Saturday, April 28, 2018

Homework by: Spencer Hill

When I’m working through my homework, I often feel more frustration or cluelessness than actual understanding. I don’t have the greatest attention span in the known universe but having to truck through a packet of content that I have basic to no understanding on is plain discouraging. The majority of my homework assignments end up feeling more like spillover that the teacher didn’t address in class than a tool to help me learn. I’m not opposed to homework per se, but when it becomes a trek through my notes, searching for any remotely similar questions, it feels like a waste of time. To practice and develop a skill at something, one must have familiarity with the skill first and then build off that. Having a large amount of information dumped on me and being told to reproduce it won’t do anything. Teaching and telling are two separate skills. If there is nothing about teaching or retainment done in a class, I guarantee that most students will forget the content by the time they get home.

In my math class, I struggled with working through the daily homework packets we were assigned, rarely even finishing a page. Because nearly every packet started out with the basic information that I’d been able to retain and quickly accelerated to challenging questions that called for more than a basic understanding of the subject. In 4th quarter however, the packets we’ve been doing have been much shorter, about 8-10 word problems per packet. A couple of them I remember, and the rest, I looked through the notes for. Even though it was a similar amount of work, having everything packaged up helped me motivate myself.

On the other hand, I’ve had a science class that is supersaturated (pun intended) with information. During the whole class, which was a lecture, we covered vocab and multiple types
of problems with maybe 2 examples the whole class. There was so much information bouncing around in my head, I would walk out with a headache. The homework would be 2 pages of word problems that required most of the vocab to be memorized, all of the formulas tucked in your head, and have an understanding of where to start. Even when my teacher explained the next morning, I didn’t understand.

To properly utilize homework as the valuable tool it is, just slow the pace down and make it humbler. I would recommend giving out the homework at the start of the class and working on each skill as it comes up in the packet. Leave a portion of the packet for homework and give them a little bit of information on where to start. This way, the homework will be significantly less intimidating, as every student as already seen it and worked with it. Even if it becomes impossible to discuss every topic, it’s better that the students can comprehend and be confident with one skill than have meaningless jumbles of multiple skills in their head.

Elevated Discussions by: Kellen Pluntke

Discussion, as I and many other #bowtieboys have said before, is one of the most important ways to bring real life application into the classroom and create a more engaging and thought provoking environment. As the school year continues discussion based classes, especially at the high school level, tend to get more serious as the year progresses. Students get comfortable with the environment and find it easy to voice their thoughts on whatever questions come to the table, and if the content of the discussions doesn’t shift to the next level of thinking, students are likely to get bored. There are plenty of what I call “elevated discussion” topics, but my personal favorites are discussing students’ rights/ rules in school, responsibilities and privileges minors should or should not have out of school, and discussion about any issue relevant in that community at the time.

If the discussions in class are beginning to get stagnant, asking the students how they feel about school rules, and the rights that they should have almost always brings the passion out of a student. Teenagers (especially myself) spend a lot of time either consciously or unconsciously working out their morality in the world, and during this time violations of their rights of what should be will always spark a flame in a student. Justice is a huge part of teenage life, with kids at the high school level beginning to understand the world more, and poking out all the injustice in the world today. This fire can easily be brought into the classroom with a simple discussion about the school rights they have and the rules that they have to follow. Many school rules seem very borderline with being constitutional or not, especially anything pertaining to the first or fourth amendment. Asking your students about what they should be able to wear to school, or if the school police officers should have the right to search your possessions at any time without probable cause will definitely bring some heat back into the discussions in the classroom. I had this exact question in my class in school earlier this semester, and it did a whole lot for the students, both as people and academics. The elevated level of passion in the class allowed me as a student too see that some of my peers that I never thought I could get along with have very similar views and interests as me. The issue that we ran into though, is that most all of the students took the anti-school rule side of the argument. To prevent this from becoming a problem in the first place, with this topic I suggest that as the teacher you strictly try to oppose the views of the students, which will make them think harder to use logic in their arguments to persuade you. After you decide to end the discussion, (which I add might be a tricky thing to do, the students often get very passionate) debrief your students and inform them of your strictly contrarian stance, and then if you feel comfortable, add in your opinion on the matter. The connection that this discussion builds between peers and between student and teacher will do wonders for the class in the long term. Students will feel much more comfortable when they see that many others have similar ideas as them, and that these are real problems and ideas that they are thinking about, and that this kind of thinking is important.

Another discussion idea, that complements the last one, is “What rights should minors have out of school?”. This can go into an array of topics, ranging from the age that teens need to be to acquire a driver’s license to legal issues and so on. The passion will always be there in
these discussions as long as you switch it up a little bit each time. This morality based discussion is fantastic for showing students how to formulate their passionate thoughts in to words that could maybe make some change in the world around them. Teens often begin to feel powerless in our society, especially when it comes to legal issues. This kinds of discussion can empower students greatly, especially if followed by a debriefing talk from the teacher about how teens can make their voices heard, and actually make some hard change out there. This kinds of discussions are so impactful due to that students can learn to see their worth, voice their opinions, make change, create a more powerful bond with other students and the teacher, and leave students still thinking about the topic. If a student is still thinking and talking about what was being discussed in class as they are leaving, then you have created a successful discussion. Students shouldn’t leave their classrooms with just answers, but more questions.

Sometimes events that happen in the community that your school inhabits can bring a very dark mood to all the students and faculty. It’s just the horrors of life that happen every day. For example, last year at my school a young child was killed at an intersection due to apparent distracted driving, and many students saw the scene on the way to school. This caused a terrible gloom to almost come over the students and some teachers, and everyone just didn’t know what to do. If you believe as a teacher that the students will benefit educationally and emotionally from talking about what happened, then by all means do it. Due to the standards that teachers have to cover, many teachers who wanted to discuss this tragedy with the students weren’t able to. However, this is one of the times where the notes might just have to take a seat. These kinds of dark times that can hit a community cannot be fixed with silence. I encourage any teacher of any subject to discuss any emotions that stem from the incident, and the things that students can learn from it if the students appear ready to. It is so important to learn how to voice how you feel about these tragedies, and silencing talk about it just makes all the students seem horrified. Bringing a discussion about these events to your students will help them not just academically, but possibly emotionally as well.

A discussion based class is a great experience for anyone involved, and these ideas are sure to spark up the intensity. Feed in to the morality forming teen mind by asking these questions. Students will grow from these discussions morally, academically, and emotionally. There are plenty of thoughts trapped in the mind of the everyday high school student, and this will give the opportunity for students to finally release those thoughts

Friday, April 27, 2018

How Stress Increases during Fourth Quarter by: Ryan Beaver

As the year rounds winds down, stress levels wind up. The overall pressure of getting a GPA that will help towards future goals, obtaining the proper relationships with teachers, and preparing for the horrid standardized tests just weighs down on the students. I for one have been under a lot of stress recently due to these issues as have many students in my grade. Not only are there more stressful tests in class but the standardized tests also pose a threat to the future of the students, especially concerning college. Most of the colleges I am looking into only accept 4s or above on the AP tests. This has led to a lot of studying and late nights trying to balance all of this with sports and extracurriculars. Teachers should understand this and offer support to students in these areas of need.
            One way for teachers to support students through this difficult time is to be available for questions and extra help. When I am stressed out about a test, I go into school early to talk to my teachers about what I need help on. This helps by giving me a more complete understanding of the material and gives me confidence. This is a very important thing for teachers to do. It also shows the students that the teachers care about them.
            Another thing the teachers can do is give small breaks in class. This will allow the students to decompress a little and kind of center themselves. This free time in a class helps balance some of the stress. Busy and rushed classes just increase the stress on the students. If teachers carve out a five minute chunk for the students, then they will not be as stressed.
            The major causes of stress are the standardized tests. Many teachers do not even review for these in class. The teachers can help by reviewing some material that will be necessary to know for the tests in class. This way the students can ask questions if they need to. Also, give the students different study strategies so that they can study in their free time. Standardized tests are necessary for some students to get into college, so they should be of utmost importance, especially the AP tests. While they are not beneficial, they are still around so make sure they aren’t causing students to stress out.
            Students are very busy at this time of the year. With all of these things to do, they can get very stressed. Just supporting them when they need it is super important. Be there when they have questions, help them out with in class review, and give them a little bit of free time in class. These are all great ways to help the students handle the stress.

Study Habits by: TQ Williamson

Study habits vary with every student. This year the majority of my classes are easy because I lucked out with the teachers I got. Material in most of my classes is easy enough for me to take notes in class, pay attention, look over material before class, and get a decent grade. Some classes I have on the other hand I would be a disaster in without studying for every test.  I am also lazy when it comes to studying and know that I would get better grades if I put more hours into it but I just do not have enough motivation.

In elementary school, I had the best studying habits of all my education. One of the teachers I had made studying and making flash cards part of our grade. Although it is difficult to grade studying hours for example, teachers can grade flash card completion. With my flash cards that I made, I would study them with my stepdad until I knew everyone of them front and back so I would be super prepared for the test the next day. Although studying the flashcards my teacher made us do, was not necessary, it was encouraged. Even for students that hadn’t studied the flashcards, studies show that writing material down helps you remember it up to 27 times better than if you had just heard or read it.

When teachers give me studying assignments like flash cards that have the tangible aspect they can grade, and encourage using the study tool, I always tend to put more time and effort into studying the content then if they had not. The tangible studying tool grading aspect is to make sure the student has the studying tool and makes something to use. Using the tool is up to them but the chances of them using the tool is nothing without making or receiving it first. Study habits are crucial to performing well on assessments, as is making sure your students perform their studying to do well.

Running by: Christian Sporre

Running has been a common thing in most of my writings in the last two years. It hardly ever leaves my mind now and seems to be present in everything I do. Even as I sit in class I can’t help but visualize an upcoming race, playing it over and over again in my head. It is safe to say I have had enough experience to know how to manage my time between running and my school work. A typical day for me starts out a 7:00 am. Depending on what I have to do that morning, I will go for a small run to start out the day. Then I will take a shower, eat breakfast, and get to school by 8:30. After that I will get through the school day and then immediately go to track. Practice lasts until 6:30 and then I will go home and do my best to get my homework done. At this point it is about 8:00 and I still need to eat dinner and take a shower. Now it is 9:30ish, most students I know go to bed at at 12:00am and later, and I used to do that too. It is a lot different now, since then I have made my bedtime 10:00. This is because the more rest I have, the better I perform at track, mostly dealing with my mind. It is my mind that sets me apart from everyone else, because no matter how painful running gets, I will not stop, quit, or give up until I have meet my goals. Having a mentality like that requires a lot of rest. So going back to my daily schedule, if my calculations are correct, I have about 30 minutes of free time on a school day (an hour if you count lunch). This is one thing I definitely need to fix in my daily routine and I know I am not alone. There are so many hard working kids at my school that barely have any time to themselves. The weekends are like a breath of fresh air, but unfortunately I now only have Sunday to chill out because there is almost always a meet on Saturday. Although that free time on Sunday is awesome, it never carries over into the school week. I have come to terms that the life of a student athlete is full of stress and time management skills, but in the end this lifestyle has unprecedented rewards. During a sports season, I really think that kids should be getting even more free time. It can be really unhealthy for a students mental state if he or she does not get enough time to themselves. Free time can take a bunch of stress off students, letting them relax for a while and not worry about upcoming grades and events. There are a few classes that implement some free time and it helps me and many other students so much. Some of my favorite teachers are the ones that understand the struggle of a student athlete. Their classrooms are always a huge relief for me. One great example of this is my English class. My English teacher actually used to run track, so that's even better. His classroom is very laid back and work at your own pace. Sometimes when there is a big assignment due, he asks me if I can get it done in time or if I will need a little more time because of track and cross country meets. I will always try to get my work done on time no matter what, but it is always nice to have a little breathing room. I wish all of my teachers would ask me this, because just knowing that a teacher understands the kind of work your doing inside and outside of school, takes so much stress off your shoulders, it's insane. Stress is the ultimate enemy to all students and I think teachers should focus on combating it with giving kids more down time in class. Once a class can achieve that, I can guarantee students will be more engaged and productive, making for an even better classroom experience.

First Impressions by: Connor Grady

As the end of the school year rapidly approaches, I thought it would be just the right time to reflect on the first day of school.  Every student that walks into high school on that very first, nerve-wracking day is looking around them; assessing what it really means to be in high school.  At the same time, we students are forming opinions of our teachers, looking at the way they run their classroom.  They say that first impressions are everything on this day in particular, they certainly are.  That said, I want to provide teachers with “first day” ideas that this student has greatly appreciated.
                The first, and probably the most controversial, is allowing students to choose their seats when they first come into the classroom.  I recognize that this leaves the door open for students to sit with other students who will distract them, but I encourage teachers to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Giving your students choice right off the bat shows them that you value their ability to make decisions for themselves.  I know personally that I only reciprocate the respect of teachers that have first initiated respect for me.  I understand that this is a large risk on the teacher’s part, but I know from experience that it pays off.
                The second takeaway is that ice-breakers are effective, but only when done correctly.  Many teachers will craft questions for students to help others get to know them and to break the initial tension.  On the surface, this might seem like an effective idea, but this type of ice-breaker is rarely appreciated.   Many students don’t see the value in learning insignificant facts about students they don’t know.  Facts they will probably forget before the bell rings.  That said, ice-breakers that encourage teamwork between pairs of students or even small groups are far more likely to open students to collaborative relationships.  They remove the daunting nature of presenting yourself to a large group that doesn’t know (and rarely cares) who you are.  I also love ice-breakers that are slightly embarrassing in a fun way.  One game that will always stick in my mind is “cowboy, princess, gladiator”. It encourages students to break down their walls and work together with a partner.  I will always remember pretending to be a gladiator with another student, standing victoriously over their fallen body.  It was really fun and memorable.
                I hope I have given insight into the first day of school from a student’s perspective.  I encourage teachers to think about how they will present themselves on the first day, and then try to understand how they may be perceived by their students.

The Importance of Real World Projects in the Classroom by: Joe O'Such

Stress. That is quite honestly the only feeling that is currently on my mind. Tomorrow I have a presentation that could make or break an entire class for the next two years. I have to present on a Junior/Senior year research project that I have spent the past 3 months coming up with. If I pass, I just cleared a major hurdle, if I don’t pass, I just tripped and fell on my face. This is the most weight that has a simple PowerPoint has ever had for me. The teachers leading this say that this is essentially presenting your doctoral defense, but about 10 years earlier. So yeah, that’s where I’m currently at. But this opportunity is a good one, regardless on how well I do on my presentation. Not only do we get a pizza party for our months of hard work and preparation, but this presentation is real world practice, where I have to defend a 2 year project against the wild questions of people who have at a minimum Master’s degrees in this stuff 2 of 3 the teachers have doctorates). It did cross my mind however that this is the kind of stuff one has to endure in the real world, backing up a point, a proposal, anything, to experts on the subject. This is seen throughout many careers like a consultant, researcher, small business owner, etc. I think the importance of real world exposure should not be underestimated. Not only does this exposure help a person later on, but for me, these teachers who exposed us to real world techniques not only go down as my favorites, but also have made the following years a breeze. I think this real world exposure is so important, because ultimately, this is what school should prepare us for. School isn’t supposed to prepare students for a life full of multiple choice tests, five paragraph essays, or cheesy PowerPoint presentations with note cards. Quite honestly, school is currently doing the following; teachers simply pushing along students so they can be somewhat prepared for the following year. Few teachers are actually willing to teach us for not just one year down the line, but for a lifetime. These teachers are not only tend to be my favorite, but they subsequently prepare me for quite a few years down the line. For example, since 7th grade English, English has been a breeze, just because my teacher taught us in a way that was based one learning to understand and analyze the subject, not just to memorize. Granted I may have had one or two lax English teachers on the way, but regardless, this teacher prepared me for not only English classes, but also writing in general. Writing is something that is spread across so many jobs. Being a good writer is vital for so many jobs, so it is so critical that students, especially those in high school, are taught real world writings like resumes and official reports, not the standard 5 paragraph essay with sufficient details and sources and on and on and on. If you’re going to write a persuasive essay, the judge of that paper should ultimately take into account a single thing; whether or not your paper is persuasive. Ultimately, writing and presenting in a real world setting is vital to the future of students. Given the position of especially an English teacher, they possess the power to make students ready for the real world. By giving legit writings and presentations (maybe without the immense weight my current one has) to students, these students will be ready to jump over any hurdles that may come across their way.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Holding the World by the Tail by: Jason Augustowski

The past few months has been completely consumed with musical at the middle school where I direct.  Every year our production company ups the ante and provides the greater northern Virginia area with some of the highest quality musical theatre at the junior level in the area (if not nation).  In fact, the only thing "junior" about our productions is the age of the kids involved (11-14 years old).  But what the accomplish is absolutely jaw-dropping.  Each year, our program boasts two completely separate casts and crews performing the same Broadway-length show (this year, Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and perhaps most impressively a full middle school pit orchestra that learns and plays the original score.  In total, there are 200 students involved and about 40 incredible parent volunteers who literally work year round to make these experiences happen.  So needless to say, as the executive director of this program, every waking second of my life not spent teaching has been dedicated to this for the past few months.

But none of that is the "impressive part."  I tell the students all the time that at the end of the day, a great play is just a great play.  Amazing talent doesn't make a show.  Nor do fast crew transitions, perfect light or sound cues, or amazingly synced violins.  Because at the end of the day, a musical is just a musical until you make it more than a musical.  The most impressive aspect of these musicals is how absolutely incredible each and every student behaves to one another.  Back in our early days the kids use to call each other family, in recent shows: a company, and with this past performance: a community.  And this should be the endgame of our English classrooms.

When looking back, no one judges another on their lexile score, on their ability to analyze figurative language, on their eloquent explication of a conceit, or for being a wonderful orator.  They are remembered by the kind of person they were.  And we as English teachers have the unique ability to present the humanities to children in a way that helps shape the people they are and become.  An English class is only an English class until we make it MORE than an English class.

One way we try to measure success in my classroom is by "becoming the person that others want to be around."  This is the greatest of all successes.  This person holds the world by the tail.  A great way to encourage this environment is through constant group work.  Here are some items to consider.

1.  Allow students to choose their groups.  But create criteria for them to do so.  For example, in my 10th grade classes, students choose their groups based on their core values (which has been scaffolded in previous classes) or they will choose based on desired future career, or they will choose based on people they have NEVER worked with before, or they will choose their "dream team."  By the end of the year, each of my students will have worked with every single student in the room at one point or another.

2.  Make group work a routine.  Groups don't only occur when we are participating in a group project, group work is literally the second half of every class period (similar to how some teachers spend a majority of their time on SSR).  My classes will begin with a quick write, move into a full class circle discussion to analyze a text, song, or poem, and then into their group work.

3.  Make the group work relevant and fun.  The groups aren't simply getting together to complete vocabulary worksheets or packets about some full-class novel.  They are working in groups to address real world issues.  Some ideas include: working together to plan a dream vacation (full itinerary, costs, flight plans, hotels, restaurants - the works; synthesizing literature to find real-world application; opening a place of employment based on career goals ie: a hospital, engineering firm, a school; launching new products like on Shark Tank; presenting roundtables on personal passions, presenting PechaKuchas on necessities, and participating in panels mirroring a PTO, an HOA, an athletics board, a fine-arts booster, etc.

Now one may argue, how is this English?  It sounds an awful lot like business/marketing!  Perhaps these would be good projects for our school's DECA or FBLA chapter.  But remember, we in English have the unique tasks of marrying literally all other disciplines.  For without reading and writing and speaking, how can anyone hope to be successful at Math, History, Science, etc?  As long as the projects are real world, the students will never ask "when will I need this?" and they will be simultaneously learning how to read, write, and speak analytically and critically (all while fostering collaboration and celebrating each others' victories).

It is important for our students to become good people (while learning the important elements of our discipline) and that is why it is my belief that students should work together to discuss values and ethics, create common goals, innovate and take risks, and strengthen each other all the while.  In my experience constant and careful group work creates these environments and allows students to not only master our curricula but become inclusive, understanding, and productive kiddos who accomplish impressive work.  But even better, they're just nice people who get along with each other.