Sunday, March 11, 2018

Failing Miserably by: Sam Fremin

Sometimes it takes failing miserably to come up with the best (or most obvious) fixes for problems. The technicians in my school’s drama department had to learn that the hard way recently. I am one of my school’s two Student Technical Directors for drama. Essentially, that means that my partner and I are the ones to go to if there are events going on during/after school requiring sound and lights. My partner’s job schedules him constantly and with my array of extracurricular activities, we were finding it hard to honor every commitment. We had to jump through hoops to make sure even just one of us could be there.

This led us to start delegating jobs to other people among our tech teams. As the head of lights, my partner reached out to the kids he worked with and since I lean more to the sound side, I reached out to them. Using a group message, we asked for assistance anytime neither of us were able to make an event. This lightened the load on us because we were able to go on with our other activities without a sense of dread regarding impending events. It also gave our teammates more exposure to performance scenarios that they typically only got during the fall play and spring musical. Everybody won. Our team went from two to nine and everything was more manageable.

Communication through a group chat though is nothing all that revolutionary. The fact that this idea hadn’t been put into use years ago is pretty spectacularly disappointing. Our biggest lesson was yet to come.

Earlier this year, a band concert was scheduled for a weekday and needed someone to run lights. My partner was called for work and I had #BowTieBoys work to attend to (work that you can
check out using that very same hashtag on any device that supports Twitter!), so it was necessary for us to find a cover. The day before, we pinpointed who it would be. They spent their study hall setting lights, cueing them, and writing out how they corresponded with each of the different songs that were to be played. This person ended up not showing up. Twenty or so minutes before the band concert was supposed to start, our band director went on a search. Already stressed out I’m sure, he scoured the fine arts hallway for anyone who might know how to even remotely run the board. Luckily our stage manager was there. Although his knowledge of the board was near zero (it has grown substantially since then, just in case), he managed to power through and give the band some light.

As I came into school the next day, I was confronted about it by the band and choir directors. Our conversation was the first I had heard of the incident and I was mortified, as was the rest of our tech team. A miscommunication like that should never been able to happen. We decided to hold a meeting amongst the kids so we could figure out what went wrong and how we could potentially fix it in the future. While in that meeting, we came up with the idea to have a schedule and sign up spreadsheet easily accessible (it’s amazing this also had not been implemented before), that was not the major takeaway.

Communication is key. Every successful relationship is built on it, whether it be social, romantic, business, or any other form. We were faced with a problem and rather than dismissing it as a fluke and carrying on, our team met and discussed the issue. I would be very surprised if we were ever again faced with a situation like that poorly executed band concert coverage. The root of the problem was found and we cut it out of the ground.

That thought process can be easily applied to the classroom too. If a student is acting out in class, potentially disrupting other students, having a simple conversation is the right approach. Harsh punishment just hurts rapport and ultimately it doesn’t solve the problem. Having a conversation where both sides are free to express everything allows the real cause of the problem to come out along with ways to mitigate it. If a student is falling behind in class, it doesn’t make any sense to blow right past them without a second thought. Leaving them behind or pretending they’re on the same pace as everyone else is just flat out irresponsible. Sitting down with a student and discussing avenues they can take to get back on track is more likely to help than inaction. Disagreements occurring in class can be solved by talking through them. When students feel as though something isn’t as engaging as it could be, they should be able to speak up. Creating a forum where students can voice their opinions and concerns is the best way to ensure student voice is incorporated into the class while still keeping the classroom manageable. Teachers can seem hard to approach just because of the fact that they’re an authority figure. Try to make it widely known that communication is valued in your classroom. Rapport will remain high, issues will be solved with more ease, and everyone will be empowered and invited to work more efficiently as a result.

Online Quizzes by: Dawson Unger

So in one of my classes our formative grades are all made up of these online quizzes. These quizzes are quite the hit or miss for me, especially because they involve quotes straight from a “optional” textbook, that they are all on. The teacher made it seem like if you don’t get it the world wont end, but I soon learned that was not true. This textbook is the basis of 10% of our grade, and I was told it was optional. So now that I have completely understood this, I go in to the library during study hall and take pictures of the textbook pages, since we cant take the library copies home. And if you are wondering why I don’t just read it in the library, I do, I read as much as possible, usually about 10 of the 30 pages, and barely end up retaining any of the information because I get too distracted.

That is only part of the problem with these quizzes. I tended to average about 60% on them until the middle of last quarter. They all are worded in ways it takes me many times of reading it to understand, and then the answers are always so similar and it seems like you are just trying to be tricked. These quizzes are also timed to just a minute or two more than the number of questions, which if you are anything like me, makes them so much more stressful.

My grade on these quizzes have skyrocketed lately since I have begun to work with classmates and take the quizzes together, allowing both of our memorization of the textbook to work together. We both, or however many people we are working with, will all take notes in the textbook to use during our quiz and will use those to study for our tests. I have a pretty strong feeling that this was not the reason for us to have these quizzes, but with these quizzes my teamwork ability has grown and it has made me more motivated to do them, and to read the textbook. Because when I don’t, I feel like I’m letting down my team. My “team” and me also work together to study for vocab quizzes by making Quizlets’s and studying together before tests.

I have implemented this system of a study group into almost all of my classes now and it helps me tremendously, with getting work done, and with growing more friendships. And ill be honest these groups of friends make me like school so much more, in our study sessions we mainly just hang out and just go through all of the notes and problems during it, and it tends to be way more fun than I ever expected.

A Win-Win Situation by: Nihar Kandarpa

I really don’t understand how my Economics teacher comes up with a different game to play each class. It’s not the making of the games that is so perplexing to me, it’s the fact that he correlates each game perfectly with the subject at hand. For example, I remember one game in which he asked us to go online to and “shop” for whatever we wanted. He gave us a five-minute time limit, and told us to find five items in that set amount of time. Whoever found those five items first and still stayed under the budget of 50 dollars was supposedly the winner. After the game was completed, he asked us a variety of questions about our shopping. Based on our answers, he told us the fundamental economic principles that had to do with each of our selections. See, when he perfectly matched our shopping selections to his subject, I knew.  I knew that he was the teacher that all students yearn for.

            Children generally love to play games. That is a widely-known fact, as everyone at some point in their life was a kid. If students have motivation, something to play for, they will almost always try their best in any type of competition. My Economics teacher takes advantage of this fact and uses it in his classroom almost every class. Many of the topics in economics can only be expressed through hands-on experience and activities. When my teacher runs a game in the classroom, he makes sure that the students are getting that real-world experience, so that they know the exact feelings and consequences of the subject being used in the outside world. Our class average on our test was a 96%.
No surprise there.

            Another game that really helped me connect to the subject at hand was a game that involved the students becoming fake lawyers. Now, this game lasted a longer period of time, about two weeks, but it was a continuous thing that students were excited about. Our Civics teacher basically ran us through the process of how to become a lawyer. Obviously, many of the knowledge and steps were cut out from this game, because we were learning at an eighth-grade level, but our teacher literally took the time to provide a mock court-case for us and lead us through the process of becoming a lawyer.

            If games connect to the subject at hand in the right way, students will be able to grasp everything that is taught in the classroom. My friends and I always look forward to my Economics teacher’s class, because we know that we’ll have fun and learn at the same time, a combination that is rarely used in the classroom but is incredibly effective with both students and teachers. Even though Economics can be a hard subject to work with (at least in my experience), with the right techniques, students can treat it like a fun sports game, or an activity that intrigues them. This doesn’t just apply to economics, it applies to all of the subjects being taught in school. Teaching can be rather simple to get across, if a teacher just uses the techniques that engage students, like games in the classroom. If students experience something that is new, then the teacher will see something new in their students. 

Classroom Management by: Aaron Eichenlaub

What I’ve noticed has been happening a lot in my school is the disrespecting of teachers. My teachers will barely get a word out before my classmates start blabbering and interrupting them. Making loud sounds and bursting out in laughter is a big distraction to the whole class. In many cases the student responsible will get moved to another desk, or just get a warning, but that doesn’t stop them. Why do they do it? To be funny of course, but why don’t they stop? The answer is simple, no real punishment. People, kids especially, like doing stuff that brings them laughter, the only way to stop this is to bring real punishment (varying by what the student has done) to the table. Students like this are a huge distraction to the class and can stop the flow of learning.

Often times my teacher will describe a fun activity that we’ll get to do at the end of class, but we never end up getting to it because the blabber mouth at the back of the class hasn’t stopped talking. It’s really not fair for the whole class to suffer because of one kid. You would think that next class that same student would have learned their lesson, but no, still talking. The teacher has to give the student a punishment that will make them choose to not talk in fear of another punishment. I’m not saying the student should fear the teacher, but rather the consequences of what happens when they act out. If there is no consequence they will choose to act up again.

Though the consequence should be fair for both the student and the class and should be based off what the student has done. If the student is asking a question to another student about the topic that is being taught, the teacher should just answer it and give them a warning to not talk again. Though if the student is laughing loudly, or even just talking and distracting the class, it’s the teachers job to find the right punishment that will make them stop talking. If the student is being really bad, and continuously interrupting class, set up a parent teacher meeting. My point is, it’s not fair for one student to ruin the vibe of the class by interrupting what is being taught, and the teacher should give a fair punishment that will keep that student quiet.

The teacher should also make the class fun, so students don’t feel the need to speak up. If students are having fun, there isn’t a necessary need to speak up, but if students are super bored they may feel the need to do so. Like having a group activity where students are interacting with each other. It might not stop outbursts entirely but may decrease them significantly.

DECA by: Tam Mandanis

Over the weekend my partner and I competed in a competition for a business group known as DECA. It’s an international group/platform with many categories under which high-school students can compete in. My partner and I competed in “Community Service Project” and ended up placing in the top eight of the thirty-five teams; and will have the opportunity to compete for the international title in Atlanta, Georgia in April. We helped out a school in Houston, TX devastated by Hurricane Harvey, which occurred in august of 2017. We then wrote a paper on what we did and presented on what our project consisted of.

Not only did the project allow us to compete, it allowed us to learn real life skills. We were able to learn more about team work, helping others in time of need, dedication, being grateful, and so much more. These are traits in which I believe every student needs to learn and have in their life as they are things that can be used on a daily basis. I also think that we need to have more groups such as DECA that allow students to learn real life lessons for their lives. Even though we earned something we worked so hard for, we attained so many other things more important than just placing in a competition.

Group Projects by: Jack Michael

A students walks into a library, He looks around and is quickly shuffled to his computer. He logs into his testing session and begins. In his mind the test is going well. Until question 13, ironic that the hardest question on the test is considered an unlucky number to some. He quietly sits there and starts to panic. He tries anything and everything to recall the material he was taught, nothing works. His brain has now switched to DEFCON four. Before giving up on the question entirely, he goes to his final resort. He thinks back to when the material was taught. Suddenly a memory pops into his head. He remembers a group project that was done in class. The ball is rolling in his brain. After a few moments of thinking, he has chosen the correct answer. After the test is finished, he again thinks back to when he did the group project. Not only can he recall the material being taught, but he also remembers the friendships and memories that were forged throughout the project. A friend then snaps him out of his thinking session, and he looks towards the task ahead. 
As students walk into a classroom, they are often greeted with a worksheet of some sort. After that the teacher gives them a long lecture with a PowerPoint at their side. Through trying to understand myself as a learner, I have noticed that one of my strengths is that I learn well from lectures. Although, When you’re greeted with the same teaching style every day, it becomes exasperating. You lather and rinse but don’t repeat. When a group project was introduced into the instruction, there would always be an excitement that filled the room. Not because I was excited to start working on the project, but because this offered me a much-needed break in the endless loop of lectures I was given that day. I was also allowed to talk to my friends. Whether the conversation was about the project itself or it was about something entirely irrelevant, I still enjoyed talking with my friends. A group project allows students to talk to each other freely without being scolded.

In our education system, we ask students to memorize the information they are taught then write it out on paper. Most students will tell you that most of the information they will cram into their heads will probably only go into their short-term memory.  So when a quarter test, final exam, or state test rolls around later on in the year. The students will repeat the same process of jamming information into their heads. This creates an endless loop of information flowing through the short-term memory of the students.  As I said before, group projects help lodge information into the long-term memory of students. Although, every teacher knows that no two students learn the same way. So how do we find a project that will benefit every student? The answer is simple, ask the students. You know yourself better than anyone else. So this means that every student understands which methods help him or her learn the best. Allow students to choose their own project ideas. That way. Students are able to enjoy their project and get the full benefit of the reinforcement of said subject.

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will eat forever. “ Life lessons aren’t exactly in the curriculum of any school district. We all try to instill within others the lessons we have learned, but most of the time others won’t listen. Teamwork is a virtue that is extremely valued everywhere.  At some point in everyone’s lives, they need to work with someone else. If our children are told to sit quietly and not collaborate with each other, how will they ever learn teamwork? We can tell them all we want that teamwork is important, but if we never give students a chance to learn how to work on a team, we are doing them a disservice. In this instance we are only giving our students the fish, we aren’t teaching them how to fish.  Although if we give them a group project, we are giving them the opportunity to learn how to learn teamwork firsthand. We are teaching them how to fish, and if we teach them they will eat forever.

I ask all educators to question their daily teaching style. Ask yourself if you would be bored in your own class. Chance are if you would, then you teaching style is repetitive. I am of the opinion that almost every problem has a very simple solution, the solution to a repetitive teaching style, is to break the flow. I beg you to add in as many group assignment and projects as you can. As you can see, I believe that group projects have an extremely powerful ability to prepare our students for the future. I leave you with this final question, if we aren’t preparing students for the future, what are we preparing them for?

Getting Students on Task at Home by: Rishi Singh

Every student likes those random days off where they do nothing but sit around playing Fortnite and watching Netflix. They are often happy and think nothing is going to happen in school the next day. Personally, I've done the exact same thing. I never looked at the other side and saw what I'm missing and how I can get it done. Days off often cause struggles for the teachers. Either they zoom through the missed class assignments or they shrug it off. Moving too fast in class makes me feel nervous but mostly confused about the topic and what's going on. Shrugging it off is just wrong and has the students stressed out.

Teachers should try their hardest to get the kids to do their hardest to get on task and finish work from their homes. It's hard to get the students to work on a day off but if the teacher could give a brief explanation of what is happening, then the next class won't be full of blank minds. I had a teacher in 7th grade who would always give us a quick review of what will happen in the next class. This got us ready for whatever is going to be assigned to us before and at the end of class.

If all teachers took this idea and used it when students have days off, there wouldn’t be any stress for students and the teachers wouldn’t have to do quick sessions on what the students have missed. The students can get their work done and have nothing to review in class, which could affect their new class times. There are lots of small things that make a huge difference in out of school academic struggles. If teachers could simply tell the students what is happening next class, the students could be better prepared instead of being lost in a mind-numbing amount of information. Technology is also a better way of informing students.

Now there is Remind, GroupMe, and all types of social media in which teachers can contact their students, having them well prepared. Remind is a great recourse for teachers. It simply reminds the students to remember an assignment or to remind the students of a quiz or
test coming up. There are various ways for teachers to help students on days off and when they are absent. If teachers take these ways into consideration, there would be a dramatic difference on days off

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Judgement by: Jason Augustowski

Third quarter is a tough time for a lot of students.  I used to think (as a teacher) that second quarter would be everyone's most difficult grading period but it seems like the holidays propel students through.  Not that there isn't a fair amount of distractions during the months of November-January, but it just seems that if students are at least excited about Thanksgiving and winter breaks, they can power through the drudgery of the second quarter winter.  Third quarter, however, is the gauntlet that slowly chugs on (without rest) until spring break.  And it is this time of year, that I believe we as teachers must be most cautious since everyone is on edge.

And "everyone" includes more than just students.  "Everyone" is other teachers, administrators, parents - well, everyone!  Each year, third quarter is the time where it is easy to get testy, have short tempers, and potentially lose students and collegial friends.  All of the "major drama" I have in my life almost always coincides with the third quarter.  You're in the slump and you need a break.  HOWEVER, third quarter is also a magical time for the very same reasons.

Most of us spend the first semester truly getting to know our students and their abilities.  While quarter one is mostly used for this, quarter two (as mentioned before) is so full of distractions with the breaks that it can be hard to develop a perfect rhythm.  So in essence, quarter two becomes "How to stay awesome kids despite distractions."  And then quarter three hits and EVERYONE slumps.  Grades drop, attitudes drop, if you teach seniors FORGET IT, and like I said, everyone in the school gets kind of testy.  I start to notice minor bickering in the hall, jealousy, and a general sluggishness from the students.  Spring sports and spring arts save some of them and keep them engaged - but these activities can also serve to tire them out ever more and make them less academic (and more importantly) less warm in class.

BUT - there is still magic afoot!  Now that we properly know our students, we can spend quarter three REALLY digging in with them.  They know the class routines and traditions by this point.  They know what we expect and they know we have created an environment in which they can achieve - now for the hard work of really bringing it home before quarter four creeps in and starts getting the kids' minds on standardized tests and summer.  The way you "dig in" with your kids of course is 100% up to you, your style, and the environment/rapport you have already established, but with all of the negativity floating in the air, I believe we should all just keep something very simple in our minds in order to achieve this productive and engaging, "magical" quarter three:

It is really funny how we judge other people by their actions yet we judge ourselves on our intentions.  It is this disconnect that can easily lead to a lack of communication between parties.  We get so caught up in our own day, our own struggles, our own successes, that we fail to properly recognize those (good and bad) for the people around us.  We are all SO busy.  But are we being graceful?  It is a simple question to ask ourselves, but one I believe will do us a lot of good in the long run.

Everyone has a story.  Everyone has their stuff.  Everyone is going through their own "gauntlet day" - and we have to take the time to slow ours down and be an ear for those around us.  School is the strange microcosm where we throw all of this raw material into one place and say "go" - with surprisingly minimal supervision and hope everything turns out well (let alone with everyone's feelings still in tact).  So here are some big no-no's for quarter three (and all the time):

1.  If we hold strict due dates for kids, we better hold them for ourselves.  We have as much time to grade as they had to work - period.  No "write a paper tonight and I'll get it back to you in a month."  I don't care how busy we think we are.  So are they.  Remember: "gauntlet days."

2.  If kids can't eat or drink in our classrooms, neither can we.

3.  If kids phones should be off and away, so should ours.

4.  If we tell kids to act like adults we better be treating them as such.

5.  If we demand respect, we must first model respect.

And the rationale behind these rules is simply what I stated above.  I KNOW that when we take a while to turn a paper around it is not because we are malicious.  I know that we don't eat or use our phone in front of kids to be malicious.  I know that we don't engage in accidental hypocrisies to be malicious.  But neither do the kids.  Their work is late because they are busy.  They eat because they are hungry.  Their phones are out because they care about their life outside of school.  They seek to be respected and thought of as older than their age.  So let's just take a step back, breathe, and keep all of this in mind.

It is our job as educators to model the behaviors we expect of our students.  It is our job to teach them - not only our content, but to be good, kind, contributing members to society.  Let's make sure we are being that first - especially when we are working so close with so many impressional and emotionally volatile young ones each day.  Even when they are in high school, and may seem SO big, they are still children (and regardless of what they say, they still need us).  Let's wield that power for good and leave them with lessons that they too will pass on to future generations.  All it takes is open communication and an ability to see things from a student's, administrator's, parent's or colleague's lens.  We are all trying to do right by the students in our lives.  Sometimes in third quarter, when we are all on edge, when a break is nowhere in sight, it is easy to forget.  Let's smile and choose to be graceful.