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Author Archives: Ethan Demme

About Ethan Demme

Ethan Demme is the President and CEO of Demme Learning and is passionate about finding the best ways to build lifelong learners. Ethan is an elected member of the board of supervisors in East Lampeter Township and is an active member of his local community. Ethan is a homeschool graduate and holds a B.A. in Communication Arts from Bryan College. Ethan has been married to his lovely wife Anna for over 7 years and they live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where they enjoy running, hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing and exploring new places.

Parental Engagement in CTE [Research]

Parents are often overlooked in conversations regarding career and technical education (CTE).

A lot of attention has been paid to the importance of parental engagement in academic education contexts. But parents are often overlooked in conversations regarding career and technical education (CTE). In this blog post I’ll share research from three different studies which underscore just how important parents are for student success in career and technical education.

A study published in the journal Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers found that:

The most influential people upon a student regarding a decision to enroll, or not to enroll, in CTE are friends and parents…Strategies specifically addressing parents should be a high priority for CTE educators and stakeholders. Whether it is letters sent home to parents of potential students inviting them to open houses and other events, or material sent to them explaining the benefits of a career and technical education—both financially and academically—the influence of parents is significant and must he addressed if enrollment in CTE is to flourish.

Another interesting study is entitled School Engagement as a Mediator of Academic Performance Among Urban Youth. This study found that parental support for students through general encouragement as well as help and guidance in exploring potential careers has significant benefit for students in preparing for careers and for being engaged in their schoolwork.

An article in the Journal of Career and Technical Education shared the findings of a study done at Bowling Green State University on How Parents Influence African American Students’ Decisions to Prepare for Vocational Teaching Careers. The conclusion of this study was as follows:

All parental influences derived from this study have implications for vocational education. These influences, which include parents serving as role models of altruism, parental support for career goal achievement, high grade expectations, introductions to the positive aspects of teaching and vocational subject matter, parents involving children in hands-on learning experiences, and the creation of environments that nurture the discovery of vocational content are all important in creating interest in vocational education and vocational teaching.

Parents, you are so important. Regardless of what your student is studying or planning to do as a career, your influence is significant and essential. By walking alongside your student, you can help your student discover his or her vocation and figure out how to utilize their talents to contribute positively to society.

Is Homeschooling the Best Way to Educate? [Article]

An article in Business Insider proclaims: "Homeschooling is the smartest way to teach kids in the 21st century." We unpack this in our blog post.

An article in Business Insider proclaims: “Homeschooling is the smartest way to teach kids in the 21st century.”

The article runs through a litany of reasons, most of which are likely familiar to you already, detailing why homeschooling makes sense. First and foremost, it is personal by design, allowing the curriculum and even sequence of study to be customized to fit the needs and interests of each child. The article cites one homeschool mom, Alison Davis, who points out that homeschooling is also more like the real world:

You’re not going to be put in a work environment where everybody came from the same school and everybody is the same age.

The article also mentions benefits like the avoidance of cliques and peer pressure, and debunks recurring myths about homeschooling.

Not long ago, homeschooling was illegal, or barely legal. Even as recently as a decade ago, homeschooling was viewed with suspicion and distrust and largely thought of by society at large as something mainly done for religious reasons. In recent years, it is becoming much more widely embraced and celebrated, as evidenced by articles like the one in Business Insider.

The article concludes with a nod to the natural role of parents in educating children for success, regardless of where their child goes to school. The article shares results from a recent survey of 165,000 high school students which found that fewer than half of surveyed students felt prepared for college and beyond. In commenting on this survey, the article states:

Maybe that’s because a lot of the responsibilities we heap onto schools are jobs better suited for parents. Perhaps Alison has found such success with Luke and Amanda because she can hack through the busy work and red tape and just focus on what her kids need.

While nothing in this article is news to most of us, it is encouraging to see homeschooling being championed in the public square. Homeschooling parents already know they’re doing good work because they see the day-to-day growing of their children. But on those days where they feel like they’re not doing a good enough job, they need to know how important their dedication to their children’s success is, and that their dedication will reap a bountiful harvest.

Parents: You Are Smarter Than Screens

The time we share with our children is important for bonding and for academic success.

We are increasingly aware that early childhood is the best time for a child to build a foundation of learning. Parents play a crucial role and are “smarter than screens,” writes Laura Overdeck in her op-ed for U.S. News. Overdeck begins her article by asserting that when it comes to fixing underperforming schools, we’ve focused on increased spending and investments in technology but that the place that’s most importance has often gotten neglected – and that is the home.

Screens, whether smartphone or tablet, are ubiquitous, and it can be tempting to let educational apps do all the teaching for us. But a recent study from The University of Washington’s I-LABS should make us pause to reconsider outsourcing education to tech. In this study, the team:

…taught 9-month-old babies Mandarin as a second language, with some babies learning from live tutors and others watching videos of the exact same lessons by the same instructors. After several months, the babies who received live teaching were months ahead in their bilingual abilities.

While parents are an indispensable part of a child’s learning, technology can often function as a good supplement. This article highlights one app, Bedtime Math, which is designed for children to use alongside their parents and combines reading and mathematics. A study from the University of Chicago found that the app is successful.

Overdeck explains that:

The key is the app’s interactivity – not between the kids and the screens, but between the kids and their parents. Any math app can proclaim that 2+2 makes 4, or sport colorful art or sound effects. But while most apps leave the child working solo, parents do the Bedtime Math app with their kids. Instead of children playing a game and then being scored right or wrong on their answers, they get to talk through the math with their parents, generating a love of math and number fluency.

The article ends with a reminder that as parents, the time we share with our children is important for bonding and for academic success.

Can Virtual Reality Transform Science Education?

Michael Bodekaer imagines how virtual reality can pair with science education.

When it comes to innovative teaching methods, few things rival flight simulators. Flight simulators cut down on safety risks by allowing students to gain proficiency before trying out the real thing and also minimize training costs. Entrepreneur and tech enthusiast Michael Bodekaer was inspired by the success of flight simulators in imagining how virtual reality could transform science education.

In his recent TED Talk, provocatively entitled This virtual lab will revolutionize science class, Michael demonstrates how using a tablet and virtual reality headset could transform the way we teach lab science. Michael and his team set out to:

…create a fully simulated, one-to-one, virtual reality laboratory simulator, where the students could perform experiments with mathematical equations that would simulate what would happen in a real-world lab.

Imagine being able to save millions of dollars on cancer research, allowing grants to stretch further and finance more research! Imagine high school students being able to learn about salmonella bacteria, an important topic that many schools cannot teach for good safety reasons.

Virtual reality is often linked to gaming, but there’s no reason why good education cannot coexist with fun games. Michael used the VR technology to stimulate a CSI crime scene wherein students must learn and use science and math to solve a crime.

Importantly, the use of this virtual lab, when paired with a live teacher who mentors and coaches, the team found “a total 101 percent increase in the learning effectiveness, which effectively doubles the science teacher’s impact with the same amount of time spent.

We Need to Trust Parents to Parent Their Children

Anna Mussmann argues that our society, in treating kids like consumer products, has begun to strip away trust for parents.

In an article for The Federalist, Anna Mussmann argued that our society, in treating kids like consumer products, has begun to strip away trust for parents. Mussmann writes that:

We are witnessing a drastic erosion of public support for the idea that ordinary parents are the people most likely to know what is best for their children [. . .] we no longer trust the dad and mom next door.

This erosion reflects a distrust of parents to be parents that not only undervalues what parents do, but is increasingly willing to take away their ability to do it.

As parents, we see our children not as resources to manage or objects to control, but as human beings in need of our guidance. One of the main differences between the parent and the child is that the parent is far more selfless, often sacrificing greatly out of love for the child, whereas the child has to learn how to be selfless and loving. While the State can help care for material needs, it can not do as an act of love because the State is impersonal. Children need their parents, acting in love to care for them, in order to flourish.

Mussmann argues that parents in society have increasingly begun to view children as objects. By emphasizing choice, as to when to have children, how many to have, choosing even which children to keep, parents have begun to act as consumers. The consumer mindset views the child, and often a particular child (the daughter, the disability-free son, etc.) as an object bringing happiness and fulfillment to the parent. Such a mindset is selfish, harmful for children, and dangerous for parental rights. Mussemann explains that:

[A] society that encourages parents to behave with the selfishness and self-absorption of children is in danger of forgetting what parents even are [and when this happens] society loses trust in all parents and decides that the child’s only reliable advocate is the child himself (aided and supported by the power of the state). The end result of this is that it leaves children “at the mercy of the state, an institution less capable of loving them than even a flawed and moderately selfish parent.”

When we, as parents, see our children through the eyes of love, we respond to them as human beings; this lets us become better parents who are able to help our children grow into maturity. For ultimately, as Mussmann reminds us, our job is to be people our children can trust.

In the end, Mussmann looks to parents like you and me, ordinary parents, to help teach our society the fundamental importance of parenting.

Related Blog Posts:
Parental Engagement Series

Mom’s Post About Kindness Goes Viral

A simple act of kindness generated viral attention in July, 2016 when a mother posted on Facebook praising a fellow mother.

In Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, Gandalf reminds Bilbo that there is great power in little acts of kindness.

Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.

This truth regarding the power of kindness is as true in our world as it is in the make-belief world of Middle Earth.

A simple act of kindness generated viral attention in July, 2016 when a mother posted on Instagram praising a fellow mother whose children acted kindly towards her daughter. Stephanie Skaggs and her daughter Baylee, who has autism, went to Hurricane Bay water park at Kentucky Kingdom. Five year-old Baylee was standing in line waiting for her turn to go down the water slide and other kids cut in front of her. Two children at the front of the line, a brother and sister, saw what was going on and how it was upsetting Baylee and offered to let Baylee go in front of them to use the slide. Baylee’s mother was so touched by this kind gesture that she thanked both children and asked them to point her to their mother, whom she then thanked as well.

In her Facebook post Stephanie addressed this mother:

I made sure to let your kids know how nice it was for them to be kind and understanding, but I wanted YOU to know that you are raising two wonderful children. When I came to you and told you about my experience with your kids and told you that they were super kids and you are doing a great job, you said ‘I don’t know about that.’ Well, mom, you are. A small gesture like theirs may not seem like much. But I promise it was.

Stephanie didn’t expect her post to go viral, but it did, and within a few hours, it was seen by Laura, the other mother, who told her that her own kids Matthew and Grace were deeply moved by their interaction with Baylee.

A simple act of kindness generated viral attention in July, 2016 when a mother posted on Facebook praising a fellow mother.

Huffington Post picked up on this story and in their coverage, they shared a quote from Stephanie:

It means so much to me that Laura and her children can see the far reaching impact of their kind gestures that they thought were nothing really! My hopes are that this simple act of kindness will spread and inspire people to just be kind … not just to children or adults with special needs but that being kind to anyone can reach so many people in so many ways. It is definitely worth the effort!

Parents, the hard work you are doing to help your children grow in kindness and love is important. Even on days when it seems like you’re banging your head against a wall, be encouraged that your influence is benefiting your children. We can celebrate the small things because through stories like, we know that huge blessings can come from these small actions.

Have you or your children recently benefited from a small act of kindness from a stranger? If so, we’d love to hear your story. Leave us a comment – who knows, maybe your story will end up on the blog!

When Education Gets in the Way of Learning

A successful education taps into the student’s innate desire to understand this world and to make it a better place through honest work.

When Ashley Lamb-Sinclair was a 17-year-old student in high school she underwent a painful but formative experience. Her art teacher instructed the class to make a life-like bust of a human face. As Sinclair was sculpting, she pulled out the ears and noticed that the bust resembled Yoda. Inspired, she continued with that theme and presented it to her teacher – who promptly failed her for not following directions. Of that experience, Sinclair says:

As a 17-year-old kid, his response cut me to the bone. I had never failed an assignment before, and I thought I would win points for creativity. My piece stood out from the others, and I had taken a risk. This was art class after all.

Today, Sinclair is a public school teacher who keeps her Yoda bust on her desk as a reminder that rules aren’t everything and that playful curiosity is essential to life. But Sinclair is increasingly worried about how education is getting in the way of learning, particularly with high school students, perfect grades, high SAT scores, and standout transcripts with AP courses and extracurriculars designed to impress.

Thinking of her own children, Sinclair admits:

I worry that years of driving toward academic achievement will morph them into tear-filled teenagers who have forgotten how to play. In fact, according to a separate Gallup survey, 79 percent of elementary-aged children feel engaged in school, while only 43 percent of high-schoolers do. This breaks my heart.

Homeschool students are not immune to the pressures of education pushing out the opportunities that true learning affords. For example, homeschool students can often feel burdened to outperform their public and private schooled peers both to compensate for their non-standardized learning path and also to help make homeschooling look good in the eyes of skeptical extended family. In addition, homeschool high students, like any high school students, have to grapple with discerning vocation and how they intend to make a living, and whether or not they should attend colleges. High school algebra can become a source of stress when the student is already stressed out about whether or not they have what it takes to be accepted in (and complete) a pre-med program at the school of their choice.

Homeschool parents can also stress out about education as their child enters high school. The fear of “what if I don’t teach them enough” or “what if they’re not adequately prepared” can be a source of great anxiety. There is also the temptation that, woven into our desire for our kids to be successful, we can conflate their success with our own such that we need them to be validated in order to feel validated ourselves. When this happens, our own insecurities feed those of our children.

Regardless of what learning environment (whether home, or private or public school), we choose for our children, it is important for us to remember that nurturing the playful curiosity is the key to growth, not just the rudiments of education like times tables. A successful education is one that not only prepares a student for college or career, but that also taps into the student’s innate desire to understand this world and to make it a better place through honest work. When our high school students come to us with tears and stress and all the anxiety of transitioning from child to adult, the best thing we can do is to help them rekindle their joy of learning.

Parental Engagement with Kids with an IEP

Learn about the importance of parental engagement with your child's IEP.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally passed in 1975, gives a legal right to all children to receive a “free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment required to meet their needs.” As part of this law, parents and families are allowed to be involved in the creation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their student.

Kristin Stanberry, writing for Understood, points out:

You may not be an expert about special education, but you are an expert about your child…As a parent, you have the right to participate in all of your child’s IEP meetings. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – the federal law governing special education – lists parents first on the list of required members of a student’s IEP team.

In an article for Special Education Advisor, Dennise Goldberg writes about the importance of parental engagement for students with IEPs.

10 Reasons Why Parent Involvement in an IEP is Essential

1. Research has proven that parent involvement in education is a predictor of a child’s academic success;
2. Good communication between parent and school will alert you to whether any changes such as new goals need to be added to the IEP;
3. Respect between school and parents will help negotiations run smoother;
4. Keeping track of your child’s ability to complete classwork and homework will alert you to whether your child is accessing the curriculum;
5. Making sure your child is in the proper placement will help your child access the curriculum;
6. Addressing academic discrepancies early will allow your child to catch up in the future;
7. Working on goals in both the School and Home environment consistently will help your child achieve better success;
8. Keeping track of your child’s services will let you know whether the school is out of compliance;
9. Parents and teachers share the same goal of preparing your child for independent living, postsecondary education and employment; and
10. Your child’s future is at stake.

The Harvard Family Research Project has assembled a helpful list of resources for caregivers, policymakers, and educators. This annotated bibliography “describes resources that can help parents and educators facilitate a comfortable and supportive partnership in the interest of successful outcomes for children with disabilities” and includes research reports, examples of best practices, and journal articles.

Exciting Trends in Parent-Child Time [Study]

A recent international survey notes an uptick in parent-child time since the 1960s.

A recent international study done by researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that since the 1960s, the time mothers spend with their kids has doubled and the time has quadrupled for fathers. Whereas the average daily time mothers spent interacting directly with their child in the 1960s was 54 minutes, in 2012 it was 104 minutes. More dramatically, the average daily amount for fathers in the 1960s was only 16 minutes but is now 59 minutes.

The researchers define parent-child time as involving everything from:

Preparing their meals and snacks to feeding and bathing them, changing diapers and clothes, putting them to bed, getting up in the middle of the night, unpaid babysitting, providing medical care, reading and playing with them, as well as supervising and helping with homework.

Among the countries included in the study were Canada, the U.K, the U.S., Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Slovenia. Participants from these countries kept a daily journal of activities and the researchers picked random sample selections from each diary from which to make their assessments.

Regarding the uptick in time spent with children, the researchers comment that these trends correspond with our growing awareness of just how important parents are for “positive, cognitive, behavioral and academic outcomes.” In addition, the researchers note that contemporary fathers often desire to be more involved in the daily lives of their children than their own dads were with them.

Research continues to confirm what we all know intuitively: parents are essential for the health of children.

It’s encouraging to know that parents are doing well. Parents matter, their work is fruitful, and their presence meaningful. And remember, if you missed opportunities to spend time with your children today, there is always tomorrow.

We all have our highs and lows, our good days and bad days. So what keeps us going on those tough moments, hours, days, months, and years?

The Case for Teaching for Mastery

The mastery approach lets students spend the time they need to build strong foundations so that they are equipped to learn complex topics.

Sal Khan is the founder of the online Khan Academy which provides free instruction in mathematics, science, and computer programming. In his November 2015 TED Talk, Khan suggested a vision for education that would operate similarly to martial arts instruction. He explains that:

In a martial art, you would practice the white belt skills as long as necessary, and only when you’ve mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt.

He described this approach as a mastery model that lets students learn at their own pace.

Currently, the traditional academic model groups students together by age and moves them all at the same pace through the material. Khan uses the example of teaching exponents. The teacher goes over the basics of exponents and gives students homework. Later, the teacher gives a test. On this test, even if the student does okay from a grading perspective with a grade of, say, 75%, that still might indicate that the student hasn’t mastered 25% of the material and yet that student will be forced to go on to the next topic. Khan notes that this process will continue like this until eventually, whether in algebra class or trigonometry, the student will hit a wall. He explains that this is “not because algebra is fundamentally difficult or because the student isn’t bright” but rather is because the 25% of material on exponents that the student never had a chance to master is showing up and the student doesn’t know how to proceed in learning this new topic…

Khan notes the ludicrousy of our current system. He asks us to imagine building a house in this manner. The builder says to the contractor, “we only have 80% of the foundation laid down” and the contractor responds “that’s okay, here’s a C grade and we’ll just build on top of this incomplete foundation.” If we wouldn’t assemble a house this way, why would we assemble a student’s education this way?

The mastery approach lets students spend the time they need to build strong foundations so that by the time they get to calculus or organic chemistry or whatever other field of study, they are equipped to learn complex topics. Khan says that:

It’s important to realize that not only will this make the student learn their exponents better, but it’ll reinforce the right mindset muscles. It makes them realize that if you got 20 percent wrong on something, it doesn’t mean that you have a C branded in your DNA somehow. It means that you should just keep working on it. You should have grit; you should have perseverance; you should take agency over your learning.

As a hypothetical example, Khan asks us to imagine that we had the best possible education system: in such a system, what percentage of students might master calculus and organic chemistry. We might be tempted to say a low percentage like 30% but that’s likely just because in our experience, less than a third of our classmates were ever good at those subjects. But Khan guesses that if we were allowed to use a mastery framework, that number might actually be a lot closer to 100%.