How to Reduce Homework Stress

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

My girls returned to school last week, and although it was nice to return to a regular schedule, I couldn’t help the knot in my stomach. A return to school means homework, frustration, missed assignments, confusion and a few tears. In this fast-paced world with a million distractions, it’s hard to stay on top of after school activities, play dates and homework assignments.

I swear this year will be different. I’m putting a homework plan in place and sticking to it. Here are a few tips on how to keep homework in check and at least dial down the stress.

Tips to Reduce Homework Stress | Steve Spangler Science

1. Keep a family due date calendar in a public area in your house. Write assignments and due dates on it. Get crazy if you want and color code each child or have separate calendars for each one.

2. Designate a place for homework. Give each child a folder and have them keep them together in a shared area. On-going assignments, research and more won’t get lost and you won’t spend time trying to collect everything.

3. Check backpacks every night for teacher notes and assignments. If I had a dollar for every time my kid answers “no” to the “do you have homework” question, I’d be rich. I always take a peek in the backpack and tend to find forgotten assignments or papers stuffed into pockets. Don’t always take them at their word. With older children, give them the responsibility of checking the backpack thoroughly every evening.

4. Schedule a homework time at the same time every day. This isn’t ground breaking or new, but it is important to find a quiet time when you and your child can focus on school work. It’s hard when soccer is on Monday at 5:00 p.m., piano Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., but work to find a time of day where distractions are limited. Obviously, parents should not be doing homework, but offer a resource for proof reading, finding math mistakes or giving guidance. It’s also helpful if you read a book, work on the computer or do something productive during that time. Then everyone is working and focusing at the same time and the television is off. Let your child decide what time and location is best for them.

5. Talk to the teacher if your child has difficulties routinely completing assignments. If your child is consistently getting overly frustrated or requiring continual hand holding to finish homework every night, investigate the why. Ask your child why they are struggling with the assignment – did they not understand the directions? Is the assignment too hard or above their level? Or did they not understand the skill when it was taught in class? Work on finding the basis for the frustration and then talk to the teacher. If a child is completely lost or confused about an assignment, write a note to the teacher explaining the issue and ask that they explain it again and give your child an extension on the due date.

6. Have a friend or teacher resource to double check assignments. Once again, if I had a dollar for every time my kids tell me they can’t remember how many pages they need to work on, or the due date or how many questions to answer…I have both of my girls pair up with a homework buddy. This is a friend, who is just as responsible or more so than my child to call when those questions pop up. Or encourage your child’s teacher to post assignments to a class Twitter account, website, blog or app.

 7. Refuse to get upset about homework and give your child an opportunity to earn free time. It happens in homes everywhere, every night. Screaming matches between parent and child over homework. No one likes to do something they don’t enjoy, but it is best to get the ugly out of the way and then move on to something satisfying. Homework is usually not enjoyed, so don’t expect your child to jump for joy when you tell them to turn off the television and get going on that math worksheet. Has your child ever responded with “thanks mom for yelling at me, I’m really ready now to sit down and focus on my homework.” Instead, calmly set parameters for your child and then step back., “From now on, homework is going to be on you. I’m not going to yell or get upset. You are capable of this work, but I am available to answer questions. If you calmly put in the time needed to complete your assignments, you will earn time on electronics. If you don’t, then you won’t be able to use the electronics in this house. Either way is fine by me.” Allow your child to make the decision about getting homework completed. If they make the decision not to complete homework, a price is paid at school and at home. This may not go over well in the beginning, but standing strong and calmly should turn things around.

8. Determine if your child is receiving excessive homework. The National PTA and the National Education Association endorse a 10-minute rule. The maximum amount of homework should not exceed 10 minutes per grade level per night. That is, a 1st-grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework, a 6th-grader no more than 60 minutes, and a 12th-grader no more than two hours. If your child is taking longer than the recommended guidelines, look at the amount of work and their pace. If it seems excessive, talk to the teacher and let them know how long your child spends each night.

9. Don’t over schedule your kids. If your kids go from school to activities to homework after 9:00 p.m. and then bed somewhere around 10, stop and look at the balance in your lives. We have a tendency to schedule every minute to give our children a wide range of experiences and skills. The kids pay the price when they miss out on having free time to play and imagine and let go. It’s been said before, but strive to find a balance between school, homework, activities and down time.

10. Stay in touch with the teacher. Your child, their teacher and you, their parent form a team in your child’s education. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to the teacher and staying on top of your child’s progress. If the parent and teacher aren’t on the same page, the student will suffer. Share any concerns with the teacher and ask they they keep you in the loop.

Don’t look at this list of 10 and feel like it’s impossible. Pick a few topics and focus on those.  I can’t say I’m perfect in all of these areas. I struggled last year in helping my kids stay on top of their assignments and due dates. I took their word when they said they didn’t have homework. We had several panicked nights of trying to complete an assignment that was supposed to stretch over a few weeks. I also didn’t want to be THAT parent who constantly emailed and called the teacher. I tried to only touch base when things got really stressful. That was usually too late. Our principle encouraged me to stay on top of things this year with my child’s teacher. Don’t wait until it gets really bad – nip it in the bud before it has a chance to blow up.

What do you do to ease the homework stress?

Create Your Own Diary of a Worm and Raise Your Own Night Crawlers

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

We test and play with every product in our science toys catalog before selling them to our customers.During the month of August, we played with worms while learning more about their world in the Worm Vue Wonder.

Worm Science with the Worm Vue Wonder. Get Up Close & Personal with Worms | Steve Spangler Science

Worms are a perfect tool to teach all kinds science – dissect them in biology  and anatomy, throw them in a composter for ecology and conservation and observe them for earth science and geology.

The Worm Vue kit comes complete with a worm home, activity guide, anatomy and fact poster, worm cutout, magnifying glass, tomato seeds and seed planter. It also has coupon to receive 200 worms, food and dirt in the mail. The postage is an extra cost, or you can dig them up in your backyard. We purchased a cup of night crawlers from  a tackle shop. They were a little sleepy from hanging out in a tackle store fridge and took a few days to recover and burrow down into the dirt.

I had already filled the worm house with garden dirt and a layer of sand. The sand isn’t a part of the kit, but I thought it could be fun to see what the worms would do with a different layer.

Worm Science with the Worm Vue Wonder. Get Up Close & Personal with Worms | Steve Spangler Science

I took the worm house home for the weekend and let my daughters get acquainted with my slimy little friends. After they dug down into the dirt, it was hard to locate them. Over the course of a few weeks, we discovered tunnels and occasionally saw the worms sitting in them. We only had 15 worms, so it was more difficult to see very many. The more worms the better in this community.

I must admit, this isn’t the most exciting kit. Worms are amazing creatures, but not incredibly fascinating to watch. Raising worms requires patience and time to observe. If you are looking for an exciting and dynamic insect kit, try Antworks or Ladybug Land.

The worms may not be party bugs, but don’t give up on this kit. The activity guide comes with a ton of activities to do with your worms – test their sensitivity to light and colored light, their fertilizing abilities and physical characteristics. They are a great teaching tool for a classroom, homeschool or home lab.

Worm Science with the Worm Vue Wonder. Get Up Close & Personal with Worms | Steve Spangler Science

You can also use a plastic tub, plastic soda bottle or other see through container. Just be aware that worms are incredibly sensitive to light, so don’t leave your see through container in the sun. The Worm Vue Wonder comes with removable sides and top that black out the light and keep the worms happy. It also allows easy access to the worms for activities.

So what are you waiting for? Build a worm farm and get up close and personal with some worm friends.

What Are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them?

A few weeks back, we demystified the Common Core State Standards to clearly explain what they are all about. Common Core does not cover science. The Next Generation Science Standards were designed to set a national standard in science and give teachers and their students direction towards college prep and careers in science.

What are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them? | Steve Spangler Blog

Before the NGSS came into play, the states used the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to guide their state science standards. The standards were high quality and worked well, but are now over 15 years old. In that time, major advancements in science have taken place along with a better understanding of how students learn science.

In 2007, a report from a Carnegie Foundation commission concluded, “the nation’s capacity to innovate for economic growth and the ability of American workers to thrive in the modern workforce depend on a broad foundation of math and science learning, as do our hopes for preserving a vibrant democracy and the promise of social mobility that lie at the heart of the American dream.”

Not surprising, they also found the science and mathematics education in the U.S. was far below expectations and set to leave millions of young Americans unprepared to succeed in the future global economy. In 2009, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics out of 34 countries.  In 2012, 54% of high school graduates did not meet the college readiness benchmark levels in mathematics and 69% of graduates failed to meet the benchmarks in science.

Science and mathematics education is not just for students preparing for careers in engineering, technology, science or accounting. In our constantly changing, always updating society, the need for higher education in skilled jobs is much higher than unskilled jobs. Many of the fastest growing career fields involve science and math. Information, technology and knowledge turns over about every 17 months in our modern society. Think about how fast a smart phone becomes out of date.

Normally we teach out of context. The biology teacher is teaching here. The mathematics teacher there. The english teacher over here. And when it’s time to synthesize? Guess what? We aren’t there.
- Fred D. Johnson, Past President National Science Teachers Association.

The National Association of State Directors of Career Education grouped all occupations into 16 clusters. Fourteen of the clusters require four years of science while the remaining two require three years. The message – “to keep all options open and maximize their opportunities, all students should follow a rigorous program in both science and mathematics,” according to the NGSS website.

It’s not just careers that depend upon advances in society.  We face global problems from pandemics to global warming and climate change to energy shortages. The solutions lie in science and technological discoveries and advancement. Our survival is dependent on our abilities to train future scientists and problem solvers.

What are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them? | Steve Spangler Blog

From all of these needs and demands for the present and the future, the Next Generation Science Standards were born. The NGSS will provide students a content-rich education across the STEM subjects to prepare them for college and careers. This will ensure all students receive an internationally benchmarked science education. They aren’t a curriculum, but a content plan that all students should learn from kindergarten to high school graduation. States and local districts who adopt them will need to develop their own specific content and curriculum.

Science isn’t just a mere bunch of facts. Science is about the way we think about the world. The way we question the world. The way we communicate about the world. Developing that is a huge piece of the new standards.
- Jonathan Gerlach 2011-2012 Einstein Capitol Hill Fellow, U.S. Department of Energy.

Twenty-six states, a 41-member writing team and educational partners worked to develop the Next Generation Science Standards. The framework was developed by 18 experts in science, engineering, cognitive science, teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment and education policy. The framework was then presented for public feedback and opinion. Then state policy leaders, higher education, K-12 teachers, the science and business community developed science standards grounded in the framework. Those standards were also open for public feedback.

What are the Next Generation Science Standards and Why Do We Need Them? | Steve Spangler Blog

The federal government is not involved or funding the Next Generation Science Standards. It is up to each individual state to choose the NGSS and adapt them. They will also individually decide whether to create assessments connected to the NGSS. The 26 states currently involved are Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Maine, New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware and Massachusetts.

Why NGSS? from Achieve on Vimeo.


Information in this article courtesy Achieve, Inc. on behalf of the twenty-six states and partners that collaborated on the NGSS.



Warnings of Smart Phone Photos Posing Privacy Risks is True

There have been many posts on Facebook and other social networks about the dangers of posting pictures of your children can inform the general public of the exact location of your children.

No matter if you are an extremely cautious parent who never shares your children’s names online or even you are more relaxed about sharing photos of your children with your online networks, this claim will grab your attention.

We were very wary at first to these claims, as so many of these fearful privacy warnings pop up on Facebook and other networks all the time, but lists this statement as true.

This privacy risk, however, is not new. Smart phones and some digital cameras have saved photo information like date, time, and shutterspeed along with geotagged photos for several years. This information is saved in a file called Exif. Geotagging provides precise information about where the photo was taken and attaches it to the image file. This can be a home address or school. People may have shared photos on a social network or blog not necessarily thinking about the geotag information included in the file.

These fears aren’t as prevalent as they were a few years back. Facebook and Twitter now strip most or all Exif file that contains location information from photos when they are uploaded to their sites. This function was added to help increase privacy protection.

If you upload a photo to another site or a blog, it might still contain the the Exif file and all of its information.

The best way to protect your privacy when sharing photos online is to turn off the GPS feature on your phone or camera. If your device doesn’t know where you are, it can’t attach information to that photo. Most phones also offer the option of turning off the geotagging on photos. To remove the geotag on an existing photo you can use an Exif metadata editor, photo editor or converter program that saves photos without the Exif file.