Summer Homework: Had Me a Blast

One of my favorite teachers of all time wrote a blog post this weekend questioning the effectiveness of assigning summer homework and it was amazing.  I suggest you all read it on his blog, The Readiness is All.  At the end, he asks readers to share their thoughts in a comment or blog post response.  In the beginning I was going to just leave a short comment and be on my way, but then I realized I had a lot more to say on the subject then would be courteous to leave in a comment.  So here I am, blogging about summer homework, two-week into school.  You would think my opinions would have died down after being in school for two weeks, but nope, I’m still really passionate in my displeasure about summer homework.

To start off, I have had summer homework in at least one class for the past three years.  This past summer was amazing because college doesn’t have required summer homework(that I know of.  Oh gosh, what if they do? Oh no.) and it was amazing.  It was sharply contrasted by my sister’s summer in which she had three books to read for freshman honors english.  Some might argue that the books weren’t super long or hard to read, but that isn’t the point.

The point is that she read all three books diligently and did not wait until the last-minute, but as the first day of school crept closer and closer, she got more and more stressed out.  Talk about nerve-racking! Imagine starting a new school for the first time, one where everyone is bigger than you and there are a bazillion people everywhere.  The stress of six new teachers, finding your classes, having somewhere to eat lunch, being able to find one’s friends in the sea of people, opening one’s locker…the list of stressors goes on and on. Then add the stress of an impending test and multiple essays to be done in class within the first week of school. Poor freshman, I did not want to be in her shoes.

The day before school started for her, I received probably 15 texts, 3 phone calls, and one long FaceTime call in which she was in tears, stressed about the test and essays.  She was so nervous that she would fail and her teacher would think she was stupid and a failure, and even worse, have him think she didn’t even read the book.  She had no idea what to expect except the teachers had given a list of nine essay prompts and said, “Be prepared to answer three of these in class on the first day of school.”  I counseled her and told her that it would be extremely rare for a teacher(especially of freshman) to give a test on the first day because people are getting lost, coming in late, finding their assigned seat, etc.  It just doesn’t work to give a test within those first fifty-six minutes.  She still wanted to be prepared, so she set to writing an essay answering each of the prompts.  She wrote three essays before I was able to convince her that if she felt that she needed to write the essays, to just write bullet points.  She was so stressed.

I know teachers don’t sit around all summer thinking up new ways to torture their students(if they do, that’s a bigger problem than one of summer homework).  So I would like to think that if they knew what summer homework put their students through, they might think twice about assigning it.  Now I know, the reason summer homework is assigned is so that the class can hit the ground running and cover more material in the course of the year.  There has only been ONE class that I have found this statement even partially true and the summer homework necessary.  That class was AP Biology.

In AP Bio, we had four chapters to go over and do activities for on our own over the summer.  It was all review from regular biology, which was a prerequisite so everyone completing the summer homework had taken it, AND we went over it all in class, so if anyone had questions they could get them answered.  The only reason summer homework was assigned in the first place was that the AP test requires so much material to be covered, that one must start in the summer, just to have the time to cover all the required material adequately.  Which is a whole other problem in itself. Why design a test in which all material cannot be covered within the school year?  Oh well, that will have to be a completely separate blog post. The summer homework is justified in the extremely high pass rate that our school has on the AP Biology test.

What I don’t understand is assigned reading for English classes.  And not to bash on the English department at my school; I enjoyed every English class I was in, but I still don’t understand the purpose of the summer reading homework they assign.  I can only come up with two plausible reasons as to why summer reading homework would be assigned.

Reason One: The teachers want to scare of the faint of heart(in an academic sense).  They don’t want to deal with students who don’t want to do the level of work required of a higher level English course. I don’t blame them.  There have been many a time when I have been in class frustrated because some of my classmates did not want to put in the effort and work required of the class, thus unfortunately sometimes bringing the entire class down. I love being in a class with all academic thinking students just as much as a teacher like teaching one.  When everyone is participating and putting something into the class, it transforms the class; discussions flow freely, group projects are no longer a pain, and the positives can go on forever.  But I’m not so sure that assigned summer reading is going to solve that problem.

In fact, in assigning summer reading, one is more likely to scare away those students who are on the fence between excelling in a regular level English class and being challenged in an honors or AP class.  You won’t scare away the students who are forced by their parents to take the upper level course, just to get into a “good college”.  They will just read Sparknotes and take whatever grade they get on the first tests, because they don’t really care.  You won’t scare away those kids that are naturally smart, but have no desire to put any effort into the course. All who get scared away are the timid ones, those unsure about their academic strength, but willing to put in the effort to get to that next level if needed.

Reason Two: Summer reading is important because it helps classes to cover more books in a year, which ultimately helps students on the AP Literature test as they will have more books to choose from when they are writing their free response essays.  I’m pretty sure no teacher can wholeheartedly say this and believe it one hundred percent.  No student in May of their senior year is going to recall a book they read over the summer before freshman year enough to write a fully developed essay on it.  For one, it is highly likely that after reading that book over the summer, they took a test on it and never discussed it again.  Which ultimately won’t help them on the AP test, because on the test one is required to examine the book on a deeper level than just knowing what the book was about.  Class discussion of a book help set those themes in stone in a student’s mind, so that they can, hopefully, recall them when necessary.  Also, speaking solely from my personal experience taking the AP Literature test; you read enough of a variety of books senior year that you can answer just about any prompt and relate it to one of the books read that year quite easily.

There are some many things students can do during the summer that would be way more worthwhile and thought-provoking than summer homework.  I could list them out, but I think you get the picture.  (If you need an idea of what I’m talking about, check out my previous blog post about what I did this summer!)

Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!
Just an example of one of the great things students could be doing instead of summer homework-enjoying the sunset!

In conclusion, I am going to echo the wise question of Mr. Theriault; why is summer homework still being assigned?  If you have an answer, or see a reason for keeping it that I haven’t thought of, feel free to comment below!

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Endless Summer Photos

As I was procrastinating on sleep on Wednesday night and mindlessly spending time on my phone, I happened to start scrolling through the all the pictures I had taken this summer.  And I thought to myself, “Wow, I had such a great summer and took some awesome photos too!”   I had what I believe to be a great idea and decided to write  summer highlight review blog with all the cool pictures I took!  Without further adieu, here it is. Summer 2014.

Well, this is embarrassing. I didn't take this photo. It is way better than the selfies I took at graduation and I figured since I technically left off blogging at the beginning of summer with graduation, I should pick up where I left off. Graduation was great, it was a little long and hot, and I was just getting over being sick, but it was nice for it finally to happen!
Well, this is embarrassing. I didn’t take this photo. It is way better than the selfies I took at graduation(look you can see my phone in my hand, proof that I was taking selfies) and I figured since I technically left off blogging at the beginning of summer with graduation, I should pick up where I left off. Graduation was great, it was a little long and hot, and I was just getting over being sick, but it was nice for it finally to happen!
A week after graduation and a few days after my sister got out of school, my family and I embarked on a three week long camping trip.  This photo was taken in Bozeman, Montana, after two very long days of driving.
A week after graduation and a few days after my sister got out of school, my family and I embarked on a three-week long camping trip. This photo was taken in Bozeman, Montana, after two very long days of driving.
My dad and I went fly fishing one evening, just outside of Bozeman, didn't catch anything but spent sometime along a river that was bordered by beautiful farmhouses and pastureland!  This was one of the farms that we passed by and to me it looked like something out of a fairy tale.
My dad and I went fly fishing one evening, just outside of Bozeman, didn’t catch anything but spent sometime along a river that bordered beautiful farmhouses and pastureland! This was one of the farms that we passed by and to me it looked like something out of a fairy tale.

 

From Bozeman we went onto camp in Glacier National Park.  We were joined by our good family friends and they continued on the rest of the trip with us.  We went on a hike to Avalanche Lake on the only sunny day we experienced, and it was gorgeous. The lake is Glacier fed, surrounded by mountains, and so serene. My sister and I loved the numerous photo opportunities that the hike presented; around every bend was a new view to be captured!
From Bozeman we went on to camp in Glacier National Park. We were joined by our good family friends and they continued on the rest of the trip with us. We went on a hike to Avalanche Lake on the only sunny day we experienced, and it was gorgeous. The lake is Glacier fed, surrounded by mountains, and so serene. My sister and I loved the numerous photo opportunities that the hike presented; around every bend was a new view to be captured!
This is one of my favorite moments of our entire trip.  We found some old man's beard, and all decided to have beards.  A family that beards together, stays together.  :)  I couldn't help but make a collage with the best of all the funny pictures we took.  Old man's beard for the win.
This is one of my favorite moments of our entire trip. We found some old man’s beard, and all decided to have beards. A family that beards together, stays together. :) I couldn’t help but make a collage with the best of all the funny pictures we took. Old man’s beard for the win.
The best part about this picture is that when we were driving into the national park, the ranger asked my dad, "So you're bringing your dogs to the park?" totally not knowing that what he had mistaken for dogs in the backseat was really my sister and I.  In his defense, the windows were super muddy so I'm sure he couldn't see much.  But you know you are having a great hair day when the park ranger mistakes you for a dog. :)
The best part about this picture is that when we were driving into the national park, the ranger asked my dad, “So you’re bringing your dogs to the park?” totally not knowing that what he had mistaken for dogs in the backseat was really my sister and I. In his defense, the windows were super muddy so I’m sure he couldn’t see much. But you know you are having a great hair day when the park ranger mistakes you for a dog. :)

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This is my favorite place in Yellowstone. It is called Grand Prismatic Springs and it is amazing. The colors in this picture are 100% real, I have not altered it at all. If you go to Yellowstone, you must see this.

 

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We got home, after what seemed like a joyous eternity, and I spent many a morning running on the beach, soaking up the sand and sun before I moved up to college!

 

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Sunset on the Puget Sound, on Labor Day evening and my last day of summer.
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Point Defiance deserves way more pictures than just this one of the dahlia garden, but this post is already way to long, and I will post more about adventures at Point Defiance later.
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As part of orientation, we got to go camping for three days about two hours away from the school! I was in the overnight canoeing group, and except for the fact that it was super cold and rainy most of the time, it was a really cool experience! Unfortunately, it also deserves a whole other post devoted to it, so I will leave my description at that.
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Since day one of Kindergarten, I have taken a First Day of School picture on every first day of school. So of course I had to follow tradition and take one on my first day of college! :)

Sorry for the terribly long post! I hope you enjoyed the photographic recap of where I have been all summer and can see why my blog has been neglected! Since the first day of school, I have done homework, been sick, studied, bought my own groceries, made some friends, baked and cooked a little, and done laundry; all super normal everyday life things. But now, you are officially caught up on the major highlights of my life since I last blogged about it in June.

College, Black Beans, and Brownies

People always said, “Oh yeah, once you are in college, you will miss having a home cooked meal every night.”  And the true meaning of this statement never sank in until I was actually in college.  I have eaten cafeteria food for a little less than a month, and I cannot wait to go home and eat my parents cooking.  Not that our cafeteria food is bad, it just isn’t the food I’m used to. For all my UC school friends that still have another three weeks of summer, savor every bite of home cooked food.  Appreciate it in its entirety.  You will miss it.

I was assigned to live in a room with three other girls.  I was very unsure of how it was going to turn out because living in a cramped space with complete strangers for nine months could go many ways.  Then, the week before I left to go to school, one of my roommates emailed us and informed us that she toured the room and we have a full kitchen and bath in our room.  Um, excuse me?  What?  How is this possible?  As it turns out, we were randomly assigned to the Resident Director’s apartment that was converted into a student dorm.  We basically won the entire housing lottery.  It has been such a blessing to have a kitchen and be able to make my own food once in a while.  The truth is that I wish I could make every meal for myself and not even have a meal plan.  But alas, since I’m living on campus, I must have a meal plan and I should use it or it would be a huge waste of money.

Anyway, I have made eggs, chocolate chip banana pancakes, two batches of chocolate chip cookies, toast, and as of an hour ago, black bean vegan brownies.  I even sent some cookies home to my mom and sister, because my sister made a comment over the phone that she and my mom were down to their last homemade cookie after sending me so many in a care package and how it was too hot to even think of turning on the oven to make more.  So I sent them some dorm-made cookies because I wanted to repay the care package favor.  Because really, no one should be without homemade cookies for too long, especially after school has just started.  That cookie in your lunch very well could be the highlight of your day some days. (Sadly, this is the case once or twice in life; you have bad days that require a cookie to make it better.)  I learned to check with the person who ships your package as to how long it will take for it to arrive, because once they got back home, they were a little crumbly and drier than expected.  It’s the thought that counts, right?

Anyway, tonight I made plans with a friend(yes, I made a friend. Can you believe it?) to try out this new vegan recipe I found on Buzzfeed.  We had no idea how it was going to turn out, but after being sick all weekend and therefore doing nothing but homework and sleeping, I had a little free time tonight to try it out.

The verdict is that they are super fudgy, rich, and dense, and completely and unexpectedly good.  When I heard they had black beans in them I was a skeptic, but these are definitely brownies I would make again.

 

I stole this picture from Farmgirl Gourmet (link at the bottom of this post). It was way better than any picture I could have taken. But mine did turn out looking like this. :)
I stole this picture from Farmgirl Gourmet (link at the bottom of this post). It is way better than any picture I could have taken.  Props to her for this excellent piece of food art. :)

 

Here is the recipe that I got from Farmgirl Gourmet, and then tweaked to fit the ingredients I had in my dorm:

 

Dark Chocolate Vegan Brownies

Ingredients

1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and filled with new water

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder (I used regular unsweetened cocoa powder, because it was cheaper)

4 tsp instant coffee powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup of water (the original recipe calls for Guinness beer, but seeing as I am underage, that wasn’t going to happen)

3/4 cup chocolate chips (or nuts, if you so desire)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Drain the can of black beans into a colander, rinse the can clean and the beans until all bean juice is gone.  Pour the cleaned beans back in the can and fill the can back up to the top with fresh water.
  3. Puree the beans and water in the blender and set it aside.
  4. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and instant coffee powder. Mix together.  Make a well in the center to pour your liquids into.
  5. Pour bean purée, water, and vanilla into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix together, being careful not to overmix.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips or nuts and pour into a greased 9 by 13 pan.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes and rotate the pan halfway through.
  8. Let cool and enjoy! :)


Note: Depending on whether you like coffee or not, I would adjust the amount of instant coffee powder.  The four teaspoons definitely makes it so you can taste the coffee-ness but not in a bad way.  I don’t drink or enjoy coffee, but I loved the extra layer of flavor it gave the brownies and it complimented the chocolate very nicely(as expected). Also, I haven’t tried it with beer yet, but I am curious as to how it tastes, so when I get home I will be trying it again, this time with the beer.  Lastly, I am not vegan, so I didn’t worry about using butter to grease the pan, so if you are vegan use canola oil or cooking spray.

PS Don’t worry, I promise I have made more than one friend.  I mean, who doesn’t want a friend who will bake them yummy goodies all the time? :)

Click here to see the original recipe!