Category Archives: Opinions

AP Human Geography: new course offers a new perspective

This is the first year AP Human Geography has been taught at the Mount. The course is offered to juniors and seniors (for juniors as a fulfillment of their Social Studies credit requirements, and to seniors as an elective). I decided to take the class because the subject matter interested me. Learning about other cultures, how they spread, and the influence of those cultures were some of the topics that really made me want to take the course.

I have enjoyed the class so far. It took me a little bit to get used to the pace and the expectations as an AP student, but since I got it, it has been an enjoyable class.

I was able to sit down with our teacher Mr. Campbell and ask him some questions about AP Human Geography. Here’s what he had to say:

How would you summarize this course?

“It’s a contemporary look at world issues through the lens of geography.”

What is the meaning/importance of this course?

“I think that we, as a country, are ignorant to ideas of geography, and this course will hopefully open the eyes of those gentlemen that are taking the course. Maybe it will get them interested in taking history or geography courses in college.”

How was this course introduced to the administration?

“It’s a new AP course; it’s only about ten years old. So probably for the last four or five years, Mr. Folmer and I have been trying to incorporate it here.”

How has it been teaching a class that has never been taught here before? Any growing pains?

“Fun, interesting… Other than students not doing homework? Yeah, that’s about it about it. I don’t think there are any growing pains curriculum-wise. I have two good classes, and that has been positive thus far.”

What has your experience been teaching this class?

“Positive thus far. The subject matter lends itself to current events in the world, and that is something which I was in favor of incorporating into any class.”

Do you see this course being very successful at MSJ? Why or why not?

“I see it being very successful in the fact that students like to talk about contemporary issues, and I think it lends itself to doing that.”

After I talked with Mr. Campbell, I talked to some of my classmates about their opinions of this class. Some were reluctant, fearing Mr. Campbell’s wrath, but many were willing to share with me. Many gave extremely positive reviews, some found some faults with the course, and one was pretty critical of the course (and wanted to stay anonymous).

When asked his opinion on the experience so far in the class, junior Isaac Scharbach replied, “The class has been fun, fast-pace, and entertaining.” However, another students said, “I have learned some themes, but overall have been disappointed.”

One of the most loved aspects of the course is the discussions. I too, love these discussions. Mr. Campbell brings an upbeat attitude to them that makes them fun and challenges you to make educated opinions and to defend them using real facts, not biases.

One student, though, has a different opinion. He said, “There are times in class in which students discuss nothing but news. I enjoy the occasional political discussion, but when these occur daily with no mention of the chapter, I come to question how much there truly is in the course and if the teacher is simply trying to kill time.” This just shows you how two different students can sit in the same class and have two totally different opinions.

My favorite discussions so far this year have been about the Syrian Refugee Crisis. We started the chapter when the crisis was on everyone’s mind and was the big story on every major news network. This allowed us to have discussions on our opinions of refugees, terrorism, and biases on Muslim people.

Another part of the course that students mentioned often was the questions on the tests. AP Human Geography has a lot of examples in the textbook. Many students commented that in order to get a good grade on a test, it would require them to memorize examples that might have been mentioned in a few sentences of the whole chapter. I agree with this point totally. That would be the one thing that I would change in this course.

When asked if he finds the course difficult, Junior, Gannon Conrad wrote, “Sometimes, attention to detail and examples are difficult.” Junior Will Hartman replied to the same question with, “The tests are hard, but the content isn’t to difficult to grasp.” Junior, Jay Dipietro also shared his opinion, saying, “It has been slightly difficult, but that is because there are many examples to memorize and use.” I feel the same about the class. At first I struggled a little, but after the first week or two, then I understood how to succeed in this class.

My final question asked my classmates if they would recommend the class to other students. Junior Johnathan Harrison answered, “Yes I would, because you will learn a lot of things that help you understand things that go on in life. It really helps you understand people and things.” Gannon also shared, “Yes. It’s beneficial for anyone to expand their mental horizons about the world around us.”

This class overall is an intensive study on multiple parts of humanity and culture through the eyes of geography. It is a well-taught, challenging, fun, and interesting class that makes you really think. Citing sources, defending answers, and discussions are all part of this class, and there are very few things I would change about it. It is that good of a class.

I want to thank everyone who let me interview them: Mr. Campbell, Gannon Conrad, Jay Dipietro, Johnathan Harrison, Will Hartman, Matt Hlavin, Isaac Scharbach, and the student who wishes to stay anonymous.

My Two Cents: Mr. Greg McDivitt’s Response to “A Penny for Pat’s Thoughts”

IMG_0121
Mr. Greg McDivitt ’86, Assistant Principal, Director of Studies

Dear Seniors,

I read Patrick Bevan’s “A Penny for Pat’s Thoughts” column in The Quill with great interest, because whether you call it a “senior slump” or an attack of the dreaded disease “senioritis,” as a teacher and administrator over the years I have worked hard to push against a tide of diminished academic effort and achievement in the springtime, particularly among seniors.  On one hand, I understand that there is a natural tendency to take the foot off the accelerator and coast a little near the end of high school.   The precious days together among classmates become few in number, and one’s attention begins to focus more on graduation and summer and the college days that lie beyond rather than the daily tasks of high school.  Such a change in perspective is natural and even healthy as a young man approaches a major transition in life.  But I want to argue that simply allowing oneself to become lazy or to think that falling into a slump is some sort of inalienable right or senior privilege is totally misguided.  Senioritis is not an unavoidable disease, deemed acceptable because of its inevitability.  Falling into a senior slump is a choice – a bad choice.  I believe this for several reasons.

Some of those reasons have to do my concerns about how a senior slump could impact college admissions or achievement.  Slacking off during senior spring may weaken study skills and prevent the acquisition of core knowledge, and thus make the transition to college level work more difficult.  Doing well in school often requires consistent practice and a persistent effort that cannot be turned “on” nearly as easily as it can be turned “off” – I believe it is better to keep the effort button in the “on” position at all times, so to speak.  I also believe the statistics that I have read indicating that seniors who “slump” perform significantly worse than those who don’t on the math, foreign language and composition college entrance and placement exams that many schools require in order to advance into higher level classes or earn an exemption from core requirements.  If you do poorly on these exams, you cheat yourself out of the benefits you could have gained had you kept your effort up all the way through high school.  This could end up meaning that it takes an extra semester or more to graduate college, a situation that costs you and your parents thousands of dollars.  I also want to point out that universities are in the business of admitting more freshmen than can ever actually matriculate, given space constraints.  Schools know that some students they accept will go to other institutions, but they hope they admit the right number to start the year with “full” freshmen class.  Indeed, I remember my own freshman year at college that began slightly above the “fill students to here” line. Some of my classmates were living in temporary beds in the common lounge areas of my dorm building for the first few weeks of school until the ranks of the freshman class thinned a little in the first month or so of classes.  When colleges end up with more students than they can manage, sometimes they start looking for reasons to do what they call “rescind the offer of admission.”  Seniors, take note!  The “fine print” on your college acceptance letter may indicate that your enrollment in the freshman class is actually provisional; that is, it’s dependent on the “successful completion of your high school requirements.”  Colleges can interpret “successful completion” in a number of ways.  Failing a class would be a pretty obvious red flag, but even going from being an A/B student to a C/D student in the third or fourth quarter might be interpreted as “unsuccessful” if your school of choice needed to trim down its numbers.

But these reasons aren’t really my main reasons for believing that succumbing to senioritis is a bad decision.  More than anything, I don’t want you to slide into a senior slump because I know you are capable of more and to slump would be to let yourself down.  We all have good days and not so good days in life, weeks where things go great and weeks where things aren’t so great.  Whether we are measuring our successes and failures by grades in the classes we take, by our effort and level of focus in sports or music practice or drama rehearsal, or by even more important things, like how kindly and generously we treat one another, or how often we provide help to someone in need and expect nothing in return – no matter what, we cannot be perfect all the time.  But we are called at all times to try to be our best selves, to be the men (and women) that God intends us to be.  It’s okay to come up short sometimes.  But every day is a new opportunity to try to do our best, to be our best selves.  We are called to do nothing less.

In school, as in life, you have to try.

Don’t tarnish years of hard work with a few weeks of sloth.  Savor your remaining time at Mount Saint Joe; the days are indeed precious.  Don’t do anything that you will regret later on, don’t regret later that you chose not to do your best work now, at the end of your time here at school.  You know in your hearts how to make the right decisions.  So make them.  And when school is done, I look forward to welcoming you into the ranks of Mount Saint Joseph alumni.

Mr. Greg McDivitt
MSJ Class of ’86

A Penny for Pat’s Thoughts: The Senior Slump

A Penny For Pat's ThoughtsWith the beginning of second semester, the end of my focus towards school is looming very soon. After having two strong quarters this year while taking three AP courses, I believe that I have exhausted all my energy to the point where I no longer have the drive to finish the year. While this should not be the case, the thought of going to college next year proves to be something that I look forward to.

Senior year has proven to be a successful one. While taking three AP classes, attending lacrosse workouts, and working four days a week, I’ve rarely had any free time for myself. While I have been completing my homework, the closer that I get to April 29th, the less interested I seem to be in school. If I’m being honest with myself, and everyone else, besides Calc & Physics, I am not as focused as I was.

The reason I think that seniors may lose interest their senior year is because we see the light at the end of the tunnel coming very fast. Three straight years of working hard, trying to learn, accumulate knowledge and look solid to colleges at the same time, has worn us out. Once those acceptance letters roll in, we perceive that college admissions really don’t consider those senior year grades. Subsequently, we see no point in continuing to put in as much work as we did when it seemed to matter more (which isn’t truly the case, it is more just a perception). Another reason that some seniors lose interest is that we spend a lot of time on the college application process, which can drain the little energy we do have left.

Overall, a “senior slump” may be inevitable for all of us. I can only imagine how frustrating it is for our parents, teachers and principals! Our teachers use any and all means to try to push us to do work, but unless we make an active choice to do it, it just won’t work. Besides my AP tests, I know I have lost focus, as have many of my senior classmates. Is this how the seniors feel every year? Will next year’s class also succumb to the same slump or will they fight through it until the end?

To read Mr. Greg McDivitt’s response, please click here.

The iPad Experience: A Quarter of Learning

1118151033Written and reported by freshmen students Cole Baker, Christopher Flynn and Greg Keidel.

The first quarter of this year has included some trial and error with the new Freshman iPads. The iPads are used during class for a range of things from notes to textbooks to assignments and essays. At the end of the first quarter, the freshmen have had different things to say about the iPads and we wanted to see what some of their thoughts were. We interviewed multiple freshmen to see what they think and maybe some of the things they would have changed. Here are some of the thoughts of our fellow classmates:

Dom Troisi:

Do you like the iPads, why or why not?

I like the iPads because it is easier to write papers and the new technology keeps us up to date.

Why do you think some teachers may not like the iPads?

Some teachers may not like it because of the games.

Camden Flater:

What are some advantages and disadvantages of the iPads?

Some advantages are that the iPads run faster and some disadvantages are that they die (battery depletion).

What’s your opinion on the keyboards and cases?

I like keyboards, but haven’t liked the cases because they break easily.

Brad Howell:

What’s been your favorite part and least favorite part about the iPads?

My favorite part is the electronic textbooks and my least favorite part is no games.

Do you like electronic notes or handwritten notes?

I like electronic notes because they are easier to remember.

Gage Bangert:

Are you more organized with the iPads?

I’m very organized. With the iPads I can organize my notes.  The iPad is also only one thing to carry.

Justin Looney:

Do you like the iPads?

I do. The iPads are great when it comes to taking notes. It’s very easy to go and study your materials for test. The electronic notes are easier to keep organized.

Maliq Richardson:

If you could say one thing about the iPads what would it be?

They are amazing.

The iPads seem to be liked mostly by the freshmen, but we have noticed some disadvantages to the iPads. At times, they disrupt the learning of students, with many students playing games in the classroom and not focusing on their work. They are paying too much attention to the games rather than learning what the teacher is trying to teach. As Tyler Nimorwicz said “The iPads have gotten my friends in trouble in class, and the teacher has given them JUG before.”

DSC00022

Even though there is the opportunity that games will get some classmates off track, the iPads have been a great tool for helping the freshmen out with their education. Besides the few technical difficulties we all have had here and there, things seem to be going smoothly. Personally, we like the iPads because of all the information at our fingertips. It also contains most of our homework which is a good thing because if we have our iPads, we have our homework as well as our textbooks. Hopefully, when the class of 2020 comes into school next year, all of the issues of this year will be in the past and the students will be focused on using the devices to learn in, and out, of the classroom. We think most of the current freshmen are happy to have them.

 

The Growing Pains of Plus Portals

PlusPortals
The front page of the MSJ PlusPortals page. A sight familiar to St. Joe students this year.

Now that we have concluded the first quarter, one of the biggest changes in our school has been the implementation of Plus Portals and the discontinuation of Edline.  If you are a current sophomore or above at St. Joe, you had become acclimated with using Edline.  During the course of last year, some teachers started to slowly introduce Plus Portals in their classes.  However, many students never had the opportunity to become used to the interface of Plus Portals.  Now that the entire school has switched, some of the student population have expressed their dislike of some of the aspects of Plus Portals.

I had the chance to talk to senior Colin Wolfe about what he likes and doesn’t like about Plus Portals.  One of the things he says that he likes about Portals is that he is able to see his grades in real-time, and he no longer has to wait for the teachers to put the grades into their gradebook then upload to the website.  Now Portals is linked with the teacher’s gradebook and automatically posts them to Portals for students to see.  One thing he doesn’t like, though, is that even though the homework assignments are shown as date due, once a teacher publishes more homework due at a later date, it automatically pushes the other assignments further back to other pages.  That makes him have to search deeper for his assignments, or change the view of his homework sorting.

I also had the chance to talk with a few teachers about how the transition has been from Edline to Portals and what they have liked and haven’t liked about the new system.

When interviewing Mr. Sam Bianco, a Theology teacher, he said that Plus Portals can be a good way to keep a student organized, but he doesn’t think it is the most user-friendly site out there.  Mr. Bianco and Mr. Folmer both agree that Google Classroom would be an ideal site to use.  Mr. Bianco also said that he doesn’t think Portals is as easy to use as Google Classroom or even Edline, from a teacher’s perspective.

The inner workings – A view inside the teacher’s gradebook.

Social Studies teacher, Mr. Ryan Folmer, thinks Plus Portals is more convenient to use on a tablet, such as an iPad, which are being utilized more in the classrooms.  Having the gradebooks linked to Plus Portals has made it easier for teachers to post grades, because with Edline the grades went in the gradebook first, then the teacher had to post to Edline.  However, Mr. Folmer doesn’t like how Portals organizes assignments according to the due date, especially when he posts a long-term project and it’s placed further back on a student’s page.  He doesn’t think it’s the best way to help keep student organized.

Foreign Language teacher, Mr. Adam Kauffman, likes how he can post an assignment on Portals along with an attachment. When he used Edline, an attachment would have to be a separate post.  Mr. Kauffman likes being able to send his attendance quickly on the iPad through Portals.  However, Mr. Kauffman has found that figuring out options like seeing the class average in Portals or adding special scores such as “NC” as a grade versus a zero for a student who misses an assignment are not as intuitive as in Edline.

After discussing the transition from Edline to Plus Portals amongst some teachers and students, I still wanted to hear from a person who was intimately involved in making the decision to change from Edline to Plus Portals, The Director of Studies, Assistant Principal, Mr. Greg McDivitt.  I asked Mr. McDivitt, “What was the reason for changing from Edline to Plus Portals?” Mr. McDivitt’s response was, “it’s a more powerful platform that is able to give more information and functionality, and it integrates with our administrative system much more seamlessly in terms of production of transcripts and report cards.”

PlusPortals App
The student view, via the PlusPortals app, showing assignments and tests on the calendar.

My next question concerned the student view and one of the main differences between Edline and Plus Portals, “Some students have had complaints about Plus Portals.  One of the problems I have had is when I go to the calendar and I see that a homework I have is not on my calendar.  Will this be fixed?”  Mr. McDivitt responded, “I don’t think that’s a problem.  I think it’s just a change of direction, and the direction now is the place where you see all of the necessary homework assignments are on what is called the ‘Homework Portal.’  The concept of a portal is that you’re looking in different windows and they all have different information.  Any information a teacher posts will automatically go into the portal.  What you need to do as a student is manipulate the portals so you can change the order.  Most students have discovered that once you have completed an assignment, you can mark it as done.  Then it will disappear from that portal view.”

My last question was more about the overall transition from a system that everyone had used for multiple years, “Did you have any concerns about going from Edline to Plus Portals?”  Mr. McDivitt stated, “The only concern I had was that there are growing pains for all the students, faculty and parents that use it, but I was confident that once you get through the growing pains, that it will become a better thing.  This is, of course, going to be the tough semester where the most difficult times where using Portals will occur.  I believe once we get into the second, third and fourth quarters, it will be better.”

For me, I’m on the fence about Plus Portals.  I like how I can see my grades right away.  I know how I’m doing in a class, and I don’t have to wait to see a test grade. What I definitely don’t like about Portals is the loading time.  It is a very slow application and website.  I believe that Edline was quicker, but unlike Portals, I had to wait a longer time for grades to be updated on Edline, so there is a trade off between the two. Perhaps there will come a time when Google Classroom could completely take over the calendar, grade and homework aspects of Plus Portals. I’ve found it be more user-friendly, and it keeps students more up to date on assignments by sending emails to you and notifying you that you have an assignment due soon.  Just like most of the returning students, I have had my growing pains with Portals.  I still see classes that I’m not a member of on my calendar, but I do expect things to get better, as Mr. McDivitt predicts, and for it to become a smoother application.  Right now, I think it’s too early to write off Plus Portals, so, I will hold my judgment until this school year is over.

You can find Nick Viennas on Twitter @TheQuillNickV