Investing in your Nerdy Chicks

As 2013 draws to a close, people are starting to reflect on what has happened and identify things to focus on in the future, especially in the new year to come. I’ve noticed that a lot of people are talking about investing in women.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea. Just a year ago, billionaire businessman Warren Buffet said that he believed that harnessing the full power and potential of women would be what saves the U.S. economy.

On an international level, Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai brought the need to offer women equal educational opportunities to light, both in her advocacy for women’s education and her valor and courage when she was almost assassinated for those views. A report from the George W. Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative called INVEST IN AFGHAN WOMEN: A Report on Education in Afghanistan uses Malala’s example to make the case for why we should invest in girls’ education.

Just last week, Catherine M. Russell, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, gave a speech about increasing the opportunities for women to participate in politics and government. She said, “We know that that investing in women and girls – helping them unleash their potential – is the right thing to do morally – and the wise thing to do strategically.”

Here at Nerdy Chicks Rule, we are strong believers of investing in women – especially in girls. If you have a Nerdy Chick in your life (as I do), you already know that the more you invest in her now, the easier it will be for her to reach her full potential. So we’ve come up with some tips to help you invest in the Nerdy Chick in your life:

  • Encourage

1074test_tubesIt seems pretty obvious – the more you encourage someone, ANYONE, the better he or she will do. Somehow, though, there are people that believe that encouragement alone is not enough. A few years ago, on January 14, 2005, then president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, made it clear that he believed that there was an innate difference in the ability of men versus women in mathematical ability. And yet, studies have shown that there aren’t innate differences in ability between boys and girls, just in the ways they are encouraged to pursue certain fields or careers. (We’ve even blogged about this here earlier this year.) So, if you believe in your Nerdy Chick, encourage her to try things, pursue her interests, follow her heart. If other people try to dissuade her, encourage even harder.

  • Inspire

Another one that seems pretty obvious, but bears some discussion.

wedu logoIn 2012, two graduates of the London School of Economics, Mari Sawai and Mario Ferro, founded an organization called Wedu. Their goal is to create access to higher education for women in Southeast Asia through microfinancing, mentorship and counseling. What I found really great about their approach is the mentoring. These women understand that it is not enough to have ability – Nerdy Chicks need role models, something to aspire to. For your Nerdy Chick, be a role model. And if you aren’t the right role model, find her one. Connect her to other people who can support her. Give her a network and a community of people who believe in her. Over time, that will only make her exponentially stronger.

  • Invest (money)

The last thing I want to quickly touch on is the importance of money. As a country, we’ve been talking a lot about saving for the future and ways we can figure out how to pay for things like mortgages, health care as we age, college costs, and a lot of other things. And while we all know that saving is essential, I wanted to give a concrete example of what a difference it can make.

growing savingsMy oldest daughter is 12. In six years, she’ll be going to college. If I gave her just $20 a month, every month for the next 6 years, when it is time for her to pay for college, she’d have almost $1700 set aside (and that’s assuming a relatively conservative 5% annual interest rate). If I gave her $50 a month (around $10 a week), she’d have about $4100 for college. These things can mean the difference between being able to afford a higher education or not. It’s one of the best ways to invest in your Nerdy Chick. (Click here for a great simple calculator to estimate savings.)

Encourage, inspire, invest. Three simple steps that can make a big difference.

Working With Guilt (Not Anymore!)

CIMG2157I always thought I would be a mother who worked, but I never imagined I would be a working mother. And being a working mother has caused me some guilt over the years.

Now, before we go any further, I have to say something very important: in my opinion, all mothers are working mothers. The idea that the only mothers who work are the ones who earn money outside of the home is insulting and shows a marked lack of understanding of a mother’s roles and contributions. But in the interests of keeping to the traditional use the term and staying consistent with the research I want to share today, I’m going to refer to those mothers who work outside the home as “working mothers.”

When I first had my children, I imagined spending my days with them, enriching their lives through lessons, crafts, activities, long philosophical discussions… I figured I would write, but I would only do so after they went to bed or while they were at school. My life would be about my children first, and about my career second. Life had a different plan for me though.

bella mamma 3If you are a mother like me and you work, you probably feel a little guilty for having to work, or for wanting to work. Over the years, I’ve learned that that is completely normal. Mothers live in a guilty place. We know we’re making all sorts of mistakes, and while we are trying to do the best we can for our kids, we rarely meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves. I remember years ago seeing a cartoon that said something like, “The Nature versus Nurture debate is finally resolved: It’s all MOM’S FAULT.”

I have often felt like a bad mother because, instead of being there for every moment of my children’s lives, I am working.

What if the guilt is misplaced?

A few months back, while I was probably supposed to be working on novel revisions or a new book (or cleaning my kitchen), I came across a website that held the documents from a 1998 conference in Madison, Wisconsin called “Parenthood in America.” There are a lot of great articles at this site, and I encourage you to read them and consider the research that was done.

There was one article in particular that touched me. It was called “The Effects of the Mother’s Employment on the Family and the Child,” and it was written by Dr. Lois Wladis Hoffman, PhD, a Professor Emerita in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Dr. Hoffman wanted to understand how children were affected by their mothers working, so she and her team examined a sample of 400 families with children in the third or fourth grade who lived in a large industrial city in the Midwest. In other words, average American children. The families in Dr. Hoffman’s study were single-parent households and two-parent households. They spanned many races and economic backgrounds.

Her results helped me feel less guilty.

If you want to read the study for yourself, you will find it here. But let me give you some of the highlights:

  • a plus“Daughters of employed mothers have been found to have higher academic achievement, greater career success, more nontraditional career choices, and greater occupational commitment.”
  • “The children [sons and daughters] of employed mothers obtained higher scores on the three achievement tests, for language, reading, and math, across gender, socioeconomic status, and marital status, middle-class boys included.”
  • “Daughters of employed mothers have been found to be more independent, particularly in interaction with their peers in a school setting, and to score higher on socioemotional adjustment measures.”
  • “Daughters with employed mothers, across the different groups, showed more positive assertiveness as rated by the teacher (that is, they participated in class discussions, they asked questions when instructions were unclear, they were comfortable in leadership positions), and they showed less acting-out behavior. They were less shy, more independent and had a higher sense of efficacy.”

Before you think I am trying to say that all women should work, let me share one more bit of Dr. Hoffman’s study. The researchers examined not only employment status but also the mother’s sense of well-being. In other words, how happy is she with her life? They basically found something in the research that we could have figured out with our common sense – that when mothers feel good about themselves, when they are happy, when they have a positive sense of self, their children succeed. This is true of all mothers, across all criteria.

At the beginning of this post, I said that I never planned to be a working mother. I certainly didn’t. But the truth is, my career makes me very happy. I feel fulfilled, I feel strong, I feel accomplished. And that’s possibly what made me feel the most guilty – that I enjoyed something that took me away from my children. Now I know that I did the right thing for me and for my family by pursuing something that made me happy – that it actually helped my kids be happy, too.

So no more guilt. Well, not about working. (But about that ice cream container that “disappeared,” maybe a little guilt….)

 

Pop over to Tara Lazar’s blog if you get a chance to see my newest cover reveals and enter the giveaway contest!

Nerdy Chicks and Losing

Scantron-Bubble-TestI like to joke that I don’t like to play games that I can’t win. It’s a way to show my competitiveness, and also a way for me to brag a little bit about my abilities. But the truth is that I don’t like playing games I can’t win because I really cannot handle losing.

A lot of smart women feel the same way I do. And it turns out that our inability to face losing might be what is holding us back.

The data shows that in elementary school, girls get better grades than boys, with both performing equally well on standardized tests. But by the time they get to high school, boys open up a lead in standardized test scores – an average of 33 points higher than girls on the SAT – even though girls graduate high school with a higher average GPA.

After we move on from high school, things get worse. Girls – or, women, rather – really start to lose ground to men. In the US, women represent almost 60% of college students but later earn roughly 77 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Although 54% of advanced AP/Honors math students are girls, fewer than 25% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs are held by women. Even without citing hard statistics, we all know that when it comes to leadership, managerial, or executive positions, women lag behind men significantly.

As parents and educators of Nerdy Chicks, there are many issues that lead to these gaps in achievement that we cannot change in a day (or in a single blog post). But there is one thing that we can start to address that could quite possibly make a difference: the way we give our Nerdy Chicks feedback on their academic performance.

good gradesOne theory about why girls do better in younger grades has to do with the ability of girls to perform well at the social side of education. Girls learn self-control earlier, follow instructions better, and generally behave in more acceptable ways than boys. In other words, they are “good.” Probably, these things collectively help them learn better, and often, they get praised for their academic performance in a way that is linked to their “goodness.” When you tell your daughter that she is very smart or a great student, it can start to sound like being smart or being a good student is something innate, something she was born with, something that is as much a part of her as her hair color or her nose.

For the record, I’m guilty of doing just this. I have often told my daughters how smart they are in the same breath that I tell them how beautiful they are. Even though one is changeable and the other is inherent.

The feedback that we give boys is very different. Because boys are often less conscientious, they are encouraged to try harder and put in more effort. The result is that boys learn that trying hard or putting in effort is far more important that what grade you get. Over time, this might be what accounts for the ability of boys to succeed.

Studies have shown that when students face advanced material that doesn’t come easily, boys react to the difficulty by continuing to try hard and put in an effort. Girls, on the other hand, may view the difficulty as a sign of the failure of their brains to handle it. They’d rather not try something and fail at it, because that would just prove that they aren’t “good” or “smart.”

In other words, boys play games they can’t win because they believe that they can figure out how to win with enough effort. Girls stop playing when they can’t win. You know, like I do.

I’ve been this way for so long that, even though I recognize the logic here, I’m not sure I can change. I’m not sure I can find the confidence to try something I might not be good at, to publicly fail, to “set myself up” for potential embarrassment. But I think I’d like to teach my girls a different way. So from now on, I’m not going to praise my kids for being smart – I’m going to praise how hard they tried. I’m going to link their success to their exertion, and I’m going to make their effort, not the grade they get, the goal. Whenever possible, I’m going to make them play a game they can’t win. Because, hopefully, I’ll be able to convince them that not winning today doesn’t mean never winning – that every loss will bring them closer to winning one day.

On that day that they win, I will cheer. I will be proud of them. And, probably, I won’t ever play with them again. Because I really can’t handle losing.winking face

 

 

REMINDER

If you haven’t entered the BOY PROBLEM Giveaway, today is your last day! Click here to enter.

 

 

More Authors Give Back-to-School Advice

Break-These-Rules-CoverLast week, we posted some advice from authors for kids heading back to school. Not only did we get a lot of great feedback on that post, one of our brilliant authors, Kathy Erskine, tipped us off to a great new book (which she has contributed to) called Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself, edited by Luke Reynolds. If you haven’t discovered this book yet, we highly recommend it. It is Nerdy Chick-Approved!


Since last week’s post was so well-received, we decided to run a follow-up this week. So, without further ado, take a minute to listen to what these five fabulous authors have to say.

If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

leeza dog goneLeeza Hernandez, author of DOG GONE!: “Middle school: DUCK! High school: You might not be good at that and that’s okay. It in no way means you are a failure, simply do your best!”

IMG_2566bear-snores-on_256Karma Wilson, author of BEAR SNORES ON: “Value yourself. You’re not trash, even if you make mistakes. The best way to stop making mistakes is to value yourself enough to stop making stupid mistakes.”

Magic-Brush-Yeh-Kat-9780802721792 297310_10150320631406460_1375238351_nKat Yeh, author of THE MAGIC BRUSH: “I actually think I received the perfect piece of advice already at that age (though I was not really able to figure out how to use it till much later). A dear and wise-beyond-her-years friend gave me a little card with a tiny painting and the quote: ‘Being myself includes taking risks with myself, taking risks with my behavior so that I can see how it is I want to be.’ I think we were 13 or 14 at the time. She knew I was struggling and feeling stuck so she made the card for me. I still have it.”

monstoretara lazarTara Lazar, author of THE MONSTORE: “Baggy pants and permed hair is not a good look.”

burining emerald jaime_pic_4x7Jaime Reed, author of BURNING EMERALD: “Stop worrying what everyone thinks about you. You’ll barely see any of these kids again in six years anyway. It’s not worth stressing out over. Seriously. Just do you.”

Lori Jones Cooper: Award Winning Educator

ljcI think we can safely say that everyone who is going back to school has officially gone! So we thought the best Nerdy Chick to interview this week would be a teacher, and I knew just the teacher to ask. I’ve known Lori Jones Cooper since high school. (She was a few years younger!) Years later, while writing THE BOY PROJECT, Lori and her students helped me out with some research. I had the privilege of visiting her classroom in 2012. Rare is the teacher whose love for students, enthusiasm for education, and positive outlook equals Lori’s. She has been teaching for sixteen years, and her professional excellence has been recognized.  She was Camden Middle School Teacher of the Year 2009-2010, Kershaw County School District Teacher of the Year 2010, Education World Teacher of the Day 2012, and Bojangles State Teacher Appreciation Winner 2011. She is currently serving as a CERRA (SC Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement) Advisory Board Member, a position she will hold until 2015. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on education with us today Lori!

I know that you have loved teaching, but what would you say to a college student today if they told you they wanted to go into teaching as a career? It is honestly the most rewarding career you could choose. Every day is a new adventure! With kids, you never know what will happen next, so get ready for the ride of your life. It’s an honor to share in their journeys.

Hooray for that sentiment! What is the most important quality for a teacher to have? Teachers must truly care about kids and want to make a difference in their lives. It isn’t about flashy techniques, super intelligence, or even advanced training. It’s about heart! There’s an old saying that explains it perfectly: “Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care!”

So true. I always hope my children will have teachers who want to see them walk through the classroom door. But every job has its down side. What is the most challenging aspect of teaching today? No good teacher minds being held accountable for the learning in his/her classroom, but the focus on measuring teachers and students with arbitrary data takes some of the spontaneity, art, and creativity out of the educational process.

Can I say amen here? Amen! (It means “I agree” after all.)  What is the best thing we can do for our children to kindle a love for learning and to keep that flame burning?  We have to show kids an authentic love for learning. If we are enthusiastic about what we are teaching, they pick up on it and want to know more. I have gotten the attention of many a reluctant learner just by being truly excited about the subject and about teaching it to them.

That is truly awesome. Now something about you: what’s something you like to do that might be considered a tiny bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? I love “infobits”.  I am constantly reading and searching for new information. If something comes up that I don’t know, I immediately look it up and fill myself in. I LOVE learning new facts, trivial or not, and fill my head with them. I’d probably be great on one of those trivia shows. Maybe one day….

Last week, you may have seen our post about 5 authors who answered this question, but we like to ask everyone this: If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Be bold! Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. Do what you know is right no matter what…because people really will look up to you for standing by your convictions. One day, they will wish they had stood strong like you did!

Thank you Lori, for your great answers. I know that this year, you have moved into a new position working as a resource teacher for children with mild learning disabilities. We wish you great success for the year!

For Nerdy Chicks interested in public education, you might also enjoy this interview with middle school principal Lori Marrero.

 

Five Authors Give Back-to-School Advice

As of today, almost every kid in the nation has gone back to school. In honor of this annual event, we thought it’d be fun to highlight some advice from some of the amazing authors we’ve interviewed in the past. We usually ask this question:

If you could give your high school or middle school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Here are their answers:

amy reevesAmy Carol Reeves:

Don’t worry about so much!  I was very Type A and so much of what I worried about didn’t really matter in the long run.  (Oh, and to my middle school self—puffed bangs were REALLY not cool! What were you thinking?)

katie davis

Katie Davis:

Do not, I repeat, do not get that short haircut and subsequent perm in ninth grade, in the year 197(mumbles something incoherent).

 

 

Shannon W

Shannon Wiersbitzky:

Ditch the long hair sooner! (grin)

Actually, I’d sit my younger self down and say, “Never doubt your abilities. EVER.” I’ve spoken to lots of women, of all ages, and it seems we all have this annoying voice in our heads that says, “Maybe you’re not ______ enough.” Just fill in the blank….smart, thin, talented, driven, creative, loud, beautiful. We’ve all heard it, no matter where we are in our life or our career. When we don’t quiet that voice, it can cause us to miss the most wonderful opportunities. I try to remind myself that all the time, and then I remind other women as well. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

barb

Barbara Johansen Newman:

I could pretend my seventh grade self would listen if I told her not to worry about what her peers were thinking, but I am sure she would roll her eyes and let me go in one ear and out the other. I certainly could not tell her that none of the people around her would matter much in ten years because I ended up marrying one of those seventh graders in my own section and here we still are almost fifty years later  

Kathryn ErskineKathy Erskine:

Who cares what the other kids say — be yourself and be proud of it.  Hey, that sounds like the advice Kara would give in THE BOY PROJECT!  She is one smart, nerdy chick! (Thanks Kathy!)

I can’t help but notice that this advice falls mostly into two camps. Camp One: Don’t worry. Camp Two: You will live to regret (and even laugh about) that bad hair style. So pass the wisdom of these ladies on to a student you love, and assure them that they are not alone. We’ll highlight more back-to-school advice soon. In the meantime, just click on the author’s name to see their original interviews and to learn about their books. Have a great weekend!

Parenting for College: Three Things I’d do Differently

IMG_20130801_133049_051If you saw last week’s post, you already know we’ve just returned from an exhausting round of college tours with our son, who is a rising senior. In that post, I shared what we learned from the tours. This week, I’m focusing on what I’ll do differently between now and four years from now when we start this process again with our daughter.

Here’s where I’m coming from: My husband and I have been active in the education of our children from the time they started kindergarten. Between the two of us, we’ve held the office of PTA president, coached Odyssey of the Mind teams, built sets for school plays, started programs where we saw the need, written successful grants, volunteered behind the scenes, and, among many many many other things, once we even won the volunteer of the year award together.

But when we returned from the college tours I spent about three days asking myself this: How could I have spent literally thousands upon thousands of hours insuring that my child got the best education available to him, without spending more time thinking about, and preparing him for, the all-important crossroads he would reach when he finished secondary school?  How?

Well, the good news is that I think my son will probably get into a good school despite the fact that we could have done some things differently to give him more of an edge. But you always want your child to have the edge, right? That edge is important for scholarship applications. That edge might make the difference between getting into your top choice school and your second choice.

Since our son goes to boarding school, it is going to be hard for me to change anything about his application process, but here are some things we’ll do differently next time around:

1. Take your child on college tours during his junior year in high school, or even better, the summer before. You can always visit campuses again later, closer to the application deadline.

Here’s why: Our son really didn’t know much about any colleges. He knew he was on track to go to college, he knew what one or two campuses were like from summer camps and going to football games with grandparents. But he never got to see a college campus through the eyes of a college kid. You get this when you take campus tours. Before we went on the tours, college was a somewhat abstract idea. Now he has much more concrete ideas about what the college experience will be like. He is more excited about the opportunity than before. The bottom line: If we’d been able to get him more excited earlier, he’d have made more progress on the dreaded college applications by now!

2. Enable your child to pursue one of his or her passions.

Here’s why: It seems that schools are looking for students who take action. They want students who DO. A few years ago our son brought up starting a community garden on a large piece of property our church had just acquired. Instead of enabling him to move forward with this, we said something like, “The deer will probably eat the crops.” (I know… we get an F for that response! I mean, there are these things called fences…) Looking at the applications he’s trying to complete, something like “Starting a community garden” would have been a great thing to add. Even better, imagine the feeling of accomplishment he’d have had if he’d been successful in his attempts, or what he’d have learned if he failed. When our daughter comes up with a similar idea, we’ll help her figure out HOW to do it, instead of HOW NOT to.

3. Enroll your child in an SAT prep course.

Here’s why: We never bothered with this because our son’s math and critical reading scores were already strong. And who cares about the writing scores anyway? Oh, I’ll tell you who cares: the people who set up the guidelines for National Merit Scholarships. Last year, our son ended up being something like four points away from being named a National Merit Semifinalist. If you are a National Merit Semifinalist, you can list that on every college application, even if you don’t make it any further than that. And, it turns out, some colleges really DO care about those writing scores too…Anyway, if we could do it again, we’d enroll him in an SAT prep course, despite his strong scores. Top tier schools and scholarships at all schools are very competitive. Who knows? An extra hundred points can make a big difference. Sometimes, an extra four points can.IMG_20130808_152955_988

Okay, okay. A list of three things to do differently isn’t too bad, is it? And our soon-to-be-college-bound son is amazing! He’ll get in the school that is right for him! Still, what’s the good of making mistakes if you can’t learn from them? And once you learn something, you might as well share your knowledge.

We’ll be doing at least one more installment on this college admissions theme. Until then, for all of you other parents watching your children struggle with the college decision… good luck!