Friday, March 31, 2017

“Cell phones are so convenient that they're an inconvenience.” 
                                      Haruki Murakami,                                                                                    

April 3, 2017

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how distractions and temptations get in the way of our long-term goals. For too many people, one marshmallow now just tastes better than having to wait for two later. As teens and adults, however, there is another distraction far more tempting than even the fattest, freshest, toastiest marshmallow – the Internet. Checking email, news feeds and Instagram has become a compulsion for too many people.  As Nicholas Carr explained in his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. “The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”
What makes the Internet so fascinating is the ability to surf so quickly, effortlessly and mindlessly through so many different places. Never in history have people had the power to see so much so easily. Sites like Wikipedia, the United States Archives and the New York Public Library put more information at everyone’s fingertips than any single person had access to two decades ago. However, the reality is that this is not what we generally use the Internet for. We are much more likely to spend hours bouncing between social media sites and YouTube videos. I totally get it. Every night I have to check my three news sources, email and maybe check out a short video before I go to sleep, often later than I had wanted. I don’t usually take the time to read the longer articles but instead skim through the headlines feeling like I’m engaged with the world.
But I’m not. If I really want to be engaged, I have to put in the effort to get off the surfboard and dive deep. Read the actual New York Times, actually talk to friends and get out and see real performances. Between text messages, email and social media, people may read as many words as ever, but it is all on the surface. A fully engaged life, meaningful friendships and real learning require effort. Most of LoMA’s students are currently reading Shakespeare, and I know it isn’t always easy to tell what he is saying. It requires multiple readings, discussion and a dictionary. But all that effort opens up new worlds of the imagination to inspire us with the ideal of love or scare us with the tragedy of selfishness. Novels, full-length movies and books can change our lives in a way that make the wittiest memes seem inane.
If I know this, why do I still obsessively check email and the latest in the New York Times? Tony Schwartz wrote about this an article called “Addicted to Distraction.” (in the Times). He defined addiction as “the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.” He then points out that, “By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet.” He says the Internet is so compulsive because it feeds the brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification thereby creating a “compulsion loop.” This need is compounded by our fear of missing out on something important.  Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect. Of course, the first defense of any addiction is denial, so an easy test of this is to simply quit using the Internet in any form for a week and see what happens.
As with all compulsions, they key to controlling it is to put structures in place that can control our desires. Charging the phone outside of the bedroom overnight helps control staying up too late surfing. Deleting time-wasting apps and leaving my phone turned off in my book bag during the school day are other ways to free my time for more worthwhile pursuits.  

Work Hard,

John Wenk
April 5                                                SAT Day and freshmen and senior trips
April 6                        6:00      Talent Show
April 10-18                             Spring Break!

            This week’s Shaka entries are from a Junior and Sophomore, respectively, who have both been working on their phone addictions.
Hey guys,
            Now I know none of you want to be reading this and much rather be on your phone.  Well, guess what!  That’s what this is about.  I also know that none of you want to be told to stop using your phone so much because it ruins your life. Well I’m gonna tell you anyway, because I know from experience.  I recently was in a fight because of something I said in a group chat with friends.  It was meant to be a joke, but my friend didn’t see it that way which caused her to stop talking to me for a while.  I almost ruined a friendship because of something online, where people can’t tell the tone you use.  I also overhear people in my class when they talk, and usually it’s about problems that start on Social Media. 
            Now I also know that none of you think that you pay more attention to your phone than your friends, but how many of you have every single social media?  I only have two of them, so do my friends, and you know what?  Since deleting the others, we spend our time hanging out outside, playing games, or listening to music TOGETHER. 
I’ve also noticed the number of times that I hear my teachers tell my classmates to put their phone away during class.  Now, I’ll admit that I’m one of them—I used to be on my phone all the time in class and that led to me having bad grades.  Not only did I have bad participation grade, but I was also lost in class and would never hear what we had for homework.  Now I’m not on my phone as much, and I notice that the number of times teachers say, “Put your phone away” is crazy.  It’s gotten to the point where even I get annoyed hearing it, and when I look at my classmates, they are still on their phones!  Honestly, what could possibly be so important on your phone that it can’t wait until after class?!  Because I guarantee that if you do (as I learned), you’ll find out that some of the work is actually pretty interesting.  All I’m saying is to take a break from being on your phone and focus on what is actually important,  Instead of caring about how many likes you get, or followers on insta, or how many people have you on snap, or your streaks, maybe care about how many people are actually there for you.  Like, in person!  Then, take it further.  How many people are you actually there for?
Now, you don’t have to listen to me, but look at what being obsessed with our phones has come to—a President who is on Twitter all the time instead of being a president.  Even with our families, my own parents are on their phones a lot, and they complain about me.  It’s gotten to the point where adults are no better.  We need to spend more time with the people we care about and not with our phones.
*                       *                       *
   As you know many teens today are always on their phone. I would say the phone is a very addictive technology because you can do so much on it: games, websites, banking, text, call, etc. Some teens I talk to (even me) have a problem with putting it away; then when a teacher asks to read aloud or pay attention in class, we don't respond as fast as we should ‘cause we are so caught up in our phones, and most of the time we don't even hear people talking to us while we're lost in our phones. So for a fact, technology has taken control of our teen society, and I do agree that it needs to be handled. One thing that technology can overpower is friendship, if you're at lunch with your friends, you expect to talk about what’s happening and how things are going. Let's say three out of four are on their phones.  How is that fair to that one person that's waiting for someone to look up and talk to them? So like I said before this technology it’s so powerful it can ruin friendship and grades.
Look around once in a while,


Friday, March 24, 2017

Study Better

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”                                                            -Pelé
March 27, 2017

Ulrich Boser of the Center for American Progress has recently published a book called Learning Better. In it, he challenges many of the myths of how people learn by giving people the following quiz. See how you do!
1.      True or false: When it comes to learning, metacognition (i.e., thinking about thinking) can be just as important as intelligence.
2.      What is the best way to learn from some text?
a.      Read and reread the text
b.      Explain the key ideas of the test to yourself while reading
c.      Underline key concepts
d.     Use a highlighter.
3.      You have a test coming up. What’s the best way to review the material?
a.      Circle key points in the readings
b.      Read your notes over and over
c.      Take a practice quiz based on the material
4.      True or false: Learning should be spaced out over time.
5.      True or false: Right-brained people learn differently from left-brained people.
6.      Which should you not connect your learning to?
a.      Your learning style
b.      Your interests
c.      Your previous knowledge.
How did you do?
Number 1 is true. Intelligence is over-rated. How we think about intelligence is actually more important than our IQ score. You can learn almost anything if you are interested enough to care and put in effort. Intelligence is malleable. It’s very rarely about how smart you are, but how smart you want to make yourself.
Number 2 is b, and 3 is c. Yes, rereading and close reading do help, but summarizing what you need to memorize is always the best way improve retention. It relates to the strategy of quizzing yourself. Most of the time, our memory problems have more to do with retrieval than retention. Think about how once your remember a piece of something, it all comes back to you. With trillions of neural connections, our minds are less like empty closets and more like overly crowded closets where we can’t find anything. The more you quiz yourself and summarize data, the more likely you will remember where in the mind you put the information.
Number 4 is true. Cramming for a test the night before is much less efficient than studying just a little bit every day. Quizzing yourself on your notes and homework for five nights for 10 minutes a night will help more than studying for an hour the night before the exam. Of course, doing both will be even better.
Number 5 is false, and Number 6 is A. There has been a lot of hype about learning styles and right-brain and left brain learning. There is some truth to differences in both categories, but no research has found that we should change how we learn based on these differences. What is most important is that we are interested in the topic and connect it to what we already know.
If you did not do well, don’t be upset, the great majority of Boser’s subjects got most of the questions wrong too. The sad part, though, is that 75% of them said they know how to study well. Many people think being smart is what  is important and that they are studying when they simply read over their notes. Being academically successful is possible for everyone who cares and tries.
Work Hard,

John Wenk

This week’s Shaka entry is from a freshman student who has maintained a 90’s average while making the adjustment to High School expectations and freedoms.  Hope you find it enlightening!

You remember what it was like when you were in the fourth grade and the teacher had this whole lesson on…

“AIM: What type of learners are we?”

I always thought I had to physically see you do whatever it is you’re trying to teach me, and sometimes it can be difficult…being a visual learner and all.

Like in dance, if I’m not working off a mirror image of the others then I just want to give up; I feel lost and want to sit out for the rest of the hour.

But then I found I still remember things I hear from a teacher, or see in a video, or read in my packet.

I still get stressed about quizzes and tests, even though I usually do pretty well.

Trust me, I always would try and study, but what is studying?

Like, WHAT IS STUDYING IN GENERAL?!?!  What does that word even mean?

If I learn something and I don’t get it I will go to tutoring to try to figure it out.  But if I don’t know what my questions are—what I don’t understand—before going there, it feels like wasted time.

So is that studying?

Or am I studying when I am able to breeze through my homework, and answer all the questions, even if I don’t feel like I get it?

But wait, now there’s teachers’ favorite line, “Make flashcards!  Review your notes!”

Is that studying?  I don’t get that.  It feels like a waste of paper.  Nobody looks at flashcards after making them, and I never feel like they really make me learn things I don’t remember easily anyway.

So is that studying?

Really, what is studying?  Even the experts’ ideas of what makes effective learning and studying changes constantly.  Our best hope is to try to keep up, and learn from ourselves what works best for ourselves.

Listen to your mind,


April 5                                      SAT Day and freshmen and senior trips
April 6             6:00                  Talent Show
April 10-18                               Spring Break!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Whitney Biennial

It takes a village to raise a child
                                    -African Proverb

Dear LoMA Family,

A recent NY Times article mentioned LoMA. 

Why would they, you ask?  Not because we are the most amazing school ever with the most amazing kids ever created by an ovum and sperm – nah, because our 11th and 12th graders are participating in something pretty unique.  Our, let’s face, coolest kids in school, the art majors are participating in the 2017 Whitney Biennial.

The Biennial occurs every two years and is at its base a survey of what is happening in art right now.  All the work has been made just for the show, all the artists are living, and they are all American.  It’s kind of a big deal if you’re an art nerd.

For this Biennial the artist Chemi Rosado-Seijo came up with the idea of switching out the furniture in the LoMA art room and putting it in the museum and then having the students come to the museum for class.  Yin doesn’t exist without Yang so to even things out he proposed that the art room at LoMA be turned into a gallery.

Each Tuesday afternoon the 11th grade art majors will tromp (probably whining about how hungry they are) over to the Whitney to make some art (Yin).  Each Saturday and Sunday LoMA will be open to the public to see our ‘galleries’.  In my art room will be a video by the artist Sky Hopinka Kunįkága Remembers Red Banks, Kunįkága Remembers the Welcome Song (2014) and the LoMA Gallery on the mezzanine will have work made by the 12th graders in collaboration with the artist Jessie Reaves (Yang).

May 3rd will be  LoMA’s Friends and Family night at the museum.  There will be free admission for everyone and a few performances by LoMA students. If you’d like to go to the museum before May 3rd , your student ID gets you in for free and I will have Family Passes for anyone who needs one. 

The Whitney also hosts an Open Studio every Friday at the museum from 4 to 6pm. Anyone with a high school ID can participate in art-making on the 3rd floor.  I hear they give you food too!

Have a great week!


Dear LoMA Family,

I had the opportunity to see these students’ work at last week’s opening gala for the Biennial, and I was blown away.  It looks as if Julie’s classroom has been moved to a beautiful space next to a dramatic balcony overlooking all of downtown. The walls are still mostly blank and will be filled in as the exhibit and the student’s work progresses. What is so amazing, though, are what are on Julie’s old tables now – the juniors’ artist statements about self-portraits that they completed last term. These statements describe how the artists struggled to create their pieces and how they feel about them. They are so raw, authentic, and insightful that they provide a moving testimony to the power of art to transform how people see themselves and their society. At first I thought that it was strange that the actual self-portraits were not even exhibited. Then I understood that their absence keeps the focus on what is left behind after the actual experience of artistic creative expression. I had seen some of these statements before, but seeing them now, in this way, in one of the most prestigious art shows in America added more power to them. I imagine that these statements may change the way that thousands of people who come through the gallery see the possibilities of how art can impact young people and the world in general.

Of course, this Whitney project is not LoMA’s only collaboration. LoMA was founded on the idea that school partnerships expand the opportunities for our students. That is why we so strongly encourage students to take part in Edgies, Global Potential, Step-UP, ScriptEd, and PSAL. All of the arts majors also have their partnerships: New York Theater Workshop, Alvin Ailey, LEAP, Converse Recording Studio, Seal of the Gods, and Hot97. All of these organizations provide opportunities for our students to hone their craft, make connections, and exhibit their work publicly. Just ten days, ago, for instance, dozens of our students sang, danced, and presented spoken word at a spectacular Edgies talent show, and now other students are working hard to prepare for Grease, the Talent Show, major’s show and the basketball court as players and cheerleaders. There is so much out there for students who care enough to commit to the effort.

Work Hard,
John Wenk

March 23        5:45-8:00        Parent Teacher Conferences
March 24        1:00-3:00        Parent Teacher Conferences
April 5                                    SAT Day and freshmen and senior trips
            April 6                                    Talent Show

Friday, March 10, 2017

Marshmellow Experiment

Every life is a march from innocence, through temptation, to virtue or vice.  -Lyman Abbott

March 13, 2017

Last week I wrote about how successful people are able to defer gratification. This week I want to talk about my favorite psychological experiment on this issue – the famous marshmallow study. In this 1962 experiment, Stanford University Professor Walter Mischel asked preschool children to pick a favorite treat from a tray containing marshmallows, cookies, and pretzel sticks. He then left them alone in a room after telling them that if they did not eat the treat, they would be allowed to eat two treats when he returned. A hidden camera recorded what happened when he left the room as the kids struggled with temptation. The videos are pretty funny. Some covered their eyes or turned away so they could not see the treat. Others kicked the desk, tugged at their pigtails or stroked the marshmallow like a tiny stuffed animal. One boy looked around, twisted his Oreo cookie apart, licked out the stuffing, put it back together, and smiled happily. The average amount of time that the children were able to wait was about three minutes, but nearly 30% waited the full fifteen minutes required for the double reward.

In this longitudinal study, he then tracked these students through high school. He found that the students who were able to delay the gratification of eating treats had fewer behavioral issues, longer attention spans, lower body-mass indexes, fewer problems with drugs and alcohol, and scored an average of 210 points higher on the SATs. There was more at work here than marshmallows and Oreos. People with poor impulse control have an inability to invest in the future which keeps them from succeeding in all kinds of ways. They do worse than those with more self-restraint at saving money, committing to exercise and good diet, and making sacrifices for friends. In school, they have trouble studying on a regular basis, read less and lose focus during class. They promise to attend tutoring and then run off to hang out with friends after school instead.

The marshmallow experiment does offer some hope. Mischel found that the students who closed their eyes, hid their treat and sang to themselves were able to wait the full fifteen minutes. One of the keys to avoiding temptation is to put structures in place that make it easier to resist temptation. This is why college students study in the library rather than their dorm rooms, why it is important to turn off one’s phone, TV and Facebook account when working, and to choose one’s friends carefully so that they support your long term goals instead of leading you into the temptation of immediate gratification. It’s not that successful people don’t want to have as much fun as other people; they have simply learned how to arrange for the fun after they complete the work, and in return they will have many more opportunities for good times in the future.

Work Hard…then relax,

John Wenk

March 16                    Deadline for Summer Youth Employment Program
March 16                    Parent’s Association Meeting
March 17                    End of the Marking Period
March 17-19               Senior Trip
March 23-24               Parent Teacher Conferences

Dear LoMA,
This week’s Shaka letter is a compilation of reflections, successes, and struggles with delaying gratification. 

“My advisor told me to write this response and I automatically went on my phone to check SnapChat.  I sat here the whole period and had to scramble to write it at the end, because I just couldn’t make myself stop doing what I wanted to start doing what I had to.  How’s that for irony?”

“I put off the things I have to do by not doing it - by procrastinating.  I’m just a lazy person, and have trouble doing things I don’t want to do.  So then I start slacking in school, and it’s hard to stop.”

“I do put off my friends for school, like when I have to go home and do my homework instead of hanging out with my friends.  It’s hard because I don’t see my friends as often as I would like to.”

“I almost never put off my friends for school work, which means I don’t usually do homework.  I always wind up hanging out with friends instead.  This makes me have zero motivation to do anything.  It’s frustrating at times, but I’m used to myself being this way now, and I don’t see myself changing.”

“Hmmm…I’d like to say that I can put off other things in order to do my work, but when I had a phone, I couldn’t control my impulses.  Then I lost my phone for six months.  Now, when I do do (haha doo-doo) work, I cut off people unless they’re talking directly to me about something important or school-related.”

“I have a difficult time doing the things I need to start doing all the time.  I usually put off doing homework by watching TV or playing video games.  It’s all because I have depression and a lack of motivation, so these things give me some temporary happiness, but I usually can’t do anything productive.”

“Sometimes it is not hard to be able to do what I want.  For me, being a part of so many teams and ensembles, I have to constantly give up my time to make sure I am able to do everything I am signed up for.  This causes me to not have a social life, which is very hard, but it provides me with better chances in the future, which I have to keep my eyes on.”

Friday, March 3, 2017

Procrastination formula


Overall, the grades last semester were generally good, with about 85% of our students on track to promotion. Yet too many students are still short of earning the 83 average students need to get into a four year college. When I ask them what gets in their way, the most common explanation I hear is procrastination.  The best article I have read on the subject is by Steven Kotler in Psychology Today. He found that there were four factors that relate to procrastination:
  • E = The expectation or confidence that we will be successful at a given task.
  • V= The value we give to a task – how much fun it is and what it means to us in the long term.
  • D= Our ability to delay gratification
  •  I=Our impulsiveness
To understand how they relate to one another, he came up with a formula to measure procrastination wherein U represents the effort needed to complete a task: U=E x V/I x D. This means that the likeliness of procrastination depends on our confidence of success multiplied by the fun or importance of the task divided by how badly we need the reward for finishing it multiplied by how easily we are distracted. For example, if students feel that they cannot complete their homework, that they won’t be graded for it and that it is not important, then they are not very likely to complete it. However, the largest predictor of procrastination is impulsivity. This confirms other reports that impulsive people tend to be more violent, poorer and less successful.
Steel gives some strategies for counteracting procrastination:
  • Exercise your willpower as if it were a muscle through meditation and self-affirmation. Remind yourself of your values (i.e., success in school is important to me) when you feel your impulsivity rise.
  • Reduce distractions when working shutting off cell phones, televisions and distracting music.
  • Structure projects so that you can increase your confidence of completing them. You can do this by beginning homework during tutoring, breaking big projects into smaller chunks and asking for help when needed.
  • Visualize success at the start of a project in order to make future goals vivid.
  • Just do it - when a task makes you anxious, don’t give in to the emotional relief that avoidance provides. Acknowledge the negative feeling and jump into the task anyway. Once you get started, it is amazing how much easier it is to finish a project than you thought you thought it would be when you began.
We have all felt the siren call of procrastination; what makes some people more successful than others is their ability to hunker down and just do what they have to do.

 Work hard…today,  

John Wenk

March 16                    Deadline for Summer Youth Employment Program
March 16                    Parent’s Association Meeting
March 17                    End of the Marking Period

Dear LoMA Family,
          I was born to a family that wasn't wealthy and my parents were always getting into arguments. I would always think I was the problem. My last year in middle school I found out that my dad cheated on my mother. Once I entered high school I said, “ f*** it, this s*** isn’t for me”. I passed 9th grade without a problem, and I entered my 10th grade year thinking I was going to do everything I had to do. Things started going the wrong way. I started slacking, cutting school, getting suspended, and always wandering in the hallways. I thought that I was honestly the s*** when I really wasn’t. I would never do homework, and always talk back to my teachers. I’m a smart girl but I almost never did my work. I always thought that I would pass without doing much work, like I had in 9th grade. But hey! I was wrong. I started talking and chilling with the wrong people and spending more time on my phone than homework. Even when I did homework, I was distracted and never completed it.  Then I got a wake-up call and I started doing what I had to do and look where I am now!       
I got sent to DR in the middle of my first 10th grade year and when I came back I got my s*** together. My second 10th grade year was the worst year of my life. My grandmother passed away and that was the biggest impact on me ever.  I knew I couldn’t keep letting myself down.  Some strategies that helped me get to where I am now are going to credit plus, tutoring and coming to school early in the morning to get work done. I spent so much time here not working that just feels wasted now.  Also, setting small goals and depending on myself to complete them helped me keep my workload manageable.  As I saw my grades start to rise to the level I wanted, it made me more willing to do work.
I wish that someone had told me that getting left back would be so embarrassing and that watching my original class graduate and leave me here would be so hard. The thoughts of dropping out were pounding my head constantly, but I never gave up again. I started doing what I had to do and look at where I’m at now! Never quit on yourself, no matter what you’re going through. Life gives blessings and this failure was my blessing, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time.