Thursday, 18 September 2014

3 Interesting Essay & Story Writing Tips

  1. It is important to highlight the first two or three words of every sentence. See if your sentences all begin the same way or varied.
  2. Pick out the verbs in your writing. Choose five of them to change so it can be more interesting. You can find verbs that are action, linking or state of being.
  3. Find and write out all the adjectives in your writing. Pick five of them to improve the copy. Make it more creative and precise too!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Important Terms

adjective:  a word that describes a noun

adverb:  a word that describes a verb

character:  a person or animal in a story

conclusion:  the last part of a paragraph or story

dialogue:  a conversation between two or more people in a story

fragment:  an incomplete sentence

indent:  to start the first line of a paragraph in from the edge of the page

main character:  the most important character in a story

noun:  a person, place, thing, or idea

paragraph:  three or more sentences about the same subject

predicate:  the part of a sentence that describes what happens to the subject

quotation marks:  the punctuation marks used at the beginning and ending of what someone says in a story

setting:  the background of the action in a story; where and when a story takes place

story pyramid:  a way to plan a story that looks like a pyramid

subject:           1.  the person or thing being discussed in a paragraph
                     2.  the person or thing that a sentence is about

supporting sentence:  a sentence in a paragraph that describes the topic

synonyms:  words that mean the same thing or almost the same thing

topic:  what a paragraph or story is about

turning point:  an important event in a story that solves the problem and leads to the  conclusion

topic sentence:  the sentence in a paragraph that explains what the paragraph is about

verb:  an action word

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Story Checklist

Use this checklist to see if you need to make any changes to your story or your writing.
  1. Does your story have a clear topic?
  2. Does the sequence of the story make sense?
  3. Have you included at least two or three interesting details  about your character?
  4. Did you show your character’s feelings about what is happening?
  5. Did you tell where or when the story took place?
  6. Does your character have a problem?
  7. Did you include any senses?
  8. Did you make good word choices?
  9. Did you use any comparisons?
  10. Do you have an interesting conclusion to your story?

Friday, 18 July 2014

Use Better Words

  • bad:  terrible, horrible, difficult, nervous, sad, boring, nasty, awful, evil, mean, naughty, spoiled, gloomy, discouraging
  • big:  bulky, colossal, enormous, gigantic, great, immense, large, massive, substantial, vast
  • fun:  enjoyable, entertaining, good time, joy, pleasure, treat, amusing
  • good:  acceptable, excellent, great, positive, superior, valuable, capable, expert, satisfactory, useful, well-behaved, fantastic
  • got:  acquired, borrowed, bought, received, achieved, earned, fetched, gained
  • happy:  joyful, glad, cheerful, contented, delighted, ecstatic, elated, gratified, merry, overjoyed, pleased, thrilled
  • like (verb):  adore, enjoy, love, admire, appreciate, approve
  • like (conj., prep., adj.):  alike, similar, identical, resemble, same
  • nice:  friendly, fun, cute, silly, thoughtful, adorable, amazing, great, wonderful, exciting, kind, charming, pleasant, agreeable, polite, cheerful
  • ran:  bolted, darted, chased, hurried, jogged, raced, rushed, scurried, escaped, fled, proceeded, galloped
  • sad:  depressed, blue, dismal, down, gloomy, glum, mournful. somber, unhappy, wistful, miserable
  • said:  declared, whispered, asked, screamed, hollered, yelled, explained, shouted, replied, commented, grumbled, nagged, demanded, pleaded, exclaimed, continued, complained, inquired, laughed, yawned, grinned, growled, called, boomed, gushed,  whined, questioned
  • went:  left, departed, moved, passed, set off, travel, proceeded

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Congratulations Graduates of 2014!

This time of year inspires much hope, and graduations play a big role in that. Students are leaving a huge part of their lives behind, ready and equipped for that next step. And while messages of "conquering the world" or "doing anything you put your mind to" are heartwarming and empowering, they don't fully relay the messages we should be sending to our teens.

Life is challenging, as it should be, full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Life will push you to your limits and broaden your perspectives.

The path to success is not a line easily treaded. Rather success is defined by how you overcome adversity and learn from your experiences.

So with this thought in mind, I wanted to share the advice I give to my graduates:

  • Don't forget your manners. About the time you learned to talk, your parents probably started teaching you manners. Please and thank you became major parts of your vocabulary. These manners should not disappear when you leave the house. You can still be a ruthless businessman or the toughest teacher if you are kind. And be kind to everyone even if you think they are "below" you. When someone comes in for an interview in my office, I listen to how he speaks to our office manager or other staff. I do the same with clients. This tells me quite a bit about how you interact with others. And in life, we want to spend time those we like.
  • Accept that life is full of failures and disappointment. Don't sweep these under the rug. Embrace them. Learn from them. Use them to launch you to greatness.
  • Ask for help. There is very little that you can do all on your own. Somewhere somehow, someone can help you. Don't be afraid to ask others for help. Doing so is not a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength. The best teams are built of people who have different strengths that get pooled for maximum results.
  • Pursue your non-professional interests. You may want to be a doctor, but your life does not have to revolve around science. You may want to be an artist, but there has to be more to your life than your art. The most interesting people in life pursue many endeavors. Doing so will expose you to a more diverse group of people and friends, give you unique opportunities, and most importantly, bring you happiness and fulfillment.
  • Learn to face conflict. Human beings are irrational and selfish beings by nature. These tendencies cultivate conflict. Learn to meet it head on. Study leadership styles and effective communication. Often, conflict can be handled with a few simple words or easy negotiation. Practice patience. And in escalated situations, remember to ask for help.
  • Pick your battles. Avoid unnecessary conflict. Stay away from the petty fights and issues that simply suck up your energy so you have the tolerance for issues that really matter to you. This might mean being choosy with your friendships and time. That is OK. Your time is undefined but finite. Use it well.
  • Spend less time online and more time "in life." It is great to see what your friends all had for dinner, but it is even better to have an amazing conversation with a new or old friend. It is nice to have pictures of all the cool places you have been to, but it is better to immerse yourself in those experiences so you build memories rather than photobooks. Experience life rather than just living vicariously through a screen.
  • You can do anything you put your heart and mind to. It is just going to be harder and more fulfilling than you can imagine. Graduating from high school will be one of the easiest things you will do in life. That does not mean you did not work hard. You did. But every step is in preparation of the next. Every step (including the backward ones) will push you closer and closer to your dreams. So dream big, but work harder. Imagine a life of possibilities and then prepare yourself for the journey.

Congratulations to the class of 2014. You are closing one chapter of your life only to have the rest of your life to look forward to. Enjoy every moment along the way.

The original article by Purvi Mody is published at

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Infant Reading

Literacy is a learned skill, not a biological awakening. We need coherent, skill-based instruction to ensure pre-K kids enter kindergarten with necessary language, cognitive, and early reading skills for learning success.

We need age-appropriate development of:

-- Oral language (vocab, expressive language, listening comprehension)
-- Phonological awareness (rhyming, blending, segmenting)
-- Print awareness
-- Alphabetic knowledge

The infant brain is wired to seek out and learn language.  Infants are born with the capacity to learn all languages.  Example, Japanese babies at 6 months can hear a distinction between “r” and “l” although only the “r” sound exists in Japanese.  They cannot hear this distinction at 12 months!

Between 6-12 months babies begin to fine-tune their ability to perceive the speech sounds of their native language as opposed to non-native language.

Synapses form rapidly in early development. Connector density is at peak in the first three years – then starts pruning.  For very specific aspects of brain development, such as visual system, critical periods exist and thus a window of opportunity.

The best way to help an infant learn to read in the future is by providing a language-rich environment, including talking, singing, listening to music and reading to them.  Research has shown that children who hear more “live” language, are spoken to often and encouraged to communicate – are more proficient with language than children with more limited language exposure.

The Pinecone Learning Reading program begins with early letters, phonological awareness, and simple reading comprehension for children as young as three.  By the time these kids reach Kindergarten, they are generally reading (and comprehending) at 1st to 2nd grade levels.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014


Rudyard Kipling, a late 19th century author and poet wrote the poem "If"  in 1909 as advice to his son.   The power of the four eight line stanzas still deeply resonates today for men and women both.  It encompasses, in a beautiful way, the essence of social and emotional learning.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

If children learn they are all in this together, they may be more inclined to take care of each other.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Einstein's Thoughts on Compassion

Albert Einstein, born in Germany in 1879, is widely known for his genius in scientific and mathematical achievements.  In 1915, he completed his General Theory of Relativity, and in 1921 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.  What may not be so widely known is Einstein's propensity for profound observations on life and on living.  Below is one of my favorites and ties in to the articles about teaching children and students how to be compassionate, cooperative, collaborative and communicative.  It is another way of looking at the reason and need for SEL skills.

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

If children learn they are all in this together, they may be more inclined to take care of each other.

Next, and lastly for this series, watch for Rudyard Kipling's poem "If".

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Effects of SEL on Other Learning

The website describes the main benefits of SEL in terms of learning, health and happiness.  According to the site, research proves that SEL improves academic performance. "Children who participated in SEL programs in their schools performed better academically – by a full 11 percentile points – than children who didn’t."  Thinking positively, researchers say, increases the flow of dopamine to the brain, activating all the learning centers.  Apparently, if children are happy and thinking positively, their brains actually work better.

SEL skills also nurture creativity. "If You Can" explains:  "Our interconnected, digitized world requires creativity and the ability to innovate, collaborate and take others’ perspectives for success. Creativity and innovation can’t occur if kids beat themselves up and give up when they make a mistake. They need to feel safe, supported and confident that they can try again, and that their uniqueness is an asset. SEL skills are the foundation that enable creativity to thrive."

One of the skills Pinecone focuses on is perseverance -- the ability to persist through failure or challenge.  This is an SEL skill that, in particular,  has shown a profound positive impact on kids’ learning and life success. Studies have demonstrated that the ability to persevere is even more important than intelligence in determining a child's success.  Stanford researcher Carol Dweck found that children who believe if they try harder, they can become smarter, actually achieve more. She calls this kind of thinking a “growth mindset”. Through practicing SEL skills and strategies that build perseverance and a “growth mindset”, your child is increasing his or her chances for school and life success. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Social and Emotional Learning

Social and Emotional Learning skills (SEL) include the "soft skills" of good listening, empathy for others, managing emotions like frustration and disappointment, and persisting through failure.  These skills, also called "people skills” are becoming increasingly important as the need to collaborate and communicate whether on group projects in the classroom or with co-workers in a global community can bring successful or potentially disastrous results (e.g. current global politics).  The good news is these skills can be taught.

Research shows that from a very early age, children can learn empathy, tolerance, impulse control, and kind respect for each other.  Tools like breathing exercises to calm down and “real life” win-win strategies to resolve conflicts should be introduced in the classroom along with the regular curriculum.  With early training, children have a better chance at developing the more mature traits of self-reflection, mindfulness and the practice of gratitude.

The following 15 skills are involved and promoted in SEL:
(Source: Wikipedia)
  1. "Recognizing emotions in self and others"
  2. "Regulating and managing strong emotions (positive and negative)"
  3. "Recognizing strengths and areas of need"
  4. "Listening and communicating accurately and clearly"
  5. "Taking others' perspectives and sensing their emotions"
  6. "Respecting others and self and appreciating differences"
  7. "Including identifying problems correctly"
  8. "Setting positive and realistic goals"
  9. "Problem solving, decision making, and planning"
  10. "Approaching others and building positive relationships"
  11. "Resisting negative peer pressure"
  12. "Cooperating, negotiating, and managing conflict nonviolently"
  13. "Working effectively in groups"
  14. "Help-seeking and help-giving"
  15. "Showing ethical and social responsibility"
More about SEL and its benefits coming in the next Pinecone article.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Project-Based Learning (PBL)

I have students reporting to me that they are now participating in project-based learning (PBL) in their classrooms.  This is great news because it indicates a teacher who is aware of and who is, hopefully, embracing important elements of the Common Core Standards.  Students are learning while doing.  They are researching the information they need as they need it.  As-needed learning has been shown to be more meaningful, motivational and lasting than traditional lecture and book learning, in which information must be retained in case it is needed.

Foundation skills are still critical (yes, you must memorize your math facts and grammar rules).  In addition to foundation skills, with PBL, students must now also focus on research skills, data analysis, information synthesis, presentation skills, practical application of information and creative new ideas.  These are the skills of their future jobs.  Students are also learning to work together.  

The global workforce will require people to work on projects together from all parts of the world.  Students will need to be patient and respectful, develop listening skills, communicate clearly and manage their own emotions.  These "people skills" will be just as critical, if not more so, than the hard skills.   PBL in the classroom can help students practice these people skills through communication, cooperation, and collaboration, as they  work together on group projects.  Watch for more on social and emotional learning (SEL) in following articles from Pinecone Learning.

Next, What is SEL?

Friday, 21 February 2014

Intel Science Talent Search

The Intel Science Talent Search named eight Bay Area high school students last month among a total of 40 finalists nationwide.  This year 1800 students entered the prestigious contest also known as the nation's "junior Nobel Prize," and among the 300 semifinalists, 48 came from California.

The Bay Area finalists are as follows:

Natalie Ng, Monta Vista High: Developed a prediction model for long-term breast cancer survival.

Vishnu Shankar of Monta Vista: Calculated the 3D structure of a molecule involved in cardiovascular disease.

Angela Kong of Lynbrook High: Determined the role of a specific protein in the spread of breast cancer.

Charles Liu of Gunn High: Found a genetic relationship between lupus and systemic sclerosis, a connective tissue disease, that may lead to new therapies.

Sreyas Misra of The Harker School: Developed a low-cost medical-imaging scanner the size of a hand-held tablet.

Kathy Camenzind of California High: Build inexpensive optical tweezers using a low-power laser and microscope in an undergraduate laboratory.

Esha Maiti of California High: Developed a math simulation to predict secondary tumors in cancer patients.

Emily Pang of Dougherty Valley High: Verified the role of certain molecules in the growth or suppression of malignant tumors.

The finalists will gather in Washington, D.C., March 6-12 to undergo judging, meet leading scientists, display their research at the National Geographic Society and meet with national leaders.  The first-place winner will receive $100,000 from the Intel Foundation. In addition, the foundation will award $530,000 in runner-up prizes.

Let's celebrate successes in California education, learn what worked and try to provide this experience to as many students as possible.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Grammar & Conventions - Common Core (Part 2)

In part I, our blog covered Capitalization, Complete Sentences and  End Punctuation. Now to the second part of our Grammar & Conventions series...

4. Nouns

Common nouns are general (not specific) words for people, places, things, and ideas. Unless they begin a sentence, common nouns do not begin with a capital letter.

Examples of common nouns:
people: woman places: river
things: pencil ideas: dream

5. Phonemes

Phonemes are small units of speech sounds that are created by letters and letter pairs. They are useful in learning how to sound out words in reading and writing. They refer to only what you hear, not to what you see.

The \n\ and \t\ in "pin" and "pit" are different phonemes.
The \er\ in “turn” and “flirt” are the same phoneme.

6. Prepositions

Prepositions give information about the position of something or someone. They are usually placed before nouns, noun phrases, and pronouns in a sentence. In the following examples, prepositions are underlined and nouns/pronouns are in italic font.

Examples of prepositions:
  • I read a book during my visit to the library.
  • They waited for him beyond the bathroom.
  • I looked toward the sky and into the clouds.
Prepositions: Direction/position words—
to, from, with, for, into, in, between, beyond, by, during, down, under, off, across, out, above, before, on, of, toward

Friday, 24 January 2014

Grammar & Conventions - Common Core (Part 1)

California is currently considering requiring schools to offer pre-k or transitional kindergarten to an expanded age group to better prepare them, particularly those who are disadvantaged, for the rigors of early education.  A glimpse at the new Common Core Standards for Kindergarten Grammar may help this decision.

Since this is going to be a somewhat long resource, we'll be having this as a four-part series of blog posts.

1. Capitalization

Capital letters, or uppercase letters, make words stand out on a page. In general writing, a capital letter is used for the first word of every sentence. Certain words are always capitalized: the personal pronouns I, and I’m; and proper nouns (days of the week, months, holidays; and names of people, places, and things).

Examples of capitalization:
  • I’m going shopping the day after Thanksgiving with Antoine.
  • I am excited to go to the movies with Sandra.
  • This year Christmas is on Sunday, December 25th.

2. Complete Sentences

A complete sentence contains a subject and a predicate that work together to express a complete thought.

Examples of complete sentences:
  • John spent his afternoon coloring and reading.
  • Chelsea goes to the doctor today.
  • I love to swim at the lake.
  • Keshav likes to ride his bike.

3. End Punctuation

A period (.) is used to end a sentence. It may also be used in initials, abbreviations, or as a decimal point. A question mark (?) is used at the end of a sentence when a direct question is asked. An exclamation point (!) is used at the end of a sentence to express strong feeling.

Examples of end punctuation:
  • Period: Ashton won the pie eating contest.
  • Period and Decimal Point: The pizza was $5.00.
  • Question Mark: Are you coming over today?
  • Exclamation Point: Happy Birthday!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

What is the Educational Shift in California going to be like?

What is the new 21st century, "Common Core" learning going to be about?  What should it be about?  What does this transition really look like?

There are some extreme examples out there (which are also extremely successful).    For example, the John Stanford International School in Seattle.  This is a public elementary school with a primary focus on global education.  All students take some classes in either Japanese or Spanish.  Instead of studying Pilgrims and Indians every fall, these students do social studies on Asia, Africa, Australia, Mexico and South America.  The kids interact through video-conferencing with students in Japan, Africa and Mexico.  The aim is to build "international-mindedness".  They learn about the American Revolution with views from Britain and France.  They learn how to grasp issues across national borders.  They develop from early on an understanding of nuances and complexity and a balanced approach to problem solving.

What does this mean for California?  With the acceptance of Common Core Standards, there are now funds available to help CA schools make a transition to be more like those focused on global education.  In addition, the number one skill identified by hundreds of business leaders as necessary to teach from a young age is technology.  At the Seattle Stanford school, for example, first-graders learn to use PowerPoint and other Internet tools.  There is now funding available for CA school districts to train teachers in the use of appropriate technology for the classroom as well as provide that technology.

So...  what should still be taught the old way (memorizing facts, learning details "in case" they are ever needed) and how much should be aimed at the newer way (group projects, computer research, learning concepts on an "as needed" basis)?  Memorizing the state capitals, the major rivers in South America, and the elements of the periodic table were all very important in my elementary education.  I don't remember much of it.  This is typical of the kind of information that is poorly retained unless it is routinely used and applies to any number of old-school assignments.  It is also information now available at a keystroke.

Should all of this just be dropped then?  No, not all.  What is important is to build a substantial fund of information in order to make sense of reading materials beyond elementary education.  Mastering the fundamental building blocks of math (Pinecone!), science or history is critical to understanding more complex concepts.

The Common Core is an attempt to achieve the right balance between such core knowledge and what educators call "portable skills" -- critical thinking, making connections between ideas and knowing how to keep on learning.  CCSS  takes some of the more successful aspects of education in Singapore, Belgium and Sweden and focuses on teaching more key concepts in depth.  Students should learn, for example, the key causes of the Civil War and understand that the periodic table reflects the atomic structure and properties of the elements.  They should learn key theorems in math, the laws of thermodynamics in science, or the relationship between supply and demand in economics.

A newer and increasingly critical skill to be taught is how to evaluate information for truth and reliability.  Many kids are used to just Googling information, then cutting and pasting into their reports with little regard for the source of this information, much less how to evaluate it.  Students need to learn to be discerning consumers of information and to research, formulate and defend their own views.  In an age of overflowing information and proliferating media, kids need to rapidly process what's coming at them and distinguish between what's reliable and what isn't.  It's important that students know how to manage, interpret, validate and act on information they receive.  They need to be taught how to do this in school.

So... the shift should be toward the "how's" and the "why's" along with learning how to evaluate the information.  It should encompass the learning of how to find and manage information, then how to communicate it and work collaboratively to produce something innovative.

The transition from desks lined up facing a teacher at the chalkboard explaining concepts, assigning reading that contains facts to be memorized which is all aimed at preparing students for an agrarian or manufacturing career --  to the classroom that prepares students to be global trade literate, sensitive to foreign cultures, conversant in different languages and able to master the creative and innovative skills (seeing patterns where others see only chaos) to learn to think across disciplines (design and technology, math and art that produce YouTube and Google) and be able to stay flexible in ever-changing careers by continually self-learning -- will be challenging and exciting.  We must do it.

Stay tuned!