National Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month. Here’s a great article to share with friends and family!



Wonderful Story

While catching up on the daily news today, I came across a story I had to share.

Rion Holcombe Gets into College

Congratulations Rion! Enjoy!

Up to Speed Tutors in the News!

Up to Speed Tutors was recently featured in the news! This great article by Tim Peterson details Up to Speed Tutors’ beginnings and growth. 

Back to School Suggestions for Parents


photo courtesy of

Most students have finished their first week (or first couple weeks) of school now. With homework loads, projects, and tests picking up, now is an important time for parents to get on the same track with schools and teachers to ensure their students’ early success. Below are some things parents should be aware of early in the school year:

Teachers’ Online Portals: Just like Up to Speed Tutors, many schools and classes have teacher-updated Web sites and/or online portals. Some common tools teachers use include Blackboard and Moodle. Ask your child’s teacher if they use these Web sites to post course documents, inform parents of what is happening in class, and maintain a class forum. If your child’s teacher does use these tools, be sure you have access and check-in a few times during the week so that you know what your child is doing in class.

Attend Back-to-School Nights: Back-to-School nights are a great opportunity for parents to meet their child’s teachers and better understand the teacher’s expectations. It’s a good idea to also get a good sense of the teacher’s personality. This can be important when considering how to get the best response from a teacher later in the year. Additionally, one should not underestimate the importance of being able to match a face with a person. Meeting your child’s teacher in person is very important in trying to build a positive relationship with a teacher.

Request Bi-Weekly Grade Reports: There’s a difference between being an informed parent, and being a parent who is overly-involved in a child’s daily lives. Requesting a grade report every two weeks is a fair request and lets the teacher know that you are a parent who cares about their child. That said, be sure to add that you intend to hold your child accountable. Doing this at the beginning of the year lets a teacher know that you intend on monitoring your child’s progress, but will also not make excuses for your child. Teachers have a lot of respect for these kinds of parents.

Introduce Yourself to the Teacher: A friendly email to a teacher at the beginning of the school year can go a long way. In this email, a parent would be wise to simply express their gratitude for working with their child and include their contact information. If you want the teacher to be aware of some of your concerns, perhaps a short list of one or two concerns, limited to a few sentences, is perfectly acceptable. Beyond that, a brief conference would probably be a better forum to discuss major issues. In this initial email, it is important to emphasize to the teacher that you intend on holding your child accountable. The teacher will respect this and be more likely to respond positively to future requests and questions.

Ask Teacher about Tutoring Recommendations: OK, I suppose this may be a shameless plug for Up to Speed Tutors, but teachers often may suggest that students get extra help with their subject outside of school. Subjects, such as science and math, can give students (particularly those with disabilities and/or poor organizational skills) lots of difficulties. Tutors can help students with these challenges and better helps students stay on top of their assignments and keep up with the pace of classes. Teachers are very well-aware of some of the better tutoring service providers available. Sometimes, teachers may make a recommendation of a specific tutor based on their knowledge that a specific tutor does a good job of reinforcing, or explaining, a concept being taught in the child’s class.

Science in the Galapagos

After a busy school year and in an effort to take a vacation this summer, I recently returned from an other-worldly trip to Ecuador and the famous Galapagos Islands.


photo by Brian Katkin

On these truly amazing islands, I had the pleasure of learning more about the ecology of this magical place and the natural world we live in. As a life-long life science lover, being on the islands of Isabella, Santa Cruz, and San Cristobal was like entering the pages of my seventh grade science textbook.

To the right is one of the many giant tortoises that roam (albeit slowly) many of the different Galapagos Islands. The islands have done a wonderful job of preserving their habitat and ensuring future generations of giant tortoises by maintaining giant tortoise breeding centers on the islands (including the one where this tortoise lives on Santa Cruz.)


photo by Brian Katkin

Another amazing animal I had the pleasure of seeing up-close is the blue-footed booby. These birds are quite comical when they walk, and they are unlike anything I had ever seen before with their bright blue feet. While certainly not the most graceful of creatures on land, as their name literally comes from the word ‘bobo’ which in Spanish means ‘clown,’ watching them dart into the water beak-first after fish is quite impressive. Perhaps what was most mind-boggling to me was how unafraid of humans all of the animals on the Galapagos were. I was told the reason for this is that the animals on the Galapagos Islands do not know how bad humans really can be towards nature.


photo by Brian Katkin

One other animal that I stumbled (literally) upon was the marine iguana. These reptiles litter the beaches near black volcanic rocks and spend the day sun-bathing. When they get hungry, they hop into the nearby clear blue water to feed on the green algae. Seems like a nice life. Living on the beach and getting to tan and eat all day. What could be better!


photo by Brian Katkin

While I took over 1,500 pictures during my trip, I’ll leave readers with one more adorable picture of the ubiquitous sea lions. These playful animals had no problem lounging and sleeping anywhere (including sidewalks, fishing piers, playgrounds, and of course, the beach.) The sea lions on the islands represent an important rule that local guides work hard relay to tourists: do not touch the animals. If a person touches a sea lion, the oils on a human can get onto a sea lion and it can change their scent. This can cause the mother to not recognize her baby, and thus not care for him/her anymore which causes the baby to starve to death. Fortunately, I did not see anyone touch the sea lions, though you can get very close to them.

There were many other animals, including the Sally lightfoot crabs, black-tipped sharks, hammerhead sharks, pink flamingos, Darwin finches, dolphins, Galapagos penguins, sea turtles, and lots more that I got to see while on the islands in the Pacific Ocean. In all, the trip, reminded me how beautiful the natural world can be and to work hard to preserve what we have left of it. A visit to these islands, or even reading a book or two about this unbelievable place will get any student to become a little more interested in science.

Math at the Grocery Store

courtesy of

You find inspiration in the unlikeliest of places.

I walked into the grocery store earlier today and headed to the produce section. A young boy was sifting through the Granny Smith apples, diligently searching for the perfect ones on display. He ultimately chose four beautiful green apples. His mother looked at the plastic bag he filled, and simply said, “OK, these look good, but I eat two a week, dad eats three, and you eat about two. So, how many do we need?” I watched as the boy thought for a moment and then looked at his fingers and blurted out, “Seven!”

It was at this moment, when I realized a weekly trip to the grocery store offers a plethora of great math teaching opportunities for students. I continued this particular visit “shopping” for perfect math-related learning opportunities. Here is what I found:

Tell Time – Grocery shops typically run way longer than we would normally like. Set a time limit (specific times, like 3:47 p.m., work best) at the beginning of your shop, and have your child use an analog clock to let you know when you are 30, 15, 10, and five minutes away from that limit. Most elementary teachers (and even middle and secondary school teachers) would agree that it is extremely disconcerting how few students are able to quickly tell time on an analog clock.

Weighing In – The fresh, ripe, dark red cherries were going for $0.99/pound. Given the good price, I decided to go for two pounds of those cherries, costing me $1.98 (before tax). I filled my bag and placed it in the hanging weighing tray, adding and subtracting cherries until I was right about at two pounds. Parents should encourage their children to do the weighing and get accustomed to using a scale. Not only is this a tool several math classes use, but scales are also frequently used in science classrooms. Calculating the cost of two pounds of the cherries I wanted, makes for a quick, but fantastic opportunity to make a real-world mental math computation that students take for granted.

Buy Deli Meats – In addition to the health benefits of buying fresh deli meat from the deli counter, as opposed to the prepackaged meats that are loaded with nitrate and sodium preservatives and artificial coloring, the deli counter offers children the opportunity to better appreciate the seemingly daunting concept of fractions. During my visit, the gentleman in front of me was with his two daughters and he ordered 1/4 pound of turkey breast. One of the daughters saw the lady measuring out the turkey on the scale, and yelled at her father, “I want more!”  The teacher in me wanted to quiz his daughter and ask, “If you want more than 1/4 pounds of turkey, should you ask for 1/2 pound of turkey or 1/8 pound of turkey.” (Sadly, the teaching moment was lost when the dad just said to the deli attendant, “I’ll take a half-pound of turkey, please.”)

Conversion –  Yes, I admit it. I buy bottled water. However, I do make sure to recycle the bottles. The cost for a gallon jug of spring water was $1.99 today. At the end of the aisle, a pack of 24, 16.9 ounce bottles were going for $3.99. As someone who has replaced soda and sugary fruit drinks from their diet, I drink water every day for lunch, and so I need more water. As the pack of 24 yields more than three times as much water than the gallon jug (and is much more convenient than a big bulky jug), without hesitation I opted for the pack of 24. I thought about how math teachers could use such a cost and unit conversion analysis to help students appreciate smarter real-world decisions.

Pay In Cash – When buying groceries with children, it may be worthwhile to have your child do the money handling. Have them estimate and calculate the estimate costs of the total shop before getting in line using rounding techniques. The amount the cashier bills you should be similar. Have your child conduct the transaction and have them count the change they get back. Such a task gives students a feeling of confidence, as well as ownership of the purchase, and perhaps most importantly, a better appreciation of the value of a dollar and the true cost of things we take for granted.

Though these grocery store math suggestions will certainly add some more time to your shop at first, the benefits of your child using and exercising these real-world math applications should not be overlooked. As standardized tests continue to focus more and more on word problems and real-life scenarios, any extra practice would be helpful.

2013 Summer Reading Suggestions

In my previous post, I mentioned some habits that parents would be wise to help their child maintain or develop over the summer. One of those habits is to read for at least 30 minutes at the beginning or the end of the day. Below is a list of books that Up to Speed Tutors thinks may be good for students of all different levels to read.

Clancy the Courageous Cow by Lachie Hume – We will start with a great picture book! Young readers will appreciate the simple pictures and the fun storyline of the divide between the Belted Galloways and the Herefords and the hero who unites the two herds of cows. The page of cow wrestling pictures will engage any early reader and make every adult reader laugh. Lexile: Adult Directed (Great for early kindergarten and 1st grade readers or for parents to read to their children)

Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians by Jarrett Krosoczka – Graphic novels are becoming more and more popular, and this fun mystery in the Lunch Lady series lives up to the billing of the others (We particularly like some of the characters’ names, such as Vivian Bookwormer). Series are a great way to keep readers coming back for more, and graphic novels offer a comforting way to get into reading with all of the well-drawn pictures. Lexile: 280 L (Great for 3rd through 6th graders)

Pompeii…Buried Alive by Edith Kunhardt – The only non-fiction book on our list, Pompeii…Buried Alive explores and explains a natural disaster that occurred thousands of years ago and destroyed a city. The illustrations are wonderfully done. After reading this book, young readers may gain a greater appreciation for the natural disasters that have been occurring more and more frequently. An excellent book to generate good discussion with your child. Lexile: 340 L (Great for 1st through 3rd graders)

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen – Though a little longer than the other books on our list, this book is for all fans of books like the popular Hunger Games series and other dystopian novels. A family is forced to live in a secured compound, as the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. As the situation becomes more dire, the family and their sense of humanity begins to dissolve astonishingly. The Compound is a thriller, and though a little long (296 pages), it should keep students’ interest. Lexile: 570 L (Great for 5th graders through 9th graders)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – Teachers often suggest to parents to read the same book as their child and then talk about it together. Speak would be a wonderful book for such a great family summer activity. Because the book deals with a particularly troubling topic, where the main character Melinda tries to deal with it while navigating the extremely challenging path of social pressures that go with being a high school freshman, parents and adults can put themselves in the shoes of characters in this book and have an open dialogue while reading this sad, yet empowering book. Lexile: 650 L (Great for mature 8th graders and high school students)

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald – Perhaps no other book title on this list will capture students’ attention more than this one. With many reluctant readers out there, students can relate to Charlie Joe Jackson’s quest to never read a book cover-to-cover. The book is hilarious and will make your student realize that they can find something they may enjoy. Lexile: 830 L (Great for 5th through 8th graders)

The Pearl by John Steinbeck – This short book is a great choice for readers who often look at the length of the book when making a choice as to whether or not they will read it. This novella about a poor pearl diver who comes across a valuable pearl and whose greed leads to tragedy will inspire confidence in readers who will close it with a sense of accomplishment for reading an entire book that is also considered a classic. Lexile: 1010 L (Great for 7th graders through high school students)

By no means is this an exhaustive list of books your student may like. These selections should be used merely as a starting point. If you have any questions, suggestions, or would like a recommendation for your student, feel free to leave a comment! Happy summer reading!