Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wolski's AP American Government Survival Guide

     Hello Constant reader! As we wind down the semester, I thought it would be prudent to share a few thoughts as I look back on the progression of class and some tips I have for students in my AP American Government class. (Although these tips apply to any class really) However, since AP Gov is only a semester long and there is a lot of material to cover, these tips might be more helpful for my AP students. Here goes.....
1. Organize! Prioritize! Cut the apron strings!! 

     Your first job is to organize yourself. I put everything on a calendar on Google that I share with you and all of the docs I share with you on Google have dates associated with when things are due. So if you need to use a planner to write stuff down then do so. I will mention when things are due when I assign them (As we go over it) But as you learn to cut some of those apron strings that you are use to having, learn to keep those dates straight. You might get one more reminder as the date approaches, but don't act surprised when I mention that it is due tomorrow. Trust me, your professor will hand you a syllabus on the first day and if you get one reminder about dates, you are lucky. Learn to be the master of your own organization.
     The second thing to work on is learning to prioritize your work. What is due next? How long will it take to get that done? You have to know thyself and figure out what takes you the most time to complete. Everything we do in our units is connected. Everything. So while you might be working on what is due next, open your vision to realize that what you are doing now is going to help you to do what is next and vice versa. Also, take a little time to work on things a little at a time rather than trying to do something all at once. Don't be the student that realizes they have a 10 page paper due in a week even though they had the requirements 4 months ago. Make a plan on how to tackle larger projects.
     What are "apron strings?" Well those are the tethers that bind you to some adult in your life: your parents, your teachers, etc. This connection, this bond, this reliance is needed when you are young, but as you progress through school, those ties need to slowly be cut so students can begin to learn how to be more and more self-reliant. Remember, your teachers and parents will not be there when you are in college and most certainly won't be there when you take your first job. If we as educator are doing our job right, we should be gradually releasing you from dependence to independence. You will experience this in my class. While you are not totally on your own, I am not going to hover over your shoulder at every waking moment.

2. Oh man! Where did the time go?? Manage it!

   One of the first things you will notice when you enter my room is the arrangement of my desks. I have been moving towards removing myself from in front of the room as much as possible. I am not
going to lecture you with notes for 48 minutes. I am, however, going to use the available technology and challenge you to think and create. Yes! Even in an AP class! While there will be moments of class discussion with me in the lead, you are going to be given more time to yourself in this class than in most others. No, no, no please don't take that to mean you are going to be sitting there doing nothing. (At least, I hope you are not) I will usually assign you something to work on and then circulate to see if you have any questions or concerns. However, the expectation is that when you sit there with your device on your desk that you are working on what I have given you. Not on your phone, not playing Donkey Kong on some emulator, but working on my stuff. Not math, not English, but gov stuff! We all complain that we don't have enough time in our day to get stuff done. I often do this. However, you have to have a little introspection about how you are using your time. Are you working on gov stuff or taking a selfie, Snap chatting with a BAE, or posting a Tweet? I like doing some of those things too but when I have stuff I do, I have stuff to do!
     I know that you are stressed. You are probably taking at least one other honors level or AP class. I get that. I also understand that you will have other work to do for those classes as well. But, I usually don't assign nightly homework. Yes, you may have a couple of assignments out at a time (no more than 2) but if you wait until the last minute you are not going to do well. Remember, most of what I assign are bigger picture assignments that require some thought. Yes, yes there will be some day to day vocabulary and other such assignments, but you need to be aware that last minute work in this class is not a recommendation. I know you may have been able to get away with doing this in the past, but I would suggest that you ween  yourself off of that practice. In the end, whether it is while you are at college or even after, this habit of working at the last minute will catch up to you. So, let's all practice doing things a little at a time!

3. Extra credit, curving, and the 100% ceiling

     Please don't ask me for extra credit. I don't like extra credit. It has been abused in our profession and should be renamed because of this abuse as "in lieu of credit." If it were truly "extra" you as a student would have ALL of your work done and then do something "extra" that is related to the class but is above and beyond. But that is not what you want. You want to make up points for stuff you didn't do. I don't do that. However, I do believe in re-doing of assessments where you correct your mistakes and then try it over. That we can do and will do.
     I don't believe in curving of tests or assessments. I think it pits students against students and distorts the purpose of having an assessment to begin with. You get what you get. "Thanks a lot Wolski, you ruined the curve!" (Said no one ever when I was in high school) So the students now don't like me because as the outlier on the test, I can and do impact the results for everyone else. But I studied. So I should be a social outcast because I studied? That is not the type of competition I like to foster in my class. I know, I know the College Board does it for the AP test, but I am not the College Board who has to deal with tens of thousands of students across the entire nation who are taking a test. I am me. A part of me also thinks that if I have to curve every assessment I give, maybe the assessment is too hard. And maybe, just maybe the students are counting on a curve so they don't study as hard. While the same could be said about the re-test, I require some additional work and requirements that allow students to learn the material and continue to improve. I don't believe a curve achieves that.
     No student, no matter how smart they are, should ever, in the history of education be above 100% in a class. Sorry that's how I feel. I don't believe that honestly reflects what they have learned but rather the accumulation of points that somehow propels them to 2-3% above knowing everything in a class. Students: you don't know that much about American Government. I don't know that much about American Government. I know a lot but not more than all of it. I think when you put it that way, it sinks in: having over 100% in a class just doesn't make sense. Period. Also, I think it limits your ability as a student to have a growth mindset. Why investigate, analyze or question a topic if I know more than all of it? I can slack off in class (No you can't) because I have that added cushion. That is not a good way to approach a subject or your job or life. Being open and saying to yourself "I know not" is a much better approach.

4. Cut and paste syndrome: please don't regurgitate on my test!

     Students: I get it. I know that it is easy, especially with everything out there, to copy stuff from the internet to "get the points" for the assignment. But there is a flaw in your logic: I expect you to know this material for the test. When you cut and pasted that definition or answer from the internet did you even bother to read it? Do you understand it? Could you find the answer if I rephrased the question or wrote it in a slightly different form? I sure hope so! See this is what you are going to do when you take my assessments. I rarely if ever have a question that is a simple rote one. If I have a question that might involve, say a vocabulary word, it will probably be a little more application or conceptual in nature. Yes, I do have a vocabulary section on my tests, but it's not matching. Simply put: I don't give you a review sheet and then go over the answers in class and those same questions appear on the test. That's not learning, that's regurgitation! I want you to actually learn in my class, not just be able to answer questions on a test and forget it!

5. Are you really starting to study the night before?

     For every unit where we have a test (not all will have a traditional test) you will know the test date the day you get the unit planner. It's on there. This is American Government, right? Yea it is complicated. I don't ask simple multiple guess questions that you can simply look at real quick and answer right away. Yes, I have some of those questions, but I also have conceptual, thinking type questions that require some thought. Why? Because the AP test in May will have those questions. The College Board requires that I have those questions. So, I will have those questions. Let's face it you guys are smart. I know that. But I am going to push you. And push you a little more. It's good for you to be challenged and to get out of your comfort zone. But remember, this isn't some head game I am playing with you. I want you to succeed in life and trust me, after 46 years (Yes! I am old) one of the things I have learned is that when you get too comfortable in anything, you stop thinking, questioning, learning. To put it another way:

"Beliefs are dangerous. Beliefs allow the the mind to stop functioning. A non-functioning mind is clinically dead. Belief in nothing..."
            ---Tool, AEmina liner notes

Remember, I will give you everything you need to study for the tests: vocabulary, learning goals, readings, and any and all activities we do in class. Just pace yourself. Make sure you are paying attention in class and honestly, you should do just fine. But you have to remember that I am pushing you. So push back!!

6. I know how tabs work too & the tech rabbit hole

     Life is full of choices and unfortunately a lot of distractions. A lot! So as we head towards being truly a 1 to 1 school (Um...yea that means everyone has a device silly!) you have to be careful that you are using your time wisely when I give you something to do digitally. Look, a part of my philosophy is giving you a taste of radical autonomy during class. What does that mean? Well, since I am not lecturing for the entire class, I will be giving you a problem or issue to investigate, question, ponder and while I am still in the room, I won't be over your shoulder the whole time. So you have work to do and when you are on your phone or watching Modern Family when you should be working, I will know. How? I am magic. Let's just leave it at that. Okay, maybe not magic, but I am not under the delusion that you won't be distracted by the fact that you have the world at your finger tips and you are really really good at finding ways to distract yourself. Why do I give you this freedom? Well, really soon, you are going to have more radical autonomy in your life than you have ever had. (It's called college) And trust me, you are not fully ready for this autonomy. I wasn't. I had to learn how to deal with it and luckily I adjusted to it and did well. So knowing that most students are not fully ready for this, why wouldn't I help you by "teaching" you how to manage that kind of freedom?? One of my pet peeves is when teachers complain that students don't have the skills or abilities they are looking for (These aren't the droids you are looking for!) but then don't teach or model them in and out of the classroom. Gee, I wish there was a group of people who were responsible for teaching these students how to <fill in a skill, process or other ability here>. So I am trying to get you ready to enter the world and you have to learn how to deal with tech distractions.
      One of the reasons why I am using Google Classroom, Google Drive and other digital sites in this class is many of my former students have told me they wish they would have learned to interact with the digital world in high school because they have to college and most of their professors throw stuff at them assuming they know how to do these things. And they don't. Again, I am trying to prepare you for life. No matter what career path you head down, you will have to deal with technology on some level to do your job. That's the world now. It's awesome, but the skills and knowledge you have to have to navigate this world can't entirely be taught from a static textbook.

Look, the bottom line in all of this is I dedicate a lot of time into planning, evaluating and teaching this class. I probably think way too much about my job. Occupational hazard. Do I wish that it was a year long? Yes! Can I change that? No. So we deal with the hand we are dealt. Remember, my job is to help you. Ask questions, tweet at me, email me, but don't be a silent wallflower! You need to interact with me and the material to get the most out of it. You will survive this class, but it will challenge you. And it should. Remember, I am going to push you.....push back!  Peace

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