I'm Going To College!

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The Down Side of the Up Side

It is possible to feel sad and happy at the same time.  I am happy (and relieved) that Rachel has selected an amazing  junior college to attend next Fall.  I am sad because it means moving three hours away from our home.  This college was not her first choice.  She auditioned and applied to a very prestigious music school in California.  We were thrilled when she was accepted, until we looked at the cost!  There was no way we could afford it.  It was a crushing blow to realize her dream was so close, yet so far out of reach.  So, we revamped her ten-year-plan.  She will fulfill her basic college requirements, with a music concentration, at a more affordable community college, which will allow her to go to work sooner, and save the money to attend the university in California.  To save even more, I will transfer to a state university near her college, so we can share housing costs.  I am pretty sure that Rachel wanted to be on her own this year and is disappointed that she will be living with “Mom” for two more years.  But I know how much her dream of attending music school means to her, and am certain she will do what it takes to get there.  I will admit, two more years of living with my daughter…..makes me happier than ever.  I am grateful for the extra time with her, before she goes off to conquer the music world!

Since my first day at college, I have hated the fact that college students are divided into two groups; traditional and non-traditional.  Traditional students are young, right out of high school and non-traditional students, sometimes called non-trads, are everyone else.  While I would agree that I am not a traditional student by these parameters, I feel I am enough of an individual to deserve a better classification.  I would actually prefer to be just a “student”.  The university I currently attend, makes a point to refer to me as a non-traditional student, and I have to wonder why that is?  Do they get more funding for having non-traditional students?  Perhaps they get bonus points for students who are not young and fresh from secondary school?  Why would a university have to classify students by age in the first place?  I believe students should be classified by grades, attendance, participation, and accomplishment, to see a true picture of the effectiveness of a university’s success.  In my classes, I am considered a student by the professors.  I am expected to do what every other student in that class does.  I am graded by the same standards as the traditional students.  So, why the blatant separation?  The university would be better served if they concentrated on unification of the student body, instead of dividing them into groups.

A new school brings new anxiety.  It took a full year to adjust to being a college student, to find my place, and balance between home and school.  Now, I am faced with starting the whole process over at a new university, in a new town.  I decided to head this “non-traditional student nightmare” off at the start.  I called the admissions office at the new school to garner information about their particular attitudes on age and non-traditional students.  I spoke with a delightful, young man, named Tony, who chatted about college life, the area attractions, and gave me insight into how the new school viewed not-so-traditional students.  First, Tony never mentioned the word non-traditional student.  He spoke of programs the school offered that he thought I would be interested in, since I am an English Major.  When I mentioned my age, it did not seem to be an issue with him.  In fact, he stated that students come in all shapes and sizes, and ages, and that was what made the university so interesting to him.  During our conversation, he laughed in all the right places, called me a character twice, and said he could not wait to meet me in person.  I was relieved after the phone call, and I simply cannot wait to meet Tony and attend my new school next Fall.  As a student.  Not part of a group of non-traditional students.

There is always a down side to the upside.  The new university sounds exciting and promises new opportunities to learn for me.  Rachel is getting a good start on her education and we will be together for two more years.  But I am leaving my precious grandson, Ethan, behind.  He brings light to my dark days, reminding me of my son, Alex, who was always laughing, always learning something new.  We will be too far away to study together, or garden, or merely play in the dirt.  I will miss him, most probably, more than he will miss me.  It was Ethan who reminded me that we have technology to help us stay connected, even with the physical distance between us.  We can e-mail, text, tweet, and skype.  But I will miss making him waffles and hearing about the silly things that happened in school each day.

I know it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time, but I think it sucks.  I have committed to being away for the next two years, but there is always…Summer Vacation!

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Back To School

Going back to school evokes various emotions in my family.  Rachel is looking forward to her senior year in high school.  She has a light schedule (with no Math classes) and plenty of time to work on her music.  Ethan, not excited about the early mornings, is looking forward to reconnecting with friends and enjoying the perks of advanced classes.  I am grateful to be starting my sophomore year of college.  I am thankful for the opportunity to attend college, and so pleased that I am suited for academia.

Returning for the second year is less stressful, yet comes with it’s own set of anxieties.  I know what to expect when it comes to homework, class participation and professors.  I can mange my time to accomplish day-to-day living, as well as course work and required reading.  I study effectively and have proven that I can get good grades.  I will build social networks to help myself, and other students, save time and get higher scores.  But American Sign Language is no “walk in the park” with arthritic hands.  I am a total groupie for Shakespeare, but this is a third year class and I am unsure that I will be able to keep up.   New discoveries through scientific research has changed History since I studied it in high school.  Will I be able to re-learn what I was taught so many years ago?  And who ever wants to take Sociology?

Rest and relaxation are overrated.  The lazy days of Summer are necessary to rejuvenate your mind and spirit, but three months is enough.  The beginning of a new school year is not the end of summer, but more the start of new things to learn and skills to master.  And I cannot wait!  Thanks to my research project of last year, I will start from day one organizing and gathering classmates for my social media groups.  In the process, I will expand my personal social network and update the network I established last year.  As the networks grow, more students will find the help they need to succeed in their respective classes.  I have been looking at ways to track these social networks to determine their value to college students.  This will help me  fine tune the systems to insure maximum efficiency for all students involved.  My ultimate goal is to make these networks flexible enough to be adapted to any class or any group of students depending on their need.

At the end of one’s life, there is still much to do.  I have lived more than half a century, but instead of slowing down, I am just learning to live.  When I was a young girl, probably no older than Ethan, my Grandmother told me that I should always be smart enough to know that I do not know everything.  I dismissed it at the time as the unrelated ramblings of an old woman, but now I consider it the most important advice I have ever heard.  I do not know everything, and I want to.  Which is why I tackled the ambitious goal of college as a senior citizen.  I am often asked why I go to college, and will I ever use my education if or when I finish.  I go to college, because I want to learn, I want to know what I do not know.  And will I ever use my education?  What a silly question!  I use what I have learned so far, every single day.

And there is so much more…..

Moral Support: A Slippery Slope

Moral support is a slippery slope, and while I would agree that everyone needs moral support, I do not agree that it is necessary for success.  At my age, I cannot count on the encouragement, or financial support of my parents.  They are both deceased.  However, living with them for a large part of my life, I know what they would say about going to college.  My mother thought college was a total waste of time and never missed an opportunity to point out that college graduates were people who could not make it in the real world.  She went on for hours extolling the virtues of sewing, cooking, child-rearing and knitting–all of which college graduates apparently do not know how to do.  My father stated many times that college was in place to train doctors, lawyers, and teachers.  Everyone else was better served learning from actually doing, and that hands on experience is not provided for in college.  After all, he was a mechanic who learned his skills on the job, and he made a decent living for his family.  I am the second oldest in a family of six children.  I was the first to graduate high school, in fact, myself and my youngest sister were the only children in our family that finished high school.  My parents were not bad people, but thought they were just being practical when it came to expectations for their children. Being raised in this atmosphere, where I dreamed of going to college, and they dreamed of marrying me off to the first guy who had a job, I realized that I did not need their approval to achieve my goals.

Family and friends do not have the right to destroy your dreams, even under the guise of love.  Just the fact that these are the people closest to you, do not give them the right to diminish or discourage you from being who you are.  Loved ones should voice their concerns and even  point out pitfalls in your plans, but never insinuate insanity is the cause for your lofty life goals.  Rachel wants to be a rockstar, but the music business is one of the most difficult to succeed in.  I tell her the drawbacks, the hurdles to breaking into an area like this, and together we work to find ways around them.  We attend music events, talk to musicians who are doing what she wants to do, we ask millions of questions, and spend hours researching the business.  She takes guitar lessons, teaches guitar, plays guitar with anyone who will sit down with her.   No matter what I think, if she wants to be a rockstar, she can be a rockstar.  But she cannot do it alone.  She needs my encouragement, my ideas, and most of all: my moral support.  Rachel will not have to wait until she is a senior citizen to realize her dreams.

Moral support can manifest itself in many different forms.  It does not have to be found only in close friends and family.  It can be as simple as a positive comment on a paper you wrote for school, or as complex as a stranger who openly admires a Spiderman quilt you made for your grandson.  However, the best moral support I have discovered, is in myself.  The pride I feel after accomplishing a task that I thought I could not do is the most positive reinforcement I have found.  It makes me want to do more, or do it better.  It gives me confidence that I can do anything.  And sometimes, it just gives me the strength to go on to the next day, or the next challenge life has for me.

And I am going to need that moral support, because school starts next month!  Yeah!

Summer Break: Sun, Fun, & Warped Tour X 2

The first year of college was busy, making Summer seem long and boring.  I looked forward to resting my brain, which had worked so hard for two semesters, but I viewed Summer with trepidation.  Returning to my former life of cooking, cleaning, being Mom and Grandma, no longer appealed to me.  College gave me a taste of learning, of success in doing so well, and social connections I was unwilling to give up for three months.  I realized I simply did not want to relax and spend the lazy days of Summer doing nothing.  I wanted to do what all college kids do on Summer break.  Have fun!  So, I turned to my social network (my family) to plan a Summer any student would love.

Just as specific goals are set for the school year, goals must be set for Summer as well.  There was a lot to accomplish in the three months of vacation, and when I looked at it from that perspective, Summer did not seem so long and boring anymore.  Ethan and I had so much luck with growing flowers last year, we decided to grow our own vegetables this year.  Rachel, rising rockstar that she is, convinced me that two days at Warped Tour is better than one.  In addition to their Summer goals, I took the advice of Professor K. and determined to write a weekly blog about my experiences in college as a senior citizen.  While it seemed simple enough, none of the goals was as easy as they sounded in the planning stage.

Gardening involves more than planting a seed.  Before you even start, the ground has to be tilled, prepared, and planted.  Then you wait.  Gardens have to be watered daily, after the sun goes down and the mosquitoes come out,  during the dry, hot Summer.  Then you wait.  Apparently, however, the weeds need very little water to grow and take over a garden quickly.  Removing the weeds from the garden is full-time work.  No sooner than you finish one row, weeds are growing back in the previous row.  When the seeds we so lovingly planted started to sprout small, green plants, the wildlife targeted our garden as their midnight party stop.  Within the span of a few days, the deer ate all the leaves off my maple saplings, the ground hogs ate all my peppers–plant and all–and the rabbits devoured the tiny tomato plants.  We bought assorted repellents, a pellet gun, and planted again.  And we waited some more.  Gardening was time-consuming, and very hard work.

At times, being exhausted and sunburned is just what the doctor ordered.  Rachel was thrilled to attend an all day music festival called Warped Tour, this year as an artist.  We had attended Warped Tour every year since she was nine years old and it was her dream to be able to perform there one day.  It was amazing!  Five stages with nonstop music, in every genre you could think of, from 11:00 a.m. till 11:00 p.m. at night.  We saw our old friends, blessthefall, Memphis Mayfire, Mayday Parade, Sleeping With Sirens, All Time Low, Phone Calls From Home, and more!  We met new friends in Yellowcard, Transit, The Used, and Emily’s Army.  Warped Tour serves as a showcase for many bands just starting out, as well as a valuable marketing tool for established bands with new recordings.  Some of the best known musicians in the world perform there.  And now, my Rachel, at seventeen years old, was right there with them.  The time, money, and heartache expended for a musician to get to this place, is totally forgotten in that 2.24 minutes on stage.  To Rachel, it was like making the Dean’s List of the music world.  And I know how incredible that feels!  There is not a drug or drink in the world that can compare to the feeling of a crowd of people clapping for you….or a Professor who thinks you could write a book that people would read.  We ended the long day, both of us sunburned, ready for a cool shower and a good night’s sleep.  Because tomorrow we would travel to Pittsburgh and do it all again!

In helping someone else, you are helping yourself.  The second day of Warped Tour made me wonder what I was thinking when I agreed to volunteer at the Kleen Kanteen tent.  Kleen Kanteen is a company that sells stainless steel water bottles to cut back on the use of plastic and the harmful BPA it contains.  They provide free water to concertgoers throughout the long, hot days preventing the serious effects of dehydration.  It is a great company and a worthy organization to volunteer our time to.  I never considered volunteering at Warped Tour until Rachel brought it up.  She told me that she did not want to be the person who never helps anyone else.  I was so touched, not to mention surprised that she actually listened to me in the past about being a responsible citizen, that I knew I just had to volunteer also.  It was even more amazing than attending Warped Tour for fun.  Throughout the day, many young people stopping by for water, thanked me.  The kids appreciated that the water was free, it was filtered and safe to drink, and mentioned that we were so nice to work hard all day for them.  Kleen Kanteen may have had two volunteers for the day, but Rachel and I were the real winners.  We left feeling satisfied that we made a difference.  We had helped other people.

Even though I do not look like I am almost sixty years old, I am almost sixty years old.  And it was never more apparent than the week after Warped Tour X Two.  Every joint in my body ached.  I had assorted cuts and bruises with no idea of how they got there.  I was sleep-deprived and even my scalp was sunburned.  Rachel, much younger than I, described the same conditions.  It was the best time ever!  I absolutely cannot wait till next Summer’s Warped Tour!

And that was just July.  August is shaping up to be even more intense.

Using What I Learned

The true value of a college education is actually using what you have learned.  While it is normal to wonder at times, if it is worth killing yourself with homework, classes, and scheduling to go to college, it is critical to see what you have learned, actually benefit your life.  Even more critical is recognizing that you are using what you learned when it happens.  It can come as a small glimpse, when a concept is immediately clear, or an epiphany when you tackle an enormous project and find it to be easier than it looked.  But however the realization comes, it is good to know that what you learned is useful.

There are practical uses for what students learn in class.  I took Shakespeare the first semester, because I like Shakespeare.  I did not expect to use what I learned about a 14th century playwright in my modern, high tech life.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself using what I learned in Shakespeare at home, in other classes, and social situations!  Reading and writing about Shakespeare taught me one of the most valuable lessons for any college student.  How to form a strong thesis and prove it with evidence from the readings.  Shakespeare was perfect for honing this skill, due to the fact that you first have to determine the meanings, then form an opinion, and finally compose your paper.  Every paper written in college uses the same process.  I use many famous Shakespeare quotes in introducing other subjects, from History to Global Music.  My History professor commented that my use of  a quote  from Richard IV, by William Shakespeare, “heavy is the head that wears the crown” to describe Abraham Lincoln struggling to rebuild our country after the Civil War, was unique and appropriate.  That paper earned me another high grade.  And how cool is it that I can recite sonnets, soliloquies, and racy prose at the drop of a hat?

Public speaking is a valuable tool that is used in almost every discipline in life.  My Human Communications class was a bit of a stretch for me at first.  I have spoken publicly before and crowds do not scare me. But, I did not know how much more there was to giving a memorable speech.  In this class I learned to organize, add PowerPoint and other visuals, cite sources, all leading to a cohesive presentation.  I used these new found skills the next semester, when I had to give an oral presentation on my research paper for Writing II.  The peer review for my speech was all positive and my grade was one of of the highest in the class.  Had I not learned how to write and deliver a speech in Communications class, I would never have been able to succeed in presenting my research paper in Writing class.

College writing is no book report.  And this was apparent in my College Writing I class.  I learned so much in this class, it would be impossible for me to list it all.  Among the most practical skills I learned was how to divide large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks, and how to find evidence to support my opinion in the reading assignments.  Forming an opinion and turning it into a thesis for the paper was extremely difficult for me.  Let’s face it, no one has asked for my opinion in the last 35 years, let alone, cared why I have that opinion.  But I had a great professor who was patient, and persistent, and I found that I like giving my opinion.  I like reading an assignment and deciding for myself what it means, or if I agree or disagree with the author.  I really like being able to provide solid evidence from the reading itself to support my opinion, because it makes my opinion essential, not arbitrary.  Every high grade I received on writing assignments in other classes are a direct result of what I learned in this class.

Global music is not just sound and composition.  It is more about the people and culture that created the music.  This class opened up a whole new view of the world population for me.  A reference to Papua New Guinea on a news report in Media class made more sense, because I had a cursory understanding of the local culture that I learned in music class.  I made connections through music to places and people I had only read about before.  Rachel’s friends were impressed when I instantly knew the difference between a sitar and a sarod, and the different cultures of India that they come from.  Ethan’s friends were awed that I could identify Mongolian Throat singing in “The Incredible Hulk” movie.  Of all my first semester classes, Global music made me feel the most intelligent.  And I like feeling smart.

Colleges are tasked with teaching information and skills, but must not lose sight of fostering critical thinking  and new ideas.  I learned so many new skills and information in the first semester, but most crucial was that I learned to think differently.  To consider more than one interpretation or opinion on a given subject.  After a lifetime of being a wife, mother, office worker, and a member of the military, I have found my voice. I can express my ideas and say what I think, without fear of being dismissed or poked fun at.  I can make a convincing argument and follow through.  I am realizing a dream I had since I was a child.  I am a scholar!

How cool is that?

From Study Buddy to BFF

The value of social networking cannot be limited to helping college students organize their time.  Through the social network groups I used for my research project, I was able to meet and get to know a wide variety of people.  People I would not meet otherwise.  I saw virtual strangers meet, and through a shared desire to do better in school, become friends in reality.  Very different people came together, working as a team to accomplish a common goal.  In many of my social network groups, I saw evidence of  group members compensating for individual strengths and weakness in the group, to make the group as a whole more efficient.  This, in turn, fostered lasting friendships, outside the classroom, that can provide students with social checks and balances.

Students need social checks and balances.  Homework and lectures are not the only part of college life that freshmen must learn how to navigate.  Incoming freshmen get the same old speeches about the dangers of partying too much and the value of turning work in on time.  To be honest, if the kid did not learn that by Sixth Grade, he never will.  Everyone knows this, and it is redundant at best for the colleges to repeat it and think they have covered the social life of freshmen.  The information they impart is good advice, but that is all.  Students have heard it all before and it does not begin to address specific ways to make their first year less stressful.

It is past time for colleges to “get real” about the complicated social connections that students need to succeed in college, and offer practical skills needed to survive the first year.  I rely on the social network I call “family”.  When I am frustrated and confused over an assignment, on the verge of giving up, my grandson, Ethan, tells me that if I was smart enough to get into college, I am probably smart enough to figure this problem out.  Check!  If I am overloaded with writing assignments and suffering total writer’s block, my daughter, Rachel, convinces me there is a rockin’ show in Cleveland, and I need a break.  Balance!  These social checks and balances allow breathing room for students.  Taking a step back, and a deep breath, is critical, at times, to achieving the high standards of work that college demands.

While it was essential that each part of the social network received the help they needed with classes, it was also beneficial for the students that helped them.  Olivia, a first year student in my writing class, had trouble with grammar and sentence structure.  I could not understand what a thesis was.  I helped Olivia with grammar and showed her how sentence structure was similar to building a house, it all has to fit together in the end.  She in turn taught me how to form an opinion into a strong thesis statement and prove my theory with evidence from the readings.  Through this process, that started as a class assignment, we found a shared passion for Shakespeare and new music.  Olivia and I have studied together, attended concerts together, and still “tweet” and text to keep up with our changing lives.  In casual conversation with my study buddy in Media class, Joe, I found he did not have the textbook to complete the homework assignments.  Since I am famous for working ahead, I was able to loan Joe my book, so he could get his work finished.  Joe is a post-secondary student and we discovered that we both like scary movies.  We still email each other to discuss the new releases.

Social networks provide so much more than simply “posting a status update”.  What begins as help with classwork, becomes a lasting connection that can only benefit all parties involved.  Hmm…I should text Laura, in my Communications class, about the limited seating in American Sign Language for Fall Semester, and the sale at Macy’s this week!

Passing Biology With Twitter

Science classes make me nervous enough to break out in hives.  Especially the ones with lab time attached.  Students spend hours planning and executing experiments, only to arrive home and realize they forgot the data needed to complete their report.  The choice a student has in this situation is not much of a choice at all.  They can wait till the next class and retrieve the data they need, which will most probably make the assignment late and lose points, or they can drive back to the school, wait around till the classroom is free, and get the data they need to turn it  in on time.  But the time it takes for the second option is prohibitive to most overworked college students.  This is where Twitter comes in handy.

Setting up a Twitter group is not as hard as it seems.  Seven classmates formed what I call the Easy Response Unit for a first year Biology class.  If any student had a question or was missing data, they simply posted the question or request for data to the Easy Response Unit using Twitter.  Since the posts are immediate, within minutes it was possible to have the answers or material needed.  By pairing Twitter accounts with Twit Pics, students were able to send visual images, such as charts and graphs, that are essential to reporting experiments and assignments in Biology.  However, Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters each, so the message has to be short.  For longer responses, students would simply “tweet” asking the replies be emailed.  Twitter was a resounding success for the Easy Response Unit.  The original seven students added four more students to their group mid-semester, and reported that everyone in the group passed with above average grades.  This included Jerry, a History Major, who was sure he could never pass a Math or Science class.

Social media, such as Twitter, is versatile and can be used for more than one class. There is no need to use one social media exclusively for one class or discipline.  That is the beauty of social media.  The ways to use it are as limitless as the imagination of the student.  I found Twitter worked well in Math classes also.  Students who did the work without mistakes in the classroom, often were lost when at home struggling with homework.  A quick “tweet” to the Easy Response Unit and the issue was clarified.  I credit the Easy Response unit with saving time, grades, and the sanity of a good number of college freshmen in Algebra this semester.

A bonus of using social media to organize college students has to be the social networks that result.  Joining one of these groups encourages teamwork.  Students are working together through the use of social media to get better grades, save time, and pass difficult classes.  But they also form a bond.  A friendship that goes beyond a question on Twitter or a text reminder that a paper is due.  They get to know each other and appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of group members.  Students in these networks know they are not alone, help is readily available in a familiar format.  The stressed out students I saw in my first semester, who joined one of my groups, seemed to relax and concentrate on learning, because they had their social network beside them.

The real proof that using social media to form social networks actually benefits college students, is in the students themselves.  The majority of students who participated reported it took less time to do homework and they earned higher grades.  Many students became friends through their shared experience with the social media groups.  And the consensus was unanimous that every single participant would use these groups for other classes.

I am not surprised by the success I had with my research project.  Like I have stated before, I firmly believe that young people today are “way smarter” than my generation.  I am constantly amazed at their intelligence and technical skills.  I am sure they will be the best generation the world has ever seen.  Now, I just have to get them organized…..

Organization of the Masses

My second semester was even better, and more hectic, than the first.  I was feeling more at ease with classes, homework, and other students, as the awkwardness of being a senior citizen in college diminished.  To be honest, I simply did not have time to feel awkward. Four new classes kept me hopping from the start.  In History class, there were so many writing assignments due, at different times, that even with my syllabus handy and the calendar I carried everywhere, I was sure I would miss at least one deadline.  In Media, my professor promised to post a review sheet a week before each test, but there was so much information to learn for each unit that I seriously had doubts about doing well in this class.  I knew I would need help with my Writing II class, because the syllabus made absolutely no sense to me.  And I was not the only student overwhelmed by the semester ahead.  My friend, Anna,  from last semester’s English class,  told me she was dropping Biology after the first day because she was sure she could not complete the lab work and reports with the other classes she had.  Tyler, who sits behind me in History class said he was leaving college after this semester (his second year) because he just did not have time for classes, homework, family and a job.  Neither of these young students were lazy or unwilling to do the work to be successful in college, yet both were convinced they could not get the work done and fulfill their personal obligations at the same time.  It broke my heart.  There just had to be a way to help them, and I was determined to find it.

The best way to tackle a large project is to break it down to smaller projects.  If the class is considered the “large” project, homework assignments and tests could be divided into smaller, more attainable goals.  I learned from Dr. W. in my first Writing class, that the final paper is not so daunting when you consider the assignments leading up to it are smaller parts of the final work.  This theory was reinforced when I looked at the syllabus for Writing II.  However, all that poor Jill, who sat beside me, saw was a research project that would require hours of library time and even more hours of writing and revising, in addition to her other classes.  I saw short assignments, gradually becoming longer, all on the same topic, from different views that would eventually lead to the basis of the research project.  I explained my way of thinking to Jill, who did not understand, and left class that day fulling intending to drop that class.  There had to be a way for students to help each other, without overwhelming anyone with study groups, or tutors, that take even more time and scheduling.

When faced with overwhelming obstacles, stick with what you know.  My fellow classmates were, for the most part, stressed out by trying to balance school, jobs, families, and social lives.  They were also adept at using the new and improved avenues of social media.  It seemed like everyone was texting, tweeting, using FaceBook and email to keep in constant contact with the world.  It occurred to me that students use social media constantly, but they are not using it to it’s full potential.  Why not take the social media they are so familiar with and make it work for them to organize and get help with their classes?  I believe it is possible to use the current social media to form groups, social networks, in each class that would provide support, reminders, and study aid in a way that everyone would benefit.

Organization is the key to accomplishing more in less time.  Since I am not as skilled in social media as my classmates, I started with what I knew best, which is email.  The first test in my Media class was a disaster for the students sitting around me.  I spoke to each student that complained of low scores and all night studying.  In the end, I had eight students who willingly gave me their email addresses and agreed to take part in my email Study Buddy group.  When the review sheet for a test was posted, I would go through it, type the questions and answers I knew, and email it to the other group members.  They, in turn, would go through my email and correct it,  add any missing answers, and email it back to the other members.  Within a few hours, all nine of us had a complete review to study.  And my classmates did study.  Without having to spend hours combing through class notes and textbooks, there was more time left to study a large volume of information.  All scores on the first test, after we formed the email Study Buddies, went up at least one grade.  We all did better!  The social network we formed through email worked to save time, reduce stress, and help us to help each other.  We continued with the Study Buddy group for the rest of the class and even with sporadic attendance and lackluster homework assignments by some of the group, all nine of us passed with a grade above C.

Bolstered by the success with email Study Buddies, I moved to History class.  There were so many varied assignments due throughout the semester that it was impossible for even the most diligent student to keep up.  I decided to use an Early Warning System, using the social media of texting.  I formed a network of twelve students who each agreed to be responsible for one assignment deadline. Each student would text the other members of our group seven days prior to an assignment due date and text a reminder four days before the date.  In reducing the number of assignments each student had to remember, there was more time to concentrate on other things that needed attention.  The Early Warning System was a complete success in my History class.  All twelve members of this network  turned in their respective assignments on time, every time.

Ultimately, the social networks we form with other people in our lives, are most essential to organization.  Social media, texting, tweeting, Facebook, and email are just avenues to keep us in touch with each other.  But they should also be used to help us organize and succeed in any endeavor we choose.  I left this semester  excited about my discovery and the results of using social media to help my classmates.  But this experiment also left me feeling like this may be just the tip of the iceberg.  There was much to do.

And the first thing I had to do was sign up and learn to work with Facebook.  This is not going to be easy….

Classes, Creations, & Catastropies

My classes left me electrified each day, so why do the other students leave, looking stressful and worried?  I know young people are busy, the world moves much faster than it did when I was in my twenties.  But I live in the same world as they do.  I may not have to balance work, school and friends, but I do have to run a household with a rockstar daughter, genius grandson, and my littlest addition, Alex, who at 18 months, has more energy than our local power company.  We are all busy.  More than ever, the old adage, “Work smarter, not harder” rings true.  I, like most mothers, have become somewhat of an expert at time management.  I just worked school into the existing schedule.  The key is organization, which, like a puzzle, when put together correctly, will all fit together to make one perfect picture.  I learned to study global music while doing the dishes.  I practiced public speaking skills while making beds and sweeping the floors.  I came up with the best thesis for English, while baking treats for Ethan’s third grade class.  And it worked.  My grades, beginning as  low B’s and C’s, started climbing to B’s and even an A on one assignment.  Not bad for a student who graduated from high school thirty-five years ago!  It worked because I simply added schoolwork to what I already had to do, and everything got done.  If my younger classmates could use what they already know, social media and technology would have them organized in no time.

All college students discover that partying all night, instead of studying, does not work.  I am no exception to that rule.  The first test I took in college was in my Human Communications class.  The night before the test, my daughter had a job playing guitar at a very popular college bar in Cleveland.  I must admit, the night was fun.  So much fun that we did not reach home till the wee hours of the morning.  I was confident about the test.  After all, I had been communicating with humans my entire life.  I took good notes, organized and thorough.  I actually paid attention to every lecture and actively participated in class.  I had even “looked over” my notes before we left for the party.  However, when I got the test, I was totally lost.  I struggled through an hour of guessing at the answers and held my breath as I turned it in, waiting for the grades to be posted.  It was an agonizing 24 hour wait.  I was sure I failed, something I had never done before.  Why did I think I did not need to study?  And when I saw my grade, relief swept over me.  I had passed!  It was a low C, but it was a passing grade.  I was grateful that I passed, until I got in the car to drive home.  I began to think about the grade.  I got a C?  Okay, now I am not relieved and certainly not happy with a C.  I never got a C before in my life!  So that is what partying all night, instead of studying gets you, a C.  I have learned my lesson.  Damn, you would have thought I had learned that lesson years ago, when I was in high school!

My English professor does not recognize my brilliance.  I have been told throughout my life that I was a talented writer.  And I have to admit, I bought into it.  I am a good writer.  But seeing the low grade on my first college writing assignment, was proof that I really do not know how to write.  Dr. W. wrote positive, encouraging comments on my paper, along with a full page on what I did wrong.  I was devastated.  I thought it was my best work ever!  So, I had a choice.  I could be angry that she simply could not see the wonderful creation I wrote, or I could put my ego aside and learn from her comments.  I chose to re-read her comments, not as negative as I first thought, and learn from them.  I went to class each day and asked questions, admitted what I did not understand, and thought long and hard about how to write better.  In retrospect, I feel sorry for Dr. W. in that class.  There was much I did not understand.  She was always patient, explaining over and over until she was sure I understood.  I spent hours thinking about what I was going to write, writing it, and revising numerous times.  The grades got better as I read her comments and suggestions with a new attitude, and learned how to write like a college student.

Hard work may not bring immediate results, but it does bring the best results.  I worked hard the first semester in college.  In addition to my lessons, I had to learn how to learn all over again.  But as I listened, practiced, and participated in my classes, I found myself more motivated than ever.  I learned so much in the first four classes I took.  I can identify music most people have never heard before, and tell you what part of the world it comes from.  I can write a strong thesis and prove it with evidence from prior readings.  I can recite sonnets by Shakespeare and explain the meaning, or multiple meanings contained therein.  I can give a speech to a group of people stating my opinion and citing sources that support it.  After such a rocky start, I finished my first semester in college with  a 3.7 GPA.  I am on the Dean’s List.  I am “way cooler” now, because I am the smart kid.

I have decided to go to college for the rest of my life. (Or until I learn everything, whichever comes first.)

The First Day of School…Finally!

Imitation is the purest form of flattery.  I was apprehensive on my first day of school and it showed.  As I gathered my pencils, paper and notebooks, Ethan reminded me that I should always be polite at school, raise my hand before speaking, and push my chair in when I get up.  Hmmm…his advice sounded vaguely familiar.  It was the same advice I gave him every year on the first day of school! Rachel’s advice, on the other hand, was more social than practical.  She told me making friends would be easier  if I remembered to smile and say “Hello” to at least one classmate in each class.  And always write homework assignments in the new Student Planner, so I would not forget them.  She sounded just like me!  I never knew that the kids even listened to me when I gave them advice on the first day of school.  I recited the directions by rote, having given the same advice to my sons for twelve years before.  It was clear I would have to be more careful from now on in what I say to them, since they really do listen.   But, it was good, solid advice and I would do well to use it.  After all, it was my advice in the first place.

There is more to Shakespeare than I ever imagined.  I sat on the left side, toward the front of the room, in my very first college class, because all the “cool” kids sit on the left side, and close to the front because my eyes are not what they used to be.  My professor, Dr. W., had us all give our name and state what we liked to read.  I listened to my fellow classmates say they read sports, magazines, blogs, but not too many actually mentioned books.  This confused me a little, not only am I an avid reader, my children and grandchildren are too.  Just as I was wondering how these kids entertained themselves without books, I heard the most delightful, baritone voice speaking right behind me.  I did not hear what he was saying, only listening to the most expressive, passionate voice I had ever heard.  Absolutely a voice born to recite Shakespeare.  I realized that three days a week for an entire semester, I would start my day by listening to this amazing young man bring life to the words I had read and loved for years.  I could not wait to hear him read the part of King Henry issuing orders to his soldiers before battle, or Othello as he declares his undying love for Desdemona. After class, I took Rachel’s advice and smiled at him.  Tom was an engaging guy, a musician, and very charming to boot.   Where was he when I was in my twenties?  I would have wanted to date him, now I just want to adopt him.

Humans have a deep-seated desire to communicate with each other, as evidenced by the diverse student presence in my Human Communications class.  The class consisted largely of post-secondary students, kids who were still in high school and taking college courses.  There were a few “soccer moms” and the rest were mostly traditional, first year students.  The focus of the class was on public speaking.  I chose this class specifically because I was not afraid of public speaking, I rather enjoyed it, so I expected to breeze through it.  When Dr. F. explained that we would choose our own topics for the three speeches required by the course, I determined that one of mine would be on the aging process.  Why would any of these young people want to know about aging?  They probably don’t, but I am going to make it my mission to show them how aging causes physical changes, not personality changes.  I want them to know that I have the same hopes and dreams about my education as they do, I like to have fun, I hate homework just like they do.  In many ways, I am a typical college freshman just like them…. well, except for the arthritis and wrinkles!  And this speech will be my chance to prove it!

Some first year  college students think they are still in high school.  My World Music class proved to be “that class”.  You know, the class with kids who whisper and giggle throughout class, making it necessary for the teacher to stop the lesson and tell them to be quiet.  Then the “soccer mom” in the front row felt the need to yell at them, going on and on about their bad behavior, while Dr. N stood at the front of the classroom shaking his head.  It was so disappointing to see this kind of behavior, from both the immature students and the loud-mouthed soccer mom.  I found Dr. N to be an amazing teacher, very intelligent and interesting as he spoke of his life in music.  He was even in our textbook.  I had never met anyone who was featured as an expert in a textbook before!  Living with a musician, and not being a musician myself, I really wanted to learn about music from all over the world.  But it was an uphill battle in this class because my classmates seemed to think it was acceptable to behave badly.  It was distracting and some days, I really just wanted to skip class to escape the nonsense. I have already been in high school with all the drama that entails.  I am in college to be smarter, I am paying for this, and it is not a game to me.

The first day of college is exhilarating and exhausting.  My face actually hurt from smiling all day!  I was so happy to be in college, to be living a dream I had for so many years.  For the most part it was everything, and more, that I thought it would be.  In the space of one day, I heard Shakespeare come alive in Tom’s voice, decided to set the record straight about old people, and met a professor who was an expert in his field!  And then I read the syllabus for each of my four classes.  The smile quickly faded as I realized that I was facing a semester of homework and assignments that I had no idea how to complete.  I knew if I could organize the work into smaller time frames, it would be more manageable.  So, I spent the next two days marking due dates and deadlines on the calendar.  Now, I knew when everything was due, but I did not know how to do it.  I was even more overwhelmed.  Ethan, my nine-year old “voice of reason”, told me to relax.  I was not supposed to know how to do the work right now.  The professors had to teach it first.  As always, he made sense.  But I was still apprehensive, my high school education was so long ago that most of what I learned was outdated or not relevant anymore.  I am familiar with writing a summary of what I have read, but what is a thesis?

College was not going to be easy.  Let the learning begin….