Into the Minds of Students

As I marched up the stairs, ready to chew Mr. Janus out, my thoughts rattled around my motoring brain. Why couldn’t he excuse me from the stupid lab? I had just gotten back from a science camp I had applied and gotten into on a full ride. Having missed the first two days after Christmas Break, I figured catching up wouldn’t be a problem, but with an unexpected lab from the world’s biggest stickler, my new teacher, and worst of all, my girlfriend’s helicopter father, I found out just how difficult it could actually be.

Dodging my way through the hallway, I shot glances up at the rest of the students, my new classmates. None of them were within two years of age from me. They looked around at each other, some nearly as lost as myself, but many falling into the same routines they’d developed over the last few years, as if middle school were nothing new. I, on the other hand, felt completely lost after moving across the country for my dad’s job and bypassing my final year in elementary school. It was the second one my mother had taken from me, against my wishes.

What am I doing here? Summer is still raging and all my friends still have weeks upon weeks before they head back, moving on to college, but I’m back sitting in a high school classroom. Me, the natural born leader, the straight-A student, the nationally ranked athlete. I earned my way all the way to the national championships and lost only because my calf was ripped in two by the spike on the shoe behind me, but none of that means anything to the counselors. I kept in contact with all my teachers and completed some form of every assignment that was assigned, but that doesn’t matter either. I missed more days than the school board feels an average student should miss and now I’m back in classes I aced before their credits were erased from my records with a cold decision from a distant committee.

Staring across the hall, across the fluorescent dresses and sharp tuxes, across the bubbling mass of dancing bodies and flapping hair, across the thick atmosphere of live and lust and teen spirit, my eyes meet those that I’ve never forgotten. Six years, three months, and fourteen days of solitude among the small city of students I’ve coexisted with and my rickety human memory could do nothing to shake the perfect hues and textures that reflect the soft hazelnut that reverberates through her entire being. I recognize myself in those eyes and see what those 76 months have done.

*None of the characters contained here embody any individuals. They are crafted to reflect traits, details, and personalities found in myself and those around me, but contain no equivalents that I have met.


It’s a Small World, but not That Small

As I marched up the stairs, ready to chew Mr. Janus out, my thoughts rattled around my motoring brain. Why couldn’t he excuse me from the stupid lab? I had just gotten back from a science camp I had applied and gotten into on a full ride. Having missed the first two days after Christmas Break, I figured catching up wouldn’t be a problem, but with an unexpected lab from the world’s biggest stickler, my new teacher, and worst of all, my girlfriend’s helicopter father, I found out just how difficult it could actually be.

Not an autobiographical experience, I crafted this situation to fit a few relationships and difficulties, both humorous and maddening, that occur around me at school.

One of the greatest problems I find in school programs is the one size fits all approach. The two greatest examples of this that I’ve run into are precalculus and the newly established two-part AP physics. I was in a precalc classroom my sophomore year. there were seven sophomores total in the class. That’s not a problem… until you notice that there were eight freshmen, seven juniors, and six seniors in the class: equal representation from each grade. This means those ready for a fast pace were there in equal ratios to those that fell behind the curve and couldn’t keep up. The same situation came when regular physics was dropped in response to the change in AP physics. The class was composed of students in all math classes ranging from algebra two or trigonometry to calculus BC. The real blow came when I requested an independent study of the class, which IS an option that I’ve seen students take at the school before, but was denied and forced to fit the mold put upon the 200+ students in the single course. Life is not black and white; schooling shouldn’t be either!


Solving Problems or Problem Solving?

School is not where students learn their lives’ worth of knowledge, rather, it is where they learn to learn.

There is a great truth in the above statement. Primary and secondary schooling may give students large stores of data, but they primarily teach students how to find, collect, create, or remember ideas, skills, and facts. The mission is to learn to do, not just to learn a new tidbit. The goals of many classes, however, remain central on the outcome, leaving students and teachers alike to resort to memorization and repetition rather than understanding. Thus, students’ difficulties are often discovered too late and deceptively good grades surprisingly plummet when it comes time to apply what is learned. Some teachers do recognize the need to help students learn and develop good, deep understanding, but a terrifying number still teach for the test, giving more information on the test itself than the material the test is supposed to (would you ever guess?) TEST. The result, of course, is that the students do better than is representative of their knowledge (at least to start), but deeper than that, it teaches them to expect solutions to be handed to them before the problem is even presented, killing all creativity and reasoning. An environment I’ve experienced on a few separate occasions that seems a wonderful solution to this is a classroom and course that revolve around problem solving.

In my AP Chemistry class last year, we solved problems about donuts just as often as we solved chemical problems. The class scored a whole two points higher on average than the national average on the AP test at the end of the year. Problem solving does work! If applied correctly, any area of life can connect to and aid in other areas. Any problem that exists has both concrete and abstract parts. Often, the problem is concrete, the solution is theoretical (used as the future, plural tense of concrete in this instance), and the process to find the solution may require a bit of abstract thought or modeling. Therefore, in teaching problem solving, a need must be present and specific, but in fulfilling that need, multiple routes should be provided, with encouragement for the students to produce more. In both my chem class and a previous experience with a district-sponsored program for select students, the classes revolved around one central theme, whether that be molecular bonding, space travel, conservation, archaeology, or one of many other topics. The problems faced dealt with a very concrete and measurable aspect of the themes, from energy, to financing, to dating, to whatever else. However, while these were taught within the frame of reference of the overarching topic they were also applied to many other areas of life. Learning to finance a flight to Mars became learning to juggle home expenses; finding the bonding tendencies of elements and molecules became a lesson on interpersonal relationships; recording a podcast on an archaeological dig taught research and presentational skills.

To this day, I will not say I’m strong in any one subject, though I consider myself highly intelligent. The reason for this is everything stated above. I learn in metaphors, applications, and comparisons, as I see nearly all others doing, whether consciously or not. I cannot solve a calculus problem without calling upon physics and chemistry; I draw from art and physics to learn chemistry, and everything I’ve learned regarding physics has been connected back to my bike. I will not say that my hierarchy is the one that works for everyone because I know everyone is different, but I do know from experience – both learning and teaching – that everyone has a passion, and, when used as a base, any passion can help solve all problems. It is time for schools, teachers, students, employers, and employees to accept this and free the individual rather than coercing them to the same society that everyone fights. Join me in learning to learn and fighting mindless memorization!


The Big, the Undeniable, the Overwhelming! THE SCHOOL!

The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.

The topic of the school system seems to have been appearing all over the place lately. From my constant contemplation, to the musings of my friend on her blog, inspired by another online post, to the rants performed in my class – by the teacher. Last year, I was charged with wandering the halls of my school and writing a 13 stanza poem about what I observed and felt. My observations, taken alone and always from the outside, produced the following:

I sit above the Library Below;
Wistfully thinking as Memories flow.

The strong sound of Silence; quiet in  fear
Of firm Rules enforced by omniscient ears.

A Bridge stands out front;
Spanning the gap
Across which Free birds
Constantly flap.

The other direction:
Children run circles.
Their friends sit in classes;
Society chuckles.

Turn just a bit;
The Large Gym awaits.
Kids play their games,
Breeding Death and Hate.

Hidden below,
Sit Foam and Cement:
Dark and forgotten,
Contrast in element.

The lunch room too sees
A Bipolar scene;
No Student can hide
From the oppressive sheen.

They come every morning;
And leave for the night.
Hurried each day;
Blind to their Plight.

Great Names on  the walls:
“All must strive for perfection.”
Though who would have known?
School’s their great destruction.

Stranded together,
Their Minds slowly fill;
Bitterness builds:
Their Bonds must they kill.

The Nurse waits for Action;
She mustn’t wait long:
For bitter minds break
From stressors’ hard song.

Alone We’re together in our Misery.
Jump through the hoop; to the next class now we Flee.

Though I stay behind, and look over all:
A vast sea of faces, some large and some small;
Some smiling and happy, others not much at all.
Coerced now we wait; To Society We’ll fall.

Schools themselves may not be at fault, but the societal pressures do impact them in oftentimes very negative ways.

With a growing stability and regularity seeming to grow, I will begin blogging in series’ in order to pursue topics without developing long-winded posts (we have Cristian Mihai to thank for the idea). As much as I like to think I know, I do enjoy input from others so I may collect a wider array of data, so opinions on school or my blogs are always welcome and encouraged.