Influential Prose

Kevin McLeod's Portfolio

Effective Programs to Help at-Risk Teenagers Stay in School

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Keeping at-risk teens in school entails a variety of strategies. It begins by identifying who is mostly likely to drop out and the influences that compel them to do so; these can include bullying, homelessness, financial insecurity, poor nutrition, substance abuse, early pregnancy and abuse at home. Solutions can be targeted individually or schoolwide, but whatever the approach, these problems are difficult, widespread and not always responsive to generalized programs. Although, effective programs do exist.

Check and Connect
Developed at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, Check and Connect has 20 years of documentation to demonstrate program effectiveness and is highly rated by the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network. It is a relatively low-cost program that trains mentors to check on at-risk students’ attendance, behavior and grades while connecting with them personally to provide coordinated support with school staff, families and community providers. The goal of the program is to build academic and social competence on the path to graduation.

Positive Action
Rated by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse as a top program, Positive Action’s approach is summarized by its logo, which features three arrows representing thoughts, action and feelings revolving around a plus sign for positivity in a virtuous circle. As the program states, “Positive Action is the philosophy that you feel good about yourself when you think and do positive actions, and there is always a positive way to do everything.” If it sounds like a feel-good program, it is, but it also lowers truancy and increases attendance. Success is compelling.

Ripple Effects
Ripple Effects recognizes the varied influences on dropouts and addresses them by sorting students by risk level, identifying specific behaviors and targeting them with specific, useful interventions. Academic performance is deeply influenced by social and emotional needs. Ripple Effects provides responsive support, aiding students who need to believe in themselves when family, peers or community leads them to doubt. Suspension alternatives are part of the program, steering students toward assessments that also watch for structural unfairness and unconscious bias by school administrations.

Success Highways
This program begins with a comprehensive early warning assessment that not only identifies at-risk students, but determines the reasons underlying their risks and can be reviewed at the district, school, classroom and individual levels. Intervention focuses on six resiliency skills, teaching the essential lesson that failure is occasionally inevitable, but that persistence pays off. Specific skills taught include stress management, intrinsic motivation, academic confidence, balanced well-being, connectedness to others and connecting educational relevance to achievement of life goals.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:57 am

Evangelism in the Early Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The roots of American evangelism go back to 16th century Europe, when Anabaptists began suggesting that church should be separate from the state. This view did not find favor among governments closely aligned with the Catholic church, and consequently Anabaptism was brutally suppressed. The means, as the Global Mennonite Encyclopedia starkly describes it, was often “the scaffold and the stake.” By the end of the 16th century, most European Anabaptist leaders were dead. Some of the survivors fled to America, where evangelism would later resume, but the Amish, Mennonites and Hutterites who were descended from the original Anabaptists abandoned evangelism in the United States.

Evangelism, Not Evangelicalism
The most common personal experience with evangelism and apologetics in America today is with Jehovah’s Witnesses, who go door to door to advance their faith. Evangelists are the local equivalent of missionaries who go abroad to spread the word. Evangelism is not the same thing as evangelicalism. Evangelism is a practice, a way of sharing belief. Evangelicalism is a dogma and a trend that led to American political activism and megachurches in large U.S. cities.

Early American Settlers
The early 17th century in North America was marked by the establishment of colonies, including Jamestown, Plymouth and Boston. Some settlers came to escape religious persecution; others came to make money. It was a brutal time: many colonists failed to survive the deep winters, and native Indians were a danger as well. Although there was ample religious fervor among the colonists, there was little energy or enthusiasm for evangelism. Simple survival was the priority.

The Great Awakening
After a period of relative quiet in the religious sphere, like the calm before the storm, evangelism suddenly caught fire again in American culture during the Great Awakening. A charismatic preaching style modeled on the fiery, emotional sermons of George Whitefield, paired with dramatic “religious revival” events, drew increasingly larger crowds to Protestant churches in the late 1730s. Beginning in New England over six years, then spreading to the South, revivals were aimed at the faithful whose convictions were weakened by doubt and the unchurched who had little contact or experience with organized religion.

George Whitefield
Whitefield was a central figure in establishing American evangelism, but according to some, he may have also been a factor in sparking the American Revolution. Before Whitefield, sermons were top-down affairs — the pastor preached, the congregation listened. Using the call and response technique, Whitefield established congregational participation and encouraged emotional expression. This exciting new dialogue, together with a generally defiant attitude toward authority, stirred what Nancy Ruttenburg calls the “democratic personality.” The Great Awakening unleashed more than a religious revival; it reinforced a fierce sense of independence. This eventually led to the separation of church and state that Anabaptists had advocated.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:53 am

Workout Guide for Teen Guys

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Getting ripped and looking good is a goal desired by many and attained by few. Why do so many fail? In a word, persistence. Despite what ads for supplements might tell you, there’s no way around it — getting fit is hard work. Results can take longer than you expect, demand more daily time than you planned, and require energy and effort you didn’t anticipate.

The first key ingredient for successful workouts is mental. Your teen should realize it will be hard and he’ll have to put exercise above other activities. Be ready to put in the time, patience and dedication to make it happen, especially when your teen is discouraged by the pace of improvement. It’s simple — if your teen doesn’t do the work, he won’t get results. “No pain, no gain” is short and to the point, but temper that phrase with the recognition that serious pain is your teen’s body telling him to back off or see a doctor.

Before your teen begins, have her establish goals. Make them as specific as possible, and don’t just list a major goal — add in milestone goals to fulfill along the way. For example, if your teen’s goal is to run a 5K, milestone goals might be to run around the block once five times, run around the block twice five times, then around the block three times in a row, working up to 5K. Start small and build on it. Hitting milestone goals helps your teen measure her progress and bolster her motivation, so have your teen build plenty of them into her plan.

Get Specific
Once your teen has set goals, have her map out a detailed plan on how to achieve them. There’s no shortage of workout programs available, so find a program that matches her goals, whether it’s building muscle mass, increasing endurance or losing weight. Then determine exactly how much time she’ll dedicate to this program daily. The more specific your teen is with her plan, the better she’ll be prepared mentally when she starts. Instead of planning workouts around other activities, plan other activities around the workout. That’s the level of commitment your teen needs to succeed.

Discipline doesn’t only extend to how your teen burns calories. You’ve got to watch how many and what kind of calories he consumers. This will likely require some changes in how he eats, what he eats and how often he eats — not an easy adjustment. Dietary changes depend on goals. Some foods that are good for building muscle mass might not be the right choice for building lean muscle for endurance. Building muscle and losing fat might not initially show up as weight loss, because muscle is denser than fat. Your teen needs energy to work out, and calibrating the right amount of food and the right kinds of food might take some trial and error. Don’t let your teen be discouraged by errors.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:48 am

Top Advocates for Teens

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Teen advocacy comes in a variety of forms and purposes, covering issues like juvenile justice, education, civil rights and assistance for at-risk youth in America and around the world. Some organizations are student-led and others, in areas such as juvenile justice, are managed by professionals with experience and expertise in related fields. Many advocacy organizations are nonprofit and work with limited resources and some are politically active. These organizations have established track records for effective and ongoing advocacy.

Juvenile Justice
The Vera Center on Youth Justice works for fairness in policy and practice, promoting reform in the areas of the status offender system, detention centers, treatment placements and the management of justice system data on juveniles. Goals include spotlighting systems that emphasize punishment over treatment, identifying inhumane conditions and disproportionate targeting of minorities.

A similar organization, The Campaign for Youth Justice, has a single, clear aim: to end the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system. It also serves as an information clearing house, with a variety of reports, fact sheets and poll data.

The Energy Action Coalition educates and advocates on a variety of issues related to the extraction, generation and consumption of energy supplies, with an eye toward the future and the risks of climate change. Some of the specific issues the coalition addresses include fracking, the planned Keystone XL pipeline, mountaintop removal, strip mining and coal plant proliferation.

Advocates for Youth has existed since 1980, with a focus on adolescent reproductive and sexual health both in the U.S. and developing countries. Their credo regarding responsibility reads, “Society has the responsibility to provide young people with the tools they need to safeguard their sexual health, and young people have the responsibility to protect themselves from too-early childbearing and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.”

Civil Rights
The Student Press Law Center addresses First Amendment rights and censorship of student publications, both online and in print. Their website offers links to legal assistance, a Freedom of Information letter generator, legal guides, FAQs, a law library and a blog.

The United States Student Association bills itself as the largest, oldest student-led organization in the country. Their action agenda encompasses student debt, immigration reform and shared governance of campus policies. The USSA policy platform includes 29 items and includes expansion of basic education, voter ID law, the Equal Rights Amendment and support for the Violence Against Women Act.

At Risk, at Home and Abroad
Big Brothers and Big Sisters has paired role models with at-risk youth for over a century, first as separate organizations working with girls and boys, then together as one organization since 1977. They operate in all 50 states and 12 countries. An independently funded 18-month study found that participants in Bigs and Littles programs were 47 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, and 52 percent less likely to skip school.

Voices of Youth is a program funded by UNICEF, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund. They are active in human rights for children and teens, poverty and hunger, education, health, the environment and the effects of violence and war.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:45 am

Activities for Kids Using Binary Numbers

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Binary numbers form the basis of all modern computing. At the machine level, transistors serve as on-off switches. 0 means a switch is off. Modern desktop computers routinely have more than a billion transistors and often they have 2 billion; graphics processors go as high as 7 billion. A typical smartphone’s cycle speed is 1.7 GHz, meaning each “core” or CPU can process 1 billion, 700 million instructions each second. That’s a lot of flipping switches.

How Binary Numbers Work
Imagine a light switch. 0 is down, 1 is up. Now imagine two light switches. The first one is up, the second one is down, like so: 10. Those two switches together represent the number 2. Imagine both switches are up: 11. This represents the number 3. The number 4 is shown with three switches: 100. Representing 8 requires four switches: 1000. Using enough switches, any number can be represented in binary. Have your child work out the switch positions for the numbers 5 to 7 and 8 to 16?

Place Values
Both binary and decimal numbers use place values. In decimal systems, also called base 10 counting, you know the right-most number is always one of 10 numbers: 0-9. You know the next column is 10s; 10, 20, 30 and so on. The third column is 100s. You can see each column is another power of 10. A similar concept applies to binary. It’s a base-two system, so place values double instead of expanding by 10s. Like so: 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1. Write down this sequence of numbers and imagine them in neon on the wall, with a switch under each one. Draw a 0 or 1 under each number to show if it is dark or lit. Add the numbers that are “on” to get their binary values. For example, if your switches are set to 0001110, you add 8+4+2 = 14. Try other combinations.

Binary Fingers
Another way to visualize binary numbers is by using fingers. A finger up is 1. Hold up your right hand with four closed fingers facing you and your thumb pointing right. Your thumb is 1. Hold up your index finger. Two rightward fingers up = 3. Now hold up your middle finger. Three rightward fingers up = 7. Raise your ring finger, and you have binary 15. Ask you child what number do you get if you add your pinky finger?

You can use binary to create a simple code system. Let each number represent a letter. Let’s make the letter A = 1 and Z = 26. With this system, A B C would read 01 10 11. Another example; in binary The Cat in the Hat would look like this: 10100 1000 101 11 01 10100 1001 1110 10100 1000 101 1000 01 10100. Have your child try trading simple binary code messages with a friend and see whether they can both decode it correctly.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:40 am

How Does Biotechnology Affect Kids?

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Biotechnology can affect children before they are conceived, before they are born and as they age. The knowledge base is expanding quickly, with new tools for DNA analysis. The ability to model and image molecular and atomic interactions, together with sophisticated scanning techniques that allow doctors to peer into tissue, has bolstered our capacity to re-engineer life. The power of such knowledge is obvious. It can be used for good, by repairing or replacing damaged organs and tissues, or it can be used for ill, by screening out traits that some perceived to be undesirable.

Immunization of children is a routine safeguard against disease, and despite the fears of a small minority, it has been and remains an effective defense against serious illness. Children today no longer need to fear diseases such as polio, measles, rubella, whooping cough and meningitis. These diseases once destroyed lives, and still do in regions around the world. Even as those historical dangers fade, new vaccines provide protection against HPV, which can cause cancer in women. HPV infection rates have fallen 56 percent among teenage girls since immunization for HPV became available.

Clean Clothes
Laundry soap enzymes help ensure kids live and play in clean clothes by breaking down proteins, starches, fats and grease. Proteases break down proteins in egg, gravy and blood, and amylases tackle starches, lipases take out fat and grease. Other common enzymes used include cellulase, mannanase and pectinase. This biotechnology has existed since the 1960s, but less well known is that the enzymes used in modern detergents are genetically modified organisms designed to lower costs.

Genetically Modified Foods
Genetically modified foods, which include children’s cereals, have been controversial since their inception, primarily due to the lack of comprehensive safety studies, concerns about their effect on the environment and legal issues related to intellectual property. However, it is certain that world population is growing and food prices will rise unless agricultural yields can be increased. Whether GMO foods can meet this challenge and maintain a record for safety is still a point of contention. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has noted that the “World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

Human Genetic Modification
Since the human genome was mapped in 2003, much has been learned about gene expression, interaction and the phenomenon of epigenetics, the response of genes to environmental cues. The first publicized germline genetic modification of humans occurred in 2001, resulting in the birth of 30 healthy children born with genes from three people. Germline genetic changes are passed on to future generations. Genetic alternations that prevent a debilitating or fatal disease will prevent children from acquiring these genes and becoming ill. They then pass this protection on to their children.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:35 am

System for Tracking Kid’s Good and Bad Behavior

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

There are a variety of ways to track behavior, and tracking systems for children are generally intended to aid in behavioral management. This can be for home, school, or long family road trips. Behavior is measured and recorded for the purpose of encouraging positive behavior and discouraging negative behavior. The measurement rules and results are shared in some form with children to deliver clear, fair feedback on what behavior is deemed appropriate. For example, bullying is a behavior to discourage, and some children may need more frequent and intensive feedback to learn it’s unacceptable.

Token Economy
Token economies are a positive behavioral system. They reward positive behavior, while negative behaviors are treated neutrally. Tokens can be anything — star charts, wooden nickels, lego blocks in favorite colors – and these tokens are exchanged for rewards. For example, from the start of each day Jimmy earns a token for every hour he doesn’t throw spitballs at Jenny. If it’s been a bad day, he earns no tokens and no reward. Try again tomorrow. Maybe he does better the next day, but not quite well enough to earn a standard reward. He can trade what he has for a lesser award or attempt to save tokens and earn more to earn a better reward.

Self management systems begin as a collaboration between the student and teacher, or parent and child. In this system, both the adult and child rate the child’s behavior over an agreed timespan, be it 5, 20 or 60 minutes. Points are earned for positive behavior and close agreement in ratings. This encourages the child to behave positively and give an honest self-evaluation. This technique works to promote both better behavior and acknowledgment of mistakes.

Number Line System
This system is useful for providing comparative feedback to groups and individuals at the same time. Children are given clear guidelines on behavior and an understanding of how points are assigned. Points are tracked on a number line for each student and averaged for the group. This setup can also be split into two groups to create a friendly competition between groups for best behavioral points.

Clip Chart
This is similar in concept to the number line, but it is presented vertically. Students begin the day at 0 and move clips up and down the line in accordance with their behavior. The students move the clips themselves, providing a tactile dimension to aid recall and reinforce learning. This system is simple enough for young children to grasp, making it ideal for the K-3 set.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:28 am