Question everything.

There are many people who have moulded me into the person I am today, and influenced what I’ve accomplished so far in my life, and what I will accomplish in the future. But there is one person in particular who made this life path of reading, writing, learning, and wondering available to me. Mr. G , my Grade 8 History teacher, offered me a way of seeing the world in which questioning the way things are is both vital and fulfilling, as the way things will be is up to us, the students.

One thing that gets me fired up and frustrated and desperate for change is the approach to education in high schools. Despite this frustration, I don’t yet know how to fix the education system. I haven’t learned enough about how brains learn just yet. However, I do have an idea of where we need to start. And Mr. G has unknowingly provided a foundation for me that has directly influenced the development of this idea in my head.

Firstly, we don’t need better curriculums. Fantastic curriculums exist already. Albeit, they seem to only exist in extremely expensive private schools, but they DO exist! So we DO know what to teach kids. What we need more than that is a different attitude to learning. And that change starts with annoying children…

Note to all parents: scientists confirm your suspicions: each kid can ask dozens of questions every hour. From my own observations of parents and kids, it would appear that after a few rounds of “But, why???”…it is no longer cute or funny. According to Frazier, Gelman, and Wellman (2009), parents only give explanatory answers to their kids’ questions 50-60% of the time — less for younger children. And we know that kids really are asking questions to learn, not just to get attention, because kids react differently to explanatory answers (“You have to stay close to mummy when we’re at the mall because getting lost can be dangerous and scary.”) than they do to non-answers (“Because I said so”, “Ask your dad”, and “Not now”). Explanatory answers cue kids to be more curious and to ask more questions, whereas non-answers force kids to ask the same question again or make up their own answer. Furthermore, kids either learn that asking questions is a fruitful activity: self-directed learning is good!; or that asking questions gets you nowhere: people will tell me things if I need to know them.

Too often, students are encouraged not to ask disruptive questions like “But why did that happen?” or “But what if I did it this way?”. We are asked to learn the information as it is, without questioning it. Parents and teachers: when kids ask “Why?” , they are learning to learn. If toddlers and kids and teens get solid answers and are encouraged to be curious, the cycle will continue and they will learn all the things! If they get shut down every time they ask why things are the way they are…they’ll stop asking. And that alone is utterly terrifying to me.

Back to Mr. G… He once told my class,

“A good teacher is just a student who had a bad experience in school.”

And that thought has stuck with me for 7 years. But it’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I did some research. Mr. G, if you’re reading this, it turns out you were exactly right. Ronald A. Beghetto has done a lot of research on teachers, creativity, and the learning experience. One of his studies confirmed that “prospective teachers who viewed promoting creativity of students as highly important were significantly less likely to report that they enjoyed school” (2006).

Mr. G taught me that being inquisitive is one of the greatest, most admirable traits someone can have. Because the people who ask “Why?” are the people who effect change. They are the people who make all the difference in the world.

Mr. G made it okay to nerd out. He gave the go-ahead for students to be who they wanted to be and learn how they wanted to learn. And (though I was a brat when I graduated from his class) his lessons and encouragement have had the greatest impact on my life, now that I’ve had time to think about them. And I won’t ever be able to explain how grateful I am for that. Because I am now one of the biggest, proudest nerds you’ll ever meet. I love learning. I love going to class. And more than anything, I love sharing what I’ve learned with other people. Before Mr. G, I was one of those kids who tried to dumb it down to look cool (or something approaching cool), who tried to hide the fact that I powered through a book a day, who had stopped asking questions.

Mr. G was a teacher who didn’t just “teach”. He didn’t recite and quiz and discipline and check our notes for accuracy. He did everything in his power to light a spark in students that made them want to learn on their own. Maybe we didn’t see that then, but I can certainly see it now. He gave us permission to question everything, including authority (even his own), because authority is not always right by default. He did an incredible job of giving us the clearest, most accessible, most enlightening answers he could. And that is the greatest gift any student could ask for.

Parents and teachers are teaching kids that asking “Why?” all the time is disruptive and generally a bad thing to do. I propose that we start teaching kids the way Mr. G taught me: Yes, asking “Why?” IS disruptive. And that’s a damn good thing.

What are your thoughts on high school education? Did it work for you? Did you hate it? Did you have your own Mr. G? Let me know in the comments.

I hope you’re enjoying your summer thus far! DFTBA,

Kenzie

P.S. If you’re looking for more on this topic, read The Power of Why by Amanda Lang. It’s going on my newly official list of books teachers and parents must read.

P.P.S. My writing hiatus was longer than anticipated. I got super bored without writing and ideas were starting to get really crowded in my brain. More posts to come!

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My Last Class

I am about to go into the very last class of my first year at Queen’s University.

Time has never passed as quickly as it has this year, especially this March and April. Fast than summer break, faster than exchange, faster than vacation. You know how time flies when you’re having fun? Apparently it surpasses the speed of light when you’re having a mental breakdown. That’s basically what this year has been for me. A complete breakdown and reassembly of how I think about myself, my education, and my relationships. I’ve learned a lot about myself that I wish I didn’t know. I’ve learned that it’s hard to make all the right moves in a long-distance relationship, that I’m not so great with handling others’ illnesses, and that I have some serious self-esteem issues that I didn’t know I had. I’ve learned what a panic attack really feels like. I’ve learned that I don’t like panic attacks.

But! I’ve also learned that even if I don’t make the right move, I can still fix things, especially with the help of loved ones. I’ve learned that other people do not have to define my life and how I operate through it . I’ve learned that I have an entire lifetime to work on myself and develop into the person I truly want to be. I’ve learned that I thrive under pressure and that I have way more umph! in me than I ever imagined or wished for. Most importantly, I’ve learned that, no matter how low I feel, no matter how many crappy choices I make, there are people in my life who will push me to go further, challenge me to do better, and support me through all of it. People like T.A.’s who see that I have potential, my parents who have always been there for me, my partner who encourages me like no one else, and even myself.

Coming up to the final exams of my first year of university is the first time in my life that I’ve looked in the mirror and honestly been able to say “What the hell, Kenz? You can do better,” instead of “You should be able to do better.” And for the first time in my life, I can respond (yes, I respond to myself) with “Wait a sec. Yea, I can do better than this,” instead of “I wish I knew how,” or “I wish I had it in me.” I can’t thank my family, my partner, and my new friends enough for helping me with this incredible personal growth that I didn’t know was possible.

It’s up to me to keep the cycle of positive reinforcement going. The joy of university for me is that the harder I try, the better my marks are. That’s just not something that happened for me in high school. I was aiming for university when they wanted cookie cutter, and you don’t get marks in high school for doing more than what your teacher asks for. Every week, especially at the end of the year when all the marks start flooding in, I realize that high school was a tiny, insignificant blip on my radar, a mere stepping stone to getting where I need to be right now.

Alright, enough philosophizing. I’ve learned a lot about applying for a major lately. At the beginning of the year, I was terrified that I just wouldn’t be capable of getting the grades to major in Psychology. It’s the most competitive major to get into in the Arts and Sciences at Queen’s. Now that we’ve reached the end of the year, despite all of my panicking, it turns out that a Psych major may very well be in my cards after all. (To all my lovely family members reading this, I know you were never worried, but I honestly was for a while.) As it currently stands, I need higher than a 70% on my final exam to get into Psychology, which is definitely doable. I’m feeling very confident (knock on wood) because the topics we’ve worked on this semester (personality, emotions, social life, development, etc.) are all things I’m absolutely fascinated by, so I’ve really soaked it all in. Wish me luck!

So, time for my last class … I wish it was one I liked. :P After this, I’m off to the library for more studying and final essay writing. As of this moment, there are 12 days, 21 hours, and 30 minutes until I am home at last, and dropping into unconsciousness in my proper-sized bed for a month. This will likely be my last communication until I become conscious again.

Let me know how your first year went or anything important you learned this year in the comments. I love to hear these things. Thanks for sticking with me through my first year, folks!

Kenzie

To This Day

“When I was a kid, I hid my heart under the bed because my mother said, ‘If you’re not careful, someday, someone’s gunna break it.’ Take it from me, under the bed is not a good hiding spot. I know because I’ve been shot down so many times, I get altitude sickness just from standing up for myself. But that’s what we were told: ‘Stand up for yourself.’ But that’s hard to do if you don’t know who you are.” — Shane Koyczan

This is, I believe, the original. In the 18 days since this video was posted, it’s been viewed 6.2 million times. Tells you a little something about how we’re feeling.

Stay strong, folks. It gets better.

<3 Kenzie

Culminatings, Converting, and (non)Confirmation

Oh, how I love the end of the year … (sense my sarcasm).  As unbelievable stoked as I am for summer, I dread the coming month of June.  “June” to a high school student does not mean ‘almost summer’ or ‘teacher’s are getting slack’ or ‘another year is over’.  To a high school student, especially a grade 12 student, “June” means unbelievably packed schedules filled with last-minute projects, cramming for tests while also attempting to study for exams, and the ever-despised, culminating projects.

To this day, I still do not understand the point of having an in-class culminating project.  We’re told that if students are allowed to take their culminatings home, there’s a chance they will cheat.  Realistically, we shouldn’t be cheating on any of our work.  But if the risk is there, why let students take anything home?  It doesn’t seem to follow that teachers are seriously concerned about us cheating on our culminatings, but couldn’t be bothered with everything else we’ve done in the year.  And if the issue is the extra time (some teachers take issue with the fact that while some students would gladly advantage of the extra time at home, others could care less), then isn’t that a matter of time-management skills?  You snooze, you lose, right?.  And the kicker: doing culminatings in class means we can’t type it out.  This hurts the grades of the slow and/or messy writers, and is completely unrealistic given what technology has come to mean to students today.  I’ve mentioned before that teachers need to accept that technology is here to stay.  I know my opinion matters little to the school board, and it’s unlikely any change will occur before I’m out of the schooling system, but every now and then, I come across a teacher who has been struck by – dare I say it? – sanity.  A teacher who doesn’t mind bending the rules, because the rule are stupid.

Then again, some teachers are so stuck in their ways that certain students have no chance of succeeding.  Take, for example, an agnostic at a Catholic school…  Religion doesn’t play a huge part in my life, except that I go to a Catholic high school.  Now let’s say that, hypothetically (I say hypothetically only in order to remain P.C.) I had a teacher that was so set in his religious ways, that he (or she) unconsciously marked certain student’s responses harder than others.  Considering I am a non-Catholic at a Catholic school, I am very careful to survey my audience before I give my answer.  However, a question occasionally arises such as, “As a Catholic student, how do you feel about…” Unfortunately, the culminating in this class — this hypothetical class — is an essay in response to such a question.  Now, because of my constant need to ask questions, my ability to remain polite in frustrating situations, and my overall lovely demeanor, this (*hypothetical*) teacher still has hope that he might help me find the Lord.  I gotta say, I doubt it.  But I’m left with the decision: Do I miraculously convert and write my essay from the perspective of someone who had found God (something this teacher would love to hear), or tell him the unfortunate truth (albeit the politically correct version)?

One last thing: deciding to come back for grade 13 was a good decision, but it’s hard at times.  Times such as these, where I receive a letter from a university telling me that I haven’t been accepted.  I mean, I’m not actually planning on going anyway, but rejection still sucks.  It’s even more difficult when I receive an email telling me I have been accepted not only to the university, but also the residence I would kill for, as long as I confirm within the week.  I’m soooo tempted to just click that little “Confirm.”

Anyway, other than the above mentioned, it’s been the most fantastic 24 hours.  I have just found out that my favourite Australian band — John Butler Trio — is coming to Toronto this summer.  And even better than JBT, there is a very good chance that one of my closest friends will be coming to visit me (all the way from Denmark!) next summer!  I thought I’d mention these lovely events so you’re all aware that despite all my complaining, good things do actually happen to me, and I appreciate them endlessly. <3

Rules, Reality, and Rolling with the Punches (A Student’s Message)

Have you ever noticed how unrealistic high schools are?  I can’t think of a single scenario in real life where society expects adults to wear identical outfits, ask permission to speak, and learn irrelevant tasks and information that become useless after the final exam.  Think about an average day in high school.  How often do adults require permission to carry out basic bodily functions?  “Boss, may I please use the washroom?” “Sorry to interrupt, boss, but do you mind if I eat this muffin?” It sounds ridiculous.

High school entirely ignores reality. Our days are structured to the hour with no room for adjustment.  We are also expected to be involved in our community AND sustain relationships with our families … as long as neither interferes with our studies.  Teachers encourage creativity, but we students are reprimanded for not handing in exactly what was asked for.  And the most exasperating aspect of high school?  The expectation that all students will accept being banned from all technology, at all times, without exception.  Is it just me, or is it insane to deny the fact that next year, I will be doing the work assigned via the class portal, and not the 10 questions on the handout and that those assignments will be emailed to my professors?  In my four years at high school, I’ve only had two teachers who accepted homework via email, and only two who used the internet on a regular basis.  How is this preparing us for the future??

A final argument (*ahem* complaint) that I would like to add to the irrationality of the high school system, is that yes, students do indeed have lives outside of school.  Some of us join sports teams, some of us have jobs, and some of us have some serious issues that we actually deem more important that the four questions on page 315 in the text.  Unfortunately for us, we do not have a supply student to send in when something important comes up.  Yes, I know you plan on marking every eight-page essay tonight and couldn’t possibly mark mine tomorrow, but it would relieve a lot of stress for both of us if you accepted that I, too, have a life and wasn’t able to make it in today.

And so, a message to teachers: technology is NOT going away and sometimes we have more important things to do than your homework.  You might just have to roll with it.

Just saying.

New Classes, New Teachers, New Blog

It’s a new semester, my last semester, and I’ve got a great lineup of  courses.  First period goes to Mr. MacDonald and his Philosophy course.  I’ve only had one class so far, but it left a big impression.  Let me tell you, I’ve never heard anyone turn what could have been a 20 minute overview of a course into 75 minutes of in-depth opinions on the textbook, it’s predecessor, and different offshoots of the five units we’ll be covering.  I have a feeling this class will be a little dry at times, but I’ve got to hand it to him: MacDonald knows his stuff.

Second period is World Issues with Mr. Melfi.  I’m extremely excited to get involved in this class. I’ve always wanted to understand how the world works, and this class is the perfect reason to force myself to start reading the newspaper and staying on top of current events.  I also think I might have an advantage with friends living in over 20 countries around the world!

I have a spare during third period.  I wonder if I’ll use it wisely…?

Finally, in fourth period, I head back to MacDonald’s room for religion.  I’m a little wary of this class.  Mr. MacDonald has a reputation as a hardcore Catholic teacher (who would prefer to hear that your opinion happens to be the same at the Church’s).  From the first class I can already tell I’ll need a bottle of Advil, a pillow and a bulls-eye labelled: Bang Head Here.  On the bright side, I know a lot of the people in all my classes, so I’m among friends and (with a little luck) will survive the end of high school.

This blog is mainly thanks to Mr. Melfi.  Our class needs an account on WordPress to do some of the homework assignments, but I see it as a sign to continue blogging.  And so, I now hereby swear to keep everyone up-to-date on my experiences in applying to and (fingers crossed) starting university in September.

Love you all,

Kenzie