The Bow Tie Boys

The Bow Tie Boys

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Connecting Each Day in Meaningful Ways

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

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Building Good Relationships with Students

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Utilizing Debates in a Classroom

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

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

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

1. Topics/Questions:

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

2. Moderator:

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

3. Preparation:

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Becoming "One with the Students"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pi Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, March 9, 2017

My Experience With Stress

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

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Impact of Isolated Units

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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