Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Bowtieboys Biographies

Jason P. Augustowski, M.Ed. (English, Grades 6-12) @misteramistera (Creator)

I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher, but it wasn't until a few years into my career that I truly realized why. The answer had been there ever since I was much younger, but it took me a while to see it, and even longer to begin to harness what it could mean.

When I was a middle schooler, I would look forward to Vacation Bible School at my church because I knew I could teach the elementary school kids how to sing songs. Once I graduated to high school, I looked for any opportunity I could find to tutor middle school kids. In college, I fell in love with graduate textbooks about teaching far more than I did the novels, poetry, plays, and nonfiction of my content area (English). That should have been the obvious red flag - the fact that the content I was teaching didn't matter, that it had always been about inspiring kids to find the best in themselves - but I was a little slow on the uptake.

It wasn't until my third year of teaching that I finally made this realization. Reflecting back on my first two years, I realized that I had filled every waking second of my time with activities centered around mentoring students. Not only was I teaching seventh grade language arts at the time, I was directing a now nationally recognized middle school theatre program, coaching a travel competitive paintball team, and co-directing the school's show choir in the mornings. No matter the environment, one crucial focus held true: the purpose was to inspire students to become something bigger than they ever believed they could be (whether that meant reader, writer, player, singer, actor, or dancer) - the content was irrelevant, but the child at the core was not.

Now reflecting back after seven years of teaching, I have begun to realize how important it is to encourage students to become true leaders within the school and of the classroom. Whether on our paintball field or stage, students in my extracurriculars are always up and DOING - they are always working together, and through this interaction, leadership opportunities naturally arise (and are filled). As teachers, we rarely offer these same kind of authentic opportunities to the students within our classrooms.

I had been running an energetic and engaging classroom - but it was too centered on me. My focus when I spoke at annual NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English) conferences was showing other teachers how to be good actors: how to tell stories, jump around, sing songs, and play games with the kids. My classroom was one of high expectations, but it certainly required my presence at the helm to keep it afloat. Just like back at Vacation Bible School, or on the musical stage - I was up front dancing around, teaching while making a fool of myself, and getting my kids to laugh and learn and enjoy themselves. It was a widely regarded game show and I was the beloved Bob Barker, Alex Trebek, Pat Sajak. But this wasn't enough - not even close to enough.

Even in the most engaging, or should I say entertaining classrooms, students can be disengaged. I often heard, "Mr. A., I like YOUR class - but I hate the rest of school, so I'd still much rather just have a snow day." (This made me resentful and angry of other teachers who weren't doing their job of entertaining these kids) OR WORSE... when I later moved to open the new high school in our community and had a lot of the same students in ninth and tenth grade, I would hear, "we never learned that, Mr. A." I would say, "yes you did - in my class! In seventh grade!" Exchanges like this made me question everything I had been doing - made me question our system completely. I had never been the teacher who passed out worksheets and tested on Friday. I never believed rote memorization was real learning. I knew students memorized facts, took tests, and promptly forgot the information they had learned to make room for the next unit. I was a student not long ago after all. But my big, fun, engaging classroom obviously wasn't completely working either. I had to reflect.

So two years ago, I became 100% transparent about my pedagogy and began asking students to tell me what THEY hoped to get out of my class and school in general. Since 2014 I had been taking students to NCTE to speak with me (about MY ideas - autonomous learning, comfortable environments, authentic real-world situations in the English classroom and technology integration). We gained notoriety as the #bowtieboys inspired by co-presenter and friend, the author, Lester Laminack (who does not leave the house without a bowtie) and have had the honor of presenting with other esteemed educators including Sara Kajder, Linda Rief, Sandy Hayes, Mary Howard, Cindy Minnich, Katie Dredger, and Heidi Branch. But now, in an age moving away from standards, towards project-based learning and the acquisition of real-world skills, we bring you a whole new look on education: the lens of the student in your classroom.

This blog and the blogs of the other nine #bowtieboys are the amalgamation of hundreds of student thoughts and opinions. With your support, we hope to make it the thousands, hundred thousands, millions. We seek to reach every student in this nation and to meet them on their level. We wish to inspire other educators to join us in building strong and powerful rapports with their students, co-designing instruction and assessment, and together managing a classroom in a manner that improves both party's life skills.

Please enjoy our work and let us know your thoughts and opinions. We seek to be representative and inclusive of everyone. Thanks for reading. :-)

Ryan Beaver (Junior) @rbeaver05 (Member 2017-present)

I am a sophomore at Riverside High School. In my free time, I enjoy playing soccer and designing buildings. As a student, I always feel that the stuff we learn won't help me in the long run and I lose interest. I work to change the way students are taught. Instead of a one size fits all program, I want a system that promotes learning based on interests and life skills. As a member of the #BowTieBoys, we work to make school a place of effective learning that students want to attend.

As of now, students are being taught in a very rigid system, or "one size fits all" method. This needs to change. I am proposing a system more based on specialization of learning. Incorporating technology into the classroom is a major part of this mission. Technology brings in a whole bunch of new ways to connect, create, and communicate. I call these "the three C's of 21st century learning". These are also life skills that could be tied in to lessons.

Besides being a student, I am a huge soccer player. Recently, I have switched clubs because I was being taught the same way as everyone else and was struggling with some moves. On my new club, the coach uses a different approach with each of my teammates. He also allows us to learn the moves we feel are most effective. These adjustments have lead to me being a better player. I also loved being on the new team.

If student interest and skill is taken into account in the classroom, students will both learn more effectively and enjoy going to school.

Aaron Eichenlaub (8th Grader) @AEichenlaub729 (Member 2018-present)

I’m a 7th grader at Belmont Ridge Middle School. I was born in California and moved to Ashburn when I was 3. I’m an avid movie buff, and I am participating in musicals at my school. I have lived in Ashburn most of my life. I love movies because they offer you a chance to escape the reality we live in and go someplace else for a few hours. I want to escape and forget all my problems, most which come from school. All the projects and homework I have to worry about in the coming weeks. The thing is school is an activity, not a chore. My goal is for the common student to enjoy coming to school, and not feel stressed or scared about what they have to accomplish.

Sam Fremin (Senior) @thesammer88 (Member 2014-present)

I'm an 11th grader attending Stone Bridge High School. I play paintball for Hogback Army. I also am the Student Technical Director and act for my high school's State Champion drama department. Along with being an avid pro wrestling fan, I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter (@TheSammer88). My personal goal is to work with the #BowTieBoys and teachers everywhere to build an education system that greatly values student voice and student choice.

Education thrives on innovation, whether it be in a student's work, in a teacher's lesson plan, or in the curriculum laid out by lawmakers. The classroom is a space for growth, but it is impossible if ideas remain linear.

One of my favorite things to do is watch live theater. It's always changing - no two shows are ever the same. This is because no two crowds are the same. An actor's job is to connect with the crowd and get them to believe whatever story is being told. With different audiences, the cast must experiment in order to find what works best and then push forward with it. If actors were to fall into a pattern, only some audiences would leave wanting to return.

The same ideology is something that would positively impact classrooms everywhere. No class of students is the same. No two students are the same. If they are treated as such, very few are likely to get the full experience school should offer. When classrooms fall into the same structure and fail to add new components, they are destined to allow kids to fall to the wayside.

Connor Grady (Junior) @ConnorGrady11 (Member 2018-present)

My name’s Connor Grady.  I am a sophomore at Riverside High School.  There I am a part of the “Earth 2 Art Club” which is dedicated to making the surrounding community a better place.  Outside of school, I play the keyboard for the high school worship team at Cornerstone Chapel and compose my own music.  My focus for the #bowtieboys is the relationship between students and teachers, and how a positive relationship can improve grades and the want that students have to learn.

Now I understand that it sounds a little idealistic to assume that every teacher can know each of their students personally and be friends with them.  That’s not exactly what I’m going for.  I want to help guide teachers toward a relationship with their students that is a one to one relationship of mutual respect.  I believe that students and teachers should be a team and be able to talk to each other about their deadlines, the expectations of people in higher authority (such as parents/bosses), and how they will achieve their goal (an understanding of the curriculum) together.  I think this is the only way that students’ voices can be effectively incorporated into the classroom.  I believe that this will allow the most students to be successful in the subject and will give the most insight to teachers into the minds of the students.  I will explain this idea further in the blog using real-life situations and experiences.

Spencer Hill (Junior) @spencerrhill99 (Member 2017-present)

Sophomore at Riverside High School. Member of the JV Cross-country team. Also, a member of IMPACT, a club dedicated to helping students cope with the loss or sickness of a family member. We frequently visit our neighboring middle-school to assist the students with learning disabilities. As a #bowtieboy, I strive to make education more enjoyable for not only for students who enjoy education, but also those who don't.

I know this may come as a shock, but not every single student loves to go to school every day to take endless notes and fill out worksheet after worksheet. Some students will just sit there, lifeless, waiting for the class to end. They try everything to avoid having to participate in school. So, the question is, how can we engage these particular students in education? As a student and bowtieboy, I will be actively working to make education more engaging for everyone, but particularly for those students who do not want to participate. My solution for a more engaging school is to add more interaction and collaboration and decrease worksheets and test preparation. Never-ending tests and worksheets just cause students stress and don’t work in teaching them content. It’s almost to the point where it seems teachers and students care more about grades on worksheets than actual learning. True learning comes from hands-on experiences, so if we have more of these opportunities, students will really learn.

Ryan Hur @ryanhur09 (Member 2017)

I am a 16 year old junior at Riverside High School. I have lived in a wealthy neighborhood, Landsdowne, VA, all of my life. I go to a brand new school in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and here I am, talking about what I think needs to be changed. I am the president of the young democrats club at my school, and involved in a community service club. I am titled as a slacker by teachers who label me by my grades and my surface level motivation.

My interest in politics has motivated me to put my passion into the young democrats club at my school. Our goal for the club is to keep the democratic ideals alive and spark a flame in the people during this time of republican majority. We start from the school, educating students to help them make their decisions about how this country should operate. The most important thing is to maintain a discussion and that is our biggest achievement.

A debate can provide a great number of positives in class. A discussion gets people thinking and gets them inspired. My discussion skills gained from the club has provided me great advantages in classes like English. My title of slacker has made me an underdog in class. If teachers build a connection they can see through the surface and view my true self not by my grades.

The typical relationship between a teacher and a student is the reason classrooms aren't at maximum productivity. In order to have a successful classroom teachers and students have to get along on a personal level. When a better rapport is achieved, the students will work harder and be more productive then ever.

Nihar Kandarpa (Freshmen) @NKandarpa (Member 2017-present)

School is a place for students to become who they be for their entire life. School is where students are supposed to build themselves. Presently, students are being overwhelmed instead, from all the standard learning being poured on to them. Schools have systems that are going at a pace that not every student follows, because of the different lives those students lead. This decides how they learn and absorb the information given by the teacher. Currently, students are not learning the information needed for life because of the non-individualized learning systems used in present day schools.

My mission is to change this anti-personal way of teaching. Teachers should teach students in a more individualized way. This creates more opportunities for students to take in all the information given by the teacher, because the material is taught in such a way that the student can relate it to a real life scenario that reaches them on a personal level. This ensures that students are truly retaining the information.

There are many approaches to accomplishing this in schools. The teachers should imply learning into their schedules as well. They should devote a lot of their time to get to know each and every one of her students. The bond between a given teacher and student should be immense. This will help the teacher know what each student's characteristics are, and will not only help the teacher teach in a more individualized way, but will also help the students better grasp the information given. But this is not only for the teachers. Students should do their part as well. If a student is not absorbing the information taught in schools, he/she should ask a question in the classroom. The teacher, then knowing the student enough, will give that particular student a real life scenario or analogy that the student can reach on a personal level. This Individualized way of learning will help students build themselves.

Schools have many dilemmas that need to be fixed. My mission is to promote individualized learning in the classroom, and utilize personal talents within students to ensure they are excelling in all disciplines.

Tam Mandanis @TMandanis (Member 2018)

I am a student, an athlete, an artist, and someone who wants to make a difference.  I am a sophomore, attending Riverside High-School located in Leesburg, VA.  I play soccer for a travel club and also for my high school’s team.  I am a guitarist, writer, artist, etc.; and am heavily influenced by the arts.

Nine months out of the entire year, we students spend eight hours of our day learning in school.  With the experiences, I’ve had in my schooling starting in middle school, I have grown to dislike school.  I find this to be a dangerous opinion/feeling towards something that I spend so much of my time with.  I feel like school does not give me the opportunity to explore areas with which I hold interest and want to pursue.  When talking with my peers about school days, most of the things I hear are complaints and slams about the school; and to be quite honest it’s tiring to hear the same things every single day.  Sure, I get good grades and are liked by my teachers, but I can say without a doubt half the classes I take don’t interest me in any way possible; and if I had the choice to not take them, I would drop them.  I don’t want to come to school every day dreading the classes I have to go to or the teachers I have to see; and I want to change the setting to an area where I’m always excited to be in.

Besides wanting changes that fit my needs, I want to help reshape the classroom and the school as a whole to give students an opportunity to go down a road that they want to explore, rather than wasting time on something that holds no importance to them.

Jack Michael (Freshmen) @jackmichael776 (Member 2017-present)

Since the dawn of time, what has set humans apart from all other species is our ability to pass down information to the next generation. It is how our world has blossomed into what it is today, and how it will develop tomorrow.

However, in modern times, the U.S. education system is failing and continues in a downward spiral. It's astounding that the United States is a superpower, yet we cannot seem to secure a spot as one of the top ten leaders in education among developed countries. We need to break this pattern before it is too late.

Through this blog, I intend to expose some of the most pressing problems about the U.S. education system at both the federal and state levels. I hope to offer some unique solutions, from a student’s perspective to address these problems.

The Education department is one of the overlooked administrations in the U.S. government. My mission is to create more funding for education by focusing on areas in need.

Jason Nguyen (Freshmen) @JasonNg7 (Member 2018-present)

I’m a just a normal student hoping to inspire teachers to teach life skills in the classroom. I sometimes worry that I do not feel prepared for life outside of school do to memorization and test taking.  Once the test is over it is hard to retain what was "memorized." I want to help teachers instruct students on what they will need in the real world especially through the use of 21st century technologies.

With that aside, I’m just a chill guy who loves playing double bass in the orchestra.  My love for reading is fueled with the desire to explore, witness, and learn new subjects.  This is really bad for you if you like sleep.  I play golf and tennis, but love watching hockey and football.

Joseph O'Such (Junior) @joe_osuch (Member 2015-present)

I am a 10th grader at Riverside High School and the Loudoun Academy of Science (a math/science school that uses inquiry based learning). I run cross country and love to admire architecture. I am constantly thinking about education and how students are taught. I work toward creating a perfect classroom environment where skills are taught, not memorization of facts. As a member of the #bowtieboys, I am devoted to providing teachers with authentic student voices to help improve education nationwide.

Standard based tests such as The Common Core are prevalent in all states, yet brings up the question, what do these tests teach? In The Common Core, states are rewarded for doing well on the standardized tests, but to do well on the standardized testing, many students feel their teachers teach to the test.

Replacing the standard based curriculum, grading, and evaluation with one based upon skills, specialization and progress across all levels of schools is necessary in order to provide students with real life skills that are applicable in their specific interest.

Sean Pettit @seanpettit9 (Member 2017)

I am a 10th grade student at Riverside High School. I enjoy playing baseball, reading, and writing. I believe students should be collaborating and using their minds instead of completing worksheets and taking notes. As a member of the #BowTieBoys, we strive to improve the English classroom in ways that impact the teacher and the students.

The classroom is too often a dull place where a teacher lectures and the students listen. With federal mandates forcing teachers to teach to the test, students rely on their memorization skills to pass. Students consider failure on these tests as a mark of shame and in turn lower their expectations of themselves.

If the classroom could become a place where creation, free thinking, questioning, and speculation have the greatest focus, who can determine the potential? Teachers should focus on real life skills so students can learn "how to learn" and can take these skills to other classes as well as the real world.

Kellen Pluntke (Senior) @kellenpluntke (Member 2017-present)

I am a junior at Riverside High School. I am a student, golfer, and member of the #bowtieboys. I strive to be an advocate for every student, and I believe every student should have a chance to learn in their own way. Every student deserves a fair and equal education that is flexible for what they need. When this happens, students will be more engaged, and lessons will have more energy. This will lead to a better chance for students to retain the content taught, and hopefully learn some skills along the way.

Being a student, I have observed many different issues going on in schools today. We live in a world that is changing around us, but our education system seems very stagnant. There are lots of modern technologies in this age that can help engage students, as well as teach new 21st century skills. Sadly, many of these technologies have received a bad stigma in our schools, and I fully admit that students are part of the blame there.

Personally, this has effected my ability to learn, and I see it affecting other students around me as well. I have always been very connected with music and sports. I have played competitive golf since I was six, and have progressed to traveling all over the east coast to play tournaments with a golf academy called Next Level Golf. I also play golf for Riverside, and we have won back to back conference championships. I also have always been interested in music. I started learning the violin and piano when I was 5, and then started learning the stand up bass and guitar when I was 12. I have played in my Middle School and High School orchestras. This interest and passion in these topics could be easily harnessed and used to engage me in writing and reading activities. But due to our "one size fits all" education system, it is hard for that to happen. I believe that if we make a system that has the ability to be tailored to every students needs, it will improve engagement and the level of effort that the student puts into school.

Rishi Singh (Junior) @rishisingh08 (Member 2018-present)

I am a sophomore at Riverside High School in Leesburg, Virginia. My hobbies are playing soccer and drawing. In the future I am aiming to become a high school Teacher, and joined to learn more about teaching to help me reach my goal. I love music, my favorite genre is R&B and Rap. I am excited to express my opinion about teaching in the 21st century.

As a student I believe that the teaching system that most teachers follow is struggling. I believe teachers should get to know their students better. By getting to know your students, the teacher learns about how the student comprehends and learns different topics. If a teacher knows how every one of the students learn, then there is a very high chance of the students excelling and enjoying the class.

All students have different ways of learning and comprehending whats taught to them. Teachers can figure the students unique ways of learning, by getting to know the students. If the teachers have a good relationship with the students, then its more likely the students will enjoy and excel in the class.

Christian Sporre (Junior) @CSporre (Member 2017-present)

Students in the classroom are always writing papers on word, creating presentations in powerpoint and doing school work on a multitude of programs. The problem is most students only scratch the surface of these amazing, sometimes complicated programs. A lot of stress falls on the students because of the frustration they go through trying to figure out the functions and uses of these programs.

Teaching the in and outs of these programs early on can prepare students for the real world knowledge on certain software is essentially mandatory. Integrating the concepts normally taught in computer classes into every day classes can further increase students understanding regarding these programs used everyday in the work place.

Combining computer skills with everyday subjects can open up a world of possibilities, for students. To make this possible classes wouldn't necessarily be combined with computer classes but computer lessons combined with lessons of the regular classes. Students would work on specific computer skills that relate with that lesson.

Technology is becoming more necessary in the classroom and there is no way to stop its growth. Students can use technology to its full potential if we learn to embrace it rather than pushing it away. This will in turn increase efficiency and decrease stress in the classroom.

Theodore "TQ" Williamson (Junior) @tq_williamson (Member 2018-present)

I am a 10th grade student at riverside high school. Outside of school I spend most of my time on the track running or hanging out with friends. I do both cross country and track and field. Running is an activity that I have participated in ever since I was in third grade and I can’t remember life without it. It’s an activity that any one can do to get away from the stress of every day life. For me, everyday life includes the stress of school which specifically comes with dealing with difficult teachers and work that will not make a difference to me in a few more years. My goal is to make education less “textbook” and more real-world to prepare students for what is to come.

Students and I always complain about assignments in school being worthless because they will not help us when it really counts as adults. Activities like presentations, and debate are far more useful to learn and practice in school than the repetitive multiple choice, Scantron tests that teach students nothing more than to memorize a couple dozen words that go together and forget it all within the next few days only to try and cram it all back in come standardized testing time. With more real-world assignments, students will be able to learn things that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Doug "Dawson" Unger (Junior) @dawsonunger (Member 2017-present)

I have always been interested in sports, whether it is running, soccer, or lifting. I recently finished my cross country season and I am very into working out at the gym and just find it a place to relieve stress through weights. This has taught me many things in how precise the player really has to be, with every little move made. No matter how important it is, it should be done right. This concept can be put into all sports, and even education. It has always felt important to create a community where the teacher and student foster each others learning and work.

Within my running career I have had many different coaches that all taught differently. Some of my coaches would work with me on what I need to do to help myself, and would make it very easy to apply what I were being told. I also had coaches that would just tell me to do the workout, then they would say I am doing something wrong, without correcting me. I definitely felt more comfortable and felt like I was getting something out of it with the coach who talked to me. This applies to all of life, with the mentality to teach or learn, putting your half forward and the other putting their half forward.
This all happens because you cant just expect someone to learn if they aren't being taught the way they need to be taught. I have never learned to "play school" and I know many like me, this isn't a problem in most of my classes or activities, because the mentor is usually willing to work with me. But too many times have I had a teacher that doesn't work to help the student, and just expects them to learn like the others. This can be seen in many different classrooms, including those with exceptional students.

The best way for us to close this gap between the teachers and students is for us to build a stronger relationship. We should have a classroom that feels like a place you want to go to, and the teacher is someone you want to talk to. In my experience, a classroom that welcomes the student, makes them want to rise to the occasion.

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