Archive

Monthly Archives: March 2016

Friends helping friends

by Amanda

Have you ever found the urge to compare yourself to others, or to look at the work of your peers in order to gain motivation and inspiration? You might even think that competing with your friends is a good thing, yet new research suggests it can do more harm than good.

A recent study exploring this—one conducted by Todd Rogers, associate professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and Avi Feller, assistant professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley—found that when people are exposed to practices that praise the exemplary accomplishments of peers, they are more likely to have reduced motivation in completing and achieving their own work goals. In other words, when we see the excellent work of our peers being held up as an example, it can reduce our motivation rather than increase it. While it’s easy to think that publicly praising good examples of peer work should be an encouraging and motivating practice, new research clearly proves otherwise.

Leaders and companies regularly celebrate the excellent accomplishments of their more exemplary workers and students publicly, often hoping it will spark motivation and encourage others to reach the same levels of productivity. To find out whether it really does, the researchers observed and studied a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC ). They randomly split students into two groups—one group meant to assess average peer essays, while the other assessed above average peer work. Those who had been assigned to assess above average peer essays were dramatically more likely to fall behind and/or quit the course.

To follow up, researchers conducted an experiment which simulated a MOOC setting, in which they discovered that those assessing the more excellent peer essays mistakenly thought those essays must have been the norm, although they were much higher than the norm. Much like in the original MOOC setting, these students then expressed more disinterest in the task at hand than the students assessing average essays, and they too were more likely to quit the course. The researchers concluded that exposing students and workers to especially exemplary work or accomplishments is dramatically more discouraging to learners than exposing them to more “attainable social comparisons.”

Could this be similar to another phenomenon called “learned helplessness?” Learned helplessness is a form of giving up, and it is commonly seen when people have been repeatedly unsuccessful in reaching a goal, and as a result, they are conditioned to see it as unattainable.

The researchers do not make that connection, but given their findings, it’s easy to see how this effect applies in the world of not only education but the average workplace and work or learning environment. This research could have very important implications in real world settings since peer assessment is becoming a bigger part of both online and offline education. “Exemplar discouragement is powerful: Real students who assessed exemplary peers’ essays are substantially less likely to earn course credit than those who assessed average peers’ essays,” wrote Rogers and Feller. In their opinion, it’s also important for leaders and organizations to examine their motivational practices and patterns, and recognize where these practices can be rather discouraging.

So if comparing yourself to your peers isn’t helpful, what can you and your friends do instead to help one another improve? Peer encouragement is important, so one idea is to help your friends appreciate their own positive efforts and if you’d rather, you may even work together. Studies show that what makes us more productive is not competition, but our level of happiness, and what makes us happiest is our empathic connections with others. Working with others, giving to others, showing gratitude to others, and generally nurturing our relationships is what makes human beings mentally and physically healthy and happy—and successful.

So stop comparing yourself to your friends, classmates, and others in your peer group, and start reaching out to them instead. You will find you are better able to accomplish your goals when you develop empathy rather than competition.

 

by Lily

I care about the topic of supporting girls’ education because it’s very important for people of all genders to be educated about why we need to have equal education for everyone. I think that everyone should have the chance and ability to go to school, so they can get a job, earn money, and support themselves or a family in the future. My friends and I are very lucky to go to school, and we take it for granted because a lot of girls around the world can’t go to school. So, we should stop complaining every morning about getting out of bed to go to school.

Some girls don’t get to go to school because they might have someone attacking them violently every time they go to school or leave their house, which could be the effects domestic violence, or that in some countries, their society doesn’t believe that girls or women should go to school. Some can’t afford to pay for school or uniforms, because they may live in poverty or a poorer area of their country, also in America, school is free, but in other countries, it isn’t and you have to pay for it. A lot of girls aren’t legally allowed to go to school in their country because society in a lot of developing countries believes that girls shouldn’t go to school. Sometimes girls can’t go to school because they were married way too early and don’t have the opportunity to get an education.

If girls go to school, they can have an education that they can use to get a job and earn money, to read, write, and speak other languages. They can get married at a good age later in life, and have children later in life, which prevents death during childbirth because children aren’t meant to have children. It also prevents HIV and AIDS, which children are more susceptible to. They’re more likely to have educated healthy children, and they’re more likely to stay out of the life of crime and poverty.

Some organizations that are helping contribute to girls education are the Afghan Institute of Learning which operates schools and other programs for women and girls in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan.  Another organization is the American Assistance for Cambodia, which has a program to subsidize poor girls so that they can remain in school.

One girl helped by She’s the First is Fatou, who’s a young woman from The Gambia who graduated high school and is saving to move on to college. She went to Starfish International, which is a school that teaches girls leadership skills, like gardening, photography, and bee-keeping. On Saturdays, they have extra classes, and the girls dress in nice outfits, so Fatou asked them if they want to have their picture taken, and she sold each picture for 35 cents to the girls. Fatou graduated from high school in 2014 because of the money donated to She’s the First from the tie-dye cupcake program. She’s now a photographer working full time and saving her money to go to college

As for everyday things that are easy for girls like me or people at my school to do to contribute, instead of having to be a big organization, here are some ideas: groups of people—girls and boys—in association with the organisation ‘She’s the First’ did a tie-dye cupcake bake sale that sold multi-colored cupcakes for one dollar each, and raised over $100,000 for girls education. The money raised went to buy scholarships for underprivileged girls in developing countries to attend and graduate high school. Four roommates in New York City raised $7,200 to sponsor 20 girls in Uganda. Four girls from another college threw a concert to raise money to help girls in India go to high school. Another girl held a 5K run to raise money to teach girls in underprivileged countries to read. Another girl sold bracelets to help girls be the first in their family to get an education.

B A S I C  S T A T I S T I C S

31 million primary school girls aren’t going to school around the world. School enrollment rates for girls have improved over the past decade, but more than 30 million girls of primary school age are still out of school today. Most of them will never enter a classroom. 32 million more girls are missing out on the first 3 years of secondary education. That means in total over 60 million girls are out of school today.

F A C T S

If all underprivileged women finished high school, deaths of children under 5 would decrease by 49%. Since 2000 girls spend an average of 7 years in school. Every additional year of school a woman attends increases her wages by about 12 percent. Increasing the number of girls who complete high school education by 1% could increase a country’s economic growth by 0.3%. The poorest girls in developing countries spend on average less than 3 years in school. 80 percent of the girls are unlikely to ever start school compared to 16 percent of the boys that are out of school.

In conclusion, my friends and I, and all others who have easy access to school are very lucky and shouldn’t take it for granted since many girls around the world don’t have the privilege to go to school. What surprised me most about learning about girls education is how many girls around the world don’t go to school. I want to help get more girls in school in underprivileged countries by using my savings to sponsor a girl or get together a group at my school to raise money by having a fundraiser.

 

adolescent peer relationships

by Zoë

How can a school environment change or influence the way people act? Middle and high school students are affected by many cliques and stereotypes, and sometimes adopt the habits and personality traits of the people they hang out with. This happens across a variety of school environments, ranging from small to large, public to private. The schools can be densely populated with thousands of students, or they can be intimate and quiet.

May is a girl who just started high school, has no friends yet, and is hoping to make some. She discovers the geeks, the populars, the jocks, and other cliques. Not knowing it, she sits with the popular kids at lunch, and begins to develop different personality traits to fit into the group. She goes from shy and insecure to overly confident and rude. May also develops bad habits: she sneaks out after curfew and steals things from the local convenience store. She follows the other girls and puts graffiti on the school bathroom walls, and disrespects her teachers. Her grades began to slip. May didn’t see anything was wrong with her behavior or the sudden change in her choices because she was fitting into the group.

What are some solutions? May could leave the popular group when she feels she is changing herself just to fit in. She also could try to steer the group in the right direction; for example, she could tell her friends that stealing is wrong. Peers, teachers and parents could reach out to May to help her see the problems and find solutions. There are many people who could talk to her about her experiences at school, and suggest ways to make new friends.

After talking with her family, friends and teachers once more, and thinking it out on her own, May made her decision. On the next Monday at lunch, she sat down with a new group, all the way across the dining hall from the popular kids. The group was a mix of mostly girls and a few boys, all from different grades and backgrounds. There didn’t seem to be a leader, or a particular “type” that she felt she needed to be. They were welcoming and friendly, which was especially nice since May felt shy all over again. After a week or two, her personality became warmer and gentler. She realized her new friends made her feel safe, helped her make the right decisions, and she felt herself becoming a nicer and better person. She was officially in her comfort zone, and not only did she feel better, but her new friends, teachers and parents were no longer worried about her.

A person can be influenced positively or negatively by their environment, and it affects all aspects of their health. There are six different types of health: mental, physical, spiritual, social, academic and emotional. It’s a good idea to reach out to someone if you notice they may be going along with the crowd and participating in negative behavior. By helping them to see there are options, it could change their whole perspective.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words;

Watch your words, for they become actions;

Watch your actions, for they become habits;

Watch your habits, for they become character;

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” —Lao Tzu

Cocobear-maze-of-exclusion

by Frankie

One day, my friends Katie, Aubrey, Korryn and I decided to try a maze room, a place where a bunch of staff lock you into a room and you work with your friends to escape with the resources in the room. There are many different maze rooms, from Demon Hunters to Prison Cell, and they usually consist of one main room and a bunch of other rooms that branch off and lead you to your escape.  There are only (at most) seven people allowed, so we had to exclude one of our friends, Jadyn.

The maze room requires wits, bravery, and  the ability to use your brain. Not to forget teamwork, which you cannot succeed without. This is what scared us. Our group, a bunch of zany, reckless middle-school students who are very unobservant and (sometimes) act like first-graders, aren’t necessarily fit for the job. Nevertheless, we decided to do it, because it sounded fun. At least we were good at teamwork.

Once we reached the limit with the number of people we could bring, we drove to Los Angeles to get to the maze room. Finding the actual building was a maze within itself. Once we found the building (which was up a sketchy looking set of stairs), we waited until a woman told us everything about the room. She said to ask for a hint if we needed one and explained that we only had sixty minutes. Then we went inside the room, where we saw a door to the left, a door to the right, a table with a chair against the wall, an end table, another table with a bunch of books on it, and a lamp in the corner. The table with the books also had several drawers below. It was very weird. When we looked to the left, paint on the wall read “The rat eats the furniture.” At that moment, Katie tripped on her foot, and landed beside the table with the chair, and picked something up. What a coincidence! It was the rat.

We didn’t know what to do after that. We were just wandering around, literally tearing the room apart. We must have gotten the rat for something. Aubrey’s mom took the rat and stuck it against everything, to see if anything else would happen. Korryn and I turned over the end table, only to find nothing. But there were weird markings on it as well. Aubrey’s mom put the rat against the markings and the end table, which was previously locked, opened up. Inside was a creepy photo of some dude, but there was a date on the back of  the photo. We typed in the date in a lock, and a box beside the door on the right opened. Inside was a metal rod. Okay . . . interesting. At that same moment, the door on the left opened, because Katie was fiddling around with the rat against the left door. We were told through a walkie-talkie that the door wasn’t supposed to open yet, so we closed it.

We didn’t know what to do for a while, so we asked for a clue through the walkie-talkie. The woman said to remove all the books. So we all did, and a small hole appeared, the perfect size to place the metal rod in. A drawer swung open below the table, and inside it had the code to escape the first room. We did. The rest of the maze room was full of random problem-solving, and we all worked together pretty equally. Once we escaped, which involved putting candles on all five tips of a pentagram, we had lunch at a Mexican restaurant nearby. But, that wasn’t all.  Because the joy of escaping and figuring out how to do so, and locking your brain into high gear was so thrilling, we HAD to do it again. We did the Demon Hunters one first. We had five minutes left to spare. That was medium difficulty. We decided to do the Soviet Spy one, where we were FBI agents that were trying to find the undercover Soviet spy. It was rated HARD DIFFICULTY LEVEL. We knew we could do it.

Just like the first location, this maze room was very hard to find. We had to go up a small elevator, then we walked along the second floor of the building until we found the maze room. A man welcomed us, and we were given fake mustaches and vests that had fake FBI names on it. It was amazing. We could already tell that this maze room was going to be the best. We went through a series of crazy steps, and one even involved a closet opening from the back. It was epic. We ended up finishing the room with fifteen minutes to spare. But all the crazy adventure made me think of Jadyn, whom we had excluded. I had to set things right, especially because all of my friends said she was going to be invited. It was a serious problem. After having the time of my life in a bunch of maze rooms, it was time to go back to school and face this.

I went up to Jadyn, and told her that we had gone and weren’t able to invite her because  there was no more room. I told her that it was wrong of me for going without telling her anything beforehand, and then we worked out a date where we could go and do something that was just the two of us. It took some planning, but after Spring Break, we did the Bean Boozled Challenge [a game of chance involving Jelly Beans], ate some delicious food, and hung out, spending lots of time having fun. Not only did I have a great time at the hangout with Jadyn, but I felt a lot better about our friendship.

If you are ever in the situation where you feel peer pressure to exclude someone, think twice and always include them.