Budgeting for College Life Outside the Classroom

By: Stephanie Brooks

You’re in college, so it’s been drilled into your head that “What you do now will affect you for the rest of your life.” Undoubtedly an education will shape your mind, influence the way you see the world, and, if everything goes according to plan, help you land a decent job. It’s a long-term investment in time, effort, and money that you hope will pay dividends.

However, you don’t want to leave college with the long-term burden of monstrous debt. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported the average debt for all student loan borrowers in the U.S. was $23,300 in 2011. The top 10% of all borrowers owed more than $54,000. A recent article in The New York Times examined “A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” putting forth two telling statistics: “payments are being made on just 38% of the balance of federal student loans, down from 46% five years ago,” and “nearly one in 10 borrowers who started repayment in 2009 defaulted within two years.” Postponed and stopped payments were part of the reason students failed to make progress in reducing their student loan debt.

The rising cost of tuition is putting graduates in a bind, but what about those additional expenses such as room and board and food that accumulated through the years? It adds up. All your goals, dreams, and ambitions for adulthood can be put on hold because of insurmountable debt. Sound like scare tactics? It’s the real world. That’s why you should focus on cutting those other costs so that you can free up money to pay for tuition and thus free up your financial future.

Room and Board: That Other Big Expense

The College Board estimated the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2011-12 school year was $9,200 for public colleges. Compare that to the average cost of room and board and books, which was $13,203. These are the biggest expenses in many cases, and they don’t seem to receive proper attention amid the outrage surrounding tuition increases. If you want to substantially reduce the amount of debt you’ll have when you graduate, then you’ll pay close attention to how much you’re spending on this aspect of college life.

  • Find a cheap dorm. Some colleges require students to live on campus for at least the first year. This means there will be several dorms on campus from which to choose and the price of each may vary. The cheaper dorms will lack the amenities, privacy, and newness of the more expensive ones, but you can compensate for that by rooming with your friends, with whom you’ll be more comfortable. Even if you don’t live with them, you’re bound to find new ones in your suite or floor who will make living there more fun.
  • Consider co-op housing. A less common way to save on room and board, cooperative housing isn’t as popular as it once was but it remains an option on campuses where students are willing to work together to maintain their living space and campus. Those who are fearful of living an overly “hippie lifestyle” can attempt to organize a co-op with their friends and peers who share their values.
  • Work for shelter. If you’re an upperclassmen, you can become a Resident Assistant in a dorm and receive free room and board in exchange for mentoring younger students. This, of course, requires responsibility and commitment to your place of residence, so it isn’t fit for everyone. The additional benefit is that you get to meet many new and interesting people while honing your people skills.
  • Live in an off-campus apartment. Do you plan to stick around campus after the semesters end? Do you prefer to pay month-by-month? Living off campus can be more convenient than living on campus, where you have to pay a lump sum before occupying your room. In many cases, the cost of living around campus may by less than the cost of living on campus. Review apartment prices in the area surrounding your school and weigh them against the cost of the 3.5 months you would be spending in a dorm. Look for three- or four-bedroom furnished units. Dorm rates typically include utilities and other expenses such as water, trash, cable, and internet, but you may be able to find apartments that do this as well.
  • If possible, live at home. You may shutter at thought of living with mom and dad, but if they live driving distance from campus, you may not be able to pass on the opportunity to save a truckload of money. It’s a solution that a lot of students are choosing. If your parents are like most parents, they’ll be pleased to have you around, and they’ll express their gratitude by providing you with warm, home cooked meals – another way to save – as long as you do your part to keep the house in tiptop shape.

Keep in mind that where you live will affect your cost of living. For example, if you grew up in a state such as Texas or Arkansas, where the average cost of living is low, and chose to attend college in a state such as California or New York, where the average cost of living is high, there will be an inevitable jump in day-to-day spending. Rooms on campus or near campus at colleges in urban areas, where space is limited, typically cost more than rooms in rural areas. Such factors should be taken into account when choosing a college to prevent financial shock once the move is made.

Sustenance, Nourishment, Grub

Colleges offer different levels of meal plans that provide a set amount of meals per semester for students who live on campus. For roughly $2,000, you can dine at the campus food hall or buy snacks and drinks from other places that sell food around campus. These are best for students’ convenience because food is always within walking distance from the dorms or class, and the cost is covered in your fee bill, preventing you from overspending on food if you rely on what’s provided by the plan.

It could be a waste of money, however, if you bought a plan covering three meals per day and you only eat two, for example. Typically those meals don’t roll over to the next semester, so you end up losing money. Cooking on your own, which requires you to buy your meals day to day and week to week, may be a better option, as it allows you to closely manage your money. When seeking nourishment off campus, do the following:

  • Buy a cookbook. For the $10 you spend for a meal at a low-end restaurant, you can cook three or four meals and spread them out through the week. The Huffington Post provides some useful cheap cooking tips, advising readers to make use of Tupperware containers and a slow cooker, the latter of which is versatile and perfect for cheap cuts of meat.
  • Buy store brands. Consumer Reports found that store brands save an average of 30% and are essentially indistinguishable from their more famous competitors in taste tests. The products consist of the same ingredients – the main difference is the brand on the box.
  • Drink water, but don’t buy it. Drinking water instead of caffeinated beverages will not only save you money, but will also keep you healthy. Invest in a water filter that you can attach to your sink in your dorm room or apartment. Read this water filter buying guide from Consumer Reports to ensure you get one that provides great tasting water.
  • Avoid eating and drinking out regularly. Few things are worse than waking up the next morning and realizing your tab was exponentially higher than you remember. Make drinks at home with your own ingredients to avoid spending too much at the bar. When drinking and eating out, frequent happy hours.

Remaining disciplined with your food purchases can be difficult, but, as you might expect, there’s an app for that: Grocery Gadget Free – Shopping List gives users the ability to compose a shopping list before going to the store, enabling them to figure out how much they will spend beforehand. Ziplist allows users to categorically organize their shopping list by isle so they can get in and out the store, avoiding unnecessary spending. You can compare prices with Grocery Pal.

Making Educated Decisions Financially

An important aspect of becoming an adult is establishing your financial well-being. In all likelihood, for the first time in your life, you’re responsible for managing your money entirely on your own. Many college students fail this initial test, causing themselves more trouble in the future. If you’re racking up student loan debt, you need to ensure you’ll be in a position to pay it off once you’ve graduated and landed a job. If you abide by these tips, then you’ll be a step ahead of many of your peers:

  • Choose your checking account wisely. Some banks offer student packages that come with minimal fees and free overdraft protection in a savings account that accumulates interest.
  • Use cash. Perhaps the best way to control your spending is to only have access to a certain amount of cash. As your wallet gets thinner, you’ll fully comprehend how much money you’re spending. Always pay with cash at the bar to avoid the sticker shock that follows a drunken evening with an open tab.
  • Make use of auto-pay. Enroll in automatic bill-pay with your bank to ensure all your bills are paid on time each month. It’s too easy for the average college student to forget a payment because they were too busy studying or partying. On-time payments will help build your credit.
  • Don’t get a credit card. You’ll eventually need one to build credit, but you shouldn’t have one unless you’ll be able to regularly pay down the balance. For most college students, the availability of the money is too tempting to resist, and they find themselves deeper in debt when they graduate.
  • Don’t drive. Most college campuses and their surrounding areas are pedestrian friendly. Make use of the campus bus line and walk the rest of the way. Driving results in money spent on gas and maintenance.
  • Find student discounts. Many businesses try to encourage the patronage of college students by offering reduced rates, such as airlines. Taking advantage of student discounts, wherever they’re offered, will save you lots of money over time.

Need a sidekick to help you manage your money? Check out these apps: Loot assists in budgeting, tracking repeat transactions, and account transfers. Red Laser enables you to compare prices of in-store items to thousands of other items online by merely scanning their barcode. Getting an early start on paying off your debt is essential, and Pay Off Debt helps you do just that by prioritizing your accounts.

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Community Service and College

Community service is the act of volunteering toward a cause or service for a particular community, and it can be a rewarding and humbling experience. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about 64.3 million people volunteered via an organization at least once between September 2010 and September 2011. Community service can apply toward a wide variety of efforts, such as helping those in need by supplying food, water, or shelter, fundraising for a common cause, partaking in environmental care or clean-up, teaching, or general outreach. Volunteering in America‘s surveys have suggested that self-organized ‘do-it-yourself’ services have been most popular during the recession, a trend president Obama promoted with his United We Serve initiative. It might seem counter-intuitive that community service has surged during a time of economic collapse, but people continue to donate their time and give charitably, perhaps sensing that the United States needs volunteering the most in a market with dwindling resources.

Motives for Volunteering

Although young people tend to be the smallest demographic portrayed in community service efforts, volunteering when you’re young is a wise choice not only for the benefit of the community but also for personal gain. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to volunteer with some of your own motivations in mind, even though community service is often stereotyped as a selfless act. You may be volunteering in an effort to perfect a particular skill, such as leadership ability. It may fulfill an academic credit. You may be volunteering for a political cause you believe in, knowing that your presence can help initiate change. Universities appreciate a well-rounded student with a penchant for helping out in their community. Experience with community service could give you the edge you need to compete with your peers, gaining acceptance into a particular college or other organization.

Some volunteer because they feel a sense of gratification for changing their community for the better. Making a difference to improve the lives of others, propagating a cause they believe in, or networking among likeminded people can be mutually satisfying for the volunteer and the recipients of the service. Community service provides another social circle for the volunteer. It also has its proven health benefits. Volunteers have a lower mortality rate, function better, and tend to be less depressed than those who do not volunteer, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. Volunteering gives one a sense of purpose and the feel-good factor of it reflects positively on our actual health state.

There are also those that volunteer for more complicated reasons. Undertaking community service can be an enriching experience, making one aware of the continual need for help around the world. Working among those in need humbles the volunteer. They may participate in community service for religious reasons, out of guilt, because it’s therapeutic to them, or in order to feel challenged. They may simply enjoy working because they’re among friends. They may have even been assigned community service as a means of punishment for a crime. The reasons vary from person to person, but regardless of the motive, volunteering efforts are needed and appreciated every day. Community service helps benefit the community in critical ways, even if it isn’t propelled by altruism. Still, there are those that gain valuable insight from community service and experience personal growth. Many colleges value community service to this end, hoping to recruit a school of students with the ability to positively impact the world.

Who Benefits?

Community service can benefit an array of different people or causes.

Likewise, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA is a humane organization that “works to rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with shelters nationwide.” With shelters across the country, they thrive through monthly donations and help from their volunteers. Using volunteer work at the ASPCA as part of your community service can give you a myriad of options, as they are in constant need of assistance. Just some of the ways you could help out include transporting animals to and from the shelter, holding fundraisers in their name, assisting in animal adoption, cleaning cages, walking the dogs, foster care, and training. All donations go toward housing the animals, tending to their medical needs, and food. Some of the shelters are no-kill shelters, which means that overcrowding can be an issue. All volunteers provide a valuable service of keeping the operation going and helping sometimes neglected, helpless animals get into happy, loving homes.

In guerilla gardening, the environment and the people who cherish it benefit. Guerilla gardening is a fairly recent trend and somewhat of an avant-garde form of community service. It is less of an organization and more of a do-it-yourself initiative, in which everyday members of the community garden in public places with or without permission for the betterment of the landscape. Some guerilla gardeners participate in “seed bombing,” in which they form wads of dirt, seeds, clay, compost, and water and scatter the bombs in decrepit areas throughout the city. The guerilla gardener seeks areas that could be used for growth, but are instead left for neglect, benefiting nobody. They then infiltrate it with flora, fauna, and even fruits and veggies for human consumption. Some may regard it as radical, bordering on civil disobedience, while others see it as bettering the community by returning life to otherwise useless areas.

The Washington Post interviewed 25-year-old Emmy Gran, a guerilla gardener who is teaching seed-bombing workshops in Shaw, Washington. At the end of every guerilla gardening spree, Shaw graffitis the walls with a moss mixture, created by combining moss, a half teaspoon of sugar, and beer or yogurt in a blender. She gardens for “food justice” and to make the community more beautiful, but notes that it can feel somewhat deviant. “If you see an abandoned, neglected lot and you decide to do something about it by planting vegetables and herbs, are you an occupier?” Gran dwells.

Volunteering Your Way into College

In terms of utilizing your community service credentials to get into a good college, the earlier you start volunteering, the better. College applications will address your community service experience and you will be required to list specific examples. Likewise, many college essays are geared toward enriching experiences, such as travel or community service efforts, hoping to extrapolate some of the self-nurturing qualities that came along with such moments in your life. If you partook in community service in junior high and high school, you will likely stand out more than another applicant that chose not to participate in community service. It sets you apart as being a compassionate, mature individual, traits most colleges highly prefer in their collegiate body. A U.S. News article touches on the importance of community service work for college applications. Nancy Lublin of DoSomething.org, an organization that helps teens to promote causes that are important to them, notes that while participating in community service in general used to be an invaluable trait, college admissions teams are now becoming even more specific, looking for students that have demonstrated a commitment to one particular community service. By consistently supporting the same volunteer effort, students “show commitment and perseverance, both of which are stellar traits for potential co-eds.”

DoSomething.org has released a survey for the past three years in which they interview admissions officers from top universities to see the number of schools that prefer to select students with experience in volunteering. This past year’s survey reflected that 72% of the 32 schools participating in the survey desired students that were consistently involved with one community service effort. However, there is a balance. Fifty-two percent believe that a student can have too many service hours, showing that they are less rounded than some students who undertake community service alongside extracurricular sports activities, involvement in student council, or the school newspaper. A student who is so focused on community service that they have time for nothing else is not as desirable as a student who can balance many responsibilities at once, with equal commitment to each.

Schools with an Eye for Community Service

If a college values community service at the University itself, it likely takes note of community service experience in its applicants. Many major universities encourage their students to partake in community service activities and in some colleges it is even built into the system. For example, Eastern Connecticut State University requires four hours of community service simply to acquire a dorm room, according to an article posted in The New York Times. The students aren’t given the choice of whether or not to give their time. If all 5,586 of 2011’s fall enrollments completed the minimum amount of community service hours required to obtain a dorm room, it equates to an excess of 22,000 hours of community service.

An article in Washington Monthly notes that University of California-Riverside grants 51% of its work study funds to community service programs, rendering it the top public school for community service. The top private school for community service is Florida Memorial College, utilizing 59.2% of its federal work study funds toward community service. If you’re applying for any of these schools, you should figure volunteer work into your college application. The schools have already identified themselves as being strong supporters of philanthropic activity.

Scholarships You Can Get

If you volunteer early in life, not only can you pad your college application with your impressive community service dedication, but you might also be eligible for a variety of scholarships awarded to young volunteers across the country. The Prudential Spirit of the Community Award grants two middle and high school winners from each state with a $1,000 award and a trip to Washington, D.C. The ten national winners then receive $5,000 in scholarship funds and $5,000 toward their chosen charity. The awards are given solely based on the individual’s efforts in community service. Thus, being a volunteer can help you pay your way through college.

Likewise, the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program is applicable to any volunteer between the ages of six and 18 that hasn’t graduated high school. The student’s community service efforts will be gauged and then awarded, with the national winners receiving $10,000 in scholarships for post-secondary education and an additional $1,000 toward a non-profit organization. Over 2,200 kids are awarded in store, regional, and national levels with over $420,000 dedicated toward scholarships and prizes.

If you still enjoy community service and hope to continue with it after graduating college, you can pursue the National Grid’s Huntington Public Service Award, a scholarship opportunity that grants one lucky individual with a $10,000 stipend to spend a year volunteering their services. The applicant must write a proposal concerning the community service they wish to enact, which can be held both within the United States and abroad, giving the winner some exciting opportunities. They may choose to volunteer on an individual basis or through established charitable, religious, educational, governmental, and other public service organizations. Previous winners have done volunteer work in places like Ecuador, Cambodia, Kenya, India, and Chile.

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7 Tips for Creating Your Own Degree Program

By: Stephanie Brooks

If you’re a crossword puzzle or Sudoku fan, you probably know that Will Shortz currently edits the daily crossword puzzle for The New York Times. But did you know Shortz holds a degree in enigmatology, a major he created himself and pursued thanks to Indiana University’s Individualized Major Program? An individualized major is a degree program a student creates, with guidance and approval from college faculty, that addresses specific, sometimes unusual areas of study. Ethology (the scientific study of animal behavior), music promotion, and the sociology of fashion are just a few individualized majors created by students to address their unique interests and post-college career goals. If the traditional MBA isn’t for you then check out these seven tips for creating your own unique degree program.

  1. Decide what you want to do and how you want to do it:

    If you find that after a year or two in college, you are still trying to determine what it is you want to do after college, or you enjoy many areas of study not necessarily favoring one over the other, then an individualized major program probably isn’t for you. Creating your own degree program requires a lot of effort and focus, as well as the ability to sell your commitment to your individualized major to college faculty for approval. If you have a vision for yourself, can articulate it to others, and find that more straightforward majors aren’t going to teach you exactly what you need to pursue your goals, then an individualized program may be ideal for you.

  2. Find out if your school offers an individualized major program:

    According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 900 four-year colleges in the U.S. offer individualized major programs. And that number is growing. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t an up-to-date, centralized resource for students listing all of the colleges offering individualized major programs, so you’ll have to do your research on a school-by-school basis. Be sure that any college you are seriously considering applying to is an accredited institution, as there are non-accredited schools (sometimes called “diploma mills”) now offering individualized major programs.

  3. Find out when you can apply:

    Students are generally encouraged to apply to an individualized major program in their sophomore or junior year. This gives a student time to determine exactly what areas of study they want to pursue. However, it may be possible for you to apply as early as the second semester of your freshman year or as late as the beginning of your senior year. Keep in mind though if you apply later, you will probably need to spend at least another year in school in order to complete your degree.

  4. Find a sponsor:

    Most colleges with build-your-own-degree programs require that you have a faculty sponsor (or several) who will advocate for and assist you with your individualized study program. There may even be faculty already flagged by your college as potential sponsors. That information will most likely be found on the college website. Your sponsor will help you prepare your application and a statement describing your customized major and why you want to pursue it. Your sponsor will also help you prepare for and accompany you to the final admission interview.

  5. Schedule and prepare for an initial meeting:

    Keep in mind that every college has a slightly different set of steps you need to take to create, propose, and then complete your custom major. At some colleges, an orientation meeting may be offered to you before you have secured a sponsor. At other schools, you may need to secure a sponsor first before you can attend such a meeting. At the initial orientation meeting, you’ll be able to ask the college’s individualized program director questions about the program, its requirements, and the application process.

  6. Get ready to be interviewed:

    Many customized programs at accredited colleges require you to go through an admission interview, where, accompanied by your faculty sponsor, you will be interviewed by a committee and asked to make your case for what you want to study and why. You’ll have to explain why your needs cannot be met by established majors, double majors, or interdepartmental majors. You’ll also be asked to explain how your proposed major will benefit your post-college career goals or postgraduate work. You and your sponsor can go over the questions you’re likely to be asked well in advance, and thus prepare strong responses.

  7. Trust yourself:

    Years after American mythologist, college professor, and writer Joseph Campbell told people, “follow your bliss,” that simple bit of advice is still considered by many to be unhelpful, and even irresponsible. Your vision of an individualized, perhaps interdisciplinary degree program may seem crazy to your friends and parents. But if you believe such a program will be of value to you after you graduate and are looking for work, then the only thing you need to be concerned about is how to best articulate your vision to your school’s faculty and staff. We all know completing a traditional four-year degree does not guarantee you will find a job after graduation. So why not pursue a course of study that you’re truly passionate about? That passion and the pride you feel for having completed your personalized major will probably do more to sustain you in these uncertain times.

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Installation process and benefits of 1xbet app

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Putting our Educators in a Position to Succeed

Most educators in the U.S. will readily admit that our education system is substandard given our nation’s economic stature. Many of the international education metrics confirm that, showing that we lag far behind in essential subjects such as math and science. Of the 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries that took part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report released in late 2010, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading skills, 17th in science, and 25th in math.

On the surface, it seems that money isn’t an issue. The OECD released a report in 2010 detailing international spending on education by country. The U.S. ranked fourth, spending $10,995 at the combined elementary and secondary level in 2008, the fourth-most in the world. That’s 35% more than the $8,169 averaged by OECD member countries. The report shows that a country’s GDP per capita has a direct effect on how much it spends on education.

Countless initiatives have been brought forth through the years with the purpose of strengthening our education system so that we can remain competitive with the rest of the world. From the “Nation at Risk” report during the Reagan administration that sounded the alarm on the failing state of our schools to the controversial No Child Left Behind Act during the George W. Bush administration, which many educators have deemed an ineffective reform, we’ve managed to pinpoint many of the issues but have yet to deal with them in an efficient manner. The solution starts with our educators, the ones who actually spend each day in the classroom.

Educating Our Educators

Of course, building the ideal education system requires a commitment in spending, but it’s how that money is spent that ultimately matters. And, according to many of our nation’s teachers, the mismanagement of their field of work has them demotivated and possibly looking for new careers. MetLife’s annual “Survey of the American Teacher,” released this year, posted a few disconcerting stats, including that 29% of teachers are “very or fairly likely to leave the profession within the next five years,” and 43% of teachers “are pessimistic that the level of student achievement will be better five years from now.”

The best way to improve education in the U.S. is to devise a well-thought out approach that includes developing and supporting our teachers. For them to be successful, they must be put in a position to succeed. Far too often, teachers are asked to teach classes for which they’re unqualified and lacking a sufficient amount of education to be a true expert in the subject. A survey released by the U.S Department of Education in 2011 showed that almost a third of public school physics and chemistry teachers did not major in those fields and lack a certificate to teach those subjects. The same can be said for half of public school earth science teachers.

Remember, the U.S ranked in the middle of the pack in science in the OECB report. Those were among 15-year-old students, who, in the U.S., are fresh out of middle school. According to a report by the National Academies from 2007, only one in 10 middle school science teachers have a degree or certification in the subject. The same problem is identified with more than two-thirds of math teachers.

The obvious first step to improving the situation would be to require incoming math and science teachers to have majored in the subject. For the teachers who’ve stepped in to teach those subjects without a major, additional training through courses and seminars could be funded by states and school districts. Considering the statistics that show the desire of many teachers to leave the profession, we must keep the existing ones happy and motivated.

An increased emphasis on mentorship from tenured teachers, who can continually share their wisdom with their younger, inexperienced colleagues, would not only provide more on-the-job training, but show those tenured teachers that they’re valued, a rarity these days. As the Baby Boomer generation retires and the workforce becomes younger, this remains essential.

Encouraging qualified teachers to enter the fields of math and science, however, is a challenge, and one that should be addressed at the grass roots level. Another simple solution would be to offer significantly higher salaries for those positions compared to, say, history teaching positions that already have a high number of qualified applicants. After all, the demand justifies the means.

Bridging the Gap in Funding Inequality

How money is distributed is a major determining factor in the overall quality of education. Students who attend affluent schools perform better than students who attend poor schools. When it comes to educational achievement, no indicator is more telling than family income.

A recent study conducted by Stanford professor Sean Reardon indicates the problem has been worsening over the past 50 years. Using standardized test scores, he compared children in the 90th percentile of income to children in the 10th percentile. He found the gap between the two has grown by almost 40%, a sign that students from poor families are increasingly suffering from a lack of resources at home and in the classroom.

In Illinois, for example, Taft Elementary School in Lockport averaged $7,023 in operating cost per student in 2010, according to the state’s annual School Report Card. It lacked arts, language, and technology classes. What’s more, it still used a 50-year-old heating system. An uncomfortable learning environment isn’t exactly helpful to teachers and students. Rondout Elementary School, on the other hand, averaged $24,244 in operating cost per student, offering Spanish from kindergarten forward, art, drama, and dance classes, and laptops to each student. Schools in Illinois rely heavily on property taxes for funding, meaning education in low-income areas is only as valuable as its residents’ property.

Inequities in funding occur within school districts, within states, and between states – Utah spends the least amount of money per student and ranks 42nd in education. Perhaps the reason it doesn’t rank last is because it ranked No. 1 in “spreading money evenly throughout the state,” according to an annual report by Education Week.

In essence, kids in poor school districts receive only a portion of that $10,995 average the OECD mentioned in its report. They suffer from unqualified teachers who don’t have sufficient training, a lack of resources such as updated textbooks and Advanced Placement classes, and outdated facilities that are years past due for upgrades. There’s no focus on developing teachers or giving them what they need for success. At the same time, teachers receive blame for their students’ lack of achievement.

The idea of equally distributing funds among different school districts, regardless of the average income of those who live within those school district zones, makes many Americans shutter. Anything with a hint of socialism makes Americans shutter. However, in this case, it’s necessary to ensure poor students have what they need to improve their socioeconomic standing. Isn’t education supposed to be the great equalizer?

Out With the Old, In With the New

The Obama administration has vowed to listen to educators so that policymaking better meets their needs. The administering of the Respect Program is one way he hopes to accomplish that. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is leading the way.

“Our goal is to work with teachers and principals in rebuilding their profession and to elevate the teacher voice in federal, state and local education policy,” Duncan said in a press release for the U.S. Department of Education. “Our larger goal is to make teaching not only America’s most important profession, but also America’s most respected profession.”

One major change that almost every teacher would embrace is scaling down the number of standardized tests they’re required to give. This is confirmed in “Survey of the American Teacher,” which indicates that “only 26% of teachers say that the results of standardized tests are an accurate reflection of student achievement.” While such tests serve a purpose, to an extent, in measuring how students stack up against each other, too many of the tests significantly cut into class time, hindering teachers from effectively carrying out their regular curriculum.

That time could also be spent experimenting with new teaching methods designed to enhance students’ learning experiences. The implementation of social learning inside and outside the classroom through the use of social media, for example, can encourage participation and achievement for every student, regardless of their academic standing. Using a Twitter account to facilitate a roleplaying game, Rosie Miles, a senior lecturer in English at the University of Wolverhampton, got her students to act as characters in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House to better their understanding of the novel. Some teachers have similarly taken to using Pinterest in the classroom. Miles could use it to track literary devices from the novel in visual form, something her students could reference as they read.

Methods of technological integration have been well-documented during the technological revolution, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to making it work. The same can be said for any type of new lesson plan. The results are gauged with trial and error, which only can happen when teachers are afforded more flexibility and control over their classes. If the Respect Program works, then it will have provided teachers with these luxuries.

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The Less Glamorous Careers: Advice and Fact

By: Stephanie Brooks

Few children tout that they want to be an accountant or a petroleum engineer when they grow up, even if the expertise required by those jobs make them amongst the highest paying careers. Rather, children have big dreams about becoming actors, artists, or writers with a little bit of fame, animal care workers, and firemen, rescuing babies from blazing houses. Such careers seem glamorous to children, as they are fraught with adventure and romanticism. However, as you get older, you realize that some of your childhood career choices are not as glamorous as they originally seemed. The pay in these career paths often leave something to be desired. It can be difficult to find a legitimate job within the field, with lower demand. Some of the jobs that once seemed heroic only seem dangerous and risky. Adult practicality sets in, steering many college students towards business, marketing, and other fruitful majors with relatively high success rates within the job world.

With the recession, new graduates flounder to find jobs, accepting positions that help them pay their bills rather than fulfill their dreams. However, there are still a brave few that pursue their childhood aspirations. These tough career paths require tremendous personal drive, a touch of luck, and in many cases, the ability to handle failure, excessive stress, and potential pay cuts. The following jobs are just a handful of the most popular career choices strived for by children. Upon further examination, many of them may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

The Underpaid Teacher

Teaching requires a special kind of person, and is indeed an attainable job if you’re graced with the patience and passion for the field. There are many people that find a career in teaching to be incredibly rewarding. By college, many students have caught wind of the fact that teaching pays far less than the fruits of its labor would indicate. Yet, teaching is still somewhat of a dream job for anyone who loves working with children and spreading the currency of knowledge to budding pupils. Children align teachers with superheroes. For many recent graduates, obtaining a teaching certificate serves as a backup plan in case of complete inability to find an entry-level job in their area of expertise. A teaching certificate is relatively easy to come by. With a college degree, the certificate can be obtained by simply taking a few online classes and working in a year-long internship within the field. Then there are the teaching perks that recent graduates lust after — teaching means summer and winter breaks and working shorter hours than most office jobs. At least that’s the impression that many non-teachers have.

In reality, teachers spend many more hours working outside of classroom hours, grading papers, attending workshops, and devising lesson plans. They are faced with constant pressure to increase standardized test scores. Given the amount of time students spend in school, teachers wind up not just teaching the subject of their choice, but also social cues, responsibility, problem-solving techniques, and even a source for sexual education, standing in as daytime parental figures. They may have troublesome children with behavioral problems. For classes like art and music, funding is low, with very little budget for supplies. Likewise, teachers are greatly underappreciated for the work they accomplish. In spite of a multi-faceted job that takes an incredible amount of time and energy, teachers in the United States continue to make cringingly low salaries. The average starting teaching salary is $39,000, rising to $54,000 with experience, according to a report by major market researching firm McKinsey & Co. The report, entitled Closing the Talent Gap states that annual teacher turnover in the United States is 14% at regular schools and 20% at high-need schools, mainly because the pay simply isn’t indicative of the work.

The Starving Artist

The artist represents a slew of childhood dream jobs; not just fine artists, but also ballerinas, actresses, poets, and any other creative job that depends mainly on talent and knowing the right people. Students take various journeys to accomplish these career paths, some at major Universities and others at trade schools or academies made specifically to train the student in the arts. Funding an art, film, or acting education can be costly without much to show for it. While schools like New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts serve as acclaimed institutes for learning and practicing the arts, not every art school graduate will become a starlet. Some struggle for years to find success in a heavily saturated market. Even if they are talented, a writer may not be able to get through to a publisher willing to pick up their work, while debatably poorly written novels such as The Twilight Saga continue to make Best Seller lists. An artist may work three jobs just to pay the bills so they can paint in their spare time, only to be turned away from gallery after gallery. Actors audition for hundreds of roles, hoping to land even non-speaking parts. Making that big break simply isn’t easy, and for some, it never comes.

Devoting yourself to a creative career usually means living a life without job benefits. Under a meager or non-existent salary, you’ll likely have to pay for your own health insurance and there is no 401K in the horizon. Some artists may be able to showcase their work in nonprofit galleries, but will receive no compensation for it. According to a survey conducted by Working Artists and the Greater Economy, 58% of the visual and performing artists surveyed were not paid a dime for exhibiting or presenting their work at nonprofits in New York. You may pursue grants or join an artist residency, which enables artists to work together in a studio space for a small, monthly stipend, but many of them stipulate that you can’t hold other jobs, essentially forcing the artists into poverty. According to the NEA’s data, dancers and choreographers earn a median wage of only $27,392 per year. Photographers earn $26,875, and actors earn $30,254. This may not seem terrible, but considering the share of artists like Damien Hurst that are paid millions for dipping sharks into vats of formaldehyde, the numbers may be skewed considerably towards a small margin of well-paid artists. The income and fame of the artist often depends on the whims of art collectors and dealers, not raw talent.

The Heroic Fireman

The childhood notion of becoming a fireman encompasses any job that involves both adventure and danger. Firefighters live a noble existence and they are modern day superheroes, but the job is anything but easy. In order to become a firefighter, the applicant must endure rigorous physical training and complete written exams. Once on the job, they typically work 24-hour shifts, amounting to long hours and little sleep on a busy night. Firefighters essentially live together at the station, spending more time with the rest of the squad than their actual families in many cases, which can be straining on relationships. Not to mention, the work is challenging and dangerous. A firefighter must be able to work through an adrenaline rush, darting into houses while wearing heavy, hot equipment. They can’t afford to stall or panic. Hollywood films spur on a great deal of misconceptions about the firefighter’s work. For example, firefighters in movies are often shown entering a room with flames popping up in corners, searching for a cowering child in a corner. In reality, firefighters work almost blindly. The thick, black smoke that results from house fires is impossible to see through. Firefighters must learn to feel their way through the home without any visual guidance while simultaneously avoiding collapsing floors and aggressive flames. Likewise, throughout the duration of their career, a firefighter will become acquainted with tragedy and death. Not every life can be salvaged from a fire.

In terms of pay, firefighters receive a modest salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median earnings for a firefighter in 2010 were $45,250 per year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,050, and the top 10 percent earned more than $75,390, commiserate with experience in the field over time and seniority. This can vary from station to station as well. Some fire stations recruit volunteer firefighters. In fact, data from the National Fire Protection Association shows that about 70% of fire departments were staffed entirely by volunteer firefighters in 2008. With such a large portion of the field staffed by volunteers, it can be difficult for those looking to serve as a paid firefighter, as the station will likely hire an employee willing to work for free over one that requires a salary.

The Compassionate Animal Handler

Most children love animals, and so a career in the animal industry seems like a dream come true. Whether they visualize working at a zoo, as a lion tamer, as a show dog breeder, or a veterinarian, the appeal is derived from working alongside loving, cuddly animals. However, many of these jobs are either low in pay or do not necessarily revolve around vying for an animal’s affections all day. While zookeepers are responsible for keeping the exotic animals within the zoo happy and healthy, much of the work involves cleaning stalls, scooping up fecal matter, and leaving out food. The zookeeper doesn’t come in direct contact with the actual animals unless they are sedated, as they are dangerous. They generally work weekends and holidays, given that the animals need care at all times. To work as a zookeeper, one must have an educational background in the field, with a bachelor’s degree in a field such as veterinary technology, zoology, or a related subject. Yet, while it is physically demanding and requires educational training, zookeepers don’t make much money. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median pay for zookeepers and other animal care workers as $19,780 per year, a salary that would enable one to barely scrape by. So while you may be working with dangerous animals, cleaning exhibits, lifting heavy objects, and using your college-educated brain, you’re earning a meager salary well under that of most college graduates.

Meanwhile, veterinarians make decent money, clocking in at a median pay of $82,040 in 2010. Yet, children may fail to realize that the job isn’t all healthy puppies and kittens, but rather often involves tending to desperately sick, wounded animals which may require euthanasia. Veterinarians may become attached to animals they are caring for, which can cause a great deal of emotional stress if the animal is wounded beyond resuscitation. Likewise, just like a regular doctor, you will have to be able to deal with the upset “parents” of the pets. Trying to explain to a pet’s owner that their loving Fido has become critically ill is challenging for every party involved. Owners may blame veterinarians if the pet doesn’t make it through treatment in their grief. It also requires a great deal of schooling, amounting to about eight years of education following high school. A veterinarian needs to be certified by obtaining their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from a college program.

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The State of Our Education System and How to Change It

The state of the U.S. education system has been hotly debated since the founding of the colonies. Contrasting philosophies among the general populace have made it impossible to come to a consensus on just how education should be administered. For a nation as blessed as ours, built by innovative thinkers and offering an abundance of resources, it’s inexcusable that we’re underachieving compared to our peers.

In late 2010, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, released every three years, measured the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds from around the world. Among 34 OECD countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading skills, 17th in science, and 25th in math. In comparison, Canadian 15-year-olds were more than one full school year ahead of Americans in math, and more than half a year ahead in science and reading. When it came to high school graduation rates, just eight countries were worse than the U.S. Recent scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress reaffirm the nation’s deficiency in science. In 2011, a majority of eighth graders who took the national science exam posted unacceptable scores, as just a third were deemed proficient. To add insult to injury, the U.S. is now producing college graduates at a lower rate than many of our peers.

We’ve been bombarded with statistics, altogether indicating the state of the U.S. education system is near shambles. While its demise has been greatly exaggerated thanks to an excess of data, there is certainly cause for concern. The AFP report suggested Americans “make the choices needed to show that (they) value education more than other areas of national interest.” But how exactly should that be done?


Teaching: The Eternal Struggle

American teachers have long lamented how they’re overworked and underpaid. They feel undervalued compared to other more glamorous yet less important professions. The overall morale of those who’ve spent just a small amount of time teaching is alarmingly low, and has been for quite some time. As a result, more and more are seeking a career change.

This year, when Metlife released its annual “Survey of the American Teacher,” Americans collectively shuddered when they read that 29% of teachers are “very or fairly likely to leave the profession within the next five years,” a number that corresponds with the 44% who say they are very satisfied with their jobs, the lowest in 20 years. The reasons for their discontentment can be gleaned further down the survey, and it isn’t pay – something they knew about when they signed up – or disrespectful students, but their lack of faith in the system to properly educate their students.

Forty-three percent of teachers “are pessimistic that the level of student achievement will be better five years from now,” which corresponds with the 46% of teachers in “schools with decreased budgets” who are pessimistic about student achievement. Giving teachers fewer resources with which to work certainly won’t maximize their ability to give students a comprehensive education. Thirty-six percent of teachers say “that during the past 12 months there have been reductions or eliminations of arts or music (23%), foreign language (17%) or physical education (12%) programs.”

Teachers’ hands are tied as they’re forced to manage bigger classes – some of which they’re not entirely qualified for – with students whose learning abilities vary greatly. This means quick learners aren’t reaching their potential and slow learners are being left behind. The reduction of resources has oversimplified the education process when nuance is needed.

Amid all the changes that have hindered them from performing their job to the fullest of their capabilities, teachers are being assessed individually. If their students are averaging a certain score on a standardized test, then their job could be in jeopardy. For some reason, teachers are treated differently from typical skilled employees in that their needs (and happiness) are neglected. Regardless of profession, a happy, confident employee is more likely to perform well.

The people who run our education system, from the top to the bottom, should focus on earning the respect of their employees. Ideally, administrators should have classroom teaching experience, or at the very least, experience working with teachers on a regular basis. That way, they would have a better idea of what their employees need for success. Of course, it may require more money in the long run to satisfy teachers, and that’s another problem entirely. In the meantime, the perpetual rift between teachers and their superiors must be eliminated.


Standardized Testing: An Overly Simplistic Solution

Talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you that standardized tests are the bane of their existence. Ensuring their kids make satisfactory scores on district, state, and national exams requires cutting valuable class time that could be spent learning valuable subjects – such as, say, math and science – in depth so that each student has a thorough understanding. While scores can be a decent indicator of educational achievement, they don’t tell the whole story.

Another report released this year, “Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession,” found that “only 26% of teachers say that the results of standardized tests are an accurate reflection of student achievement,” and “only 45% say that students take them seriously and perform to the best of their ability.” Students seem to realize what most policymakers do not – these tests are not the most accurate indicators of their knowledge and skills.

Recently, New York City elementary and middle school students took to the steps of the Manhattan headquarters of exam publisher Pearson Education to protest the expansion of standardized testing. They chanted “We are not guinea pigs” and “I’m more than a test score,” according to the Huffington Post, encapsulating much of the nation’s thoughts on the topic. Parents stood beside them hoping to bring awareness to the fact that their children’s education has been compromised as an inordinate amount of time has been spent not only testing, but teaching their students to standardized tests.

The purpose of the experimental tests was to sample new test questions, which would have no effect on the students’ regular curriculum. Two months earlier, students spent two weeks completing English language arts and math exams for the state of New York. Those, of course, factored into the state’s evaluation of its school districts and teachers.

Defenders of standardized testing claim that teachers don’t like it merely because they’re uncomfortable with having their performance evaluated, which, as the “America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession” survey indicated, isn’t the case. In fact, they would prefer to be assessed using multiple measures, such as growth over an academic year, the one they deem most important. A vast majority welcomes more self-evaluations, peer review, and assessments of teacher content area knowledge.

This isn’t to say that standardized testing should be entirely eliminated. It’s good to be able to measure Americans’ performance versus other nations worldwide – it’s the basis of how we know we’re lagging behind everyone in math and science. But it shouldn’t be the basis on which we build our education system.


Emphasizing Math and Science

Education experts have spent a great deal of time attempting to figure out why the U.S. is lagging behind other countries in math and science. A prevailing opinion is that the large number of high scores and the large number of low scores reflect a chasm between the haves and have nots. Students who live in affluent areas are afforded more opportunities because of an abundance of resources, whereas poor kids suffer from bad school systems with few resources and thus lower quality curricula. Students in poor school districts often fall levels behind their more affluent peers.

Results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress published in 2011 showed that low-income students posted the lowest scores. Bill Schmidt, director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, pointed out during a CNN interview last year that “in Europe, Asia, most of these other countries, they have national standards. And so, it is common across all schools within that country [to] have the same opportunities to learn the same content. This is not the reality in the United States.”

Schmidt gave three reasons why the U.S. is falling behind in math and science: a less demanding curriculum, a lack of proper training for our teachers, and a lack of proper support and motivation supplied by parents who are willing to accept that their kids just aren’t good in those subjects. The latter reason, a culture that fails to adequately value achievement in math and science, was mentioned by the OECD as a major difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world.

The best way to fix the problem is to ensure teachers are highly trained in the subjects and for Americans to study and implement a curriculum that resembles that of more successful countries such as Japan. Raising expectations requires improving the education system as a whole, and that requires money. But do Americans value education enough to make such a sacrifice?

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Top 7 Road Trip Destinations for College Students


There’s no better time to hop in the car and take a road trip with your friends than in college. Whether it’s a seven-day trip or quick weekend getaway, road trips are much more affordable and fun than flying to your destination. If you’ve got the travel bug and don’t mind putting the mileage on your car, then gather up your buddies and check out one of these top seven road trip destinations for college students.

  1. Panama City, Fla.:

    Panama City, Fla., is a popular destination for college students, and for good reason: this place knows how to party! Known for its white sandy beaches and emerald green waters, Panama City Beach is as gorgeous as the people who vacation here. Whether you want to lay out, shop, fish, or ride jet skis, Panama City Beach has something for everyone.

  2. Daytona Beach, Fla.:

    Daytona Beach is another Florida destination worth visiting in college. Known for its beaches, motorsports, and wild nightlife, Daytona is a great place to let loose with friends and party it up before heading back to class. Daytona also has plenty of affordable hotels and restaurants, so you won’t have to break the bank.

  3. Las Vegas, Nev.:

    Sin City is the place to go if you like to party, gamble, and have an all-around good time. College students from all over the U.S. migrate to Las Vegas for the wild nightlife and entertainment. Be sure to save up or travel on the cheap because Las Vegas can get very expensive, especially if you plan on going to the casinos.

  4. South Padre Island, Texas:

    South Padre Island is a popular destination for college students who want to kick back and have a good time on the beach. With huge crowds during spring break, summertime is the perfect time to visit Padre. When you’re not partying like a rock star, you should check out the island’s renowned fishing, dolphin watching, and watersports.

  5. Gulf Shores, Ala.:

    Gulf Shores, Ala., has long been a popular destination for college students from the Deep South and beyond. This coastal city is known for its sandy white beaches, renowned fishing, and excellent golf resorts. And if you love music, Gulf Shores is the place to be with its nightly concerts and weekend-long music festivals.

  6. Breckenridge, Colo.:

    If you’re looking for a fun and affordable place to ski this winter, grab your friends and make your way over to beautiful Breckenridge, Colo. This popular ski resort has a nice selection of affordable hotels and restaurants and reasonably priced ski lift tickets. Can’t make it in the winter? No problem. Breckenridge and the rest of Colorado are just as gorgeous and fun to visit in spring and summer.

  7. New Orleans, La.:

    When it comes to fun and affordable college road trip destinations, New Orleans always makes the list. “The Big Easy” is the birthplace of jazz, so it’s no surprise that the city boasts some of the best jazz clubs and music festivals in the world. Did we mention New Orleans’ famous Cajun cuisine or its infamous Mardi Gras parade? New Orleans is the place to let down your hair and have a great time with friends.

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8 Summer Songs You Won’t Be Able to Get Out of Your Head

Summer is the perfect season for swimming, staying out late, and sailing up the music charts with a big hit. Many musicians have found the right hook and the right audience, and seen insane summer success. Even if you don’t like these summer songs, we bet you’ll have trouble getting them out of your head. Do yourself a favor and learn more than just a few lyrics; it’ll keep you from driving yourself crazy later if you only know one line and it’s stuck on repeat in your head.

  1. “Call Me Maybe”

    Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, But here’s my number so call me maybe.

    This song is pretty much the soundtrack of the summer, so you’ve probably been unlucky enough to get it stuck in your head at some point. With multiple viral videos based around it, the Carly Rae Jepsen hit is impossible to avoid. We’re just going to warn you: if you try this line on anyone during your summer vacation, expect them to groan and walk the other direction.

  2. “In the Summertime”

    In the summertime, when the weather is high, you can stretch right up and touch the sky.
    When the weather’s fine, you got women, you got women on your mind.

    Mungo Jerry knows how to capture summertime in a song. Listen to this song once at the beginning of the summer, and it’ll stay with you until the school year rolls back around. You’ll be dancing and singing, and if you don’t know the words, you can provide the rhythmic “Chh, chh chh, UH” in the background.

  3. “Summer Girls”

    New Kids On The Block had a bunch of hits.
    Chinese food makes me sick.
    And I think it’s fly when girls stop by for the summer, for the summer.

    If you were a child of the ’90s, this 1999 LFO song, with its terrible lyrics and all, is going to bring back some summer memories. How can a song that makes so little sense be so darn catchy? Do you need more examples besides Chinese food making the band sick? Check this out:
    Like the color purple, macaroni and cheese,

    Ruby red slippers and a bunch of trees.

    Call you up but what’s the use?

    I like Kevin Bacon, but I hate Footloose.

    Now just try to get it out of your head.

  4. “Kokomo”

    Aruba, Jamaica, oh, I want to take you.
    Bermuda, Bahama. Come on, pretty mama.
    Key Largo, Montego, baby, why don’t we go?

    Doesn’t this song just make you want to jump on a plane to an island somewhere? We can practically feel the breeze right now. If you can’t get out of work or summer school long enough to make it down to the Caribbean, you can instead hum this song at your desk and annoy everyone around you. Kokomo is supposedly a poolside tiki bar in the Florida Keys (or just totally fictional), but you could always go instead to the lovely town of Kokomo, Ind., if that’s all your summer vacation time allows.

  5. “Summer in the City”

    Hot town, summer in the city,
    Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.
    Been down, isn’t it a pity?
    Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city.

    If you need an anthem to celebrate summer nights (besides Grease‘s “Summer Nights,” another contender for this list), this Lovin’ Spoonful diddy is your go-to track for the next few months. And if you live anywhere in the South or in a big city where you have to walk everywhere, you can definitely relate to the feeling of walking around half dead, hotter than a match head during the day. Once the sun goes down and you find some relief, crank this song up and enjoy the cooler temperatures while they last.

  6. “School’s Out”

    School’s out for summer.
    School’s out forever.
    School’s been blown to pieces.

    Come on. You can’t tell us you didn’t sing this song every year growing up when summer came around. Not as sugary-sweet as some of these other catchy tunes, this song might cleanse your palette a little if Alice Cooper is more your style than Carly Rae Jepsen. It’s perfect for recalling those days when you couldn’t wait to be rid of your teachers and will bring back that good ol’ summer feeling no matter what age you are.

  7. “California Gurls”

    California girls, we’re unforgettable.
    Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top.
    Sun-kissed skin, so hot,
    we’ll melt your popsicle.

    Are girls in California really that much better? The Beach Boys and Katy Perry seem to think so. This 2010 hit was blasted from radios across the country and we’re betting it got stuck in your head more than once. Even if you’re not from California (or even a girl!), take this opportunity to put on your Daisy Dukes and bikinis, and hang out poolside with this tune blaring.

  8. “Baby Got Back”

    I like big butts and I cannot lie.
    You other brothers can’t deny,
    when a girl walks in with an itty-bitty waist and a round thing in your face…

    Everybody’s favorite 1992 summer hit, Sir Mix-a-lot’s song made it OK to like big butts. You may have different taste in women than the rapper, but when you hear this song, you can’t help but think about the 5’3″ girl with 36″-24″-36″ measurements. Learn all the words and this could be your new summer karaoke song!

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How Social Media is Changing Education For the Better

Social media is a pervasive part of our lives. It’s everywhere. It has shrunk the world, replacing traditional, less efficient means of communication. It has changed marketing and the way companies do business. In fact, if you’re a business that doesn’t utilize social media, then you’re not maximizing your business’s promotional potential.

Many educators have a similar view of social media. To them, the debate as to whether it belongs in the classroom is tired. You can either adapt, or you can languish in the past with outdated methods. This pertains not only to leveraging social media to improve the classroom experience, but also to developing students’ social media skills. If advertising, marketing, and public relations majors aren’t learning how to integrate social media into their disciplines, then they can forget about landing or maintaining a job after they graduate.

As with any type of change, there’s resistance because fear of the unknown. In many cases, that fear is justified, and educators are still working to figure out the most efficient ways to make use of social media. Those who are adamantly opposed to adopting it fail to see how it enhances the learning process. However, by looking at it from a larger scale, in the context of traditional learning, they can better understand how it actually makes things easier.

The Value of Social Learning

The ways in which we learn are constantly changing, as new theories are brought forth, tested, and implemented. But social constructivism is nothing new. Attributed to Lev Vygotsky, a Russian social psychologist from the early 20th century, it posits that people create meaning through experience. In the context of modern education, teachers utilize social constructivism by encouraging their students to grasp main ideas through participatory learning.

Numerous studies have shown that participatory learning is a valuable tool, and that has been reflected for years in the classroom with the use of in-class discussions. One recent study, Classroom Climate, Rigorous Instruction and Curriculum, and Students’ Interactions in Urban Middle Schools, suggests that participatory learning increases student motivation and improves collaborative skills. The exchange of ideas in group settings allows students to gain new perspectives, insight into new ways of thinking, and learn how to express their own ideas. This enables students to compare and contrast their ways of thinking while gaining a deeper understanding of a topic.

Remember gathering in a circle with your classmates to discuss a classic piece of literature in high school English? If you actually read the book, then there wasn’t a better way to understand the main points the author was attempting to put across, even if the first two or three minutes were spent merely trying to get the discussion off the ground. And it was more intellectually stimulating and fun than merely writing an essay or filling out a worksheet.

The indirect outcome of participatory learning is that students feel a closer connection to their teachers, who, by giving their students the platform to express their opinions and learn aloud, demonstrate that they value what their students’ think. Students who feel their teacher genuinely cares are more likely to perform better for that teacher. Facilitating and presiding over discussions gives teachers a hands-on means to influence the learning process while nurturing their students in an authoritative yet lighthearted manner.

Implementing Social Media to Enhance Social Learning

A study conducted in 2011 by researchers in China and Hong Kong, The Impact of Online Social Networking on Learning: a Social Integration Perspective, affirms that social media reinforce traditional social learning principles. The team discussed with students how those students were using Facebook in an educational context. The students revealed that the tool enabled them to connect with teachers and fellow students, share knowledge and ideas by participating in discussions, and use applications to organize and facilitate their learning.

The primary advantage of implementing social media in the classroom, whether it’s at the high school level or the college level, is that it encourages learning and collaboration outside the classroom. As any teacher will tell you, the learning process doesn’t end after an hour in the classroom (which is why they’ve been assigning homework for as long as schools have existed), and it’s a constant challenge for them to keep students engaged.

For the students whose appetite for learning is never satiated, teachers can tap into their free time by sharing lesson plans and additional learning resources on Twitter or Facebook. Teachers can feed their curiosity by building an environment in which students can share notes, YouTube videos, and online resources to supplement a lesson and enhance the learning experience.

Rosie Miles, a senior lecturer in English at the University of Wolverhampton, recently wrote an article for The Guardian in which she described how she uses Twitter to her advantage with blended learning. Her goal is to extend the study of a topic “into areas of reflection and research not possible within the constraints of a seminar discussion.”

In one instance, she facilitated a roleplaying game on the social networking site in which each of her 30 students acted as a character in Charles Dickens’s novel Bleak House and debated the motion “This house believes the law is an ass.” They each selected a Twitter name for their character, logged into a Twitter session, used a Virtual Leaning Environment (VLE) discussion forum, and composed messages, in character, of 140 words or fewer.

The result: a vigorous discussion comprised of more than 400 Tweets. The students were motivated to read the novel carefully to gain a thorough understanding of their characters. Miles points out that doing it online enabled them to act out with fewer inhibitions than they would have during an in-class reenactment. With her teaching strategy, Miles says that she gets “100% participation, much of it enthusiastic.”

Of course, how social media is leveraged to the advantage of the teacher, particularly in class, depends entirely on his or her creativity. These days, it’s not uncommon for group projects to be posted to YouTube and watched and critiqued in class. Some professors take class discussions to Facebook (as opposed to Twitter or discussion boards), attaching a face (profile picture) and personality (profile) to the students’ opinions; that way, they feel more compelled to back their assertions with spirit. In turn, the discussion is carried into class the next day, already off the ground.

Common Concerns About Social Media in the Classroom

Forward-thinking educators realize that the current generation of students knows only a world with the presence of the internet. For a large portion of high school students, social media has been around for half their lives. They’re dependent on it. So why not use it to their advantage educationally? However, to teachers who subscribe to more traditional methods, or perhaps those who are just more cautious, social media is little more than a distraction.

Because federal regulations restrict certain websites in schools as a provision of the agreement to wire the schools, some teachers cannot view social networking sites in class. This not only prevents teachers from using sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to supplement and expand their in-class lesson plans, but it also prevents them from preparing material on those sites for outside of class – at least until they leave the building. The thinking behind this corresponds with the thinking of any teacher who has yet to, by choice, use a social networking site in their class – the danger of losing control.

Imagine a lewd comment that anonymously shows up on an instructional YouTube video used in class for a project, or a discussion on Facebook that was intended to facilitate an in-class discussion the next day takes a turn toward the absurd, veering completely off course. These scenarios aren’t inconceivable. Remember, you’re dealing with a collection of 17-year-old kids. Cyberbullying and disrespectfulness to the teacher, usurping his or her authority, are realistic pitfalls and should certainly be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, when things are kept offline and entirely in class, the teacher is always present to steer it.

In 2010, Facebook addressed this problem by joining forces with the National PTA in an effort to ensure “each child, parent and teacher will have the knowledge and tools they need to harness the power of the Internet effectively – and safely,” according to National PTA President Charles Saylors. Facebook subsequently introduced a Facebook in Education page “for information about how educators can best use Facebook.” It has generated positive response, boasting 519,000 Likes and 3,486 discussions.

These sites will continue to evolve as different demands are placed upon them. Their new responsibility to foster safe and efficient learning environments is an opportunity for them to attract and maintain users long-term. It makes business sense for them to take it seriously. In the meantime, it will be the job of educators to decide whether or not the risks justify the benefits of social media in the classroom.

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