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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why Finland’s Education System is the Best in the World

No Child Left Behind, with its accelerated education practices and emphasis on standardized testing, seems to be leaving many American children behind much of the industrialized world, according to a new global table of education, produced for the Intelligence Unit of The Economist. The U.S. is ranked 17th in education, far below first-place Finland and many other countries. Read why Finland has the best education system in the world.

What are their secrets?

For one, Finnish children don’t start school until age 7. (Waldorf education advocates that children not read until 7.) Phenomenally, Finnish students only take one standardized test, and that is at the age of 16. By that age, a typical American child will have taken dozens of standardized tests, and will have spent much educational time preparing for them, at the expense of other learning and discovery. Finnish elementary school students receive 75 minutes of recess per day, as opposed to an average of 27 minutes in the U.S. There is very little homework.

Education in Finland is 100% state subsidized, as is teacher training. The results of all this attention to teacher support and developmentally appropriate learning, free time and play? 93 percent of Finns graduate from high school, a figure that is 17.5 percent higher than that in the U.S.

Some might point to Finland’s smaller size or relative homogeneity as possible reasons for their success, but their success is notably higher than other Scandinavian countries, which have similar demographics and diversity. 30 U.S. states have populations equal to or less than Finland’s, at 5.5 million.

This article from The Atlantic notes that Finland’s acclaimed education system owes much to the idea of economic equity.

Read more about why Finland’s education system is Number One.

So how does the U.S. educational system stack up against that of other countries? According to a 2011 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), American 15-year-olds scored at the international average of industrialized nations in science and reading, and below the international average in math.

The above article goes on to note that high-performing countries recruit and retain talented teachers. It noted some interesting cultural differences, as well. For instance, Japanese students are encouraged to struggle through problems more than American students are. According to UCLA psychology professor James Stigler, who studied the Japanese educational system:

American students “aren’t socialized to struggle hard. They’re socialized to put their hands up and say, ‘I don’t know.’ ” While Japanese parents would be inclined to tell a child’s teacher, “Thank you for helping my kid struggle,” American parents are more inclined to say, “Why are you torturing my kid?”

That’s a very interesting point that speaks to many parents’ well-meaning, but sometimes misguided, attempts to rush in and fix perceived problems, a habit that ultimately robs their children of essential problem-solving skills and the mastery and confidence that come with them.

The original Economist report quoted above makes some of the same key recommendations about economic success in its Five lessons for education policymakers:

  • There are no magic bullets
  • Respect teachers
  • Culture can be changed
  • Parents are neither impediments to nor saviors of education
  • Educate for the future, not just the present

And this comes from NYU Research Professor of Education and Former U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, in her review of Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? in the New York Review of Books:

U.S. policymakers have turned to market-based solutions such as “tougher competition, more data, abolishing teacher unions, opening more charter schools, or employing corporate-world management models.” By contrast, Finland has spent the past forty years developing a different education system, one that is focused on improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals.

The last word about our (relatively unsuccessful) competition-driven, test-obsessed educational model will have to go to Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience:

If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.

These are Top 20 Countries in the World, in Education, as ranked by the global table of education:

  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Russia

More reading (some of these are referenced above):

Why Finland’s Unorthodox Education System is the Best in the World, Business Insider

The Pearson Report for the Economist

What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland’s School Success, The Atlantic

Schools We Can Envy, New York Review of Books

From Finland, An Intriguing School Model, New York Times

Why are Finland’s Schools Successful, Smithsonian

UK Education Sixth in Global Ranking, BBC News

Great Ideas from Finnish Schools, Two in the Middle

American Academy of Pediatrics Advocates Recess for Kids, Slow Family Online and Christian Science Monitor

How to Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? Let the Play, Slow Family Online

Pre-school and Kindergarten Graduations: Too Much Too Fast, Slow Family Online and Christian Science Monitor

 

Photos: wstryder, edushyster

Use Pinterest Savvy to Grow Your Business

Pinterest is the fastest growing social media network, with 23 million users worldwide. Pinterest’s referral traffic beats Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn — combined. In addition, it’s full of beautiful and inspiring graphics and it’s fun to use. If you’re not using Pinterest for your business, you should be.

Don’t know where to start? Melissa Taylor’s extremely thorough Pinterest Savvy: How I Got  1 Million+ Followers  (Strategies, Plans, and Tips to Grow Your Business with Pinterest) will help.

Taylor, who blogs at Imagination Soup, has a whopping 1 million-plus Pinterest followers. She enjoys the platform immensely and shares her wisdom and tips throughout her book, which is aimed at all levels of Pinterest users, from complete novices to the more advanced.

Did I mention that Pinterest Savvy is exceedingly thorough? Pinterest Savvy covers everything, from the basics of pinning and organizing boards, to etiquette and suggested sources. Pinterest Savvy really gets juicy where Melissa shares some of the practices that have earned her over 1 million followers, like tips for timing pins, vetting pins and writing descriptions. And she outlines an all-important aspect that many people neglect, on all social media platforms — how to form community. She also lists lots of great pinners who you will want to follow immediately, too.

While Pinterest Savvy is complete, the information is presented in sections that are easy to digest and understand. The layout and graphics are as visual and pleasing as the best Pinterest boards. Anyone intent on using Pinterest to grow a following will benefit from Pinterest Savvy.

Host a Kid-Friendly Oscar Party

Updated for 2014.

Planning to watch the 86th annual Academy Awards? Turn your evening into a fun family event, or even an Oscar party, by serving easy finger foods, such as mini hot dogs; golden food, like easy yellow cupcakes, star-shaped sugar cookies with gold sprinkles, or chocolate coins; and sparkly drinks like champagne, sparkling wine (these are good budget sparkling wines ) or sparkling apple cider.

If you’re feeling ambitious, Epicurious offers some wonderful Oscar-themed menus based on this year’s movie nominations. (Although, I think having pie to denote Life of Pi would work just fine!) Make food and drinks extra special by digging out any gold or silver platters and champagne flutes (plastic versions of these are available at party stores), or serving food on doilies.

Make copies of this printable Oscar ballot and have everyone vote for their favorites. The winner can receive a big box of movie candy, a certificate for a local movie theater, or a homemade voucher for a movie excursion.

Before the show starts, have kids dress up and walk the red carpet (roll out a piece of red fabric or a vinyl or fabric tablecloth, or denote a section of floor with tape) and take pictures. Make a gold star out of yellow construction paper (or cardboard, spray painted gold) and tape it to a door or wall to create an instant star’s dressing room.

Everyone likes to make acceptance speeches. Make an Oscar statuette by spray painting an old Barbie or Ken-sized doll gold. The ones below come from Ellie and Blair, who set theirs on stands. (They have lots of other fun Oscar party ideas.) In a pinch, spray paint a paper-towel roll to denote the Oscar, or have  children hold a bouquet of flowers.

Be sure they thank all the little people who helped make their success possible!

Who me?

Enjoy the show!

Photos: USA Today, Ellie & Blair, Us Magazine

 

 

Best (and Worst) Candy Heart Sayings of All Time

Iconic, goofy and sometimes romantic candy hearts from Necco are the second best selling Valentine’s Day candy, right behind chocolate. 8 billion little Sweethearts are produced each year. Their bright, chalky colors and pithy and sometimes irreverent candy heart sayings have been entertaining people and helping them declare love for 147 years, ever since the brother of the original Necco creator designed a machine that stamped words directly onto the candies with red vegetable dye. The original candies were large and had various shapes. When the company arrived at the small heart shape in 1902, the sayings got smaller to accommodate it.

Necco wafers themselves have been around 166 years and even accompanied two explorers on their expeditions (Admiral Byrd’s to the South Pole and Donald MacMillan’s to the Arctic) in addition to feeding the WWII troops. Necco’s wafers and sweethearts even survived a move to “healthier” flavors three years ago, which was thankfully scrapped.

 

I’ve watched the sayings get updated over the years, as new ones like FAX ME and  E MAIL ME came and went. New sayings in recent years include TEXT ME and TWEET ME (how long will these last?) as well as MY PET and U R HOT, as an addition to classics like SOUL MATE, SWEET PEA, SAY YES, TRUE LOVE and ALL MINE. Perennial favorites from the early years include BE MINE, BE TRUE, MARRY ME and KISS ME. The company adds about 20 sayings, out of 80, each year, so naturally some older ones are not going to make the new group. New sayings are often themed, like these pet-themed ones from 2007.

Some of my favorite new sayings over the past decade include HEART OF GOLD, MELT MY HEART, CLOUD NINE and HONEY BUN. A few that have bitten the dust, mostly because their lingo became dated, include DIG ME, HEP CAT, HOTCHA, SAUCY BOY and OH YOU KID.

However you express it, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photos: Necco, The Fun Times Guide

Bonus Trivia Question: What does Necco stand for?

Answer: New England Confectionary Company

 

Read more:

History of Sweetheart Candies, Smithsonian Magazine

10+ Years of Conversation Hearts, Readers Digest

How Do They Get Those Tiny Words on Sweethearts Candies?, Time Magazine

17 Amazing Retired Sweetheart Candy Sayings, The Atlantic

New Sweetheart Candy Sayings by Year, Infoplease

Mixed Reviews for New NECCO Sweetheart Candy Flavors, Slow Family Online


Vintage Valentines, Part 2

More vintage valentines! (You didn’t think we were going to stop with Part 1, did you?)

Space Age Valentines

Transportation Valentines

Winter Valentines

 

Music Valentines

More Fun Valentines

 

More terrific vintage valentines can be seen at:

Vintage Valentine Museum

Seven Deadly Sinners

TipNut

Here’s how to make your own fun and easy homemade valentines.

Still want more? See my: Vintage Valentines, Part 1

Vintage Valentines, Part 1

Valentine’s Day, and the valentines we send to honor it, have an interesting past. Long before the Roman emperor Gelasius, and then the Catholic church, proclaimed February 14th a holy day named for the martyred St. Valentine (who refused to forsake Christianity while in prison and sent love letters signed “from your Valentine” to the jailer’s daughter), the Romans had their own mid-winter celebrations of love — Lupercalia fertility festivals, during which young Roman males sacrificed goats and frolicked in goatskin loincloths, striking young women with goatskin thongs. (Attractive!)

Early famous senders of valentines include Charles, Duke of Orleans (like St. Valentine, also in prison) and King Henry V. In the early 1700s, valentine “writers”, or booklets of decorative verse, were all the rage. In the 1800s, people favored “Daguerreotype” valentines, based on the new tintype photos. The Victorian era ushered in valentines that were more similar to the ones we know today, helped along by new methods of printing and mass production and  inexpensive “penny post” mailing.

This is a wonderful history of valentines and Valentine’s Day.

This is Charles, Duke of Orleans’ valentine, now in the British Museum.

Colorful, often mass-produced valentines really took off in the 1920s. Their popularity soared as children became increasingly involved in giving and receiving them. Some early valentines depicted household items, animals,  professions and new modes of transportation and many employed fun puns and wordplay. Their heyday occurred during a wide swath of mid-20th century, before valentines largely became the province of licensed characters from TV and movies.

I’ve rounded up some of my favorite valentines by theme.

Western Valentines

 

Food and Kitchen Valentines

 

More terrific vintage valentines can be seen at:

Vintage Valentine Museum

Seven Deadly Sinners

TipNut

Here’s how to make your own fun and easy homemade valentines.

Still want more? See my: Vintage Valentines, Part 2

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 15-18, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Fat Tuesday! Mardi Gras Mask and other Cookies

Happy Fat Tuesday! I love these beautiful Mardi Gras mask cookies from Sweetopia.

Wondering how to make pretty iced cookies of all kinds? Check out this cookie decorating tutorial from I Am Baker.

 

Make a Quick and Easy Valentine Bird Feeder

Sometimes we forget to feed birds and other wildlife in the winter, which can be precisely when they need it the most because it’s less plentiful in the environment. Why not show a little love by making valentine bird feeders? This very easy project will have you backyard bird-watching in no time. Experiment with different kinds of seeds to see which birds each attracts. Or ask for advice at a plant nursery or pet store. Oil sunflower is a particularly nutritious winter seed that a lot of birds like.

You’ll need:

Cardboard
Heart template, optional
2-3 ‘ ribbon or string
½ cup vegetable shortening, peanut or other nut butter, suet or lard (plus, cornmeal or oatmeal, optional)
2 ½ cup mixture of birdseed (chopped nuts, dried fruit, optional)
Small mixing bowl
Plate, shallow dish or pie tin
Scissors
Spoon or butter knife

Cut a heart out of cardboard, using a template or free-hand.

Poke a hole toward the top and run the string through it. (If using a ribbon, you might want to string it after the mixture has dried a little, using a hole to poke through the hole, as needed.

In mixing bowl, combine peanut butter or other spread with meal, if using.

Spread that mixture over the both sides of the heart with the knife or spoon.

Pour the birdseed and feed ingredients onto the plate.

Place the heart into the seeds.

Hang your valentine from a tree branch or window eave that offers some shelter from wind and weather if possible, as well as a view of visiting birds!

Slow Tip: You can make these with pinecones in the fall. Or use a toilet-paper tube anytime, and either string it up or place it right onto a branch.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

How to: Make a Paper Boat

My family first got the idea to make a paper boat from our beloved book, H.A. Rey’s Curious George Rides a Bike, in which sweet and loveable George secures a paper route, which leads him to make and sail a whole flotilla of folded-newspaper boats. Wondering if a newspaper boat could really float, we got out some old newspaper, folded it into boats using the directions in Curious George, and took our boats down to a local creek, where they indeed sailed along once released, on a gently flowing spring stream. You can make your own boat, using any kind of paper.

You’ll need:

A sheet of any type of paper, roughly the same scale as an 8 ½” by 11” sheet
Adhesive tape, optional

Place the paper on a surface the long way, and fold it in half, top to bottom.

Fold the paper in half again.

Unfold the fold you just made.

With the creased side on top, fold both top corners in towards the center crease. This leaves a triangle shape, with a rectangular bar along the bottom.

Fold the bottom rectangles up on each side, creasing at the bottom of the triangle shape.

Place a thumb and forefinger on the inside of the shape, at the center of each triangle, and carefully, completely open out the shape from the middle.

Keep opening the shape until it flattens again into a perfect square. (Your two fingers should now be on opposite sides of the square.)

Lay the square like a diamond. The side pointing up should be the one that doesn’t have any other folds over it.

Fold each side in half, width-wise, bringing each bottom triangle up to the point at the top.

Place a thumb and forefinger into the center of each triangle, as before. This time, as you pull the bottom opening apart, use the other hand to stretch out the two top triangles from the other side of the figure, so that they become the bow and stern (back and front) of the boat.

Flatten the inner triangle slightly to create a sail.

If you like, you can line the bottom of the boat with adhesive tape, which may make it more waterproof and help it float longer.

Float your boat in a bathtub, creek or other body of water!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Michael Lipman

Illustration by Margaret and H.A. Rey

Join me for more activities at the Family Book Festival at Jump Into a Book

 See boats in action in an Origami Boat Race!

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