Monday, March 31, 2014

Waking Up the Right Side

My schedule this year is this:

1. Ceramics
2. AP English
3. AP Calculus
4. AP Environmental
5. AP Economics/AP Government
6. Basketball/Track and Field

As far as classroom classes go, ceramics is the clear outlier.  But as far as my learning has gone this year, ceramics is right there in the mix.  The majority of my day relies on the left side of my brain; ceramics provides a nice break.  Not only a break, but a rare chance for an AP kid to use the right side of her brain.  

Last year I lamented the fact that art was actually a required high school class but now I'm thankful I was forced to find room for ceramics in my schedule.  The right side of my brain enjoys the hour of exercise it receives every morning.  I feel sorry for those AP addicted kids who chose AP Art History over an actual art class.

Ceramics, unlike my AP classes, reveals success clearer and in a more timely manner.  All the AP classes I've taken are just an investment in my future.  I took them in hopes of being accepted to high-caliber colleges and having some credits built up when I get there.  In ceramics, I have a tangible form of success.  All my projects can be put to use or given as gifts as soon as they come back from the kiln.  I'm using my ceramics skills now.  All I've acquired in terms of knowledge from my academic classes is met to serve a purpose later in life.

Being in ceramics has allowed me to meet a different sort of people.  My other classes are filled with students whose focus is getting into that UC or Ivy League and achieving inflated GPAs.  They are constantly comparing themselves- test scores, college acceptances, scholarships.  Everything is a competition.  Being an athlete, this competition is healthy and drives me to do better.  It's my dose of immunity against "senioritus."

In my ceramics class I have been immersed into a different sort of culture.  I listen to teenagers who stay up until 2:00 in the morning doing things other than studying.  I hear of parents who aren't 100% supportive of their children's education.  I'm fascinated by the body piercings and tattoos my classmates want and the hair colors they are able to pull off.

Although I have little in common, I've found that the students I sit with in ceramics are easier to get along with.  They genuinely want to be my friend, not just a study buddy.  Ceramics starkly contrasts with the rest of my high school classes but it's a difference in classmates, thinking, and skill set that I'm ever grateful for.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

College Has Consumed Us

When applying to their school, colleges always tell you to be true to who you are and just be yourself.  This weekend I had the unique opportunity to witness how colleges have changed who we are and how we view ourselves.

This week was an exciting one for me in terms of visitors.  My aunt, who resides in Ohio, spent the week out here in sunny California with my family.  And my best friend from 2nd grade spent the weekend with me.  But when these two strangers met, it was strange.

Both of these ladies are super sweet and friendly and got a long great.  (Almost to the point where I felt left out.)  Having known my friend for 10 years, it was a weird experience to see how she presented herself to my aunt.  She talked about herself, not in a bragging manner, but as if she was trying to come off impressive.  She listed all the activities she was involved in- sports, choir- and pulled up videos on YouTube to aid her "presentation."

These two had never met, but after spending just a couple of hours together, my aunt was all caught up on what was going in my friend's life.  The way my friend was talking about herself was like she was reading off her college application, listing and describing all the things she had done, including scholarships she had received from colleges and how much each college she had been accepted to would cost her financially.

The more I think about it, their conversation was exactly like the college application process.  You're describing your life to a complete stranger and highlighting all the things you've done in the limited time you have to present yourself in hopes that they will like you.

While we're on the subject of college (a subject I can't seem to escape these days), I'd like to share a video I came across about an impressive sounding high school senior who was rejected by many schools.  It makes me feel less alone in this game colleges play.

The Phone Call

This blog post was inevitable considering that so much of my life is consumed by sports.  Last weekend, the top 48 athletes from my high school's track and field team spent two nights in Santa Barbara competing in the Easter Relay's track meet.  (Not sure why it's called "Easter" relays because Easter is next month...but the medals were egg-shaped so that was cool.)

As far as track goes, shot put is my thing.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, it's basically consists of manually launching a cannon ball weighing 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) as far as you can.  To put things in perspective, that's the weight of a new born baby.

Now I'm going to jump to the end here and tell you that I threw that cannon ball really well at this track meet.  I threw 6.5 inches farther than my previous PR (personal record) for a mark of 32 feet 4 inches.  A foot and a half farther and I'll be well into the all-time top 10 record list for FVHS.

I didn't tell you all that to brag, although I am quite proud.  I want to share why I performed so well that day so that others may benefit or that I may hear others' strategies and also benefit.  Lots of athletes have athletic ability but the ability to perform is another thing entirely.  All training is done before the day of the meet (or game).  On the day of the meet, all your preparations are done and the results have pretty much been decided.  I say "pretty much" because there is a HUGE mental factor that has yet to be determined.

Besides all the physical preparation, my mentality the night before the meet and the day of determined how I competed in Santa Barbara.  The night before as I lay in a cot in the hotel room, I envisioned what I was going to do the following day.  I replayed myself throwing over and over in my head- slowing parts down, emphasizing key elements, and playing it full speed.  I also imagined the shot put landing beyond the 30 foot line.

With all the mental practice, I didn't have to worry and think about my throw while I was at the meet.  I warmed up on my own and was conservative in my practice throws.  I was in the last heat, the heat with all the top seeded throwers.  So as I waited for the first heats to throw, I read a text from my dad who was at home, cheering me on.

Until they rejected me, UCSD was my top choice for college.  I was pretty upset that I didn't get in and comparing myself to the profile of last year's admitted freshmen, I couldn't see why I wasn't accepted.  The average ACT composite score (the most objective component of the application) was 29 and mine was 33.  Whatever.

While my competition and I were warming up, I chose several girls who threw about the same as me or moderately farther and in my head I decided that these girls went to UCSD.  And I was going to beat them.

One of the girls I was throwing against was the top thrower in the state and if she had gone to the Olympics back in 2008, she would have placed 28th with the throw she threw at Santa Barbara.  Instead of intimidating me, it only made me want to throw farther and prove that I could hang with the girls in my heat.

But the ultimate motivation was my dad.  In terms of athletics, he is my biggest supporter and my unofficial coach.  He goes to every meet and basketball game that he can, but this meet in Santa Barbara was too out of the way.  Of course, he told me to give him updates after each of my events.  What made me throw especially far that day was so I could make that phone call with happy news and be able to tell my dad how well I had done.

Varsity throwers are typically given 4 throws.  My first two throws were decent but nothing to celebrate.  I walked off on my own and refocused.  As I walked into the ring for my third throw, I decided that this throw was going to be for my dad.  I've never thrown so far.  Not in practice, not in a meet.

Needless to say that the phone call after the meet made me happier than any medal.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

BRAWL: Battle Royale All Will Learn (But Rarely All Will Like)

Normally when I write these blog posts, I don't have a specific purpose in mind other than to share my opinion or experience.  Unlike like my other blog posts, this one has a goal- to reflect and improve upon an activity we did in my AP English class.  This three week long activity is known as a BRAWL.  (If you are not my English teacher or a classmate, the following  4 paragraphs will be essential to your understanding of a BRAWL.  If you are one of the two previously mentioned people, you may skip the next 4 paragraphs.)

In my English class, we have just passed the midpoint of a "discussion" about Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  By discussion I mean a Battle Royale All Will Learn type of discussion, otherwise known as a BRAWL.  It's loosely similar to a Socratic Seminar but with the stress and lack of sleep level multiplied by 10.  Although I am proud to declare that I did not allow this assignment to get the best of me and cry.

Heart of Darkness is a unique book in that it only contains three chapters which worked out in a painfully perfect way for our class BRAWL.  Our class was split into teams of three and assigned to read chapter one.  Then on a first come first serve basis, each group chose a category: theme and other, specific, comparison, organization, unusual, or theme examples.

We then had to compose open-ended, AP level questions about chapter one through the lens of our chosen category.  This step was done on Monday and Tuesday.  By Wednesday, our teacher had chosen his favorite 25-30 questions.  Each group then had Wednesday and Thursday (and for a lot of us, Friday morning before 8:00 A.M.) to answer all the questions. 

On Friday, one person from each group was selected and asked one question on the list.  Each participant also had to respond to two other answers.  This process was completed two more times so each group member had his or her turn with the remaining two chapters.

So now that you have a greater understanding of what a BRAWL is, you may be under the ill-informed impression that our BRAWL was fair and close to flawless with all its structure.  Allow me to now inspect all the BRAWL's bruises and broken bones and prescribe a healing remedy.

The first fracture in the BRAWL is the constraint of time.  Answering 28 open ended questions sucks up a lot of hours.  Our class was given two nights and hopefully those two nights you had no sports practice, extracurricular activities, or other homework.  Doubtful.  With such a time constraint, many students hope to be able to answer all the questions rather than think deeply about each individual question.  I find it strange that we were not allotted more time to develop our answers, especially when I reflected back upon a tweet I had made earlier in the year.  Deeper answers seem to be the ultimate goal for teachers and it makes me sad because so many of the BRAWL responses had so much potential if they had been given proper time to develop.

On the same note, some of the questions that were submitted by the students and chosen by the teacher also lacked substance.  Each student was required to submit at least one question related to their topic before each round of the BRAWL.  Some students submitted the first question they thought of and that was it.  To prevent irrelevant or incorrect or repeat questions from being chosen, the class should be given the ability to veto one or two questions from the list.  Also, to help the teacher out, questions should be submitted online in such a way that students will be able to "like" or "dislike" questions as they are submitted.  This is not meant to be offensive but instead to increase the caliber of questions being asked and to prevent students from submitting questions at will.

The way our class BRAWL was set up, each progressive round presented a bigger burden with fewer and fewer people sharing it.  Three people to a group, one person BRAWL-ing per round.  The preparation for the first round is fine.  No one knows who will be called upon to answer so each group member freaks out just the same while answering the questions.  When preparing for the second round, there are only two possible tributes left.  After talking with my classmates, I found that in most groups, the person that answered during the first round was much more relaxed and much more likely to go to bed before 11:00 PM while the other two members stayed up even later than they did the first round.  Then comes the third round and the victim is clear, there is only one group member left.  For my group, I was that victim.  I knew my fate was sealed and that I was going to have to represent my group with the answers we prepared.  So naturally I was the one staying up late and getting up early.  In order to even the playing field, groups should be informed of who their chosen one is before each BRAWL.  This will make all rounds similar to round three and make round three seem less unfair.

This solution will solve another problem; it will cut down on the amount of time consuming preparation.  Since I was last to BRAWL, I had to make sure I had my own answers for each question for each round of the BRAWL just in case I was called on.  Yes, working with two others helped to ease the burden but when it came down to it, I knew that I wouldn't be able to make a case for their answers as well as my own.  With beforehand knowledge of who the tribute is, each member will have to completely and fully answer all the questions only once.  The other two members will be able to contribute to his or her answers by finding supporting quotes or outside information.  This will make the answers deeper as well because all three students will be focusing on one answer per question instead of making three separate answers.

After each BRAWL, an online discussion is opened up and students can respond to any of the questions, whether they were brought up in class or not.  I like how this gives the students who were outside the BRAWL ring the chance to share their opinions and how it gives unselected questions a chance.  But in actuality the online discussion became a chaotic dumping of answers.  In order to increase organization, a spot needs to be created where each question can be responded to separately so different answers from different questions aren't thrown into one overwhelming pile.

There also is a problem with those who are sitting outside of the questioning and answering circle.  They sit there and do nothing.  I feel like very few of them actually listened to what I had to say.  There are many ways to engage the outside circle.  A simple strategy would be to require that on the online discussion, those in the outside circle respond to something that was said in class within their answer.

Now don't get me wrong, I believe the BRAWL was a valuable learning experience and I now understand Heart of Darkness on a much deeper level than I ever thought necessary or even possible.  Things that I overlooked were brought up by classmates and  I was impressed by my fellow students' level of analyzing.  Our Heart of Darkness BRAWL may be one the activities that best prepares me for the AP test but the fact remains that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.