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Term papers today are easier than when I was in high school.  That was back in the days of electric typewriters.

The following are the new essential skills and tools for term papers.

  1. Search Engines. Besides googling, you need to know how to evaluate what’s accurate, current, and verified. Wikepedia is a good to skim but is not a good research reference. Can you research on social media too?
  2. Library Websites. The Evansville Public Library website (my local library) is a treasure trove with good web sources and databases as well as books. You should be able to dance the jitterbug around your library’s website and know how to request an inter-library loan.
  3. NoodleTools. This is the best research tool I have found for students.  It costs $8 per year for an individual account, and I require it of every student I teach to write term papers.  Students take virtual notecards with NoodleTools, and it generates bibliographies. Noodletools teaches students to self-evaluate their research and intuitively know when and where to dig deeper.
  4. Evernote or OneNote. These are programs to take notes. Evernote has a free version. OneNote is part of Office. Both have mobile apps. These help you take notes on the go.
  5. Word processors.  Word is the gold standard. There is a student license for Office. If you are on a budget, you could use Google Docs or Open Office. I recommend Google Docs because it’s easier to share your work and have access to your documents wherever you are. If you need bells & whistles, go Office. The same recommendations hold if your research requires statistical analysis.
  6. Presentation software. Your choices here include PowerPoint, Google Docs, or Prezi. Some prefer Prezi because the results can be flashier. There is a free version if you share your work and a paid if you want it private. If you create a presentation, make sure you know how to use the program well. Further, know how to effectively use the presentation as a tool and not a crutch. Can you give your presentation without the slideshow?
  7. Go 2.0.  The paper and the presentation should not just be a static assignment – that’s 1.0 20th century work. Welcome to the new world. Share your work on Slideshare plus written and video blogs.

I used to worry about typing my term paper. The 2.0 research model offers opportunities to develop critical thinking – and critical sharing skills – instead.

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“I’ve lived over 60 years without a computer and won’t start now,” a friend’s mother told him.

“Mom, you have to start now. It will be easier now than when you’re 70,” her son told her.

Then he continued with the jaw dropping clincher, “You had better learn to use a computer now, while you can, before you get old and using a computer is the only thing you have left that you CAN do.”

I would never have had the guts to say that. But he’s right. It’s easier to learn now than it is to learn later.

Computer technology and social media offer outlets never before available to those who face physical challenges. They have an opportunity to connect with the outside world, whether it’s beautiful outside or there’s an ice storm.  New tech changes will make it that much easier for older people to stay independent and involved.

Skype is a growing trend among seniors who want to stay connected with family members in other areas. Some families have dinner together via Skype.

How do you help an older family member or friend be more independent on the computer? When I’ve worked with senior citizens, the following helped.

  1. Go slow. Repeat often. Write down steps and have them follow the steps with you.
  2. Have them click the mouse. If you take over the mouse, they will never learn to click.
  3. Begin with solitaire. This teaches them to drag and drop, click, and double-click. Explain what click, double click, and right click are used for.
  4. If double-clicking is a challenge with a traditional mouse and they want to use a mouse, teach them to hold the mouse still and think “tap tap” instead of “double click.” The words “double click” have fricative sounds, and people jiggle their hands more with those sounds than when they think “tap tap.”
  5. Spend time teaching them to minimize, maximize, and close windows.
  6. Make sure they understand how to cut, copy, and paste.
  7. Help them save photos to a place where they can find them later.
  8. Be sure their system is backed up.
  9. Repeat the same topic several times if needed.
  10. Make sure they have shortcuts to get to the programs they use most often – most likely email and maybe social media.

If you’re a senior, what poses the biggest computer challenge to you? If you’ve helped senior family members, what tips can you share to help others?

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Birds ate our holly berries yesterday. We have 2 tall holly trees in our backyard. Every January, in a single day, birds descend and gobble all the berries. I wonder sometimes if they know exactly which day the berries will have the right tang.

Holly berry eating day makes me happy. Yes, it’s cold and snowy outside. Spring will come. It will get warmer. Berry eating reminds me of that.

Nature habitats don’t have to be restricted to the zoo.  The Certified Wildlife Habitat program can help you create a friendly habitat in your own backyard, school yard, or community. Whether you have a huge farm or simply an apartment balcony, you can participate. In our case, with a double lot backyard full of vegetation, my main job was documenting what was already there.

How do you create a habitat?

  1. Provide food for wildlife.
  2. Supply water for wildlife.
  3. Create cover for wildlife.
  4. Give wildlife a place to raise their young.
  5. Let your garden go green.

The program encourages the propagation of native plants instead of imported species. After these steps have been met, it’s a matter of paperwork and certification. Certification costs $20.

We certified our habitat 10 years ago. I made it into an education unit for our kids – it involved mapping, identifying plants, and a first experience at recordkeeping.

Community gardens, businesses, and churches can create Community Habitats.  In addition, the Schoolyard Habitat program offers opportunities for schools to get involved.

Over 150,000 backyards in the United States have been certified as habitats. Won’t you join and help us preserve not only habitats but native species?

Gardening for wildlife makes your backyard a more interesting place to visit year round.

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ParentSquare should have a MusicParent badge for parents who pay for and get kids to music lessons and make sure they practice. 

Over 13 years, my kids have had varied music experiences – Suzuki violin, piano, Kindermusik, choirs, percussion, handbells, traditional violin, and guitar. Some music experiences cost more than others.  We paid for most, with some scholarships or help from family. My daughter paid her own tuition for a children’s choir for two years.

How can you expose kids to music on a budget?

  1. Library programs: my kids went through a brief Kindermusik intro once. One local library offers low-cost recorder lessons.
  2. Church programs: look at after school programs and camps. My kids did vocal and sign language choirs plus group percussion and piano classes in them.
  3. Free concerts: Colleges, churches, and libraries may host free concerts. For younger kids, look for outdoor concerts where you can sit near the back. Every 3 years, one local church does an Amahl and the Night Visitors performance. I included it in a music unit to introduce my kids to opera.
  4. Library music collections: Don’t limit yourself to Mozart. Do a Peter and the Wolf adventure. Get some scarfs or streamers and encourage them to “dance” to the music.
  5. Sing: Kids love to hear their parents sing. Encourage them to sing with you.
  6. Share the music you love: My taste runs to Vivaldi, while my husband’s veers to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Let them see what music moves your soul. 
  7. Get the rhythm: Suzuki begins with rhythm awareness. Listen for rhythm patterns and help your young kids learn to repeat them. My son blew taca taca stop stop bubble rhythms in his chocolate milk before he was 2 – listening to his older sister’s music lessons.
  8. Perform with other kids: music is not a solo act. It’s meant to be shared. When your kids perform music with other kids, they learn lessons: following direction from a leader, listening to others around them, maintaining poise when circumstances change, and also developing skill in phrasing, dynamics, and expression. Those skills apply to public speaking, interpersonal communication, and life in general.
  9. Lessons. If you can afford it, private lessons are great. Get the best teacher you can afford – if not professional, what about a high school student?

You can find ways to help your kids discover their own music passions, regardless of your budget.

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History can be as boring as dirt if we leave the back stories out of the timelines.

If you like the back stories of our Christmas traditions, find a copy of the late Webb Garrison’s book, A Treasury of Christmas Stories.

Garrison’s stories are often short enough to read aloud at a single sitting with family and share the kinds of details that make history memorable and fun.

  • what George Washington purchased his stepchildren the first Christmas he was married;
  • in 1214, English barons refused to visit King John in England over Christmas, resulting in the writing and signing of the Magna Carta;
  • Joel Poinsett (for whom the poinsettia is named), the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, met a mob of anti-American demonstrators in front of the U.S. embassy, with an American flag on a pole as his only protection – they disbanded;
  • Union soldiers gave Savannah, Georgia, a free Christmas dinner in the middle of the Civil War;
  • The first Christmas tree in the White House was a present for the wife of President Franklin Pierce, helped pull her out of a devastating depression following the accidental death of their last surviving son.

Garrison, former assistant dean of Emory University and president of McKendree College, died a few years ago. 

In the conclusion of his book, he urges families to read these stories aloud and share them together because storytelling combines art with instruction and entertainment. 

“Tell your stories” is the advice of many working in social media today.  Reading and sharing great stories is a great step towards being able to share your own stories.

I highly recommend Garrison’s books to anyone who enjoys a great story, who wants to gain greater insights into our history and traditions.

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Ten years ago, I turned the Y2K celebration into a geography lesson for my children, then ages 4 and 6. We labelled poster boards with each continent’s name and clipped news stories throughout December of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations around the world.  Newspapers had great color photos of cultural traditions across the continents. As we clipped a photo story to add to our collection, we found its country of origin on the world map. By January 1, 2000, we had great photos across all continents of local traditions on holidays.

Teachers and parents can take that idea, stir in some social media, and have a lively conversation the next two weeks.

On a weekly, if not daily basis, I chat on Twitter with people in Europe, Australia, and Asia.

What would happen if my friends – and your friends – posted photos and info of local traditions to share with others all around the planet? We could share them on Facebook with our good friends and then Tweet them across the planet.

How can you join in?

  1. Tweet or post on Facebook a photo or a news story of a cultural tradition in your home town, using the hashtag #GlobalHolidays.
  2. Tweet or post this blog on Facebook, asking your friends to join the fun.
  3. Search Twitter for the hashtag #GlobalHolidays.  Share interesting things you learn with others – over Facebook, RT with Twitter, or word of mouth in real life.
  4. Ask questions and thank those who participate with #GlobalHolidays.

Enterprising teachers, whether by profession or passion, could then print those pictures and create collages by which kids could learn geography. But it could work better than the static displays of 10 years ago. Now, teachers can take those images and use them as a starting point to begin global conversations to share in the classroom.

In the process of a little global awareness, we could all learn something:

Distance around the globe isn’t a big deal when you’re talking to your friends.

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The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 could create conflicts for school lunch programs and health departments.

We want healthful alternatives for school lunches: more fruits and vegetables with fewer processed foods.

Here’s the problem: acting on advice of some health department officials, some school cafeterias quit real cooking so they reduce their risk of foodborne illness.  They believe serving frozen or canned, fully prepared food products is safer to serve than cooking real food for real kids. I was once told by a food safety expert that it is safer to serve canned chili en masse than to fix chili from scratch and serve it. 

Some school systems have taken food safety concerns so far that they have forbidden cafeteria cooks from cooking and even removed the industrial food mixers!

A heat and eat cafeteria will require larger budgets to meet the new lunch standards.  Wouldn’t it be healthier, and cheaper, to let the cooks cook? If the cooks have Servsafe training (I do), and the cafeterias meet health department inspections, why can’t they cook?

I have a mix of good and bad school cafeteria food memories. Our middle school recycled desserts until all were eaten or they petrified in the bowl. Once, we turned over a “peach cobbler,” and it took 43 minutes for the cobbler to fall out of the bowl. Sugared filling had hardened and turned into glue.

On the good side, I remember studying in an urban school in Monroe, Louisiana, with southern cooks who baked the school’s bread every morning – even their own hamburger buns and pizza crusts. Each morning in class, we could smell the bread baking and looked forward to our lunches. My grade school in southern Illinois had a donut maker who hand-glazed donuts sometimes.

In The Killing Fields, prison camp inmates are starving to death. One prisoner secretly raises a tomato plant, trying to have something to eat. When the government learns of the plant, they destroy it and punish the prisoner. All food must come from government sources, and he broke the rules.

If we require healthier foods in school cafeterias BUT refuse to allow the cafeteria cooks to cook, forcing them to heat and eat from approved government sources, are we not veering towards a Potemkin kitchen? The law makes us feel good about nutrition, but the cafeteria kitchen is empty and barely used.

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