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How to Help Kids Fall in Love with Science

Some kids have an affinity for science and love spending time outside exploring nature and learning new things. Others find this subject difficult and uninspiring and they need a bit of help to see how amazing the world of science really is.

Not only will an interest in science boost your child’s future career prospects as many jobs will require STEM skills, it will also enhance their critical thinking skills.

Science Begins at Home

Children are naturally fascinated by the world around them, as demonstrated by the endless questions they ask about how things work. Many parents feel unqualified to answer these questions, but this shouldn’t prevent you from learning with your child.

According to researcher Gwen Dewar, founder of the website Parenting Science:

When kids grow up in science-friendly homes, they are encouraged to ask questions, think critically, experiment, explain their reasoning, read, write, create models, and watch science programs on TV.

If your child asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, the best way to tackle it is to find out together. This may involve online research, watching a Youtube clip or documentary and even conducting an experiment.

Experts claim that a love of science should be instilled at home before kids start school, so don’t be afraid to start teaching them about science when they are very young with age-appropriate activities. There are many wonderful picture books about science that kids will love such as Over and Under by Kate Messner, and Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez.

Hands-On Learning 

Everyone benefits from hands-on activities, but children especially enjoy interactive learning. To really pique your child’s interest in science, think of tactile ways they can learn about this subject. A fun activity is to find a scientist’s coat and a magnifying glass and send them out to explore the garden. You can then help them record their observations.

A simple activity like collecting leaves or seeds and then sorting them into categories teaches children how to observe and classify.

You might want to put together a ‘science kit’ with tweezers, specimen jars, cotton balls, masking tape and goggles as well as safe everyday household items such as baking powder, food colouring, potatoes and sugar. There are a wide range of experiments kids can do at home such as making a lava lamp, potato battery or a volcano out of a lemon.

To encourage a love of science you can also:

A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s NAPLAN Results

NAPLAN results will be released throughout Australia from mid-August to mid-September. The national report will be released in December providing detailed information for each year level, including gender, location, Indigenous status and parental income. A preliminary report will be available in August.

NAPLAN results are used by schools and teachers to determine how students are progressing compared to previous years. The data helps them identify gaps in knowledge, build on strengths and pinpoint students who are struggling or may need more challenging work.

These results are also beneficial for parents as they provide insight into their student’s progress as well as the school’s performance. To interpret your child’s report, it’s helpful to understand how the scales are applied.

Understanding Scaling

The learning domains tested in NAPLAN are reading, writing, language conventions and numeracy. Each test scale is divided into ten bands, and 6 bands are reported on for each year.

Each year group moves up a step on the scale to show the increase in difficulty and skill level required. The scale is used across all year groups to allow teachers and parents to compare results from previous years and against the national average.

The national minimum standard for each year is represented by the second lowest band. For example, in Year 3 band 2 represents the minimum standard needed to participate at this level.

According to the NAPLAN website:

The NAPLAN scales are constructed so that any given score represents the same level of achievement over time. For example, a score of 700 in reading will have the same meaning in 2012 as in 2010. This enables changes in literacy and numeracy achievements to be monitored over time.

Individual reports map a student’s result as a black dot against the bands. The school’s average result is mapped as a clear triangle, while the national result is a solid triangle. The area where 60% of students fall is shaded to provide a simple visual representation of where your student sits in comparison to others.

 Things to Remember

If you’re concerned about your child’s results or there is a significant discrepancy between their school reports and the NAPLAN report, the first step is to discuss your concerns with teachers.

6 Ways to Celebrate Book Week and Encourage Reading

It’s Book Week in Australia from 17th – 23rd August 2019, and the theme this year is Reading is My Secret Power.

The purpose of Book Week is to foster a love of reading in kids and to celebrate children’s literature.

Schools and libraries all over the country will be observing Book Week by holding a range of events and activities to focus attention on reading. There are also many things parents can do to make sure kids get the most out of this week.

These ideas will help your family get into the spirit of Book Week:

Schools often hold Book Week parades where children are asked to dress up as their favourite fictional characters. This is a lot of fun and helps bring kids most cherished books to life. To help your child appreciate the power of imagination and creativity, spend time together designing a costume and discussing books.

A special chair or place in the house where kids can read will help them see this activity as a relaxing pastime. Make the area appealing with soft cushions, colourful artworks and a bookshelf full of enticing works of fiction and non-fiction. You want them to return here time and again to be challenged, stimulated and transported to other worlds.

Encourage your child to engage with a loved book by designing a new cover for it and creating illustrations. This will help them to think more deeply about the plot and characters. Drawing and colouring help boost creativity and allow kids to explore their imaginations.

Fan fiction has sprung up in the digital age as a way for people to express their love for books and characters. It allows fans to connect with other enthusiasts and immerse themselves in fictional worlds. By introducing your child to quality fan fiction online, you will help them understand that reading is not a passive activity and they too can be creators.

Find out about book readings and author talks in your area. Hearing an author read aloud from their work and talk about the writing process is educational and inspiring for kids. They can ask questions and learn more about the art of storytelling.

The simple activity of visiting the library is very enriching for kids, so if you do nothing else during Book Week, make the effort to take your child to the local library, a street library or book exchange where they can choose their own books and get excited about reading.

These activities will help your child enjoy book week, but the best way to ensure kids grow up with a love reading is by encouraging them to read at home all year round.

Podcasts to Help Auditory Learners Revise for the HSC

Podcasts are an ideal way for auditory learners to study for the HSC because they provide information that is easy to understand and assimilate for those with this learning style.

Thanks to technology, podcasts are now available on every topic imaginable. There are many great audio presentations to help students revise for the HSC. The beauty of this educational tool is that you can download a podcast on your phone and listen anywhere.

Here are some quality podcasts to help you get started.

Claydon’s HSC Business

Oliver Claydon is the Head Teacher of Professional Learning and VET coordinator at a NSW high school. He has made a series of podcasts about marketing to help students enrolled in HSC Business Studies. In these podcasts he looks at marketing strategies, processes and influences as well as Human Resources and financial management.

Econ Talk

Economics can be a dry subject which seems disconnected from students’ lives. Econ Talk helps overcome this by showing just how relevant and interesting economics is, and how closely related it is to everything we do. This podcast provides an excellent overview for HSC students by exploring current issues. It can help students understand their coursework on a deeper level and approach exams with confidence.

Sunday School: VCE English texts with Libbi Gorr

These podcasts were created in conjunction with presenter Libbi Gorr and English teachers. Although they are based on the VCE English syllabus, they provide a treasure trove of information for students studying for the HSC. Some of the texts overlap with the HSC syllabus but students may also find their own chosen related text in the list of books discussed. Just listening to teachers discuss books is extremely helpful for students because it gives insights into what markers are looking for. There’s also advice on how to prepare for English exams.

Grammar Girl Tips for Better Writing

It doesn’t matter how much you know or how hard you’ve studied if you can’t express your thoughts well in writing. Grammar Girl tips are ideal for students who need help honing their writing skills. This podcast provides short, easy to understand tips to help you improve in this area. Topics discussed include punctuation, grammar and style. Grammar Girl won the award for best education podcast in 2017.

Douchy’s Biology Podcasts 

Andrew Douch is a Victorian biology teacher who has created a series of podcasts to assist students studying for the VCE. These podcasts are also very beneficial for HSC students. He explores topics such as evolution, natural selection, mutations, immunity, and much more. The podcasts are packed with useful information from a qualified teacher. Episodes generally run from thirty minutes to over an hour.

History Extra Ancient Rome Special

In this BBC podcast, author Mary Beard discusses her one-volume history of Rome and Robert Harris talks about his fictional portrayal of Roman statesman Cicero. This presentation contains useful information for those studying the Roman Empire.

These are just some of the great podcasts available which can help HSC students. If you’re willing to do some searching, there are many more gems to be found.

Tips for Managing a Part-time Job While at School

Taking on an after-school job is an important step towards adulthood. In addition to learning job skills such as cash-handling and customer service, part-time employment teaches young people about the importance of being reliable, punctual and attentive.

The benefits of an after-school job are many, but it can be a challenge to juggle work, school and social activities. These tips will help students manage schoolwork and avoid stress.

When looking for work, it’s recommended you apply for jobs that are close to home so you don’t lose too much time travelling. Your job needs to fit in with your other commitments and be flexible to accommodate study. It may become a problem if you’re required to work every single weekend when you have a lot of schoolwork to do.

To successfully manage school and a job you need to be highly organised, and this means keeping on top of assignment and exam dates. When you know what’s coming up you can ask your manager not to schedule too many shifts over this period or arrange to take some time off. Calling in at the last minute because you need time to study or finish an assignment inconveniences everyone and is very unprofessional.

The best way to stay organised is by designing a study schedule and sticking to it. By calculating how many hours you’re able to devote to study, and scheduling time to work on assignments each week, you’ll find it much easier to juggle all your commitments. The discipline gained during this time will be of great benefit in the future.

Part of holding down a job and being responsible involves accepting there are times you’ll have to miss out on parties and other social events. You need to ensure you’ve fulfilled your work and study commitments first. Learning to say no to things you want to do is a valuable life skill.

If you fall behind at school due to your job, it can feel like you’re never going to catch up. Depression can set it, making it difficult to get motivated at a time when you need to put in extra effort. To avoid this, make sure you look after your health by getting enough sleep, eating properly and exercising.  Walking, mindfulness and deep breathing exercises all relieve stress.

You don’t have to do it all alone, so if the pressure becomes too much talk to someone about how you’re feeling. This could be a parent, teacher, tutor, school counsellor or friend. Together you can discuss your options. It may be necessary to cut back your work hours or even give up your job if your schoolwork is suffering. Whatever happens, your mental health is the number one priority.

Coding and Kids: Should Your Child Be Learning to Program?

In 2019 coding became compulsory in NSW primary schools and for students in years 7 and 8. While there is widespread support for this move, some educators believe too much focus is being placed on coding.

Coding camps and classes have sprung up everywhere to meet the growing demand for these skills, but with differing views on the subject, it can be hard for parents to gauge why students need coding and if they are learning enough at school.

Here we look at the arguments for and against coding for kids:

Benefits of Teaching Kids to Code

This is the central reason given for teaching coding in schools. It is claimed that AI will make many current jobs redundant and the winners in the future job market will be those with coding skills.

By learning to write their own programs, children discover how applications and websites are designed, providing them with a deeper understanding of the modern world. When they gain the ability to build websites and create apps and games, they become creators rather than passive consumers.

Programming requires reasoning, logic and problem-solving. Kids must learn to think abstractly and visualise concepts, helping them perform better in all subjects. They also need to be creative and willing to experiment. Coding requires collaboration and helps students understand how new inventions build on previous knowledge.

Arguments Against Coding for Kids

Critics claim most workers will not need coding skills in the future. According to this view, interfaces are becoming so easy to use that anyone with basic digital literacy will be able to create and design games and apps. Just as there is no need to understand how an engine works to drive a car, critics argue it will not be necessary to know how computer systems function to work with them in the future.

When the telegraph was invented, there was a push from some quarters to teach everyone Morse code. Critics view mass coding education as equally short-sighted. Just as the programming language Basic has now almost disappeared they believe Python will soon become obsolete and computers will evolve beyond using the binary code of ones and zeros.

Paul Bennett, an educational consultant in Nova Scotia is opposed to coding in schools because of the time it takes from other subjects. He claims “most regular math teachers fear that coding will further erode classroom time for math and do little or nothing to prepare students for true computer programming, AP-level computer science, or a STEM career.” In Australia, this is compounded by a lack of skilled teachers.

Why Coding Matters

While the arguments against coding are interesting, it’s clear the benefits for students far outweigh the potential negatives. Even if the specific programming languages learnt at school become redundant, the skills gained are invaluable for academic and career success.

One important point to emerge from the debate is that coding should not be taught at the expense of foundational STEM subjects. Students need a well-rounded education to prepare them for the future.

How to Design a Study Schedule that Works for You

Are you a procrastinator who puts off homework for as long as possible then rushes to get things finished? Do you find yourself cramming for exams at the last minute, causing you to feel anxious and overwhelmed when you should be calm and focused?

The best way to overcome these problems is to design a study schedule that suits your needs, helping you feel confident and in control of your work.

These questions encourage self-awareness, helping you create a schedule that you can stick to:

What are your goals?

Be clear about what goals you want to achieve when designing your study plan. You need to ensure you’ve allocated enough time for homework, assignments and revision, giving priority to tasks that are most urgent. You should revise your plan regularly and allow for flexibility.

It’s important to be realistic and factor in other commitments. If you’re overly ambitious and allocate too many hours to study, you may become demoralised when you can’t keep up.

What is your learning style?

Everyone has a preferred learning style. The three basic styles are visual, auditory and kinesthetic. You can take an online quiz to find out which category you fall into.

Auditory learners absorb information best when they hear things explained and benefit from listening to recorded lectures and participating in study groups. As these learners are highly sensitive to noise, it’s a good idea to study in a quiet place free from distractions.

Kinesthetic learners are physical and find it difficult to sit still for extended periods, so if this is your style, include frequent breaks in your schedule and use the time to move around. Visual learners prefer information presented in visual form so part of your study session should involve creating graphs and diagrams.

What are the obstacles?

Designing your schedule to suit your learning style will make studying more enjoyable, helping you persevere, but you also need to be aware of obstacles that can derail your study session.

If you find it hard to ignore messages on your phone, turn it off or set it to busy so you can’t be contacted. Make sure your family knows you’re not to be disturbed. Eat before you begin studying and have snacks and a drink on your desk so you don’t have to make a trip to the kitchen.

What do you need?

Your study zone should be a comfortable and welcoming place where you feel motivated to learn. If it’s messy and disogranised, clean it up before you put your schedule in place. Make sure everything you need is close by.

It also helps to have someone to hold you to account. This can be a parent, learning partner, study group or tutor.

What else can you do?

You’re much more likely to stick to a schedule when you’re healthy and relaxed, so make sure you’re eating properly and getting enough sleep. Try meditation and mindfulness if you’re feeling stressed, and don’t forget to leave enough time for fun.

The secret to a successful study schedule is a well-balanced life.


Fun Holiday Activities that Develop STEM Skills

Keeping kids entertained in the winter school holidays can be a challenge as they tend to get restless and bored when cooped up inside all day.

To beat the boredom and keep learning going, try these fun activities which will develop foundational STEM skills and ensure your child returns to school feeling motivated and inspired.

Build Something 

Working with the hands to build something is excellent for developing hand-eye coordination, and it helps children get a better understanding of weight, shape and size.

A set of blocks can provide hours of entertainment for small kids. Lego is ideal for kids of all ages as they can build simple toys right through to sophisticated robots that can be programed to display different behaviours. The Stem Laboratory website has many fun activities with Lego to boost skills.

Make Something 

Challenge your child to make something from scratch out of everyday household items such as paper cups, string, cotton balls and popsicle sticks. This is a chance to let their imagination run free, but it also involves planning and design, which are essential STEM skills.

Kids love making things like slime and bath bombs. These activities teach them about measuring and mixing ingredients, and physical processes. The simple activity of baking a cake together provides an opportunity to explain why the cake rises, which will encourage your child to see everyday activities from a scientific perspective.

Get Moving 

Good physical health is vital for learning, particularly for STEM subjects which require strong attention to detail. Anything that gets your child moving is beneficial, and in winter, indoor sports like table tennis, ten pin bowling and ice skating are perfect. Play centres provide an outlet for younger children to burn off energy, while older kids love trampoline parks and indoor rock climbing centres.

If you have enough space at home, encourage kids to play games like balloon football, musical chairs and charades. Marbles and jacks can also be a lot of fun, while helping kids with concentration and coordination.

Watch Some Docos 

When watching movies with kids, it’s tempting to choose the latest blockbuster that you know they’ll enjoy, but the winter holidays are a perfect time to introduce your child to some quality documentaries. Encouraging them to watch good documentaries is one of the best ways to nurture intellectual curiosity.

Some great non-fiction films for kids are Disneynature: Wings of Life, In the Shadow of the Moon and Arctic Tale.

Read Science Fiction  

Science fiction explores how technology develops and transforms lives. Kids who read stories in this genre will learn to think more deeply about how technology has shaped their world and consider the implications of future inventions.

According to Chana Porter, co-founder of the Octavia Project in America which uses sci-fi to develop STEM skills, “Sci-fi helps teens imagine greater possibilities for their lives and communities.”

There are many quality short stories available in this genre, making it easy to read together. This gives you an opportunity to discuss themes and ideas, and kids will appreciate the quality time with you.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas to Keep Kids Alert in Class

Any teacher will tell you how difficult it can be to keep students focused after lunch. Some schools in Australia have tackled the ‘afternoon slump’ by scheduling lunch earlier or allowing students to snack throughout the day.

These solutions can help improve learning, but they’re not available at all schools. The best way to help your child stay focused in the afternoon is by choosing the right foods for their lunchbox.

Healthy Lunch Options

School lunches should be filling but not too heavy as this will make kids sleepy. Carbohydrates such as pasta and rice should only be eaten in small quantities at lunchtime as they cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate.

The best lunch options for kids are whole grain rolls or bread with a protein filling such as lean turkey breast, chicken, tuna or cottage cheese. Chickpeas and fava beans provide energy without blood sugar spikes. Fresh fruits and crunchy vegetables, boiled eggs and nuts are also nutritious and easy to snack on.

Yoghurt is a good choice for school lunchboxes and there is evidence that whole milk is better than low-fat options as it helps children stay fuller for longer. The less added ingredients in yoghurt the better.

Getting enough water during the school day is very important as dehydration often mimics hunger, causing kids to overeat. When students are hydrated, they are more alert and focused in class. It’s important to provide a water bottle in your child’s lunchbox and make sure they can refill it easily at school.

Eat More Frequently 

Nutritionists believe that everyone should eat five small meals a day rather than three large ones to assist with digestion and concentration. ‘Grazing’ distributes energy and prevents blood sugar spikes.

This is difficult at school when students have limited time for morning and afternoon breaks, but you can encourage your child to spread their eating out by having half a sandwich or roll for morning tea and the other half for lunch.

Providing other light snacks such as carrot and celery sticks, berries, bananas and nuts allows them to eat until they are full, without feeling heavy. Jazz these up with a tub of hummus for the vegetables or yoghurt with the fruit and nuts.

Kids who have a variety of healthy foods to snack on through the day are less likely to come home starving, reducing after-school binging.



3 Strategies for Students Who Are Struggling in Maths

Young learners often struggle with maths and may develop a dislike of it. If children fail to grasp the basic mathematical concepts in primary school, they will find it hard to catch up, causing many to avoid advanced subjects in high school. This is concerning as the future job market will require workers with strong STEM skills.

These three methods can help students of all ages and levels develop confidence in maths:

Ask for Real-Life Examples

One of the central reasons students struggle to understand maths is because they don’t see how this knowledge can be applied in the real world.

When educators explain the history and purpose behind maths concepts, they give students something concrete and meaningful to grasp. For example, the idea of negative numbers was not widely accepted in the West until the mid-nineteenth century when a more sophisticated method was needed to express debt. Today negative numbers are central to banking, the stock market, temperature, astronomy and many other areas.

According to Kalid Azad, creator of the website Better Explained, when learning new concepts students need to ask:

Engage in Active Learning

Textbooks encourage passive learning, which is why many people believe maths is all about memorising formulas and ‘plug and chug.’

The truth is that to become skilled in this subject, students must be challenged to actively make connections and build on the concepts they’ve already studied. This involves strong critical thinking skills.

A good teacher or tutor can encourage this by drawing attention to previous learning and ensuring students see the connections. Solving problems with a buddy is another great way for students to draw on previous knowledge. There are also some great interactive maths sites which are designed for active learning.

The more connections students make between concepts, the faster they will learn new ones.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learning mathematical concepts is the same as learning to play a musical instrument or speak another language. It requires continuous practice. Even after they have mastered a concept, students need to revise it regularly.

Ideally students should receive enough homework to cement their understanding of what is studied in class, but some may require more practice. Students can ask for extra work or they may benefit from studying with a tutor. One easy way parents can help is by asking students to explain concepts and steps in a sequence to them, as this has been found to foster deep learning.

These three strategies can help students learn to master and enjoy this rewarding subject.


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