Archive for April, 2010

Tips on Teaching Your Child Vocabulary

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I’ve been tutoring a sixth grade student in math.  Last week, he asked for help with a list of vocabulary words  for his English class.

For vocabulary lists, it is easier to remember words when you classify them by parts of speech.  I divided a legal pad in three columns, a column each for adjectives, nouns and verbs.  We took each word and put it in the proper column.  Sometimes a word was both a noun and a verb such as signal or a verb and an adjective such as lavish.       

We combined these words  into sentences, trying to use as many words from the list in one sentence.  Then we  “personalized” the words by using them in a familiar context such as:  “The liquid ambers in the garden look luminous.”  It’s spring and with the sun shining on the leaves, the trees indeed looked luminous, full of light.   

It was also helpful to find out about the origin of the word, the root word.  Luminous comes from lum , meaning light.  Other words in this family are:  luster, illuminate, and translucent

I recommend parents have on hand Instant Vocabulary by Ida Ehrlich.  Did you know secretary literally means “one entrusted with secrets”?   Secret means “a thing apart, hidden.”  The root SE means “apart, aside, without.”   Other words in this family are seclude, secure (to set aside carefully, to protect), secede,  sequestration, select, segregate and separate.  See how much easier it is to “decode” the meaning when you know the root word?

As a parent you are your child’s teacher, a hometeacher.  Always be learning.  Share what you learn with your children.  Communicate to them your passion for learning. Remember you are your child’s first and primary teacher.  Education starts at home.

Create Your Own Problem to Solve a More Difficult One?

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Recently, I was asked to tutor a sixth grader in math. The math worksheets included introductory algebra as well as problems on mean, mode and median.  It was interesting to me to work with this student and see how he solved the problems.

One particular problem stumped him:  the problem asked for a missing bowling score.  Five scores were given as well as the  mean for six.  What I did was have Paul create his own similar problem.   I asked him to substitute small numbers for each score and supply his own number for the “unknown.”  Thus he already knew the answer and solved the problem by working backwards.  He calculated the mean for the six games and figured out the “missing” score. 

Have your child do this with any word problem.  This strategy will boost your child’s confidence in his/her math abilities.  When presented with a difficult problem, substitute your own problem and supply the “missing factor.”  You know the answer, so the problem is now easy to solve.  It’s now easy to translate the more difficult  problem into the “language of algebra” and solve.

¿Trucos para las tablas de multiplicar? En realidad, patrones fáciles a recordar.

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010


Tal vez usted aprendió el truco de la tabla 9 en primaria.  Si no, empiece por poner ambas manos delante de usted.  Para 2 x 9, doble el dedo anular de su mano izquierda. Esto dedo representa  2. A la  izquierda de este dedo, está un dedo, representando el 1.  A la derecha de este dedo estan los restante 8 dedos, representando 8.  Así tenemos: 18.  Para 3 por 9, doble el tercer dedo de su mano izquierda.  A la izquierda de este dedo, verá 2 dedos y a la derecha 7 para 27. !Qué fácil es!


Otra manera de aprender la tabla 9 es numerar 9 a 0 en una columna y 0 a 9 a la izquierda de esta columna. Estas columnas resultan en: 09, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81 y 90. ¡Qué fácil! Este “truco” es realmente un patrón fácil. En mi libro de ejercicios, Enseñe a Su Hijo Las Tablas de Multiplicar, presento patrones fáciles para tablas 1 a 10.


Patrones como el truco de la tabla 9 nos ayudan a aprender y recordar las tablas. Todos los niños y en especial los niños con dislexia, autismo o TDAH aprenden las tablas con mayor facilidad cuando se le presentan patrones fáciles para cada tabla.  Nuestros cerebros están diseñados para decifrar y reconocer patrones. Si alguien le dijera que su número de teléfono es 214-314-4114, puede ser que incluso no tenga necesidad de anotarlo.


Nuestro cerebro clasifica y organiza por instinto. ¿Por qué no utilizar esta capacidad mental para aprender las tablas? La memorización tradicional de tabla por tabla (3 por 1 son 3, 3 por 2 son 6, etc) es una labor tedia.  Así lo fue para mi hijo. Por éso, desarrollé un método innovador para enseñarlo.


Si todos los niños no sólo dominaran las tablas en el tercer gradro pero fueran fascinados por las matemáticas, tendriamos estudiantes sobresalientes en primaria y secundaria. Sin las tablas, sus hijos o estudiantes no pueden avanzar en las matemáticas.  Frustrados y sin amor propio, estos estudinates abandonan secundaria sin graduarse.  El costo a la sociedad es grave.


Padres y maestros, en el tercer grado tienen gran influencia. Asegúrense que sus hijos sepan leer y escribir y sepan sus tablas de multiplicar.  Preparen sus hijos o estudiantes para triunfar.

Writing to Right Wrongs?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The other day I met a musician/screenwriter who told me his screenplays was about a traumatic events in his youth.   “You’re writing to right wrongs,” I said to him.  He blinked with surprise.  “Precisely,” he said.

When you think about it, most of our writing is about righting wrongs.  Do we dash off a quick note to an airline company when we’ve had a terrific flight?  Never.  But what do we do when the airline loses our luggage?  We sit down and write a letter or email.  I believe the impulse to right wrongs also motivates us when we write fiction.  We want to expose those wrongs.  By doing so, we seek some resolution.  Perhaps just writing them is the catharsis we seek.  When I examine my own fiction (my novel is currently in the hands of an agent), I see that in some measure I too want to write/right wrongs.  I want my characters to triumph over these.

In terms of my multiplication workbook, I could also say that I’m writing to right wrongs.  In my view, it is wrong to subject children to drill upon drill to memorize the tables.  Yes, children will learn the tables through rote memorization.  After all, most of us learned the tables this way. I did.  But why torture children when they can learn the tables through a fun, playful way?  My son loved my method.  So my impulse in writing my workbook was to “right a wrong” and share my method with others.

Tricks to the Multiplication Tables

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

You may have learned the Trick to the 9’s on your fingers when you were a child.   For example for 2 x 9, hold out both hands in front of you and bend the ring finger of your left hand.  This bent finger represents 2.  Look at the remaining fingers and you’ll see 1 for the finger to the left of the bent joint and 8  for the eight fingers remaining for 18.  For 3 times 9, you’ll bend the middle finger on your left hand and have 2 fingers on the left and 7 remaining for 27.  It’s easy and fun!

Another way of learning table 9 is to number 9 to 0 in a column and 0 to 9 to the left of the column.  You’ll end up with: 09, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81 and 90.  Now how easy is that!

This “trick” is really a fun easy pattern.  So the trick in this case is a mnemonic device to help us remember.  Sometimes these mnemonic devices have fun rhymes such as “Thirty days has September . . .”

In my workbook, Teach Your Child the Multiplication Tables, Fast, Fun & Easy, I present easy number patterns for all the tables.  Patterns like the Trick of the 9’s aid memory.  Special needs children such as those with dyslexia, autism of ADD/HD benefit from patterns.  All children do.  Patterns provide structure. 

Our brains are wired to find patterns.  If someone were to tell you their phone number was 214-314-4114, you might not even have to write it down.  Why?  You’d recognize the pattern.  Our brain instinctively sorts and organizes.  So why not have your child use this brain function when learning the times tables?  Rote memorization is tedious and boring.  My son hated rote memorization!  So I developed an innovative way of teaching him. 

If all children could be engaged by numbers in the third grade, really fascinated by math, we’d have students who love math.  Students who love math are more likely to have positive self-esteem.  They are more likely to do well in other disciplines and succeed in school.  Wouldn’t that be something!

Marketing for Small Businesses: A good press release can make all the difference

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Last week I was quoted in this blog:…/small-business-shoulda-coulda-wouldas.html  on marketing strategies for small businesses.

Eugenia Francis ( wishes she had learned the value of press releases sooner. “A well written press release is a good investment. ‘Times Tables, the Key to Your Child’s Success?’ (which I wrote) was blasted over the internet. Not only has [the press release] appeared in several languages, but [it] was reprinted in EDUCATION MATTERS, a periodical for teachers. I should’ve done this earlier,” says Ms Francis.

Press releases are important, and with so many free and low-cost press release distribution services online, it is possible for even a small business to develop a strong marketing campaign that includes press releases. Just know that to see tremendous return on your investment – like anything in life – it’s not just quantity, it’s quality. Send out press releases often, but you have to have a great story to tell before you decide to send out a press release.

And don’t do any new marketing strategy unless you can evaluate its effectiveness and your ROI (return on investment). Ms. Francis suggests adding coupons to your newspaper ads. “Advertising in magazines [and newspapers] is expensive. Every quarter, the ad exec would beg me to renew my ad. I decided to include a coupon in the ad. When not one coupon was redeemed, I dropped my ad. My advice: include a coupon in your ads to see if indeed you are reaching/persuading customers.”…/small-business-shoulda-coulda-wouldas.html

Bullying at School, the Phoebe Prince Tragedy

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I just read an article, “Girl’s Suicide Increases Urgency to Prevent Teen Bullying,” which appeared in The Seattle Times April 7, 2010.

Teen-age bullying is once again in the news with the tragic suicide of  fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince. This horrific story is all the more poignant as Phoebe and her family had recently immigrated to Massachusetts from a small town in Ireland and entered school only last year.   “She was new and she was from a different country and she didn’t really know the school very well,” Ashlee Dunn, a sixteen-year old sophomore, said.  (This quote and all others are from The Seattle Times article.)

I can see the movie version now:  idyllic Irish town where Phoebe is popular and respected by peers versus the daily hell of harassment she endured at South Hadley High.  After a brief relationship with a popular senior boy, some students called her an “Irish slut”  and began sending her abusive text messages.  District Attorney Elizabeth Schelbel said the events leading to Phoebe’s death were “the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm.”  Yet no one did anything to stop this harassment. 

On the last day of school, Phoebe was viciously harassed.  As she studied in the library,  students taunted her while others including a teacher watched.  A canned drink was thrown at her on her way home from school.  “It appears Phoebe’s death on January 14 followed a tortuous day for her in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse,”  Scheibel said.  Her sister discovered her body, dressed in school clothes, hanging in the stairwell.

Parents at South Hadley want accountability.  Why hadn’t teachers or administrators intervened?  Why wasn’t someone looking out for this young girl, new to the school and to America?  Last year in Springfield, MA an eleven-year-old boy committed suicide.  He too was unable to endure painful bullying.  Many of us experienced bullying at school but in our day other than a nasty phone call, bullying did not follow you into your home.  Today there is texting is at every teenager’s fingertips and Facebook is accessible 24/7  to friends and enemies.  The opportunities for bullying have grown exponentially. 

Parents, listen to your children.  Ask you child each day how the day went. If your child might be experiencing mood swings, depression or unwillingness to talk, seek out a therapist.  If there’s any hint of peer harrassment or cyberbullying, go immediately to the school principal. Ask the principal not only to speak to those bullying but their parents.  If this harrassment is happening in class, visit the teacher.  Ask to sit in the class. Speak to the school counselor.  If the school does not respond, consider removing your child from school and homeschooling at least for a period.   None of us would put up with this environment in the workplace.  Why should we put up with it in our schools?

We need a new model of schools, smaller schools with more counselors.  In smaller schools, students are better cared for and better supervised.  Teachers have fewer students and know them better.  Their job is easier.  No child in our schools need endure what Phoebe Prince endured.  No family should lose a child because of harassment or bullying by peers.  We must protect our children.   Coming to America should not mean losing a child to suicide because of teen bullying.

California spring is here!

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Like everyone else, I’ve been bogged down compiling receipts and statements to file my taxes.  The software does the math but still there is all that data to collect.    This is math time, number crunch times.  I always find it so darn . . .  taxing.

Okay, one step at a time, I tell myself and then glance out the window.    Spring has come and all the liquid amber in my garden shimmer in the sunlight.   Because of the copious amounts of rain in California this winter,  the hills are green.   The wild mustard in the canyons is now as tall as the hikers, bright yellow patches among every shade of green on the mountain slopes and beyond the deep blue of the Pacific.  So I’m heading out for a hike this afternoon.  The numbers can wait till this evening.

Jaime Escalante’s Legacy — Why wasn’t innovation rewarded?

Friday, April 2nd, 2010
Edward James Olmos and Jaime Escalanate

Edward James Olmos and Jaime Escalanate


Many of you saw the 1988 film, Stand and Deliver, starring Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante, a math teacher at Garfield High School, located in predominantly Hispanic  East Los Angeles.

If you haven’t seen the film, rent it on DVD.  It’s worth watching because of the myth it shatters:  poor, inner-city kids can not excel in advanced math.

At the peak of Escalante’s career, Garfield produced more students who passed Advanced Placement calculus than Beverly Hills High.  Because of this and some similarities in the errors they made on the AP exam, the Educational Testing Service questioned their scores.  Outraged by the implication of cheating, Escalante believed his students were being singled out because of their racial and economic status .  The students agreed to retake the test at the end of the summer, months after their last class.  The students all passed and their original scores were reinstated.

How did Jaime Escalante achieve this extraordinary success?  He did it through innovavtive teaching techniques, using used props and razor-sharp humor to illustrate abstract concepts of math, believing all his students could master these.  He demystified the notion that higher math was inaccessible to his students.  He made his students believe they could do it.  “Calculus does not have to be made easy,” he would say.  “It already is.”  He conveyed the necessity of math in everyday lives to students who aspired to more than the menial jobs held by immigrant parents.  Escalante was able to transform even the most defiant, unruly teens into motivated students.

Another film on Escalante would be worth making.  This one would document what happened to Escalante after his phenomenal success.   His success was resented.  While the teachers union contract limited class size to 35, his often had 50 as he would not turn a student away.   This weakened the union’s bargaining position, so it turned against him.  By 1990, Escalante had been removed as chair of the math department.  A year later,  he returned to his native Bolivia.  Garfield’s math program fell into a decline.

The best tribute we can offer Jaime Escalante is to understand why our education system failed him.   Why wasn’t his success copied and disseminated throughout our school system?  We can and must do better for our children.  Innovation must be rewarded.