Sunday, September 27, 2009

Kumon Booth at NMJACL Aki Matsuri 2008

It's 7:30 in the morning, and I'm off to host a booth at NMJACL's 2009 "Aki Matsuri" (fall festival). Kumon of Rio Rancho proudly donated the first place prize for this year's raffle, and will also be conducting drawings every hour for Kumon books and gift certificates. All of the profits from this event go towards building a Japanese Cultural Center in the Albuquerque metro. If you're in the area, we'd love to see you there.

You're looking at pictures from last year's event, but I'm sure I'll have a bunch more from this year's Aki Matsuri to post this week.

Hugs and blessings~


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's Get Back to Worksheets!

Let's Get Back to Worksheets!
By Bill Costello : BIO 22 Sep 2009

The U.S. is falling behind the world in math. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "We are lagging the rest of the world, and we are lagging it in pretty substantial ways."

A special analysis put out by the National Center for Education Statistics found that the math performance of U.S. high schoolers was in the bottom quarter of the countries that participated in the most recent Program for International Student Assessment.

Results of the 2009 ACT and SAT show that U.S. students are no better in math this year than they were last year. Math performance has improved in other countries while it has remained stagnant in the U.S.

These findings are disturbing in an increasingly global economy where careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are becoming progressively more important for nations to compete internationally.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the proportion of students obtaining STEM degrees from U.S. universities has dropped from 32 percent to 27 percent over the past decade. At the same time, the percentage of non-U.S. students earning these degrees from U.S. universities has increased dramatically.

In The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman argues that getting more Americans to pursue careers in STEM fields is critical to the future of our nation's economy. Friedman is not alone in his opinion.

The National Science Foundation reports that non-U.S. graduates from U.S. universities accounted for more than half of the doctorate recipients in physics (58 percent), computer sciences (65 percent), engineering (68 percent), and mathematics (57 percent). The most numerous of these non-U.S. graduates were from China, India, and South Korea. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that over 40 percent of non-U.S. doctoral degree recipients intended to leave the U.S.

Not only are we losing ground to non-U.S. citizens at our own universities, but we're also falling behind other nations. The U.S. is no longer the leader in STEM education. In absolute numbers, Japan and China are producing more graduates. Our rate of STEM to non-STEM graduates is roughly 17 percent while the international average is nearly 26 percent. We're not even keeping pace with some developing countries.

President Obama has acknowledged that other countries--especially Asian countries--are performing better in math than the U.S. How does he plan to prevent us from falling farther behind?

In the U.S., we used to focus on basic computation skills when we taught students traditional math. Ever since the U.S. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics developed standards for school math in 1989, many U.S. schools starting teaching reform math.

Recently, I visited schools in Japan and Taiwan. I found they're teaching math the way we used to teach it; they're focusing on basic computation skills.

Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea--all top performers in math--are also focusing on the basics. Even the cram schools, which are prevalent in Asia, focus on the basics.

The largest and most established cram school in Asia is Kumon. I visited their head office in Tokyo to interview public relations executives Mayu Katata and Shinichiro Iwasaki about the Kumon method. In a nutshell, they focus on using worksheets to help students master basic computation skills.

Traditional math emphasizes basic computation skills and algorithms that lead to the correct answer while reform math places more value on the thinking process that leads to any answer.
Both of these skills are needed. However, the major problem with reform math is that it puts the cart before the horse by trying to teach students abstract concepts of math before they have built strong foundational skills. With traditional math, students often work individually on worksheets. With reform math, they often work in groups cutting, pasting, and coloring.

Sure, worksheets and algorithms are boring compared to gluing stuff and explaining how you came up with an answer that may not even be correct, but which method will better prepare our students to compete in an increasingly global economy?

America, let's get back to worksheets.

Bill Costello, training director of Making Minds Matter, teaches parents and teachers the best strategies for educating boys. He can be reached at or

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Afternoon at the Symphony and Dinner at the Artichoke Cafe

Yesterday, I turned off my computer and my phones and spent a wonderful few hours with my mother-in-law, Marty. We began our afternoon by enjoying an amazing concert performed by the Albuquerque Youth Symphony at Popejoy Hall. (One of my Kumon students plays first violin with AYS, so I enjoyed the performace even more!)
These young people are incredible musicians! Under the direction of the very personable and entertaining Gabriel Gordon, the group played selections such as "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". As a very special treat, they also premiered Michael Mauldin's "KOKOPELLI: His Flutesong" which was based on a piece for pipe organ and re-arranged and orchestrated for the Albuquerque Youth Symphony. (Bonus: Mr. Mauldin was seated right behind us. Very cool!)

After the symphony, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at a restaurant neither of had visited, both wanted to try, and couldn't generally afford. We decided on The Artichoke Cafe and we are so glad that we did! The atmosphere, service, and food were truly spectacular.

We began with a "Beef Carpaccio", which came crowned with fresh baby arugula, pickled cucumber, red onions & capers, and dressed with a wonderful wasabi creme-fraiche and chili oil.

After enjoying a beautiful house salad and delicious fresh-baked bread (three different kinds!), we were on to the main course. Marty selected the "Pan-Roasted Free-Range Chicken Breast", which had a beautiful plate presentation. Stacked atop a compote of braised fingerling potatoes, roasted poblanos, sweet corn, yellow squash and onions, the moist and tender chicken was topped with a tequila-lime picata sauce and toasted pine nuts. Chicken that is done well is definately a rare treat. The Artichoke Cafe has the art perfected.

I chose the "House Made Ravioli" because I could not see leaving without incorporating artichoke into my dining experience. The abundant ravioli were stuffed with artichoke puree and ricotta. They were decorated with basil, slivered tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts. The pasta pillows came bathed in a rich golden white wine-butter sauce, which tasted slightly of citrus. Topped with shaved Grana Padano, this pasta extravaganza is definately something worth enjoying again.

Unfortunately, we were too stuffed to even look at the dessert menu, so that will have to wait until our next visit to The Artichoke Cafe. Yes... I'm definately going back again. Maybe I'll even invite my husband :-)

Want to share a taste of Artichoke Cafe at home? Click here and scroll to bottom of the page to get the recipe for their signature Artichoke and Crab Dip recipe. I'm definately going to try this one for holiday entertaining!

Hugs and blessings~

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good Works Can Lead to Good Grades

(NAPSI)-According to a recent study, community service can help young students make the grade. American students who volunteer in their community or are motivated to volunteer are more likely to earn above-average grades in school.

That's one reason parents who are eager to help their children have a successful school year may consider helping them volunteer in the community. Sixty percent of more than 1,000 American parents surveyed by Ipsos Public Affairs for Kumon Math and Reading Centers indicated that their children who are performing at an above-average level in school are already volunteering, are interested in community service or are encouraged to volunteer.

Ninety-eight percent of parents of children who perform at an above-average level at school and participate in volunteer activities agree that their child's community involvement helps them succeed both in and out of the classroom. Moreover, 80 percent of those parents believe that their children's educational experiences inspire them to become more involved in volunteering and charitable acts.

These young volunteers are not only experiencing success in school; they are inspiring others to join their efforts. More than a third of parents whose children volunteer said they were inspired to become more involved in the community because of their child's efforts.

"Volunteering offers children the chance to see that they can make a difference in their community," said Dr. Mary Mokris, educational specialist with Kumon Math and Reading Centers. "That empowers them to take ownership of their life and their education so that they can give more back."

She believes today's children are becoming role models for their parents and peers, demonstrating how to get involved and make a difference. Added Mokris, "It's inspiring but not surprising to see the connection between education and social responsibility."

To learn about volunteer opportunities, Dr. Mokris and Kumon suggest visiting your city hall, library or school.

More information is available online at or by calling (800) ABC-MATH.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Summer Peach Margaritas

As I work on cooking and freezing the last of this year's peach harvest, I thought I'd whip up a fruity cocktail to enjoy on the porch while watching the sunset. This recipe is a light, not too sweet version of a margarita. Adding a teaspoon of superfine sugar to the puree would sweeten it up a bit, as would serving it in a glass rimmed with sugar.
Summer Peach Margarita

1 medium peach, peeled and cut into chunks
1 ½ oz. tequila
¾ oz. triple sec
½ oz. peach schnapps
2 oz. orange juice
1 cup crushed ice

Place peach chunks in a blender and puree. Add liquids and ice. Blend until smooth. Pour into glass, garnish with peach slices, and enjoy.
Hugs and blessings~

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Crockpot Peaches

Here's an easy and delicious peach recipe for all of you crockpot lovers out there. It was submitted by my blog friend AudreyO at Audrey's Spot for Recipe Tips & Hints.


2 cups mashed peaches
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup Bisquick
1/2 can evaporated milk
2 teaspoons melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix together the white and brown sugars. Add bisquick and stir. Add in eggs and vanilla. Stir again. Add in melted butter and milk. Mix again. Finally, add in peaches and cinnamon. Pour into crockpot. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

Hugs and blessings~
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