Joe’s Jotter: Does your Secondary School child eat breakfast?

Students, you have heard your parents and other adults say many times that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and that indeed is a hard fact. A decent breakfast will give you the energy to start each morning, help balance your weight and allow you to complete the tasks and challenges you face every day more efficiently. Breakfast is equally as important for children as it is for adults and a healthy one is a vital part of our health and wellbeing. The importance of breakfast as the first meal of the day has been scientifically proven; so in fact your parents are actually correct.

Imagine food is the fuel for your daily activity. During exams and indeed school time, your body will demand good quality clean fuel and regular refuelling in order to nourish itself and maximise your concentration, starting first thing in the morning. I’ve had my own experience in relation to eating breakfast. In my early teaching career, I didn’t eat anything in the morning until my first small break (eleven o’clock). During the early morning, I found myself regularly on edge and low in energy. I noticed that just before this break, my body was actually craving food and my focus had diminished. Basically, what was happening was my blood sugar levels had dropped too low and my concentration was poor during my first two hours teaching each day and I knew it.

Good Morning Habits

As an experienced teacher, I am familiar with students’ poor morning eating habits. Many students don’t feel like food, or their stomach is unsettled early in the morning. Students who eat late at night may be getting messages from their stomach that their body is still living off those energy stores. That’s OK. But students: ‘Please just eat something’, no matter how small, to kick-start your system again. If you think about it logically, your body has not fuelled up for eight to ten hours during the night, so denying it any longer makes no sense at all, especially from a blood sugar and energy point of view.

There are hundreds of good breakfast options that aren’t that time consuming to prepare. These include Smoothies containing fruit, plain yoghurt or chopped fruit with whole grain cereals and milk. A mixture like crushed nuts, a small dollop of organic honey and plain yoghurt can be quickly made and eaten. Homemade granola bars are great for when you’re on the go and better than the sugar-packed store-bought ones. Get your Parents to make you a batch or have a go yourself for the craic.

Personally, I would recommend the following foods for breakfast: Oats, Muesli, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Greek yoghurt, Smoothies, Wholemeal bread, Scrambled eggs, Bananas, Low sugar cereal, Actimel, Low sugar orange juice and Low sugar multivitamin juice. If there are healthy wholesome foods you find hard to consume for breakfast, put other foods on top so that their unpalatable taste is masked. An example of this is to put bananas, fruit, yoghurt, or honey on your porridge (cooked oats). I have found that my performance, energy, and concentration has improved greatly in school during the day now that I have introduced porridge into my diet. I recommend you try it for yourselves.

Your Role as Parents

Parents, if your child skips breakfast before school, they are more likely to be tired throughout the day and will have reduced concentration levels. Preparing and encouraging them to consume a breakfast that is packed full of fibre, carbohydrates, grains, and protein will help boost concentration levels, improve memory, and will stop complaints of hunger as the morning progresses. If breakfast is a busy time of day in your house, then feeding your children what they need quickly might be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be. By stocking up on all the ingredients you need beforehand, you can deliver quick healthy breakfasts that they will enjoy. By preparing breakfast the night before, or getting them to prepare their own, you can cut wasted time in the morning. Avoiding the ‘Coco Pops’ style breakfast cereal is certainly one that’s recommended.

Six Compelling Reasons to Eat Breakfast

  1. The Gap: Breakfast is the first meal you eat after sleeping through the night. You may not feel it, but your body is actually craving food and needs refuelling.
  2. Fighting Sickness: Skipping breakfast weakens your immune system and may increase your chances of becoming ill quicker as a result.
  3. Concentration Levels: A correlation between concentration and our ability to perform tasks has been proven through research. Food is known to enhance concentration.
  4. Serotonin Boost: Eating breakfast boosts levels of serotonin (a mood enhancer chemical that helps you feel better and maintain stability throughout the day).
  5. Increased Variety: Breakfast foods like whole grain cereals, eggs and porridge contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and add great variety to your diet.
  6. Good Start: A scheduled healthy breakfast will help your body run like a well-oiled machine all day. It is the best start to any busy day and heaven knows we need that now in 2024. Joe.

“Breaks are your reward for hard work.”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2024 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: Nourishing a Growing Teenager

Summer is a time for rest and reflection. As a student, do you ever think about your diet and the foods you eat? Do you go overboard on the junk food at times? Here are some pointers to read and have a think about as we approach mid-summer 2023. This article is not to lecture you, but rather to make you think about little adjustments you could make to ensure you are giving your body and mind the best possible chance as a new academic year approaches.

  1. Target One or Two Improvements

Rather than aiming to overhaul your diet and what you eat, start by targeting one specific area for improvement before the new academic year kicks off. This should be something that is most relevant to you and is changeable, for example, breakfast. If you are someone who doesn’t eat a healthy breakfast, you could start by prioritising that. As you become more consistent with that meal, you can work on other mini targets, like eating more fruit and vegetables or reducing sugary drinks. It is important to be realistic about what you wish to achieve and give yourself a reasonable time period to achieve it.

Progress on any changes made should be judged over several weeks (rather than days), as new habits take time to form. Get a shopping list together and ask your parents to stock the fridge and freezer with specific whole foods. The more whole and natural a food is, the better. For example, a beetroot unpackaged and untouched is far better than a jar of sliced beetroot. You get the idea. If you can do a bit of cooking for yourself, you will never go hungry. Minor improvements to the quality of food you consume will help improve your concentration and focus going forward. Indeed, we all could do with that. More importantly for you, this will allow you to make a fast start for Term 1 in September.

You won’t go to far wrong by increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables for the remainder of the holidays. This will help you build up resistance to any bugs flying around come autumn time. Eating as many different coloured vegetables as you can is the secret to providing plenty of nutrients for your body. If you do opt for a takeaway (as is ok at times of course), cook some homemade vegetables to eat on the side. This balances the books a little and ensures you are still getting important vitamins and minerals.

  1. Hydrate as Best You Can

Firstly, it’s important to know that your weight affects your fluid needs. You should drink 35ml of fluid daily for every kilogramme you weigh. For example, a 70kg (11 stone approx.) person should drink 2.45 litres per day. The recommended daily amount of water for a teenager is two litres, which works out at around at eight to ten glasses. The recommendation is to drink more than this if the day is particularly hot or if you are exercising. Research on athletes has shown that a two percent drop in hydration can lead to thirty percent drop in performance. This applies to any activity requiring a certain level of focus. It is also worth noting that a person’s body is made up of 50-60% water.

Water is the best form of hydration, and the benefits of water are well documented. Water increases energy, flushes out toxins, improves skin complexion, boosts the immune system, prevents cramps, balances the body’s fluids, promotes digestion, and eliminates waste products. Having all these benefits working in your favour is only going to help you maintain better health. Some low sugar fruit juices, like cranberry, blueberry and apple are also good for hydration and contain enzymes and vitamins. Fizzy drinks will also increase hydration, but again are to be avoided due to their high sugar content. Other foods to improve hydration include Cucumbers, Watermelon, Pineapple, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Pear, Lettuce, and Melon. Ultimately, sipping on water throughout the day is the best way to keep your body properly hydrated.

If you get dehydrated, your concentration for revision at home or performance on the sports field will be affected. Here are four tell-tale signs that your body is dehydrated and that you need to drink more fluids:

  • Dry mouth and skin: If you are dehydrated, you may not be producing enough saliva, which will lead to a build-up of bacteria in the mouth. Acne may also occur.
  • Food cravings: The body confuses thirst for hunger sometimes. Drinking water will reduce these cravings, as it is water your body often requires not food.
  • Headaches, tiredness, and confusion: A lack of water can lead to headaches during the day. This makes it very difficult to operate to your maximum capacity. Ask yourself the question, “Am I constantly tired?” If the answer is yes, you might just be lacking water in your diet. The process of learning and retaining information has been proven to be more difficult if your body lacks fluid.
  • Urine colour: The colour of urine should be light if you are well hydrated. The average hydrated person goes to the toilet to excrete urine six to eight times daily.

To combat dehydration, always bring a bottle of water with you. Keeping bottles of cold water in the fridge at home will make it easy to ‘grab and go’ and you can sip away on it as the day progresses. It is important to note that if you feel some of the above listed symptoms, your body may already be dehydrated. Prevention is better than cure. Building good hydration into your everyday routine is a great habit to work on before School resumption. Summertime presents an ideal opportunity to form new habits. Joe

“Spend Time, Energy and Effort well over the next four weeks”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2023 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students, can be found via links below:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Joe’s Jotter: Positive Ways to Handle Exam Strain

  1. Play is as important as study

It is vital that you build in time to have fun and relax between study sessions. Use your Lifestyle (Study) Timetable to help you plan enjoyable activities of relaxation and ‘play’. Going to watch your favourite team is a great way of taking your mind off school. Listening to music works also, especially if you combine it with a walk. Neuroscientists have done research into the link between music and anxiety. They say they have discovered a song that reduces anxiety by sixty-five percent. The song is called ‘Weightless’ and is written by ‘Marconi Union’. Download it.

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while,
you might just miss it”
Ferris Bueller

  1. Take and enjoy your breaks

Breaks are to be viewed as a positive around exam time. Academics with high concentration levels know the importance of breaks. Air traffic controllers are forced to take regular breaks to ensure they stay fresh. If you find that you are losing concentration, take a short break – go for a walk, talk to a friend, or just do something different. When you resume study, you will feel refreshed and be better able to concentrate on your revision again. Never beat yourself up for taking little breaks to keep fresh.

  1. Liquid discipline

I would discourage you from drinking too much coffee, tea, or fizzy drinks around exam time. Caffeine may key you up and cluster your thinking. Naturally, you will feel a sugar rush from fizzies but remember “what goes up must come down!”. Just for this short period, maybe try some herbal teas like camomile or peppermint. I find peppermint tea is a great stomach settler. Try and get as much water into you as possible as the exams approach. If you become dehydrated from the lack of water, your concentration levels will drop. This is a scientifically proven fact.

  1. Exercise the body as well as the mind

Regular moderate exercise such as a brisk walk, a swim or session in the gym will boost energy, clear the mind, and help reduce feelings of anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins (the good mood feeling) and will help you see the positives of life. A walk outside will get air into your lungs with a short thirty minute stroll being enough to reap many benefits.

Seeing and breathing in the senses of nature has been proven to enhance relaxation. Team sports are also brilliant as they improve relationships with your friends, allowing you to feel good about yourself. Sport will bring discipline to your studies as well as enhancing your personal confidence. From coaching Gaelic Football and Soccer teams over the years, I am of the opinion that students who involve themselves in sport tend to perform better in exams.

In general, exercise has actually been proven to have benefits as exams draw closer. The results of a University College Cork study (published in the US Journal of School Health in January 2013) headed by Dr John Bradley, back up this claim. In the survey of over four hundred boys who graduated from Secondary school between 2008 and 2011, those who participated in some kind of sport during the last two years of school “conferred an extra 25.4 CAO points benefit to their final Leaving Certificate score”. This increase is similar to what a student would receive from the current Maths bonus point’s structure. Need I say more? In other studies, it was also found that exercise helps one sleep better as the body is more physically tired (in a good way) and needs rest. In essence, when you exercise, endorphins induce a requirement for rest and feelings of sleep. 

  1. Do your best to retain control

It is natural to feel some nerves prior to the commencement of exams, however getting excessively nervous is counterproductive, as it will hinder your ability to think clearly. Make sure to have a plan in place on the off chance that your mind goes blank. Breathing deeply will help should this scenario occur. Students always know more than they think they do. I constantly see them underestimating themselves and their abilities. Believe in yourself and all the preparation and revision you have done, both at home and in school.

Remember, the best thing you can do is to try and stay calm and retain control of your emotions, as this will make it easier to recall information. Before the exams, write down all fears and worries that you are currently experiencing in your journal. This will give you more of an awareness of what you are anxious about and why these feelings are actually occurring. Writing things down also serves to ease the burden of carrying everything around in your head. Wishing you luck as always. Joe.

‘Stick to a daily plan of revision as close to it as you can.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2023 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: Tips to help a Junior Cycle Student with their Morning Routine

Having a simplified routine can really help a 1st, 2nd or 3rd Year make a great start to their day. Here are my three short tips for getting your teen off to a good start each morning…

Routine and Habits…

A good morning starts with a great night’s sleep, so before you even think about the AM, try to help them prioritise their sleeping habits. Some general rules of thumb here may include:

Get them into the habit of reducing screen time before bed (the blue light affects melatonin, the hormone which makes one sleepy). Avoiding large meals and caffeine before bed will allow the body to rest, without having to work off that excess food late in the evening. Try to create a calm bedroom environment, ensuring their sleeping space is clutter-free. Encourage a bedtime and lights out routine (at least from Sunday to Thursday night).

Water…

As we know, breakfast sets us up for the day. However, we also need to consider the benefits of rehydrating first thing in the morning. After sleeping for (hopefully) eight hours, drinking a glass of water when they wake up helps restore the fluids the body has lost during the night. It has been a long time since water intake, which makes it sensible to have a good top up asap.

Many scientists believe that staying hydrated has valuable benefits, such as improving the appearance and health of the skin and impacting cognition and mental performance. This is the very thing a tired teenager needs to have right for the long day ahead.

Breakfast…

It doesn’t make sense for a teenager to skip breakfast, even though many of them do. Given they may not have eaten anything in 8-10 hours, refuelling the body is key to a good morning. They will not be able to concentrate on that first 2 or 3 classes before break otherwise. Ensure they have a set ‘get up’ time. Otherwise it will be chaos in the house, rushing around and grabbing stuff. This will allow that 10-15 minutes for breakfast.

Time to chew and enjoy breakfast sets the tone for the day. This will also facilitate time to catch up on some parent-teen chat, listening to what they have on that day.

With the above suggested supports, you are putting the building blocks in place to give your teenager the best shot at the day, and in affect, that’s all you can do as a parent.

Good luck with it.
Joe.
(086) 4076495

Joe’s Jotter: How to Study Smart (2023) – Key Tips for 2nd & 3rd Years.

Spending a short amount of quality time with someone is better than spending hours paying very little attention to them at all. Revising for an exam is similar. You must hit revision in small intense bursts where you give it your 100% attention. The following are three useful efficiencies that will help you construct good study sessions.

Rotate your Place of Study

It is good practice to rotate where you study. The main reason for this is that if you start to get bored or listless there, you’ll associate boredom with learning. Try other places such as the kitchen table, the park, the back garden, the library or just a different room; anywhere you want to really. Try revising certain topics in unusual locations. An example of this could be to learn English drama quotes on your lawn in the sun. When you need to remember these quotes in the exam hall, you can visualise yourself being back there in the sun, recalling the day you learned them and hopefully triggering your mind to recall that information. Experiment to see if music or TV helps you concentrate. Some subjects will be more suited to this than others. I believe some Maths topics do not require one hundred percent attention, an example being adding words or formula’s to your hardback notebook. This, however, may be associated with my aptitude for the subject. You may be able to listen to some low level music in subjects you are more tuned into. This varies from person to person obviously and definitely won’t work for every subject.

Leaving Material Out

Come the next few weeks, as regular as a clock ticks, the rumour mill kicks into action. Comments like “Oh, this is coming up this year”, “I heard this is expected to come up”, “There’s no way that will be on the paper” or even ‘I’m leaving that out’ are common both online and offline. Please be aware that if a topic is listed on the syllabus for your subject, it can appear on the paper, even if it came up last year. Your teacher will source you a copy of the syllabus document if you wish to view it, or alternatively you can download it online. The syllabus document will tell you exactly what can be examined in the subject and is useful when you are creating a list of topics to be covered for each subject.

In relation to exam preparation, I know you all will try to cut corners, predict, throw topics away and ignore information. I would not recommend leaving out big chunks of the course. The State Exams Commission (SEC), who set the exam papers each year, state that they do not want any element of predictability in them. In general my advice is to cover your bases well and be as sensible as you can.

The plan should be to continue to reduce the volume of your keynotes. Summarising is the core idea here. I am convinced that summarising information will help you assimilate it better and your final content will be something more manageable and far less scary. Keep re-writing summaries into something clear that you can read and understand. As exams approach, be careful who you listen to. Teachers with many years’ experience (whether that’s your subject teacher or someone you know well) won’t put you far wrong. Having seen many exam papers, I think you can certainly place a good level of trust in them. The newspaper revision supplements written by experienced professionals, can be a useful revision aid also. However, too many notes are a bad thing and may overwhelm you.

Implement a Workable Revision Plan Now

Now that you are aware and have listed out all the topics on a sheet (per subject), it is time to make a robust yet practical revision plan that you can follow. Here are twenty practical study tips you can start using today:

  • Divide your revision time into small sessions
  • Take a break of five or ten minutes after each session
  • At weekends and holidays, revise during the hours when you feel most productive
  • Each student has their own method of studying, so figure yours out and use it
  • Divide study time proportional to effort needed. Difficult topics = More time
  • Underlining the key points for each topic is a great revision habit to start now
  • Make a practical study plan you can follow. A plan that is not doable is a big ‘NO’
  • Short notes should be just that – short and concise. This makes revision easier later
  • Use abbreviations and note down the key points only. No waffle or padding
  • Do not skip a topic because it seems difficult. Revise it a few times to let it sink in
  • Use revision breaks for something productive such as music, exercise, or activities
  • Always set a target score you are aiming towards in each subject
  • Take tests regularly. Your test scores are a regular reminder of your target score
  • Maintain test records so that you know which subtopics you need to work on
  • Sleep 7-8 hours daily. Losing sleep will affect your ability to concentrate and retain
  • Stay as healthy as you possibly can. Exercise
  • You cannot change the amount of revision you did yesterday. Start today
  • Be kind to yourself. Use positive self-talk each day. Example, ‘ I will do …… today’
  • Reflect on the amount of revision you did today, instead of what you didn’t do
  • If today’s plan didn’t go well, revisit it and tweak tomorrows one. Never give up

and remember..

“It is never too late to step into your own greatness”

Joe McCormack.

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition for 5th & 6th Year 2023 (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: The Many Pluses of doing Transition Year

I had heard transition year is a doss, but you do more practical work, like projects. You are a lot more tired than in Junior Cycle because you are doing so much. You don’t realise it until you look back.

Former Transition Year Student.

Transition year (TY) is a unique one year programme that links Junior and Senior Cycle together. It is now completed by the majority of students who finish secondary school in Ireland, with 75% of schools offering it. Each school is given the flexibility to design their own TY programme within a broad set of parameters. Some schools view it as an additional academic year of senior cycle; but most schools design it to allow students express themselves and develop and explore new talents. Approximately 74% of students do TY.

Will Transition Year benefit me?

The question that all 3rd year students and parents struggle with at this time of year is: ‘Will TY be beneficial to me?’  I feel there are a number of factors determining the success of Transition year for a given student. These include how well the school structures it, the enthusiasm the student has for the programme and how much they buy into it, and the level of variety in the programme, to name but a few.

There is no doubt that if a student does immerse themselves in TY, they can benefit greatly both from a social and developmental point of view. As is evident from the quote above from this former TY, students are engaged in a range of different activities compared to the more academic Junior Cycle. As a teacher, it is easy to spot the 6th year students who have completed TY, as opposed to those who went straight into 5th year. Aside from the obvious fact that students look a year older, they are much more confident in themselves and are a few more steps down the road to maturity than their counterparts. In my experience, this is especially pertinent to boys.

My Top Forty benefits of doing Transition Year

Listed below are my top forty benefits (in no particular order) that a student may gain by opting for TY. Hopefully it will allow you to make an informed decision if you are a parent or a 3rd year in the process of deciding to opt for it or not. 1st and 2nd Years can also have a read of these to get them thinking about their options post Junior Cycle. 

  1. It is an opportunity to mature especially if you are younger than your classmates
  2. You get a taste of working in everyday jobs in Industry and services
  3. You are given more licence to show and develop your individual personality
  4. Your confidence around meeting and dealing with people will improve greatly
  5. You may get to experience a trip to another country
  6. You may get to sample activities you wouldn’t normally e.g. sports, music, or drama
  7. You will be involved in outdoor experiences beneficial to fitness and mental health
  8. The friends you make in TY often turn into lasting relationships
  9. You will be allowed time to reflect and think about possible future careers
  10. You will get an opportunity to research courses and third level options
  11. You will get more of an opportunity to work in a team during activities
  12. You will feel part of a group, which may have not been the case at Junior Cycle
  13. Having an Identity (being a TY) will increase and enhance your personal self-worth
  14. You will learn to think more independently and listen to instructions better
  15. You may discover new talents and skills through engagement in new activities
  16. It should inspire you to take on more responsibility in Senior Cycle
  17. It will give you time to select the subjects that suit you for Senior Cycle
  18. You will get an opportunity to express yourself more with an expanded curriculum
  19. You may get an option to sample new subjects. e.g. Home Ec or Woodwork etc
  20. You may get a chance to visit places of cultural significance e.g. Museums or Gallery’s
  21. You may get opportunities to accomplish certs. e.g. Gaisce, Driving, ICT or First Aid
  22. You will learn research skills and how to approach employers for work experience
  23. You will get a chance to create, enhance and develop the quality of your CV
  24. You may get to experience debating, which will help your public speaking confidence
  25. You may be lucky enough that your school is involved in a TY exchange programme
  26. There won’t be as much academic pressure on you during this year
  27. You will have more time to join school groups e.g. student council, sports council etc
  28. You will be more mature and a year older heading into senior cycle
  29. More experiential learning during the year will mean more hands on and more fun
  30. You may attend workshops or talks e.g. Drugs, Alcohol or Community groups
  31. You may do a career matching or aptitude test to discover potential career paths
  32. Students may be involved in setting up mini companies (great for teamwork)
  33. Teachers will be more open to exploring what you are personally Interested in
  34. Students may get opportunities to enter local enterprise competitions
  35. You will still work on academic subjects and can continue to develop your knowledge
  36. You can investigate what type of learner you are (useful going into Senior Cycle)
  37. You will leave TY with a whole new set of skills and experiences to kick start your CV
  38. At the end of TY, you will be more mature and ready to make better future decisions
  39. TY’s often tell me that it was their most enjoyable and rewarding year in Secondary
  40. The fun, the bonding, the laughs, and the treasured relationships.

If this is the route you are heading in September 2023, good luck with Transition Year. Joe

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2023 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Joe’s Jotter: How to Prepare for Exams ‘Home Alone’ (Episode 3).

Dealing with Motivation Issues – ‘I Don’t Know Where to Start’

Students, if you are struggling for motivation at home right now, put a half day’s timetable in place tonight and give it a go tomorrow. Set each revision block to just thirty minutes and time will fly. As you begin to see progress, your motivation will grow. An alternative approach to developing a timetable would be to create a task list. Each night you could write down a list of ten to twelve challenges you would like to achieve in various subjects the next day. Tick them off then as you get them completed. If you currently feel you are swamped with work and worry, this is now your ‘get out of jail’ card, so try it.

Set Measurable Targets

It is so important to set targets, otherwise timetables and lists are just ‘drive bys’ and ‘hopeful’ preparations that you will never be answerable to. We all need targets to help us achieve things. It is also a fact that we are more likely to reach them if they are written down.

Once you set a measurable target (example: eight pages from a textbook to be summarised into your own words), assess how much progress you have made. On completion, tick it off from your full sub-topic list for the subject. A short term target could be as simple as ‘understanding emotions’ from two English poems or practicing writing letters to an imaginary pen pal in whatever modern foreign language you study. Remember if you don’t know where to start, commence with the basics of a topic. i.e. view the first few chapters of your textbook or the first set of notes your teacher gave you on it. Start small and then when you get up and running and notice progress, you will be encouraged by your own efforts. Just get a routine going somehow, and then rinse and repeat. Information about setting up a full ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’ is detailed in my textbook ‘How to ACE the Leaving Certificate’ for all subjects.

 Write out a List of Motivations in Your Journal

Another tip to improve motivation is to write out a list of medium and long term targets in your Journal and then write ten reasons underneath explaining your motivation to ACE them. On lazy days, open that page and read your ‘motivational list’,  thinking about how you felt when you wrote them. This will inspire you to get started on revision and keep going when days get tough. Revising and preparing may seem like it is solely for your upcoming exam, but you will discover that learning is a lifelong process. Try to enjoy the challenge of getting that timetable completed or ticking off those tasks; you have nothing to lose and all to gain. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just give it your all.

For those of you who continue to struggle to get started on revision, start by writing down the activities you lean towards to dodge study. Put this list on your wall and be fully aware of the times you drift towards them. Being aware of this ‘distraction list’ will remind you of what you really should be putting your mind to at any given moment. Any effort or movement towards starting a short revision block should motivate you to commence a second one i.e. The hardest part of being successful with any task is often just getting it started. Imagine yourself, on your side, rolling down a steep hill. You will gain momentum as you go…and it could even be fun. Give yourself plenty of breaks as a reward for your hard work.

The Many and Best Ways to Learn

The key to any successful Lifestyle (Study) Timetable is keeping your brain fresh by completing different tasks every thirty minutes. Rotate your learning between different subjects but also within subjects. What I mean by this is: Revise in all the different ways possible. You only need a few repeatable methods that work for you, but you won’t know which ones suit until you actually road test them yourself. The below is a sample list of the many ways we learn. I am sure you could add even more creative and interesting ones to this list matching your personality. Pick out four or five of the below approaches and give them a try today.

  1. Write a bulleted list to explain and summarise a short book extract.
  2. Summarise a chapter of your textbook into your own words.
  3. Create flash cards with a list of facts. Limit each card to seven key points.
  4. Record a summary using the voice memo function on your phone. Replay back.
  5. Put keywords and their definition for each subject (per topic) into a hardback.
  6. View a YouTube video of an expert or listen to audio/podcasts on topics.
  7. Teach or discuss what you have learned with a member of your family.
  8. Get your parents/siblings to ask you questions on a topic you have just revised.
  9. Read a summary out loud to yourself.
  10. Rotate your place of study to retain freshness. e.g. the garden or kitchen table.
  11. Create Bubble diagrams with Microsoft PowerPoint to illustrate topic linkages.
  12. Create a visual Mind Map for a sub-topic you are struggling with.
  13. Stick nine postits onto an A4 sheet. Write a summary with keywords onto them.
  14. Use different coloured pens (red and green) to draw attention to key points.
  15. Use different coloured highlighters to mark relevant dates and details of note.
  16. Chat to friends to find out how they are approaching certain subjects/topics.
  17. Stick stickies/sheets on your wall for memory. Rotate this content every five days.
  18. Research topics on the Internet to give yourself extra pieces of information.
  19. Continually test yourself with sample tests, online quizzes & past exam papers.
  20. Use Graphic Organisers to create a more visual set of notes (samples below).

Sample Graphic Organisers*

*Source: Using Graphic Organisers in Teaching and Learning (SLSS).

‘Progress in revision can be just small steps.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2023 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

 

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Joe’s Jotter: Why Should Secondary School Students Eat Breakfast?

Students, you have heard your parents and other adults say many times that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and that indeed is a hard fact. A decent breakfast will give you the energy to start each morning, help balance your weight and allow you to complete the tasks and challenges you face every day more efficiently. Breakfast is equally as important for children as it is for adults and a healthy one is a vital part of our health and wellbeing. The importance of breakfast as the first meal of the day has been scientifically proven; so in fact your parents are actually correct.

Imagine food is the fuel for your daily activity. During exams and indeed school time, your body will demand good quality clean fuel and regular refuelling in order to nourish itself and maximise your concentration, starting first thing in the morning. I’ve had my own experience in relation to eating breakfast. In my early teaching career, I didn’t eat anything in the morning until my first small break (eleven o’clock). During the early morning, I found myself regularly on edge and low in energy. I noticed that just before this break, my body was actually craving food and my focus had diminished. Basically, what was happening was my blood sugar levels had dropped too low and my concentration was poor during my first two hours teaching each day and I knew it.

Good Morning Habits

As an experienced teacher, I am familiar with students’ poor morning eating habits. Many students don’t feel like food, or their stomach is unsettled early in the morning. Students who eat late at night may be getting messages from their stomach that their body is still living off those energy stores. That’s OK. But students: ‘Please just eat something’, no matter how small, to kick-start your system again. If you think about it logically, your body has not fuelled up for eight to ten hours during the night, so denying it any longer makes no sense at all, especially from a blood sugar and energy point of view.

There are hundreds of good breakfast options that aren’t that time consuming to prepare. These include Smoothies containing fruit, plain yoghurt or chopped fruit with whole grain cereals and milk. A mixture like crushed nuts, a small dollop of organic honey and plain yoghurt can be quickly made and eaten. Homemade granola bars are great for when you’re on the go and better than the sugar-packed store-bought ones. Get your Parents to make you a batch or have a go yourself for the craic.

Personally, I would recommend the following foods for breakfast: Oats, Muesli, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Greek yoghurt, Smoothies, Wholemeal bread, Scrambled eggs, Bananas, Low sugar cereal, Actimel, Low sugar orange juice and Low sugar multivitamin juice. If there are healthy wholesome foods you find hard to consume for breakfast, put other foods on top so that their unpalatable taste is masked. An example of this is to put bananas, fruit, yoghurt, or honey on your porridge (cooked oats). I have found that my performance, energy, and concentration has improved greatly in school during the day now that I have introduced porridge into my diet. I recommend you try it for yourselves.

Your Role as Parents

Parents, if your child skips breakfast before school, they are more likely to be tired throughout the day and will have reduced concentration levels. Preparing and encouraging them to consume a breakfast that is packed full of fibre, carbohydrates, grains, and protein will help boost concentration levels, improve memory, and will stop complaints of hunger as the morning progresses. If breakfast is a busy time of day in your house, then feeding your children what they need quickly might be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be. By stocking up on all the ingredients you need beforehand, you can deliver quick healthy breakfasts that they will enjoy. By preparing breakfast the night before, or getting them to prepare their own, you can cut wasted time in the morning. Avoiding the ‘Coco Pops’ style breakfast cereal is certainly one that’s recommended.

Six Compelling Reasons to Eat Breakfast

  1. The Gap: Breakfast is the first meal you eat after sleeping through the night. You may not feel it, but your body is actually craving food and needs refuelling.
  2. Fighting Sickness: Skipping breakfast weakens your immune system and may increase your chances of becoming ill quicker as a result.
  3. Concentration Levels: A correlation between concentration and our ability to perform tasks has been proven through research. Food is known to enhance concentration.
  4. Serotonin Boost: Eating breakfast boosts levels of serotonin (a mood enhancer chemical that helps you feel better and maintain stability throughout the day).
  5. Increased Variety: Breakfast foods like whole grain cereals, eggs and porridge contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and add great variety to your diet.
  6. Good Start: A scheduled healthy breakfast will help your body run like a well-oiled machine all day. It is the best start to any busy day and heaven knows we need that now in 2023. Joe.

‘Breaks are your reward for hard work.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes 2023 for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links:

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-solution-books-package/

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Photo:@ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter – Should I Persevere with Higher Level Maths in 2023?

 

More students over the last few years have taken on the task that is Leaving Cert Higher Maths. In June 2022, out of the 57,347 who sat a Leaving Certificate Mathematics Paper, 21,265 of them opted for higher level (37%). Even though the bonus points are very enticing, students need to be careful and be fully aware of what exactly they are embarking on. In my experience, there is a lingering doubt among many 5th and 6th years about being able to tackle higher Maths. Scoring low grades in class tests doesn’t really do much for confidence, but it doesn’t automatically mean you should change level. The question is: Should you remain battling higher level Maths or is it worth the time and effort at all?

This article should reassure those suitable for higher (those who fight the good fight day after day) that they can in fact achieve what they are aiming for. Each year, deciding Maths levels is a tricky issue for students and involves many considerations. It is made even more complex in this subject with the bonus points at play. For those of you who are unsure about higher Maths, it may be worth applying some logic to any inclination to switch. As well you know, us ‘Maths creatures’ are very logical beings lol.  I find that logic is more factual and definite in making decisions like this. It may be more sensible to apply a touch of it here, rather than just using pure emotion. Don’t get me wrong: your gut feeling is important too; but read on to understand what I mean…

I Can Take on this Challenge

Firstly, there is a misconception out there that if you fail Maths, you fail the full Leaving Cert. This isn’t true at all. The two worst things that can happen if you are unsuccessful in Maths is that you will have that low grade for Maths on your CV. Or, if a certain grade in Maths is a requirement for a specific third level course, you will not be offered that course no matter how many points you get; that’s as bad as it gets.

I think having a good Interest in Maths is a great starting point in taking on higher level. Enthusiasm for this subject will go a long way to achieving your desired goal in it.  Students, do you secretly enjoy the challenge of those long practical questions in double classes, or do you dread the thoughts of Maths homework each night? Do you like working with numbers or are you mis-understanding the majority of your teachers’ methods? These are some initial questions to ponder.

Personally, I feel that students know in their heart what level Maths they should be doing. If you feel in your gut that you are lost in class or if it is taking too much time away from other subjects; then reflect and talk it through now. If your anxiety about the subject is getting too high and your grades are dropping, it may be time to move. Definitely, if you have struggled to grasp much of the basic Algebra in fourth and fifth year, it may be a sign that the standard is too difficult for you. However, remember also that there are so many varied topics in Maths, and you may have a flair for some and no real interest in others. Very few of us are good at everything, even the best of the best.

Head Above Water

I always feel that students scoring above thirty percent (approximately) in Class, Christmas and Mock examinations should be able to raise their game to get over the line in the State exams. Students scoring consistently below thirty need to look into their heart and start conversations with their teachers, parents and indeed themselves about what to do. It is important not to remain in the class for the sole reason that your parents want you to do honours. Only you know the content of the Maths course you are studying and how it is going for you. Many students and even some Teachers place too much emphasis on the spring Mock result. I disagree with this premise and prefer to look at the bigger picture. From a percentage assessment point of view, I feel you need to look at a combination of exams sat (even fifth year ones) and indeed your Junior Cycle grade. Keep in mind that the upcoming mock examinations in springtime tests topics across the complete course at a time when you haven’t fully completed it yet.

Is there a Template for Staying or Going?

My intention in this article isn’t to outline a template for who should remain or drop down, as there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I am simply encouraging you to reflect and balance the argument for yourselves. Over the years, I have taught a substantial number of students who I considered borderline higher level students. Many of them remained at higher and actually ended up outperforming those I perceived as rock solid higher level candidates. Maybe these students felt like they needed to work harder and hence prepared better consequently. There is a lesson in this. American Basketball player Kevin Durant once said, ‘Hard work always beats Talent when Talent doesn’t work hard enough’. The statistics also stack in your favour.  In June 2022, 98.4% of students who attempted higher level Maths got a H6 grade or above and therefore picked up the 25 bonus points. That is extremely high!

In general, your teacher won’t put you too far wrong when decision time arrives. By the middle of sixth year, they know your strengths, weaknesses, and the limits of your capabilities, assuming they have taught you since the start of fifth year. Timing is also an issue. If you do need to drop down to Ordinary level, I wouldn’t leave it any later than Easter. This gives you some time over the Easter holidays, and when you return for the final term, to get familiar with the Ordinary level standard and format of the exam paper. Changing levels on the day of the exam is totally unadvised and should not be considered.

Factors That Will Guide Level Choice

In summary, think about and discuss the below factors in detail with your parents and teachers before attempting to change levels in any subject. Along with mock performance, here are the other factors to consider when making decisions regarding level changes:

  • Your teacher’s opinion.
  • Your ‘potential’ points change.
  • Your Junior Cycle performance.
  • Your attendance in class thus far.
  • Your ‘working relationship’ with your teacher.
  • How much you enjoy studying the subject.
  • Results in previous Christmas and Summer tests.
  • How much of the course you have done thus far.
  • Your own gut feeling and attitude towards the subject.
  • Results in all your class tests since the beginning of fifth year.
  • The amount of effort you are putting into this subject balanced against others.
  • Minimum entry requirements for third level (e.g. a H6 in Maths maybe?).

Before making your final decision, take out a piece of paper and write down all the pros and cons of remaining at higher level or changing.  On the back of the sheet, write a few paragraphs on how you are actually feeling about it right now. Keeping the above list of factors in mind, the answer you are searching for should appear somewhere within these pages as your thoughts and feelings stream out. Use these thoughts to answer your own doubts and plough on from there. Contact me if I can advise you in any way. Joe

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the links:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

*****

*****

 

Joe’s Jotter: Why Secondary School Students Should Eat Breakfast

Students, you have heard your parents and other adults say many times that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and that indeed is a hard fact. A decent breakfast will give you the energy to start each morning, help balance your weight and allow you to complete the tasks and challenges you face every day more efficiently. Breakfast is equally as important for children as it is for adults and a healthy one is a vital part of our health and wellbeing. The importance of breakfast as the first meal of the day has been scientifically proven; so in fact your parents are actually correct.

Imagine food is the fuel for your daily activity. During exams and indeed school time, your body will demand good quality clean fuel and regular refuelling in order to nourish itself and maximise your concentration, starting first thing in the morning. I’ve had my own experience in relation to eating breakfast. In my early teaching career, I didn’t eat anything in the morning until my first small break (eleven o’clock). During the early morning, I found myself regularly on edge and low in energy. I noticed that just before this break, my body was actually craving food and my focus had diminished. Basically, what was happening was my blood sugar levels had dropped too low and my concentration was poor during my first two hours teaching each day and I knew it.

Good Morning Habits

As an experienced teacher, I am familiar with students’ poor morning eating habits. Many students don’t feel like food, or their stomach is unsettled early in the morning. Students who eat late at night may be getting messages from their stomach that their body is still living off those energy stores. That’s OK. But students: ‘Please just eat something’, no matter how small, to kick-start your system again. If you think about it logically, your body has not fuelled up for eight to ten hours during the night, so denying it any longer makes no sense at all, especially from a blood sugar and energy point of view.

There are hundreds of good breakfast options that aren’t that time consuming to prepare. These include Smoothies containing fruit, plain yoghurt or chopped fruit with whole grain cereals and milk. A mixture like crushed nuts, a small dollop of organic honey and plain yoghurt can be quickly made and eaten. Homemade granola bars are great for when you’re on the go and better than the sugar-packed store-bought ones. Get your Parents to make you a batch or have a go yourself for the craic.

Personally, I would recommend the following foods for breakfast: Oats, Muesli, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Greek yoghurt, Smoothies, Wholemeal bread, Scrambled eggs, Bananas, Low sugar cereal, Actimel, Low sugar orange juice and Low sugar multivitamin juice. If there are healthy wholesome foods you find hard to consume for breakfast, put other foods on top so that their unpalatable taste is masked. An example of this is to put bananas, fruit, yoghurt, or honey on your porridge (cooked oats). I have found that my performance, energy, and concentration has improved greatly in school during the day now that I have introduced porridge into my diet. I recommend you try it for yourselves.

Your Role as Parents

Parents, if your child skips breakfast before school, they are more likely to be tired throughout the day and will have reduced concentration levels. Preparing and encouraging them to consume a breakfast that is packed full of fibre, carbohydrates, grains, and protein will help boost concentration levels, improve memory, and will stop complaints of hunger as the morning progresses. If breakfast is a busy time of day in your house, then feeding your children what they need quickly might be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be. By stocking up on all the ingredients you need beforehand, you can deliver quick healthy breakfasts that they will enjoy. By preparing breakfast the night before, or getting them to prepare their own, you can cut wasted time in the morning. Avoiding the ‘Coco Pops’ style breakfast cereal is certainly one that’s recommended.

Six Compelling Reasons to Eat Breakfast

 

  1. The Gap: Breakfast is the first meal you eat after sleeping through the night. You may not feel it, but your body is actually craving food and needs refuelling.
  2. Fighting Sickness: Skipping breakfast weakens your immune system and may increase your chances of becoming ill quicker as a result.
  3. Concentration Levels: A correlation between concentration and our ability to perform tasks has been proven through research. Food is known to enhance concentration.
  4. Serotonin Boost: Eating breakfast boosts levels of serotonin (a mood enhancer chemical that helps you feel better and maintain stability throughout the day).
  5. Increased Variety: Breakfast foods like whole grain cereals, eggs and porridge contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and add great variety to your diet.
  6. Good Start: A scheduled healthy breakfast will help your body run like a well-oiled machine all day. It is the best start to any busy day and heaven knows we need that now in 2022. Joe.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

ACE Maths Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

*****

*****

Joe’s Jotter: Summer Nutrition Suggestions for Students

Summer is a time for rest and reflection. As a student, do you ever think about your diet and the foods you intake? Did you go overboard on the junk food this summer? Here are some pointers to read and have a think about as we approach the last month of summer 2021. This article is not to lecture you, but rather to make you think about little adjustments you could make to ensure you are giving you body and mind the best possible chance going forward.

1. Target One or Two Improvements

Rather than aiming to overhaul your diet and what you eat, start by targeting one specific area for improvement before the new academic year kicks off. This should be something that is most relevant to you and is changeable, for example, breakfast. If you are someone who doesn’t eat a healthy breakfast, you could start by prioritising that. As you become more consistent with that meal, you can work on another mini target like eating more fruit and vegetables or reducing sugary drinks. It is important to be realistic about what you wish to achieve and give yourself a reasonable time period to achieve it.

Progress on any changes made should be judged over several weeks, rather than days, as new habits take time to form. Get a shopping list together and ask your parents to stock the fridge and freezer with specific foods. The more whole and natural a food is, the better. For example, a beetroot unpackaged and untouched is far better than a jar of sliced beetroot. You get the idea. If you can do a bit of cooking for yourself, you will never go hungry. Remember that if you fall off the horse with any type of plan, just get back on and go again! In a world of many distractions, any minor improvements to the quality of food you consume will facilitate improved concentration. We all could do with that. More importantly for you, this will allow you to make a fast start in September.

You won’t go to far wrong by increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables for the remainder of the holidays. This will help you build up resistance to any bugs flying around come autumn time. Eating as many different coloured vegetables as you can is the secret to providing plenty of nutrients for your body. If you do opt for a takeaway, cook some homemade vegetables (before it arrives) to eat on the side. This balances the books a little and ensures you are still getting important vitamins and minerals.

2. Hydrate Very Well

Firstly, it’s important to know that your weight affects your fluid needs. You should drink 35ml of fluid daily for every kilogramme you weigh. For example, a 70kg (11 stone approx.) person should drink 2.45 litres per day. The recommended daily amount of water for a teenager is two litres which works out at eight to ten glasses; however, I would recommend that you drink more if the day is particularly hot or if you are exercising. In athletes, research has shown that a two percent drop in hydration can lead to thirty percent drop in performance.

Water is the best form of hydration, and the benefits of water are well documented. Water increases energy, flushes out toxins, improves skin complexion, boosts the immune system, prevents cramps, balances the body’s fluids, promotes digestion, and eliminates waste products. Having all these benefits working in your favour around is only going to help you maintain good health. Low sugar fruit juices, like cranberry, blueberry and apple are good for hydration and contain enzymes and vitamins. Fizzy drinks will also hydrate but again are to be avoided due to their high sugar content. Other foods to improve hydration include Cucumbers, Watermelon, Pineapple, Tomatoes, Blueberries, Pear, Grapefruit, Lettuce, and Melon. Ultimately, sipping on water throughout the day is the best way to avoid dehydration.

If you get dehydrated, your concentration for revision at home or performance on the sports field will suffer. In essence, it affects everything. Here are four tell-tale signs that your body is dehydrated and that you need to drink more fluids:

  • Dry mouth and skin: If you are dehydrated, you may not be producing enough saliva, which will lead to a build-up of bacteria in the mouth. Acne may also occur.
  • Food cravings: The body confuses thirst for hunger sometimes. Drinking water will reduce these cravings, as it is water your body often requires not food.
  • Headaches, tiredness, and confusion: A lack of water can lead to headaches during the day. This makes it very difficult to operate to your maximum capacity. Ask yourself the question, “Am I constantly tired?” If the answer is yes, you might just be lacking water in your diet. The process of learning and retaining information has been proven to be more difficult if your body lacks fluid.
  • Urine colour: The colour of urine should be light if you are well hydrated. The average hydrated person goes to the toilet to excrete urine six to eight times daily.

To combat dehydration, bring a bottle of water with you wherever you go. Keeping bottles of cold water in the fridge at home will make it easy to ‘grab and go’ and you can sip away on it as the day progresses. It is important to note that if you feel some of the above listed symptoms, your body may already be dehydrated. Prevention is better than cure in this case. Small changes, like these, can end up making a big difference. Joe.

To view last weeks feature article on ‘Assessing your Revision Achievements in 2020/21’, click here.

More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

W: https://www.acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition
FB: http://www.facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert/

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