Saturday, December 19, 2009

College Admission: Be Yourself

The early admission result is out. Congratulations to several friends of my kids who got admitted to Stanford, MIT, or Caltech.

I just learned about the article "College Admissions Myths" from It was written in 2006. Base on the college results of many students that I have come to know, the advices are quite true.

"Knowing the tricks can only get you so far. In the end, to be an ideal candidate for a college, a student must work hard, develop a sense of passion, yearn for intellectual and personal stimulation, pursue activities outside of the classrooms in a profound way--and remember to breathe in the process. Says the Collegiate School's Breimer: "Be yourself. Don't try to beat the system."

Friday, November 06, 2009

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

View the video at

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Get Refund for "Baby Einstein"

Just read about this from New York Times. This is my third post about Baby Einstein and it is sobering. Parents were marketed to believe ways to increase children's intelligence and it turns out to be a waste of time and money.

In the article, I quote, “My impression is that parents really believe these videos are good for their children, or at the very least, not really bad for them,” Ms. Rideout said. “To me, the most important thing is reminding parents that getting down on the floor to play with children is the most educational thing they can do.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Harvard said Enough!

I was researching for an upcoming presentation about college preparation and found this article on Harvard's website. It was written by their Admission officers.
"Many of us are concerned that the pressures on today's students seem far more intense than those placed on previous generations. College admission - the chance to position oneself for "success" through the acquisition of the "right" college degree - looms large for increasing numbers of students. Particularly because selective colleges are perceived to be part of the problem, we want to do everything possible to help the students we enroll make the most of their opportunities, avoiding the much-reported "burnout" phenomenon that can keep them from reaching their full potential. ..."

"Professional college counselors (either independent or school-based) appear on the scene early, sometimes in middle school, to begin to structure students' academic and extracurricular profiles for entrance to the "right" college. At its best, such advice can be helpful in assessing talents, goals, and making "mid-course corrections" that can make a real difference in students' lives. From a more cynical perspective, such advice steers students toward travel abroad, community service, or other activities solely to enhance college application essays or interviews. Such services may command thousands of dollars, and assistance in preparing applications ranges from appropriate to plagiaristic. Videotaped mock college interviews are features of some packages, as are guided tours of colleges. An array of services start in ninth grade ("or seventh or eighth grade for no extra charge") for fees of over $30,000. More specific services include Essay Review, which offers "brainstorming session and as many revisions as necessary". Such services can add to, rather than alleviate, the stress of the normal expectations of school, community, and family life. Their "products", such as overly-slick essays, can even hurt a student's admissions chances as they can sometimes be easy to spot in the admissions process...."

The whole article can be found here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Trusting Kids in College?

This is the time again that parents are sending their kids away to college. There is an article in Stanford Farm Report about how some students are not resilient enough for dealing with college life.

"Unlike previous generations, young people often speak with their parents several times a day. And while family closeness is usually a positive force , it can come with a downside. Administrators at Stanford and elsewhere describe a level of parental involvement that often limits choices and has altered the cultural norms of college life.

That includes parents who insist on choosing their child’s area of study and then show up to negotiate his or her salary after graduation. Parents who ask to be informed about course deadlines because they’re sure their kid will forget without their reminders. Parents who call the dean’s office at 10 a.m., desperate because they haven’t been able to reach their son or daughter that morning: would someone please run over to the dorm and wake their scholar?"

The whole article is available at

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Success is a Gift"

I just finished reading a very interesting book called "Outliers: The Story of Success". The author, Malcolm Gladwell, takes a unique look on external or community factors contributing a person's success. He suggests that successes are a form of accumulated advantages. Successful people are given extraordinary opportunities to practice more in their fields. Some important points include:

  1. Once IQ is above 120, IQ no longer correlates with success.
  2. Serious success in any area requires at least 10,000 hours of effort.
  3. Growing rice instills a culture of hard work for Asian students.
  4. Public schools work. Summer vacation is failing students.

The stories of Bill Gates and the Beatles make all these points convincing and memorable. I am glad to be able to justify all the homework my boys did every summer which has likely improved their chance to succeed :-).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Read Advice for High School Graduates

Two New York Times writers, David Brooks and Gail Collins, discussed what is really important in life. David said "The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. ... The most important talent any person can possess is the ability to make and keep friends. ... The most important skill a person can possess is the ability to control one’s impulses." Gail said "Judging people by the college they went to is almost as bad as judging them by their family tree. It’s the dictatorship of the U.S. News & World Report ranking list."

Here is the link to the article, Advice for High School Graduates.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Free College-Prep Studying Materials for K-12 Students

Happy Mother's Day! I have a gift for all mothers. My new site, Project2020.WikiSpaces.Com launched today. It contains links to free and great education materials on the Internet for K-12 students.

When my kids started school, I made a conscience decision for them to attend public schools. I used materials on the Internet to enrich their studies. 12 years have passed and now one of them is a college junior and another is finishing 10th grade at high school.

The enormous amount of education content on the web can sometimes be overwhelming. This site provides links to educational materials for K-12 students.

  1. The materials are free and suitable for self study.
  2. The materials are academic with the goal of college preparation.
  3. All of the materials could be studied by one serious student.
  4. The content is entirely in English, except for the Foreign language subjects.
  5. Each link should allow for a few months of in-depth learning.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome. Hope you find the links helpful to your kids.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Principles in Coaching

Quoted from Good Sports, John McPhee’s coaching philosophy boils down to a simple dictum: let them play.

“First, no shouting, no embarrassment, no humiliation. Be the same to every kid. Respect them. No berating, no browbeating. Don’t treat the star any different than the kid just learning the game. Be a model, be an example. Kids are enormously, exquisitely sensitive, and you never know what slight, or what quiet compliment, will linger in their souls.

“Second: don’t talk too much. Give them the rules and tools and let them learn the game themselves. Kids learn by seeing and doing, not by listening. Scrimmages teach more than sermons.

“Third: scores don’t matter. You’re not coaching to win games. They’re not playing to win games. You’re all in it, at that level, to learn the language, the rules, the discipline, the fun of it.

“Fourth: everyone gets equal playing time. Period. No exceptions. One thing I hate about bad coaching is seeing kids who never get off the bench. That’s insulting. That’s terrible coaching when kids are young.

“Finally, most important of all, the whole point of coaching, the whole point of kids in organized sport: teach them to love the game, to love to play. The only measure of success for a coach is if the kids come back to play the next year. If they don’t return for a second season, you weren’t a good enough coach, period.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Motivation and Success

I came across Stanford Professor Carol Dweck's work on motivation, personality, and developmental psychology. There was an interview of her by Education World in year 2000. Some of her responses are still surprising today.

"Education World: Some students are mastery-oriented; they readily seek challenges and pour effort into them. Others are not. Have you been able to pinpoint in your research any direct associations between students' abilities or intelligence and the development of mastery-oriented qualities?

Carol Dweck: This is a really interesting question, and the answer is surprising. There is no relation between students' abilities or intelligence and the development of mastery-oriented qualities. Some of the very brightest students avoid challenges, dislike effort, and wilt in the face of difficulty. And some of the less bright students are real go-getters, thriving on challenge, persisting intensely when things get difficult, and accomplishing more than you expected.

This is something that really intrigued me from the beginning. It shows that being mastery-oriented is about having the right mind-set. It is not about how smart you are. However, having the mastery-oriented mind-set will help students become more able over time.


EW: If praising for intelligence can be a negative thing, what about labeling kids as "gifted"? Could that do more harm than good?

Dweck: Labeling kids as gifted can sometimes do more harm than good. The label "gifted" implies that you have received some magical quality (the gift) that makes you special and more worthy than others. Some students are in danger of getting hung up on this label. They may become so concerned with deserving the label and so worried about losing it that they may lose their love of challenge and learning. They may begin to prefer only things they can do easily and perfectly, thus limiting their intellectual growth.

Psychologists who study creative geniuses point out that the single most important factor in creative achievement is willingness to put in tremendous amounts of effort and to sustain this effort in the face of obstacles. It would be a tragedy if by labeling students as gifted, we limited their creative contributions.

However, we can prevent this by making clear to students that "gifted" simply means that if they work hard and keep on learning and stretching themselves, they will be capable of noteworthy accomplishments. Of course, that is true of many, many people. "

The whole interview is at

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Definition of Discipline

In an earlier post, I highly recommended Dr. Robert Brooks' book "Raising Resilient Children", a must-read for parents.

I also subscribed to his montly newsletter. In the most recent letter, he discussed discipline and it is absolutely enlightening - "Interestingly, when I initiate a discussion about discipline, almost all children respond as if discipline were synonymous with punishment. I might add that their parents respond in a similar fashion. That is understandable since the word discipline typically evokes images of punishing or being punished."

"we must remember that the word discipline stems from the word disciple and is best understood as a teaching process. As a form of education, discipline should not be associated with so-called teaching practices that serve to humiliate, scare, or embarrass children. I emphasized two of the main functions of discipline. One was to ensure a safe and secure environment in which children not only learn the importance of rules, limits, and consequences but they also appreciate the reasons that rules and limits exist."

"The second purpose of discipline I highlighted was to develop self-discipline or self-control, a major skill that underlies success in almost all facets of our lives. Self-discipline implies that children have incorporated rules so that even when adults are not present, they will act in a reflective manner, assuming ownership and responsibility for their behavior."

You can read the full article in

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Washington State Math Olympiad (Grade 5-8)

I actually have three sons. My godson is currently a 5th grader. He is very bright and just started his endeavor in math competitions. His team will compete in the Washington State Math Olympiad. I just dug out the training materials for him.

Here are problems from the past.

1999- now

More study materials at

It has been ten years since my older son took his first math competition at WSMO. The journey has been incredibly rewarding. I am glad that I will get to enjoy it all over again. Best wishes to the young and fearless child!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

New mission

I listened to our new president's state of union address and was so touched by his ambitious goal in education. He said, "In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity -- it is a pre-requisite." And then he set his vision, "by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."

This is a subject that I am passionate about. I have been searching for effective ways of education by learning from scientific results and success stories in real world. I experimented them on my own children.

I believe the goal can be achieved and I hope to contribute a bit toward the grand vision.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Art book for kids

Small interventions can make a big difference

A recent article on New York Times, "Education Is All in Your Mind" embodies what I have been searching for when I started this blog. Several experiments quoted in the article showed that it does not necessarily take a lot of money to produce better students. A simple way is to just convince the students that they can be better. It is all in their mind.

"In two separate studies, Mr. Aronson and others taught black and Hispanic junior high school students how the brain works, explaining that the students possessed the ability, if they worked hard, to make themselves smarter. This erased up to half of the difference between minority and white achievement levels."

"If simple interventions can have big effects, one might assume that bigger interventions would always be even better. But the truth is that some big interventions in education have had only minimal effects. Head Start, which places 3- and 4-year-olds in supposedly enriched classroom settings, and Early Head Start, which works with 1- to 3-year-olds, for example, have been found to have only modest effects on the children’s academic achievement, and these often fade by early elementary school."

It is important to always have positive interactions with your children or your students. Results are most evident when they believe in themselves. It takes a lot of thought and patience, but does not cost a penny.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Babies and dirt

Mothers these days have to be reminded to allow a little dirt in their children's life. Please read this New York Times article: Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You . It have the following three recommendations.

  • Training the Immune System
  • Worms for Health
  • Wash in Moderation

Really, it is a lot easier to raise resilient children than delicate ones.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Revisit Washington GET program

In an earlier post, I reported Washington GET program's high initial cost. For example, in 2004, it cost $61 per unit while the payout for that year was $51 per unit. I earned a low return in 2007. It seemed wiser to put the money elsewhere.

Due to last year's Wall Street disaster, I had lost significant amount in my other 529 plan, namely, UNIQUE from New Hampshire. It is terrible since my older son is already in college :(

The money in GET will probably never lose value. Further more, due to Washington state's big deficit this year, there would be a 20% budget cut to state university funding. As a result, it is very likely to have a big hike in tuition. Since GET payout grows with the tuition, this could translate to a very good return on investment.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Updates on New SAT Score Reporting Policy

There is a recent article on New York Times, titled "SAT Changes Policy, Opening Rift With Colleges".

The following is quoted from the article,

"Some highly selective schools have said they will not go along with Score Choice, a new policy allowing students to select which of their multiple scores colleges can see."

"Admissions officials at some highly selective colleges — the University of Southern California, Stanford, Claremont McKenna and the University of Pennsylvania, among others — have said that, Score Choice or not, they want all the scores — from the SAT and the ACT."