Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Relationships by: Jason Nguyen

The first day of school is so important. It establishes the feeling of what your teacher and classmates are like. My first day this year was beyond boring until my third block.  My teacher immediately told us we could have free seating.  She also seemed light-hearted and fun and greeted us in a meaningful way.  Then she let us socialize and make bonds with each other.  She also didn’t just tell us the course syllabus and required materials.  She would tell jokes in between and stories of her life.

This year we had such respect and trust with our teacher.  She would put students together who would never usually hang out.  I made new friends and learned more about them.  She also sometimes let us pick our partners.  She also made learning fun, creative, and memorable.  She told us why people in the real world would do these things.  It wasn’t memorize and regurgitate. She showed us real life application.  She didn’t just follow the curriculum but rather let us choose topics that we were interested in and wove in the curriculum with the projects we were doing.  With all of this she still tried to be a person whom we could talk to.  The “troublemakers” in this class would be more respectful in this class and have better grades than in any of their other classes.  This proved to me that building relationships with peers and teachers can be so meaningful and worthwhile.  I implore all teachers to take the first step from the very first day of school.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

End of the Year Assessments by: Christian Sporre

As the school year winds down, the usual bombardment of end of the year projects and test slam all students across the nation. I now have a lot of time on my hands to get all of these things done since my track season has just ended. It is a huge change to go from working out for two hours and getting home late, to not having anything to do but school work. I find that even with the extra amount of time I have, it is even harder to get things done. When I come home now I have several hours to get all of my work done, so naturally I will procrastinate. This is leading to a big problem given the fact that I have twice as many things to work on. My stress levels are through the roof because of the insane amount of things that are due in the next two weeks. In fact, after I am done with this bowtieboys meeting, I will have to go home and study for my history SOL, which is tomorrow. On that same day I will have a spanish quiz, and I will have to turn in my results paragraph for my biology project which I am doing alone. The next day I will have my biology SOL so I will have to find time to study for that as well. The thought of just walking out of school on the last day has single handedly drove me to work my hardest. Junior year will definitely be the hardest year of all from what I have heard. I have no doubt about that. I have not taken an AP course yet but I will be taking two next year. On top of that, The rest of my classes will be at honors level with the exception of one elective. I think it is really important for me and all students to prepare for the next year during the summer so we are ready to be hit with tons of work at the beginning of the school year. I have been thinking of a good and effective way of doing this. I need to keep my brain academically active, while still not throwing away my summer. I spend most of my summer with my friends, so I think that is a good way to prepare for the next school year, while still having fun and chilling out. One of my friends has offered to help me prepare for my AP US history class with small review sessions with other friends. It will not be the most fun during these sessions but I know that it will make my transition from summer to school ten times easier. When I think back to the beginning of the school year, I remember my transition being anything but smooth. On the first day I was already given material to study, due dates, upcoming projects. I think teacher should  try their best to do what they can to ease their students transitions. Instead of grades right off the bat, it would be good to do some light review mixed in with fun activities. As the days go on, keep increasing the amount of things you are learning until eventually you are in a traditional class. This would help students slowly gain their school work mindset back, leading to good work in the classroom. It is a good idea to suggest the summer review with friends to your class. I can guarantee that it will help all students who try it out. I am nervous yet excited for this upcoming year. It may be my hardest year, but I will be prepared and ready to take on the new challenges I am faced with.

Thoroughly Structured Class by: Spencer Hill

Looking at my schedule at the beginning of the year scared me. I made a lot of decisions that I wasn’t sure about and was anxious coming into my sophomore year. In the end, I managed to adapt to my classes and do well, but some were a rough transition for me. Some of the classes I thought would be the hardest going in turned out to be very manageable thanks to very strong teaching and structure, while others made it very hard for me to learn. Subjects like science and math, which have been challenging for me throughout my education, turned out to be some of my favorite classes.
            I’ve spoken on the topic of my chemistry class before, but it really has been a wonderful class for me. Although the content was probably the most challenging I’ve ever had to learn, it was packaged in a way that made it very reasonable for me to understand. The first quarter was very challenging for me, as I missed multiple tests and all around didn’t understand the content. When I realized that this wasn’t going to come to me naturally and buckled down to focus, I saw how supportive the class was. Not just the teacher, but my classmates as well. The teacher created a casual environment where students felt comfortable sharing and helping each other out. The teacher was also very helpful, walking around the room, explaining whatever they could. They achieved this by going above and beyond to create a fostering environment from day one. When we all walked in, the teacher was gushing enthusiasm and was self-confident. They joked around and talked about their interests. This helped us see them as an actual person rather than a robotic teacher whose sole purpose was for us to pass some test. The other major component to a friendly environment was the desks. On the first day, the desks were arranged in one big cluster for a large group dynamic. This started a very close-knit class that is comfortable with one another. We have a class group chat that we talk in for fun.
            Since 7th grade, Spanish has been a strong class of mine. The way it was taught over the three years I took it was very strict. It worked very well for me. Spanish is a very literal class, so it felt right that it was taught without too much freedom. When you can’t use the language or resources, having the freedom to explore wouldn’t be that helpful. My sophomore year of Spanish was the opposite. The teacher believed that we had mastered all of the basics at that point and thrust us into reading articles and current events that we weren’t ready for. It didn’t help that some of the class was immature and not ready to work on their own with English. It ended up as chaotic environment where our teacher just reviewed the previous year’s content. We had too much freedom and we often came short on assignments.
            I discovered that the best method of teaching for me is a thoroughly structured class with lots of time for face to face learning. I also value strong communication and group work. With this knowledge, I can make sense of my schedule next year and set my priorities.

Stress and Breaks by: Joe O'Such

April and May seemed to fly this year, and before I knew it, I’m sitting here with only 12 days remaining. Although these 12 days are filled with end of year festivities, there are regardless a multitude of stressors. Although mainly academic, spring sports also are a source of stress, sometimes directly other times indirectly. Sports can directly cause stress, as the preparation to the post season event are important and athletes have to do well to see their team succeed. There are practices that the athlete must attend, and even these are incredibly important and stressful. But all this takes time away from academics, which indirectly causes stress. Student athletes have less time to do work, which is a major stressor. Oddly enough for me, this stress often plays to my advantage. When I have to get work done, and I have just enough time, my work ethic skyrockets. In a sense, I will do better with a task when I have just one day, compared to a week to do it, if it can physically be done. A similar phenomenon is during shortages of food. People for the most part tend to share more when resources run low. The same will happen with my time. Some students can’t do this, and for them, the more time the better, but that time is taken away from sports.

This isn’t near the end though. This lack of time from sports is amplified by the fact that the end of year brings standardized test (In Virginia they are SOLs), finals, and AP tests. Of these, SOLs barely stress be out and demand little time while AP tests are major stressors and take a lot of time. Finals fall somewhere in the middle for me. SOLs are relatively easy, and most kids in my school pass with ease. I have not in fact studied for an SOL for two years, and I am one of many who feel this way. None the less, the fear of failing an SOL is in the back of everyone’s brain, which does stress me out sometimes. Finals are the next step up, but even finals vary significantly to me. They often require understanding of the subject on a much higher plane, but they also aren’t entirely composed of the multiple choice and technology enhanced questions of the SOL, which are easy. These finals may have short answer questions, essays, long multistep problems with multiply attack angles, and difficult multiple choice. Although it seems odd that multiple choice could be hard, AP World History this year showed me just how bad it could be. Several AP World multiple choice questions are set up where all the answers are correct, it just asks for the one that is most applicable in the situation, or which one is the most correct. This is sometimes chaotic. It’s not like how in math a number can be represented multiple different ways and there is a clear “simplest form”. It is rigorous to judge the magnitude of a historical happening. Although these sorts of questions do appear on AP tests, our history class answered these styled questions throughout the year, including the final. But the released AP test questions are worse. Forget the fact that the questions are hard, but doing it in a timed setting in a test that determines if that class counts toward college credit is awful. Now due to the College Board rules, I am not at liberty to discuss the entirety of this year’s test, but I can tell you this; Writing 5 essays and answering 55 multiple choice questions in under four hours is hard, yet somehow manageable. These tests require so much preparation in part due to the essays. An essay could ask about the Anglo-Dutch wars, and you could not even know which countries even fought in that war (by the way, it was the English and the Dutch).  This year I only took AP World, which has the history of the entire world as its curriculum, starting from the big bang, all the way up to whenever the College Board sat down and wrote the curriculum.

All these stressors are why students need breaks. Classes shouldn’t be teaching things last minute, but should be preparing for the incoming doom of all the tests. But after all the pain and suffering, there is summer, which in a mere 16 days, I will enthrall myself into.

Huntington, West Virginia by: Sam Fremin

Over the last year, I have been participating in my theatre department’s coffeehouses (basically open mics). After spending the earlier part of the year performing Shakespeare parody raps and short adapted scenes, one of my best friends and I found our coffeehouse niche a couple months ago. With no explanation, we signed up for the January performance under the ambiguous title, “Huntington, West Virginia.” The MC confusedly introduced us and my friend and I took the stage. Our audience wasn’t sure what to expect. While setting up our minimal (but necessary) set pieces, I heard rumbling predictions of an improvised scene, a spoken word poem, another rap, and all sorts of other wrong guesses. The lights dimmed and the crowd was introduced to our cast of characters.
Chester, Dr. Fancy, Monster, and Pinky (pictured respectively), the sock puppet quartet, made their coffeehouse debut in a ten minute reenactment of a story about the consequences of stealing.

Unsurprisingly, this unexpected concept was met with mixed reactions from the department. Some thought it was funny and enjoyed the performance, while others were not as impressed. Regardless of whether it was positive or negative, me, my friend, and our sock puppets received feedback from everyone in the audience when the coffeehouse ended. Everyone had thoughts about our performance and we were more than happy to hear both sides.

By the time the February coffeehouse came around, my friend and I knew we couldn’t just forget about “Huntington, West Virginia.” We enjoyed it too much to throw the idea away this early. Besides, some people had fun watching, even if that was not a universal opinion. My co-puppeteer and I held a planning meeting to discuss how we would proceed. Should we continue on the path we had set ourselves on in January? Or should we completely revamp our formula to try to satisfy the other part of the crowd? The decision seemed fairly obvious.

When the MC took the stage in February and introduced “Huntington, West Virginia,” we could not control the grins on our faces. We were so excited to continue. Our short story this time was only five minutes (half the run time of the initial episode) and circled around Chester’s search for a dog. At the end of the show we were met with more positivity than we had at the end of our January performance. Instead of caving in and scrapping our idea, my friend and I pressed forward with “Huntington, West Virginia.” Of course, we had to make some concessions so our puppets didn’t get booed offstage or something, so we made attempts to address the feedback. Some had said ten minutes was way too long to be forced to sit through a squeaky voiced puppet show, so we cut out any lines we found unnecessary. Some said our plot was too random, so we made the story more focused. Some said our humor only circled one style, so we diversified the jokes we were telling. Now, “Huntington, West Virginia” has had new life breathed into it and in a couple of weeks we will be wrapping up the series at the final coffeehouse of the year.

Although this whole experience dealt with a puppet show, it was a demonstration of the importance of the editing process. The open dialogue my friend and I had with our audience informally after every show helped us fix what wasn’t working in our product. Keeping similar open dialogues available in classrooms are super important for classroom growth.

If the only time a student is getting feedback on their work is after it is turned in, valuable learning opportunities are lost. Often times when I receive essays back from my teachers, I will see quick one word reactions to my work. I can interpret those criticisms to mean what I think they mean, but the responsibility seems to fall on me. I’m not the only one who feels this way too. Nondescript feedback on student work isn’t always helpful. It would be much more beneficial to discuss criticism verbally. That way, there is no reason for someone to be confused. Teachers can lay out exactly what they mean and students can ask for clarification on whatever they need. It is also important to allow students to preserve the voice of their writing. Even though there are inevitably criticisms student writers need to take into account, the overarching idea of their piece should remain intact. It provides a more authentic end product and it’s honestly just more enjoyable for the writer involved. Again, that’s why it is important to talk through the editing process face to face. Not everything is correctly conveyed through writing, from the student and teacher perspective. Students can talk through what they meant by their writing, giving teachers more understanding of how to help and teachers can talk through their edits, giving students more understanding of how they can grow.

Final Projects by: Jack Michael

At the end of every school year there is always an insane amount of projects that are handed to students at the same time. In almost every class a student is handed an end of the year project or an extremely large test to tackle. At the end of the year students are not usually in the mood for completing anything let alone five to ten projects. In this blog I would like to address the problems of final projects or tests and how you can relieve stress of students while having them complete the work you would like them to get done.

The first reason students find final projects to be stressful are their ability to significantly lower or raise your grade.  Most of the time these projects will count for 50-200 points. If these assignments are failed, they can significantly lower student’s grade. This coupled with the fact that most of these assignments are given at the end of the year, means that their final grade could be severely affected. They stress and slave over these projects making them their very best work. Often working into the late hours of the night.  A partial reason for student’s late hours at the end of the year is that other projects or assessments of the same caliber are due near the same date.

The second reason student find end of the year projects and assessments helpful is that they are assigned a multitude of these in the same period of time.  Students will receive one or two projects from each class they are enrolled into. The multitude of projects requires students to prioritize their classes into which grade needs the most bump. Most students will not procrastinate on any of their projects, they will be working on so many other project that they will just finish one right on top of the due date. Causing them to lose valuable points on these assignments and on their grade. 

            For teachers the way to reduce stress is to spread out these projects throughout the quarter or semester. This way student can have ample time to finalize the assignment and raise their grade if the assignment is done poorly. This also allows students to eliminate prioritizing; they can finish your assignment without having to worry about completing four others that night. Giving students piece of mind that they are able to complete their assignments without worrying about their grade tanking. This allows them to relax at the end of the year and enjoy their final moments at any grade. 

End of Junior Year by: Kellen Pluntke

My junior year is over.  I don’t know how it happened, exactly what happened, or how I got through it, but apparently I did.  With all the issues I have run into in, but especially off school grounds.  It has been a very rough year for me personally, as well as for some of my friends.  I have talked about how some of my friends ended up in mental hospitals in the fall, and how I kind of fell into a dark hole and stopped trying in school.  This, and some issues with the law and school because of being with the wrong people at the wrong time diverted all my attention away from my books.  I had a C average for the first semester, which didn’t even bother me at the time because of everything else, but I am normally an A- kind of kid.  I was lucky enough to have a great connection with some of my teachers and administrators, so I got through that period of this year.   These teachers were able to help me because through me telling them, they knew what “kind of kid” I was, and they were able to help me out accordingly.
            However, I did not tell all my teachers what was going on in classes that my grade didn’t drop in.  I did this as sort of a mini experiment to see what they would think when at the end of the year, I was planning on sitting down with a few of them and telling them and asking if they knew this information earlier, how would it effect how they treated me in class.  Before I could even start these conversations I was planning to have, one of my teachers who I love, but had not told yet asked our class “What group do you fit into in this school?” and set up a discussion.  So, I really told them.  I told her how I’m not part of the group of star students, but quite the opposite.  My teacher was pretty shocked, and asked to speak with me after class.  This teacher told me that if she knew that I was one of those kids that had all this stuff going on, she wouldn’t have pushed me as hard.  So this is the message I give to teachers.  Please do not look over the kids in the back of the class who are the “troubled students” because none of that means anything.  Every student should be held to the same standard and treated like every other student in the class no matter how they appear to look, or talk or anything like that.  All kids have the ability to succeed in class, and should be encouraged to participate.  Keep students backgrounds and personal information they tell you in mind when helping out with their work and such, but don’t let it lower your standards for them.