Author Archives: graceewhite

Tutorials and Exercises to Help Students Prepare for the SAT


Teenagers have a hard time paying attention to anything that’s not flashed across a smartphone screen. Yet somehow, parents still expect results when they plop an SAT study book in front of their children.

Note to parents: Meet your children halfway.

Apps that help teenagers study for the SAT (or, for those not living on either coast, the ACT) are improving, as traditional test-prep businesses like Princeton Review and Kaplan refine their mobile software to compete with start-ups.

Several to consider on this front include Princeton Review’s SAT Score Quest for iPad (free) and SAT Vocab Challenge for iPhone ($5), Kaplan SAT Flashcubes (free) and SAT Connect ($10 for Apple). For math, Adapster ($10 on Apple) is designed nicely.

Android users, as usual, have fewer choices, since the best-known test-prep companies haven’t yet built apps for these devices. But Flash of Genius: SAT Vocab ($1 Android, free on Apple) has earned good marks from users, as has ACT/SAT Math Booster (Free, Android).

For those looking to sample the wares, the category’s best entry point is Kaplan’s SAT Flashcubes, which are tailored to the verbal part of the SAT. Presumably, this could also help ACT students. It’s easy to use, and the app’s interactive features make it a lot more fun to study than a static book.

Flashcubes will quiz users on hundreds of vocabulary words, using interactive 3-D cubes. The front presents the word, and if you flip the cube, it shows the definition. Other sides of the cube show synonyms, or a sentence that uses the word.

The app tracks the student’s performance, so users can watch their progress over time, and it stores a list of incorrect responses so users can test themselves on those words only if they wish.

SAT Vocab Challenge offers a gamelike format, with four games in each round — covering antonyms, synonyms, connotation and definitions — and 20 words per game. The fastest answers gain and lose the most points.

Some of the app’s most puzzling moments do not come from the tests. I tried one round of all four categories (thankfully, I aced them). When I clicked to the game stats page, to view my average response time, the page had no data to offer about the quizzes. When I returned to the main page, it told me I hadn’t yet mastered a single word.

Vocab Challenge comes in two volumes, with each covering 250 words.

Princeton Review’s SAT Score Quest for iPad is much less fun, but more helpful. It offers abbreviated practice tests for each of the SAT’s three elements — math, writing and critical reading.

The tests help users diagnose possible areas of weakness, but they also offer instruction. Each question includes a tutorial on the logic behind the correct answer, and a strategy for eliminating incorrect responses.

SAT Connect also includes review materials as well as quizzes and diagnostic tests, and offers explanations of more than 800 questions. But SAT Connect boasts some elements that other apps lack, like a much longer list of vocabulary words (4,000), and the ability to compare a user’s test scores against those of others who use the app.

Users who complete the five sample tests in the app can buy two additional tests for $2 each.

SAT Connect has earned good reviews from users even at its initial price of $25. According to a company spokesman, Andrew Fisher, the current $10 price will remain in place at least until the end of the month.

Adapster, which is exclusively for math, is among the few highly rated apps in this category for both Apple and Android.

As the name implies, the software adapts to the user’s needs over time. Users can take a diagnostic test to help Adapster tailor future tests to the user’s needs, or skip that step and the app will change every new test to account for the student’s performance on the previous one.

ACT/SAT Math Booster is another interesting one for Android users who bring a Texas Instruments TI-83 or TI-84 calculator into the test. The calculators can be programmed to include shortcuts for complex equations like the quadratic formula, and Math Booster offers step-by-step instructions for doing so.

The app is from the Advantage Point Test Group, an SAT prep company. A company spokeswoman, Devorah Goldblatt, said the programs are “completely within the boundaries of both ACT and SAT” guidelines, and a section on the Web site of the College Board, which administers the tests, supports her assertion.

For Android users who are looking for vocabulary help, Flash of Genius is probably their best bet. It’s not as good as the other vocabulary apps on Apple, because it relies on you to tell the software that you know a word’s definition. Users who overestimate their mastery of a particular word will suffer later as a result.

As a free app on iTunes, in other words, it’s not worth your time to download. But for $1 on Android, it may be as good as you can get, until the industry leaders work their way over to the other side of the street.


The Class That Built Apps, and Fortunes



ALL right, class, here’s your homework assignment: Devise an app. Get people to use it. Repeat.

That was the task for some Stanford students in the fall of 2007, in what became known here as the “Facebook Class.”

No one expected what happened next.

The students ended up getting millions of users for free apps that they designed to run on Facebook. And, as advertising rolled in, some of those students started making far more money than their professors.

Almost overnight, the Facebook Class fired up the careers and fortunes of more than two dozen students and teachers here. It also helped to pioneer a new model of entrepreneurship that has upturned the tech establishment: the lean start-up.

“Everything was happening so fast,” recalls Joachim De Lombaert, now 23. His team’s app netted $3,000 a day and morphed into a company that later sold for a six-figure sum.

“I almost didn’t realize what it all meant,” he says.

Neither did many of his classmates. Back then, Facebook apps were a novelty. The iPhone had just arrived, and the first Android phone was a year off.

But by teaching students to build no-frills apps, distribute them quickly and worry about perfecting them later, the Facebook Class stumbled upon what has become standard operating procedure for a new generation of entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley and beyond. For many, the long trek from idea to product to company has turned into a sprint.

Start-ups once required a lot of money, time and people. But over the past decade, free, open-source software and “cloud” services have brought costs down, while ad networks help bring in revenue quickly.

The app phenomenon has accentuated the trend and helped unleash what some call a new wave of technology innovation — and what others call a bubble.

Early on, the Facebook Class became a microcosm of Silicon Valley. Working in teams of three, the 75 students created apps that collectively had 16 million users in just 10 weeks. Many of those apps were sort of silly: Mr. De Lombaert’s, for example, allowed users to send “hotness” points to Facebook friends. Yet during the term, the apps, free for users, generated roughly $1 million in advertising revenue.

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Diplomas and Uncertainty for Japanese Pupils






KESENNUMA, Japan — Schools here begin class in April and hold graduation ceremonies in March; like spring, they represent renewal and rebirth.

On Tuesday morning, in a school meeting hall in this tsunami-ravaged seaport, it became something else: an act of defiance.

Gathering in the shadow of this seaport’s tsunami disaster zone, two solemn and often tearful crowds met to award diplomas to the sixth- and ninth-grade classes of Hashikami Elementary and Junior High schools. Inside the junior high auditorium, hundreds of refugees from the March 11 tsunami rolled up their blankets and moved to the rear to make way for a ritual that any parent would instantly recognize: the strains of Pachelbel’s Canon; the students’ march to the podium; the singing of school songs; the snapping of cellphone photos.

But no one should be fooled. The ceremonies, important rites of passage here, were supposed to take place last week. Instead, an earthquake cracked open the elementary school, and a wall of water swept away homes and families of teachers and students alike. Although no Hashikami elementary students were killed, the body of a ninth grader was identified over the weekend, and two others remain missing.

For parents and teachers, holding the graduation celebrations under those circumstances — and their own — was an act of will, even bravery.

“We thought maybe it was too early for the ceremony,” said Hiroko Sugawara, the ninth-grade principal. “But people in the community and the P.T.A. said, ‘We want to celebrate for these kids, because this is a cruel experience for a 15-year-old.’ I want the surviving kids to shine — to continue their lives.”

Ms. Sugawara’s sister and brother have been missing since the tsunami struck, and her house was washed away. Of the two other teachers who played leading roles in the ceremony, one lost his house, and the other’s parental home, in Rikuzentakata, was all but wiped out.

As the 28 ninth graders awaited their diplomas, Shunichi Hatakeyama, 48, sat centered in the front row of parents, holding a photograph of his 15-year-old son, Fumiya. The youngest of three sons, a big, good-looking center fielder on the city youth baseball team, Fumiya was with his mother, Akiko, when the tsunami struck. The two fled separately to high ground. Only she made it.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hatakeyama wore Fumiya’s blue athletic shirt and white sneakers. “My son is still missing. If I don’t come, nobody will take his diploma,” he said.

“I want him to come back. My wife wants to hug him. She is totally lost.”

And while the 42 sixth graders fidgeted in their chairs, Ken Miura, a 37-year-old hotel cook and volunteer fireman, sat in the back row of parents. His 12-year-old son, Takumi, is still recovering.

The two were at home, not five minutes from school, when the tsunami warning sounded.

Mr. Miura rushed to evacuate neighbors on lower ground, never believing the water could reach his home. He was carried out to sea in an automobile, and Takumi was swept into the ocean for an hour before he was rescued, naked and debris-battered, by firemen.

Takumi was taken to relatives in a distant town, in shock and unable even to talk for days. When he began to speak, “he said he wanted to come to the ceremony,” Mr. Miura said, “but I couldn’t get the gasoline to go to him.” The disaster has effectively dried up gasoline supplies for all but emergency permit holders.

Teachers handed over his son’s diploma in a private ceremony after the public one.

Past graduations were ritual new beginnings, the teachers said, but Tuesday’s may be different. Whereas past classes generally stayed together during their school years, the disaster already has scattered students to evacuation centers, and many may wind up in other towns.

The students here made determined efforts to remain upbeat. But many proved unable to hold back tears, whether singing school songs or joining in the brief after-graduation party.

“They tried not to show their sadness, but we couldn’t see them smiling,” said Yasuyuki Toba, one of the ninth-grade teachers who led the ceremony. So to end the party, he led a chant for the students clustered around him.

“Let’s meet again!” he shouted.

The students shouted in unison: “Let’s meet again!”



Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees, or Does It?


Are You Your Child’s A.T.M.?


(Illustration by Barry Falls Money)

Times are tough. Kids should be learning harsh financial truths right  about now, no? Lessons learned: Money doesn’t grow on trees, nor is there an endless supply in Mom or Dad’s wallet, right?

Not necessarily. A survey by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, conducted on its financial literacy site,, finds that today’s parents are “incredibly lenient” about handing their children extra money. The lesson that is being taught, the foundation warns, is one of immediate gratification rather than budgeting or financial discipline.  The survey asked children, ages 17 and younger, “How often did your parents say ‘O.K.’ when you asked for extra money beyond an allowance”;  63 percent answered “always” while 26 percent said “sometimes” and 6 percent said “never.” Only 5 percent of children said they had never asked.  And how does this compare with earlier generations? Among adults, ages 18 to 45, 12 percent agreed with the statements “I always got extra money beyond an allowance from my parents when I asked”; among adults ages 46 to 59, 8 percent agreed; among adults 60 and older, 13 percent agreed.

The reasons kids want this extra money appears to be changing, too. Today’s teens say they spend it on tickets to movies, concerts and sporting events (40 percent), food and drink (24 percent) and toys and games and phones (19 percent).  Only 15 percent said they wanted something for school, compared with 47 percent of adults over 60 who gave education as their reason for asking for extra money when they were young.

It could be, of course, that memory and perception are in play here. But the numbers are dramatic enough to make you think about whether today’s parents open their wallets too easily and too often.I personally recognize a changed family dynamic in these statistics.

Students: Share how this issue plays out your family — and whether you are learning money management skills like budgeting. Do you believe in getting an allowance? Do you ever need more money? If so, why? How do you think your family could do better in terms of teaching you how to deal with money issues, or how are they doing well?  What advice do you have for younger children who are just starting to be responsible for handling money?

(Want some advice on how to structure allowance, and not cave when their allowance runs out? has a guide here.)



The Rise of Personal Robots

What was the message you took from this Ted Talk? Share your thoughts. Be specific, and refer to what was said in the talk.

Don’t Call Me, I Won’t Call You


NOBODY calls me anymore — and that’s just fine. With the exception of immediate family members, who mostly phone to discuss medical symptoms and arrange child care, and the Roundabout Theater fund-raising team, which takes a diabolical delight in phoning me every few weeks at precisely the moment I am tucking in my children, people just don’t call.

It’s at the point where when the phone does ring — and it’s not my mom, dad, husband or baby sitter — my first thought is: “What’s happened? What’s wrong?” My second thought is: “Isn’t it weird to just call like that? Out of the blue? With no e-mailed warning?”

I don’t think it’s just me. Sure, teenagers gave up the phone call eons ago. But I’m a long way away from my teenage years, back when the key rite of passage was getting a phone in your bedroom or (cue Molly Ringwald gasp) a line of your own.

In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.

“I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. “I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there.”

“I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’ ” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ ”

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Daylight Saving Time 2011: Why Does It Begin?

A custodian checks Kansas’s Clay County courthouse clock after daylight savings ended last year. Photograph by Charlie Riedel, AP
With daylight saving time (also called daylight savings time) kicking off again, clock confusion is once again ticking away: Why do we spring forward? Does daylight saving time really save energy? Is it bad for your health? Get expert answers below. 

When Did Daylight Savings Begin in 2011?

For most Americans, daylight saving time 2011 started at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 13, when most states sprang forward an hour. Time will fall back to standard time again on Sunday, November 6, 2011, when daylight saving time ends.

The federal government doesn’t require U.S. states or territories to observe daylight saving time, which is why residents of ArizonaHawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands won’t need to change their clocks this weekend.

Where it is observed, daylight savings has been known to cause some problems.

National surveys by Rasmussen Reports, for example, show that 83 percent of respondents knew when to move their clocks ahead in spring 2010. Twenty-seven percent, though, admitted they’d been an hour early or late at least once in their lives because they hadn’t changed their clocks correctly.

It’s enough to make you wonder—why do we do use daylight saving time in the first place?

How and When Did Daylight Saving Time Start?

Ben Franklin—of “early to bed and early to rise” fame—was apparently the first person to suggest the concept of daylight savings, according to computer scientist David Prerau, author of the book Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.

While serving as U.S. ambassador to France in Paris, Franklin wrote of being awakened at 6 a.m. and realizing, to his surprise, that the sun would rise far earlier than he usually did. Imagine the resources that might be saved if he and others rose before noon and burned less midnight oil, Franklin, tongue half in cheek, wrote to a newspaper.

“Franklin seriously realized it would be beneficial to make better use of daylight but he didn’t really know how to implement it,” Prerau said.

It wasn’t until World War I that daylight savings were realized on a grand scale. Germany was the first state to adopt the time changes, to reduce artificial lighting and thereby save coal for the war effort. Friends and foes soon followed suit.

In the U.S. a federal law standardized the yearly start and end of daylight saving time in 1918—for the states that chose to observe it.

During World War II the U.S. made daylight saving time mandatory for the whole country, as a way to save wartime resources. Between February 9, 1942, and September 30, 1945, the government took it a step further. During this period daylight saving time was observed year-round, essentially making it the new standard time, if only for a few years.

Since the end of World War II, though, daylight saving time has always been optional for U.S. states. But its beginning and end have shifted—and occasionally disappeared.

During the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, the U.S. once again extended daylight saving time through the winter, resulting in a one percent decrease in the country’s electrical load, according to federal studies cited by Prerau.

Thirty years later the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was enacted, mandating a controversial monthlong extension of daylight saving time, starting in 2007.

But does daylight saving time really save any energy?

Daylight Saving Time: Energy Saver ?

In recent years several studies have suggested that daylight saving time doesn’t actually save energy—and might even result in a net loss.

Environmental economist Hendrik Wolff, of the University of Washington, co-authored a paper that studied Australian power-use data when parts of the country extended daylight saving time for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and others did not. The researchers found that the practice reduced lighting and electricity consumption in the evening but increased energy use in the now dark mornings—wiping out the evening gains.

Likewise, Matthew Kotchen, an economist at the University of California, saw inIndiana a situation ripe for study.

Prior to 2006 only 15 of the state’s 92 counties observed daylight saving time. So when the whole state adopted daylight saving time, it became possible to compare before-and-after energy use. While use of artificial lights dropped, increased air-conditioning use more than offset any energy gains, according to the daylight saving time research Kotchen led for the National Bureau of Economic Research [PDF] in 2008.

That’s because the extra hour that daylight saving time adds in the evening is a hotter hour. “So if people get home an hour earlier in a warmer house, they turn on their air conditioning,” the University of Washington’s Wolff said.

In fact, Hoosier consumers paid more on their electric bills than before they made the annual switch to daylight saving time, the study found.

(Related: “Extended Daylight Saving Time Not an Energy Saver?”)

But other studies do show energy gains.

In an October 2008 daylight saving time report to Congress (PDF), mandated by the same 2005 energy act that extended daylight saving time, the U.S. Department of Energy asserted that springing forward does save energy.

Extended daylight saving time—still in practice in 2011—saved 1.3 terawatt hours of electricity. That figure suggests that daylight saving time reduces annual U.S. electricity consumption by 0.03 percent and overall energy consumption by 0.02 percent.

While those percentages seem small, they could represent significant savings because of the nation’s enormous total energy use.

What’s more, savings in some regions are apparently greater than in others.

California, for instance, appears to benefit most from daylight saving time—perhaps because its relatively mild weather encourages people to stay outdoors later. The Energy Department report found that daylight saving time resulted in an energy savings of one percent daily in the state.

But Wolff, one of many scholars who contributed to the federal report, suggested that the numbers were subject to statistical variability and shouldn’t be taken as hard facts.

And daylight savings’ energy gains in the U.S. largely depend on your location in relation to the Mason-Dixon Line, Wolff said.

“The North might be a slight winner, because the North doesn’t have as much air conditioning,” he said. “But the South is a definite loser in terms of energy consumption. The South has more energy consumption under daylight saving.”

(See in-depth energy coverage from National Geographic News.)

Daylight Saving Time: Healthy or Harmful?

For decades advocates of daylight savings have argued that, energy savings or no, daylight saving time boosts health by encouraging active lifestyles—a claim Wolff and colleagues are currently putting to the test.

“In a nationwide American time-use study, we’re clearly seeing that, at the time of daylight saving time extension in the spring, television watching is substantially reduced and outdoor behaviors like jogging, walking, or going to the park are substantially increased,” Wolff said. “That’s remarkable, because of course the total amount of daylight in a given day is the same.”

But others warn of ill effects.

Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, said his studies show that our circadian body clocks—set by light and darkness—never adjust to gaining an “extra” hour of sunlight to the end of the day during daylight saving time.

“The consequence of that is that the majority of the population has drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness, and is just plain tired,” Roenneberg said.

One reason so many people in the developed world are chronically overtired, he said, is that they suffer from “social jet lag.” In other words, their optimal circadian sleep periods are out of whack with their actual sleep schedules.

Shifting daylight from morning to evening only increases this lag, he said.

“Light doesn’t do the same things to the body in the morning and the evening. More light in the morning would advance the body clock, and that would be good. But more light in the evening would even further delay the body clock.”

Other research hints at even more serious health risks.

A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that, at least in Sweden, heart attack risks go up in the days just after the spring time change. “The most likely explanation to our findings are disturbed sleep and disruption of biological rhythms,” lead author Imre Janszky, of the Karolinska Institute’s Department of Public Health Sciences in Stockholm, told National Geographic News via email.

(Related: “Leap Year: How the World Makes Up for Lost Time.”)

Daylight Savings Lovers, Haters

With verdicts on the benefits, or costs, of daylight savings so split, it may be no surprise that the yearly time changes inspire polarized reactions.

In the U.K., for instance, the Lighter Later movement—part of 10:10, a group advocating cutting carbon emissions—argues for a sort of extreme daylight savings. First, they say, move standard time forward an hour, then keep observing daylight saving time as usual—adding two hours of evening daylight to what we currently consider standard time.

The folks behind, on the other hand, want to abolish daylight saving time altogether. Calling energy-efficiency claims “unproven,” they write: “If we are saving energy let’s go year round with Daylight Saving Time. If we are not saving energy let’s drop Daylight Saving Time!”

But don’t most people enjoy that extra evening sun every summer? Even that remains in doubt.

National telephone surveys by Rasmussen Reports from spring 2010 and fall 2009 deliver the same answer. Most people just “don’t think the time change is worth the hassle.” Forty-seven percent agreed with that statement, while only 40 percent disagreed.

But Seize the Daylight author David Prerau said his research on daylight saving time suggests most people are fond of it.

“I think the first day of daylight saving time is really like the first day of spring for a lot of people,” Prerau said. “It’s the first time that they have some time after work to make use of the springtime weather.

“I think if you ask most people if they enjoy having an extra hour of daylight in the evening eight months a year, the response would be pretty positive.”