Monthly Archives: May 2012

Helping Children Contend With the Internet Age

By Dr. Steven Richfield 

Although today’s technology provides immediate news and endless information, it also adds one more challenge to raising children: balancing access with the ability to put it into perspective.

The “Internet world” can take the most heinous deeds or scariest events, condense for attention, and place front and center. Curious children can’t help themselves as they point-and-click themselves into an emotional black hole of worry and confusion. Television news and radio broadcasts can serve up similar meals for the naive consumption of unsuspecting children.

Many parents react to this barrage of input by closing down access points, but this only works to a limited degree, or for a temporary period. Here are some parent-coaching suggestions to address the issue:

Don’t discount the emotional effects of information.

As children absorb startling information or exaggerated news flashes, it’s easy for them to reach premature conclusions and internalize tension and anxiety. In some cases, they may not even be aware of the effects certain news has upon their mental or emotional selves. Even a short radio broadcast or television news story can threaten their view of the world. Some kids hold on to the “sound bites of sensationalism,” and this can gradually erode their feelings of present security or trust in the future.

Open dialogue with your child is the best “Internet net.”

Don’t hesitate to follow up with gentle questions or open-ended comments following a news broadcast. Explain that if they are still thinking about it, that’s a sign that it needs to be talked about. Encourage them to put the information into their own words, and watch for inaccuracies or overly narrow conclusions. Children have a tendency to apply what they have seen, heard, or read to their own life. Ask them if they see any linkage. Correct what doesn’t apply by providing context and help them see where they may have drawn conclusions out of very little information.

Encourage children to reserve discussion about disturbing news to parents and trusted adults.

Peers are another source of information overload. A respected or admired peer who imparts the “shock news of the day” may do so with an air of certainty. Those within earshot may accept the news without even considering that the “reporter” may not have his or her facts straight. Ask your kids to share such discussions with you, and subject the “news” to a broader review for: (1) accuracy of facts, (2) linkage to your child, and (3) lessons learned. These three components help children build perspective when exposed to the news of the world.

“Lessons learned” are the most relevant aspect to childhood.

The characters and events within today’s newscasts run the gamut of human foibles and trying circumstances. Taking the bait when provoked, errors in judgment, lying, unjust accusation, admission of guilt, and situations beyond our control—just to name a few—provide a backdrop for parents to “fill in the blanks” with enriching discussion that helps children learn from the mistakes and victories of others. Help children see the real linkage that exists between these world events and the daily events and social decisions they encounter.

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills-building program called Parent Coaching Cards. He can be contacted at or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit

About Steven Richfield

Products by Steven Richfield: The Parent Coach

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Great Expectations

By Dr. Shirley Patterson

Professional development may be defined or labeled differently by researchers and practitioners, trainers and professors, but most definitions have the commonality of branching PD into two lines, For example, here are two prominent definitions:

Education or preservice refers to provision of a broad-based program and typically leads to a degree or certification. Training or inservice programs are specific to an area of inquiry and set of skills, and completion of training can lead to continuing education units or clock hours (NAEYC).

PD is ongoing and critical for all of us in the business of education. Whether we do self-study, attend conferences and seminars, access webinars, take a for-credit class, or read journals, we all must keep up with the latest in research and policy. Even though we have research to do before we can definitively say which type of PD is most effective for which groups, or “… how professional development efforts exert their influence and produce meaningful change in practitioners’ skills, behaviors, and dispositions” (Sheridan et al., 2009), there is agreement that providers of PD are obligated “… to ensure that all who provide care and education for young children are competent” (NAEYC).

For a number of years, I have provided PD opportunities in the area of early childhood, especially in early childhood curriculum and early language and literacy learning. My work history includes teaching university classes. Over the years I developed a set of expectations for college students, and I applied those expectations in seminars and workshops for early childhood participants. I made assumptions about what the participants knew in terms of foundational information regarding the topic. By doing that, I could move quickly into the specific subject at hand. I could move from research to practice with evidence-based information. I had great expectations of the participants. Regularly, I found that my expectations were erroneous.

I found it challenging to establish the linkage between research and practice. For example, if the topic were facilitating vocabulary in young children, I assumed that the participants would have working, foundational knowledge about language systems. They must have had a curriculum in college/university education that prepared them with basic information, I thought. They would know about Hart and Risley’s seminal studies (Hart & Risley, 1995). I was discouraged when they did not.

It was necessary to adjust expectations to better fit the audience’s knowledge base. You might say, “This is what we all do; we adjust our presentation to fit the audience.” Yes, and we should always do that. However, I did not expect that I would need to supply the foundational base and introductory information about language and its systems. But, in order to talk about early language and literacy learning and how to support that learning in an EC curriculum, the foundation had to be strengthened so the participants could fully conceptualize why and how one would do this in the context of a classroom full of 3- to 5-year-old children.

I do not suggest that we not have great expectations of our teachers in any PD experience we offer. We can temper expectations, keep them realistic, and provide the fundamentals for the concepts we plan to address in the workshop. Indeed, we must maintain great expectations, but we may need to take a different route to reach the desired outcome.

In addition, our programs of higher education must review the curriculum and practicum they offer students and be certain that students receive a foundation of knowledge on which they can integrate new research and practice when presented.


Shirley Patterson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Learning Disabilities specialist. She is a consultant in early language and literacy and a certified instructor for The Emerging Language and Literacy Curriculum, which she coauthored with Julie Ornes, MHS, CCC-SLP; Dana McMillan, M.A.; and Jackie Thomas, MOT, OTR/L.


Early Childhood Leadership & Policy Network (2008). Early Childhood Professional Development: Creating a Plan to Support Child Care Quality. Available online at

Hart, B. & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children. Baltimore: Paul Brookes Publishing Co.

NAEYC. What is Professional Development in Early Childhood Education? Available online at[KS1]

Sheridan, S., Edwards, C., Marvin, C., & Knoche, L. (2009). Professional Development in Early Childhood Programs: Process Issues and Research Needs. Early Education & Development, Vol. 20(3), p. 377-401.

About Shirley Patterson

Books by Shirley Patterson: The Emerging Language and Literacy Curriculum

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Strategies to Maximize Math Instruction

By Dr. Michele Douglass

Multiple researchers discuss the best practices to use to maximize student achievement in mathematics. The good news is that the authors share many of the same big ideas.

One thing that stands out is a strong focus on procedures that has existed for years in the elementary grades. This emphasis is linked to the language and testing of our state standards, but lacks problem-solving development and the foundations of knowledge needed for higher-level mathematics.

The strategies that exist across multiple authors for improving mathematics achievement include:

  1. Making number sense a part of everyday instruction
  2. Focusing all content around problem solving
  3. Using communication every day
  4. Supporting learning with the use of tools and representation for all levels of students

1. Make NUMBER SENSE a part of every day’s lesson.

Number sense doesn’t build in a single chapter or topic; it builds over time. By providing students opportunities every day to build number sense, we help them become better problem solvers. They also learn to think about the size of the number while they learn to work with numbers in flexible ways.

Building number sense also develops estimation skills. We all know that in the real world, we rarely as adults pull out a pen and paper. Rather, we think about the numbers to estimate solutions. Think about how you solve the problem 15 x 16 without a pencil or paper. What about 45% of 250? We must support students to think about numbers in multiple ways so they don’t have to rely on an algorithm or the calculator on their cell phone.

Making this happen isn’t as hard as it seems. You can incorporate number sense into your warm-ups by figuring out the number sense that scaffolds into your lesson. Use a timer, as it’s easy to make number sense an entire lesson. Set the timer for 10 minutes. If you are working on exponents, your number sense might be on multiplying repeated factors to see how students group the factors to find the product. If your lesson is on multiplication, your number sense might be on multiplying numbers by 10 or 100. You might estimate your age in seconds or the height of 1,000 or 1 million pennies. You know the set of number sense topics that are critical at your grade level. Use these specific topics as the basis for your number sense problems. Some days, you might do a single problem, and as students learn methods for thinking about numbers, they will be able to do more than one problem.

2. Integrate more PROBLEM SOLVING.

Students learn new skills through the process of solving problems such as learning facts. Problem solving is a great way of connecting conceptual knowledge with procedural knowledge. While we often think as adults that the problem-solving problems are the hardest, children often need the context of a problem to connect the meaning within a procedure.

To begin with problem solving, choose problems that are open-ended, allowing for multiple ways to arrive at a solution. Problems need to allow students to make and test conjectures. They should foster creativity while either using formulas or connecting procedures to concepts. Many times you can find a problem in your textbook that you can turn into an open-ended problem. For example, turn a simple area problem into a comparison of two sets of dimensions and add a context. Which has the greater area and why? Ask students to justify their answers in more than one way.

3. COMMUNICATE, Communicate, communicate.

The one thing to remember about communication is that you can’t communicate either in written or oral formats without having the knowledge to express the idea in a coherent manner. To support students in communicating, begin with a safe learning environment.

Through communication, students are orally processing what it is they think they know. However, communication also gives the instructor the opportunity to be aware of how students are thinking about a concept or set of symbols or even a definition. For example, if all you ask is the answer to 2 to the 4th, you might not realize that the student is simply multiplying 2 times 4. When you ask students to go beyond giving you an answer, you learn whether they grasped that 2 to the 4th is the same as 2 times 2 times 2 times 2.

Oral and written communication in mathematics also supports language learners and students who struggle with language development in a content area. By speaking and communicating, students are building language skills and specific math academic language.

One way to begin with communication is to ask the question “Why?” And don’t just ask this when a student provides an incorrect solution. Asking “Why?” all the time makes students rethink the solution and the steps they used to arrive at the solution. Asking “Why?” to a student whose solution is correct enables you to hear the student’s process. If the process is accurate, the student is providing teaching to the class. However, there are many times when a student is getting the correct answer for the wrong reasons. If we never ask “Why?” then the student is being set up for making continuous errors.


Tools and representations help students build relationships among numbers, construct knowledge and meaning of concepts and ideas, and make connections between concepts and connecting procedures. Tools and representations have also been found to help maintain a positive attitude about mathematics, as they support the sense making of mathematics. Mathematics is abstract even from the nature of the symbols. There isn’t anything concrete about the way you write the number 5 to know that it represents 5 things. This must be learned. Tools provide methods for solving problems by allowing space to organize, think, reason, and test ideas.

As you begin with tools and representations, refer to your text and capitalize on the representations used by the authors. Supplement to use a variety of items. As you use different manipulatives, help students transfer understanding by showing a representation of the manipulative on paper. For example, if you use place-value blocks, you might teach students to draw a square to represent the 100 block but to use a line for the 10 rod and a dot for the unit pieces.

It takes time upfront, but the time we spend reviewing could be minimized if we spend more time supporting students in building concepts and strategies through these methods.

Michele Douglass, Ph.D., is the president of MD School Solutions Inc., a company that contracts with school districts on content and pedagogy with teachers and leaders. Her experience ranges from math instructor to director of curriculum and instruction at Educational Testing Services. She has authored several math curricula, as well as professional development and technology programs.

About Michele Douglass

Categories: Math, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

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