The Education of the Nerdy Chick: A Chat with Margie Myers-Culver

mmcThis week, we are talking to Educator-Blogger-Literacy-Advocate-Extraordinaire, Margie Myers-Culver. Margie began teaching as a school librarian in 1973.  She says, “It has been the single best decision I have ever made.”  She has worked at all grade levels, loving each for their unique characteristics.  She continues to this day to believe the learning experience shared with her students is a give and take, where each is both student and teacher. Her blog is Librarian’s Quest.

As a librarian and teacher, we wanted Margie’s thoughts on The Education of the Nerdy Chick, especially when it comes to reading. Thank you, Margie, for talking to us today!

We asked Margie to finish some of our sentences — here’s what she had to say:

“The differences between girl readers and boy readers are…not how reading recommendations have ever been made in any of my school libraries.  When a class, group or individual student enters the library, they have always been greeted by a variety of book displays around the room based on genre, themes or format, not according to gender.  Booktalks feature a wide range of fiction and nonfiction titles with a mix of reading levels.  Students are encouraged to get any book which interests them.  Tastes in reading are like thumbprints, each individual is unique.”

“Girls can be reluctant readers, too. To get girls to read, I…address them as I do all readers.  A mantra learned in college has served me (and many, many others) well over the years; …the right book for the right reader at the right time.  Readers are advised according to their individual wants and needs.  I ask them:

  • about their activities outside the school day,
  • what their favorite thing to do is when they have free time,
  • is there a dream or goal they want to reach, perhaps we can find a title on that topic,
  • what was the last book they read or had read to them which will remain in their hearts forever.”

“It’s extremely important for girls (all readers) to know you care about them as individuals; that you sincerely want to know as much about them as possible so you can pair them with a book they will enjoy and remember.  There is nothing better than hearing a book you recommended to one student being recommended by them to another.  In that moment you know a flame has been kindled.  I want to keep that flame fanned with titles as often as I can for as long as I can.  It’s about trust and connection.  For many years I hosted brown bag lunch book groups with girls.  This past summer I had a very small group of girls who would come to my home as I read books aloud to them.  We even Skyped with one of the authors.”

“It can be hard for younger girls to embrace their inner Nerdy Chick. But what is great about when that happens is…it’s as if a load has been lifted; they are free to be themselves, to bravely follow their heart.  It’s almost magical to watch.  It spreads from one girl to another and to another.  Sometimes they will read the same book together.  Or sometimes they will explore subject areas or genres they have not previously visited.”

“When a Nerdy Chick comes into my library, I notice…the air of confidence they carry.  Now they not only know what they want and need but they are able to voice it too.”

“Even Nerdy Chicks need guidance. To help her expand her reading interests, I…would suggest she join an online reading community like Biblionasium or Scholastic’s The Stacks. I would share my own book community experiences using Goodreads (and as a member of the Nerdy Book Club).  We all have, as Donalyn Miller, teacher and author of The Book Whisperer:  Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child and Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Life Long Reading Habits, calls them, book gaps.  I might invite her to join a challenge or start one of her own.  Again I would share my own experiences with online challenges and reading outside my main interest area.  Each year reviewing journals publish their best books of a given year.  I would refer her to those also.”

“As a Nerdy Chick, I…was the student who knew the answers and bravely raised my hand even when I knew I would be teased as being some kind of brainiac.  I have always talked about books and reading with anyone who would listen.  No one is immune to my suggestions including complete strangers in bookstores who look like they need help.  Even one of my former students in his mid-twenties who has been doing some painting for me, remarked as he was leaving today, “You can get anyone excited about reading.”  I was booktalking the graphic novel series Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale.

“Once a Nerdy Chick always a Nerdy Chick.  Come join the flock!”

Once again, a big thank you to Margie for joining us. Want to read more of her brilliant thoughts? Follow her on Twitter. And go find your right book today!

Oh, and in case you thought we forgot…

We have a winner in the original art giveaway! Everybody put your hands together for

@BookishAmbition!

Thanks to everyone for entering!

 

2013: A Year in Review

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that 2014 is off to a wonderful start for each and every one of you.

As we start this new year, the Nerdy Chicks wanted to take a moment and reflect on 2013. This past year was a great year for Nerdy Chicks Rule. We covered so many topics near and dear to our hearts — and we had a lot of fun, too.

We reflected on life, on education, and on mothers.

lifelife 2educationmother

We discussed college, art, and losing.

collegeartlosing

We interviewed women we admire. We quoted women we respect.

interview 1interview 2quaotable 2 quotable 1

We blogged about gardening, gifts, and gratitude.

gardeninggiftsgratitude

We covered reading, writing, and arithmetic. And a whole lot of other things that don’t fall into cutesy category headings!

readingwritingarithmetic

Like I said, it was a great year, and these are just a few examples of the kinds of posts we featured. If you missed any, take a moment to browse through and tell us what you think.

We are really looking forward to having you all join us for this coming year. Things are only going to get better.

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.

Kathy Temean: Author, Illustrator, Consultant

Today’s interview is a bit of a collaboration…SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) is doing new “Author Spotlight” pieces to highlight authors and illustrators everyone should know about. The Regional Advisor of the New Jersey SCBWI chapterLeeza Hernandez (an author/illustrator extraordinaire and a Nerdy Chick herself! If you missed Leeza’s interview one this site, click HERE to check it out) featured the wonderful, energetic, fabulously nerdy Kathy Temean, and to go with that profile, we’ve got an interview of Kathy here at Nerdy Chicks Rule!

kathyTemean_headshot1Kathy is an author/illustrator and retired New Jersey SCBWI Regional Advisor. She is the author/ illustrator of Horseplay and many magazine articles and artwork. Individuals, major corporations, and businesses have commissioned her artwork. Kathy is the owner of Temean Consulting, www.temeanconsulting.com, a company that creates websites and helps writers and illustrators market themselves.  She publishes a daily blog WRITING AND ILLUSTRATING www.kathytemean.wordpress.com, which offers valuable tips on everything you need to know about writing for children. She also conducts interviews with agents, editors, authors, and illustrators in the field. Kathy writes MG and YA novels and illustrates children’s books. Yogi Berra written by Tina Overman and illustrated by Kathy came out in September. Welcome, Kathy!

So, Kathy, you’ve been involved in children’s publishing for a very long time. How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?
Girls are very lucky today. The books written today for them are excellent and there are so many good choices for teens. I think they are reading more because of the great books and writing that reflects their world and the type of strong girls they want to become.

Very, very true. Tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

I have a lot of nerdy real life chicks I admire, but I guess for a fictitious one, I would chose Lily Hancock from “Lies Beneath” written by Ann Greenwood Brown. Lily never gives up, even when she falls in love with a murderous merman who is planning to kill her father to revenge the death of his mother. She works through all of it to find a way to make things work.

51uKvEvPtmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We agree — more people should understand how important creativity is to success. Now, in addition to being an author and illustrator, you are also an art educator. How do you see arts education as being important for today’s kids?

I feel any kind art builds creativity. Creativity helps in everything you want to do in life and spurs new ideas to get you where you want to go. Most people don’t give that any thought, but I have used all the creative things I learned in art with every job I’ve had to be successful, so “Yes,” I think the arts are just as important as the rest of the curriculum in school and is especially important to children who may not excel in other subjects.

What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I collect cows. Yes, cows, but not real ones. Ever since I was in Chicago and saw ‘Cows on Parade,’ I have been into cows. I would like to buy a big concrete cow for my front lawn and decorate it each month, but I know my neighbors will go crazy and torment me about it. Is that nerdy enough? Perhaps someday, I will do it in my backyard.

What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick?
Years ago when I worked for Kraft Foods, they were giving away a Lincoln Continental as a prize, so I talked a car dealer into letting me take one of their cars into an Acme Food Store and building a big display of Kraft Food around it. There was a lot of coordinating to pull that off. We even had to take the front windows out of the storefront to get it inside the store. I won a big award for that accomplishment.

Thank you, Kathy, for being with us here today, and for sharing your thoughts. To learn more about Kathy, visit her website (www.kathytemean.com), her blog (www.kathytemean.wordpress.com) or follow her on Twitter: @kathytemean. And to read Kathy’s interview with SCBWI, click HERE, and to learn more about SCBWI, click HERE.

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.

 

 

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!