Thursday, January 30, 2014

Anxiety of Influence: You're Probably Suffering from It

No, it's not some deadly disease but it is not to be messed with.  Authors suffer from this "anxiety of influence" more than most.  To sum it up, it's the pressure you feel when trying to create something new and different, separate from those who came before you.  Harold Bloom is the mastermind behind this concept and the reason why some day or another, you'll hear it brought up in your English class.  Want to be ahead of the game?  Watch this video to get your feet wet:
Anxiety of Influence Video

Pretty fantastic acting, huh?  Feel free to contact my agent.
In my last blog post I talked about making an impactful and memorable presentation.  Yes, this is the video I shared with my class that was remembered so well.  After the video was showed and explained a little, my group and I got the class engaged on a deeper level.  We put them in a situation where they would experience the pressures of anxiety of influence (and still have fun!).  We started by baking three giant sugar cookies (the size of your standard cake) and showing them this picture:

We then proceeded to divide the class into three relatively equal groups and explained to them their challenge.  Using the giant sugar cookie as their starting point and a bag of supplies, they were to create Frankenstein's creature and try to make it better than the ones pictured above.  Each group was supplied with green frosting, black icing, and M&M's.  Then we gave each group an item that no other group got; one received pretzel sticks, another white chocolate chips, and the other raisins.  I'll let you decide if they were successful.

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Making an Impact, Making it Memorable

To wrap up the semester, our AP English class was required to give a group presentation as a final.  Groups of 4 were assigned a different "lens" under which to dissect Frankenstein and then present their findings to the class in a memorable way.  But to the point: although I believe my group had a successful run, there are quite a few things that I learned that I wish I had known before we embarked on our project.  But that in itself is success because learning is the ultimate goal in any class.

After each group had their turn to present, we all took time to answer questions and write comments about each other's projects.  My group read over our audience's responses and drew some meaningful conclusions about making a memorable and impactful presentation.  I think these points are worth sharing, or at least writing down somewhere for future personal use, so I figured this place is as good as any.

The first step to making an impactful presentation is having something worth presenting- something for your audience to learn and use in the future.  These were two (sometimes tough) questions we had to answer about each other's presentations: What did you learn? How will you use this information in the future?  If your audience can't answer those two questions, why did you bother presenting?  Not trying to be harsh, but seriously.  Give your classmates a reason to sit up and really pay attention.

The next part to this, making your presentation memorable, will help with the paying attention part.  Our class  had quite the array of presentation techniques- some much more effective than others.  I remembered many groups by the class engaging activities they included at the end of their presentation.  Some had review questions but the best were the get-out-of-your-plastic-seat activities.  Aside from my own, the best activity (and most memorable) was dressing up a few brave classmates as Frankenstein's creature to the best of our abilities.  It was fun for the class and helped emphasize the presentation's point.

Another stark difference between presenters were those who stood in front of the class and gave a big ole speech and those who didn't.  Sure, those who recited speeches probably did their research and understood what they were talking about but these presentations struggled to engage their audience.  Their presentation had information but little was remembered afterwards.  In my opinion, the better presentations included a skit, costumes, a visual aid, or, my favorite, a funny video.  Not a video off the Internet, but a homemade video where the students in the back of the class branch out of their comfort zones in front of the camera and let their inner Hollywood shine.  Our humor-attempting video was what most remembered the best about our presentation.  But the other most remembered aspect of our project came at a bit of a shock.

The simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  That stuck with our audience.  When designing our project, my group needed a way to describe how Mary Shelley copied ideas from other authors, transformed them into her own, and combined them with her own.  I suggested making a PB&J and use it as a metaphor for Mary Shelley's process.  My group gave me doubtful looks but couldn't think of anything better so we rolled with it.  And it stuck like peanut butter.

Next time you give a presentation to your class, be nice to your classmates- teach them something useful and make sure they remember it.  Do yourself a favor too and have fun with it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cups of Holiday Cheer: Everything You Need to Know About My Innovation Project

Although my innovation project for my AP English did not go as I had originally or evenly secondly imagined, the event was a delicious success.  But first, allow me to back up and explain the whole deal.

I live in a neighborhood that comes alive during the month of December and the early weeks of the following January.  The credit is owed to one house, a house two doors down from my own.  The house goes all out decorating with blaring Christmas lights, giant trees constructed from lights, and arches of tinsel in the driveway, all of which are flashing in sync to music.  It is quite a sight to see and hundreds do each night of the "light show."

So thinking like a businesswoman, I decided to use this multitude of people as my consumer base.  I figured the only thing this wild show was missing was a toasty cup of hot chocolate.  Along with the help of my little sister and the support of my parents, a plan developed.  My sister and I were going to sell cups of hot chocolate from our driveway to those who came to enjoy the lights.

The next step was to pitch my idea to the class, a step that was successful same as the following steps.  Before I even gave my presentation, a Make a Wish board member asked me if I had decided where I was going to donate all my profits.  When I told him that I had not, he threw me a smile and said, "Make a Wish loves you!"

A few days later one of my basketball teammates, who also happens to be the president of Wounded Warrior Project, approached me asking if she could team up with me and use my project as a fundraiser for her project.  How could I refuse the opportunity to help veterans of my country?  So yes, I agreed and the planning picked up its pace.

We picked three nights that we were both available: the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before Wednesday Christmas.  Foot and automobile traffic was flowing those three nights, as were the dollar bills.  We had upped our inventory to include hot apple cider and baked goods as well.

Carolyn Valentine Herzog's photo.The days leading up to the hot chocolate stand had my partner and I nervous.  Neither of us had done something like this before and we began doubting how much traffic and profits we would attract.  

Our worry was for nothing.  The first night we speculated we had collected about $30 in the three hours we worked.  We were shocked to find the actual total was $66.  The following night was even more successful.  Including a $40 donation from the house with the crazy Christmas lights, our total for the final night was the highest.

Subtracting out expenses for cocoa mix, apple cider, and mini marsh mellows, our profits came out to be $202.30.  This was all from selling baked goods for $.50 and drinks for $1.