Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Relationships by: Jason Nguyen

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

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

End of the Year Assessments by: Christian Sporre

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

Thoroughly Structured Class by: Spencer Hill

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

Stress and Breaks by: Joe O'Such

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

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

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

Huntington, West Virginia by: Sam Fremin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Projects by: Jack Michael

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

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

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

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

End of Junior Year by: Kellen Pluntke

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

Attention by: Rishi Singh

Attention is key when teaching students. There will be times when the teacher has no control over the students. To gather the student’s attention, you have to be loud and confident about the topic. You have to be the leader in the classroom. Gathering the attention of the students is a very difficult thing to do. You need to create a safer environment for the student in order for them to learn better. Try to have the students physically active when teaching. Taking notes as you talk. Take a break from fill in notes and try have the students write everything you say down. This will also get them ready for their future. In college, there are no fill in notes. The student has to create his own from what he has learned in the class. This requires the student to actively listen to the teacher but also taking notes at the same time.
            I had a class where the teacher had nothing but simple posters to make the class better. This class was my last block of the day, I am usually never tired at the end of the day, but this class just gave me the feeling of falling asleep right where I was sitting. I found this as a huge problem when I actually fell asleep in class and forgot to fill in my notes. Later I asked my mom if she had a way to pay attention. She had a very simple way to stay awake in class, which really helped me later on in that class. Her solution was to scribble random things on your paper to keep your mind and blood flowing.
            Attention in the classroom is a hard thing to control in the classroom. Teachers need to master the ability of gathering the student’s attention in order to be successful in the classroom.

In School Restriction by: Dawson Unger

I am not a perfect kid, and I know that.  Everybody breaks the rules sometimes; it just depends on whether or not you get caught.  Recently I broke school rule and I was baffled by the way our school handled it and how all of the administrators have different feelings towards punishment (in school) and how it is handled.  Some admin vouched I was the best kid they had ever seen in ISR (in school restriction) while others shunned and yelled at me even when I was as compliant as possible. 

So as soon as I got in trouble, I was met by a screaming PE teacher, and he didn’t leave my side without yelling his heart out for about 45 minutes.  So at that point I was less upset with myself and just angry at him, because I told him everything and gave him respect but he still felt the need to treat me like trash and that anything I say is a lie.  That was the very first thing that really ticked me off and just made me want to really start something with him, but I was able to convince myself to calm down even with him yelling in my face because I said “bless you” after someone sneezed.  It amazes me that a teacher is even allowed to treat students that way and still have a job.  He made me feel like I shouldn’t be in a school but a dog pound.  After this whole time with him screaming at me, I have lost all respect for him, and I don’t respect many.  But he really just wanted to feel on top and in power, and I guess that is how he best expresses it in his mind, with ringing ears and by wasting his own breath.  That pretty much concluded my whole time after I got in trouble, and it only got better.

The next day I came in and talked to the admin for a bit, and all of them were being very friendly and were genuinely curious on what I did after claiming I was too nice to be in ISR.  The admin really just kept me happy during my little 2 days of ISR but the respect they talked to me with and enthusiasm made me so much happier.  The actual ISR “teacher” was the nicest and most caring woman ever, she agreed with me that ISR doesn’t help anyone and how school discipline and punishment is broken.  All it does is get people behind on work and insures everyone drops at least 5% in each of their core classes. 

I just think everyone should be much more like the admin versus the pe teacher.  I’m not going to learn a lesson by somebody screaming in my face, but if someone can connect with me and really get on my level then I am much more likely to learn my lesson.  I now think of some of those admin with such high levels of respect, whereas that teacher has none at this point.  Other than a few people, I had a delightful time in ISR as I just sat in a room on a computer and talked to the teacher the whole time. 

End of the Year Musings by: Connor Grady

Well, it’s almost over.  SOL week has done its worst.  The culmination of all the learning done in school is near complete.  Since I will be finishing my SOLs in a few days, I have finished studying for all of my classes.  However, I’ve noticed that some of the content on the study guides exceeds the information I remember learning.  In fact, there are a few classes in which it seems I have to learn a whole topic on my own before taking the test.  I want to give teachers some recommendations for solving timetabling issues that will help them to avoid problems like this in their own classroom.
            The first big tip is this: if homework is eating into your class time, consider whether or not it is actually necessary.  If the homework is simply a formative box-checker, then chances are it’s only doing more harm than good. This problem has put my class behind many times over, which has usually led to a spillover of classwork that gets assigned on top of homework.  If homework is hindering your actual class time, where all of the actual learning is done, then teachers are only hurting themselves trying to fit more subject matter into less time.

            The second big tip is this: leave a little wiggle room for issues.  Too many times I have sat through classes where a class rescheduling or teacher health issue have caused drastic delays.  To avoid being thrown off of their teaching plans too much, I recommend that teachers leave about fifteen minutes of extra time at the beginning of each class.  If necessary, the time can be spent covering what was missed. If it is not needed, then the plan for the day can be stretched to fit it. I think this will make catching up to the original plan much quicker.  It should also allow teachers to cover the material more smoothly rather than playing a constant catch up game. Problems will arise in class, but they shouldn’t have the power to cut topics from the curriculum.

            With summer knocking on the door, I encourage everyone to enjoy the warm weather and cool pool water.  Everyone get well rested and relaxed for the next academic year. I’m excited, as I’m sure you are, to see some cool new teaching ideas in the classroom.

Clearing Any Doubts by: Nihar Kandarpa

Analogies are something that has been used in schools for countless years, but many teachers do not know how exactly to use them. Unlike rapport and individualized practices, analogies are very common and recognizable among many people.

Many teachers assume that analogies are only useful when students in class are physically confused, and also ask questions about their confusion. This effectively decreases the amount of analogies used in the classroom, because, although students are confused about a subject, a lot of students are afraid to ask questions. There are students that are naturally shy, and I don’t think that a teacher can do a whole lot to change that aspect of a student. However, if a teacher uses analogies countlessly, even when no students appear confused, then even those shy students’ doubts will be cleared.

This is something that many of my own friends and I have experienced. If we raise our hands and have questions, a lot of times, good teachers will have already answered our questions for us, at which point our hands usually start to weakly descend.

This is because great teachers use analogies. And not only when students are confused. If a teacher feels a topic is hard, then they should make an analogy out of it, even if none of their students appear to be confused.

Of course, many teachers are at a loss for how to make analogies that relate to the students themselves. Analogies are really just simple similes, comparing the topic at hand to an aspect of the outside world. As long as a teacher is knowledgeable to a certain extent, they can make analogies to the outside world, because as soon as a teacher recognizes a similarity between what he/she is teaching and something outside the classroom, they should immediately say it aloud.

Analogies don’t have to be a similarity, either. They can be a difference, as well. Teachers can also relate opposites to each other, providing insight for the students on a whole different level. In this case, opposites are attracting the students. Instead of relating a topic to something similar to it, teachers could relate a topic to something opposite of it in meaning, so that students can grasp an idea of the topic at hand.

Teachers can also get personal with analogies, but this is only when certain students are confused. When the number of students not grasping the topic in a classroom starts to increase, a teacher needs to make their analogies common instead of personal. However, when only a few students are confused, teachers can definitely make personal analogies with the students using previously developed rapport. Of course, rapport needs to be present for these analogies to come across as helpful. How are these types of analogies achieved? Well, for starters, the teacher needs to know what student or students they are talking to. Then, the teacher can make an analogy that he/she knows that the specific student will understand.
For example, my Civics teacher makes analogies constantly. But when only a certain amount of his students is confused, he makes an analogy with them that he knows that they will understand. There was one instance where I was confused as to why Political Parties were always split. He responded by making an analogy to Star Wars. He referred to the Jedi and Sith, the two opposing sides of the franchise. I immediately understood, because he made an analogy that both him and I understood. By using rapport and analogies, he cleared my doubts.

I hope that with this, I have cleared your doubts.

Homework by: Aaron Eichenlaub

“I hate homework” I think I’ve heard that statement from every kid in my grade at some point. Honestly, I don’t mind it unless I have a boat load of it, which in middle school never happens. Though, what I’ve noticed is now a day’s homework seems like it’s always done at school, instead of at home which is the intent. Whether it be in homeroom before the day officially starts, or kids scrambling at the start of class to get it done before the teacher collects it. The whole point of homework is to further our understanding and get us to work without a teacher near us. Now though it only seems like a nuisance to everyone it’s assigned too.

            In my math class we are assigned homework every night, but even if we don’t complete it there are no consequences. One night my math homework totally passed my mind and I forgot to complete it. The next day I walked in expecting a fuss from my teacher, but she didn’t care. As I looked around I noticed probably only 20% of the class had actually completed their homework. With homework I feel like there’s two types of teachers, those who will come down on you with consequences if you don’t complete it, and those who just don’t care about it. Even if some students don’t complete it at home, I still think homework is necessary.

            In my mind, homework should be a challenge. For one you’re at home with no help (unless you count your parents), so you’re basically all alone to complete it. Who doesn’t love a challenge? But it’s up to the teacher to decide if the students are actually going to attempt that challenge, or if they will just ignore it. My science teacher this year is great. He’s funny and really cares about teaching the material. He really comes down hard on kids that don’t complete their homework, which creates an urgency to get it done. In my science class I’d say a strong 95% of kids complete homework when it is assigned, whereas in math no one really cares.

            I think if the teacher can show they are serious about homework and they’re willing to crack down on kids who don’t do it (without being too harsh of course), this will create an urgency to complete homework and get it done. As stated above I think homework is good to strengthen what we have learned in class, and I do think it is necessary.

After Standardized Tests by: Ryan Beaver

Last week I took my final standardized tests of the year, as did many of my friends and classmates. Now, we are curious as to what is going to happen in our classes because most of the time our teachers taught to the tests. We see two different possibilities in our classes. 1) The teacher will be done with teaching and the class will be easy, or 2) the class will increase in difficulty due to finals and the need for more grades to meet their grade requirements. Both of these options are less than perfect. The best way to go about this is mix of the two.

                Teachers and students are both getting ready for the year to end and want to have it easy until summer. However, school is still in session. Learning should continue until the end of the year. It is important to not stop teaching after the standardized tests because there is always more to learn. The work does not have to be as intense or painstaking as it was before. Fun assignments utilizing the subject would work great, especially if they tie in the interest of the students. For example, a student interested in psychology could team up with other students that are interested in this field and create a board game. This seems like an easy assignment, but it can be made deeper. Have the students write a short analysis of the game and why certain people are more likely to choose some choices differently than others. An open assignment like this would be a great way for the students to use their passions and the material to create something great.

                The teachers have deadlines to meet at the end of the year in terms of grades. They need a certain number of grades for either the semester or quarter. However, the students just went through lots of stress with studying for, practicing for, and taking the standardized tests. The best way to solve this problem is to budget out the assessments over the course of the semester or quarter but it might be too late for that. If this is the case, the way to do this is by small fun assessments. For example, have the students read an article about whatever they are interested and write a short paper on how their passion will affect people in the coming years. This is a fairly fun activity that will allow for grades in both the reading and writing sections.

                The middle ground here is easy to reach. The class should still learn but should not have a ton of grades in the span of a few weeks. Fun activities that have to do with the student’s interests should be used. If many grades are needed, try having compound assignments that assess two or three things at once. It is important to remember that this part of the year can be used to enhance the learning of the students without the looming pressure of standardized tests. The teachers should use this time to help the students explore what they are interested in while tying in the material to gather grades if necessary. Keep the students engaged and work with them to establish a good foundation for the future, whether it is just for next year or their career.

End of the Year Mood by: TQ Williamson

The end of the year has already begun. In fact, it began a couple of weeks ago. In most of my classes, teachers have started review for end of the year standardized tests. Half of my teachers have started good and important review that makes me walk out of class feeling like I had a very productive hour and a half. The other half unfortunately, is not productive. These teachers will give out things like review packets or study guides but not enforce their completion and simply allow students to talk with their peers or play on their electronics. Therefore, not getting anything done and creating a feeling of the end of the year. School should only start to feel like it is the end of the year after all tests and learning is done. The classes that are already becoming lazy before standardized tests are set up to not do as well as classes that are putting in the work.

            I always find that a class works best for me at the end of the year when the teacher gives us review packets, and online review sessions to do. The way to keep students accountable for completing these reviews is put a grade on them and more importantly, emphasize the reason the students should be doing the reviews and the results that doing them and not doing them could have. Finally, I am always more encouraged to get a whole packet of review done when the teacher made the packet themselves, it is organized, and broken up into manageable chunks.
The end of the year mood should be saved for the end of the year. I feel much less motivated to get anything done when the teachers of my classes are acting unmotivated. Teachers need to stay in a working, productive mood to keep their student that way as well. Structuring the review or work that you have left to match the first part of the school year and motivating students to work is a great way to keep the teacher and students in a school mindset and not a summer one.

Monday, May 28, 2018

You Can Lose Everything Chasing Nothing by: Jason Augustowski

Allow me to begin with a very short story that is not mine but I feel is poignant for the end of the school year.

Once upon a time a man was walking down a sidewalk when the wind picked up and blew his hat into the street.  He chased after it and was hit by a car.

By the end of May everyone is checked out.  Maybe literally checked out - as in the year is over and the keys have been turned in.  But for most of us, this is not literally, as our school years actually do proceed into the first weeks of June.  In high school this is the time of AP exams, state standardized tests, and final assessments.  It is a time of strange bell schedules that throw the entire school into a state of confusion (atop their already low bandwidth to successfully accomplish anything in the time that remains).  It is a time of babysitting: movies, parties, games: anything that requires virtually no planning, absolutely no grading, and will hopefully quell the masses of students anxious for exodus.

But as I have stated in previous posts, the end of the year can be such a powerful time.  Rather than field days and yearbook signings we have the unique opportunity to wrap up the real lessons of the year for the final time with our students and perhaps teach them something new before they walk out of our doors for the final time.  Thinking and designing lessons in this way at the end of the year allows us to focus on what really matters, rather than absolutely nothing.  Here are some ideas I use:

1.  Students use quotes by famous poets to reflect on their year.  I like to use Emerson's quote about success and I ask them if they were successful this year based on the items he enumerates.  This always makes for fascinating reading over the summer when I examine their notebooks and hone my craft for the upcoming school year.

2.  Find the phrase on my large "You are Awesome" poster that they feel best describes their year and explain why.  Examples are "Dream Big", "Go for the finish line", "Just do it" etc.  Again, their responses are diverse and offer insight into how they felt while in the trenches of our class.

3.  Have students create a timeline of their year while listening to the songs "Dreams" by Van Halen and "100 Years" by Five for Fighting.  They should highlight the major milestones of their life from the very first to very last day of their current year.  These don't all have to be academic, but can be extracurricular, social, familial, etc.

4.  Have students listen to and analyze the lyrics of Dave Matthews' "Where Are You Going?"  Allow them time to reflect about what they feel their future has in store.  What do they believe they will need in order to be successful in that future?

5.  Because we discuss so many songs and poems in full group context over the year, I sometimes like to reprise class favorites and have them briefly look at how their interpretations now are different to what they were originally.

6.  Have the class work together (all members - no one in a corner alone) to plan a class party that incorporates and celebrates everyone: everyone's favorite music, food, activities, etc.  No cliques.  Not a few outgoing kids steamrolling the rest.  A truly collaborative and student run experience.

7.  Paper Plate awards.  Each student decorates a paper plate for someone else showing how the recognize and appreciate that person.  These are typically very unique and special for students to receive.

8.  Similar to what Robin Williams does in Dead Poets Society, I like to walk the students around our high and middle school campuses (they are connected) while reading and discussing "To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time."

9.  Have them respond to quick writes like "What's on your bucket list?" "How do you want to be remembered?" and "Any last words?" - all of which when asked are much more epic and sad than morbid (as they probably sound in a blog post).

10.  And finally, I like to round out whatever framework we have been using that year to bring the real life lessons home.  Because back to the story of the man and his hat above, this clearly illustrates my title: "you can lose everything chasing nothing."

Because at the end of the year it is good to reflect.  Not just the students, but us.  What have we done?  Have we lost EVERYTHING - the time, the opportunity, the humanity... chasing nothing (like test scores or an outdated curriculum that doesn't serve students for their journeys into the real world)?  Or have we used our time wisely, chased what really matters, and left our students with a memorable learning experience that has the true ability to impact their futures above and beyond forgettable movie days, field days, yearbook signings, and exams (for which they will cram and forget).  Let's make the end of our years something neither of us will ever forget.  We can do it.