College Admissions Podcasts: a Rundown

 

The interesting thing about college admissions podcasts are that they are so boring. Here we have a topic in which millions of Americans have a personal stake, a matter that involves one of life’s most memorable experiences and one of society’s most important opportunities. And yet most of the podcasts out there don’t have much information or originality to compensate for their generally amateurish production values. How fitting that I should make an equally amateurish attempt here to review them by listening to a few of the top-rated ones from iTunes, a couple of episodes each. Hopefully this post will be of some use to the counselors and test prep tutors who need to stay current on the college counseling landscape.

Note that I present these in alphabetical order; if you want to skip to the best podcast, go to the bottom of the post.

College Admissions Toolbox with Steve Schwartz: the guests make some good points, and you will take those points, because all host Steve Schwartz does is paraphrase what the guest just said and underscore what an awesome point it in fact is. The downside of this call-and-response method is that each podcast is about twice as long as it needs to be. The upside is that you have enough time to grab a pen to write down the names of useful guests like Dr. Ryan Gray, who runs medicalschoolHQ.net, a business devoted to people interested in going to med school.

The College-Bound Chronicles with Dr. Nancy Berk and Lian Dolan: this one seems to be pitched to the parents of college-bound high schoolers, with lots of commiseration about how complicated life is for you and “your teen.” As in a lot of college podcasts I sampled, the hosts here seem to be focused on telling great stories about getting into college. But if you want a great story about admissions, I would go to This American Life and listen to show #504. As Dr. Berk and Ms. Dolan themselves agree, “you should know if you’re funny”… And they’re not.

The College Checklist Podcast with Lauren Gaggioli: if the previous podcast is aimed at parents, this one addresses the college counselor crowd. Host Lauren interviews countless other freelance admissions professionals, with all the tireless optimism of a motivational speaker. Her guests are equally enthusiastic, and many dwell on the spiritual or religious components of their college “journey.” That’s okay, but the sum total feels like infotainment – mutual admiration and self-promotion masquerading as journalism.

College Experts Talk with Felicia Gopaul: here the information-per-minute rate is even thinner, with most of the “experts” sounding like they should be delivering a Ted X talk to an empty auditorium somewhere.

Getting In: A College Coach Conversation with Elizabeth Heaton: this one is the pick of the bunch. Unlike the other podcasts I review, Getting In covers several different topics through the course of an episode. This is actually really nice, because it means that guests don’t have to beat any one topic to death to get through the hour. The podcast was created under the auspices of Salon, and seems to be an in-house project of a business called College Coach. It uses the parent company’s relationship with organizations like Revolution Prep to get truly cogent, expert guests. The production values are also relatively high; I guess it really does pay to have a little corporate money behind one.

There we have it. Hosts, if I got it wrong about your podcast I invite you to set me straight. Readers, if you have any feedback to refine my understanding of your needs, I invite you to comment.

Andrew Lovett

BATS president

 

 

College Admissions Podcasts: a Rundown

 

The interesting thing about college admissions podcasts are that they are so boring. Here we have a topic in which millions of Americans have a personal stake, a matter that involves one of life’s most memorable experiences and one of society’s most important opportunities. And yet most of the podcasts out there don’t have much information or originality to compensate for their generally amateurish production values. How fitting that I should make an equally amateurish attempt here to review them by listening to a few of the top-rated ones from iTunes, a couple of episodes each. I hope this post will be of some use to the counselors and test prep tutors who need to stay current on the college counseling landscape.

Note that I present these in alphabetical order; if you want to skip to the best podcast, go to the bottom of the post.

College Admissions Toolbox with Steve Schwartz: the guests make some good points, and you will take those points, because all host Steve Schwartz does is paraphrase what the guest just said and underscore what an awesome point it in fact is. The downside of this call-and-response method is that each podcast is about twice as long as it needs to be. The upside is that you have enough time to grab a pen to write down the names of useful guests like Dr. Ryan Gray, who runs medicalschoolHQ.net, a business devoted to people interested in going to med school.

The College-Bound Chronicles with Dr. Nancy Berk and Lian Dolan: this one seems to be pitched to the parents of college-bound high schoolers, with lots of commiseration about how complicated life is for you and “your teen.” As in a lot of college podcasts I sampled, the hosts here seem to be focused on telling great stories about getting into college. But if you want a great story about admissions, I would go to This American Life and listen to show #504. As Dr. Burke and Ms. Dolan themselves agree, “you should know if you’re funny”… And they’re not.

The College Checklist Podcast with Lauren Gaggioli: if the previous podcast is aimed at parents, this one addresses the college counselor crowd. Host Lauren interviews countless other freelance admissions professionals, with all the tireless optimism of a motivational speaker. Her guests are equally enthusiastic, and many dwell on the spiritual or religious components of their college “journey.” That’s okay, but the sum total feels like infotainment – mutual admiration and self-promotion masquerading as journalism.

College Experts Talk with Felicia Gopaul: here the information-per-minute rate is even thinner, with most of the “experts” sounding like they should be delivering a Ted X talk to an empty auditorium somewhere.

Getting In: A College Coach Conversation with Elizabeth Heaton: this one is the pick of the bunch. Unlike the other podcasts I review, Getting In covers several different topics through the course of an episode. This is actually really nice, because it means that guests don’t have to beat any one topic to death to get through the hour. The podcast was created under the auspices of Salon, and seems to be an in-house project of a business called College Coach. It uses the parent company’s relationship with organizations like Revolution Prep to get truly cogent, expert guests. The production values are also relatively high; I guess it really does pay to have a little corporate money behind one.

There we have it. Hosts, if I got it wrong about your podcast I invite you to set me straight. Readers, if you have any feedback to refine my understanding of your needs, I invite you to comment.

Andrew Lovett

BATS president

 

New math puzzle podcast: level up your creative problem solving!

“Easy to visualize but challenging to solve: that’s the kind of math puzzle you get here, one per episode. (Remember the Car Talk Puzzler? Yeah, kinda like that.)”

Wes from Do the Math here: I’m still feeling great about hosting Ask A Scientist SF‘s annual Pi Day Puzzle Party, where all of us math geeks had a rollicking time, and where I launched a shiny new puzzle podcast. I hope you’ll check it out, subscribe, and start submitting answers!

THE 2015 NATIONAL HECA CONFERENCE (or, “My One Day, Ever, in Cincinnati”)

A report by Ben Bernstein.

Ben Bernstein PhD is a psychologist specializing in stress reduction and stress management. He has been a member of BATS since 2014.

The annual national Higher Education Consultants Association conference was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, and ran from June 15-19. The title of the conference, “Respecting the Past & Creating the Future,” was apt, as speeches and panels ranged from “Tips, Tools and Techniques for Finding the Best Fit” to “21st Century Steps to Developing Leaders in High School.” I was invited to give a breakout session, “Successon Tests: Helping Students Reduce Test Stress and Succeed Under Pressure for College Acceptance and Beyond.”

Spoiler alert: the rest of this post is about my one day at the conference, which was spent giving my presentation, manning my exhibitor table, attending the evening “Closing Social” at the Cincinnati Museum Center, and complicated travel arrangements in and out of Cincinnati.. Hence: little about the conference, lots about my experience.

For a person who specializes in stress reduction, I was put to the test by the travel arrangements alone. I had a speaking engagement in San Francisco on June 15, which meant I missed the first day of the conference, as well as the second, which was my travel day. Severe weather conditions on that day delayed and prevented the arrival of many attendees. Luckily, I was able to catch a flight from SFO to Dayton, arriving there at midnight. I rented a car, stayed at an airport hotel, and after a quick two hours of sleep got up and drove an hour plus to Cincinnati, to give my breakout session which began at 8 am. Room set up went swiftly, thanks to a great staff, and quickly the seats were all filled with about 80 bright eyed, eager-to-learn consultants.

I gave a 75 minute presentation that was packed with information, interaction, and even time for a Q&A! Talk about “stepping up to the plate”! They were a very engaged, knowledgeable, experienced audience. After that I went straight out to my exhibitor table, and spent the rest of the day chatting with HECA members, talking about test stress, and answering a lot of questions. As I’ve experienced many times before, mostly everyone is looking for the “magic bullet”— how to reduce a student’s test anxiety, overnight, in 3 easy steps or the wave of a wand.. With deep sighs and nods of recognition and understanding, these consultants—both the very experienced, and the newbies—know “it just ain’t so,” which led to deeper, more productive conversations about what they could do to help relieve a student’s test stress. At the conference I offered a year long membership program for consultants, at a very affordable rate, to give them, their students and the students’ parents access to monthly conference calls with me about test anxiety— a year-long membership program. There were some takers and the program is well underway.

From the exhibitor table I got whisked away to the evening Social (I don’t know if I’ve ever beento a “Social” before), which was held in the amazing Cincinnati Museum Center, the converted Union Terminal railway building. It houses four separate museums, cultural and historical archives, and an IMAX theater. Quite an architectural gem. The Social was a warm and welcoming affair; good food, conversation, networking, and, after eating and chatting, I returned
to the hotel to get ready for the trip back to Dayton. I had to leave Cincinnati at 3 am for a 6 am o’clock flight back to San Francisco. Your math is correct: about six hours of sleep over three days.

I’m glad I got to speak to this engaging, interesting crowd. I sure would have liked more conference!

For those interested in presenting at the 2016 HECA conference, I encourage you to go to their website and learn about how to submit a proposal: www.hecaoonline.org. It’s going to be in Philadelphia. Much easier to get to, and a crowd well worth getting to know.

HECA affiliate logo-150

Four reasons to give up on big tutoring companies

What’s wrong with big tutoring companies?  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it for the longest time.  Then, this morning, it finally hit me, and I ran to the Bodsat Blog to get it down.

The thing is, some of these folks are colleagues, nice people, truly, and some very good ideas there. To say nothing of solid execution on a successful business model.

But then I saw this post on LinkedIn, seeking “recent grads” —
2015 06 LinkedIn
— and something snapped into focus for me.

I did a bit more clicking, and found:

  • Recent grads wanted (i.e. we want cheap labor, not professionals)
  • Available to tutor at least through December 2015 (i.e. this job is a waystation, not a career)
  • Work between 5 and 20 hours per week (i.e. this job doesn’t require much focus)
  • Higher rates for premium locations (i.e. you’re a commodity, paid for your location rather than for your effectiveness)

A big company is successful for itself: it gets lots of “good-enough” tutors to lots of kids.

But small firms and lone experts are successful for the families we serve.

As a result, our kids are changed, because we take self-improvement seriously. This has been our careers and our reputation for over a decade. This is not some summer job.

Bodsat Prep and our colleagues at the Summit really are better where it matters.

Who’s working with your son or daughter?

students

Learning and the Brain Conference 2015

posted by Bill Driscoll,  Educational Therapist Specializing in Math

I recently attended the annual Learning and the Brain Conference in San Francisco. This year’s conference was titled: “Making Lasting Memories: Using Brain Science to Boost Memory, Thinking and Learning.” Many of the presentations offered practical advice for improving memory and provided detailed accounts of the research underlying their suggestions. In this two-part summary of my experience at the conference, I will first share valuable, often counter-intuitive tips to help students improve the consolidation of their memories and deepen their understandings. I will conclude with a description of the neurological deficits that are predictive of future math failure and a discussion of the research efforts to train students so that some of the neurological deficits related to math can be corrected.

Most students employ inefficient strategies when preparing for exams; they re-read and highlight material and review their notes. These strategies may help in short term learning and may give the illusion of mastery but they often work against long term retention. Researchers have found that including “Desirable Difficulties” in teaching and also in studying produces more durable learning.

One example of “Desirable Difficulties” is the use of very frequent testing. Research shows that the testing of memory not only assesses what we remember but it strengthens the retention and improves later performance significantly more than additional re-reading and study. Neurologically, the act of trying to recover a memory actually causes bumps to develop and grow on dendrites so that with repeated attempts of memory retrieval, the memories become physically wired within the brain. One researcher applied his findings to his own college classes by presenting his students with very low stakes tests each day. In addition to significantly improving test scores on major exams, he was pleased to notice increased class attendance and participation, students completing more reading prior to class, lower test anxiety, and better meta-cognitive awareness among his frequently tested students. Another application of frequent testing is the use of pre-tests on yet-to-be-presented material. Although many, including students, may be skeptical about the value of such pre-testing, studies have shown that pre-testing leads to increased student retention as long as their early, uninformed errors are corrected quickly. It seems as if the brain’s struggle to deal with novel material prepares it to understand and digest new concepts.   Whether or not a student’s instructors employ frequent testing, students can improve their retention on their own by periodically testing themselves. For example, they can remind themselves to recall a chapter’s main ideas and how the ideas are related. They can create flashcards for various subjects. They can orally quiz themselves and deliver their answers aloud. And they can act out the teaching of a topic giving themselves free rein to gesture since the simple act of gesturing reinforces memory.

Another “Desirable Difficulty” that boosts memory is the Spacing Effect. Research has found that for longer term memory it is better to avoid the “cramming” practice of repeatedly covering the same material. Rather it is better to space the studying over several sessions so a little forgetting occurs and mental effort is required to recall and re-familiarize oneself with the material. Studies show that the longer the delay between study sessions, the better the long term memory.

A third “Desirable Difficulty” is called Mixed Practice. Many math and science textbooks provide blocks of very similar homework problems at the end of each section. Such blocked practice quickly brings students up to speed but doesn’t adequately connect to earlier topics and doesn’t lead to consolidation into long term memory. Mixing up the types of problems provides re-testing of earlier material, challenges the brain to distinguish between different types of problems, deepens conceptual understanding and leads to improved long term memory of each type of problem.

The effectiveness of these “Desirable Difficulties” is persuasive evidence that long term memory is best achieved when the brain is really challenged and engaged.

Additional suggestions for improving memory and learning include: organize information into chunks, write down your understanding in your own words (writing is better than typing), connect new learning to what you already know, form mental images, create a narrative, and get aerobic exercise to generate more neuron growth. The importance of adequate sleep to students’ memory and learning was mentioned by several speakers. During sleep, neurons shrink so that the brain’s fluid can flush out the metabolites generated during the previous day. Without sufficient sleep, these metabolites interfere with brain activity; if one’s sleep is one hour below normal for just one week, one’s IQ drops by an average of 15 points.

As an Educational Therapist specializing in math, the most fascinating presentation I attended was “Math and Memory Training: Understanding the Brain Basis of Problem Solving” by Miriam Rosenberg-Lee of Stanford University. Dr. Rosenberg-Lee mentioned that a student’s working memory capacity is highly predictive of the student’s math performance and that working memory is most impaired within students who experience the most difficulty in math. Furthermore, there is a brain region called the Intra Parietal Sulcus that is under-activated during working memory tasks among students with poor working memory and is also under-activated during arithmetic tasks among poor math students. The importance of this brain region (the IPS) to both working memory and arithmetic raised the research question: “Can training that improves working memory also lead to improvements in math performance?” Dr. Rosenberg-Lee successfully trained 7 and 8 year old students toward improvements on working memory tasks and found that the students exhibited greater activation of the IPS brain region. Unfortunately, the anticipated improvement in arithmetic did not occur. Somewhat surprised by this result, Dr. Rosenberg-Lee speculated, “It could be that the there are different neurons in the IPS for math than for working memory. Or could it be that the increased capacity for working memory somehow isn’t being engaged? Or perhaps increasing working memory capacity doesn’t modulate low IPS activity in low math students.”   Dr. Rosenberg-Lee and her colleagues at Stanford are planning new studies to investigate the interactions of working memory, math performance and the IPS.

Although improvements in working memory don’t seem to automatically lead to improvements in arithmetic, Dr.Rosenberg-Lee remains optimistic about helping students who perform very poorly in math. She spoke of the progress she and her colleagues have made in identifying young students likely to be dyscalculic. Two neurological factors have been shown to predict future math difficulties: less than normal activity in the Intra Parietal Sulcus during either math tasks or working memory tasks, and a smaller Hippocampus, the seat of long term memory. Other studies have found that young children who are much slower than their peers at recognizing the number of dots on a screen are very likely to have serious and lasting difficulties in math. (These students also have little activity within the IPS.) Dr. Rosenberg-Lee and her colleagues wondered whether poorly performing math students could be helped by an intensive, multi-faceted tutoring program. For eight weeks her 9-year old subjects were given daily tutoring sessions which included instruction in strategies for computation, multi-sensory representations of numbers, games in which a student would try to exceed his previous quickest time in computing, math puzzles, and flashcards. The results of this study were encouraging. Participants improved significantly in both their computational accuracy and their reaction times. The children’s improvements in performance were accompanied by improvements in the corresponding brain regions and their networks. The IPS (comparisons of number size and computation) and the Hippocampus (long term memory for math facts) each showed increased activity comparable to normal students. The increased activation of the hippocampus seems to be important because it allows more information to be stored in long term memory so that much more of the child’s working memory is available for reasoning the way through a math problem. In addition to the increased activity within these brain regions, the training also resulted in an increased, and more normalized connectivity between these two regions even when the children weren’t doing math; when the participants were placed in fMRI machines their connectivity closely resembled the connectivity of normal math students. Although this is only an early study, it strongly suggests that intervening at an early age may both significantly improve math performance and may correct some of the neurological deficits predictive of continued failure in math.

The Learning and the Brain company offers many conferences and workshops around the country which address a wide variety of topics in which discoveries in neuroscience can inform educational practices. If you are interested in learning more about their offerings, their website is: www.learningandthebrain.com. Finally, if you are interested in attending next February’s annual conference in San Francisco, savings of about $160 are available to those who are members ($35/year) of Parents Education Network (www.parentseducationnetwork.org).

 

Thanks for nothing, Yelp.

One of the few frustrating things about co-running an SAT/ACT prep firm is that even when you do great work, it’s hard to get the word out.  So all I ask is that if you’re looking for prep for a serious learner, take a moment to read Bodsat Prep’s filtered Yelp reviews. Though our reviewers are non-Yelpers (and thus filtered), we’re happy to put you in touch with them directly. These reviews are as legitimate as they are gushing. Thanks for reading!

(Or contact us directly at 800.291.4661 for answer to all your questions.)

Why Wes Carroll thinks Sal Khan and David Coleman will fail

As I mentioned on the Bodsat blog recently, David Coleman of the College Board talks a good game, and he might even have his heart in the right place.  And Sal Khan, who went through MIT a few years after I did, has certainly done no shortage of good in the world.

So when these fellows say they are going to make costly SAT prep a thing of the past, one gets excited about the possibilities.

Trouble is, they genuinely don’t have the first or faintest clue what they’re doing, at least where serious learners are concerned.

Their goal is a good one: they hope to level the playing field economically by giving away world-class test prep.  Two problems here:

1. They wouldn’t know world-class test prep if it bit them on the elbow.  (That’s not their fault; the whole point of Khan Academy and of College Board is to “teach to the middle.” Unlike these guys, we at Bodsat Prep spend all day, every day, with students in the 1800 to 2350 range.)

2. They think that expensive test prep is out there telling people to “guess C if they don’t know the answer,” and that giving students good material will lead inexorably to good practice.  Both are false.  What we understand is that the biggest barrier to high-quality practice is not knowing what high-quality practice feels like in the first place.

I’m not one for throwing down gauntlets in general, but I’ll make an exception here:

Mr. Coleman and Mr. Khan, Bodsat Prep’s course is going to deliver easily triple the results of yours.  And that’s because we know how to give high-scorers what they need in order to become truly effective thinkers.

Families will decide for themselves whether that’s worth our price.

You, by contrast, merely know that you can do better for the average student than bad test prep can.  You’re right about that much, but we’ll see how far that gets you.

 

Another delighted family

Bodsat Prep gets yet another great Yelp review, this time from Ximena A. We couldn’t be more delighted:

Our daughter had decent SAT scores before working with Justin Sigars from Bodsat Prep, but we all knew she needed to improve them if she wanted to go to the colleges she liked.  Her school’s college counselor recommended Bodsat.  Justin blew my mind.  I was impressed by his method, and his use of the latest scientific research in student test performance.  And I was even more impressed when I saw that my daughter’s SAT scores post-Bodsat were now in the 99% national percentile.  This wasn’t your regular SAT prep course.  This was the most professional approach to taking the SAT test you will ever find, and the SAT score gains you’ll obtain will attest to that.

BATS in the Community

Hope for the Holidays: BATS Celebrates first Volunteer Project

By Andrew Lovett

(ed. note: Written by Andrew Lovett, but posted by Scott Cowan for logistical reasons)

As January ends, I have been taking down the holiday cards arrayed on our mantelpiece.  There’s one I think I’ll keep; it features a snapshot of several high schoolers smiling into the camera as they look up from their schoolwork.  I received this from the scholars of Boys Hope Girls Hope, a community organization devoted to preparing at-risk students for school success.    BHGH is also the tutoring summit’s partner in our first community service project.

The project is the brainchild of Chris Borland, BATS treasurer, and a “BATS community-action” team including members Justin Sigars and Bill Driscoll.  After some initial meetings, it was Chris who made a crucial connection with Becca Moos, program manager of BHGH, and Frank Summerlin, the organization’s community resource coordinator.

We began by doing a one-shot tutor training at an event for other volunteers.  Chris, Scott Cowan, and I also took on meeting weekly with BHGH scholars at Archbishop Riordan High School.  Paula Molligan and Laura Peterson took another tack by offering their expertise in educational placement.  As Paula put it, “I provided the placement counselor information about schools and gave him some materials…   When I met with the 8th graders, I talked with them about the admission process and we did some practice interviews, etc.  “  Proud BATS alumnus Dave Montesano addressed the crowd at BHGH’S fall fundraiser and distributed copies of his book, Brand U.

One of the benefits of tutoring is how much one can learn as a tutor, and I think that we gained a deeper respect for the challenges many students face and the hard work both they and the agencies that support them put in every day.  We also learned that logistical convenience and support is essential to folks volunteering their time, and I hope that we will provide more of this in future efforts with BHGH and other organizations.

Above all, the project shows that the relationship between tutor and student is the crucial factor in 1 to 1 education.  With that in mind, the last words in this post belong to Scott Cowan, who has forged the deepest and most promising relationship with a BHGH scholar.  Scott writes:

I’ve been working with Khaliq at Boys Hope Girls Hope on Wednesdays throughout his freshman year and have committed to helping him all the way through college admission.  I will be happy to remain his friend and mentor after admission to ensure he succeeds in college to.  He’s funny, bright, eager to please those he respects, has high hopes for his future…what’s not to like?  He and I meet at Reardon HS for 90 minutes on Wednesdays in the early afternoons.  Our tutoring time comes during one of the few blocks available to Khaliq for relaxation with friends, but he recognizes the importance of improving his grades and college readiness, so gives up this time to study even more than most others in the BHGH program.  I have told Khaliq how much I admire his tenacity and am happy to “brag on” him to anyone who cares to listen.  He’s made some impressive improvements in math fundamentals  — so much so, that he is now solving tough problems that involve quadratic equations in algebra quickly, accurately, and with a huge grin on his face.  I have re-learned some key physics concepts as we have worked together on his physics homework.  I am really enjoying helping him develop his writing now that we’ve raised grades in the two classes that had been dragging down his GPA. 

I was also able to connect a contact at SF Film Society with BHGH to ensure that Khaliq and 8 other scholars got to attend a special screening of the film Selma, at which stars, producers, and the director of the film addressed the audience.  I was glad to be on hand to see the film, discuss some important US history, and be a part of the group’s in-person Oprah moment.  I look forward to doing more mentoring and  things that develop a growing friendship with Khaliq as well as to continuing to tutor him in academic subjects and ready him for success in college and career.  I’m so glad to be one more villager he can call upon. 

The thing about that old saying “It takes a village…” is that,  just as the child being raised needs a whole team of villagers, s/he needs to travel beyond the village boundaries too.  I hope I can engage with Khaliq and others in BHGH in more activities outside of school in coming semesters and thereby further strengthen our learning relationship.