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Past Math Olympiad and Essay Contest winner, Alicia Shin, shares advice to future participants
Alicia Shin was in the math and English programs at JEI Learning Center for two years when she won first place in the 8th-grade division for Math Olympiad 2019 West Coast and second place in Division D for the Essay Contest 2018. Due to her success, JEI Learning Center reached out to her to get more information about her process and what advice she has for future contestants. Alicia admitted feeling reluctant at first for both competitions: “I was kind of nervous. I didn’t really want to do them because it kind of feels bad when you don’t get the results you want. For the Math Olympiad, I was pretty confident, but not for the Essay Contest because math is my favorite subject, but English is not.” The strategy she used for Math Olympiad was skipping the questions she already knew so she could tackle the ones she did not know first. In the end, she ran out of time and could not go back to the easier ones, but this proved to work for her as she won first place! The Essay Contest was harder for her, but she still did well and learned a lot. She said, “Now I kind of see how [brainstorming] affects the essay. I came to a stop in my topic because I had not brainstormed enough, so I think I can work on that next time.” She also realized the importance of proofreading, which includes playing around with paragraphs and sentences to see how they fit together, pinpointing odd phrases, and improving the overall flow. It was a rough process for her as she said she wanted to give up after writing for about ten days. Alicia explained how she had a hard time focusing and what she learned about time management: I learned the basic fact that successful results don’t come from cramming. I didn’t have time to look for the information because of my schoolwork and then I kind of ended up in a slump, which gave me a hard time concentrating. I learned that I should finish schoolwork before it’s too late, and that I should work on what I have when I have time. So one day if I have enough time to work on it, I shouldn't say I can do it next time or when there’s time later; rather, I should do it that day when I do have time to work on something that I need to do. Throughout this challenging process, Alicia felt particularly grateful for her teacher, Renee, at the JEI Learning Center in San Diego. Alicia explained how Renee helped her become a more confident writer: I trusted my teacher in JEI. Renee really helped me out. Whenever I had a hard time organizing my thoughts, she talked with me and told me how to form parts in my essay . . . Renee really helped me with my grammar and writing. When I struggled with grammar because I couldn’t understand concepts, she explained them to me. Also with writing, she really helped me organize my thoughts and writing in general. If the sentence didn’t really fit, she told me and really wanted me to attempt to fix the sentence. Her mother also noted changes in Alicia throughout her experience with JEI, saying that in the beginning, Alicia would talk about the difficulties she would have in English class. However, after enrolling in the JEI English program, her daughter grew confident, got good results, and started to believe in herself. Mrs. Shin said she was very grateful for JEI. She had once considered pulling Alicia out of JEI after some time there, but Alicia had told her she would like to continue because she loved the teachers: “Renee is her favorite teacher, who helped her a lot, gave her confidence, and motivated her.” After the Essay Contest, Alicia discovered a newfound determination to do better in her weaker subject. She said that in high school, she plans to follow up with what she is learning in English class instead of falling behind like she used to. “I would like to read more books and improve my vocabulary,” she added. When asked to explain what determination means to her and give advice to future contestants who are too scared to put themselves out there, the two-time winner said: I am actually one of those people. I would tell them to just do it because once you try multiple times, you get confident, and I noticed that in attempting competitions, I improved on a vast scale. On the other hand, if I hadn’t tried, I wouldn’t have been able to be informed on what I could work on, and I’d stay at the same level without making any improvements on where I’m weak. I’m proud of myself for winning the contests before I really don’t have a chance anymore. Alicia advises other students to stay determined, defining it as never giving up, even if the task given is boring and tedious. For success, she concludes, “I think it’s when you work on something with your best. Doing your best is success, and then getting a result that may satisfy you even if it’s not the best result ever.” With that, see success for your child in this year’s Essay Contest, which will center on the importance of books. Share Alicia’s experience with your child, register for the Essay Contest in the month of October, and witness your child grow confident and determined!
Education is not only about learning but also creating
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Some suggest Einstein’s theory of relativity and general genius did not derive from how much he knew to be true but how much he imagined to be possible. Your child could be the next Albert Einstein--but only as long as they protect their creativity. Here at JEI Learning Center, we believe that creativity is one of the most important aspects of learning. That is why we encourage our students to stay curious and ask many questions; doing so feeds their imagination and innovates their thinking process. That is why we do not primarily focus on repetitive drills and memorization; they fail to foster understanding and creativity. Children are naturally born to be creative. However, as they grow older, they become less so. NASA did a long-term study on children that found 98% of the 1,600 participants between four and five years of age could be considered creative geniuses. However, after a mere five years, only 30% of that group could still be considered creative geniuses. Another five years lapsed with the percentage dropping to 12%. When the same test was given to adults with an average age of 31, only 2% were considered creative geniuses. Education and creativity advocate, Sir Ken Robinson, believes the problem lies in the school system. In one of the most viewed Ted Talks, he asks, “Do schools kill creativity?” and goes on to say that children, as they grow into adults, become more afraid of being wrong because of what they are taught. Schools do not reward mistakes; rather, they try to wring failure out of everything as much as possible. He is not the only one to note this problem. Andria Zafirakou, a teacher who received Varkey Foundation’s annual Global Teacher Prize, said, “There are not enough opportunities for teachers to promote creativity in the classroom, simply because our syllabuses are so tight there’s no time to deliver the content, let alone enjoy and be creative in the ways we deliver the subjects.” A former finalist for the same prize, music teacher Brian McDaniel, said, “A lot of kids are taught out of their creativity—they are taught right answers and wrong answers.” The testing system is also deemed problematic. One article states, “[S]tudents have been exposed to such a rigid form of education that the only thing being ingrained in their minds is the importance of memorization and how to fill in bubbles.” Another points out, “Testing limits creativity when focused on finding a single correct answer when, in reality, there could be multiple.” Sir Ken Robinson concludes, “Creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” It is important to integrate creativity into your child’s education for many reasons. One of those reasons is that your child is going to need it for the workforce in a couple of years, whether they are going into the arts or business field. These days, employers want to see that potential candidates have the creative thinking skills to tackle projects and envision growth for the company. Some of the most successful businesses practice the “20% rule” now in which they want their employees to spend 20% of their time in the office brainstorming new ideas and thinking outside of the box. Executives believe that the global market has greatly shifted to prioritize critical thinking, creativity, and communication rather than calculation and other tasks that robots or computers can handle on their own. This goes hand in hand with The World Economic Forum’s 2016 future of jobs report, which predicts problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity would be the top three skills required in the workforce by 2020. From current employees’ perspectives, 55% of employed Americans in a 2018 poll agreed with the statement that creativity is required in their job, and 60% believed that being more creative leads to greater success in the workplace. As a parent, you will want to take note of such trends to give your child the best chance at success in the future--but this is not limited to the career trajectory. Creativity will uplevel your child’s life in general. It will improve your child’s flexibility and personal motivations because creativity puts the process before the results. Your child will be much better at adapting to situations on the spot, which comes in very useful for unexpected setbacks. Creativity allows them more agency, as well. It may look like daydreaming, but thinking outside the box is very active, go-getting behavior. It involves asking questions and searching for information. On the other hand, learning at school can be quite passive with students absorbing what their teachers say, consuming textbooks, and taking everything at face value. One way to help your child with their creativity is to promote the act of reading, which is a more active form of entertainment than binge-watching Netflix. Reading will help your child to mentally construct the worlds and characters described in the pages. You can also encourage them to write their own stories! There are many other creative tools at hand like coloring books. You can encourage your child to get really creative by coloring outside the lines or using unusual colors! Vision boards are another fun idea that has the added benefit of setting goals for your child. Whenever your child gets a project in school that allows them to use some creativity, take full advantage of it! Instead of having your child take the easiest route with the project, have them think outside of the box to come up with something truly impressive. Get creative with your child and watch them grow to become innovative and vibrant! You will see it pay off in the long run, not only by bringing success to your child’s future but also by improving their quality of life overall. Watch them become coveted members of society with companies vying for their creative solutions in a rapidly changing job market. Watch them connect to people through their ability to think outside the box and keep an open mind. Creativity is the foundation for all of these possibilities in the future. Join JEI Learning Center in our belief that each individual has infinite potential--and education with a big dose of creativity is the key that will unlock this for your child.
What to do when you don't understand your kid's homework
It’s bound to happen eventually. Your kid comes home from school with an assignment requiring knowledge you have never been taught. Sure, you took chemistry in high school, but this is not the chemistry you remember. If you remember it at all. Don’t panic. Just because you are not the intellectual authority doesn’t mean you can’t still help your child with their homework. With these six steps, you can help your child approach mastery of any subject and learn something yourself. 1. Remain Calm Children, even young children, can pick up on emotions and will respond in kind. A panicked reaction from you will likely induce a panicked reaction from them. This is especially unhelpful because of how our brains are wired. Our emotions color our thinking. Anxiety will interfere with your and your child’s ability to think clearly, making the homework that much harder. If you need to, calm your brain with a few deep breaths. This sends extra oxygen to your brain, refreshing your mind and helping you return to focus. 2. Be Honest It may feel embarrassing to admit to your child that you don’t know something. You’re supposed to be there to provide guidance, but in this instance, you can’t. That’s okay. Confessing your lack of expertise opens the door to different styles of learning and teaching. Admit your lack of knowledge in a calm, level manner to communicate that hope is not lost. Some ways to do this might be, “I didn’t learn this in school, but we can learn it together,” or, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen this, I don’t remember where to begin.” 3. Learn from Your Child Just because your child is asking for homework help doesn’t mean they know nothing. Ask your child to tell you what they know, so that you both can start from the same foundation. If your child has class notes, have them walk you through those. Teaching is one of the best ways to solidify your knowledge, so having your child teach you strengthens their understanding of the material. To enhance this approach, make sure you ask questions along the way when you don’t understand something. 4. Identify Gaps After assessing what knowledge you and your child have between you, now you need to assess what you don’t know. This may require the two of you to go through the homework and make an attempt at it. It may help to keep a list of problems you run into. 5. Research If your child’s textbook isn’t helpful (or if they don’t have a textbook), there is information on the internet about nearly any topic your child will learn in school. Here are a few resources to get you started: - Khan Academy - Khan Academy is one of the most comprehensive tutorial sites on the web. You will have to register to access all the free videos covering all subjects. - Math Planet - Math Planet is directed at older students, with lessons ranging from Pre-Algebra through Geometry. The site has both text and video instruction. - English Grammar Online - English Grammar Online has short lessons on individual rules of grammar, writing, and vocabulary. The site is directed at English language learners, so it is an especially useful resource if English isn’t your first language. - Zinn Education Project - The Zinn Education Project is an outgrowth of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Organized as a database, with lessons you can select by time period, topic, and type of resource. - CrashCourse - CrashCourse is a video series with lessons on a diversity of subjects. Scroll over to their playlists to see subjects they cover or use the search feature in their navigation bar to find the subject you’re looking for. - Annenberg Learner - Annenberg Learner has videos, interactives, and other resources for students and teachers alike. You can browse the site by grade or by topic, as well as search the site for your subject. - Wikipedia - Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia editable by anyone in the world. This has the advantage of giving up-to-date information. The disadvantage is that, in some cases, the information can be inaccurate. Take note of warnings about bias provided by the page and check the edit history to see if there are still details under review. Be sure to follow the citations on the site, and like with all encyclopedias, don’t end your research there. - Simple English Wikipedia - Simple Wikipedia is useful when the information on Wikipedia is too complicated or when English isn’t your first language. Simple Wikipedia uses easy-to-understand language to summarize a variety of topics. The best way to approach internet research is to search by using words or phrases in your search that you don’t understand and the name of the subject your child is studying. Although search engines are increasingly recognizing sentences, a keyword search will get you more precise results. A good keyword search could be the name of the subject followed by the lesson your child is studying followed by a word or phrase you don’t understand. An added benefit of researching with your child is that you can steer them away from cheat sheet websites that can often mislead your child with inadequate explanation and, in some instances, incorrect information. 6. Apply What You’ve Learned As you are able to answer questions based on your research, have your child come up with a way of explaining it. This is best done out loud first, so your child can organize their thoughts before writing them down. When you don’t understand your child’s homework, you have to change your role from teacher to facilitator. You are on a journey with your child to help them organize their thoughts and find answers to their questions. ---- It’s important to remember that just because you can’t teach your child everything doesn’t mean you are a failure as a caregiver. This situation just opens up new approaches to learning. In some instances, particular subjects may simply be beyond your level of comprehension without the same formal instruction your child is receiving in school. When this is the case, it may be a good idea to seek outside help. JEI’s supplemental education programs in math and English can help your child to understand difficult topics you may not be able to help them with. JEI not only provides Common Core-aligned instruction, but it also teaches students how to manage their own study time with our Self-Learning Method. To get started with JEI’s programs, find a center near you today!