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Stories from school and college

Time For The Cheaters To Tap Out

, , , , , , , , , | Learning | March 2, 2023

Many years ago, my grandfather taught carpentry at a tech college, and part of his job involved proctoring written exams.

During one of these exams, a couple of students were tapping their pens. On the face of it, this wasn’t so unusual; plenty of people in exams tap pens, drum fingers, etc., as an aid to memory — or at least, they certainly did when I took my exams. These taps, however, seemed rather more… rhythmic.

A few taps later, Grandfather — who was in the naval cadets as a boy — realized that these two students were using their pens to tap out the answers to various questions in Morse code. 

Without saying a word, Grandfather picked up a pen of his own, glaring pointedly at the guilty students, and tapped out the phrase, “I K-N-O-W M-O-R-S-E C-O-D-E T-O-O.”

Funnily enough, the tapping stopped immediately after that!

If It Seems Too Easy, It Probably Isn’t

, , , , , , , , | Learning | February 27, 2023

The most memorable class I took during my university degree was one I took in my first semester. It was held in the largest lecture hall and packed to overflowing because it was a required class for an awful lot of degrees. Unlike most entry-level classes, it had no attendance or participation requirements, the topic was pretty easy, and you didn’t even really need to buy the textbook because there were lots of copies in the library available for a long-term loan, plus the lecturer provided photocopies and slides of the relevant sections. The lectures were recorded and available at the library along with copies of all the slides the lecturer had used. The final exam was open-book, and the tutors provided several years’ worth of past exams to use as study materials.

The class was a TRAP.

If you didn’t go, nobody cared — or even really noticed. If you didn’t hand in assignments, nobody chased them up. There were plenty of ways to catch up on content if you missed lectures, but nobody checked to see if you were using them. After the first few weeks of the semester, the lecture hall no longer had people sitting on the stairs because there weren’t enough seats. By the mid-semester break, it was mostly empty, and there was a Dungeons & Dragons group sitting in the back rows, complete with character sheets, rolling dice, and “I fire a magic missile at the darkness!”-level roleplaying. The left middle section was the territory of a social club that arrived, drank coffee, gossiped, and left without ever taking their notebooks out of their bags.

I missed a lot of lectures because I hated getting up early enough to go to them, but I went to the library at a more convenient time and listened to the recordings. When I came up with a question that hadn’t been answered in the text, I dragged myself to the next lecture and asked it or went to the lecturer’s office hours. He was always fun to talk to and had lots of great stories, so it wasn’t exactly a hardship.

Then, the end of the semester hit. Some students I hadn’t seen in lectures since the very beginning showed up at the library and seemed to be trying to go through all the recordings in the last week or so before exams started, but I think most of the missing were relying on the exam being open-book to get them through.

Well, the final exam was easy, but it was long, and it quickly became apparent that the students who were looking everything up in their textbooks just didn’t have time to finish. 

The final results came out, and the bell curve you expect to see in grades was pushed hard to the left side of the graph, with a spike at the far right. Anyone who’d realised it was time to take responsibility for their own learning and study without being pushed and prompted did well. Everyone who had taken the lack of direction as an excuse to skive off all semester — three-quarters of the class — failed. And because it was a prerequisite class, they had to take it again and pass before they could move on to second-year classes… the ones that, like this class and unlike all the other first-year classes, mostly lacked the tracking and reminders and attendance requirements the students were used to having to keep them on track.

It was a sneaky and effective way to teach people how to direct their own studies and filter out the ones who didn’t get the hint.

You’re Never Gonna Make It To The White House With That Enunciation!

, , , , , , | Learning | February 25, 2023

It’s the first day of World Literature class, and my teacher has started some activities where we can get to know each other better. One of the questions involves asking another person where they want to eat on their birthday.

Student #1: “And [Student #2] said that he wants to eat at the White House.”

Teacher: “Okay! That seems a little ambitious, but…”

Student #2: “I said The Lighthouse, the place over on [Street]!”

And Three Rights Make A Left

, , , , , , | Learning | February 23, 2023

My high school football coach was a great guy, but when he got excited or worked up, he had an interesting way with words. This happened at half-time when we were losing by only a few points.

Coach: “This is close, guys! We gotta get some energy going and get things turned around! Like a DJ, turn those tables 360 degrees!”

Player: “Wait… 360 degrees?”

Coach: “H*** yeah! All the way around!”

Player: “Coach, if we turn around 360 degrees, we’ll be going in the same direction. That means we’ll lose by even more.”

Coach: “Who cares about the numbers?! ALL THE WAY AROUND! Let’s go!”

Can’t Train You Over The Sound Of Your Ovaries

, , , , , , , | Learning | February 21, 2023

Way back in the late 1970s, I was in junior high school, and I started hanging out at the career center, which was open during lunchtime and had a great counselor. It also had a brand-new device called a computer, where you called a phone number and placed the handset onto a modem which was plugged into the computer, and then you typed on a keyboard and waited for the response on the printer. (Yep, a dot matrix printer — there was no monitor.) I was familiar with them due to my dad’s work, so I was interested to try this one out.

In order to use it, you had to pass a written test. The test was short and easy but impossible to pass without being trained. (One of the questions was “What is the password?”) You got trained by fellow students, and I noticed that the group that hung out around the computer always helped out anyone who asked.

Well, almost anyone. You see, all the users were boys, and I was not. When I asked, they were too busy — but they jumped to train the next boy who came along. I tried several times, but nothing worked. And it was impossible to pass that test without their help. I vented about this to the career counselor. I’m not sure why the help had to come from students, but it did; she didn’t have the information to help me.

Soon after that, before I could come up with the next step to try, the vice principal showed up.

Vice Principal: “Okay, I’m shutting the computer down.”

The boys reacted with shock and complaints.

Vice Principal: “As soon as [My Name] passes the test, I’ll let you back on it.”

What do you know, I passed that test the very next day. And if you were a computer user back in those days, you’ll understand when I tell you it was the start of a great Adventure.

Can’t Hear You Over The Sound Of Your Ovaries, Part 26
Can’t Hear You Over The Sound Of Your Ovaries, Part 25
Can’t Hear You Over The Sound Of Your Ovaries, Part 24
Can’t Hear You Over The Sound Of Your Ovaries, Part 23
Can’t Hear You Over The Sound Of Your Ovaries, Part 22