Thursday, August 30, 2007

Me versus the LSAT

So, I'm going to take the LSAT at the end of September. Of course, the end of August signals the arrival of the official "freak out" time. Yes, it is still four weeks away. However, there is something about a test that requires an officially acquired fingerprint on the registration card that ignites one's nerves rather early on.

What do you do? Buy as many overpriced instruction manuals from Borders as you possibly can. Make sure they include attention grabbing validations of their content, like they are published by "The Princeton Review", they include at least one CD ROM for good measure, and they assure you that you will "crack the test" after synthesizing their strategies.

Basically, the LSAT includes three main parts. One is a writing sample, so you can't do much about that ahead of time--only the pricey LSAT prep course could assure you of writing sample success. The other two sections that are left are: argument analysis and logic puzzles.

I figured since argument analysis will be a little more section by section, I would leave that off and take it in chunks. The logic puzzles, on the other hand, are patterned very much the same way, so mastering them first assures you of a good score on two sections of the test even before you go into the arguments. That mastery always provides the much needed confidence boost going into something as complicated as the arguments section, so I figured I would take them on first.

The logic puzzles give you a set of items or people and then a set of conditions based on the situation they are placed in. For example, the premise may be: a restaurant features a different entree every evening, starting on Sunday and ending on Saturday. Then, you get a list of entrees and a set of conditions: each entree is featured exacctly once, the veal gets served on Monday, the spaghetti is served the day after the lamb, etc. After that, you have to answer five or six multiple choice questions based on the puzzle.

The first one is always the same: Which of the following is an acceptable order for these items based on the premise and conditions? The easiest puzzles always are the ones that have a specific event or item at a certain time or place in the puzzle. For example, if we use the restaurant premise, one of the conditions could be "the veal is always served on Mondays". At least then you have something to go on. Other puzzles just give you "if "this", then "this"" conditions. Then, if you bother to diagram the stupid thing, there is nothing to diagram.

I worked on this in the local library today, and after about six sets of these questions, I was ready to fall alseep. The LSAT people should let people go if they manage to get a whole set associated with the same puzzle right. Regardless, the sheer repitition will bore people, perhaps to death. Maybe that's why they fingerprint you ahead of time. They can put your registration certificate on top of your body bag and they can identify who you are no matter what state you choose to test in.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Todays News

Mississippi has officially won the distinction of being the fattest state in the USA. The tidbit of information that officially surprised me the most involved the existence of fried pickles, and the fact that this was actually considered "food".

In an effort to reduce diaper use, some parents are participating in a "diaper free" movement. This apparently means that parents teach their children the art of body language to signal the need to relieve themselves. One woman said she had to explain away a lot of odd looks in a public restroom when she was holding her daughter over a sink so she could relieve herself. Perhaps these onlookers were more concerned about the fact that, in a room full of toilets, she chose the basin in which patrons attempt to cleanse themselves of the possible ill-effects of having used a public facility.

About time, huh? This kid finally hacked the iPhone off of the poorly reputed AT & T network. He then apparently sold the model for a car. As for me, I would have held out for more.

Amy Winehouse's father-in-law is calling for a boycott of her recordings until she and her husband seek help. Her daddy may think she's fine, but there's more than one opinion that counts.

In an attempt to lure men to a health food website, the link advertised "what all men should eat" in such a way as to imply the same thing that everyone from hair dye companies to cigarette makers do--"you'll get laid if you (insert action here relating to product)." It turns out that men should be eating pretty much what everyone else is eating to be healthy. Yey food pyramid.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

And...."Trench 'N' Fun"

This was the result of overwhelming boredom in one history class--my friend, Lindsay, and I actually had enough time to bring out the Crayolas and create a board game.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How "Trench 'N' Fun" Came Into Being

My fifth grade teacher certainly had her favorites, and I wasn't one of them. Since neither my friend Lindsay nor I fell into her perfect cookie-cutter package of what an eleven-year-old girl should be like, we were more or less "ignored with intent" in the same fashion a cat will sit with its backside in your general direction with the occasional glance over the sholder if dinner is later than expected. Regardless, we fell into the "accelerated student" category, and this entitled us to the occasional project on the side, such as writing and telling stories to the Kindergardeners or reading additional books. However, this didn't excuse us from a lot of class-wide activities, such as the collective reading of the "fifth grade book" that year, Johnny Tremain. After the volumes were first distributed to the class, our teacher started reading the first chapter to us. What could have taken only half an hour--double that at the most--took a murderously long period of time to complete because she stopped to explain every word longer than two syllables to everyone in the class. Because we were all of mixed abilities, I am sure there were students who needed that guidance, and of course that help should be made available to them. For those of us who were on a faster track, well, we generally amused ourselves by reading on ahead or creating board games on the back of our math book covers.

Fast forward to eighth grade. That year, we did a lot of history-oriented projects with one entire unit focused on the American Civil War. The teachers divided us into groups of eleven or twelve, each group made up of randomly chosen students. Like most of the other over-achievers, I could expect perhaps one other student on my level in the group. And yes, that is exactly what happened. As a result, I was busting my ass for not one or two other students, but nearly a dozen of them, because I simply did not want to end up with a low grade averaged in with all of my solo work.

These two situations, and many others, were brought to mind when I read an article today in Time Magazine about how the school systems were leaving genius students behind. I think it goes much farther than that--I think the whole company of over-achievers are left holding the ball on their own. I didn't get out of a mixed ability classroom until I entered high school, and like any other team-oriented exercise, the goings-on of the classes as the years went by were always geared to the proverbial weakest link. This meant hours of reading books, a la Johnny Tremain, the explaining of instructions for projects and crafts over and over again, and lots of "group projects" where the teachers hoped less hard working students would "learn something" from their counterparts that exhibited the early signs of a high work ethic.

Since over achieving students can handle most classroom work without too much trouble, they are usually ignored in a mixed classroom while an overworked teacher focuses on the students who need the extra help. The teacher is forced to create lesson plans that all students can participate in, regardless of what they can (or in many cases are willing to) do, and as a result, many over acheivers finish them long before the rest of the class with little to do in the meantime. Most over achievers are also the best behaved kids in the class, so even though they may be individually or collectively bored or unoccupied, the teacher can reasonably assume that they won't be drawing on the tabletops with indelible marker.

It isn't only that they are ignored, it is that they are essentially "used" by the teachers as teaching tools for other students that is even more inexcusable. Teachers divide students into groups and deliberately mix ability levels so that other students can "learn by example" from their peers. Many times the only thing that separates an over-acheiving student from others on the grade school level is how hard they work--not their abilities. How many of the "smart" kids out there knew someone on the bottom of the class that they knew was just as talented, but who refused to do any homework? Putting groups of students together like that gives the less hard working kids a chance to coast and gives the over achieving kids a heart attack, forcing them to pull more than their own weight for the same grade. Oh, and if anyone out there can remember grade school with any clarity--was there ever a time when a student saw an overachiever and thought "oh, yeah, maybe I should work that hard, too...."? Or was the picture more like this: over acheiving student furiously writing out how to complete a project while other students talk to their friends, throw bits of paper at each other, and talk about what is upcoming next weekend?

The interesting thing about "No Child Left Behind" is that it demands that schools bring up students that sit on the lowest levels. I think it is fantastic that money is being allocated and programs are being developed that allow more students to learn and participate in class. However, the danger is that this is becoming the only focus, leaving over acheiving and bright students essentially to fend for themselves. What's the solution? I'm sure there isn't one because if there were something clear-cut, it would have come to pass in our classrooms long ago.

And if I hadn't had free time in grade school, "Trench 'N' Fun: The World War One Experience" board game wouldn't have graced the back of my history book.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Can I help you?

The good thing about having weekdays off is that you aren't competing with hoards of people when you go shopping. On Saturdays between the hours of 10 am and 10 pm, you are guaranteed to end up standing at the end of a line of half a dozen teenage girls, each one purchasing one item, and the items cumulatively standing at a value of fifteen dollars. The first one will step up to the cashier, and in order to make it clear to everyone in the store, who she believes must be paying attention to her, that she is "with them" behind her and certainly not uncool to the point of shopping alone, she will toss in the occasional comment in on the conversation inevitably going on behind her and in front of you. As they each make their purchases, they will gather to the side of the counter as one at a time join them, and before too long, you'll have an assembled mob there, making more noise collectively than all of the people in the food court nearby put together. By the time you get up there, you'll be adding a trip to the nearby CVS for ibuprofen and bottled water to your shopping trip.

The drawback to weekday shopping is that you will walk into a lot of nearly deserted stores with a lot of very bored sales clerks restocking already well-stocked racks of shirts and slacks, checking through empty changing rooms for articles to rehang, and just generally standing in packs in varying corners of the store. As soon as you walk in, they take notice. By the time you wander to the first rack of attractive looking potential buys, a lucky representative is already on his or her way over to you. You pick up one shirt to give it a once over. By then, you're being greeted in a warmer fashion than you would greet your mother if you hadn't seen her in ten years, with a lengthy announcement following about the latest sale. Sometimes, the pitch is short and you can get on with your shopping. You must assume that in those cases, the salesperson is either not very enthusiastic about making the same announcement over and over or perhaps that he or she has done the unthinkable insofar as to put himself/herself into your shoes for a minute to realize you just want to get on with your errands. Other times, it goes on for a while even if you have made the polite acknowledgements that should signal your desire to be let alone.

Perhaps it is over enthusiasm for the job. Perhaps it is just that person being completely dense.

Today, I went into an Old Navy to look at the summer sale. The crowd wasn't large, but unlike most of the mall stores, there were more than two people in there. I was looking through a table of pullovers when a store clerk, a guy, approached me.

He greeted me, as I expected, and told me the shirts I was looking through were half off. I had observed the sign, but I thanked him for the information.

He asked me "are you planning on purchasing this on your Old Navy charge today?"

I had to admit that I didn't have one. I knew what was coming.

"Well, if you open one today.....(insert shopping benefits here)."

"Thank you, I'll think about it," was my reply, and I turned a few degrees in the direction of the table, prepared to go back to my previous activity.

"I could start one for you right now if you like. I just need a driver's licence and a debit card."

Sigh. Obviously my less-than-straight answer and body language were not enough.

"No, thank you. I need to think about it. I don't often shop in this store," I stated, hoping this additional information would indicate that I wasn't entirely interested.

Then, he gave me a list of the other stores that are affiliated with Old Navy. I thanked him for letting me know, and I again tried to return to leafing through the tops.

"We don't get commission for this, you know," was his next statement. He had sensed my indifference finally, and as opposed to considering the idea that maybe I just didn't want an Old Navy charge card littering my already overstuffed wallet, he thought I just didn't want a hard working store clerk to reap the benefits of my business.

I insisted that I already knew they didn't get commission, which was the only way I could think on the spot to combat the indirect accusation. Finally, he rounded out the conversation with a generic closing statement and I could return to what I was doing--if by then, ten minutes later, I still remembered what I had been doing in the first place.

In comparison, when I went to the Clinique counter in the Macy's on the other side of the mall, after I asked the clerk for her card in reply to her offer of a makeover, she immediately closed the appointment book she had strategically pulled out, took out her card, circled her name and the phone number on it, smiled, and handed it to me with a "I hope to hear from you, thank you for your purchase" without a hitch. She probably figured that I wasn't willing to commit, but since she treated me so politely, I wasn't going to go home and rule the option out because of anything she had done. On the other hand, I would consider it an insult to my personal pride to ever sign up for an Old Navy card at this point, given I put up so much of a fight so that I didn't have to do so.

At present I am Old Navy charge card free, and I probably will call for that makeover.