Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Joseph O'Such's Posts (2017)

Analyzing Multiple Media

In most of today's classrooms, books are analyzed the most out of any forms of media. Books are great, the words paint a picture that is up to the reader to fill in the blank spots. The thing is, where are poems, songs, articles, and even movies in today's classroom? Books are still important, but there are definitely other media that is often avoided in classrooms.

Other media doesn't have to replace books, but they can become a critical part of any classroom, not just English. One very universal media is the article. There are articles for everything imaginable. Articles can take up maybe 30 minutes, and can give a quick scoop on a current issue in the given field. In one of my previous classes, we started off class analyzing a poem or song in a collaborative manner and open discussion. This forced students to think on their feet about not the surface level meaning, but the deeper meaning. I personally fell in love with these, and they brought together the deep themes and concepts of a book, but compacted it into a rapid fire discussion of not only the poem/song, but also the comparisons drawn between the poem/song and our current world. They were not only thought provoking, but also eye opening, revealing important morals within life. Almost every media can do this, creating an environment where ideas are thrown back and forth at lightning speed, while key revelations are made. There are so many different media, it would be impossible to list them all. I do have a few favorites though...
  • Movies, short films, etc.
  • Paintings, drawings, sculptures
  • Pictures of famous events, times, people, etc.
  • Poems
  • Songs
  • Articles
  • Books
The thing when analyzing shorter media, is that amble time is needed. One can't expect students to look at a poem and in five minutes, articulate a rational meaning behind it. It takes at least 30 minutes for a complete discussion to take place. Sometimes a little extra time can greatly increase the quality of the discussion. For things like movies, it may require at least an entire class block to watch/read and additional time to analyze the media. Analyzing different media, but still analyzing books, can create a fun intriguing learning environment. Making sure these media have important life lessons can teach students not only how to analyze different things, but can also teach them important life lessons that will stick with them.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Fear and Potential with Social Media

Social media is an important part of our society, functioning as almost universal communication between any and everyone. Social media has helped new ideas and developments spread like wildfire, and any voice can be heard. This great tool is often feared by many parents and teachers, because they fear that their children and students will misuse social media resulting in negative consequences.

In fairness, misuse of social media is common among many children, and can have negative effects on their futures. Like all things, kids need to learn how to use social media correctly if they are expected to use it in a positive way. Not everyone can just pick up a book and know how to read, there needs to be teaching if social media is to be used in both a private and academic setting.

Administrators and teachers at my school are still trying to find social media's place in the classroom. One thing that is acknowledged about social media is that students need to know how to use it without getting themselves in trouble. This is a very important part of getting students involved with social media. Teaching the dos and do nots are incredible helpful in creating positive use of social media. Even with all this advice and guidelines, social media has huge potential that isn't tapped into by many schools. Social media can be a students voice to the world, a place to share their opinions and ideas. In Language Arts, a very important idea is developing your writers voice. Social media is similar in the sense that people have a voice, and something to say. If students take the writers voice one step forward and share it with the world via social media, then they are leaving their mark.

Now, the term social media pertains to a lot more than Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Social media is any website or app that allows people to communicate and connect. So websites like YouTube and Blogger are technically social media. Each website has its own uses and advantages. It would probably be better to share a three page paper on blogger compared to tweeting two lines at a time. If social media is to be used in the classroom, students will need to be educated on social media. Once this hurdle is crossed however, there is little resistance. When social media is used to display projects, students will take the time and effort to make sure their project is something they would want to show the world. I know personally that if I had to post a project on social media, I would want to make my project as good as possible. I also find it easier to see a clear purpose when writing one social media. I know that not all students are like me but I do know many students that would agree with me on this.

I would like to know what everyone reading my blog thinks about social media in the classroom. Comment down below and I will try to respond to as much as possible.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Physical Comfort in a Classroom

I would have to say that 90% of my classes have been physically characterized by rows of desks with some posters and a teachers desk in the corner. Obviously, this is very bland and boring. There are a few of my classes, that other 10%, that do something that make the classroom a better environment to learn. This can be very small things like a nice lamp, or even just a layout other than rows.

A current teacher of mine has a very comfortable room that is very welcoming. They have nice scented candles, that make the classroom smell good. I find this creates a soothing atmosphere. Also in the room are a few mushroom chairs, a lamp, a bistro table, and walls displaying student work. These improvements really shine through and create a classroom that provides physical comfort, so that mental and social comfort can occur. The class is one where there is little unorganized commotion, and students don't feel the need to get up and move around. The lamp in the room provides a nice touch, creating light that is a lot easier on the eyes compared to the white streaks produced by many school ceiling lights. The mushroom chairs are nice places to do in class reading and the bistro table not only serves that same purpose but doubles as a one on one meeting place.

In addition to the nice pieces of furniture, the desks are also constantly moved around. On testing days, the desks are put into rows, but every other day, the desks are either in groups or in a circle for discussions and such. There is also a great deal of mobility in class, if people need to move into groups of three, groups of three are made and the desks are rearranged. This in class movement is nice so that the students aren't just sitting through 90 straight minutes, but can have a bit of time to get up and move around a bit. The movement in this scenario is in a manner that is still beneficial to learning.

To create big changes in physical comfort of a classroom, there are only small things needed. A little goes a long way. Even a small lamp can make an important difference by creating a more warm, inviting atmosphere that enables students to learn in an environment where they want to learn. Changing up desk layout is another easy thing that can make a classroom a comfortable place. Moving away from the columns and rows of a standard classroom to groups can make a huge difference. Mixing up the layout of  a classroom keeps things new and fresh, while maintaining the old vibe.

Adding one or two of the things recommended above can excel the physical comfort of a classroom. I would encourage all teachers reading this to incorporate a few "extra" elements into their class to create a better environment to work in. Students not only notice this, but also are very appreciative of the action.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Most people are familiar with the saying, April showers bring May flowers. But for kids in Virginia, May means not only flowers, but also SOLs, the end of the year test required for many classes. Students spend May studying and practicing these SOLs, which are end of the year tests that are not required to go into the grade book but does determine whether or not the student gets credit for the course. As a student, I definitely stress out too much about SOLs. Even in classes I do very well in, I still get that gut feeling that I don't know something, and this causes too much stress, which in this case, isn't good. I also have seen in a majority of my classes, nothing is done after the SOLs, and we just watch movies, play games, etc. SOLs mark the end of the year in many classes, and the breakdown of the nurturing learning environment.

In SOLs, there is a year load of material jammed into one, 60ish question test. That is one whole year of curriculum students have to know and master. Oh, and students usually have 4 of these, usually concurrently happening. That is immense pressure on the student to study everything with such tenacity, that students become deprived of sleep, on a night where they probably need it the most. Students will also ignore other classes, just so they can have more time studying for these big tests. This is all because the test is so important to their academic future. Now, students should still study and prepare for their SOLs, but many do it to a extreme level that is unnecessary. Even worse, some teachers count the SOL as a grade, further increasing the importance of this test. Now, I personally think SOLs and tests like it should have a lowered importance, but they should still be important.

After SOLs, there is little learning that takes in many classes. For me, this is a combination of two reasons.  One, the SOL is seen as the final step in the year, with nothing proceeding it. Two, as stated earlier, SOLs drain students of their mental capacity and effort, resulting in many students not having the will to move on. Now, there should still be learning that occurs after SOLs, but with the toll they take on students, the learning should be at a slightly lower level than usual, and could maybe be a sort of introduction into the next course i.e. at the end of algebra, do a quick and simple geometry introduction.

As a teacher, one can take some of the stress of an SOL (or any other final) by spending the week leading up to the test reviewing so students aren't learning things last second. If new learning is done up to the SOL, that is tremendous stress as the student has to essentially master the new learning during the SOL instead of in a lower stakes classroom assessment. Luckily for me, in all of my classes with SOLs, we did in class review for about a week before the test. It was very reassuring and I was less stressed about the test than before. When there is less before and leading up to the SOL or final exam, students will be more willing to continue learning after the exam is complete.  By doing in class review, learning after the SOL becomes easier, and can help students get an early understanding of future courses and prepare them for the following school year.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ways my Teachers have Connected me to the World

In one of my first blogs, I discussed the importance of making learning connect and impact the real world. Looking back at it, I didn't cite a good example of this that I have participated in. So I thought for this blog to do just that, and show some of the projects and assignments that in my eyes, connected learning to the real world.

Runoff Project:
This was a quarter project in my science class where my teacher asked the class to pick a nearby tributary of the Potomac River, and to design an experiment that tests the effect of runoffs on stream condition. The Runoff project had us assemble into groups and carry out and design our experiment. After collecting data about the various particles in the water, the group had to write a report not only about the results, but how the local geography could have influenced the result. For example, if there was a giant chicken farm upstream, after a large rainstorm, it would be expected that the level of certain particles would go up. This project had students physically go out into the real world and undergo a measurement that many jobs actually have to perform. The Runoff Project also brought up the big issue of what runoff can do to a river system, which is a very serious problem in many areas, especially those in which industrialized farming is located. The topic was not only thoroughly examined in class, but also in the report.

TOSHIBA Explorivision Project:
The Toshiba project was another science project that I participated in. This project asked students to come up with a plan for a future technology in 10-20 years that will innovate the world. However, this is not only a project, but also a competition. This project is completed by thousands of K-12 students each year, so this wasn't unique to just my science class. The project got students thinking and researching about future technology underdevelopment today. My group did a project about exoskeletons, which are essentially robotic enhancements that are worn by the human body, like a shell. We had to first brainstorm an idea, research that idea, then compile our research into a concise paper. All of these skills are vital in many workplaces. Also, the research on a future and innovating topic provoked interest in said topic. This link is

History Situational Essay:
In my final example, I had to write an essay that contemplated a theoretical scenario. The scenario was there was a small farming town that was home to an abandoned World War II airplane factory. There were a group of investors that wanted to repair the old factory and convert it into a museum and expand it, at the expense of the local farmland. My job was to respond to the problem and come up with a compromise. Although this required history knowledge, it also required a good sense of persuasion to convince both sides this compromise was good. The essay also brought up the important question of how we should go about preserving our history and how far we should and will take it.

I hope everyone reading this blog can be inspired to create authentic project that connect learning to the world in meaningful ways, even if i doesn't directly apply to their certain discipline.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Modern Trends in the Classroom

As a student, I see how much trends on the internet and TV can affect how my peers interact and compose themselves. However, these trends are almost always ignored in my classes and the energy and potential behind them aren't tapped into. To tap into these trends doesn't mean simply using the internet, but doing some of these trends in an academic setting.

In about three quarters of my classes, the internet and technology are utilized to enhance learning. However, in none of my classes, trends are used frequently. The only "trendy" thing I see in my classes are random gifs in notes. We don't create trends like memes and gifs, nor do we create things like websites or social media pages that extend learning outside the classroom using trends.

As a result of using these trends, students can not only relate to the assignment easier, but they also extend their learning outside the classroom if things like a blog or website is created. Although many memes and gifs have little relevance to education, they can still be used for educational purposes. The same thing is true with custom websites, social media, and blogs. To some, these may have little educational value, but they can certainly be used in an educational setting. In Teaching With the Tools Kids Really Use, Susan Brooks-Young describes that it is better to find positive uses for technology than to "fight what is ultimately a losing and unnecessary battle"(Teaching With the Tools Kids Really Use, 2010). Instead of throwing away the potential of these uses of technology, they should be utilized to use the energy and enthusiasm they hold for students. Students are excited about these trends, but only if they are incorporated in a meaningful and less "cringy" way.

If a teacher is going to use memes and gifs as a final product, they will have to be very well thought out as a gif is short video and memes are either a single picture or short video. Using memes and gifs would end up teaching conciseness in design and writing, which is a good skill to learn. Logos for example have to represent an entire company within one picture. There would also have to be a process of elimination of ideas, and then even narrowing ideas. Learning this processes of brainstorming and revision is a great one. This is something that is constantly done in the real world that has significant value in the classroom. A final way to use trends in the classroom is using the internet to share to the world students' work. This provides obvious meaning to the work at hand and students will try harder knowing that their work will be available for all to see. These trends have immense potential and if utilized correctly, help to greatly increase classroom interest and effort.

Works Cited:

Brooks-Young, Susan. Teaching with the Tools Kids Really Use: Learning with Web and Mobile Technologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2010. Print.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Connecting Each Day in Meaningful Ways

As I sit on a beach in Florida, soaking up the sunlight, I watch the endless cycle of waves, as they form, crest, then retreat back into the ocean to reform. I think of another seemingly endless cycle. School. It's spring break so it is a one week grace period before we head into the final quarter of school. I think most students would agree with me on school being an endless cycle, punctuated by weekends and breaks. Every day should have a different flare, that separates it from everything else. With this however, everyday should also be able to feel connected in some way or another. The key is finding perfect balance between the two.

There is one class I am currently in that everyday seems like a repeat of the last. I discussed this in a previous blog, titled A Notes Based Classroom. To summarize the class, it is notes based. To quote the blog, "The class has this everyday structure, yet never strays far away from it, making each class feel like a repeat of last." (A Notes Based Classroom, ). The class although good in other aspects, just can't escape the feeling of an endless cycle.

It is vital to have an organizational pattern in a classroom, yet everyday, something needs vary in how the material is taught. This way, everyday doesn't feel like a repeat of the last. Having the same organization with the same kinds of activities everyday can be very disengaging, especially if the material isn't the students favorite. In the words of Susan Ohanian," I don’t know many adults who could sit quietly through even one day of the dusty confines of a typical school curriculum”. (Caught in the Middle, 2001) Repeating the exact same thing every single day can break a students attention in class, and can damage built up rapport. This creates the "dusty confines" Susan Ohanian describes.

One thing that can easily make everyday different are different activities. Spicing up the activities and varying them not only engage students more, but they are also a helpful study tool. Students can recall specific lessons and remember, oh yeah, I remember when we learned this because we did that one activity. In history this year, we did a reenactment of Aztec sacrifice. Although the demonstration was hilariously executed, the lesson stuck with me and my peers. Reenactments, songs, chants, poems, games and mini contests are just a few fun ways to mix up each day while still getting across the content. Just doing interesting activities that still convey important messages can help to not only create a feel of little repetition, but also one where students look forward to learning more.

Works Cited:

Ohanian, Susan. Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.

Building Good Relationships with Students

Almost everyone has been in a group with a member that has a weird grudge toward you. Working with that person could make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. As a result, the productivity of the group goes down, just because one group member has a grudge.

Now, translate this story into the classroom. There is almost always at least one kid in every class that just doesn't have respect for the teacher nor the class. They are the ones who are constantly disrupting learning, and slowing down the class. In some classes, there might be several of these kids, that just bog down the class in constant interruptions and distractions. In many cases, disruptive kids can definitely be a good student in ones class. One reason why kids may become disruptive comes down to rapport.

I have a teacher that has a positive relationship with almost every student in my class. I would be hard pressed to find a student in this class that didn't bond to my teacher. I have several hypothesizes for why this is the case. The first reason might be that he almost always takes the students opinion on matters into account. This makes us feel that we actually have an important role in our class. A second reason is that he actively knows what is going on outside school. He talks to us about our sports and other extra-curricular activities, in an interested, but not inappropriate manner. A third possible reason is that he talks to us as people, not as his subordinates. He will constantly have a normal conversation with students, while still tying everything back to the subject matter. These three reasons have stuck out to me as reasons I feel that I can connect to this teacher. These might not be the only three reasons, but they seemed to me as the most important.

The importance of building positive rapport is so great it can make or break a class. Knowing students, not just as a grade, or a face, but as a personality, or a back story, can further the effectiveness and efficiency of a classroom. In the words of Penny Kittle, "If I don’t know the kids before me, I don’t have a chance"(Write Beside Them, 2008). A teacher has to know their students as a person in order to have classroom success. In addition to knowing the students, the teacher has to treat them with trust and respect. If students feel equal to the teacher in the classroom, that respect will be two way between the student and teacher. Linda Rief wrote, "Trusting and respecting our students may be the best models we provide for them in creating culturally healthy environments in our schools"(Seeking Diversity, 1992). Having this two way trust in the classroom can propel learning as the students trusts the teacher to do their job well and the teacher trusts the students to be hardworking and efficient. 

To build this good relationship, the main thing a teacher has to do is truly know the students. Talking to students about normal matters can make the students feel that teachers are much more than just teachers. Treating students as equals can help them feel more connected to the teacher, and respect their judgement more and more. Treating students with respect can cause respect back to the teacher. Talking to students about their more personal matters, and getting to know them as people, can make students feel that they are actually treated fairly and that they are treated in a manner as an equal. Doing this can propel classroom efficiency and learning.

Works Cited:

Kittle, Penny. Write beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.

Utilizing Debates in a Classroom

Debates are something that I personally see implemented some what often in classrooms yet in many cases, the debates are forced and rushed, in addition to being heavily guided by a rubric, notes, etc. There has been very few examples, if any, that I can remember a truly good debate occurring.

One example of a debate I have seen very often are Socratic seminars. Now, these are lovely ways to discuss a topic but I have seen Socratic seminars poorly implemented. The Socratic seminars I have participated in have had a topic that doesn't resonate well and  one on which students are not passionate about taking sides. The questions asked to me during a Socratic seminar have been incredibly specific, and not open ended. These Socratic seminars have resulted in my fellow students not being passionate about what they are discussing, and just doing the bare minimum of what is required.

There are several key aspects that make a debate transcend to one in which students are actively engaged. These include...

1. Topics/Questions:

A good debate has to have good topics. Without a strong topic, a debate will collapse. When choosing topics for debates, choosing topics that can relate to current issues and issues that resonate with both the audience and the debaters. The questions should also be clear and concise, and allow room for debater interpretation.

2. Moderator:

The moderator of the debate has a difficult job. They have to jump between intervening with the debate and letting the debaters take charge. A good moderator isn't constantly intervening, but instead inject propositions at points where the current questions run out of steam or when the debaters get out of hand. The moderator also has to let the debaters shape the debate to an extent, a debate run by only the moderator doesn't account for the differences in the debaters.

3. Preparation:

Both the debater and the moderator have to be prepared, the debaters to arguably a greater extent. The debaters should be prepared to offer up and defend their points against a variety of opponent counter claims. The debater should also be able to poke out weak points in their opponents argument that could sway the balance of power toward them.

These three aspects are integral to a debate. However, in my history of debates in classrooms, the preparation and topic are usually not adequate. The topics have to be precise and specific to a certain degree. If too precise, it forces students down two or three paths, with not much choice. This can force the students down a certain path they aren't proficient with. “Forcing students through a process to mimic a structure they are reproducing with little understanding is not the responsible teaching of writing. It has to be about more.” (Write Beside Them, 2008). Students need options, but not so many options that the students are confused. That is why the topics cannot be super broad. If this is the case, there are so many angles of attack the student can just get lost. Using To Kill a Mocking Bird as an example, a question that would be too broad would be, "Discuss Jem as a character". On the other hand, a too specific question would be, "Discuss Jem's feelings toward the tree house from the beginning of the story". A question that is specific enough, but not too broad would be, "Discuss Jem's relationship with Scout and how it changes through the book". In addition to the questions, preparation is also important, as the debater has to be well prepared. In a classroom setting, the method of preparation should vary from person to person, as everyone has different preparation comforts and limits. Students could be offered three ways to organize notes for a debate, with a fourth option of a teacher approved method. This way, students can custom create their own methods. This creativity can spark tremendous results. In the words of Linda Rief, "Creating is the highest form of intellectual development" (Seeking Diversity, 1992). Students creating their own methods can not only help tailor the debate to them, but also further their intellectual development. Combining a solid topic and questions, with a good moderator and preparation, a debate can be a successful one. However, a great debate has to have a twist. This can be a multitude of things but one possibility is that the debaters ask each other the questions, with the moderator keeping the debate under control. The questions would have to be approved ahead of time, but this would provide a fun twist on the standard debate format. Another way to spice up a standard debate would have the audience ask questions, and provide more points of view. In a classroom setting, both of these modifications could be done, and could make an unconventional debate that is more interesting than a standard debate.

Works Cited:

Kittle, Penny. Write beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Becoming "One with the Students"

There are countless puns, jokes, and comments that state in order to be good at something, you have to become one with that something. Although many of these comments are intended to be funny, they have a deep meaning. If you want to do a job well, you have think about the purpose of your job and consider what it would be like to receive the product of your job. This thinking can propel the product and hence, the job itself. This idea is directly applicable to teaching, with teachers being felt connected to students and thinking about lesson plans from a students point of view.

I have two examples that stand out to me where mentors didn't become one with their students. One of them is from my perspective as a mentor, the other one as a mentee.

The first example involves Sunday School, which is Christian education that goes on at my church. I am a volunteer teacher for Sunday School, and I teach the kindergarten class. Sunday School is about an hour long and for the first 15 or so minutes, the kindergarten through 5th grade classes do an opening together. During this opening time, all the students will sit on the floor to receive some sort of quick lesson then do an activity regarding the lesson. However, I am the only teacher who will participate with the students and sit down with them. All the other teacher stand in a semi-circle around the sitting students, a few of them on their phones, oblivious to what is going on. I am being somewhat biased toward my class but my class is far more behaved than the others during this opening time. I speculate this is due to the fact that I am among my students, not outside of them. After the opening, the classes split up and do individual activities, so I don't know what goes on in the other classes during this time. But I do know that during opening, the teachers are almost completely disconnected from their students.

The other example I have is a general categorization of my past sports coaches. Now, I loved all of those coaches in the moment however, looking back, there was one thing that a few of them never did. Some of my coaches never participated with us in practice and just stood on the sidelines. Few of my coaches that stood on the sidelines were actually injured and couldn't participate to the greatest extent. Looking back now, I have slightly favored the coaches that were more than willing to jump in during a practice over those who weren't. While the coaches participated, I felt more motivated and supported, and felt they could understand what we had to do each day. While the coaches didn't participate, I felt that they were disconnected from us and couldn't understand what we went through, making their sometimes very supportive comments feel bland.

In school, some of my classes involve the teacher in non-meaningful ways. These usually consist of the teacher sitting in the front of the room, spectating students as they work. This type of participation creates a vibe that the teachers are significantly above the student, not equal with the student. On the other hand, if the teacher works with the students and is constantly moving around and participating in the activities, the students feel that the teacher is on their side. Teachers should do what they teach, meaning, if you teach science, participate in labs. In the words of Penny Kittle,
“I now believe you really can’t teach writing well unless you write yourself” (Write Beside Them, 2008). A teacher should do what they teach, not just teach it. When a teacher participates with their students, the students feel that the teacher actually has something to say and overall will provide more attentive  students. In many cases, "students don’t realize people often give them more information than do books or encyclopedias"(Seeking Diversity, 1992). Students will sometimes not realize how important and instrumental teachers are if the teacher doesn't make an effort to become one with the students.

The fix to this problem is simple, participate in as many activities in your class. If there is an activity that a teacher doesn't want to participate in, then the students will probably not want to participate either. When designing lessons plans, consider whether you as the teacher would enjoy the plan.  In addition, participate in as many activities as a student and judge whether or not you liked it and whether it is good enough to repeat. By participating as a student in lessons, the teacher can easily see what works and what doesn't, and the students will respect the teacher far more.

Works Cited:

Kittle, Penny. Write beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pi Day

Two days ago was pi day, arguably one of the nerdiest days of the year. In schools all across the country, kids bring in varying types of pizza and dessert pies, and memorize digits of pi, all in the name of one number, 3.14. Pi is one of the most recognizable constants in math, being the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. There is such enthusiasm on pi day that is unmatched throughout the rest of the school year. This number, which otherwise would be looked down upon as boring, is looked up to with energy.

I know personally from experience how hype pi day can get. Pi day brings excitement and energy to something that is honestly quite boring. Even though pi day this year was snowed out where I live, all of the festivities have been rescheduled. Pi day does something incredible. It makes something otherwise considered lame amazing.

The question that emerges from pi day to me has nothing to do with pi. It is why can't everything be like this at school. Not necessarily the parting aspect of it but the fact that pi is made fun and interesting on pi day. I think the first way to do this is for teachers to have this enthusiasm. If a teacher isn't excited about what they teach, then most kids will feel the same way. Many kids in many instances do not want to work and learn if they bored out of their mind, with no motive driving them. "All kids can learn, if they want to learn" (Seeking Diversity, 1992). Bringing enthusiasm to the class room, yet not so much that it is cliché, can make learning a better experience. But just that isn't enough to replicate the effects of pi day. Everything taught needs to feel special. New information can't feel like it is just mixed in with everything else, it needs to stand out, yet still connect with everything else. Pi for example, is unique as it is an exact value for the ratio for a circumference to diameter, yet, it connects with other geometric figures such as spheres, and pi is used in many formulas. If things taught are made so isolated from everything else, then the course doesn't seem connected and related. One way to make everything special is with a fun twist on the topic. Obviously, every single concept taught in school can't have its own day with parties like pi day, but everything can have their own wow factor. Pictures, jokes, mini field trips, and other fun activities can ascend a lesson from normal, to unique and engaging. One activity is from the movie Dead Poets Society. The teacher, Mr. Keating, tells the boys to step on to his teachers desk to view the room from a different point of view, illustrating the use of lenses and lens theory, in a unorthodox manner. Lessons like those that differ from one another makes each lesson, as well as the content new and exciting. It also give something to relate the material to. Students could say things like ,"oh yeah, we learned that when we did the field trip." By having something to link material to, like a symbol or activity, will further increase the endurance of that knowledge.

An example of one of those activities that I have done this year was for science. The activity was a mini field trip to a creek in walking distance to the school. Once at the creek, we had to calculate discharge of the creek, or how much water flows through it at a certain time. By doing this lab, and a unique activity in order to complete it, I guarantee I could ask any of my classmates how to calculate discharge and all of them would not only know how, but also talk about the lab we did calculating discharge. There are so many different activities that can make things unique and memorable, it is really up to the teacher which one they want to employ.

I hope everyone can take something from this blog and implement it into their own classroom. And to all, happy belated pi day!

Dead Poets Society. Dir. Peter Weir. Perf. Robin Williams. 1989. DVD.                         

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

My Experience With Stress

Stress is one of the things that almost everyone experiences, myself included. Although stress can have some damaging health benefits, I have seen that there is such a thing as "healthy" stress, one that can help a person, not damage them.

I know that I work so much better when I have stuff to do. I know many of my peers feel similarly. When I am busy, I know that I have stuff to do, with little time to do it. For example, at the beginning of this year of high school, I was so not used to the massive workload. In addition to the dramatically increased workload, I had cross country six days a week. As a result, when I came home at almost 6:30 each school night, I would go immediately to homework, and except for breaks for showering and eating, I did straight homework for up to four hours. On nights I didn't have as much homework, I still would come home and start immediately on work. On the other hand, when I am not busy, I will not be as focused and will often waste time and do the work with lower quality. Almost every year, toward the end of school, I have significantly less work, and almost every year, I nearly stumble, but then realize that the work must done, so I feel busy again. When I am busy, I am stressed. However, I have not been stressed to the point that it became a health issue. I was stressed enough to keep me on point, and to not slack off.

I personally work better when I have x amount to do in y amount of time, compared to when I simply have a lot to do. Many of my peers would agree with me. To create this atmosphere of busyness, more homework isn't necessary. If class time is made so that there is a large workload, and any spill over goes to homework, students will take empowerment to work hard during class and to pay great attention. Trusting students to rise to the occasion will succeed. In the words of Linda Rief, "Trusting and respecting our students may be the best models we provide for them in creating culturally healthy environments in our schools." (Seeking Diversity, 1992). Trusting students can result in more dedication to the learning, not to the thought of getting out of it. Creating this busy vibe in the classroom can create a "work time" atmosphere, that prompts students to work hard knowing that it has rewards. This "work time" is needed by writers. Penny Kittle described this as, "We (writers) need to understand what work time looks like" (Write Beside Them, 2008). Exposing students to this work time can help mimic an environment found in the work place.

The solution to creating this busy environment is not to give out significantly more homework. More work isn't always the solution. This increased homework load can also cause the unhealthy stress that I talked about above, not the healthy stress that drives a students. One option that could work would be having the classroom be set up in a manner that there is a lot of rapid fire work with anything that spills over ends up being homework. This would set up the environment with the idea of x amount of work to do in y amount of time. Also the idea of reduced homework in the eyes of many students, myself included, is huge motivation. This framework has similarities to my seventh grade English class. Everyday, we would come in, and for the first half of class we would analyze a poem or a song, or do a quick write. The second half we would do our grammar, reading, writing, etc. The work done during the second half of class would be laid out at the beginning of the interim (one half of a quarter or one eighth of the school year). We would have the interim to do the work but half of each class would be dedicated to doing the work. This new set up I am describing would essentially be my seventh grade class, but instead of the time frame being one interim, the time is one day. This would hopefully reduce the effects of procrastination. One final thing is that with more work being done during class time, there would be less of a need for homework, which I know as a student, is definitely something I look forward to. Creating an environment with a healthy stress can push a student to perform at a high ability with in the classroom and produce high quality work.

Works Cited:

Kittle, Penny. Write beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Impact of Isolated Units

Many of my current classes are based upon units. Although these units are a nice organizational pattern, they often feel severely disconnected from one another. In previous classes, I didn't understand the relationships between the different units until the end of the year. This set-up in my mind, ruined the synergy between the unit and didn't make the class feel like one class, but more like a dozen separated ones.

One specific example that sticks out to me was my sixth grade English class. This class had several units, some based on books, one focused on grammar, and another based on writing. The units felt extremely disconnected from each other and it was at the end of the year that I final connected the dots. Especially in English, all the aspects of learning (grammar, reading, essays, etc.) are intertwined into one subject, English. In the words of Linda Rief, "Neither can I separate reading writing, speaking, and listening. They are integrated processes finely woven into a tapestry of literacy." (Seeking Diversity, 1992). This isn't just the case in English, but in all subjects. Everything is connected, yet it is rarely taught as so. My current math class, (which I talked about in my blog two weeks ago) doesn't have units. Everything is built off the previous learning, and everything clearly relates to one another. This was obvious after only a week of taking the course. Before the weekly small quizzes, I find that the best way to study is review old concepts and to redo some of the homework problems, and after the quiz I still retain the knowledge.

On the contrary, many of my classes don't build off previous learning each unit. As a result, the night before the big unit test my fellow classmates and I cram in knowledge to study. Immediately after taking the test, all that knowledge went straight out of my head. The unit tests are just an assignment that are used for a regurgitation of memorized facts. A fellow bowtie boy, Sean Pettit, is well known for saying, "units encourage forgetting". Units break up learning into a choppy experience, not a fluid one.

Another one of my current classes that doesn't have individual units is my science class. The class is very unique in that over the course of this year and next, we are taught aspects of Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics, all in one year. These individual aspects of science are normally taught in individual courses. In my science class however, the next two years of science will teach me all three of those science subjects. The cool thing about my science class isn't just the fact that in two years we are taught three years of science, but also that the Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics are weaved together to form one class. One week, we learned about orbital dynamics and circular motion but then the next week we learned about the result of those forces which are stars, planets and galaxies. This pedagogy is a very interesting one to me but I really like it. Before I can even start to get bored of one individual area, such as physics, we have moved on to a different aspect. I also like the fact that, due to the switching of sciences, I can give more varied input. I can think about Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physics, all at the same time and also express that thought in this class and what I say will have relevance. Penny Kittle said, “You have this thinking building up inside you all the time and you just need to get it out”(Write Beside Them, 2008). Having multiple things going on at once means I don't have to hide away my thought because they aren't relevant. Finally, I like the flow and transition to and from the different sciences. They aren't forced and don't seem like a major shift, more like a continuation from the previous science aspect.

Obviously, this idea of teaching three sciences as one would be difficult to implement in many schools. However, the weaving together of different aspects of an individual subject, would be much more manageable. In history, linking civilizations to one another and teaching how they connect and relate can make history feel like it is all connected, which it is.  History shouldn't have units, but more of a focus each day that still ties everything together. In math, building everything off each other tears down unit walls and connects seemingly unrelated concepts. In science, although it would be near impossible to implement a system like my current one, science is all connected. Many of my friends who take just Earth Science this year make a giant leap from geology to astronomy. There shouldn't be giant leaps. Units create these leaps. A slow yet concise transition is what is needed to connect things that would have otherwise been completely separate units.  Finally in English, weaving together grammar, reading, writing, and the others aspects of English together into one would create a more authentic learning experience.

Works Cited:

Kittle, Penny. Write beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.                                                 

A Notes Based Classroom

Last week I described a current, inquiry based math classroom that puts emphasis on student involvement and discussion. Today I am going to talk about a class that isn't quite on that level, one that has little student involvement and mainly consists of taking bland notes.

This class is built upon notes, which take up at least half the class. The notes are based directly off the SOLs (Virginia's version of The Common Core). Before notes, there is either a discussion of homework from the night before or a quiz using an outline of sorts. The homework discussions are very thought provoking, usually occurring in our small groups before being opened up to the whole class. The discussions can clear up confusion and can involve the whole class into a debate. The quizzes on the other hand, are simply a preview of the material for that day and to me, doesn't serve much value. The quizzes being graded also forces students to often spend way more time than necessary on outlining and making it far too long, thus preventing the skill of outlining from being effectively conveyed. Simply having the outline as homework and checking the outline without the quiz allows the teacher to give constructive feedback and the students can stress less about the quiz and focus more on a short yet detailed outline.

This class has the same everyday structure, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Organization is critical to any human endeavor, but there should be some variation each day to make each day feel new and exciting, not the exact same. The class has this everyday structure, yet never strays far away from it, making each class feel like a repeat of last. This organizational pattern is written on the board each day, therefore accomplishing the "Frame the Lesson" aspect from fundamental five.

On most days, only three of the fundamental five are used in this class. Those three are frame the lesson, recognize and reinforce, and write critically. The two fundamentals missing are working in the power zone and frequent, purposeful, small group discussion.

Small Group Discussion:
This critical fundamental can help break up the class and refresh student attention. Trying to concentrate to lecture/notes for 60+ minutes in a row is near impossible. These small group discussions not only can refresh students but also provide a quick period where students can reinforce what they just learned by discussing it and thus, building a in depth understanding. The lack of these discussions have resulted in more memorization in the class that is immediately lost after the test. In this class, simply discussing what we just learned in the notes for 1-2 minutes can not only help students retain attention, but also retain information and provide understanding, not just memorization.

Power Zone:
The power zone refers to the area immediately surrounding the teacher. Working the power zone refers to the movement of the teacher across the room to impact and include all the students in the power zone. Moving around like this has several advantages over teaching from a stationary position. The constant movement makes students feel a true constant presence of a teacher and will pay attention knowing that they aren't "safe" in the back of the class. The constant walking also makes the class room higher energy. This, coupled with frequent, small group discussion, leads to a class with high energy and one where attention span isn't a problem. In this classroom, where the teacher doesn't work the power zone, the students don't feel the presence of the teacher. This results in both lack of attention and the feeling that the teacher isn't there to help. It seems like a silly thing, but just moving around the class can bring a sense of energy and enthusiasm to the class.

On a final note, this class to me, is directed toward the average student. The class doesn't do well accounting for the students who are not average.  In the words of Linda Rief, "Workbooks don’t address the unique learning styles, the extraordinary ideas, the honest thinking or the prior knowledge each child brings to the classroom"(Seeking Diversity, 1992). There is nothing in the class that allows students to chart they own path (under teacher guidance). We haven't had one project or anything that lets us chart our own course. Just having some choice is far better than having no choice.

Nothing in human existence is perfect, and can never be. Yet, all of us should work to make our lives and the lives of people around us better regardless of who we are. As a student, I work and push myself not only to do well in school, but also in running and to be a hardworking member of the Bowtie Boys. No classroom will ever be perfect, but it should be the job of teachers to make a classroom as great as possible.

Cain, Sean, and Mike Laird. The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction. Place of Publication Not Identified: Publisher Not Identified, 2011. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Inquiry Based Classroom

My math classroom is unique to say the least. While most math classrooms are dominated by repetitive problems on worksheets and guided notes, my current math classroom is run by student based inquiry with the teacher intervening at critical points in order to either clarify a problem or to ask a critical question that can hint to a future development. We as students are always linking current learning to past learning and are taught to “act like predators, not prey” and to anticipate future learning. There are several things that go into making this classroom successful. These are some of the several key aspects/qualities and the roles they play in this classroom.
The Teacher:

Facilitator is the better word in this classroom. The teacher is simply a bystander who carefully guides the students down a path that such they continually recognize relationships with past knowledge. The teacher will strategically intervene at certain points to make something clear or to try and spark the idea for a relationship. The teacher though is still extremely knowledgeable at math so that he/she has the knowledge and understanding to answer any and all questions thrown their way.

The Homework:

The homework for this math class is for the most part done out of a set of three workbooks. Usually two assignments from this workbook are assigned each night for homework. Each assignment consists of 8-12 multistep questions that rarely repeat format more than 3 questions in a row, reducing repetition. The questions in the homework aren’t typical math questions and the work book as a whole teaches wholesome understanding not how to plug numbers into a formula. The questions also will require using knowledge learned earlier in the year to keep the old concepts fresh. Almost all new learning is linked to and built upon previous understanding so that in order to learn the new concepts, the students have to remember the old ones. This ensures that students don’t forget old concepts and constantly build upon what they have learned. However, due to the unique nature of the learning style, some state mandated standards aren’t taught directly through the workbook. They are taught in two ways. One is teaching skills and knowledge that can be directly translated to the standard or brief standards review worksheets, consisting of 6 questions that cover standards not talked about in class. Although many standards aren’t directly addressed, the skills conveyed address a multitude of standards.

The grading for homework is also different from standard homework grading. In my class, homework and other formative assignments account for 10% of the grade. Each homework assignment is worth 10 points, 2 points for participation in the classroom discussions and 8 points for completing the homework. This means that one has to participate in the class discussions and presentation of answers in order to get full credit on homework. The first week my teacher was lenient of the participation part as all of the students haven’t been in that sort of environment. By the end of the first week though, all of us had grasped the concept and since participation in the class hasn’t felt like a bullet point to cross off but something that furthers our learning.

The Learning Format:

Almost the entirety of class is spent on going over homework in depth. The homework usually consists of two assignments out of a workbook. The following class, each 2 person pair in the class becomes an expert on 2-4 problems and presents their problems, the solution, and how that solution was achieved. The pair then opens up questions to the class and after clearing up any confusion and discussing the answers and process thoroughly, the teacher will then sometimes ask a question. This question will usually question the authenticity of the answer and the student(s) will have to defend their answer and thoroughly explain. The other common question usually asks the students to link what they are learning now and either how it will develop future learning or how the current learning was developed from past learning. Often as a result of these questions, an open class discussion can occur which can result in the class working cooperatively to figure out why something works or can result in a debate on a problem, theory, etc. These discussions will be cut out by the teacher if time is of a concern.


In my math class there are neither units nor big unit tests. There are simply weekly quizzes that cover around 6 homework assignments. The way the tests are scheduled however, the class is usually two assignments ahead of what is covered on the quiz. This means that the material on the quiz has already been understood in order to act like a foundation for the next assignments/topics. These quizzes also consist mainly of 3-5 multistep questions.

This pedagogy is relatable to Solomon Khan’s concept of a flipped classroom. The material is made for the students to learn at home and in class, the teacher ensures the students understand the material and clarifies any questions and misconceptions. The set up also tries to teach understanding of skills and concepts, not memorization of formulas. In the rare case we use a formula, we undergo extensive learning in order to prove that formula and show that it works. As a result of proving everything we use, it gives us as the students a better understanding of the topic and facilitates the learning of related topics.

The constant need for participation within the classroom also drives all of the students to think outside the box and to never take anything for granted. During discussions, students have to use their knowledge and combine it with their creative thinking in order to provide a valid solution or case. This constant creative thinking encourages the students to create a more whole understanding of the topic as they are explaining the “how” behind everything they say. While presenting on their assigned homework problems, the students have to explain not only the answer, but also how they got the answer. This vocal repetition will help not only the presenters but also the audience understand and remember how to do something. Also having to explain the process helps the students know how to do the process better and understand it more.

The format of my math classroom almost creates a completely student run operation. This is so apparent that when my teacher is absent, the kids will teach and facilitate the class. My teacher will just pick two kids to lead the class that day and the sub will be the bystander that makes sure the students are on task and if carrying background knowledge on the subject, can contribute to the many discussions that occur. The two kids leading the class will assign problems to present on and ask thought provoking questions. This give the students an opportunity to be empowered and take on a leadership position. The combined effects of this student leadership, creativity provoking discussions, and teaching of skills not standards contribute to an all-around nurturing learning environment.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

World Relating Projects

In recent years, there has been a push for students to incorporate learning into the outside world and administrators have pushed teachers to use these projects in the classroom. But in many situations, these projects have become another hurdle to jump through, another bullet on the list of things to do. These projects are usually intended to engage and interest students to the outside world, but end up being used as simply another project that actually has little to do with the outside world, compared with a major connection. 
Many of these projects from my experience have simply related to the outside world, not developed a thorough, in depth connection. For example, in eighth grade science, which covered physics and chemistry, the world regarding project for that class was to brainstorm and research three ideas to improve the fuel efficiency of cars in the future and create a brochure on the three ideas. The class split into 4-5 groups and started brainstorming about their ideas. Many rather conventional methods were put forth as well as more extreme and futuristic ideas on how to improve fuel efficiency in cars. Although this project related directly to a real world problem or crisis, the project didn’t take the extra step to actually doing something about the problem, instead, merely mentioning it. The project was also graded on a rubric, which is rarely used in the workplace. The project could have taken a simple extra step to send out a newsletter on how to conserve fuel for the future, as a low level extra step. Yes, a problem of actual significance and relevance was addressed in this project but what was done about it? Nothing. The unique factor of this project was essentially non-existent. The idea was there, the execution wasn’t.

These projects are sometimes overlooked because of incidences such as these, yet, they still break up the standard curriculum which is Susan Ohanian described by saying, “I don’t know many adults who could sit quietly through even one day of the dusty confines of a typical school curriculum”. (Caught in the Middle, 2001)

However, these projects have great potential because they can teach real world skills and can directly connect students to the world. School is the predecessor to a job, and certain jobs can require some specific skills in order to carry out. Some jobs in the future might not exist today, creating the need for adaptability and the readiness for the unknown. These projects that connect students to the world are vital to the development of the future of unpredictability and the need for resilience.

There are limitless very cool examples of these projects but here are some examples that I really like:

1.      Have students create a mock website of their dream future job/company with valid research and descriptions that paint a picture of that dream using free website creators such as Weebly that can be used in future interviews as a piece of authentic writing regarding why they want that job/company (credit Ryan Beaver)

2.      Have students work together in groups or alone to produce a short film about a topic/controversy they feel passionate about to share with the community to advocate for that topic

3.      Work collaboratively in small groups to design a cheap system that can benefit those who are less fortunate i.e. designing a water filter straw that can be given to those in areas with low quality water

4.      Students work to create a poster or computer graphic that shows their lives all in one place including their accomplishments to show colleges and potential companies that the students plan to work for

One problem with carrying out these projects is the aspect of student choice. Some students want free reign on how they deliver the final product, while some students want a clear cut choice of what to do. Some ways the balance of both sides have been done is with three options, one of which is a student chosen, teacher approved product. Students also have varying degrees of abilities and responsibilities, which makes this option fit students in that regard. Letting students create allows them to think outside the box and in the words of Linda Rief “Creating is the highest form of intellectual development.” (Seeking Diversity, 1992) Letting students show true creativity is letting them develop themselves intellectually.

The other problem regarding these projects is finding relative topics to use. Look no further than current issues for those topics. There are so many controversies that almost everyone can choose a side on and that everyone has a voice for. Writing a thorough letter to senators, publishing a blog, website, or even newsletters are ways to connect to a real world issue, and actually advocating for that issue directly, bridging the gap between students and the world around them.

A student enters a classroom, three minutes to the bell. They immediately go and retrieve a laptop to start working. As other members of their group come in, they gather around the computer and they start working together. The group talks and types all class, intrigued in their work. Some of the students aren’t directly interacting with their computer, but instead are doing research on their own devices. The other small groups in the class are following this example, continuously collaborating and discussing their work. The last 15 minutes of class, all students huddle up in their small groups and combine what they did that class onto the main computer as a group. As the dismissal bell rings, the groups pack with haste, and are anxious to return to work next class. This may seem like an unheard of occurrence in schools but this can definitely be achieved with a well thought out project that connects students to the world in a meaningful way.


Works Cited:

Ohanian, Susan. Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Explaining a New Project

A week ago at school I heard about a new project in which several classes had partaken. The project was huge, accounting for almost 10% of the quarter grade. I wasn't in any of the classes that participated so I only heard the story through other students. Apparently, the project instructions were confusing and very poorly explained. The project format and concept were very new, yet some of the teachers explained the new project like it was similar to all the other projects the class had done previously. The poor explanation resulted in many students being confused and at first, they sought help from one another, but after that didn't go anywhere, they sought help from the teachers. However, some of the teachers gave minimal help and many students ended up not doing well on the project.

My friend James had to do this project. During lunch, he came over to my table and starting talking to me about the project. He described the project as, "completely different from anything we have done before, and really confusing". James also said, "I really didn't understand the instructions so once everyone went off to get started, I went up to my teacher and asked for clarification. They responded by saying that I should go ask my peers first, then come back, which I did. Even after getting no answers from everyone else in the class, my teacher still didn't re-explain the project." I felt bad for James, because I have been in a similar situation. I told him that he should try to go in during either study hall or in the morning. James replied "My teacher was probably just not in a good mood today. I think the project will make more sense if I go in for extra time. Thanks for the advice." As we parted at the end of lunch, I wished James good luck and reassured him that his teacher would probably clarify the situation. The next day, James went into school early to talk to his teacher. I was on the bus ride to school when he texted me, "I sent my teacher an email last night and she didn't respond, and when I went in this morning, she wasn't there, what should I do?" I replied by texting, "James, you can still go into study hall, it isn't the end of the world."

As I got off the bus and walked into school, I met up with James in the 10 minutes before class started. I could tell that James was in a bad mood. James immediately started talking about how stressed he was about this project, and how he was disappointed that his teacher wasn't there in the morning. He went on and on about the project, saying that even after thinking about it all night, he still was confused. As the warning bell rang, James told me that he was scared he was going to fail the project and that it would bring down his grade. I told him he shouldn't worry, that his teacher would probably thoroughly explain the project to him during study hall. We went to our classes and decided to meet up during lunch, which is right after James's study hall. As lunch approached, I was anxious to hear back from James. As I entered the cafeteria, I saw James waiting for me at the lunch table we usually sat at. The second I sat down he started talking to me about study hall. James went in to his teacher's room but his teacher was already teaching. When James walked in, his teacher told him to go to the back of the room and wait for a break in the material. James sat in the back of the room for almost an hour. Finally, when James's teacher came back to talk to him, they explained the project in a similar manner. James again told the teacher that he still didn't get it, so his teacher finally just told James the instructions in a slightly different way and James understood slightly more than before. Immediately following, the bell rang and James was dismissed from the classroom.

I told James to settle down and try getting help from students in other classes. Even after trying to ask a variety of students, James still didn't understand and ended up winging the project. The result, his grade dropped by 7% and he was very mad.

The main problem with this situation was the lack of explanation from James's teacher about the project. James's teacher not only explained the project in little detail, but when James went in to ask for some extra help, she explained the project in an identical way. If the explanation didn't make sense the first time, odds are that it didn't make sense a second time. That is a major problem I see everywhere. When an explanation doesn't make sense, try to explain it a different way or from a different point of view. Sometimes explaining the directions differently will clarify the situation.

The final problem with this project was the grading that went into it. The grade was based on a rubric with no room for student choice. The rubric essentially told the students exactly what parts they needed in their project. This had no room for creativity and didn't allow the students to bring in or use any unique skills. These sorts of projects "Don't address the unique learning styles, the extraordinary ideas, the honest thinking, or the unique learning styles." (Seeking Diversity, 1992) When limited on creativity, most students lose passion and enthusiasm. On projects especially, there are several ways to integrate student preferences and passions, even in different subjects. In science, students can present on a new, interesting scientific achievement related to the current unit and explain the science behind the achievement and the impact it will have on the future. In history, have students pick and explain one aspect of history that is of interest i.e. government, architecture, social life, technology etc. In every field, there are ways to incorporate student interest into projects and other classroom work. The other great thing about having students pick sort of sub topics is that students that are interested in being an architect, can show their passion about being an architect. An student who is into art and drama will have more passion explaining the art and drama of ancient Rome than explaining the military structure of ancient Rome. If access to the internet is available, that is also a great tool to use. Joel Spring even wrote, "Naturally, the idea of e-learning is tied to the educational requirements of the global economy. " (American Education, 2006) When students are given an option to incorporate their interest into schooling, the students will put more effort into the project and take care in completing it more. All students have an interest, waiting to be used in school. Many students are frustrated that they can't incorporate their interests in their learning. By letting students incorporate their specialization into learning, the students have a passionate view and they learn just as much, if not more, compared to being forced to work on something they don't take interest in. All kids "can learn, if they want to learn." (Seeking Diversity 1992) Giving students some choice can give them the "want" to learn. As Joel Spring describes in chapter 8 of American Education, students were originally taught under the assumption that they would be factory workers and have other laborious jobs. Projects like these separate the students learning from being tedious and repetitive, into something where everyday, something is different, new, and exciting.

I hope all the teacher's reading this can incorporate ideas from here into their classrooms, which I am sure are already a fun, happy place where students get to work together, have a great, personal relationship with the teacher, are taught beneficial skills and concepts, and are allowed some choice and specialization in their learning.

Works Cited:

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.
Spring, Joel H. American Education. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006.                                                 

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