Friday, July 3, 2015

Interview: Kids and Science

Dr. Gerald Wheeler is the interim executive director of the National Science Teachers Association (, the world’s largest professional organization representing science educators of all grade levels. A fuller version of this interview (conducted by Pam) is at
Q: How would you sum up the state of science knowledge among youth in North America today?
Gerald WheelerA: We’re definitely not in line with satisfying what we need for a workforce in the next ten to fifteen years.

Q: Your thoughts on how to improve that?
A: Parents don’t need to have a strong background in science to help their children learn and appreciate science. Doing science with your child can be as simple as helping him or her measure the ingredients for a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Don’t let science become a weak part of your child’s education. Get involved.

Q: Do problems with reading and writing affect science learning?
A: It turns out that science is actually a gift in this case. Science and technology can get struggling readers engaged, and actually improve their math and literacy scores. It’s a door opening to get them engaged in their schooling. If they really like the hands-on, real-world problems, as soon as they do these, they get immersed in mathematics and reading.

Q: Is online learning suited or unsuited to science education?
A: It works pretty well, but is a challenge because a lot of science is hands-on.

Q: What can parents do to help kindle or grow their children’s interest in science?
A: I think it starts long before high school. It’s about engaging them by answering questions and exploring things. Dinnertime is a great opportunity for your family to have discussions about science-based news stories (space shuttle missions, severe weather storms, etc.). Movies and TV shows that feature science-related themes are also good topics for discussions.
Too many parents say, “Well, that’s the job of the schools, and don’t give our kids homework because it interrupts our quality time.” Also, too many families come home and eat at different times or head off to their separate computers or televisions. They need to get engaged in what’s happening in the schools, and find ways to be supportive of the teachers and the school program. For example, parents can participate in their child’s school science program by locating scientists and others to be guest speakers, or can accompany their child on a field trip to a science-related place.
It’s a struggle with the disenchanted child; he is really destroying his future if he doesn’t get engaged. We have to make sure we get them engaged.

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Positive parenting blog

I'm currently visiting my older, better-looking, smarter, bossier sister Cynthia, pictured here. She, of course, is my co-author on Jump-Starting Boys. Like me, she does presentations on getting boys to read. She also writes a blog on jump-starting boys and on positive parenting. So with sisterly pride, I'd like to refer people to her blog:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Writers conference announcement!

Calling writers of all genres and abilities!
The website is now up. So look it over and join me at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. This is your personal invitation!

Who: I'm teaching two of the courses, but check out the entire stellar cast of faculty.
What: 46th annual Willamette Writers Conference
When: August 7-9, 2015
Where: Portland, Oregon
Why: Because it's one of the best organized writers' conference out there, and because I'd love to meet you!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Where do writers get their ideas?

It's the No. 1 question we writers get, from both adults and children. My stock answer is "from my twisted imagination." In truth, each of my 17 books have grown from different seeds: from experiences in my life, from things I've read or that have happened to friends, and so on. Of course, it's not the idea that's important, but what you do with the idea: how you grow it.

Well, I've now completed 17 "inside stories" that reveal how my books were born -- how or why I grew them from vague ideas into completed books. Helpful, I hope, for both my readers/fans and writers out there in general.

Here's how to locate them.
1. Go to my home page (
2. Click on "Books" at the top right.
3. Note the list of my titles on the middle right, and click on the one that interests you.
4. Click on "Read the story behind the book" just below the book summary.

Which inside stories are most interesting? I'd say First Descent, Andreo's Race and (if you like horror stories, because every author has at least one) Paintball Island. Happy reading!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Math & Science: Tips for Parents Wanting to Help Their Kids

  • Stick a times-table or periodic table of the elements on the back of his notebook.
  • Offer games that teach with several of the five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching), as in sharing pizza or cake to learn fractions, or sorting silverware together.
  • Tie learning to the real world, for instance, use money for math exercises, and relay the child-as-hero tsunami and electrical-wire stories above.
  • Encourage him to use colored pencils to break up information.
  • To reduce his anxiety, help him cut a window or slot in a square of cardboard so he can work on a page with only a portion of the text being visible.
  • Encourage him to reword the question and create word problems for himself.
  • For kids who transpose numbers (as in confuse 16 with 61), play card-search games.
  • Find family games that reinforce science and math learning, and play them with him: Monopoly, Scattergories, Scrabble, Yahtzee, crossword puzzles, cribbage, Kings in the Corner, poker, and other card games. (Yes, solo computer games work too, but family games provide the extra key ingredient—time with you.)
  • Quote sports statistics, and ask him to find information on his favorite sports.
  • Cook and bake; he will use fractions without feeling intimidated as he reads recipes. Have him double his favorite recipes, then praise him for his effort.
  • Use jingles: “Six and eight went on a date; they became forty-eight.”
  • Play with him using money; have him make change.
  • Have him help you figure out the best deal at the grocery store. (“Is it cheaper to buy a four-pack of pudding for $.99 or a twelve-pack for $2.79?”)
  • Learn to use programs like Touch Point Math, a multisensory program designed to engage kids of all abilities and learning styles (
  • In a family meeting, ask kids to solve a math problem a variety of ways. Example: “How many different ways can we figure out the number of packages of hot dogs we’ll need for the party?” Then honor each child’s method of coming up with the answer. Require them each to solve it differently, and praise their effort. That way it is not just the answer but the process that will get the praise.
  • Drill your kids on the basic skills while they are young. “Parents who think that calculators negate the need to learn multiplication tables are wrong,” says Bloomington, Minnesota, math teacher Nancy Johnson. “Kids who don’t memorize them don’t get the higher concepts. I’ve seen it again and again.”

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Readers need a hero

       I just read one of the best articles I've come across in a long time. It's about how kids who can't find a hero they can relate to in books are more inclined to become nonreaders, which sets them up to do poorly in education.
       Although the piece focuses on aboriginals/natives in particular, the author points out that this lack of heroes is a problem facing schoolkids who are members of many immigrant groups in our multicultural world.
       The article is written by David Bouchard, children's author, storyteller, literacy champion and former president of the Metis Nation of Greater Victoria, BC, Canada.
       His article is is the Spring 2015 issue of Canadian Children's Booknews, which you can download for $4.95:
       He quotes Maria Montessori in saying that it takes three things to learn to read: time, a hero and books to which the reader can relate. Aboriginals (and immigrants) often lack books with heroes and material to which they can relate, he notes: "[They] can read and many do read, but all too many do not read for pleasure."
       As for time, we're also not giving kids the flexible time they need: "Children will read when THEY are ready and not when we tell them to. Parents need not subject their children to early and overly aggressive testing that will taint the love of reading in their children."
      Take these factors together and you've got roughly 70% of students on native reserves not completing high school, and more than 50% off-reserve dropping out before completing grade 12. "This is wrong and not acceptable," he says.
     So concisely and persuasively written. Thanks, David Bouchard: