“We can’t beat Hillhouse; they’re too good!” As coach of the Lee High School Girls Basketball Team, I battled that attitude for five seasons. From 1978 to 1983 Hillhouse beat us eight straight times. Finally on February 22, 1983, Mary Juarbe, an overachiever who wasn’t intimidated by anyone, led us to a 61-58 victory. There were other factors: the emergence of Rasheedah Wali; the pride of Pam Caddell; the friendly confines of the frigid “Lee Ice Palace”; the half court basket by Neyse Sayles at the end of the first quarter; and the encouragement and friendly wager of Robyn Sayles, a former player and Neyse’s older sister.
I have reflected on and learned from the successes and the failures of my girls. There are parallels between the gym and the classroom. As a teacher, my first objective is to develop a winning attitude in my students. Too many students believe that they’re losers, that they can’t learn, that they can’t succeed. In order to change this perception of themselves, students need to win. But, they need to work for the win. Work is an essential point. It must be meaningful. It must be mastered. Students will not believe in themselves just because you tell them that they’re winners or because they succeed in a contrived situation. I didn’t tell my girls to run the offense; I told them to WORK the offense. I couldn’t just tell my girls they were a good basketball team; they had to beat Hillhouse to prove it to themselves.
Mary graduated and went to college on a basketball scholarship. The next year so did Rasheedah. My players realized that future opportunities would be available if they learned the skills I taught. In last year’s curriculum unit,
Measurement of Adolescents
, Michael Burgess and Joseph Cummins discuss the concept of schoolwork. They state that there must be a link between the classroom and the real world. In my classroom spreadsheets are the link. They are real work. For the past three summers, I have received a fellowship from Connecticut Business and Industry Association to design spreadsheets on personal computers for corporations. I tell this to my students. I pass this real life skill on to them. My students believe they can master spreadsheets and, if they wish to enter the work force, earn a starting salary of $13,000.
Once your students start to believe, you have to reinforce that belief every day. In the gym we spend a half hour every day working on layups and foul shots. By the end of the season, my girls believe a layup is automatic. If they miss the first foul shot, they believe they will sink the next one. If students will accept repetition in the gym, they’ll accept it in the classroom. We start off each day with drill activities. My students start to think that spreadsheets are automatic.
My teams were never known for executing fancy complicated offenses. I found that if you made the plays too involved, the players wouldn’t learn them. And if they did, they would concentrate more on moving to the right position than on scoring. The trick is to run a simple, fundamentally sound pattern that attempts to maximize each player. My students will tell you that spreadsheets are easier than programming.
Burgess and Cummins also state that the classroom environment strongly affects learning. The gym was cold. The blowers never worked properly. Every year in my budget, I always included a sweat suit for each player. My girls liked receiving a pair of sweats. It made the cold bearable. We would discuss how our adapting to the cold gave us a home court advantage. The Hillhouse coach complained about the lack of heat. The following year I waited for him with all the doors open. We won that game too. I am very fortunate to have seventeen computers in my classroom. They are Radio Shack Model 4 with 64K memory. In most classes every student has his own computer. If I have a larger class, we team up. There’s no problem. I inform any complainers that ten years ago, I had one computer with 4K memory for twenty-five students.
The classroom environment also has an informal component. My students are adolescents subject to immense peer group pressure. I had to try to understand my players, their reasons for playing, and their group dynamics. It took many pizza parties to develop a team spirit. My assistant was fond of telling the girls that he would treat them to pizza if they won a big game. In 1985, we’re playing Hand in the semifinals of the State Tournament and we’re down by twelve points. Nothing is working. An opposing fan in the stands yells, “Pizza is not working, what are you going to do now?” I stand up, “Alright girls, pepperoni on the pizza.” We won the game. Getting students to commit themselves to the effort of learning is the crux of education. I try to get to know my students in situations other than the classroom. I try to learn what motivates them. I try to learn how they are affected by their friends.
All the pizza in New Haven, would not have been enough to make my girls a cohesive group. These were the girls who had beaten Hillhouse, who then worked together for two summers in the ninety degree heat. It took another victory, this time over Cross, before the girls finally became a team and allowed Sylvia Brown to be the group leader. Sylvia led well. I still don’t know what she said during the halftime of the Crosby game. We were up by two points but not playing well. After my brief talk, Sylvia marched the girls into another locker room. We won by thirty. I gave Sylvia the credit in the newspaper.
It may be harder to develop a team work-group environment in the classroom. Normally, we only teach a student for one year. Also, the particular group of students is together only in our one class. However, spreadsheets offer the opportunity for students to work together. Spreadsheets offer success to varied types of students, not just the ones who are academically oriented. Students who can type, students who can see relationships, students who want to be unique, students who work slowly, all can help each other, all can be part of the team.
The effect of the peer group in the classroom environment is similar to the formal and informal organization in business. Peter Drucker has said that conflict arises in a worker when management tells him to do one thing and his group association tells him to do another. It is analogous to life in the Middle Ages where a person owed allegiance to both the Church and the State. And even though the Church was strong, when a conflict arose in a temporal matter, the person chose the State. The Church may have determined life in the next life, but the State determined the present existence.
If a student can realize that the education he receives in school can help advance his standard of living, while his peer group will change after high school, he will choose school.Spreadsheets are a marketable skill. At this point in time there is a shortage in industry for qualified individuals who possess this skill. I am not saying or do I wish to imply that this is all that our students can do. But, for some, it is a start. As their confidence grows so can their job assignment. For others, it is an excellent base for college. The student is learning the logic inherent in the business curriculum. For all, it is the opportunity to discover that they can be successful outside of their particular peer group. In my two years of teaching spreadsheets, I have seen tremendous attitude adjustments. I have seen students look forward to coming to class because they know they will have fun solving the work.
I would like to repeat that spreadsheets are for everyone, not just the gifted. Masuk High School currently uses them as the third year of its general mathematics sequence. After a lively class this year, a student told me, “Karate, you teached good today.” Spreadsheets are better than calculators because the numbers stay on the screen. You can see where the answers came from. When you solve a problem, you are reinforced by the computer.
In the pages that follow, I have built a spreadsheet using one of my player’s accomplishments. That is the key, create problems that involve your students. I have used ages, weights, number of siblings, time spent listening to the radio and other facts relating to the student as data. I received my compliment after a lesson where the class discussed different types of personality. (Yes, I then did teach him about adverbs and irregular past tenses. Yes, my student did pass.) If you use the spreadsheet method, I’m sure your students will pass too.
Please allow me one final plug. Last year’s curriculum unit on the measurement of adolescents presents many good strategies, examples and theories that can help any teacher. I strongly recommend that you get and read the unit.