Busy busy bees

Last semester, Algebra II was fun. For homework, all we had were a couple interesting problems, maybe ten or so. Now? We get more like twenty or thirty problems- and these are in-depth, five-minute problems. If I can do these things five or ten times, I can do them twenty times (assuming skills are not introduced within the homework, which would be another problem within itself). This is why I rarely enjoyed classes in elementary school and why I used to read under my desk all the time.
I understand the teacher is trying to figure out how to help the kids who did poorly on the midterm by making them practice more, but this is not a solution. If they failed to understand the material before, what makes you think they will understand better once they copy even more of their friend’s answer, or follow the same set of instructions more times, but still come out with the wrong answer, thus teaching the kid the wrong solution, confusing him and undermining his confidence, and wasting everyone’s time? This just makes them hate the class more than they may have before. Busywork is (almost) never ever ever the answer.

A better solution would be to list problems in addition to a few for homework that are, say, extra credit, or even completely optional. If you fail a test, you must do more homework/worksheets than before the last test (not for extra credit, for a grade- probably just a completion grade). If you pass the next test, the worksheets are optional again.
This teaches kids responsibility- if they need to do extra work to pass the class, and they know it, it becomes their responsibility to work harder until they actually do fail a test, at which point the teacher intervenes. It gives the kid a fair chance to be mature and grow up (several chances, actually) while not leaving their success entirely up to them.

Naturally, special exceptions must apply, such as a kid who misunderstood one critical skill but otherwise excels, and once taught the missing skill demonstrates a good understanding of the material. That was just a summary of what I believe would work better.Богородица

We trust you. No, really.

I had a bad migraine yesterday. It was halfway through the day when I got a buzz in my head, but I shook it off, concentrating on my work and not wanting to leave the day after we got back from Christmas break. This… sometimes… works. This was not one of those times.

My head ached on and off through Government and Algebra II. I would have really enjoyed those classes had I been able to concentrate on them; as it was, I just wanted to lay down in a dark, quiet room and sleep. See, the thing is, I get migraines sometimes. I’m not sure what causes them yet, but I’ve had them for years. And when your head is internally combusting, it’s not pleasant to be stuck among many loud high school students.

The bus ride home was the worst. I managed to drown out all the noise of a bus filled with loud teens rattling along an interstate somehow, but it was still very unpleasant. All of this could have been avoided if I had been allowed to take some Aleve/Tylenol/whatever to get rid of the migraine. “You could just ask the nurse for some”, you might say. “Your parents can entrust the nurse with medication.” True, but that involves leaving class long enough for her to check my temperature, me to convince her I’m not lying, and, if the nurse is being stubborn, me lying down for five minutes after nibbling on crackers and sipping water. All of this could be avoided if I was allowed to slip into the bathroom, down some meds, and walk back to class- they are (usually) quiet and relaxed enough for the migraine to go away. The stress of facing the rest of the day with that pain certainly doesn’t help! I understand The Man (TM) doesn’t want us abusing substances, but there has to be some sort of compromise. If I’m old enough to ride a bus downtown then walk to school (alone) most every day, and I am to start making decisions about where I want to go to school, impacting the rest of my career, AND I am entrusted with a 700-dollar device for my studies, then surely I can be trusted with some headache medicine!

I might have some follow-up posts on this, describing possible compromises.

Hon. English II Finals Essay

The prompt went something like this:
“Current research has shown that 12th graders are leaving high school less and less prepared this year. Exit exams have been put into place in many school systems; if the senior does not pass these exams, they will not be allowed to graduate. How do you feel about this? In a well-developed essay, describe whether or not this is a good idea.”

Noah Caldwell (12/20/11)
Hon. English II Midterms

Research has suggested that modern 12th graders are leaving high school less and less prepared each year. In an effort to prevent this, some states require that all graduates pass assigned exams to leave high school. I think this is rather misguided- tests don’t make kids learn, teachers do.
If we ignore the research pointing towards kids not learning very much, we have a basic situation: kids go to school, learn something (hopefully), and go home. Tests are considered an important part of education now, because our society places emphasis on knowing who is better at what (even though you can’t really assign numbers to knowledge or intelligence). The tests are there as a message to kids, teachers, and prospective employers to tell how much this kid understood the lessons in this course.
Now consider the research. It implies that high schoolers are learning less and less each year (or that standards are being raised; in any case, the kids are less prepared). Oh no! Why is this happening? The first step to solving a problem is finding the root of it. Are parents placing a lesser emphasis on learning, or are they accepting poorer results? Are the teachers of a lower quality, or are they teaching more and more every year? Is this just standard deviation that will even out in time? Is the research faulty somehow? Possibly. Any one of those questions could hold the solution to this problem. It seems that the student is being blamed for this: obviously they are not studying enough.
Perhaps that is true- I would certainly believe it. But placing more tests to ensure that high schoolers are learning enough is not an ideal solution, nor a universal one. Many kids simply do bad on standardized tests. Many teachers fail to teach all they are supposed to, but instead teach what the class can understand. I sympathize with them- sometimes the requirements for those classes can be very difficult. Most importantly of all, tests do not teach anything. Teachers teach, and tests test. Sure, if the test is failed, we can sentence the child to another year of high school- but will they really want to stay another year? And would they learn anything new this time around? It is no secret that the vast majority of high schoolers are biased against learning new things (in my experience). If we keep shipping them through the system because they cannot pass our mandated requirements, we have an eventual clog.
A much more effective and longer-lasting solution would be to get kids interested in learning, and then they might put more effort into school. They might even do independent research on a subject that interests them! Instead of talking about how important college is (not to downplay that), talk about how much fun knowledge is, and all the cool things you can do with it! Hold mock trials in Government. Build rockets and bridges in Chemistry and Physics. Predict how far the rockets will go in math. Reenact important events in History, and build software that everyone has interest in (like a city planner, or a simple but addictive game) during computer classes. Build an engine in automotive classes, and play the latest hits in band. The most important thing a kid can learn in high school is that learning is fun, and does not have to be a chore. If they know that, then a teacher’s work will be complete.

About Me

I am (at the time of this writing) 15 years old, and a sophomore at the Knox County STEM Academy (soon to have a real name, I hope). I have many varied interests, from Boy Scouts to programming, reading to video games, and music to writing. I enjoy pretty much every subject- that leads me to believe that I just like learning. I’m more interested in some courses than others of course, but for the most part I’m happy in every class I take (if I have a competent teacher). As a conversationalist, I am sadly lacking. I think (not positive) that I might be a little introverted (not antisocial, introverted- this means I don’t seek out social contact; antisocial means I avoid it). I can talk for a while if it’s about a subject I enjoy, but few are they who I can talk to for any real length of time. Luckily, my family is included in that number.
I joined Cub Scouts in 1st grade, which started my Scouting career. Believe me when I say that Boy Scouts are much better. I went on trips to only four different places over several years- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies (in Gatlinburg), the Knoxville Zoo, Camp Buck Toms, and an unnamed camping area… Somewhere. I don’t know where.