Saturday, April 22, 2017

Spinners and Fidget Cubes

   There are these new toys out, which I honestly think that they were meant more for adults with ADHD and anxiety disorders, that kids can't stop buying or making their parents buy. They are called spinners and they are driving teachers across the country insane. Why? They are distracting in the classroom. The complaints are not only from the teachers but from the students, too. Apparently, spinning one of these guys and staring at it is supposed to be stress reducing.
   As an educator who has ADHD, I don't see the usefulness and can understand my teacher friends complaining about the widespread use of these toys by students. What happened to sneak reading a fiction book while the teacher was lecturing?

   I have not heard as much fuss about the fidget cube from teachers as the spinners. However, I can understand the usefulness of a fidget cube. It's a lot quieter than a student clicking their pen 100X. I'm a pen clicker, I know, I annoyed a lot of fellow students. 

    Teachers, parents, and students: could you tell me in the comments below what you think of these devices? Which one is helpful? Has any of them increased your focus? Has it improved your grades because you are not as anxious? Are college students using them?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Higher Education: Your experience is your responsibility.

    I ran across a great quote the other day:

Education is what people do to you, and learning is what you do to yourself.

    What prompted this discussion is the fact that several students at my college have been talking about the possibility of transferring to another school. 

    Let me begin by saying that as a student at the 9th hardest college to get an A in a class in the country, I understand. Our semesters happen in 13 weeks and our professors cram a lot in that time frame. They expect a lot from us but they are fair. Honestly, I don't see that much of a difference between Roanoke College and Virginia Western Community College, except that our homework is graded. That's what smaller class sizes do for students, it gives them more opportunities to show what they have learned. 
   Second, every college has it's list of pros and cons. Some are easier to deal with than others. Pick your poison. One aspect I like to remind students is that you are paying the college to attend, even if you have grants and scholarships. If your college was gracious enough to give you free money, then the relationship with your college becomes more symbiotic. You employ them and they employ you. Your college offers services, it is up to you to find those resources and take advantage of them. 
   Quite a few students complain that they don't have a life. Yes, that is what college is for, learning. Yet, it is also for forming relationships with professors and students that last beyond the college years. If you are not actively engaged in what the college is offering and complaining about it, you are the problem. 
    It could be that the college is the wrong one for you. UMASS-Amherst was a bad fit when I was 18. But I also knew that Virginia Tech was not the right fit for me when I was looking to transfer from VWCC two years ago. Roanoke College fit my needs for a few reasons; 1) location, 2) close relationships with professors, and 3) research opportunities. I was concerned about being able to form friendships with students but that concern did not last too long. When it came to student-to-student relationships my first year on-campus, I realized I was the problem. My own preconceived notions were getting in the way. 
   A consistent problem that our campus is dealing with is the student-to-student interactions, more precisely, the lack of them. As a person who travels between several groups. I don't see that as an issue. I think it is very much a perceptual issue. But I do see what students think is a clique issue. Science majors hang out with other science majors. Art with art. Fraternities and sororities hang out with their own. 
   The issue is two-fold. Not only have we created a perceptual issue, we are creating a complacency issue. The attitude seems to predominate throughout the student body. Complacency is another form of apathy after it develops over time. It builds barriers rather than breaks them. So what is a student to do? 
  • Break down your own perceptions. Start talking to people that you normally would not. 
  • Encourage club/organizations to become more open.
  • Encourage your friends to be involved and active on campus. Drag them to a meeting or function. 
  I know, so what? Studies show that a college student's involvement on campus has a correlation with higher GPA rates. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What if we showed greater appreciation for our teachers?

  Being a public school teacher is a pretty thankless job on most days. For the past seven years or more, we have frozen their wages, introduced merit-based pay for whole classrooms that score higher than average, and we have strapped and limited their creativity in teaching lessons they were trained to teach in college. How many doe-eyed teachers walk into a classroom their first year and think by the end of the year that college did not prepare them at all? The percentages that leave the profession within the first five years are astounding and because of the way Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, and the Common Core Curriculum have been introduced my mean that the job market will soon be glutted with qualified teachers who don't want to use their training.

We may not be able to change the federal guidelines but what if we could show new and veteran teachers how much we appreciate them?

  What can you do, as a parent, to appreciate your child's teacher? I have compiled a few thoughts below that will not only show how much you appreciate them, but improves your relationship with present teachers and future teachers. 

  • Help your child's teacher understand that you are a team in your child's education. There is a direct connection between parental involvement and student's success rate. It's not about socioeconomic status, as I have seen parent's from various backgrounds experience the same success rates if they are actively communicating with a teacher. One parent that I know has six children in school, we are in still in contact when she needs advice on how to extend their learning or what to add at home when they don't feel challenged enough. Please, don't stop after elementary school, keep involved all the way through college! Not sure about this? Check this out!
  • Check in with your child's teacher or volunteer as your time allows. You may join the various PTAs and support your child's overall school experience or volunteer one day a month as your schedule allows. But don't forget to ask how your teacher is doing on a personal level. Building a relationship lets a teacher feel supported. 
  • Always treat a teacher professionally. There will be times that you don't agree with each other. Expect that but always treat them as professionals.
  • Do know when you are being a helicopter parent. Involvement may be tantamount but do teach your child that they are in charge of their own education and that they need to ask or discuss when they don't understand the lesson or need more resources.
  • You know those holidays like Christmas and the end of the year? Don't forget those. While the little and cute store bought items are nice, I have found from talking to teachers that gift cards or certificates work best. My music students usually gave me gift cards to the local music shop which helped me purchase replacement materials, like reeds, for my saxophone or it helps me purchase new teaching materials. You don't have to get your teacher a gift card for a spa day (although he or shee will love you forever for it!) but something that helps alleviate their budget burden since many teachers spend their own salary on supplies for the classroom. I generally recommend Barnes and Noble or Staples. Of course, I love the "Summer Survival Basket" one of my friends put together for her children's teachers! Nothing wrong with being creative! 
End-of-year baskets made by Stephanie Yost: Here's the list: beach towel, sunscreen, travel cup, water holder, water gun, chocolates, portable water bottle, cooling towel, sleeping mask, pedi spa lotion and socks, and a gift card for Darden Restaurants.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Roanoke City Missing Golden Opportunities During High School Years

  A friend re-posted this article from the Roanoke Times earlier today. The article talks about the poor retention rate of former Roanoke City high school graduates in a program called CCAP. The program allows students to attend a community college in the Commonwealth of Virginia for free in order to complete a certificate or an Associate's Degree.
  I will commend Dr. Bishop for now taking steps in figuring out where the educational gap is and provide greater support for these students but this problem is multi-fold. Here are my recommendations for students who will be in CCAP in the future and students who are going through it now. 
  • Decrease focus on test-taking skills and increase focus in skills required to study at the college level. Students who plan on attending college know how to take tests. What they need is more prep work in what is required for success in the college classroom. There should also be a focus for college bound students in discovering their learning style, how to use it effectively, and how to recover from a poor performance.
  • Teaching students how to find help and extra resources. Many students are ill-prepared to ask for help when they need it because they usually don't have to often in high school. A goal in high school should be to wean students from dependency on the teacher to recognize the problem and focus on teaching the student to recognize problems when they begin. I have met far too many high school graduates that "coasted" through high school with good grades and nearly fail out in college. 
  • The success of CCAP is dependent on the originating public school system and the community college that allows them into the program. While schools like Virginia Western Community College require taking a one-credit study skills class in the first term, a different approach may be necessary. One of the biggest complaints from students is who, where, what, why, and how to find tutoring/mental health help/financial advice/work-life balance issues and the general basics to navigating the campus and it's offerings. To the community colleges: no one cares about your successful alumni or the latest rankings of your programs. Most students want a solid two years before going into the job market or transferring to a four-year college. Re-work the way orientation is done. Instead of it being recommended, have it a requirement for all incoming high school graduates.
Here are a few more, simplified suggestions to think about:
  • Peer relation programs. These are students hand-picked by the college to act as a form of ambassador for the college. It is the student newbies go to if they have questions.
  • A one week summer bridge orientation program. College survival skills made simple.
  • Requiring a one credit study skills course to be completed on-line or in classroom specific to their degree interest to be completed over the summer.
As with any college program, the success of the student is dependent on their ability for self-reliance. However, it is still our job to arm the students with the skills and resources they need to be successful!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Which is better: knowing everything or knowing how to find the answers?

  Here is something that came up in a recent conversation, is it better to know everything in your field or knowing how to do the research to find answers to questions? Quite honestly, you cannot have one without the other. They are not separate ideas but work in conjunction with each other. We cannot "know" everything about a single subject or topic. However, we must continue to do the research in the field as new questions are brought forth.
  Let me give you a simple example. You can know all the laws and regulations in the medical field. However, they change on a constant basis. So when it comes to making a diagnosis for a patient, you have to know how the laws effect them. And you thought you just needed med school to be a doctor.
  Here is another example. A client approaches you about doing a marketing plan on social media. There is no way, with as fast that social media changes, that you can know ALL the aspects of it!
  This is where the concept of continuing education is crucial in any field. Laws change. Information changes. Studies and experiments are performed in the hopes of creating a better and more efficient system. This is the Information Age and it does not look to end anytime soon.
  Therefore, while it is good to know your field in-depth, it does not mean that you should not continue to learn from it. Part of being sentient is this drive, curiosity, to learn more!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Round-up for MACUWiP

MACUWiP 2014 Attendees
  What in the world is MACUWiP? It is the Mid-Atlantic Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (phew!). It was a great conference! There were tours, information about graduate schools, information about heading out to a career in physics right from college, and networking events! I think one of the most important ideas to come out of the event is the stories of the struggles and sacrifices women have made to clear a path for more women to break through and be successful in a predominantly male environment. I think a fear of doing something difficult is a horrible cultural streak running through our country right now and needs to be corrected... and fast!
  If the chance should arise that you could go to a conference in your perspective field, go! Network! But I will let these photos tell part of the story of that weekend. Enjoy!

Lizzi, me, and Sarah: Go Roanoke!
Winning Twitter pic for Saturday
Undergraduate Presentations

Worlds of Physics: Industry Session

Monday, December 2, 2013

Getting through the last two weeks of a college semester.

  All day on Sunday, the Facebook pages of my friends were all about this moment. We are in crunch time. Only one more week of classes and then finals. Panic ensues. Anxieties rise. That dreaded feeling of all the ways you should have done this or that. But, you didn't, did you? We fell back on bad habits. We went to the soccer game instead of hitting the library. We didn't study as efficiently as we should have or put extra effort into those projects. The time management skills you are supposed to exemplify and apply to real life outside of college fell apart. What do I do now???

  1. Don't panic. 
  2. Breathe.
  3. Cancel plans that do not add value, ie. money and food. 
  4. If taking in a concert is relaxing, then do it. Hanging out with friends for three hours after? Not so much.
  5.  Use timers. Take short breaks often. Even a nap will work.
  It's a bit late to change bad habits now because it will have to wait until next term. However, you can salvage what you have left and still come out just fine!