere in the learning process, writers do need to learn how to write – and that means learning how to spell, to punctuate, to correctly construct a sentence, and above all, how to proofread.’s policy of allowing authors to self-publish has made available excellent books of both fiction and non-fiction that might otherwise have never survived the brick-and-mortar publishing house process. Some of these books have even been picked up by established publishing houses, creating further opportunities for the authors. However, this revolution has also given rise to a plethora of less-than-stellar published works. Some of them are simply first efforts that have a good chance of becoming better, while others are hastily created works of garbage that deserve every bad review they get. They are the literary equivalent of the “bad” singers who audition for American Idol.

One could argue that self-published books have been put together in the heat of the moment. Author/blogger, T.S. Paul, wrote, “I just pressed the publish button. That book should be along in a minute.”  It should be pointed out – in all fairness – that Paul is a good writer. His stories move along at a decent clip, the characters are well developed, the “ordinary” days highlight fun moments in the characters’ lives, and the action scenes are cogent to the plot.

However, the speediness of getting his books finished might hurt the overall experience in reading them because of errors. The reader encounters phrases such as “She just freaked out,” or “Tom and Jerry meet up,” or a personal favorite for that finger-nails-on-the-blackboard feeling, “He or she was looking to.” It makes a reader want to send the writer a link to

Too picky? Perhaps. But the great authors who write well don’t make those kinds of mistakes often. And to be taken professionally, one should make an effort to write professionally.

Where should the line be drawn?

Not so many years ago there was a call for legal documents to be written in “plain English” so that those who are not cognizant of the meaning of certain Latin phrases would be able to understand the intent of the document. People would get lost in legalese because of phrases like “party of the first part” and “party of the second part” scattered among the “whereas” and “fore to” references. Or they would be confounded by the differences implied by similarly written terms such as “ad hoc” or “ad hominem.”

Language is intended to convey meaning. If people do not understand the point of what is written, by definition that makes it pointless. When blatant errors plague writing, it makes the manuscript harder to read. Too many errors and it becomes like reading legalese.

For that reason, it is important for students to learn the standard spelling of words and the accepted ways to punctuate and construct sentences. It is not difficult to understand the need for this by using the classic example of the need for correct comma placement: “Let’s eat Grandma,” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma.” The first sentence implies cannibalism, while the second invites the grandmother to lunch.

When one is seeking to appear well-versed in rhetoric or the art of communication, they should avoid many of these easy-to-avoid mistakes. It takes a bit more time, but the payoff is worth the extra effort.

Why Extended Family is so Important to Childhood Development

Family Tree ConceptModern families have enormous time constraints. Nearly every family member has an unimaginable array of obligations – work, school, organizations, friends outside the family, and so on. And while this high level of activity can produce young adults who are well- connected and understand the making and keeping of appointments and time schedules, there is also something valuable that has been lost: Extended family.

When we look back in social history, we see families who are more connected to each other than to the outside world. Cousins knew each other well. Kids knew and felt comfortable talking to their grandparents. These family relationships translated into social, well-adjusted adults. Today, the normal family dynamic has become the non-normative family, with divorced parents and matriculation all over the country. Our society favors the individual over the family, with children often growing up and placing their parents or grandparents in an assisted living facilities, knowing their basic needs are taken care of by someone else. But what about their emotional needs? What needs to change in order for our children to recognize the needs of the extended family?

As a society, we are more connected and yet also less connected than ever before. Think about the way we typically interact with others today: One simple look on Facebook and we can see what our Facebook network of Friends did today, what they had for dinner, and where they visited…but we barely even interact with these people. Not closely. We don’t engage in deep one-on-one conversations over Facebook. It is similar to being a Jack-of-All- Trades, Master-of-None; we know little bits about a lot of people at the expense of really knowing a few. This problem also concerns the lack of connection to the extended family.

If the connection to your extended family sounds like an issue you are struggling with in your own life and you want to expose your children to more of your extended family, continue reading for some insights into how to foster that relationship within your own family.

Benefits of visiting grandparents often

There are many benefits to fostering a relationship between children and their grandchildren. When kids are not exposed to their grandparents and do not feel comfortable chatting with them, a valuable teacher is omitted from their life. We all learn from our mistakes, and grandparents have been around long enough to make most of them. This makes them a phenomenal source for learning, “What not to do!”

If kids are fortunate enough to have healthy, living grandparents, trying to visit them as often as possible should be a priority. Try to make visiting a grandparent a normal, scheduled event—even if they live in an assisted living facility or if they live far away.

To facilitate connecting with grandparents in nursing homes, many facilities have lunch rooms or public areas where residents can meet with family. While this might impose some constraints (it will be a fairly public venue), it does offer a chance for children and grandchildren to gather with their elders without the difficulty of transporting them. For family members with medical constraints, this can be important. Bringing a picnic lunch or a pile or board games can offer a shared experience to bond with relatives who are surely overjoyed for the company.

For more mobile family members, restaurants, community rooms, public library meeting rooms, and public parks can make great places for families to gather. These venues also work well for large family reunions, which for some families can be a necessity as the extended relatives can add up into the hundreds. No matter the difficulty, however, the connections made during these meetings are priceless.

For grandparents who live too far away to visit in person, Skype or FaceTime offers a simple way to connect. Try having a tea party over Skype, where the child and the grandparents both share a cup of tea and a cookie, or a coloring session via FaceTime. Thanks to technology, bonding over an activity together in this way can help children bond with their grandparents even if they live out of town.

Some families are also fortunate enough to have supportive, healthy, and active grandparents living close by. To build upon these close relationships, you can plan time for the children to visit their grandparent’s house or for them to come to yours. In this personal setting, families can enjoy a host of activities including sharing a meal, a game night, or even a grandparent babysitting night where the parents can enjoy a night out!

Grandparents have so much to teach. According to a survey conducted by the American Grandparents Association, 72% of grandparents “think being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life.” You aren’t burdening them. You are enriching them—and they are enriching you.

Benefits of a relationship with aunts, uncles, and cousins

Beyond grandparents, many families have other extended members that they probably don’t see as much as they could. With multiple generations on Facebook now, it is easier than ever to “keep up” with family via social networking, but again, we are more connected and less connected than ever. Facebook profiles and posts will never replace actual visits.

Plan real time with aunts, uncles, and cousins. As a family, plan a vacation, go to an amusement park, plan to share a meal, or send the kids on a visit for a week with their cousins. The opportunities to stay connected to our extended family members are there. Only our habits and self-imposed barriers prevent it.

Helping children foster bond with other adults is also important. Dr. Susan Bartell, a nationally recognized child and parenting psychologist, acknowledges the benefits of a closer relationship with extended family members: “Aunts and uncles are important, because they offer kids the chance to have a close relationship with an adult who doesn’t have the same set of expectations as Mom and Dad.” Aunts and uncles may become a go-to person for kids to confide in if they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents. Ideally, we want our kids to know they can tell us anything, but that doesn’t always happen. Involving extended family in a child’s life allows them to have another outlet.

When we expose our kids to other perspectives, we help them become their own person. There is only so much a parent can teach. A parent might be the most important person in a young child’s life, yet without extended family, a significant component in your child’s development is lost. Aunts and uncles may become a go-to person for kids to confide in if they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents. Ideally, we want our kids to know they can tell us anything, but that doesn’t always happen. Involving extended family in a child’s life allows them to have another outlet.

A simple story about a family gathering

Family gatherings are a time for sharing memories that span generational cultures. Envision this story about a multi-generational family sharing time together over a meal at a local restaurant, exemplifying how important it is to connect the younger generation with their extended family members.

During a recent family gathering at a restaurant, the smartphones came out up and down the long table where four generations were represented. However, these devices were not separating them; rather, they were bringing them together. Pictures were taken and funny events were shared live, rather than on Facebook. It was just an informal get-together, where the four-year-old traveled from lap to lap, being exposed to one new face after another, and everyone at the table shared impromptu stories.

During the dinner, two of the middle-aged sisters tried to resurrect the sibling rivalry which had once existed between them. “He’s LOOKING at me, Mom,” the daughter joked when her brother wouldn’t stop staring. Responding to the quip, the great-grandmother in the party smiled and said, “Do I need to get out the duct tape and make a line between your seats?” Everyone laughed at the inside joke.

Further down the table, the grandfather reminded a newly-adult son to take off his hat inside. The great-grandmother passed a napkin to the daughter (who is also now a grandmother) to wipe the four-year-old’s face, then turned to look at a Facebook post on her twelve-year-old granddaughter’s phone. The visiting daughter-in-law was snapping pictures on her smartphone.

The point: A lot was going on. It was a friendly, relaxed event where sharing and caring for each other were the examples being set. A sense of passing from one stage of growth to another were
 clearly seen among the generations. And the whole event was spawned because one family decided to travel into town from out-of-state and decided it was worthwhile to visit.

Then, it became a memory.

Families offering a connection to history

Another great way to interact and connect with extended family members, particularly those in older generations, is to gather together and share or record memories. These conversations are priceless, as the memories and wisdom carried by older family members will one day be gone.

For example, consider memories of the infamous terrorist attack on 9/11. For Americans present on September 11th, 2001, the shock and disbelief of that moment will brand that morning in our minds forever. However, one day soon, many Americans will not have vivid memories of the day. Once, a teacher who had gotten into the habit of asking her college classes, “Where were you on the morning of September 11th, 2001?” realized she was going to have to take that question out of her curriculum plans when one young lady raised her hand and said, “I think I was in Kindergarten. And they sent us all home for the day.”

Soon, it will be our responsibility to share the memories of these historical events with our children and grandchildren, who are growing up in a world that is undoubtedly changed by these events. In a similar way, we need to record the memories of our grandparents and other older relatives to hear their experiences with and perspective on events like Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War, former Presidential elections…the list goes on. Personal stories and family memories are also important to hear and record, as their memories of family life are invaluable. Talk to these elders and hear what they have to say. Their responses could influence the history—and the future–of your family.

Family connections improve parental support in times of crisis

Families who have relationships with extended family members also thrive in times crisis because of their familial connections, a fact that undoubtedly contributes to their children’s development and emotional well-being. According to a 2011 study conducted by Cangrands, a national kinship support network for extended family caring for children in Canada, family relationships are integral to supporting parents in times of personal, familial, or economic crisis. Grandparents often become a family’s first source of support during an emergency, offering financial support, care giving, or even advice With many parents reporting that they regularly turn to their mother or mother-in-law for advice or information about child development and parenting, having a strong connection to extended family is essential (Cangrands, 2011).

Establishing social bonds with extended family members not only allows parents and children to develop close connections to these family members, but it also provides a close source of support in times of crisis. Children will naturally benefit from this reliance on family members when their family is in need of assistance.

Tips for staying in touch with extended family

Ideally, try to visit frequently. If family-members happen to live nearby, make it a priority to see them. Make it a habit and an expectation to visit for monthly dinners or other outings so that kids know seeing their family members is a priority. Figure out a way to make it fun for everyone. Try a new restaurant together, or go explore a park. Make family time enjoyable so the experiences are positive for everyone.

Vacation together. Vacationing together as an extended family is easier than ever. AirBNB, VRBO, and other websites allow users to rent rooms or even entire houses for vacations and have opened up a world of vacationing that wasn’t available before. We can plan memorable vacations with extended family and even split the cost of doing so. For everyone involved, the vacation will surely be an unforgettable experience. When you really think about childhood memories, you likely are able to recall several that involve places you vacationed. Doing this with extended family is a fantastic way to connect!

Use technology to stay connected. When face-to-face gatherings are not possible, email, social media, and VOIP–in various flavors–provide opportunities to share joys, triumphs, disappointments, sorrows, and even plain, ordinary day-to-day living. With modern technology, communication with family members is easily accessible. No more waiting for weeks for a letter to make its way across the Atlantic or over land from one coast to the other. In this hyper-connected age, children have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be limited to a phone that is attached to a wall, let alone one that can be listened in on by every aunt and cousin and neighbor on the local party line. Taking advantage of technology can strengthen the connection and bond between extended family members. Even with obstacles or disadvantages to using technology, it is important to make being connected to our extended family a priority, and technology is a great tool to utilize.

Take lots of photos. Pictures get processed by our brains about 1000 times faster than text. Photos evoke emotions, inspiring thoughts and memories about the event captured. Beyond sharing photos with extended family members, a thoughtful way to stay connected would be to create an online photo page that everyone can access and share their photos. This can be a fantastic way to stay connected and share memories with each other.

Perhaps in today’s society, we are so inundated with our own lives to realize how disconnected we have become from our extended family members. In spite of the difficulties, we should strive to stay connected with our extended family and make their relationships more of a priority. Only good things can come of it!


Anderson, Jeff. “10 Reasons Grandparents Matter More than Ever.” 10 Reasons Grandparents Matter More than Ever. A Place For Mom: Connecting Families to Senior Care, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 May 2016. <>.

Durham Health Connection. “Parents & Family: Extended Family.” Introduction to the Roles of Extended Family (n.d.): n. pag.Parenting and Child Development. Region of Durham. Web. 19 May 2016. <>.

Koutsky, Judy. “11 Parents Reveal Why Their Kids Can’t Do Without Aunts & Uncles.” P&G Everyday. Proctor & Gamble, n.d. Web. 19 May 2016. <>.