Emily Marshall, GBP Student
As senior year is quickly coming to a close for the Class of 2016, the reality of going to college is really starting to set in. As we are sending in our final housing and meal plan papers to our new homes for the next four years, we can only hope that Needham High School has prepared us for all of the new classes, interactions, and experiences that we are about to have.
Unlike many of the more traditional classes that are offered at Needham High School, Greater Boston Project has offered students more than just academic lessons; it has offered real world experiences that can be utilized in college and in the professional world after that. Looking back and reflecting on the this past year in the Greater Boston Project, I can now truly see how beneficial of a class it truly was. Not only am I leaving the class with far more knowledge about the history of Boston, starting from the day John Winthrop sailed over in 1628, but more importantly, the constant group work and creative assignments has forced me to manifest and master skills that I had rarely tapped into before this year.
I have learned how to collaborate with people who I would never have chosen to work with on my own. It can be very difficult to work with someone that you don’t necessarily work well with, for whatever reason that may be, but after being put into different groups on a daily basis in GBP, you learn to work out any problems that arise in a difficult group and move forward. After each group project that we do, we have collaboration conferences with the teachers where they give us their opinion on how well we worked together, based on each group member’s individual feedback. The teacher guides us through having a conversation with our group mates about improving our collaboration techniques, which has helped us to learn how to give appropriate feedback and constructive criticism to group members.
Additionally, GBP has really encouraged all of its students to communicate more effectively, whether it be written, visually, or orally. Each of the projects that we do have at least one, if not all, of these components worked into it. We regularly were producing work such as slideshows or infographics where we were forced to improve upon our visual and written communication. Because in a stand-alone slide show, where peers needed to be able to flip through the slideshow and learn everything they needed to, if we didn’t have good visual and written communication, it wouldn’t be clear enough on its own. We also have had numerous occasions where we needed to orally present a project, from little things like Current Event Discussions, to larger ones like our recent Community Action Project presentations. In other classes, at most, there will be around 4 projects throughout the whole year that force you to use these skills and improve upon them. In the Greater Boston Project, however, we completed projects like this so often that we not only used and improved upon these skills, but we became comfortable and confident in them.
All of these skills were used in our CAP projects, which have just recently been finished, where we were placed into a group, given an issue to focus on, and given about 5 months to propose and try various solutions. Being in that group for as long as we were, groups were able to utilize the collaboration skills that we have been practicing all year, and really establish a good relationship with their group members. We also repeatedly needed to communicate well, with the teachers as well as with the different community contacts that we needed to form professional relationships with and convey our ideas in a convincing way so that they would want to support it. The Community Action Project challenged us to utilize all of the skills that we have been working on improving throughout this year, and prepared us to be able to use them and be successful in college and beyond.
GBP Periods 5-6 in front of the Boston Public Library in September (Photo by Ms. Tincher).
GBP Students in the Freshman Mentoring group prepare to present their work to the class and community members. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
Ally White, GBP Student
This past week in class, groups have been presenting their Community Action Projects to their classmates, teachers, and community members who have chosen to attend. We have been working on this major assignment since January, and are finally ready to share what we have accomplished. The Community Action Project (CAP) has allowed us to actively make a change to an issue that exists in Needham or a surrounding community. Each group began the project with a specific issue that they had selected to focus on. Then, after initial research, the group decided potential options they have to enact a change and combat the issue. After contacting and meeting with members of the community, groups could then choose the option that would be most effective. From there groups worked to implement that final plan whether it be a club, a program, a class, or something else. Though projects took many different turns, the final product for each group included a written proposal and a 30-45 minute presentation. After listening to seven presentations, it is clear that many groups were actually successful in implementing their final plan.
Though groups explored many different topics, one common part of each presentation included life skills that we learned throughout the process. These skills were perhaps the most important part of the project, whether you were successful or not. One main skill learned is how to be professional. Every group was forced to write emails to and meet with community members on professional terms. This proved to be more difficult than I thought as addressing these community members turned out to be way different than talking to teachers and adults that I know. Though I always want to be respectful when emailing and talking to adults and teachers, these emails to community members was the only way to make a good first impression, and to make them want to meet with us. In emails I learned that one of the most important things to do is pay attention to the tone in which you are writing your message so that you do not sound rude or demanding. Another aspect of professionalism includes being respectful and knowledgeable at meetings, and to arrive on time and prepared. Another huge skill I learned is time management. My group along with many others struggled to stay on task a lot during in class time. Starting the project in January, it seemed that the due date in May was so far into the future that we did not have to worry about it. However, the months from January to April went by faster than we thought, and we ended up having a lot of work to do at the end with not as much time. Also, my group procrastinated a lot with actually taking action with our plan, which if we had started sooner may have been more successful. Now I know that I should have been smarter about managing my time during long term projects, and this will be a useful skill for me going into college next year. Another big skill we were forced to work on is collaboration. There would have been no way to complete this project without successfully collaborating. Knowing how to be respectful and listen to others’ ideas and opinions goes a long way. I also learned how to divide tasks and let individuals use their strengths to the group’s advantage. Everyone has things that they are good at, and things that they are not so good at. Oftentimes, what one person lacks in someone else is strong at. To me, this has become apparent through the CAP project, and will be a smart tool to use during future collaborative projects. Furthermore, we got practice in writing proposals, which I know will be extremely useful later on in life. In pretty much every career path that you will take you will have to create some sort of proposal. This project was the first real proposal I have had to make, (besides other smaller ones for GBP), and has given a good outline for any future proposals I will have to pitch. Though we have given many other oral presentations this year, I found that the CAP project has really tested my oral communication skills the most. Unlike other presentations that we did this year, the CAP presentation involved talking about what my group and I had personally done to help combat the issue that we chose. We also had to be extremely knowledgeable about our topic in order to field questions in the end. This was a more personal presentation, and I see myself giving similar types of presentations at some point in my life in the future.
Overall, the CAP project was hands down the most interactive, useful project I have done throughout high school, and has taught me not just curriculum for a class but skills I can take throughout life.
The "Water Conservation" CAP group after their presentation last week. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
Nick Davis, GBP Student
Walking into class Monday morning, just making it in time before the 8am bell rang, I saw some unfamiliar faces. Sitting among my classmates were parents, teachers, and other NHS faculty. And standing at the front of the room were some familiar faces, but in unfamiliar clothing. These GBP students dressed in classy suits and fancy dresses meant that today was the first big day of our CAP final presentations; the culmination of this six month long project. This was the time for us to “show off” all the work we have done for our Community Action Projects to our peers and other members of the community.
All of the different presentations we have done throughout the year, in front of our classmates, have prepared us for this one. A year’s worth of work on presentation skills has led to this week. We are all ready. We started off the year awkward and timid during presentations, but our GBP teachers have shaped and strengthened our oral communication skills. They taught us how to organize our content, speak clearly and confidently, maintain eye contact, and actively participate as an audience member. But what I have learned the most, is how to execute a successful group presentation. Presenting in a group is very different from presenting alone, and in GBP this year, we have had the opportunity to experiment with this. In a group, you have to work both collaboratively and individually in order to produce a natural and cohesive group presentation.
I have always enjoyed public speaking, an opinion I doubt many other people share, but my skills have still improved so much this year. Public speaking is just like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you get. GBP has allowed for us all to develop this skill in a comfortable learning environment. I have watched each and every student progress so much in the public speaking aspect of this class. This skill, which is such an important one and is not focused on enough in school, will definitely give me a leg up next year in college. The average high school student has not had as much experience with presentations as we have had in GBP.
This next two-week period is the time for us to showcase the skills and work we have done both outside of the classroom, with our community action projects, and inside the classroom with our teachers and peers. We can finally share the amazing things that have been happening in the GBP classroom to the world.
Vinh Truong, GBP student
(Left: A GBP student presents in front of the class. Photo by Ms. Tincher)
With senior year coming to a close, GBP students are preparing for their final CED. The CED is a presentation that allows students to hone their public speaking skills, a skill that is often utilized in the future. Being such an important skill, GBP focuses on oral communication as an essential part of the curriculum. It is is one of the major skills that is assessed in almost all major projects. It is incorporated into the curriculum and is a skill that is further developed over the course of senior year.
As you may know, a CED is a “Current Event Discussion”; it allows a student to take a story that relates to Boston (most commonly a news article) and present it to the class. After a topic is chosen most students prepare notes or practice before presenting to the class. This often translate into a stronger and fluid presentation. CED’s are completed once a term and underlie our oral communication practice. During the presentation the audience completes a “Feedback Form” and the presenter is recorded. The Feedback From the allows the audience to write comments during the presentation. Comments often provide feedback on what needs to be improved and what the presenter did well. The audience also grades components of the CED which include: content/organization, verbal skills, and nonverbal skills. By reviewing both materials the presenter is able to better understand what needs to be improved.
Personally, CED’s have been extremely useful to help me prepare for future. It allows me to refine skills and learn new practices that make public speaking easier. For example, before a CED I often prepare notes or general points that I would like to present before my audience. This allows me to better organize my content so that it is logical and the audience understands my topic. It also improves the pace at which I speak at. Knowing my content I feel more confident speaking, more confidence often produces better verbal clarity and pace while reducing the amount of fillers (likes and ums).
Now on the fifth round of CED’s students have vastly improved from the first one. Numerous presentations, such as those for the “Biggest Change Project” and “Propaganda Project,” have allowed students to refine their skills in public speaking and understand what aspects they still need to improve. Presenting in front of a class numerous times acts as practice, with effort oral communication can only improve. From my own experience: eye contact, body language, and verbal clarity are main sources of problem when presenting. I believe this is mainly because insufficient preparation and quality notes. With practice and notes you spend less time thinking of what to say and maintain better eye contact. Preparation only improves quality of your presentation and oral communication. Throughout my time at Needham High School, GBP is seemingly the only class that emphasises the importance of oral communication. In nearly every project there is an some sort of aspect of oral communication that allows me to improve. In my opinion GBP is an excellent class to take to refine these skills for the future.
Chloe Kennedy, GBP Student
Oral communication is an important part of Greater Boston Project and an important part of life after GBP. We were able to practice this skill by arguing for ideas such as the right to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act or trying to convince the government that they should standardize the rail size. Oral communication is important to succeed in informing and persuading people. With oral communication it is necessary to maintain a clear voice, good eye contact, and appropriate body posture. From CED’s to the more formal CAP, our oral communication is constantly being tested and strengthened. Throughout the year GBP has focused on improving our oral communication to, in the end, help us after high school. Recently, our skills were tested with the Shaping the Era presentations.
Before the presentations began we were broken up into small groups. In these groups we conducted in-depth research on one major issue of contention in Greater Boston from the antebellum era. With this issue we created a written proposal, explaining a solution to the problem. The proposal also outlined the issues that existed, the causes of the issues, possible solutions, and effects of the solutions. To be able to write this proposal, extensive research was necessary. We needed to be able to support our possible solutions with evidence. Writing a formal proposal was a very rewarding and interesting process and our group learned a lot.
After the proposal was written, we then created an eight to ten minute presentation. In this presentation we highlighted the main aspects of the proposal: the issue, possible solutions, a proposed solutions, and the benefits and drawbacks of the proposed solution. The formal presentation was where oral communication came into play. This learning goal was different in this project in that we were aiming to persuade, not just present. We were trying to convince the government during the antebellum time period to put our proposal into action. This meant that we had to give strong evidence and an even stronger argument to succeed.
Following the presentation there was a five minute question and answer period. This was another place where our oral communication skills were tested. It was necessary to field and answer the questions correctly, respectfully, and intelligently. After all questions were answered, each group presented what ended up actually occurring with their issue; the real, final solution. Additionally, when not presenting, every audience member was expected to develop questions to debate and improve the plans and solutions. Oral communication also applied to those asking the questions.
I liked this project because doing group presentations and proposing ideas with a question and answer period was fun and different from what we have done in class before. I also thought it was a great educational project because we learned how to research and find data to back our argument and to practice those important oral communication skills. (Source: Shaping the Era Project Document)
Ben Retik, GBP Student
With half of the year already gone, most students have fully adjusted to the different way of doing things in GBP. One of the largest challenges that new students face when beginning GBP is public speaking, a skill that is utilized in other more traditional classes. It seems odd to me that such an important skill and one that is extraordinarily useful in life beyond high school had not been a part of education until I enrolled in GBP. With public speaking and oral communication in general being a rather new skill for most students, it inevitably takes time to develop.
Throughout the course of the year, Current Event Discussions or “CEDs” have been the basis of our oral communication practice. Current Event Discussions consist of each student choosing a story that relates to Boston and presenting it to the class. The first round of CEDs were a bit shaky, but I was impressed by how well many students performed given that oral communication had not been emphasized in the school curriculum up until this time. Though many people had inconsistent eye contact, fidgeted while they spoke, or had long pauses in their speech, overall the presentations were better than I expected.
Still, since those first CEDs every students in class has had ample opportunity to improve their oral communication skills. Numerous in class presentations as well as three more Current Event Discussions have provided space for students to hone their skills and work on specific aspects of their communication that they need to improve. From my experience in GBP, the only way to really improve one's communication skills is to practice. GBP has given its students the opportunity to do just that. With the ability to get feedback from your audience and then attempt to correct your mistakes in the next presentation, students have shown significant improvement from the beginning of the year.
We are now on our fourth round of current event discussions and all students have improved a lot. Feedback from the audience allows the presenter to be very aware of what they need to improve and the many public speaking opportunities allow students to practice improving the weakest aspects of their oral communication.
Dan Shapiro, GBP Student
Are GBP students feeling like “Karate Kids”? Keep reading and I’ll explain...
For the first two quarters of GBP, we were asked to do a CED (Current Event Discussion). This would entail us finding a recent article relating to Boston which we presented as 3-5 minute talk in class followed by discussion questions. We would analyze our articles to see how our topics demonstrated the change and/or impact on the Greater Boston area. After three rounds of CEDs the GBP teachers decided to mix up the Current Event process. From the CED, the CEP was born. Now standing for “Current Event Presentation” the CEP entails us similarly picking a topic like the CED, however the CEP is much more in depth. When we presented our CED’s, the most we had to talk about was a list of bullet points, but for the CEP we are asked to make an entire presentation of information to talk about. The 3-5 minute length is also increased to a 7 minute length.
The CEP “ups the ante” of the CED and does so in major ways. For instance, with the CEP we are asked to turn in an outline, annotated bibliography, and multimedia presentation. The outline, bibliography, and slides have been essential parts of GBP when we produced our Agents of Change and Colonial Context projects, but there was one major element neither of these projects fully explored: the individual element. In both of the earlier projects mentioned, we were working in a group, but with the CEP, we are presenting, conducting research, and making bibliographies all on their own. The CEP combines all the elements of the previous projects, but working individually it’s the biggest challenge that we have faced so far.
GBP students debate the issue of slavery as it was contested in the 1700s, looking at four of the prevailing perspectives on the issue at the time. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
Abby Kahn, GBP Student
There is nothing like engaging in a good natured class debate. These sort of thrilling debates take place in almost every classroom in our school, except for maybe science or math classes, where I’ve come to learn over the years that teachers in said subjects do not enjoy debating the validity of math laws! But other that than, I think it is safe to assume that every student at Needham high school will graduate with at least one formal in class debate under their belt. In GBP alone, we have conducted a few debates thus far. We debated current issues such as the impending legality of Fireworks and changes to taxes on cigarettes, as well as historical ones like whether or not Puritans intended to push Native Americans out of New England.
Last Friday, we debated the institution of slavery in the 1700’s. Each student was been assigned a certain perspective on the issue, a perspective that would have been commonly encountered and debated amongst citizens in the 1700’s. This distinction that students were assigned commonly encountered perspectives in the 1700’s is crucial. If we were advocating for our beliefs in the present day, it would be a very one sided debate, as the paradigms of race have drastically shifted. So in this historical context, the assigned perspectives included advocates for the continuation of slavery as it was, advocates for the gradual emancipation of all slaves, advocates for the return of all slaves to Africa, and advocates for the immediate manumission of all slaves.
As soon as positions were assigned, it was clear that some students were uncomfortable with arguing the historical position they were assigned, specifically those who had to argue that slavery should continue. Many students would now have to advocate for something that they know is totally wrong present day! However, as the preparation for the debate continued, the value of the lesson has become clearer. It is extremely easy to look back on our history of slavery and just say that it was an atrocity and should have ended sooner. However, as this fact is very clear for us today, it is more important for us as learners to understand that it was not so clear-cut back in the past. This debate encouraged students to understand all sides of the argument, and forced us to place ourselves in a position where we must fully understand and convey our assigned perspective, whether or not we believe in it now.
Furthermore, the skill and other prowesses utilized in this debate have useful implications in the work force. Constructing a sophisticated argument, researching opposing viewpoints and being able to understand alternative perspectives are just some examples of skills that might be useful to us down the road. After this debate, I think we will have enhanced our persuasive argumentation skills as well as better understand why the issue of slavery was so disputed, and why it didn’t come to an end sooner.
Last Tuesday, as a class, we were able to have our own say on some of the policies and practices at Needham High School. Our proposals were not going to be reviewed by the school board or anything, but this activity was great practice for the class. We were able to experience the process of how formal proposals are actually constructed and brought into consideration by institutions like the high school, as we were tasked to create their own proposals. In groups of two, we were able to choose what policy at the NHS we would like to change or alter. There were a vast range of policies we chose from, like issues in the lunchroom to student attendance.
Once a group decided on the topic for their proposal, we then explained the purpose and reasoning of why there needs to be a change or alteration to the school's policy in a persuasive introduction. Next, we expressed what the desired outcome of the proposal was, such as the beneficial effects of the proposal being set into place. We used outside research to show statistics of how the policy may have already been successful in other schools. We gave a list of options for the ways the new policy could be conducted in sufficient detail. In the proposal options, we detailed components like resources needed for the policy and how the school will enforce the policy if it were to be put in place. Most importantly, we then offered a recommended option that we thought would be the most efficient and effective way to put the policy into place. A plan of action explained how the proposal can be accomplished by providing the audience with instructions on methods of how to make this proposal policy. A conclusion finally summarized our main points and the importance of once again why this policy need to be put into effect and the plan on how this policy can take roots with the school.
Our experience with writing the proposals enabled us to understand the process of how new ideas and policies are brought into consideration to everyday places like companies, schools and even the government. It is important for us to work on our communication skills to better help us pass on our ideas and become persuasive and understandable when we request something. It is also important for us to work in the interest of the group we request aid or approval from in order for us to have the most success with our request.
Zach Kaplan, GBP Student
“Because it's the law.” one student touted. “My parents even said the courtyard was used as the designated smoking area back in the 1980’s.”, a different student remarked as the debate continued on whether or not tobacco should be allowed on school property. It was one of a few contentious issues debated amongst Greater Boston Project students in a recent GBP class. Students were split into three groups, and from then split into four smaller groups. Each group took turns discussing remedies to current school issues including placement of substitute teachers, the tobacco policy at NHS, fitness center hours and school start times. Students had 3 minutes to present their issues to a group, then 5 minutes to take questions from a three-person panel, and finally 2 minutes of feedback from observing onlookers. The standoffs between different students were interesting to see as often times, the temperature rose during times of rebuttal. There was a quick debrief where students and teachers talked about how presenters can improve for the future, in addition to the feedback given by the small groups initially.
This activity was comprised in preparation for not only the upcoming Community Action Project (CAP), but to help improve life skills as students will need to know how to prepare and present proposals in the not-so-distant future. Students were able to get valuable experience in terms of framing questions about issues, as well as presenting their sides on why their proposals would work.These experiences are important as they help students prepare for some of life’s important tasks, a main takeaway so far from many students in the Greater Boston Project.
Crucial scenarios such as making a proposal to a group and answering questions without being flustered are important skills to know, especially for the numerous GBPers who will likely enter the business world or other professions in which this is a regular practice. They will need mastery of the traits needed to be successful making proposals. I know I will need to make proposals for myself or speak for groups when it comes to making changes. Being able to verbally disarm concerns and field questions about an idea or implementation without getting flustered is important in any career path, and certainly something I will use in my life.
GBP Students present proposals and field questions as part of a practice activity. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
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