About Sarah Gilbert
Posts by Sarah Gilbert:
A Year in the Life of a First Year Teacher (aka My “Normal”)
By Jason Jue
Having been a parent for over a decade now, I have gained a bit of perspective on what the word “normal” means. I had always thought the way that I grew up was “normal”. Mother in college. Living in student family housing. Growing up in a small suburban town with only one middle school and one high school, surrounded by much larger and more urban environments. What I came to realize as a parent, though, is that every child has its own sense of what a “normal” upbringing is. My kids grow up in a much more affluent, larger, and safer suburban area. My “normal” was freeze tag, Sunday morning cartoons on channel 2, and memorizing my friends’ home phone numbers. Their “normal” is cell phones, social media, and television channels devoted to cartoons, Disney, cooking, and sports. Their “normal” is much different that mine.
So it should not have been surprising that my first year teaching would be much different than what other teachers might consider “normal”. It all started with the interview process. While my initial phone interview wasn’t extremely out of the ordinary, the second interview definitely was. Having asked what the next step in the process was, I came to find out that the second interview was actually teaching a class at Orion. I was a bit taken aback by the prospect of being thrown into the fire, so to speak. However, this is now my “normal”.
Having been lucky enough to receive and accept an offer to work at Orion, my “normal” would only be starting. As I attended my first two days of teacher training, I began to see how knowledgeable and dedicated the staff here is. Not only in regards to their areas of study, but in particular in their understanding of the student body. Each one of these wonderful people had insight and perspective and stories about every single student here. And that, as much as anything, showed me just how much these teachers cared about the education and lives of each and every student. This became the “normal” to which would aspire.
As the year progressed and I learned more about what it meant to be part of the Orion community, I began to become familiar with the strategies involved in being a teacher here. Along with the specific rules and interventions we utilize, I also began to experience the student growth opportunities provided that would not generally be available at other schools. Now my “normal” includes things like pumpkin carving and scarecrows building in homeroom, personal projects and community meetings, homeroom mixers and lunchtime clubs, performances and team building, Orion Day, State of the School, and Bigger and Better. And this is the “normal” our students get that many, many students in other situations do not.
And now, with my first year at Orion and my first year ever teaching coming to an end, I find myself thinking more and more about what it means to have a “normal” teaching experience. Teachers from elementary to high school, from public schools to charter schools to private schools all have their own idea of what “normal” is. A year ago, I had no real sense of it. And maybe what I have now is not what most, or even any, teachers would call “normal”, but that is ok.
I truly believe that, as I raise my own children, and as I mentor these wonderful young people at Orion, that each and every one of their sense of “normal” is also ok. Who is to say what “normal” is for another person? And who is to say that any sort of “normal” is good or bad? What makes any person’s “normal” any better than someone else’s? Whatever it means, though, in my life, in my family, and in my career, I must say that I am very happy with my “normal”. And I sincerely hope that I have been able to add a little wisdom and happiness to the “normal” of the people I have encountered this first year at Orion.
Is Video Game Music the Key to Improving Concentration?
by Sarah Gilbert
Students at Orion use a variety of approved alert strategies to manage stress and anxiety levels while stimulating productivity in the classroom. One of the most widely used and underdeveloped strategies is the use of music and noise to increase concentration and focus, and elevate mood. With permission, students use their headphones and earbuds to block out distracting noise around them and choose their own playlists and soundtracks while working independently. No teacher at Orion would disagree with the benefits of noise cancelling tools, but most would argue that the specific choice of music type is an equally important aspect.
In 1993, a study was conducted to investigate the effect of listening to music on spatial reasoning, speed of processing, and creative problem solving. Popularized by misinterpretation and a Georgia governor, the public was told listening to Mozart’s music would increase their IQ and mental functioning. Baby Mozart products of the mid-1990s claimed to improve listening disorders, dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and other physical and mental disorders. In 2006, research focused on the effects of types of music by beat count on specific tasks. Dr. Emma Gray1 concluded music in the 50 to 80 beats per minute range has a calming effect on the mind that is conducive to logical thought, allowing the brain to learn and remember new facts. Her research also encourages the use of familiar songs, stating known music is predictable and requires less focus when listening. These positive effects are greatly reduced with the addition of lyrics or “intelligible speech,” as studied by one Finnish group of researchers2. They found a decrease in performance in 48% of their subjects, compared to those participants listening to “masked speech” or continuous noise.
Most recently, conversations have shifted to the benefits of an unexpected genre of music – Video Game Soundtracks. Video game music is specifically designed to provide ambience while you concentrate on the task at hand. Intentionally meant to be background music, the genre of music is designed to keep players engaged in the game without becoming distracting. This genre has the unique characteristic of being progressive and positive in nature, corresponding to the achievements earned and advancement in the actual gameplay. When we translate this to school performance, it can yield similar results: an increase in focus, a level up in productivity, and a decrease in distractions. Gaming music fits all the metrics researched for optimum work sounds without becoming repetitive or boring. Best of all, there is a whole world of vintage video game soundtracks and daily uploads of user’s remixed versions to explore. The next time you or your student are creating a playlist for work or studying, consider exploring the familiar and nostalgic soundtracks of Skyrim, Legend of Zelda, or Assassin’s Creed. 1 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Emma Gray, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at The British CBT & Counseling Service in London 2 Venetjoki, N. “The effect of speech and speech intelligibility on task performance.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2006.
Dystopian Visions in the Classroom
By Emil Heiple
As a Literature enthusiast, teacher, and education specialist who’s worked for many years with young people on the autism spectrum, one of the greatest challenges for my students is pulling forth real-world issues and lessons from overtly fictional works of Literature. When creating pedagogical inquiries, the great philosopher, Socrates, named a type of question after this task- that is the “World Connect Question.” For students, like so many at Orion, who tend to close themselves off from the outside world, it is obvious why struggles might occur when they’re asked to identify real world situations that mirror those in a work of fiction. Especially when the text is fantastical or imaginative.
Seminar course this term moves deeper in to exploring the “World Connect” question. The class, “Brave New Worlds: Finding Truth in Dystopian Visions,” will focus on Utopian and Dystopian ideas and societies found in prominent short fictional works. After reading and discussing fiction, students will ask Socrates’ great question by addressing themes and critiques of society and inquiring about how those relate to current or historical events. The student texts will be a cross over of fictional stories and non-fiction articles. For example, students will read a Ray Bradbury’s short story, “There Will be Soft Rains,” about a house that serves as a tool controlled by Artificial Intelligence that, after the end of civilization, is left alone and rendered obsolete in a world without any humans to serve. After reading and discussing, we will then dive into multiple research articles examining the practicality of Bradbury’s premonition in the way AI is being developed, used and measured in today’s society. Another text the class will analyze is Ursula LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” which paints a portrait of a perfect society whose success is based solely on the suffering of one child. Students will take a stand on the concurrent theme and work to identify similar injustices such as third world oppression and sweatshop labor. Later in the term, students will begin to take more onus and search on their own for articles and information that reflect the theme of other stories, sharing their findings with the class, and eventually determining the legitimacy of the author’s dystopian vision.
Three guest lecturers will visit the class this term: a Literature and Rhetoric adjunct professor from USF, a science- fiction author, and a community mediator. The first two may be fairly obvious choices according to the description you’ve read above, but the third needs some explanation. Another of the Bradbury stories we’ll read entitled, “All Summer in a Day,” takes place in a classroom on Mars where the children are elated in anticipation to finally see the sun come out. They’ve been waiting for a whole year, but the new girl in school, who arrived on Mars from earth only 2 years ago, is ostracized and bullied by her classmates, who lock her in a closet causing her to miss this event. Here students will focus on bullying as the real world connection, thus the speaker from the mediation center plans to lead students through a training in Restorative Justice, a new popular alternative to traditional punishment for bullies. Instead of expulsion, many schools across the Bay Area (and the US at large) are using a community accountability model to restore peace after someone is harmed. I am excited for this lecturer to bring to light the Utopian ideal of “why can’t we all just get along?” from a very dark and serious real- world/ dystopian issue. Not to mention that students will be able to personally connect to this exercise, as many are interested in justice in schools and curbing bullying.
Dystopian literature is engaging to young adults (and the adult adults) for many reasons. For one, the truth of the world around us is dynamic, and so interesting literature must reflect that. It appeals directly to many students at Orion who are acute (and sometimes overly) critical thinkers, because the stories identify a disaster followed by the conflict that occurs in a very basic “Manichean” sense. Everything is not rosy in Dystopia. In today’s world the line between good and evil is much more obscure and thus it fits perfectly with the general design of the dystopian story.
In my Seminar course, students will be tasked with closing the gap between fiction and reality when analyzing assigned texts. They will lead discussions, exploring themes in dystopian texts, drawing comparisons to current events and the author’s vision. Such an exercise in identifying “gestalt” will no doubt challenge Orion students, honing their abilities to come to a more cohesive conclusion, and pushing them in new directions. This term students will take on more responsibility in leading discussions and two students per class will essentially “take over” and run the discussion using the questions they have created as well as soliciting questions from other students. At the end of the term, as a culminating experience students will be asked to create their own dystopian view of society and present their creation to the class. Who knows, maybe one will become the next bestseller, blockbuster, or bring to light a pressing societal concern?