Lexus CT 200h: Thrifty, Nimble, and Stylish
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An inexpensive Lexus might sound like an oxymoron, but that is what the Lexus CT 200 h is and with it comes the attributes the marque has brought to buyers including vehicle quality and buyer satisfaction ratings that top the charts, as well as a frugality usually associated with the ubiquitous Toyota Prius. Of course, there are some caveats with this Lexus and they are in it diminutive size and it performance. Nevertheless, if you want a good looking hatchback that can get you a combined 42 mpg with the Lexus treatment the CT is your only choice. Helping make it an interesting choice is the utility of its four-door hatchback body style that make it an ideal choice for commuting, runs to the vet, or a weekend escape. 2014_Lexus_CT_200h_020

The CT 200h is very athletic and trim making it capable of being piloted through crowded mall parking lots as well as canyon runs with equal aplomb. Don’t expect exuberant response because the 134 horsepower engine is designed with economy in mind. The good news is that the pricing of this Lexus is exceptional. Indeed, you can acquire this Lexus for less money a well equipped Prius, although the latter may have more interior space and better fuel ratings. The Lexus comes standard with alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors and puddle lamps, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, split-folding rear seats, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Siri Eyes Free technology that connects to select smartphones and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface. Options include a Seat Comfort, and Premium, Leather, Navigation package features a rearview camera, voice-controlled navigation system, Display Audio and F Sport package for those who want the go fast look.

Mom’s view: The CT is an interesting four passenger hatchback that has a cool, almost retro look. Very intuitive and its hybrid feature makes commuting effortless. Although the ride height is quite low, the visibility is good and the turning radius tight enough to make U-turns effortless. Safetywise, the Lexus has antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, and airbags everywhere. Lexus’ telematics system automatically provides collision notification, stolen-vehicle location and emergency assistance. Most importantly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the CT 200h its highest rating of “Good” in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength, and for whiplash protection. Overall, you get a Lexus that does most everything well at a bargain price.

Dad’s view: Power for the 2015 Lexus CT 200h hybrid isn’t overwhelming, but when the electric motors and gasoline engine are united freeway merging and passing aren’t a concern. The CVT is excellent and keeps the 98-horsepower 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine on task. Handling is a good as most hybrids, especially the good feel of the steering and brakes. Very competent for what it is. The ride is compliant, but don’t expect the same level of quietness that is in the more expensive Lexus models. Still, it is enjoyable to drive and grows on you. The CT is like a secret that more people should know about as it provides a fun ride with frugality, exceptional suspension, comfort and quality of the Lexus brand without the big bottom line.

Young working woman’s view: The controls are fairly easy to master, but the control for the info-entertainment entries takes a while to learn as it uses a unique mouse-like interface and a joystick to move the cursor on the screen. It provides excellent feel, though. Interestingly, despite its size, the backseat has an amazing amount of leg and head room. The doors, however, are a bit slim so entry wearing a dress requires some practice. The glovebox and door pockets are diminutive, but the backseats can be folded down to provide access to nearly 35 cubic feet of cargo area. I really liked the smoothness of the CT as it switched between electric and gas modes and auto stop-start functions smoothly. BMW and Porsche could learn from Lexus in this regard. You can select three different driving modes from normal for day to day outings, Eco for crowded commuting, and Sport for a more aggressive feel.

Young married man’s view: Finally got hitched and this would make a fine addition to the family. The CT has several features I admire such where Lexus claimed to use bamboo speaker frames and trim items made from plant materials. Although it looks small, once inside it does not feel that way. With the requirement that all news cars have backup cameras next year I was surprised that this was still part of an option package on the CT. That aside, I found the optional voice-command HDD tilt-screen navigation system with remote controller, the Enform emergency notification system, NavTraffic to be easy to use and quick to respond. The joystick control actually provides feel as you move it about. Very cool.

Family conference: The 2015 Lexus CT 200h is the most affordable Lexus with a starting around $33,000 and we have seen some models well loaded for this price. For that you get a handy little rig that enjoys pleasing its owner whether it is sipping fuel, parking in the smallest of spaces, or just making you proud every time you enjoy the many luxury features. A great way to reduce your carbon footprint, too.

Frugal Family Friendly Vehicles
The Car Family

Residents of the Pacific Palisades love their vehicles with over 70 percent owning two more more. Added to that is the fact that residence turnover rate is very low and you have a well established community, but one that still has over 3000 households with children under 18, according to Census data. With that in mind, and the 30 minute average commute time, we found a variety of family friendly vehicles that are capable of 30 mpg and are priced under $30,000. In other words, you don’t have to be rich to afford these fuel frugal vehicles.

If you are looking for something different, the revised Mitsubishi Outlander has enough electronics to make an eight-year-old happy. Everything from dual 12 volt outlets to a 6.1 inch touch sensitive monitor help keep you in touch and the all-wheel drive capabilities provide some security when heavy rains occur, if memory serves us. The high seating position offers a view of the traffic jams ahead and the optional Rockford-Fosgate 710 Watt stereo can help win the decibel battle with motorcycles and pother motorists who desperately want to share their music with you. Prices start around $28,000.

As large as the Impala is the Kia Rio isn’t, and that goes for the price, which is about $17,000. for the SX. The best things about the Rio is that it is easy to park, maneuver, and you can get over 35 mpg with the manual transmission and a light foot. Despite the price, the Rio has an abundance of safety features including the usual array of airbags, traction and stability control, anti-lock brakes and hill assist control, which is ideal given the step grades in some sections of town. The Kia Rio has a controlled ride and the engine is potent enough for legal speeds. There is an plethora of standard equipment including Bluetooth. Go with the hatchback version over the sedan and you can carry even more cargo. Highly rated with a pleasing look, the shapely Rio is worthy of the keep the Palisades beautiful motto.

In nearly the same price bracket of the Kia is Nissan’s popular Sentra SR. It can provide up to an estimated 39 mpg on the highway, but realistically you are looking at around 34. The continuous variable transmission and four-cylinder engine are refined and there is room for four adults, but its
real trumps card are its looks, interior treatments, spacious trunk and rear seat room and easy to master optional navigation and stereo controls.

Another worthy SUV is the Hyundai Santa Fe LTD AWD, which carries a $34,850 list price and that includes an enormous number of standard features that would be extra cost options on the competition. The Santa Fe has three rows of seats and a powerful engine that can be nursed enough to get an average of 25 mpg in mixed driving. A soothing ride, an interior that makes getting into the third row of seats somewhat easier, and user friendly electronics make the Santa Fe attractive to those who like to the idea of a SUV.

Mazda has two 5’s that are remarkably the same in terms of utility, but vastly different in style. Choosing between the two is as difficult as deciding what flavor as the much lamented Baskin-Robbins. The Mazda 5 is a minivan with the emphasis on mini. Yet, it provides all the utility of its larger competition and is much easier to park and maneuver. It is fun to drive, handy, and the EPA-estimated its gas mileage at 22/28. This is an exceptional handling minivan that has a small turning radius and easy to enter side doors. Older people well appreciate the ease of entry as you don’t have to step-up to gain access. The second row of seats are captain’s chairs and there is a small third row of seats as well. Truly a small jewel and fun to drive.

Mazda also offers the CX-5, and as most Mazdas, is pleasurable to drive. This affordable SUV offer Mazdas excellent Skyactive Technology that yields class leading fuel mileage and enough power rank it at the top of the small SUV category. The CX-5 offers standard keyless entry, steering ancillary controls and available with the Smart City Brake Support feature that can automatically brake the CX-5 in emergency cases at up to 19 mph.

Nissan Pathfinder: Affable and Affordable
The Car Family
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Sometimes a car simply amazes you and that is the way it was with the new Pathfinder. Nissan has made this seven passenger SUV into a well mannered, fun, and versatile vehicle capable of handling most any terrain and with enough options to satisfy any taste. Perhaps, best of all, the Pathfinder starts around $30,000 (US). In other words Nissan has priced the this gentle giant under the cost of many mid-sized sedans.

The Pathfinder is a radical departure from older generations and provides ample evidence that Nissan knows how to produce a seven passenger SUV that can match luxury brands in quality and performance. The unibody constructed Pathfinder offers ample cargo space, an upscale interior, and spry performance. Indeed, this Nissan is a joy to drive. It has excellent acceleration, good braking, is easy to park and offers superior value. The Pathfinder is very nimble.

Visibility in all directions is among the best ever in a large SUV and the 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 gave us over 23 mpg in mixed driving and 25 on the highway. That is impressive considering its towing capacity is 5000 pounds. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) in our test vehicle was unobtrusive, quick to react and kept the engine on task. A hybrid Pathfinder is also available.
2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Mom’s view: What a surprise. This is a big SUV that drivers like a small one. It has a turning radius that enables you to quickly maneuver into tight mall parking spaces. Safetywise, Pathfinder models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags, traction and stability control systems and a tire pressure monitoring system. Options include a voice-activated navigation system, a 13-speaker Bose stereo and the best Around View system in the business providing a clear, 360-degree overhead view of nearby obstacles. A blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert are available on SL and up models. You can also order all wheel drive, but we found the front wheel drive enough to power through the recent snowfall without slippage.

The interior has plenty of storage spaces, but the real plus was the usefulness of the second row seats that have over five inches of travel and help make access to the third row of seats easier. I was impressed on how easy the seats folded flat enabling us to haul a six foot table with room to spare. A great place to put those bargains. The Pathfinder is available in S, SV, SL and Limited trim levels. Even the base model is well equipped with tri-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo system, and 18-inch alloy wheels and more. Nissan has created a value oriented SUV for families that has a 19.5 fuel tank making 500 miles trips possible without refueling.

Working woman’s view: I reommend the SL version with its leather interior, power liftgate, remote start, heated front and rear seats, an electric-adjustable front passenger seat, and a digital compass as well as a 120V outlet. The center armrest is equipped with jacks for just about any devise. I would also add the Tech Package with its 13-speaker Bose stereo and a navigation system, eight-inch touchscreen, NavTraffic and NavWeather, and an around-view monitor that provides a 360-degree birds-eye view of the surrounding area. The interior is understated and quite funcitonal. I believe the information center was the easiest to use of any I have tested and the large touch screen was quick to accept inputs. There is also a DVD Family Entertainment Package that shows images on 7.0-inch screens located in the back of the front seat headrests.

Dad’s view: This is not a performance vehicle and is tuned more for economy. The results are very good, but its real pride is in its handling and ride. If you haven’t driven a vehicle with a continuously variable transmission it might take you a short time to adjust. The braking is good for its class and the government crash test scores were all above average. The seats are very comfortable and the optional heating element works quickly. I highly recommend you look into the Pathfinder hybrid which, unlike the Toyota Highlander hybrid, can be purchased in models with a minimum of extras and thus starts around $35,000. Since Nissan also produces the best selling all-electric car, the Leaf, that technology certainly helps when they created the Pathfinder hybrid and were able to package the batteries with a minimum loss of cargo space. Essentially, the Pathfinder is a family vehicle for drivers who don’t like minivans. I found this Nissan refreshing and it showed quality throughout. I kept it in front wheel drive for better fuel mileage, but the recent bad weather gave me the opportunity to try it on slick roads and it never faltered. This is the type of one-size fits all households. It is easy enough to go grocery shopping, take a weekend trip, or commute with equal aplomb.

Family conference: This is an excellent choice for 909 readers looking for a large, family oriented SUV that is enjoyable to drive, has great visibility, and an abundance of features. Clearly, Nissan has done its homework and the Pathfinder gets our most improved SUV award. It certainly deserves a test drive. As always, we highly recommend you buy from a reliable dealer.

2015 Buick LaCrosse: A Family Flagship
by The Car Family

A 303 horsepower Buick? Yep, and the Buick LaCrosse also comes adorned with a comforting interior, relaxing ride, an abundance of electronics and a fuel consumption average over 24 mpg. You can stretch that gallon of petrol even more by ordering the Buick LaCrosse e Assist with a 25/36 mpg rating thanks to electric motors. What is most remarkable about this Buick is how far it has come from its roots as one of the nation’s oldest manufacturers famous for fender portholes and innovations such as
turn signals.

General Motors has loaded this flagship of the Buick line with a plethora of options including all wheel drive, a rearview camera, heated and ventilated front seats, 20-inch wheels, navigation system, heads-up display, and the valuable blind-spot, lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems. Our well featured test model listed for $45,000 (US) highlighted by the Driver Confidence Package, an absolute must as it has an abundance of safety features such as cross traffic alerts. This packages works well with the backup camera to provide the driver with another set of eyes when reversing out of tight spots.

The LaCrosse’s appearance has been smoothed and does not look like earlier generations. Indeed, without the Buick badge the LaCrosse could easily be mistaken for an upscale foreign sedan. Of course, it does not have the sporty handling as it is geared for those who enjoy a quiet and comfortable ride surrounded by an attractive interior with spacious seating and enough spunk to make passing and freeway merging less worrisome. With passenger comfort and safety being the primary emphasis of the LaCrosse the cost is a less spacious trunk.

Equipped with option all-wheel drive, this would be a fine choice for those who drive in inclement weather or just want to enjoy the security such a feature provides. The dual-zone automatic climate control and remote start make weather extremes easier to face with OnStar personal service at the ready. An excellent all around sedan for both city and country driving, but more importantly the LaCrosse presents buyers a real choice for those who might be drawn to foreign luxury vehicles and presents a viable American alternative. Safety wise the Buick has good crash scores and airbags everywhere, as well as traction control and electronic stability to lend an electronic hand when needed.

Mom’s view: There is little doubt that the designers of the LaCrosse have done their homework to make this a most livable five seater. There are sound deadeners, acoustical laminate on the windshield and Buick’s QuietTuning to keep the outside world at bay. Even the heavy winds are neutralized by its smooth skin. This is a very elegant car with no edges to ruffle the ride of the occupants. Entry and exit are simple and driving the LaCrosse is as close to sitting in your family room as it gets. The steering is very light and the brakes quick to react. This is a fairly large car and it feels that way providing a sense of security. Overall, a daring reach for Buick that should appeal to those willing to accept the styling changes of a new era.

Young working man’s view: The eight inch touch screen, Bluetooth, OnStar with Wi-Fi and
4G LTE, make this an unusual vehicle as it brings the LaCrosse into the electronic era in dramatic fashion. Indeed, the system may be overwhelming at first, so I highly recommend spending time with the salesperson for a full explanation. You can get an optional 11-speaker Bose surround-sound audio and even a head-up display, push-button start and a myriad of buttons, knobs and voice commands to explore. There are four trim levels so do your homework as each offers just a little bit more to the mix. Buick’s Intellilink electronics work fairly quickly, but entering data into the GPS takes time to master. The LaCrosse option packages are like eating at an upscale restaurant where there is something special for every taste, but I am more a fast food guy.

Working woman’s view: You can order some intriguing options on this Buick including articulating HID headlamps and some surprising stock items such as grill shutters that close at speed to help with the car’s aerodynamics. The seats are comfortable with the driver getting an eight-way power feature, but the weakness is the lack of storage spaces and that includes the trunk. I like the ride and handling of the all-wheel drive model. I found entry and exit easy, but the most intriguing aspect was how quiet it was on the road. A four hour ride left all of us feeling relaxed going over some fairly steep mountain passes, but I would opt for the e-Assist model for the additional fuel savings.

Dad’s view: The six speed transmission, as all General Motors’ automatics, works seamlessly and Buick even offers a Sport mode to hold the car in a lower gear longer. Very unBuick like. Selecting the Sport mode also impacts the steering and throttle response and is perfect when additional acceleration is needed for passing. This Buick should appeal to those with a yen for a larger sedan that provides an old-fashioned sense of value as well as a history of proven reliability.

Family conference: Buick has earned attention for earning top spots on numerous quality studies over competing brands. The LaCrosse’s modern styling and relaxed fit driving style provide an excellent reason to test drive one. However, make sure you get a good tutorial before you drive off as some of the most intriguing functions are the numerous electronic offerings.

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What Poor Teachers Can Teach Us

by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

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I was blessed as a teacher by having some of the worst teachers as role models and that includes public school and college. Each one of these enabled me to learn what not to do as a teacher and can provide others with ideas on how to improve their teaching.

This article isn’t about sour grapes, it is about turning negatives to positives and that is what we can learn from bad teachers. I am sure all of us sat through courses where the instructor lacked the basic skills to teach. It was boring and frustrating and sometimes we paid with low grades. The point is that we can learn from these weaknesses to make ourselves better teachers. Call it turning negatives into positives.

In high school I had the worst geometry teacher imaginable. He had his favorites, and I wasn’t one of them. In the end he won because I failed the class. I took the class in summer school and received two A marks for the same material. The difference was that one teacher wasn’t a teacher and the other took the time to teach. I took a summer school class in literature from a teacher from the Claremont Colleges while I attended Cal State. He assigned each of us a book of his choosing. At the end of the class we wrote a review. He gave me a C, a failing grade for a graduate student. The day I got the paper back I went to talk with him. He had left on vacation. Oh, the reason was for the low mark was that he thought my work was copied. It wasn’t, but he didn’t care to ask me. Thus the first lesson lesson learned is that teaching is to care about your profession. You are a professional.

The best way to learn is from good role models. If you find them in your teaching preparation program you are in luck. If you have a choice try to enroll in those classes taught by practicing teachers who have been successful in the classroom and are familiar with current state testing and standards. The worst teachers had one thing in common and that was they had no idea what good teaching was and didn’t bother looking because they felt they were doing a fine job. Be warned student teachers that this is your best chance to see some noteworthy role models. Don’t take the easy way for your observations and visit convenient schools or friends in the profession. Search out the best to be the best. So lesson number two is take the opportunity to look at what quality teachers are doing. At conferences attend those sessions where classroom teachers are presenting. When you are given a professional development day see if you can visit other schools. If this fails, I highly recommend something I have learned a great deal from. I give the students a letter at the end of the year and ask them to send it me after they complete their next year of study and tell me what I could have done better to prepare them. They don’t have to sign their name, either. Although the return rate is only about ten percent, the results are valuable. Yes, you get thank you letters, but more importantly I learned that my grade structure was too complicated (I was giving points.) and so I changed all of these to become a better teacher.

Remember sometimes there is a difference between the best teacher you ever had and your favorite. Analyze why you feel that way. I was doing a television interview in Canada and one question I was asked it what is the difference between the two. I explained that they needn’t be mutual exclusive, but in the main the best teachers taught you lessons you could apply long after you left their classroom and the favorite teacher had a class that was fun. I frequently read statements from students writing about a teacher’s class that was so much fun. When I ask them why it was usually because it was easy. A middle school expert once told our staff that he could tell the best teacher on any campus because that is the one the students complained about the most. And the complaint? Too much work. Being easy isn’t always being good for the student. So to be a better teacher make a list of the traits of your best teachers and try to emulate those as best you can. The lesson here is to separate your favorite from the best.

Another negative experience I benefited by was having teachers who isolated themselves in their subject. I don’t mean that kept the door locked, but they didn’t make their subject applicable to life and other subjects. It was simple a matter of memorization. In junior college I had a teacher whose final was to put 100 historical events in order. That teacher could have been replaced by a computer program and the learning would have been the same. So the next lesson is don’t isolation your subject from life.

Next lesson is not to isolate yourself in the classroom. Sharing questions, ideas, and asking for help doesn’t reflect negatively on you. Making friends with the classified staff is a must. They know what is going on and can provide valuable assistance in how things are done. Poor teachers don’t make themselves available. They hide in the staffroom. One of my teachers was never available for help. He told the class that his job was to teach during school hours. After school he went out to coach the football team. If you weren’t on the team you were out of luck. In the years since his attitude became a topic of conversation at every reunion. His ears must be burning, but more importantly he lost an opportunity to help and that is what good teaching is all about.

There were no shortage of teachers who had favorites and sometimes that created a problem for the student. To avoid this be fair to all your students but remember that they are not your buddies. Understanding them and having compassion for their situation is to be encouraged, but be aware that such “friendships” may be taken differently by the student. I don’t allow late work unless there are circumstances that the students can not control. If they wish to turn in late work that is fine because it is a learning experience. However, they receive no credit because they is also a learning experience.

Every day might have both negative and positive events. Celebrate the positive and learn from the negatives. If a parent’s comments leave you down, consider what you can do in the future to alleviate that feeling. Use the word challenge instead of problem. It helps eliminate negative feelings. Good teaching isn’t easy and that is why it is important to have a mentor at the school to discuss these matters with. Above all, stay away from those who consistently are negative.

All too frequently I had teachers who were interested in their subjects, but didn’t have the versatility to relate the subject matter. They were knowledgeable, but transferring that ingredient to the students was lacking and so the motivation dipped. To avoid this I recommend you continue your education taking courses in a variety of areas based on what you can afford can be worthwhile. Skip the basket weaving, but the one on world cultures might be of interest and how about business law? Education is a lifelong quest and being intellectually curious can help you “reach” students better by helping them make connections.
When in college I had a professor who could not find my term paper. I not only handed it in, I gave a presentation with it. The point is that being disorganized isn’t the problem, the problem is not having a system in which student work is documented. If you teach nearly 200 students, as I do, this is no easy task. But I have developed a system that works well and includes recording the date the assignment was handed in and a note if it wasn’t completed correctly. It takes time, but it also enables you to see trends and to gain insights into the personalities of your students. Thus lesson number 9 is be organized.
There was a German teacher that thought he was good at teaching, but poor not at discipline. He would rather tell a joke and be the students friend. As a result, those students who struggled weren’t given the extra help as he entertained the class. It is essentially that you have a good sense of humor, but it is also essential that you know when it is time to be serious. This teacher hadn’t master that vital trait after decades in the classroom. So, the lesson here is from the first day of school make sure that the students know how the class is run, the grading and homework requirements, and when you are available to help them outside of class. Make your procedures clear and be consistent. I write homework assignments a week in advance on the board and have them write it in their calendars. I post instructions on the board and leave them there for a few days. When they come in the room they get out their notebooks and get ready to work. They are told to use pens, how to format their papers, how to take notes using the Cornell method and I have modified, and the attendance and tardy rules are and the consequences. I post them on the bulletin board as well as the discipline rules. Next, have the students fill out an information card with their interests, parent contact numbers, and any other data that you may need. Keep them in a file. Finally, during the first week of school contact every parent by email or phone. During the Back to School event have a handout with the rules for the parents to keep. Also list what the State requirements are for the class and how to contact you.
Lesson 12 is to show interest in the student. I remember in elementary school students would bring in things that interested them, including a fair amount of insects, snakes, and other creepy crawlers. The teacher showed great disdain for these and lost an opportunity to reach the student. After a while the students didn’t even bother showing them to the teacher, but found the custodian who would tell them about their care, what they were, and whether the “find” should be kept or released. A book written about teaching in a tough New York school showed how a teacher used rodents to provoke student interest. In my class a bullied student brought in a caterpillar in a container. I let him keep it in the room and other students found it and asked him questions. He soon became the expert and the bullying stopped. Showing interest is that powerful.
There was one teacher who was quite likeable and he loved the theater. His class was enjoyable, but there wasn’t anything of substance offered. He would come dressed up in period costumes and give give a performance that provided insights into that characters thoughts. The problem was that the lessons were like a primary resource. They were interesting, but unless you had the background the value was quite limited. The idea certainly has merit, what was needed was a proper setting and more pre and post lessons to put the presentation into focus. So the next lesson is to put yourself in the student’s position. What are they going to learn from your lesson and how will you know?

Next up; communicate who is in charge. Move around the room as the lesson permits. Some teachers never leave their desk, but somehow know what is happening in the classroom. Take your pick. Which ever method you choose be alert. Some teacher know when the bell is about the ring as the students put books away in anticipation of their escape. These teachers are allowing the students to dictate the use of time in the classroom. Poor teachers let the students run the class whether it is to allow one student to dominate or to allow the students to leave when the lesson needs a conclusion. Make it clear from day one that you are the decision maker and their friend, but not their buddy.
Lesson number 14 is not to hold a grudge and always give the student a choice. In high school my friends were going to Las Vegas to play a game. I wasn’t good enough to make the team, but I wanted to go anyway. So I ditched school and went. I was prepared for the consequences. There were none. The counselor heard my story and wrote on the unexcused absence form “not truant.” I took it to every class and teacher and they simply accepted it, except one. He asked where I was and I told him. He called the counselor and the coach and expressed his outrage. At the end of the year he gave me the lowest citizenship grade possible. How dare I miss his class. I never understood why, but it was clear that this one incident had alienated him and he wasn’t going to let me forget. If I student does something wrong give him an opportunity to make it right, but make sure he or she knows the consequence. And, don’t take comments students say about you personally. If that means letting the moment pass so be it.
Finally, poor teachers probably got that way because no one bothered to show them how to improve. You should always be willing to listen to ideas and never quit going extending your education.

Discipline: training that perfects the mental faculties

Ten Skills Every Student Needs and You Probably Don’t Have Time to Teach
by National Hall of Fame Teacher Alan Haskvitz

After 40 years of teaching there comes a time when you want to just yell at the curriculum designers and textbook publishers that they have the cart before the horse. Teachers need to be allowed to spend more time teaching students how to learn and less on preparing for a test which measures nothing applicable in the real world.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I feel that every teacher would love to really teach students how to get ready for the challenges ahead of them and use the curriculum as a stepping stone to that goal. Over the years my students always were at the top in the State in terms of standardized testing. Indeed, some of them had perfect scores. The problem was I was teaching them how to take the test. Fortunately, I as able to shorten the material required for the course by removing those elements I though were essentially chaff so that I could teach them essential skills. Essentially, I started by teaching them how to discipline themselves. This worked so well that I still get letters from students, some decades after they were in my class, thanking me for teaching them for life. I have never gotten a letter thanking me for teaching them the Monroe Doctrine.

Here is the list and it far from complete, which are skills that need to be taught. Feel free to comment and add your own.

Learning how to Learn

Developing a love for learning is essential for any educator. It is the most important lesson a teacher can impart to a student and it is also the most difficult. A teacher may have to face a variety of hindrances from lack of parental care, nutritional and emotional problems, and even severe mental concerns. Regardless, there needs to be an effort and the best way is to become a facilitator by prodding, motivating, and providing a diverse array of learning materials to challenge the student to learn for themselves. Most often the textbook, frequently filled with data with little relevance to the student, is the main focus of instruction. And, perhaps, that is the way it must be if the goal is a test that measures improvement in the acquisition of this data. The teacher can feel confident as he or she has covered the material by sticking to the textbook. Motivational, hardly, but that is how teachers are frequently judged. There is another way to do this, but it is time consuming and requires a multitude of rubrics. Providing a variety of materials and having the students learn from them is an arduous task. However, once it is done a teacher can spend the rest of years modifying, adding, and individualizing lessons to meet the needs of the students. ReachEveryChild (cited below) provides a variety of sources for this free material and is an excellent place to start individualization.

The second part of learning how to learn based on whether the student is an auditory, visual or kinetic learner and how to use these to their advantage. It is impossible for a teacher to use all of these methods when presenting lessons, but a student can create their own lessons to help them acquire the knowledge. In my classes I have students create poems, songs, graphic organizers and the Cornell note taking system. In this way there is a variety of methods for them to learn. I insist they use my linking and three transfer method of learning as well. The linking method makes them link what they are learning to other things they have learned and create a “learning tree” of it that they add to throughout the year. The three transfer method is to have students read the material, take notes on it, and transfer that material to another mode such as notecards. I also recommend presenting the answer to a question and have them supply the question. This is an excellent test of finding out what they know. It can be used in all subjects.

What is Valid

If you have time, giving the student a variety of short articles to read and asking them to figure out what would be the best way to judge this material is very worthwhile. This process should also include a study of the various types of propaganda, how to evaluate a website for bias, and stereotyping. That is a lot to swallow and so it is best as part of a school-year long program. If you are teaching social studies an ideal unit could be the differences of opinion between the South and the North about slavery. Learning how to learn is not just about the acquisition of skills, but for the student to acquire the ability to judge the material. One of the best tools to get students to read is Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four. As the students read the article they keep track of the characters and reach various conclusions as the teacher hands them the next page. The lesson makes them detectives, but more importantly allows them to learn for life. Seldom are we giving all the answers, but we must make decisions by what we know and judge what is valid.

Speed Reading, not just reading.

It isn’t any secret that the first basic skill is reading. But not just reading, but speed reading. Close reading will follow much more quickly if students can learn how to read rapidly. Reading for facts and reading for pleasure can both be more enjoyable if a student acquires the ability to focus on several words at one time. I taught second graders how to read over a 1000 words per minute at their grade level. The usual improvement was always 200 to 400 words per minute more and this was for language arts and social studies materials. Interestingly the comprehension improves as the speed level doubles as the student concentrates on the material. It is a win-win, but it most be reinforced until it becomes a habit and it takes at least 30 days for it to become a habit. Be warned that some students are resistant to it and so online speed reading sites can help them challenge themselves at their own rate.

Write at Grade Level +

The first thing on teaching a student to write is to explain the types of writing based on the purpose. Taking notes while on the phone or writing a compare and contrast essay may be different in length, but the ingredients are the same. However, for longer works you need to teach the student to write at grade level. I have the students write a one page paper on their favorite vacation either real or imagined. Next, I have them underline all the one syllable words. After that they circle any word that they have not known since primary school. The Fry Formula is applied and the students record their writing scores. They is always silence as the students realize that they are writing at several grades below grade level. Now, that isn’t necessarily bad, but it does force them to expand their vocabulary and that is good. I always have a few Thesaurus books on hand and show them how to use them. The results are immediate and the students not only improve their writing, but improve their thinking and organizational skills as well as they strive to improve. My article (citation below) provides an in-depth look at this successful practice that has enabled my students to win numerous writing competitions.

Teach Them to be Journalist

This vital profession is based on training that every student needs. The ability to communicate, to judge facts, and to influence others with their work. There is no other profession that is so vital for students to learn from because it is essentially what they are going to do nearly every day of their life. A good journalist seeks out evidence and judges it. They write using the who, what, when, where, why, and how approach. They use the inverted triangle that helps them organize facts. Finally, it teaches them to be curious and ask questions and, very importantly, take good notes.

Teach Them to be Lawyers

Perhaps, oversimplifying, but lawyers earn them living by researching and providing evidence that their cause is correct. This requires an examination of evidence and organization. This is another valuable trait that can help students of all ages. For example, was George Washington was a good president? Can you prove it? Can you provide evidence that he was not so good? Some may call this critical thinking, but that type of thinking can not really be utilized until a student is able to have a variety of experiences that enable them to make a critical decision. Thus using the basic skills of an attorney in proving a point and providing evidence to that end are skills they are going to need to write essays persuasive and expository essays and in life.

Be Accountable

At the beginning of the school year I ask the students to look around the room and, without naming names, tell me how many other students they would hire to work for them based on the knowledge that they wanted good workers. After that I ask them to write that number down, fold the paper, and place it in a basket. I take out the numbers and place them on the board to come out with an average. In almost every case it is ten percent of the students or less. That means that the others already have a reputation of not being good workers. The reason for this is that many students simply do not hold themselves accountable. Immediate gratification, poor parenting, the need for quick teacher assessment with little assessment of the assessment, all help feed a “who cares” mentality. This results in large scale cheating with little fear of consequence. Research has overwhelming shown that rewards must be intrinsic to be a lasting value. If students are to be held accountable there must be a reward system that works and entices parent buy-in.
People Skills

We aren’t talking about cooperative learning, we are talking about the ability to get along with others regardless of differences. We are talking about good manners, social skills, negotiating skills, and the ability to work together to create a common goal. Skills as basic as how to talk to people on the phone, how to ask permission, or even showing remorse or concern are missing and yet vital for life.

Handling Emergencies
Handling emergencies is also seldom taught at school. Yes, fire drills are held, but what value are they to the student when a fire really occurs elsewhere? My students wrote and had published in the American Fire Journal the problems with school fire drills in the hopes of enlightening others. School administrators essentially ignored it because it wasn’t an area to be tested. Sad, because the issues the students brought up were important. For example, why does the fire extinguisher stay in the room during a fire drill? Why do the students stand up in rows when an explosion could knock them over? Who knows where the dangerous chemicals are? What do the various colored helmets that firemen wear mean? Needless to say, handling emergencies is a vital skill. Why doesn’t every student know CPR? How to stop bleeding? Or to identify a person having a “fit” and knowing how to act? Taking this a step further, how to teach students not to panic and to learn how to identify people should be taught. But, who has the time?

Skills for life

Setting realistic goals, identifying propaganda and bias, budgeting time, operating a computer and touch typing, triage work assignments, handling money and investments, observation skills, where to find information and measure its accuracy, and learning how to listen can all be incorporated in the curriculum. Each of these carry lifelong importance and all can and have been taught within the curriculum if there is time. There are free units of study on almost all of these areas available. The teacher needs to be given the time and flexibility to personalize them for their class.

Before I get off my high horse I must add one more thing and that is for the student to learn how to be happy. My friend Larry Martz, an editor with Newsweek, wrote in his book Making Schools Better, about the small bite principle. This is a simple plan where small strides can result in large gains. An educator who just takes one of these ideas to heart could make a huge difference knowing well that it is at least as significant as anything on a standardized test.

Why Students Cheat

Making Schools Better

Car Rating Site

Government fuel economy site

How to Improve Student Writing

Student speed reading lessons
There are others

Using the Inverted Triangle

BMW Diesel Sport Wagon: The Family Bimmer
By The Car Family

for more reviews go to

There is something for everyone in the BMW 328 all-wheel drive diesel wagon. For the family there is room for five and a dog or two. For the enthusiast there is the typical excellent BMW handling, suspension, and brakes. For the frugal there is the 30 plus mpg highway mileage and the reliability of a diesel engine. And for the adventurous that all-wheel drive makes light off-roading an enjoyable task. Of course, all these ingredients come at a cost and the wagon’s base price is just north of $40, 000 BMW.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan and xDrive Sports Wagon.

The real story is the BMW diesel engine which has a unique feature that turns off the powerplant at stoplights to save fuel. It starts immediately when you remove your foot from the brake or push the accelerator pedal. BMW’s diesel starts quickly, even in colder weather, with very little chatter normal associated with such robust engines. Matted to an eight speed automatic transmission the wagon does not have to be refueled for about 500 miles.

Mom’s view: A nice combination of practicality and sexy, this BMW even comes in an M Sport package and enough electronic programming features to keep a teenager happy for weeks. There is the iDrive infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity, and a host of other features that make your life easier… You can even program the suspension. I left the wagon on the Comfort setting and was quite happy with the result, but I could have chosen Eco, Sport and Sport Plus. My advice is to do your homework first as the option list is extensive with an abundance of features for safety, handling, and entertainment. If you aren’t judicious with your choices the price can touch the $60,000 mark, but for that you get a car capable of most everything but driving itself. Oh, it does have an automatic parking feature if you must.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan and xDrive Sports Wagon.

Dad’s view: An interesting choice, this wagon demands attention from those looking for the utility of a SUV and the benefits of a low center of gravity and the ability to easily achieve over 40 mpg on the highway. The ride is impressive with very little noise and the understated interior has superior fit and finish. Interestingly, BMW has equipped the family station wagon with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters to provide control freaks a bit of fun in maximizing the diesel engine’s 280 pounds-feet of torque whenever the need arises. The acceleration is very linear with surprising initial acceleration. Using the Eco mode does give you better fuel mileage, but dulls the driving dynamics. The Eco mode is best used on long stretches of divided highway. The xDrive drivetrain is very seamless and is reassuring, especially when the weather is inclement, however, going off road is really limited due to the wagon’s low clearance level. If you want to play in the dirt BMW’s SUVs are more suitable. You do pay a small premium for the diesel package, but this difference can be made up in about 30 months of normal driving due to the diesel’s better fuel economy, especially considering that most BMWs require premium fuel. Look for good resale too, as this is a fairly rare model. It is an oxymoron to label a car both sporty and frugal, but this BMW is just that. I would get the upgraded interior and have a one car does it all vehicle capable of everything from ski trips to driving on Pismo beach to kidney challenging eight hour journeys without refueling.

Young working male’s view: The 328d diesel wagon requires a special additive called AdBlue that helps with emissions and needs to be replenished at normal oil change times. And don’t forget that because the diesel won’t start if it is not supplied. Essentially, that’s all that is required to enjoy the benefits of this diesel wagon. BMW’s iDrive system has a significant learning curve, but a good salesperson can provide you with some worthy tips to make the benefits easier to utilize. The display is easy to see, as it is the driver’s line of sight, and the SiriusXM is very worthwhile. Interestingly, the iDrive even has a feature that enables you to draw letters and numbers with your fingers and confirms such requests by voice or visually. Interesting, but not as valuable as the optional head-up display as it is difficult to keep this vehicle at legal speed limits. The large panoramic sunroof is nice and the safety net is a lifesaver in emergencies. My thoughts are that the BMW buyer must decide between this and the BMW X3 or X1, which offer increased ride height and useful cargo space, but lack the handling, lower load height, and economy of the wagon.

Working woman’s view: There is adequate cargo space and the 40/20/40-split folding backseat add more useable room as the wagon lives up to its name. As usual, BMW has a variety of option packages. I would certain opt for the Driver Assistance Package Plus with its backup camera, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, side and top-view cameras and proximity sensors as well as collision warning. BMW has a reputation of being well built with excellent handling, superior braking, and performance all the while providing good fuel mileage. The wagon fits and adds the unique factor. I found it compelling, but the rear visibility is limited.

Family conference: If you are looking for something albeit tidier than the ubiquitous SUV, this BMW might be just the tool. The diesel engine is well worth considering, but do your research when ordering options.


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