Showing posts with label college prep. Show all posts
Showing posts with label college prep. Show all posts

2.2.20

On What College-Bound Kids Should Do In High School

After a student asked me one day what he should be doing to "get into a good college" I gave him a few of my suggestions.

Getting Into a Good College  My Students Are Worried
     Let’s first say that getting into a good college, paying for it, and ending up as a successful individual is equal parts chance, and equal parts merit, with a dash of injustice and absurdity to throw the entire process off-kilter. I use the word "injustice" on purpose. Not everyone who gets into a good school deserves it  a few high-powered celebrities have tried to secure a spot for their children by paying third parties to do the work for them. And I use the word absurdity on purpose as well. It's absurd to think one's future can be set by a standardized test score or to become frazzled by one's prospect to get into school based on the fact that you made a B+ in AP Calculus.
French Class in High School
I took this photograph on the last day of high school in Madame Dietrich’s French class.
     But let’s say for the sake of argument you’re a kid in a high school in the United States and you want to get into a good school. Let’s say for the sake of argument you’re in a relatively good school  namely, you’re learning something and your parents and teachers are more or less good role models. You were read to as a child and you’ve frequented a library, a museum, an after school program or something of that kind. You’re already two or more steps in the door. Parents who introduce their children to reading at an early age typically have kids who are more likely to do well in school. 

How Much Does Environment Play Into Future Success
     Environment plays a defining role in determining your chances of becoming a successful, let’s say happy, adult. Sans being an athlete - that’s one way into college - or acquiring some kind of skill as leverage - getting into the school of your choice is a crapshoot. Just the other day (I’m a high school English teacher) one of my students asked me if he took an online course on Coursera or Edx - would that improve his chances of getting into a good school. I said, “yes, of course.” But then I thought about it. Yes  taking a course on computer programming from Harvard is not a bad idea - but you must be a person who is committed to learning programming. Adding extras solely for the sake of extras can have the opposite effect. Schools want candidates who are excited about learning and have shown proof that they have put themselves out there and taken on challenges. Make your passions come through in your college application and any thing you do outside of school can complement the person you are (and the person you want to be).

Has Applying to College Changed A lot Since the 1990s?
     A lot has changed since I applied to college. I went to a public high school in South Louisiana where most of my classmates graduated and went to the State University - or the military - or they stayed in my hometown. I applied to two schools - Saint Joseph Seminary College and Centenary College - both small schools in Louisiana - one Methodist and the other a Catholic seminary. My mother wanted me to go to the Methodist school 
 and we drove up there to speak to the head of the philosophy department. That's what I wanted to study. I ended up going to the seminary college.
     I took the ACT (and I made a mediocre score). I also took the ASVAB. It’s the military job placement exam. Both my brothers joined the army after high school (I’m the only one who didn’t). Taking the ASVAB is how I learned the difference between a Phillips and a normal screwdriver. Our high school had college counselors - but no one ever visited their office  it was on the edge of campus next to the shop building. I think their main job was to organize random statewide testing which was administered during the year. In Louisiana, to graduate from high school one had to pass the LEAP test. Rumors spread about the few who didn't pass and had to repeat twelfth grade. 
     There was something alien to me about taking a  standardized test  as if my answers were being sent into a ceaseless void every time I bubbled in an answer. Even today  more than twenty years after graduating from high school I still don't trust tests. I like tests as a procedure  an activity for the general assessment but not for understanding a kid through and through.

Shifting Focus From Where I Want to Go to What Skills I Want to Master
     Most high school students don’t really know what they want to do anyway. At least it’s not quite solidified yet. I think the most effective task any high school student should accomplish is to progressively improve their ability to get things done. Show up to class. Learn new skills. Perhaps you’ll never use the quadratic equation ever again in your life. But if you shrug it off as unimportant you’re missing out on a skill - how to solve a problem given limited information. I was a humanities geek in school (and truth be told I took very few hard science and math classes in college) but I learned how to follow through on a problem. Solving a quadratic equation requires following directions, staying on task and not making tiny mistakes  and you can use it to chart the trajectory of a moving object (and check out how a mathematician rediscovered an ancient Babylonian method used for solving quadratics).
     I still have a papier-mâché vase I made in art class. I’ve never made a vase like that since  but my mom has the vase in her living room. Did making this vase help me get into college? No. But it was something I did that pulled me out from what I was used to. We don’t know what skills we’ll need to know in the future. Technology is rapidly changing - but we do need people who can adapt and apply themselves in novel ways.

One More Question:
     What are some things high school students can do to improve their chances of getting into a good college? Let us know in the comments (see below this post).

28.1.11

Online Citation Software: RefWorks or no Refworks?

After years of organizing research in a Moleskine notebook, I have finally landed on an online bibliographic manager I can kinda live with . . .  
When writing papers, I have always managed my own citations and created bibliographies with the help of either a stylebook or books.google.com and worldcat.com). The frustration comes in getting the style format correct. Formatting a research paper in MLA or APA style is tedious work. Have you ever found yourself at your desk and not able to access the citation for a book you have already returned to the library? Have you ever wondered whether to use parenthetical citations or footnotes? How does one cite a web site? A movie? A sound recording? A librarian told me once that the easiest way to use a citation style is to not learn how to use it. He meant just refer to the stylebook for the rules. I am sure he would agree a citation manager is even better.
Libraries Often Give Their Patrons Tools to Create Citations and Bibliographies
     At my university, the library makes it incredibly easy for students to use bibliographic management software. RefWorks is not free but if you are a college student it is highly likely your institution subscribes to the service, but you can use Zotero or WorldCat if you don't have RefWorks (but their features are limited).
    When I research on the web or browse books and articles I can simply add references to my RefWorks account. Why didn't I do this before? Before the advent of online citation managers, I had to either carry a notebook with me to the library to record bibliographic data or I would key in the data into a word processing program but then I would be paralyzed by not knowing the proper citation format. Do I add the publisher and publication place? Do I need the ISBN? With RefWorks I have folders for the projects I am working on. I have a folder on Hobbes and folder on Kant; I even have a folder for the presentation I am supposed to give on Stanley Cavell's book Pursuits of Happiness. All my citations are there (whether they be a website or a film or a peer-reviewed article). I feel more organized and I feel like my research is all in one place. I think of RefWorks as my citation library, in the same way, I think of Evernote as my ideas library.
RefWorks Keeps Your Research Organized
    RefWorks keeps my projects organized. If I have already entered a citation in one folder on Kant I can easily put it into another folder I created on Kant and Arendt.
     I do have a gripe about the user design. The graphic interface is rather complicated so you have to have patience and persistence at first. There are several ways to add references to RefWorks. Searching a library catalog or an electronic database, RefWorks allows you to import citations directly from a subscribing school's online catalog or database to your RefWorks account. Look for the export to RefWorks option. I have not found this method to always be efficient. For example, I am a student at a school that shares its library with other consortia members. So if I am not in my home library, but in another library only affiliated with my school, the RefWorks login screen pops up demanding that I enter the group code. I don't know my school's group code. Or if I am at home I have to remember to log in to RefWorks through my school's page. I have to manually type in the information for the reference. The nice thing though is that RefWorks gives me a host of fields: I can enter in as little or as much information on a source as I want. An awesome feature is the attachment option. If I have a file of quotes from a particular source I can append it to the citation as an attachment.
RefWorks Stores Your Research in the Cloud
      The big plus for using RefWorks is the same reason why I use Google Docs or MobileMe or Carbonite. The service is web-based and I can work on a project no matter where I am. Either at home, at work, or at school I can add to my RefWorks account with references. The other big plus for me is that when I am ready to export a bibliography from the sources I intend to use for my paper I can export them into almost any available citation format (MLA, APA, Turabian, etc.). This feature saves me tons of time because some of my professors require different citation formats. It's a pain in the butt to have to re-format a paper. I did this once for my Master's Thesis. Not fun. Where was RefWorks then?
    I can actually create a document in Microsoft Word and install RefWorks plugin Write-N-Cite and practically write my paper and at the end of the day convert it into any citation style I may need. Unfortunately, you have to use Microsoft Word (on a Mac or PC) for this feature to work. I use Google Docs or iWork. What do I do? I have to use RefWork's CiteView option which allows me to manually insert citations I create into my documents without the advantage of instantaneously formatting allowed by Write-N-Cite. The CiteView option is tedious and not user-friendly. RefWorks forces you to insert clunky text chunks where your citation should go then when you are done writing your paper you upload the document to RefWorks and it correctly formats your paper. Personally I rather just do this myself and only use RefWorks for the organizational features which makes me second guess any reason why I would pay a premium to use the service when I can get the same functionality from other online venues. The huge improvement in services like RefWorks, however, which differs from EndNote, is the freedom to work on any platform and in any word processor. EndNote is a great application but I have to be sitting at a computer that has it installed with a compatible word processor. EndNote, in my opinion, is not worth the money. And to my knowledge, it is not cloud-based.
While RefWorks is Not 100% Perfect it Manages Fairly Well
    RefWorks is not intuitive. The graphic user interface is intimidating. There are way too many buttons and options. To do simple tasks like generate a bibliography or toggle between folders can become frustrating ordeals if the wrong button is pressed. I tried to import an existing bibliography I had created in WorldCat and I was not able to accomplish this feat. RefWorks is a powerful tool in assisting students in managing their research and citing sources but I recommend taking an hour introductory class before jumping into it. I took a class at my university and found it to be extremely helpful and I can see already that two things will increase my productivity: the universal access to my work and the ability to create bibliographies in tons of formats. If you are not affiliated with an institution that has a subscription then I suggest go with the free online services. Personally, I like WorldCat's List feature. I will write about it in a future post. It allows you to create folders as well and to create multiple bibliographies in various citation formats. Also, I should add, none of these services, WorldCat, Zotero, RefWorks, EndNote, will do your research for you; the programs will not magically provide an A+ paper but they will certainly (if used efficiently -- with a little bit of a learning curve) aid you in creating a polished, finished product.

What has been your experience with online bibliography and citation managers?