3 Disturbing Trends of Summer Homework

A funny pic about summer homeworkFor those of you unaware, there is such a thing as homework over the summer. I doubt that’s news to you. Even if you didn’t get any, I’m sure your peers did, and, if your peers are anything like my peers—which they should be, since I’m using peers informally to mean “the teenage population of the entire world”—you heard about it via social media.

Perhaps it was a status update that said, “Too weak to pick up this novel, even tho the main character is also named Derek. Somebody pls jump start my motivation,” or a tweet reading, “Ugh reports to do, but there’s sun. #CanYouSpellSummerYeah! #summer #sumer #summar #NoSrslyHowDoYouSpellSummer. Btw just hooked up jumper cables and shocked Derek into motivation. I think. #orHesInAComa”; either way, I’m sure your friends made it all too clear.

See, summer homework is perhaps the silliest type of homework, mostly because of its name, “summer homework,” which implies that it’s homework you’ll do over the summer. As anyone who has summer homework can tell you, that’s simply not true.

Most summer homework is completed on the last day of school, before you melt into a summer blob of sleep and food and it becomes too much effort to even open both eyes at once, or in the wee hours of the morning before the first day of school, when it is also very hard to keep both eyes open at once.

Now, my fellow peers, this used to be fine. After all, you know what they say: “It’s all fun and games when someone loses an eye.” Used to be fine, that is. But there have been some very disturbing trends in the field of summer homework.

Technology

We all know technology is great; without it we wouldn’t be able to do things like text friends, Facebook message friends, tweet friends, Instagram friends, maps friends, iBooks friends, Safari friends, or socialize using of any of the other phone apps you may have.

The problem with technology arises when teachers get their hands on it. History has shown us countless examples of why this is terrible for students:

  • June 28th, 1914: Ms. Smith, on vacation in Bosnia, accidentally confuses her new camera with a bystander’s pistol, and, trying to get a “good shot” of the parade to take back to her history class and lecture about primary source documents, accidentally shoots Archduke Franz Ferdinand, plunging the world into war. This war will later become the focus of thousands of future homework assignments.

  • December 3rd, 1997: Mr. Phillips, trying to connect his “Ethernet” to the “Internet” using a “Butterflynet,” catches fire from the electrical charge. He stops, drops, and rolls down the hall, trailing flames and catching the beautiful wood lockers on fire, causing $400,000 in damages. The FDA, reacting to the damages, requires that schools now use ugly metal lockers, ignoring the fact that they often jam, pinch fingers, or dent.

  • December 31st, 1999: Scared that Y2K bug might pester her students during upcoming midterms, Mrs. Johnson covers her classroom in concentrated DEET, creating a need for her students to take midterms in gas masks and rubber gloves.

  • April 14th, 2002: Mr. Arnolds learns about educational DVDs, and never teaches or gives a lecture again. In an attempt to avoid death by boredom, his students start playing “fantasy backdrops,” tracking and placing bets on the appearances of specific bookshelves, books, and plants that appear behind the interviewees.

  • February 17th, 2012: Although she has the flu, Mrs. Davidson has her unprepared students present anyways, grading from the back via FaceTime.

Maybe you found those examples funny, but I can tell you that I certainly didn’t. I’m not exaggerating here—there’s a teacher who’s reading this, right now, and thinking “Huh, I need to go to the store and pick me up some DVDs and FaceTime, whatever aisle they keep that in.”

Actually, the problem is that most teachers know how to use technology, including FaceTime. And this is ruinous to the normal completion of summer homework. Nowadays, you can’t just wait until summer is over to do your homework; thanks to the internet, teachers can make you do it by whenever they say.

History essay? Email it in by August 1st. English discussion? Use an online forum that closes two weeks before school starts. Group biology report? If he wanted to, your teacher could literally get on Google docs and follow your cursor, making comments like “can you type any faster?!?!” or “missed a comma there, and there, and there, and three of them there, and one at the bottom, and two in that sentence, and one in the sentence you used the wrong ‘its’ in.” I would not be surprised if, sometime in the next few years, your teacher starts hologramming himself into your bedroom at 5 AM, shouting at you to “wake up, chop chop, you’ve slept long enough; you’ve got a 600 page novel I’d like read before you eat breakfast.”

Amount

Unfortunately, not only has summer homework slowly gained stricter deadlines, but it also has grown in quantity.

Four years ago, only the toughest AP classes (of which, if you’ve been following this blog for a long time, AP History of the Cheerio is one) carried summer work. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear about homework being assigned for study halls. Okay, actually, that’s still uncommon, but you know what I mean.

Where do you think the phrase “at least it’s not rocket science” came from? Rocket science was the only class with summer homework.

And, as it creeps ever closer to world domination, summer homework is assigned at younger and younger grades. Lend me your ears, peers, because the day incoming seventh graders have to write a 100-word essay about what they’re looking forward to about junior high school (for which there is only one word, “nothing,” because junior high is brutal) will be a dark day for our society.

Social Acceptance

Back in the booming 50’s, nothing was acceptable. Communism? No way. Music that’s faster than five beats per minute? Let me show you the door. Someone wearing a fedora with suspenders and crocs? It was legal to shoot them. So, you can imagine, summer homework was unheard of.

Even in the early 2000s, you could tell someone you had summer homework and they’d reply, “Homework? In the summer? That’s ridiculous! You know what I mean? Ludicrous! You get me? This is nonsensical! Understand? Outrageous! Hear me? That’s preposterous! It’s ludicrously preposterous! Know what I’m saying? It’s outrageously ridiculous! I’m outraged! I’m raging out! I cannot believe it.”

Nowadays, tell an adult you’ve got summer homework and they’ll just say, “Yeah, so? What else is new? Wait—don’t tell me, I want to guess. Next you’re going to complain about having that teacher/hologram wake you up at 5 AM every morning. Deal with it, kid. Consider yourself lucky. Back in my day we didn’t have holograms. Heck, we didn’t even have 5 AM.”

And this is why, just like fast music and fedora/suspenders/crocs combos, summer homework will slowly permeate all parts of our society.

But should we care? Summer homework isn’t nearly as bad as regular homework, which doesn’t even get a specific name because there’d be too many to keep track of (fall homework, winter homework, weekly homework, daily homework, due-six-months-later-just-to-keep-you-up-at-night homework, etc).

I say we should. Because when summer falls to homework, you’ll have to spring just to winter through it.

Yes, I’m back. I am so sorry to have left you post-less for two months. Stay tuned; an explanation is coming, and also a—well, you’ll just have to keep your eye on the blog.

In the meantime, you probably noticed Google’s feed reader shut down, and if you still haven’t replaced it and wanted to (so you can stay updated using this blog’s RSS feed), I recommend Feedly. If you think RSS stands for Really Scary Spiders, then just ignore that previous sentence. And don’t look up, just back away slowly.

Dominate Those Awful Art Project Assignments

Trifoldfunny“Okay, class. Now that we’ve finished our lecture on the physiology of a pygmy Chihuahua, I’m going to ask you all to make some sort of artistic representation of your favorite human organ system. It needs to be 3-D, and it also needs to be stunningly beautiful. Also, it is due in seven minutes.”

You think that’s funny? You’re sick. That’s not funny—that’s just true. True, as in teachers nowadays seem to think that assigning sculptures, posters, or other creative projects is a good idea. True, as in yes these projects are actually due the next day. And true, as in there is no such thing as a pygmy Chihuahua.

Now, what’s wrong with art projects, you ask?

Artistic Skill

Art projects are insanely skewed towards those with any sense of artistic skill. All it takes is one Leonardo Van Gogh in your class, and boom, every other project looks bad. Rather than think that your project is good, as it is no better or worse than the rest of the projects, your teacher assumes thatDa Vinci’s project is the only ‘A’ worthy project, and that the entire rest of the class deserves a ‘C’.

No Educational Benefit

Sure, you learned something in the lecture, or from your textbook. But unless you can explain to me exactly how cutting out six green-paper borders helped you learn about the electron and proton, I think it is safe to assume that when doing an art project, you learn absolutely nothing.

Actually, that’s not true; you learn just how hard it is to cut straight lines when you are running on three hours of sleep. Maybe that should become some sort of sobriety test:
“Excuse me, sir, but you were swerving across two lanes. Can you please cut me a rectangle from this piece of caution tape?” “Sure.” “Oooh, I’m sorry, sir, that’s a parallelogram. Your angles are 91 degrees and 89 degrees. You were close, though. But I think I’m going to have to take you back to the station.”

Wastes Resources

I think most everyone believes that global warming is real by now. I mean, thanks to changing weather patterns, hurricanes have recently hit cities like New York, D.C., and Denver. So, let’s think about it: why should you just turn in a one-page paper, when you can waste upwards of 65 pages mounting, re-mounting, sculpting, folding, cutting, collage-ing, and constructing an art project with the same information?

But It’s Not Hopeless

Sure, art projects are awful, but if you repress your inner artist and simply take steps to create what’s proven to get an ‘A,’ your grade nor sleep need not take the hit.

Mounting Papers

The easiest way to make any art poster or display board look impressive is to layer more paper. To do this, you’ll need a glue stick, paper, more paper, another glue stick—because the first one will have dried out before you can get your paper together—and some more paper. Pick three colors that don’t give you a headache when you look at them together, and just stack them in an overlapping style. After all, this is how they present stuff in the corporate world, I hear. No wonder so many large companies go bankrupt.

Accenting

Mounting provides a nice foundation, but accenting is where you truly illustrate: “Look at me! I either have too much spare time, or drank six gallons of coffee at 2 AM as I finished this! Or both! Yaaaaaay!”

As you can probably tell from that description, accenting is generally seen on girls’ posters/projects, but not those of guys. So, if you’re male, your accents need to be incredibly masculine. Mud, smushed bugs, or exposed rusty chain-link fence bits work well.

Materials

Even if it’s only a poster, and not a sculpture or painting, the quality of your materials matters—often, it will make up for your lack of artistic skill. If you spend at least $500 per square-inch of your project, you should probably be okay. Or, if you don’t have a few grand to drop on your homework and would rather save it for college—which is crazy, because I’m sure this art project will be way more important to your life—you can always just use crayon. Then, just explain that crayon is symbolic of [mumble this part] and your teacher will be very impressed.

Sabotage

In some rare cases, you just won’t be able to compete with your classmates’ projects; maybe one of them read this blog and was already a good artist. In that case, you need to resort to sabotage (Warning: if they too read this blog, you’ll probably want to build a concrete bunker in to keep your project safe while you carry out your espionage. And if they have a concrete bunker too, well, hey, failing and then repeating a class isn’t so bad).

Since you don’t want to get caught, you should resort to stealth. Maybe you leave a leaking water bottle next to their project. Heck, maybe you accidentally trip and fall on it (untie your shoelaces. If you don’t have shoelaces, get some and just sort of throw them up in the air as you fall, exclaiming “Oh, no, I tripped over my laces!” Hopefully, no one will notice that you were wearing sandals. In February.)

No one will ever tell you that we need more art projects in non-art classes. If they do, pinch someone: yourself first, to see if you’re dreaming, and, if you aren’t, then pinch them, to get them to go away before they can officially assign an art project. In the 97% of cases when that won’t work, though, at least now you know how to complete the art project better than Salvador Dali. When he was in high school, he just turned in dead plants.

If you think your project is still lacking, you might want to check out “How to Use Clip Art to Make Your Projects Better,” published this time last year. Unless you’re Bill Gates, in which case, don’t read that one.

How to Stretch Your 1 Page Essay to Fill 5 Pages

Just a sample for youTeachers are incredibly fond of assigning arbitrary lengths to their essay requirements. Generally, this is because the teacher has no idea what the essay should be about, so they figure if it is at least x pages, it must be deep. Unfortunately, this is why many of us have pulled all-nighters trying to “Analyze the fish motif in Dr. Seuss’ ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’” for twenty double-spaced pages.

Rarely, your paper will actually exceed the length requirement. Since “rarely,” in this case, means less often than the weatherman gets the weather right, you won’t be plagued by this problem. No, the real issue is expanding too-short papers by 25%, 50%, or even 5,000%.

Technical Stuff

Sure, your paper is supposed to be “double spaced.” But what does that actually mean? “Double what?” Well, lucky for you, the teacher probably didn’t specify 12pt as a space. Thus, you can simply expand your spacing by any number, as long as it is “double” something. Personally, I’d just pick up a double cheeseburger at your fast food obesity center of choice and make sure that it can fit easily between the lines of your paper.

Another lesser-known and subtler method is something called “font spacing.” On many computers, you can go to “format,” then “font,” then “character spacing,” then “space exploration,” and then “NASA Apollo missions.” Here, you can actually change the spaces between each letter. So, since your teacher wants the paper double spaced, just expand the font by a factor of 2. As a courtesy, you could pencil in dotted lines between each letter of the same word, but that’s going above and beyond.

Embellish Your Introduction

The introduction of any short paper is your friend. Really, all the teacher specifies is that the introduction should “draw the reader into the paper with an engaging hook.”

The first step is obviously to “draw” a very “engaging hook.” If you have Internet access, just Google something like “ornate fish hook” for inspiration. Again, if you like to go above and beyond, use media other than pencil, like charcoal, pastel, or glued-in-place broccoli sprouts.

After you’ve finished your drawing, which should really take up at least half a page, you start the written introduction. Many teachers appreciate and expect any essay to start with a quote, so make this as long as possible. That involves two things. Initially, find the longest quote possible. If a book was ever written that pertains to your essay, excerpt at least two chapters.

The other aspect of this is to make your context blurb as long as possible. Rather than writing “wrote Bob McBob, an expert on Dr. Seuss fishies,” write “elegantly stated Bob—last name McBob—in his book, ‘Dr. Seuss’ Influence on Marine Biology, Volume 2,’ (penned in the years 1843 and 1844, and copyrighted in 1845); Mr. McBob is a renowned expert in the many various multifarious varieties of the numerous plentiful fish present, illustrated, or implied in the fantastic children’s masterpieces of Dr. Seuss.”

The Conclusion

You’ve restated your thesis. You’ve listed your single body paragraph. And you’ve nobly attempted to explain why your essay matters. But compared to the rest of your over-spaced, adjectives-on-steroids paper, your conclusion looks like your teenage brain: underdeveloped, underperforming, and all-around generally useless.

The easiest part of the conclusion to improve is your final statement. You need to convey why the reader should care about your essay, and in doing so you can use a number of tactic straight out of modern advertising and politics.

Let’s say you’ve currently got something like: “Thus, we all have blue fish in our lives; the important thing is that we recognize them and use them to our advantage.” Sure, it makes sense, and you used a semi-colon for something other than a winky face, which always gets points with the teachers, but it’s not very compelling.

Instead, you might go with something like: “Wouldn’t you just love to drive a shiny new car with $0 owed for the first 95 years? Well, unless you act now, this country’s economy, values, morals, ethics, and smiling people will all be destroyed, forever. But don’t despair: you, too, can someday be as cool as a professional driver on a closed course in front of a green screen. So, recognize those blue fish in your life, and use them to your advantage.” Boom. If your reader doesn’t immediately drop your paper and start searching for blue-colored fish, it’s ‘cause they are stuck trying to figure out if their children would have to pay for the car, or only their grandchildren, not because your conclusion wasn’t compelling.

Whether you fool around with the spacing, beef up your introduction, or add emphasis to your conclusion, making that paper longer is simply not that hard. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish typing up the entire second act of “Macbeth” and transition/tie it into the effects of the transcontinental railroad.

If you’re not too concerned about those essays, you’re probably caught up with trying to understand just how you will survive for the next three months on less total sleep than you got the entire winter break. In that case, you might check out “3 Tips for Getting Enough Sleep to Survive Until the Next Long Break,” written for you at this time last year.

3 Small Joys of Reading Textbooks

A funny textbook page

Click to enlarge

I want to set the record straight: I am not saying that reading textbooks is fun. Most people would rather do something else that’s more fun, like getting a cavity drilled or walking into a glass door.

There are, however, small things that can make reading a textbook go from the ‘I feel like I’m bleeding to death through my brain’ level to the ‘I can’t feel my toes’ level. To any adults reading this, that may not sound like a big improvement, but I’ll ask you: have you ever bled to death? Just how in-touch with your inner toe are you?

Long Headings

Most of the time, your teachers will assign you a set number of pages to read for homework. Because teachers want to make the pages easy to remember, they’ll often pick some nice round numbers, like ‘10-30’ or ‘100-500.’

Thus, anything that takes up space that isn’t text is a huge relief, and headings do this well. Usually, and tragically, they are usually only one line (or the size of three lines of text).

In special cases, though, you’ll be blessed with a three-line heading, such as “The Confrontations, Reformations, Social Situations, Trade Negotiations, Revelations, Stations, Nations, Affirmations, Appalachians, and Sensations of January 15th, 1350, to January 16th, 1350.” Sure, you’ll go brain-dead reading the next section, but on the bright side, it took you only ten seconds to read what otherwise could have been fourteen lines of text!

Familiar Pictures

Pictures, maps, and diagrams can also take up a lot of space. Sadly, this is often misleading. For example, a diagram of the Schrodinger’s cat idea may literally cause your brain’s anterior cortex to explode.

The nice thing is that sometimes, you’ll actually recognize the picture. This is very rare, because teens have basically no information retention. For instance, let’s say you’ve spent the last seven years of your life with a map of the US hanging in your room. You’ve seen this map up to six times a day, and know the exact color of each state (NY is yellow, NJ is pale red, etc). Then, you come across a map of the US in your history textbook. You are stumped. You’ve never seen this shape before in your life. What is it? Thankfully, the caption alerts you to the fact that it is a map of….I’ve already forgotten. Whatever it was.

Nonetheless, familiar pictures do rarely appear, such as the Mona Lisa, a cube, or a graph of the increasing average price of celery futures at a produce market in western Kentucky. This saves us the time of reading whatever could have been on that page.

Vocabulary Blurbs

In some textbooks, there are often vocabulary boxes in the margins, with a few words every couple of pages. This adds to your reading time, because, again, it lies in the blank margins.

However, vocabulary boxes have the power to make you feel smart, which is why they can actually be happy breaks from the material. You might be reading about the causes of the causes of the causes of the civil war, thinking it’s totally German to you (minus the angry, spittle-spraying consonants). Then, you’ll come across a vocabulary box*.

*If the vocabulary box also sounds like German, you might actually be reading a German textbook. A common mistake, especially on Thursdays, after days of little to no sleep. I suggest you put it down and see if you can find your history book.

The vocabulary box will start with a flashy title, like “Vocabulary for You!” or “Vocab Stop!” Then, it will have a word and its definition. Let’s say, for the sake of example, that the word is “war.”

No way! You know that word! Thanks to your childhood of violent video games (no titles needed) and violent games (such as Monopoly: Mexican Drug Lord version), not to mention violent toy soldiers and violent TV shows, you know what a war is! You feel brilliant! You must be a genius! Sure, you don’t even know what “vocabulary” means, but you knew the word inside of the box!

Textbook reading is awful, and it’s probably going to stay that way regardless of whether you read it on paper, on e-ink, on an LCD screen, or on a tattoo on your forearm. Thankfully, there are little breaks in the action, or should I say, little bits of action in the boringness that is breaking your brain.

Reading textbooks can get stressful. Sometimes, you just need a way to bowl – I mean, blow – off steam. And in that case, this post from last year should have you covered: “The Complete Teenage Guide To Bowling With Friends.”