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Education kids activities Recommendations Review

Before and After Care in Howard County

after care in howard county MD

We’re definitely going to need before and after care for our children this school year (2018-2019).

We’ve started looking into what the standard options are, and we’re a little worried.

As a former teacher,  I have seen what before and after care can be (a waste of children’s time, with some fun mixed in) and hope to find something better.

Idea Lab After School Program

Idea Lab is located in Ellicott City/Columbia on Route 108 near Red Branch Road. It specializes in STEM programs for kids, and it is one of the few places that will pick kids up from school and transport them. They pick up a schools that are within 5 miles (elementary and middle schools).

I’d note that you may not find it easy to navigate their website to determine the pickup options, but just give them a call — they definitely do offer this service.

They have some great options for STEM classes and activities after school. They offer classes in coding, 3D printing, cooking/baking, and more.

They also have great summer camps and school’s out camps.

It’s a great option to consider. Here is a sample of their offering for Spring 2020. Howard County Schools After Care Columbia Ellicott City Schedule

Martial Arts Centers After School Programs

Another possibility is a martial arts program at one of a few locations around Howard County. The deal is that for about $450 dollars/month, a member of the martial art’s schools staff picks up your child up after school (walking or typically with a van) your child may get a snack, and then they take martial arts classes and have some free time to do homework.

The local Howard County martial arts schools with after-school programs that I know of are:

  1. Wilde Lake Karate After Care $450/month
  2. World Champion Martial Arts Laurel, Md
  3. Hwarang Martial Arts $89/week after school only – Serves schools near 21045 zip code.
  4. Nam’s Kicks  Ellicott City, serves Illchester, Waterloo, Phelps Luck, Bonnie Branch, and Thunder Hill Elementary.
  5. Harraday’s Karate & Fitness Columbia, Md – Not sure which schools they serve with their after-school program.

In-School Before and After Care

The public schools in Howard County all have on-site before and after care. Some of the programs are run by Howard County Parks and Recreation, and some are primarily run by the Columbia Association. This means you won’t have a choice–it’s either one or the other.

At our local elementary for example, before and after care is run by Columbia Association. It turns out, however, that there are “special programs” that are added on by the Howard County Parks and Rec. For example, they have a 12-session before school chess club running this fall from Silver Knights Chess.

Checking out the Recreation and Parks after care page, it definitely looks as if they have some good programs, but recently, we  heard some parents complaining about this program one day while my girls were taking a ballet lesson–exactly what I am afraid of, basically frequent disorganization, and more of a babysitting service than anything else.  I hope that’s not what I will find.

The following elementary schools have before and after care provided by Recreation and Parks:

  • Bellows Spring Elem
  • Bollman Bridge Elem
  • Bushy Park Elem
  • Dayton Oaks Elem
  • Deep Run Elem
  • Ducketts Lane Elem
  • Elkridge Elem
  • Forest Ridge Elem
  • Fulton Elem
  • Gorman Crossing Elem
  • Hollifield Station Elem
  • Ilchester Elem
  • Laurel Woods Elem
  • Lisbon Elem
  • Manor Woods Elem
  • Pointers Run Elem
  • Rockburn Elem
  • St. John’s Lane Elem
  • Triadelphia Ridge Elem
  • Veterans Elem
  • Waverly Elem
  • West Friendship Elem

As mentioned many of the local schools have programs offered by Columbia Association. There is an application on the website. You may find that your school has a waiting list for the before and after care. You can call them on 410-715-3000 to check on the waiting list.  The following elementary schools have Columbia Association before and after care:

  • Atholton
  • Bryant Woods
  • Centennial
  • Clarksville
  • Clemens Crossing
  • Cradlerock
  • Guilford
  • Hammond
  • Jeffers Hill
  • Longfellow
  • Northfield
  • Phelps Luck
  • Running Brook
  • Stevens Forest
  • Swansfield
  • Talbott Springs
  • Thunder Hill
  • Waterloo
  • Worthington

The Columbia Association programs are convenient, but certainly aren’t what I’d call cheap-basically you’re going to pay $183/month for before care starting at 7am, and $260 for aftercare until 6pm or both for $493/month (These are 2018 prices, subject to change! Financial aid is available) for before and aftercare. (They also offer a full-day program for days when school is closed for $55/day. See my list of other options for schools out camps)

So for that kind of money, and for spending so much of your child’s time, you can only hope for well-run, worthwhile offerings.  The website states that the ratio of students to staff in this program are no more than 15 to 1. Also, worth mentioning is that they provide snacks (I hope they’re healthy snacks!)

So that’s one option, easy if you don’t get waitlisted, but what are the other options?

As mentioned earlier, some of the elementary schools also have special add-on aftercare programs that are available through Howard County Parks and Recreation or Columbia Association from local businesses. (ie-Chess, music lessons, yoga, sports, Girls on the Run, scouting–see my post about after school activities in Howard County!)   You have to check with your school or browse through the online catalog to see what’s available and the additional costs.

If your student is a middle schooler, there are also programs at some schools run by Howard County Parks and Recreation called Can-Teen ($299/month). Details about the program and the registration forms are here. It is available at the following schools:

  • Bonnie Branch
  • Elkridge Landing
  • Folly Quarter
  • Lime Kiln
  • Mayfield Woods
  • Thomas Viaduct

Does anyone have any additional suggestions?

What have you found about before and after care at schools in Howard county?  Also, check out this post if you’re looking for other worth-while activities to do with your kids in central Maryland and if you’re looking for gift ideas for your child, see my post about birthday and holiday gift ideas for smart kids. (Also see my birthday party ideas for kids in Howard County)

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Education Recommendations

Educational Apps for Kindle Fire

Pettson's Inventions and other great educational apps for Kindle Fire

Looking for some great educational apps for your child’s Kindle Fire Tablet (or other Android device)? Here are a few of the ones that my kids enjoy now or in the not-too-distant past. All of these are available in the Amazon App Store for Android / Kindle App Store:

  1. Inventioneers – Filimundus-AB makes some great games that teach kids how to invent and think of creative solutions. Great physics engine. Great fun.
  2. Pettson’s Inventions 1  / Pettson’s Inventions 2 /Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe – Another great game from Filimundus-AB. This game requires you to solve puzzles by placing moving parts in the right places. The deluxe version allows you to compete against a clock or other people online.
  3. 5th Grade Learning Games – A great set of games for learning on the fifth grade level (other grades are available too!)
  4. ScratchJr.- Great introduction to programming for younger kids. Meant for kids ages 5 -7 but may be helpful for older kids too.
  5. Ancient Greece for Kids – Learning app that teaches kids about Ancient Greece.
  6. Duolingo – A free, fun and effective way to learn one of several languages Great for anyone of any age.
  7. Manic Math – Tetris, but with math. You have to be quick solving addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division problems.
  8. Stack the States – Learn about the geography of the USA including the location of the state, state capitals and the shape of each state.
  9. Stack the Countries – Makes learning about world geography fun!
  10. Word Shaker – Find as many words as possible in the jumble of letters before time is up!
  11. Box Island – This is a great “3D” app to help teach kids to code. 99 Cents gets you 10 levels. You may have trouble if you’re using Amazon Free Time when you want to purchase the other levels.
  12. Flight Simulators – There are many choices for flight simulators. The skills learned go beyond learning to fly.
  13. Hill Climb Race – This is a little bit more “fluffy” but there is educational value in the way that cars work and the physics engine that’s in use in this Android app definitely is something kids can learn from.
See more ideas for what to do when school is closed.

For younger kids, don’t forget these favorites:

  1. StarFall – This app makes learning to read fun. Was very helpful with my kids.
  2. Kid Weather – A fun introduction to meteorology.
And then there are these games…more for adults than kids, these are great educational games that pose a bit more challenge than those listed above, still some kids may find them just on the right level:
  1. Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game  – A great game, with some very challenging puzzles. Fun and interesting.
  2. Bacterium – Blurs the line between fun and learning with a bacteria simulator. You take care of a population of bacteria and get them to do your bidding.
  3. Crazy Machines – Golden Gears HD – Another Rube Goldberg-style game with a very good physics engine.
  4. SimplePlanes – This is a wonderful game where you have to build airplanes and see how they fly. Cool and very entertaining.
  5. SimpleRockets – Well if SimplePlanes wasn’t enough for you, they also have this gem.  Build and launch rockets.
  6. Gravity Sim 3D – This isn’t for everyone, but a very interesting space simulator.

See more ideas for what to do when school is closed.

eroncohen.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Have an exceptional child? See my .
Categories
Education Engineering Parenting

Two Great Interactive STEM Exhibits at the Smithsonian

If you are a parent in central Maryland and you’re reading this, odds are you’ll share the refrain I hear so often “The Smithsonian museums are so close to us, yet we only go if guests are in town.” It’s really sad when parents say this, because their kids are missing out on so much great stuff.

I’d like to recommend two relatively new exhibits at the Smithsonian that are truly outstanding. They are especially good because they are interactive and unusual, not to mention fun. The exhibits in question are at the National Museum of American History and at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History.

Spark!Lab: Become an inventor at the National Museum of American History. This exhibit is great for young people to be creative while learning STEM concepts. There are several stations they have created that mostly coincide with the current theme. For example, when we visited, the theme was “things that roll”, so there were several stations dedicated to wheels, pulleys, etc. My kids had a great time inventing a skateboard that they made out of cardboard and then got to test on a miniature skateboard ramp. They also had to use pulleys and wheels to create something that would roll along a “high wire”.

[Looking for gift ideas for your child’s birthday? See my list of educational presents for kids of all ages!]


There was also a station where the kids have to invent a controller for a video game. This was our favorite. The kids are shown a video game and given a controller box along with some “parts”…they can plug things into to the controller box and learn to control the characters on the screen with their invention. There was a staff member at the station to help guide them as they worked through what worked and what didn’t. We spent about 25 minutes at this station and the kids loved every minute of it.

We can’t wait to go back when they change the theme to see what else they can learn there. The museum is open every day but Christmas day (December 25), but note that the exhibit isn’t open on Tuesdays and that this exhibit’s operating hours are 10am-4pm.

Q?rius (pronounced “curious”): This exhibit found in the basement of the Natural History Museum is fantastic for kids of all ages. They have powerful microscopes and thousands of samples for visitors to explore including, birds, fish, bones, insects, sand, rocks and more. To say it’s “cool” is an understatement. They also have quite a few preset activities and the kids can sign up to get a badge and an account to track their investigations.  Bring your kids and check it out for yourself. The exhibit hours vary quite a bit depending on day of the week and time of the year. You can see the hours here, but mainly note that the exhibit is closed on Mondays.

As a bonus, you’ll want to check out the WONDER exhibit at the Renwick art gallery, complete with wallpaper made up of thousands of insects arranged in interesting shapes.

Want to know more about what’s going on at the Smithsonians. They have a calendar of events that I find very helpful.

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Education gifted and talented Review Reviews

Hooked on Phonics Review – Help Your Child Learn To Read Early

Hooked on phonics parent review

Like most parents, I wanted my two girls to get ahead. One of the areas my wife and I felt were the most important was literacy. We felt it would be good to try to get our kids to read as early as possible. Since we didn’t have very much experience teaching very young children to read, we weren’t really sure what was possible.

When our first daughter was 3, we started her on the Hooked on Phonics program. Mind you it was alot of work on our part (okay, mostly on my wife’s part), but the results were stunning–she really did learn to read, and quite well. By the time she was four and a half, she was able to read on the third grade level and now she’s five and reads fifth grade materials with no problem.

This literacy most certainly is helping her succeed already. Okay, she’s not even in kindergarten yet (late birthday), but her reading, no her love of reading, has advanced her in many subject areas including science and social studies. My other daughter who is now three and a half is ahead of the first one by about six-eight months. She is definitely able to read on the first grade level.

Here is a video of her reading one of the books from the program. Keep in mind this was from a few weeks back, even before she was 3 and a half. Since then, her reading has become much more fluid and quicker.

Yes, I am definitely proud of my daughters, but I am not bragging. I believe that most parents who are dedicated to using the Hooked on Phonics program will find similar success. You just have to have the time and the desire to work with your child on a daily basis. I would also recommend some supplemental things like certain TV Shows and devices.

I also want to note that being able to read, doesn’t equate to being able to understand what you read. This is a separate issue to some extent and at least to start comes down to finding reading materials that are appropriate and advancing the vocabulary of your little student.

Hooked on Phonics Review - Second Grade KitHooked on Phonics has been around for many years and is based on research. The kits come in a variety of types and sizes. They are offered by grade level. We purchased the Pre-K kit and eventually all the way up second grade. The kits we got were about sixty dollars before coupon.

We searched the internet and always found good 20-30% discount coupons, so the price you’ll pay for a kit is about $59. Amazon also offers these kits–and you can buy them used/slightly damaged but new (usually just fine) or even rent them for a considerable discount and then just send it back to Amazon when you’re done–this is a great way to go.

[See my list of birthday present ideas for your gifted or talented child]

Here is an example of a kit we purchased. It comes with a workbook, storybooks, flash cards, progress chart, stickers, two DVDs with music videos and parent instructions. The workbook is where you’ll spend most of your time (see the video above for what that’s like). The story books supplement the workbook as you progress through the programs. We found that one of the best things about the kit was the progress charts/stickers.

Our girls really were thrilled to be able to put a new sticker on their progress chart as they moved through the programs. We hardly ever used the DVDs at all or the flash cards. You can also try the Hooked On Phonics App

The DVDs are nice, but the reality is that if you know what to do with the kit, a parent or teacher can accomplish what’s on the DVD much faster if they just work with the child, so as far us usefulness of the DVDs, time was really the issue.

Again, I will take this opportunity to tell you that this is real work for the parents…and you can’t just do it sometimes. Maybe using the DVDs might free up a parent to do something else if you need to. And aside from the thrill of watching your child learn to read, it can be very repetitive, even boring sometimes to teach phonics “by hand”, so I can image that many parents would turn to the DVDs for a break.

Eron Cohen Ideas and Tips for Parents in Maryland

I definitely recommend Hooked on Phonics to other parents. Young kids can learn to read so that they can read to learn.  Check out my list of other early reading resources.

Update 9/12/2015; It is a few years later since I wrote this review, and I can definitely say that I still recommend this reading program. My daughters have benefited so much from having learned to read early using this program that it is difficult to measure what would have happened if we wouldn’t have done this.

Again, it was a huge commitment with practice night after night, but that has equated to a huge gift to my kids. They both love to read and are in the most advanced classes in school. My oldest, who is now eight years old just tested at the 10th grade reading level on a standardized test. My younger daughter who is almost seven is also reading several years above her grade level. I would definitely recommend this program — don’t forget to search for a coupon before you purchase.

stars5 Hooked on Phonics Really Works!

Both of my daughters learned to read very young. This is mostly due to the Hook on Phonics program!

– E.C.

Categories
Education gifted and talented regulations

Early Admission to Kindergarten in Howard County Maryland

Kindergarten Early Admission Information – Shame on Howard County, Maryland Board of Education

Howard County Maryland Kindergarten Early Admission.

According to Maryland State law, children under the age of 5 by September 1 are not eligible to attend public school kindergarten unless the board of education gives the child a waiver.

So for instance if your child was born on September 2nd, they cannot attend Kindergarten in Howard County (same in other Maryland Counties) until the following year without filing an appeal.  As the parent of an advanced child who has an October birthday, and a former elementary school teacher, I find this arbitrary and unfortunate.

School systems, teachers and other parents will quote myths, wives tales, and stories of children who crashed in older years to warn off parents who might want to attempt to get their very capable child early admission.

Although the stories are sometimes true, most of what you hear has been debunked by research many times.  There are plenty of kids who have had early admission and turned out better than fine; who didn’t find themselves lost among older peers in middle school, and who didn’t just do well in their academic careers, but excelled.

When are school systems going to stop trying to treat every kid the same?

One of the more famous works on this topic is entitled “America Deceived – How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students by the Acceleration Institute.  The free, downloadable book does an excellent job of laying out the usual reasons school systems give (ie-child isn’t ready, we’ll save money, etc.) for not accelerating young students and thoroughly debunks them.  Their website even has a section of success stories that school systems would rather ignore.

Have a gifted child? See my blog post on gift ideas for Brainy Kids >

The Impossibly High Bar for Early Admission

In Howard County, the bar for early admission is extremely high, and honestly makes no sense at all.  Some parents have even attempted to sue the county.  There are several examples of lawsuits that were filed, I don’t know of any that were successful, and they all pretty much read just like the one linked above.

The story is pretty much the same in other Maryland Counties too–the bottom line is that state law has set the admission cut off to Sept 1st and provided for school systems to use their discretion for younger kids…and that’s that.

So how high is the bar for early admission to Kindergarten?  Well, in order for your child to gain entry into the Howard County Maryland school system early, s/he will have to demonstrate that at age 4 they are already working at a level equivalent to a highly able (ie-advanced) kindergartner in at least four of six areas.  The areas include writing, math, reading, “kindergarten concepts”, a parent checklist and teacher checklist.

Pay attention to those last two parents–because if you are modest about your child’s ability when filling out their insipid checklist, you could disqualify your child from early admission.  The checklist asks you to rate your child’s behaviors and abilities in many areas, and so you are at your peril if you tell the truth and say that your child “sometimes” ties her own shoes instead of “always”, because occasionally you do it for her to save time.

Aside from the checklists, the other four areas are tested.  You will be given an appointment to come to Howard County’s Board of Education in Ellicott City so they can test your child.  The test they use is homegrown–at least that was my understanding from a conversation with the test proctor. I am sure if they do use a commercial test, they would rather keep that information quiet though.

In Howard County, when your child finally does attend Kindergarten, they will be put in relatively large class sizes of up to 25 students (with one teacher) and will not have access to gifted and talented until 2nd grade.

So your already advanced child, who is going to be very much more advanced in another year is going to be quite bored learning phonics and to count to ten while the teacher attends to other less advanced kids.  And note that thanks to the brilliant new teacher ratings system in Howard County, it will behoove the teacher to make your child seem less able so that she can later show their advancement.  I know people will send me mail saying this doesn’t happen, but I can tell you I have heard from reliable sources about all kinds of shenanigans along these lines.

If you are lucky, your child will get a reliable and experienced teacher who will do some differentiation and provide some challenging work, but you can be sure that even in this case, much of your son or daughter’s time is going to be wasted on things they already know well.  The reality is that teachers don’t have all the time in the world so they will naturally pay the most attention to kids who are the most in need of instructional time.

I don’t have any great options to suggest for you if you’re looking for public education.  It seems that the best options are certain private schools that cater more to advanced students, but there aren’t many of those around–most seem to tow the September 1st cut-off party line.  Howard County doesn’t have any magnet schools or special programs for young talented and gifted children. Parents opt for Montessori education and others homeschool their kids.

The homeschool option is definitely a good one if they parent is able to do it financially and intellectually. Odds are good that if the student is advanced their parents are advanced too, so the second part isn’t usually the issue.  Home schooling has become much more popular lately because parents are getting more information about the broken public school system and they’re fed up.  There are of course other private schools in Howard County that aren’t using the Montessori system, but you may find that even at the best ones, the situation is much the same as public school.

I can tell you that after calling many private schools in Howard County, quite a few of those, including Montessori schools, adhere to the Sept 1 cut-off date.  Among those, some of them at least stated that they did test advanced kids to see if they would be allowed early kindergarten admission.

Two schools that parents will want to check with are Columbia Academy in Columbia, and Maryland International School in Elkridge. Both of these schools will consider children with later birthdays for Kindergarten admission.

We were able to test my child into Columbia Academy and they were very gracious/grateful to have my daughter as a student.  They did an excellent job differentiating for her in Kindergarten (Mrs. Lauenstein was her teacher). So if that is a convenient school and it is in the budget, give them a call. Note that your son or daughter will still have to be tested to qualify for kindergarten but they seem to be less concerned about a cut off date. You might also think about Montessori education where differentiation is built in since each child learns at her/his own pace.

I don’t expect Howard County to change this policy unless they have to…and that would probably only happen if the state or federal government change their laws…again, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.  BTW, here is another example that proves that every kid is different when it comes to the best age to start school–this study shows the potentially negative affects on students who are “redshirted”/start school a year later than their peers.

The point isn’t to denigrate parents who decide to wait an extra year to send their kids off to school, it’s more just to say, that every kid is different and schools should give parents more power to decide for themselves. (FYI-here is an interesting NY Times Article about redshirting entitled “Delay Kindergarten at Your Child’s Peril“)

As I mentioned before, we did find a private school that tested our daughter and confirmed she would be admitted to Kindergarten.  The only question was, if we didn’t continue at that school, will the public schools allow her into first grade when she’s already successfully finished Kindergarten?  Apparently the answer to that question is maybe.

Your child will be repeating Kindergarten in Howard County Public Schools even if they already completed Kindergarten elsewhere if they aren’t able to pass a different proficiency test.   I don’t know any of the details about the first grade test, but from my daughter’s class, I know of a couple of kids who managed to pass it and one who would have to repeat kindergarten (she opted to stay at the private school).

Update 2019: My daughter is now a 5th grader in public school and is on par or way above grade level in performance. So far there haven’t been signs of the problems we were so sternly warned about. Having said that, she is going to be a young middle schooler, and that does concern us. We can definitely see she’s not as tall as her peers, for example. She is still keeping up with (and often surpassing) the rest academically though.

By the way, if you have a gifted child, you may want to read some of my other blog entries, such as gift ideas for brainy children, Great Summer Camps in Howard County, and educational TV shows on Netflix and Youtube.

Categories
Education Technology

iPads vs. Chromebooks for k12 Schools

Acer Chromebook

I was recently asked by a teacher what I thought would be a better purchase for her school–a fleet of chromebooks or a bevy of iPads.  This was an interesting question because I am huge fan of the Chromebook platform and also have some respect for the iPad  as well.  I also have experience as a fifth grade teacher who had a laptop classroom.

In summary, my answer was  “it depends”…it depends on what you plan to do with them, and this was really the crux of my response.  I basically sent the teacher back to research more about what programs they were planning to use with the devices–its a huge difference between what you can do with a Chromebook vs. iPads.

Most people these days have some level of familiarity with iPads as they have become more ubiquitous.    We have all seen happy people playing with various “apps” and reading email on the devices.  They are colorful and fun.  Since they are a tablet, they have only an electronic touchscreen keyboard.  You can of course purchase a keyboard separately, but I bet more often than not, no keyboard is ever added to school based iPads.

I would say most people have never heard of Chromebooks.  I think that’s a shame because they’re really great once you understand their limitations and strengths.  I own two Chromebooks.  They are very light, sleek, turn on and get on the internet in 10 seconds and have very long battery life (9 hours of usable time).  The true beauty of the Chromebook is that it is basically a laptop with only one program on it — the Chrome web browser.  Because of this, you can’t do anything on it that you couldn’t do in Chrome on your Microsoft Windows or Apple laptop.  So yes, there are apps you can get (for instance Google Hangouts, Remote Desktop, etc) but you won’t be installing Microsoft Office or any other Windows/Apple program on it–well, at least not unless they create a Google Chrome plugin for it.  The Chromebooks sport a “hardened” OS which means that basically they are virus-proof.   That’s a VERY good selling point, btw.  You can do word processing, spreadsheets and slide shows on the Chromebook-but it is through Google Apps.  In fact, I think you can assume that for the best results, every kid should have a Google Login/email address (something I strongly support) so that they can store their own documents and photos in Google’s Cloud system–Google Drive.

So to get back to the question and my answer: if the school is planning to use an education program with specialized apps that are made for an iPad, well, then your choice is to go with iPads.  On the other hand, for web based programs and for better typing / word processing experiences, definitely opt for the Google Chromebook.

BTW, looking for educational Android Apps? Or how about educational toys for your classroom?

Categories
Archive Education Future Technology

Jobs for our children- What Jobs Will Disappear and Which Will Become More Important Over The Next Few Years

The Future of Jobs
By Eron Cohen

 
 
What kinds of jobs will be available for our kids?

I frequently discuss technological advances with friends and family.  Inevitably these discussions turn to what the future holds for jobs for kids in America (and the rest of the world).  Frankly, I think there will be many jobs that will disappear completely and many more that will change dramatically.  The bottom line is that there aren’t many jobs that are “safe” from being taken over by technological advances, computer software and robots.  Doctors, cab drivers, pizza delivery drivers,  hamburger flippers, pilots, maids and many more aren’t necessarily safe bets for employment like they are now.

I want to make it clear that although I put some of what’s below “lightly”, this may be a very serious situation for the future of our country and for the people of the world.  Certainly it is a big problem for people who have lost their job or will loose their job because of automation.  I honestly don’t know what will happen but I mainly see a downward spiral of job availability and this will happen very quickly over the next twenty years.  Part of what motivates me to write this is the hope that some parents/schools will see the fields where there are potential jobs and guide their children into those areas.

Below I will outline some professions and why fewer people will be employed in these fields.

Medical Doctors

Certain kinds of doctors will probably find the need to look for new specialties.  Insurance companies are looking for ways to save money and remote medicine and artificial intelligence are getting better.  This is driving a squeeze on practicing medical doctors, and making the field less enjoyable and rewarding.  There are a few major changes that are developing now that will have a major effect on this career choice.

For example, several companies are now selling remote medical “booths” where you go in and talk to a remote doctor (who could really be anywhere) via video conference.  Machines in the booth take your vital signs and you explain your trouble to the doctor.  Prescriptions are printed out and you’re on your way.  So okay, you read that and you’re thinking, well the doctor still has a job…well, sort of, but economies of scale and the affordability of this sort of service are going to put a squeeze on the general practitioner…

Then there is Watson.  You may remember Watson from Jeopardy.  Watson is IBM’s artificial intelligence supercomputer that can read in information and then answer questions based on what it found.  Several hospitals are testing Watson for medical diagnostics including Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital’s oncology department.  The recommendations which are currently given to a patient’s doctor are very accurate and the computer never has a bad day.  The system keeps learning and taking on new information from a huge variety of sources constantly so it will become even more valuable every day.

Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy Champion who first faced Watson gave the following TED talk. It is a very interesting introspection about having to face a computer opponent who quickly replaced him as the all time best Jeopardy champion:

Some jobs that people can’t even imagine being taken over by a computer are also in danger.  Consider the phlebotomy robot–it does a better job than people of finding a vein and taking blood.

Growth areas: Medical careers certainly aren’t going to disappear any time soon.  It seems like the safest jobs will be around developing pharmaceutical and biotechnology improvements.  One source of huge growth is genetics-based cures.  This is one of the factor’s driving websites like 23andme.com where people submit their DNA and information about disorders and cures that work are collated.

Drivers

Jobs of all sorts that require driving are certainly going to be obsolete very soon.  Florida, Nevada and California all currently allow driverless cars on the road, and several companies are taking advantage with experimental self-driving cars.  Chief among them is Google who owns a fleet of robotic Toyota Priuses that have already driven hundreds of thousands of miles completely unassisted by humans.  The fact is these drone cars are safer than human drivers (the only accident so far was when a car rear-ended the robotic car–it wasn’t their fault).

As these cars start to make their way onto the consumer market in the next few years, the consequences to the job market and society as we know it in the USA are going to be immense and deep.  All sorts of careers will disappear.  Taxi drivers, truck drivers and bus drivers will no longer be needed.  No more need for valet parking–these cars will park themselves, thank you.

People who deliver food from restaurants or packages will likely be redundant as well.  I picture a pizza delivery drone will drive up to your house.  When it arrives, you’ll get a phone call and go out to the car.  Then you’ll insert payment or prove your identity with facial recognition and a hatch will open that has your order.  It will drive back to the restaurant.  The same could be true for package delivery (For another possibility, see flying drones below)

By the way, consider the idea that public transportation as we know it could quickly become obsolete.  Imagine small time-shared vehicles that are driven by robots.  These would be very fuel efficient, very convenient and very cost effective.  Since you don’t own your own car anyway, you’d just use your smartphone to call for one of the nearest cars to come pick you up and take you to your next destination.  Robotic cars can make much better use of existing roads since they can communicate with each other.  That means that they can follow much closer than human-driven cars can.

Cooks / Burger Flippers

Did you always think that in the worst case scenario, you could just get a job flipping burgers at McDonalds?  Maybe not.  Someone has created a robot that can grind and cook the meat and put together a full hamburger at a rate of over 300 sandwiches per hour.  Although such a robot would not be cheap as an up-front cost, the “savings” by not having to hire a human burger-flipper could potentially be very big–especially at a busier restaurant.  The creators say the robots are more efficient, more consistent and more sanitary than a human cook…and figure the cost savings could be put into higher quality food.

Another example is a recently deployed robot that makes noodles in China.  It works harder and cheaper than human noodle makers.

There are other areas specific to fast food that could be cut out or cut down too.  For many years now, several fast food chains have been using remote order takers.  When you pull up to a drive-through at an Arby’s restaurant, there is a good chance a professional order taker, sitting in a cubicle in some other state is talking to you, creating your order and then rendering it to monitor in the restaurant you’re at.

Certainly there could be kiosks where people can just put in their own orders and pay with a credit card (or maybe that’s all just done from your smart phone).  So perhaps we’ll see fully automated fast food restaurants in the near future.  Wait, what happens when someone forgets to clean up their table?  There’s a bot for that too.  (See maids below)  There is even a robotic bartender at MIT and Royal Caribbean has started deploying them on their cruise ships.

Pilots

Aircraft of various types have been “flying themselves” for many years.  To a certain extent having human pilots (especially two of them) on board a plane is really just a formality and mostly has to do with perceived safety. (Ok, well to a certain extent actual safety too, as in the case of an emergency landing in a field–can a robotic plane determine if there are people on the field it is about to put down on?)  There are also unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which don’t have any people on board and are either remote controlled or follow a pre-programmed flight plan.  All of this means that modern planes will not need two pilots, maybe just one on board, with potential emergency backup pilots available on the ground.

Many companies are seeing potential cost savings and other advantages from doing away with having human pilots aboard planes.  For example Fedex and UPS are both hoping for regulation changes that will allow them to fly their 747s without pilots.  These planes would immediately have more room and save fuel by not having the need for creature comforts required by humans.   The year 2015 is when the FAA promises to release overhauled regulations that will allow for more drones to mix into the airspace.  Until then, they’re going to have to wait.

Postal Workers

Year after year, the number of pieces of mail delivered by the post office is declining by the billions.  This is definitely due to the utility of email and the ease of getting information online.  More and more people are using online bill payment and getting whatever they need from websites.  One growth area for the post office has been package delivery.  Unfortunately, this is not going to last long.  First off, for the reasons listed in the “drivers” section above, packages will be able to be delivered by drones.  But there is something else that’s going to drive a huge change–the new industrial revolution: 3D Printing.

total us mail volume
This table shows the diminishing mail volume and the corresponding diminishing number of postal employees
year after year.  In 2003, 202.1 Billion pieces of mail were handled by the post office.  In 2012 it was down to
160 Billion.

3D printing has been around for a long time, but these days it is being adopted in droves by people who want to create and print things in their home.  A decent 3D printer can be had for between $500-2,000 dollars and they can print small to medium sized plastic items.

People who are interested in printing things can use a 3D drawing software to create something from scratch or download premade files and print them. There are quite a few websites dedicated to sharing files to print all sorts of things such as pens, vases, tools, personalized parts and more.  The reason this is going to affect the post office is that there will be many things that you would have had to order and have shipped to you in the past, which you will now simply download the file and print it out.

Manufacturing Jobs

It sounds good to be able to say that more and more manufacturing jobs that were previously outsourced to China and other countries are now being brought back to the USA…One of the realities of this change is that the manufacturing is increasingly being performed by robots and that the robots are even cheaper than foreign labor.

Librarians

The need for librarians to organize information probably is going to remain important for many years to come.  The need for librarians to continue to manage traditional paper books is already diminishing.  Libraries are already replacing checkout stands with radio tag readers that are much faster and more efficient.

Fewer librarians will be be needed to handle checking out books, and checking in books can be done on an automated basis by running them past a reader on a conveyor belt.  Someone still needs to be available to put physical books back on the shelves.

The elephant in the room is obviously that as electronic book readers, such as the Kindle, become more accepted, the need for physical books is starting to drop off.  Let’s face it, there isn’t nearly as much work needed to maintain an electronic book collection–it is pretty much automated already.

Talented research librarians are definitely still valuable and will be for some time to come, but they too face an uncertain future.  Artificial intelligence and search engine advances will eventually diminish the need for them as well.

The Travel Industry

Traveling to visit loved ones or for sightseeing is one thing, but business travel is another.  Telecommuting and telepresence devices are making significant dents in the need for business people to meet face to face.  As telepresence devices become more common and improve, business travel is going to start to fade out.  This could have huge impacts on hotels, airports maybe even cities.  

Construction Workers

There are several areas of construction work that could potentially be disrupted by technology in the near future.  We have 3D printers that are able to “print” housing out of concrete-like materials.  View this Ted Talk on robotic construction:

The Future Jobs

It is difficult to say what fields of expertise will lead to the best job prospects.  There are a few that definitely stand out and they’re all science and technology related. For example, alternative energy is going to be very important in the coming years, so studying electrical engineering or materials science would be a safe bet.  Data Science and robotics related fields would also be a good bet.

Categories
Education Engineering gifted and talented Science

Getting Girls Interested in Science and Engineering

roominate engineering toys for girls
This is a wonderful toy for girls!

The US needs to produce more scientists and as most people know, one of the problems is that there isn’t enough interest from girls. Of course girls can become great scientists who can improve our world, we really need to work hard on all levels to make sure girls know it.  A secondary reason is true of boys and girls alike: Public education has to do more to emphasize science and math.  Kids need to know that doctors, researchers, mathematicians and engineers are heros.  They need to know that science is still wide open and we have lots of things that still need to be investigated and discovered.

There are definitely things that parents can do to help their girls along.  Top of the list is encouragement–parents need to talk up science and math.  Second is to get girls science and engineering presents.  Look past the pink aisle in Target and Walmart and realize that many of those toys only teach girls certain important, but limiting skills.  take them places that will help them learn science beyond what they are exposed to in school–Many times these are things that the whole family can enjoy together.  For instance museums, zoos, planetariums, etc are all fun outings for kids.  There are also scientific toys and gifts.  And educational TV shows that encourage science and math.

Today I saw this great product for helping to get girls (and boys) interested in science–in this case electricity and more.  Its a dollhouse that is fully wired and comes with modular pieces that turn into different kinds of furniture.

https://techcrunch.com/2012/05/20/new-project-roominate-offers-a-fully-wired-dollhouse-for-kids/

If your boys and girls are interested in Legos, consider investing in a NXT or Mindstorms robotics kit.  It is all kinds of cool and the things they learn from it will go a million miles in pushing them ahead of their peers. They aren’t cheap, but believe me, if you can get your kid working with them, they will learn all sorts of things about programming and engineering…and its just a really cool toy for all ages (probably age 6 or 7 and up, but I am really sure there are plenty of exceptions) Here is an example of a kit that walmart sells:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/11081183?adid=22222222227000050995&wmlspartner=wlpa&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=&wl3=13222983430&wl4=&wl5=pla

There are many others at varying price points.  Many elementary schools and middle schools are now getting these kits and starting robotics clubs.  Seriously, don’t wait, get your boy or girl going on this today.  Also, see my post about the future of jobs in America

More Resources
My list of educational gifts for smart kids
TV shows that encourage science and math

Categories
Education Private Schools

Private school or public school?

hands - public vs. private school

I recently read an article on babble.com which was talking about why the author was going to send his kids to public school.  He was basically saying that if he didn’t send his kids to public school, he would not be doing his part to improve public schools–that parents should all send their kids to public school no matter what, so they could change the system and improve it from within.

I thought some of the readers’ contrary comments were right on the mark.   I thought this comment from someone called Jessica put it the best “…I have to say that the public schools we went to are not the public schools of today. Yes, a determined group of parents can make changes for the better in their neighborhood school, but it’s a difficult, uphill slog. No Child Left Behind has done real, lasting damage that you can’t just opt out of. And I find the “we’ll just fix it with extracurriculars” argument to be shallow, elitist, and ultimately unhealthy for kids, who need time for unstructured play. So I don’t know the answer. Will my kid end up in public school? Probably. Will I be terrified to send her there? Probably.”

Although Howard County Maryland is known for having some of the best schools in one of the best districts in Maryland, and Maryland is known for having one of the two best school systems in the USA, I still have plenty of worries.   Although I am not going to send my kids to public school, I also felt that the article was total bull.  The public school system is so seriously in need of so many kinds of adjustments (everything from no child left behind to PE to school lunches), that I say, if you can afford to keep your kids out of public school (either via private school or home schooling), and find a good fit, your kids would be better off.

At private schools, you’ll find much smaller class sizes, richer curriculum’s and less emphasis on testing. Many of the private schools in Howard County are VERY diverse and emphasize caring about others.

If you’re in Howard County Maryland, here is a list of some private schools you should consider and here is a list of pre-schools. By the way if you’re looking for gift ideas for your gifted / talented child, here are some great educational ideas.

Categories
Education Recommendations

Best Resources for Teaching Young Children to Read

I have two children- a girl in preschool who just turned five and another one who is three and a half.  The five year old can read and comprehend on the fourth grade level, and the other one is able to read most five and six letter words without hesitation and reads books like Fancy Nancy with total fluency.

I know that might sound like bragging, and of course I am proud of them, but I take very little credit for their abilities other than giving some time and guidance here and there–my wife definitely deserves more credit, but even she doesn’t get most of it–the kids themselves do.  They like reading so much that they want to do it on their own.

Parents have asked me “how we did it” and I can point to a few things that I believe helped.

Let me preface this list by saying that I think its really important that kids enjoy reading.  Some kids just might not be ready to read at a young age.  I do believe to a certain extent that the earlier they can get learning to read out of the way, the faster they can read to learn.  I also think that many many more kids are capable of learning to read young than actually do learn.

There are plenty of different reasons for this, for instance: many times the parents just don’t think they need to do it, they don’t have time, they don’t think they are able to do it, they think it’s the school’s responsibility to teach them.  The bottom line though is not to push them too hard on it.

Give them the resources and patience and don’t be upset if your child just isn’t ready.  I also want to mention that my wife stayed home with the older one until she was three and the younger one until she was almost two.  I know that’s not possible for many parents, but I do think there were huge dividends from this.  

Ok, and now for the list of reading resources:

1) Hooked On Phonics — Hooked On Phonics is a very good program.  You can order all sorts of different age-appropriate kits from them.  They send you work books, flash cards CDs, DVDs and progress charts.  It is definitely a commitment from the parents to do HOF with them.  Bit I tell you it works.  If you decide to give it a try, definitely look for a promotion code.  The kits we ordered were around $50, but we probably paid about 30 shipped.  Here is a review of the Hooked on Phonics program.
2) PBS’s “Word World” TV show.  You can get it on Netflix.  This is a great animated show where all the animals and objects are made of letters…so if there was a barn, it would be the letters B-A-R-N in the shape of a barn.   My kids really enjoy this show and I believe they do learn some reading skills from watching the show…BTW, I’ve written a complete list of TV shows that I think are great for kids.
3) StarFall.com–My kids love this website.  We have a (relatively low cost) Android tablet and my 3 year old can navigate it herself with the touchscreen.  Starfall is free for a huge chunk of content and you can pay $35/year for “more starfall”.  I can’t tell you how strongly I recommend this website to parents of toddlers.
4) Sesame Street – For very young kids, this is a great show and they have a great website.  On the website a parent can select the most educational videos and ignore the fluff videos.  There is some fun for parents there too–you can find alot of your favorite stars who made cameos on SS.
5) Leapster 2’s have some pretty good games you can count on when you’re in the car.  They are relatively educational.  The cartridges teach all kinds of reading skills including phonics, parts of speech and more.

6) LeapFrog animated videos such as Talking Letter Factory. This an effective and very entertaining series.Also good are the TV shows Little Einsteins, Martha Speaks and Super Why–although the first two don’t help with reading directly.  Martha Speaks builds toddlers vocabulary.  Little Einsteins introduces children to art, musical instruments and composition.  Super Why does include some literacy.

See my list of educational TV shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube.    In another post I discuss great educational gift ideas.