Brent Johnson is a senior at Westwood Schools. He has taken my classes for the last four years. We have a frank conversation about technology and a win in the National 4H Competition as a result of some apps he made in my class. Brent has come a long way! I hope you find this conversation inspiring.
Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
Brent Johnson: My student's views on learning and teaching
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Vicki: This week on the 10-Minute Teacher, we're talking with some people who I'm very thankful for in my life.
Today I wanted to bring one of my students – I have so many students I love, so many students that I admire throughout the years – but Brent is one of my students who has recently won an award for something he did in my class. He actually won this at 4-H.
How some app projects helped Brent win some awards from 4-H
Tell us about your 4-H project that has earned you the trip to the National Conference.
Brent: Well, I've been in 4-H for the past seven years, and I've actually been doing district project achievements for the last four.
In my District Project Achievement speech, I speak on the apps that I've made in Ms. Vicki's classroom. I've made two apps, and those two apps have brought me so far. I've competed in district last fall. I placed first there. Then I went to state congress, and then I also placed first there. Now I get to go to national congress, which is a little bit later this year.
Using Humor to Hook Students into Learning
Vicki: But these apps… Some people could say, “Oh, all apps have to be serious.” But tell us about the topic for your apps. I'll put the links in the Shownotes. One of them is just hilarious.
Brent: Well, funny enough, my first app was made a joke, really. It was just me and my friends just wanting to mess around. We made a recipe app for nachos, of all things that we could have made a recipe for. I mean, we could literally have done chicken, steak… But no. Nachos.
Vicki: And you have the funniest film shoot I've ever seen in my entire life.
Vicki: Tell us about it.
Brent: Well, we got a kiddie pool, about 20 bags of tortilla chips… And we took a bath in nachos.
Vicki: (laughs) I literally was hurting so badly. My face was hurting. My ribs were hurting. I could hardly even breathe.
Brent: I was getting salt out of my pants for weeks.
Vicki: OK, that's a little TMI. (laughs) I might take that one out.
I think the point is here. The first app was literally a joke.
Brent: A joke, yes.
How to Hook Students (without them knowing it – unless you tell them)
Vicki: Yeah, but OK. Let's just travel through the mind of Ms. Vicki, and this is a part Brent has never seen. So I'm always looking for a hook. OK, I see these brilliant kids, really smart kids. And they might not be ready to save the world. They might just be ready to have a laugh, right?
So what you have to do is you have to say, “OK, what is going to interest them?” And I'm like, “What is it going to take?”
Brent and his friends are pretty smart. But in 9th grade? They weren't ready to change the world.
Brent: No. (laughs)
Vicki: They weren't ready to be serious about anything, were you?
Brent: No. (laughs) Definitely not. Not yet.
Vicki: And it was hilarious. And we laughed a lot.
Vicki: But, you went on the next year, and what's the app you made?
Brent: It's called Overty. It's a charity referral app, and it was a much more serious approach than the nacho app was.
We went in and we found trusted charities that we had pre-researched. Not all charities are good charities, so we pre-vetted the ones that are good, and we put them in our app. We gave statistics, and we gave links to those websites, and it was overall a much more professional process than Nacho app ever was.
Vicki: Yeah. But of course you took the things you learned on the Nacho app to the Overty app.
Brent: Of course, of course.
How is Technology Changing Schools?
Vicki: Both of them ended up in the finals, so neither one was a laughing matter in the end.
OK, so there's a piece of the 4-H presentation you did, where you talk about what you think education should be. Could you share some of that – what you remember – with us?
Brent: Well, the way I see it, education is definitely changing every day. Nothing's the same as it was ten years ago, five years ago, maybe even two years ago.
Vicki: Yeah. You think that making apps should be part of what people learn, right?
Brent: Of course, of course.
Brent: Well, I've learned a lot more through making apps than I have through some of my other classes, considering that with the app-making process you have to coordinate with people. And a big part of being in the workplace later in life is working with people.
You have to come together and make this big project using technology, work together as a group and make something that is successful. That's not something that can just be taught in a classroom. That's something that has to be done through experience.
Vicki: Right. So, as you think about… you know, it could be my class, it could be whatever, because as you know I don't like to ever fish for compliments, that's just not me. What do you think are the things that have taught you the most in your high school career?
Brent: Oh, that's a hard one.
Collective hardships is probably the single most thing that has taught me more than anything else.
You make a really bad grade in a class for the first quarter, and then the second quarter you have to dig deep and find that side of you didn't think was there before. You have to work much harder, stay up later at night, and that's definitely one of the things that I've learned.
Vicki: And you're a runner, too. So you know what it's like to be running behind.
Brent: I am a runner. Definitely perseverance. That's a good one. I'm actually in all honors classes and I'm in one AP class. I'm taking the hardest rigor at the school.
I was not always the best student, but my dreams of becoming a doctor have really pushed the initiative to work harder in school. And that's another one with perseverance, too.
How he found his dream
Vicki: How did you find that dream?
Brent: I had a hernia operation about two years ago, and my cousin, who is actually a P.A. was there through all of it. And I saw the way that he deals with people, and the way that he has the drive for the medical field.
And I talked to him about it, because you know, you're stuck in that room for about four hours before they actually put you on the table. We had long conversation about the medical field and how he likes it.
I just decided that that's for me. I'm a people person, and I like helping people. That's something that I'm really interested in.
Vicki: Brent is a great example to all you listeners of someone who really has taken the most out of my class. You know, some students come to class and they get SOME. And some students take advantage of a lot more than others. So I like sharing those students with the world, so you can kind of see, “OK, this is what the student turns out like.” And I can't take all the credit for Brent, because he's had many great teachers.
But Brent, what would you say – let's just focus on computer science for a minute – are the things that you learned in computer science that you think you'll take with you?
What will you take with you from Computer Science?
Brent: Graphic design is one really big thing for me. Like, just projects in high school and for some of my college classes have taken a lot of graphic design. And Ms. Vicki taught us graphic design in computer science.
Another big one would be just learning the ins and outs of computer programs. In general, just knowing how to use a program can save you a lot of time later.
Vicki: Now, you take a lot of online classes. Do you think our class – we use a blended classroom, where we have PowerSchool Learning as our LMS (Learning Management System). Do you think that that helps prepare you for these online classes that you take?
Brent: Oh, 100%. The operating system is almost the same through the way that we learned in Ms. Vicki's class to the way that online college is set up.
So, in Ms. Vicki's class, we would have all of our assignments on one pane, where to go to the assignment, how to turn in the assignment, and all that.
College – it's not like Ms. Vicki's class where if you're stuck or something, you can go to Ms. Vicki. College professors aren't the same way. They don't have as much compassion for you, and if you mess up, they can — and will — fail you.
So learning all of the programs and the operating system – and getting my stuff done on time in Ms. Vicki's class, on my own sometimes, has really taught me to do better in college.
Vicki: But I know that the hard part about it – and the reason that a lot of teachers say, “Oh, I don't want to blend my classroom,” – is that there is some pushback. Because it is frustrating to learn that way, don't you think?
Talking about Blending
Brent: Oh yeah. I guess some people don't like the fact that there are videos that they have to sit through and watch. I guess they find those boring.
Vicki: But then they also don't want a lecture, either.
Brent: Yeah. They just don't like learning in general.
Vicki: Yeah! (laughs) You've got to pick, you know?
Brent: Some people would rather sit at home. You have to take the good with the bad, under some circumstances. Honestly, I learned a lot better through the system that we had in Ms. Vicki's class, compared to just sitting there through lectures.
I feel the stimuli in your brain work better when you're getting… I mean, Ms. Vicki does do lectures. She has hands-on work, online work. There's everything. You really don't miss a thing in Ms. Vicki's class.
Vicki: Well. You're sweet, but…
So, is there any advice that you have for teachers to be better teachers?
Brent: Compassion. Compassion is something that's infectious, I would say, between teachers and students. If you walk into a classroom, and you don't get a good vibe from the class, you definitely don't learn as well then.
If you walk in there, and a teacher gives you a smile and a “How's your day going?” then you are definitely going to feel a lot better. You're definitely going to pay more attention in that class. You're not going to want to fall asleep.
Another thing? Another big thing? Being interesting. Being an interesting person, in general, is a big thing. If you're a bland person, as a teacher and you don't care as much about the students, then it's a little bit harder… definitely a lot harder for students to learn in your classroom.
Vicki: That's a great thought about teachers.
Now, I do have a question about, like, to quote your generation. And we don't generation bash, because every generation has its weaknesses. But you talk to a lot of friends who go to other schools and other places, right?
Brent: Yes, Ma'am.
Vicki: As we finish up, could you give us a 30-second pep talk on how to actually reach your generation, for teachers who may be struggling.
Brent: I have one word that I believe that totally encompasses it… and it's ‘Positivity.”
I feel my generation has been stereotyped, from the get-go. I've always heard that my generation doesn't pay as much attention, is more unruly, and has more stuck their heads in their phones than anything. But honestly, if you look at it, you could say the same for every generation before that.
I mean, there's always been books, newspapers, and other forms of entertainment that have always been around. I think that's something that is just done. It's always going to be there.
But definitely positivity toward our generation is something that is huge.
Like the negativity that is thrown at our generation is wild. There's way too much of it. If more people could just be more positive, it would make the world a better place in general, I believe.
Vicki: What do you think the stereotypes about your generation are that people say that you think are not true?
Brent: Well, I know that one of them is that… We live in our phones.
Vicki: (laughs) You're all taking selfies? You're all divas?
Brent: Oh, that's definitely not true.
The people that aren't always in their phones don't really get noticed as much, I guess. They're picking one person out of a crowd that they see as a diva, and then they're totally characterizing our entire generation by that one person.
A lot of the people are actually not that crazy about being a diva. You always see all these people on YouTube that are just wild. But in reality, that's less than 1% of our population.
Well, thank you for listening. I hope you've pulled some things out of what Brent has shared with us.
And I am thankful for my students.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Brent Johnson is a senior at Westwood Schools. He recently won his state 4H Congress and is going to nationals. Brent is hoping to attend the University of Georgia with a major in pre-med. After that, he plans to attend medical school. He has spent time his senior year shadowing in emergency rooms. He is a member of the National Honor Society and directed the class movie in last year’s film class.
The picture below was taking on a location shoot during the 2016-2017 digital filmmaking class where Brent served as director.
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