A new teacher started in my school when I was in sixth grade. He taught seventh through twelfth grade so I didn't have much reason to interact with him. That was until softball season came around. He didn't live in the same small town as my school and he had a daughter the same age as me. Neither of our tiny towns had enough girls to field a softball team and he had the bright idea to combine the girls from each of our towns so that we could play. And that's when I got to know Mr. Ricky Block.
After that season, he noticed that a number of girls on the team had potential to play softball at a higher level. He approached a team in a town nearby and asked if we could come to the try out. They gave him a firm no. That didn't stop him, though. He decided to start his own team - a team that his daughter had no interest playing on - because he wouldn't allow a girl's potential to be limited by where she lived.
That first season was magical and the team he created blossomed into a powerhouse. Not only that, but it became a springboard for girls throughout rural Saskatchewan to play softball at a level they could have never dreamed of before. Some of us travelled to the United States to play ball; but, playing competitive ball wasn't the only gift he gave us.
For me, moving to the United States was the chance to grow into my own person. I quit ball and participated in show choir, conducted breast cancer research, interned at a pharmaceutical company, met my husband, graduated in Chemical Engineering, and started my own business. All of this happened because he wanted a bunch of twelve-year-old girls to have a chance to play ball.
But, Mr. Block wasn't just my coach. He was also my English teacher. I strongly disliked English and I never hesitated to let him know. "But you're such a great writer," he would say while I rolled my eyes. "Useless and boring," was always my rebuttal.
Earlier this week, I was substitute teaching in a fifth grade English class. They were learning predicates. "Pretty sure Mr. Block never taught us this," I thought. Although, I'm sure he did. I would have messaged Mr. Block later that day to give him grief, as usual. Except I couldn't - He died two days earlier.
That same fifth grade class was also interpreting poetry that day. It made me remember how Mr. Block used music to help us understand poetry: the symbolism, the figurative language, the creative use of rhythm and rhyme. I don't think I ever told him how much I enjoyed that. It would have destroyed my firmly held opinion that English was "useless and boring."
For the remainder of the day I reminisced about other ways he worked so hard to make learning "useless and boring" subjects fun and interesting. One of my favorites was "Jeopardy." He would split us into teams and we would compete by answering questions from different categories. All of the categories were related to the book we were reading in class. Mr. Block was also the computer teacher, which meant he always found ways to integrate elements from Computer class into English class. So of course, all of this was done in Powerpoint.
In true Mr. Block fashion, I created a template for you to create your own Jeopardy slide deck. It's my silly little way of remembering Mr. Block and everything he did for me in athletics, academics, and life. I think he would have gotten a kick out of it.
Taking a test can be exhausting. It is not just the written portion that is exhausting, but studying for it as well. Many people think that the key to getting a good test grade is your ability to remember all of the information taught in class -- but that's only partially true. Every single piece of information presented in class was done in such a way that you would understand a few core concepts. Therefore, the key to studying for a test is to identify those core concepts and ensure you know how to apply them.
Identifying the Core Concepts
No test can cover everything discussed during class. Think about it. One chapter in a textbook may have 30+ pages choke-full of facts, figures, and definitions. On the other hand, one test is roughly 2+ pages of questions and blank space. How do you know what will be on those few pieces of paper?
Start by creating an outline. Read the objectives of the chapter in the textbook. Skim through the chapter and your notes from class. Ask yourself these questions:
Review your homework once you have created an initial outline. However, don't begin by re-doing the problem! Instead, look at the problem and ask yourself what that question was trying to teach you. It should teach you some element from your outline.
By the end of this exercise you should have something that looks like this:
What You Know Vs. What You Don't
There is no use spending hours pouring over information you already understand. The time spent studying is inversely proportional to how well you know it:
Compare your outline and homework again. Your homework is an indicator of how you will perform on the test. Ask yourself:
So your outline should start looking like this:
Pink is the "danger zone." You are at a high probability of getting any question containing this concept wrong. Yellow is "proceed with caution." Meaning, you may be able to answer the question but you do not fully understand why. You may do well on the upcoming test, but classes build on the previous chapters. Therefore, you will likely suffer on the next exam if you don't shore that concept up now.
Now that you have a plan you can start studying! Re-reading the same information over and over isn't the best approach. Instead, pretend you are a teacher attempting to present this information to the class. How would you make sense of it? Re-write your notes. Once I finished studying, I had my own study packet that was a hybrid of the teacher's notes, my observations, and information from the textbook.
Another study technique is to restructure the information. For instance, in biology you may want to organize the animal kingdoms into a flow chart. Pick a different color for each group. Tell yourself why you are picking that color, "Plantae is green because it is the plant group; plants are typically green." Even if your teacher already gave you a flow chart, draw it yourself from scratch. Reason through why each group is there and what it contains. It forces you to think more deeply than just looking at words on a page.
Another study approach is to think of examples. One friend told me how she explained the concept of a mole from chemistry as "A mole is to atoms like a dozen is to eggs." She equated the scientific concept to something we are familiar with in our everyday lives. Another friend of mine felt he had a good handle on a concept if he could come up with a joke that made the professor laugh.
Whatever it is for you, find a way to make the material engaging.
Work with Friends
In the beginning it can be helpful to study with someone that has developed great study habits. They can share what works for them and give you new ways to look at material. Learning does not happen in a bubble.
It takes time to develop study habits. You may try everything outlined above and realize you need to tweak a few things to make it effective for you. That's fine. We all synthesize information differently because none of us have the exact same frame of reference.
We would never expect someone to become a professional athlete the minute they pick up the ball. It takes years of dedicated effort to learn the necessary skills. This holds true for academics as well. Keep practicing and don't give up!
It is not unusual to be hyper focused on athletics in this country. We start children in competitive leagues at younger and younger ages. We buy them the latest equipment. We drive hours for them to play in tournaments for exposure to college recruiters. We enroll them in camps to learn from some of the best coaches. All of this isn't necessarily a bad thing. I played a lot of sports growing up and started playing softball competitively at thirteen. It taught me discipline, teamwork, sportsmanship, and countless other life lessons. That's why parents help their children get deeply involved in sports. Unfortunately, effort in school work doesn't always get the same level of attention. This is more of an accidental reality than a well-thought-out decision. Sports are an easy way for parent's to be involved in their children's lives. Pop culture capitalizes on the entertainment value, making sports an accessible form of entertainment the whole family can enjoy. We need to re-adjust our thinking so that sports and education are valued in a similar way.
My husband loves playing baseball. His dad is not very good at catch, but that never stopped them from playing together. His dad's lack of throwing abilities did not hinder my husband's ability, but it also didn't help him become better. That's why his dad paid for my husband to play in a league. There was a patient and knowledgable coach that taught the kids the rules of baseball and ran drills to improve their skills. A "tutor" is an educational "coach." They are proficient in the subject and work with your child to grasp the concept.
Sports doesn't stop with your YMCA league. High performance athletes seek a wide variety of help to step up their game. There are sports psychologists, physiotherapists, personal trainers, and nutritionists that assist the coach in shaping the athlete. Why do we expect school to be the be-all-end-all for our child's education? If an athlete has a prayer in making it big, they need a support system that helps them hone each aspect of their game. Think of a tutor as a necessary part of your child's support team. The teacher's do there best to educate your child, but there are a lot of children in the room. For some students they go too fast, for others they go too slow. That's where a tutor can go at the pace specifically needed for your child.
Professional athletes are not the only people that make a lot of money. Athletics are not the only form of scholarships. There are more high-paying careers and academic scholarships than there are positions on a professional sports team. Anyone with a child has worried about the costs of college tuition. In-state tuition at Kansas State University is estimated at just over $20,000 per year . That's $80,000 for a four year degree. Considering a university degree is a near necessity in today's job market, this potential $80,000 bill isn't outside of your horizon. But, you could get one year nearly paid for simply by having an ACT score of 30 and GPA of 3.6 . Not a bad return on investment if you spent $1000 on tutoring and got a $14,000 scholarship in return - and that's for a scholarship given simply by being eligible when you apply to university. Think of the others that have academic requirements that you apply for on the side.
It is easy to justify costs for our children's sports. It's an easy way for parents to spend time with their children. Popular culture idolizes athletes and often reports on their successes. Don't forget that education can be just as valuable to your child's growth and well-being. Similar to when you reach out to a coach to teach a sports-related skill, you may want to reach out to a tutor to help with their academic skills.
 "Tuition and Costs." Kansas State University, 29 Jul. 2016. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.
 "Scholarships." Kansas State University, 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.
"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." We've heard this saying often. Some obstacles in life cannot be changed. Instead, you have to make the best of the situation. This is great advice, as long as the obstacle you face is truly unchangeable/unavoidable. Sometimes, we throw up our own roadblocks. These self-made roadblocks are built on a foundation of self-doubt and fear of failure. It gives us something to blame when we don't succeed. Don't waste your time building roadblocks, instead focus that effort on succeeding at what you are afraid of doing.
To tear down your self-made roadblock you need to figure out why you built it in the first place. Doubt fuels our insecurities and validates our excuses. Doubt plays a feedback loop of "you can't do that, so don't even try." In tenth grade, my math teacher (Mrs. R) went out on maternity leave. In Canada, maternity leave lasts a year. I had Mrs. R for math since seventh grade. I knew how she taught, how she tested, and with her math was easy. That all changed with the substitute (Mr. M). He didn't simplify the material like Mrs. R. She made it so easy to understand, why did he have to make it so difficult? Both the grades of my classmates and myself started to fall. I thought, "Why even try? It's obvious I'm having trouble because of him. He needs to change." I threw my hands up and blamed Mr. M for my problem. I started building a wall.
It was after yet another test and my grades slipping even lower, that I finally realized Mr. M wasn't going anywhere. I needed to change if I really wanted to get a good grade. That realization broke my cycle of blame and put the responsibility back on myself. After all, is it Mr. M's fault if I never tried to understand it for myself? No. He was at a different level than me and I wasn't trying to join him. Instead, I sat down and built a wall around myself, refusing to risk climbing to the next level and falling.
I started bringing my textbooks home - something I only did to complete homework problems. I read the chapters he covered. I re-wrote the notes and added my own thoughts based on what I had read in the textbook. The next test came back and... It was the grades I got with Mrs. R! It was well worth the effort. I started to really enjoy Mr. M's teaching. He pushed me to a deeper understanding and ultimately a deeper love of the learning process. It was the first time something in class didn't come easily. It was the first time I had to earn it - and it felt good.
After years of reflection, I realized I bogged myself down in believing that someone "naturally smart" should never struggle with a concept. That meant I was stupid, right? Not exactly. It meant I was pushing myself beyond what was comfortable. But, if I worked on building a bridge rather than building a wall, eventually I would cross the chasm and learn something new. This would lead to new land to discover and more chasms to cross. Learning was an adventure!
We all encounter that concept that stretches us further than we have ever been before. For some that's in elementary school, or high school, or even college! But eventually it happens. You come across something that you don't intuitively understand and your normal effort isn't enough to figure it out. Instead of building a wall, be thankful for an opportunity to push yourself and get to a new level of understanding. You will love the view!
What makes a student successful? Is it natural ability or well-developed study skills? The first place to begin answering this question is to define success. Merriam-Webster defines success as "the correct or desired result of an attempt" . Therefore, success does not mean a straight-A student. Success is a measure of whether or not your attained your personal goal. The standard you create for yourself may not necessarily be explicit in the letter grade you obtain.
While attending college for my bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering, I met three types of students. They all had the same definition of success: they wanted to complete the coursework and be awarded their degree. Each student's journey to success was a little different:
The Late Bloomer: didn't push themselves in high school but became more engaged in coursework once they entered college.
The Overcomer: had a learning disability but didn't let that limit their passion.
The High Achiever: always excelled in academics and continued to do so in college.
I graduated alongside all three of these students, and each of our academic journeys varied greatly. Some of us graduated with honors, some of us got a few C's, but ultimately we were successful because we graduated. Now, academic success is not exclusive from your actual academic efforts. All three of these students had to work hard in their pursuit of success, but that success was not solely dependent on the letter grade they obtained. Letter grades are important, since they couldn't have graduated if they were below college expectations, but they didn't all need A's either. So what did they need?
Grit is not letting obstacles get in your way. You become creative and dig deep to find ways to be successful despite challenges. This is what makes you try a new study method after failing a test.
Discipline is the ability to focus your motivation and grit on a specific objective. You know what you want and what you need to do to get there. This is what makes you ensure you have the foundational pieces to achieve your goal.
Work on these behaviors if you want to become a successful student. Find you motivation, and develop your grit and discipline. If you focus on that there is nothing to stop your from reaching your goals.
 Merriam-Webster. Web. Accessed 22 Aug 2016
On New Year's Eve, many people have a list of goals they want to accomplish throughout the new year. The First Day of School offers students the same opportunity. Notebooks are empty, teams and groups need members, and there are new people to meet. How do you even begin to distill down all of the possibilities into an achievable list of goals?
It is commonly recommended to have no more than three to five yearly goals. It's natural to want to create a long list of goals, but in reality, you only have time for a few. So don't set yourself up for failure! Instead, invest the time into well-defining a few goals and continue to improve from there.
This doesn't seem entirely helpful. You may be thinking, "That just says what I want, but not what I need to do everyday to get there." That's an accurate observation. A goal is the end result, it doesn't talk about the journey. To plan the journey, you need to break that goal into smaller pieces. Anna Akana's video, "How to Level Up Your Productivity," gives some advice on how to achieve your goals. She explains that defining your goals and breaking them into steps is the easy part. The hard part is staying accountable to the plan. Akana recommends making to-do lists with only tasks that help you reach your goal, creating a "not-to-do list," and creating a daily routine . So what would this look like with our example above?
Goals are a great way to refine our focus on what's really important. Give it a try! Think of one or two academic and personal goals and try to reach them by the end of the school year. You never know what you may accomplish!
 Akana, Anna. "How to Level Up Your Productivity." Online video clip. You Tube. 10 Mar 2016. Web. 17 Aug 2016.
Are you left brain or right brain dominant? People attempt to categorize each other into neat categories. Left brain people are considered to be more logical and objective while right brain people are considered to be more creative and artistic. This leads people to assume that those who perform best in science or mathematics are left brain dominant. However, recent research has shown that those who are mathematically gifted have brains that are better able to communicate between hemispheres .
Logic is defined by using a set of principles to interpret or justify a condition. Creativity is defined as the use of imagination or original thought to create. Math and science are rooted in theories and proofs. However, those theories and proofs were not always printed in your text book. It took someone thinking about problems and asking questions in a new way that led to discoveries. Creativity is not limited to new ideas but is helpful to look at problems in new ways.
Recently, after painting a TV stand I was putting the doors back on. I was having trouble figuring out what direction the hinges needed to go. My mother-in-law saw my struggle and showed me how to do it. Her time spent sewing had given her a lot of opportunities to understand how pieces fit together. She took the problem and viewed it in a new way. One may not relate sewing to math and science but both require visualizing problems. She took concepts learned in a different setting and applied them in a new way.
You can do the same when you encounter problems, whether on paper or in life. When you run across a new problem find new ways to look at it.
 Singh, Harnam. O' Boyle, Michael W. "Interhemispheric Interaction During Global-Local Processing in Mathematically Gifted Adolescents, Average-Ability Youth, and College Students." Neurophysiology. 2004. Volume 18. Number 2. Pages 371 - 377.
As the end of summer and the beginning of the school year looms around the corner there are a mix of emotions. The freedom of summer lies in stark contrast to what seems to be the prison of a classroom. Why do we think of the classroom as a prison? It is a place where new ideas are brought forth everyday.
Ideas and concepts can change the world. As John Green discusses in his TedTalk, "The Nerd's Guide to Learning Everything Online," a small town was created because of a paper town placed on a map to help map makers detect copyright frauds. He goes on to talk about how he used to dislike learning until he found a community of learners that enjoyed discovering something new. He explains that they pulled him out of his sense of "school is lame" because they were a group of people "[...] who thought that my ironic, oh-so-cool disengagement wasn't clever or funny, but [...] was a simple and unspectacular response to very complicated and compelling problems" .
Learning doesn't have to be boring or uncool. It does seem useless to sit in a classroom to be taught information you "won't use in the real life," but that uselessness is on you. It is your decision to take what you are being taught and apply it. Use what's left of your summer to get geared up to learn. You never know what idea you will uncover that could change your world.
There are two scenarios when one looks back on their high school experience: you either loved or hated math class. Many people will extrapolate from there and say, "I hated math class. I wasn't any good at it, I just don't think that way." People don't really argue with this thought. It almost seems logical. Who hasn't struggled with a math concept over the course of their educational career?
We use math every day. When you are trying to determine if a sale is worthwhile, spacing pictures equally on the wall, or calculating how much longer a trip will last if you are going the speed limit. Now the question becomes, did your distaste for math stop you from figuring those problems out? No. What will keep you from figuring out those problems is your level of math proficiency.
Proficiency is tied to practice, not enjoyment. You become better when you practice. Want to hit a baseball? Practice. When you first started to practice hitting a ball there was a lot of failure. Failure isn't fun. This is where the final piece of the puzzle pops into place. Your desire to learn created persistence. It's that persistence that made you practice even when you hated it.
You use math every day. It's important to have adequate skills so that you can navigate the math problems of every day life. Like when learning to hit a baseball, it is helpful when you have a coach that already knows how to hit a baseball. Same goes for math. If you are having trouble it can help to work with a tutor and keep practicing.