Archive for the ‘Help for High School’ Category

A Winning College Admissions Essay

A Winning College Admissions Essay

Below is the essay Brave Writer alum Ben Whipker wrote in our 2014 College Admissions Essay online class. Ben was accepted to and is studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology, with an intended major in manufacturing engineering technology. Way to go, Ben!


It’s the middle of the night. Most houses in my neighborhood are quiet with sleeping inhabitants, but not mine. From my room comes a mechanical whirring, like the combination of a fax machine and a dial tone. It comes from my 3D printers.

I started my journey through 3D printing when my mom showed me an article about them. She thought it would be cool if I built one. I agreed. We decided on the terms: she would pay for my parts if I could build one without a kit. That worked for me because all the kits were poorly designed and overpriced.

Over the next few weeks, I spent all my free time searching different open-source printer designs. I wanted to find one that balanced print size, affordability, print quality, and building documentation. The 3D printers I looked at weren’t comparable to the paper printers sold at an office-supply store. There was no fancy plastic shell to cover the mechanical parts, and no technical help line. I created parts lists by looking at other makers’ pictures of different designs. I finally settled on a printer design called a Prusa because it had some documentation, and because most of the sites I visited recommended it for a beginner. I started ordering parts right away!

It was as if Christmas had taken over the month of March. I was receiving packages from China, Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada, France, and the UK. Each one contained another component for my printer. As I opened each package, I tried to guess where each part might fit. Instructions aren’t always easily available with emerging technology, and 3D printing is no different. After all my pieces arrived, I laid my pieces across the kitchen table and started building.

I encountered problem after problem. I found that many of my parts were designed for other printers or for modifications incompatible with my other parts. Some screws were in metric, whereas others were imperial. For weeks, my nights consisted of hours of scouring hidden forum posts, hoping to find someone else with a problem remotely similar to mine. I would read their solutions and form my own ideas customized for my printer’s problems. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Finally, I was ready to heat the printer up and try printing. It was about midnight on a Saturday. I’d spent the whole day fixing small problems here and there on the printer. This bolt was too loose or that piece was upside down. They were minor problems, but they were still important. Months of problem solving had taught me more than just the specific answers I searched for at the time. I had many pieces of knowledge. I knew how to connect the printer, set up the software, and set the optimal temperature. As the nozzle warmed up, a string of plastic started to slowly emerge from the tip. I felt a rush of excitement as the first sign of my working printer flowed before my eyes.

I have printed phone cases, vases, robot parts and lots of sea turtles. What fascinates me is that to create the perfect print requires solving a giant puzzle. The smallest detail can affect print quality. If the print bed is a fraction of a millimeter higher on one side the print will lift off of the bed while printing. Red and blue filament require low melting temperatures compared to green and black filament. Motors mounted near the power supply do not work as expected. Even having the air conditioner fan turn on at the wrong time impacts the print. These details absorb my mind day in and day out. I know that even if my first fifty ideas don’t work, I just need to think of the fifty-first, because that might be the answer that changes everything. And, if I get all the components just right, the print will be beautiful.


Brave Writer's College Admission Essay Online Class

The Rhetorical Imagination

The Rhetorical Imagination

I was in 6th grade, living in southern California. One November evening, I crossed the street to my daily playmate’s home for dinner. Melinda’s mother served hamburgers. I asked for a glass of milk. Mr. Thaler said I could not have one. I asked why. He replied that their family “kept kosher” and could not mix meat and dairy products during a meal.

I did not relent. His comment made no sense to me. After all, I didn’t keep kosher. My family expected us to drink milk every night for healthy teeth. “But I’m not Jewish. I can have milk with my hamburger.”

Mrs. Thaler joined in, “Dairy and meat can’t even be on the same table, Julie. It’s not about what you can eat or not eat. It’s about our home. Our home is a kosher home and so milk and meat cannot be at the same meal.”

I sat stunned—momentarily ejected from the room. My mind raced.

Wait—that means the Thalers never have cheeseburgers. Will Melinda be able to eat at my house? What is “kosher” and why is it so important to them? This is unfair! This rule makes no sense! I want milk!

I was used to having what I wanted when I wanted it. This whole idea that I had to adjust my meal habits to theirs for a reason I didn’t even hold felt wrong and annoying. I stuck with the one value from home that did apply: politeness. I finished my meal and thanked them.

But what else happened that day? My world tilted. An invitation to expand had been extended to me.

At age 11, the world I knew was defined by my parents, care givers, teachers, and religious leaders.

All children learn without instruction what constitutes “normal” for them—what can be taken for granted, what we deserve, how we’ve been wronged, who is out to get us, and who is on our side.

As we grow up—our circle widens and we encounter for the first time: “the other.” We determine whether or not we will include or vilify this alternative way of living and seeing the world.

The experience of expansion has a name and it is valuable to becoming an educated person. I call it “The rhetorical imagination.”

The rhetorical imagination is the experience of
encountering, examining, and holding multiple viewpoints
simultaneously, dispassionately.

The rhetorical imagination is a tool we use to grow academically. We open ourselves to the perspective presenting itself and begin with the assumption that there is an internal coherence and logic to a viewpoint, even if that coherence and logic make us uncomfortable. Even if inconvenient.

This capacity requires us to suspend our own judgments and to momentarily shift into the seat of the other to see the world through different eyes. Those eyes may be more or less religious, more or less tolerant, more or less educated, more or less political, more or less financially secure, more or less experienced, more or less skilled…

Even “objectively” wrong views (the belief that the world is flat, for instance) believed by individuals are rooted in some kind of interior logic (after all, in our own heads, what we think is true makes sense to us or we couldn’t think the thoughts!). The task of an academic is to wade into those views (our own and those of others), to suspend judgment in order to identify how that person has arrived at that conclusion and what that conclusion offers the one who holds the viewpoint.

Famously, centuries of misinformation have been sustained by a lack of tools to measure what we did not know, or by political and/or religious empires that stood to gain from an uneducated constituency. It was stunning, for instance, to visit Prague last spring to see the Astronomical Clock which measured the time by putting the earth in the center of the clock face. Each day, citizens would walk by this clock to tell time. How could a person in the 1400s have any hope of understanding the true nature of the universe with that out-sized misinformation mounted and gilded (measuring the minutes and hours every day with planet earth dead center in the solar system) towering over them? Of course the earth was the center of the universe! There it was, on display, all day every day!

What a blow it would be to imagine that the earth was not in the center! For that new interpretation to gain footing, the challengers of the status quo had to be willing to unseat the power of centuries old beliefs.

The capacity to inquire, to be curious, to willingly suspend one’s own point of view in favor of opening to someone else’s is at the heart of the academic enterprise. It’s the discipline of higher education in particular! The research conducted in any field must begin with inquiry and suspending one’s own preconceived ideas in order to be open to new and different conclusions and solutions.

The development of a rhetorical imagination is critical to good academic writing: the essay, research paper, and beyond. So often parents and teacher obsess about formatting and citations. They are worried the student won’t know how to look up books with a card catalog and the Dewey decimal system, or how to write a “Works Cited.”

Those are easily taught. What is far more difficult is deliberately opening to a wide variety of viewpoints. It takes courage and curiosity. It requires a willingness to overturn assumptions, to be changed by what is read.

In fact, I’d say that the heart of the academic enterprise is the drive to be startled into insight!

The rhetorical imagination—the capacity to consider a wide variety of perspectives and possibilities—is the vehicle to take us there.

Pushing ourselves and our kids
out of our cozy comfort zones of thought
is our educational obligation and opportunity.


Designed for 8th to 10th graders, Kidswrite Intermediate introduces students to rhetorical thinking plus musicality in language, metaphor and analogy, paraphrasing and more! For high school students we offer our Expository Essay: Rhetorical Critique and Analysis online class.

Brave Writer Online Classes

Five Keys to Working with Teens

5 Keys to Working with Teens

1. Teens need risk and adventure in learning and life.

(TRANSLATION: you will be uncomfortable—that’s how you know they are taking risks or having adventures.)

2. Teens want to prove to themselves that they will be able to be adults one day.

(TRANSLATION: they will shock you with their opinions, choices, and occasional belligerence—it’s not personal.)

3. Teens want to be bailed out when they mess up.

(TRANSLATION: they still need their mommies and daddies to kiss their bruises, aka the bent fender, or the speeding ticket, or the missed deadline.)

4. Teens need conversation partners, not independence in learning.

(TRANSLATION: yes, they can work on daily tasks alone, but for meaningful education, they need an invested parent or adult who will talk to them about books, ideas, history, philosophy, politics, religion, and more. That person is you.)

5. Teens deserve hugs, LOTS of food, a twenty dollar bill slipped into their hand once in a while “just cuz” when they go out, and your curiosity about their music, games, and passions.

(TRANSLATION: learn what says “I love you” to a teen, and then do that A LOT no matter how messy the room gets, no matter how hard-headed they seem, no matter how inconsistently they love you back.)

You got this!


The Enchanted Education for Teens

The Top 10 Things to Have Done by the End of High School

The Top 10 Things to Have Done by the End of High School

I’ve been asked: “If you had to boil it down to a Top Ten List, what would you say every child should have studied before they leave home?”

I accepted the challenge and compiled a list that will help you pull back from the panic of trying to teach every single classical work of literature while covering the entire scope of Western Civilization from the dawn of time until present, as you consider each scientific breakthrough, three languages (one dead), and all composition formats.

Stop the madness! It’s possible to have a sense of satisfaction and completion even if you leave a few dangling metaphors and several centuries of war and peace un-explored.

The list:

  1. Share the joy of reading with your kids.
  2. Help them be critical thinkers.
  3. Teach them math and science (and history!)
  4. Nurture their writing skills.
  5. Introduce them to a foreign language.
  6. Give them the opportunity to chase at least one affinity.
  7. Make sure they encounter different people and places.
  8. Encourage them to perform in some way for an audience.
  9. Help them find friends.
  10. Most importantly, be their advocate.

Watch the broadcast below to learn more and see that the Top Ten are within your reach!

Need more help for high school?

Brave Writer and the College Admission Essay

College Admission Essay
Brave Writer Instructor and Minister of Magic, Nancy Graham writes:

I’ve been teaching Brave Writer’s College Admission Essay class for three years now and I love watching the essays come into focus. Students often start with no ideas or a vague sense of the story they want to tell about themselves, and they leave with a piece that traces a time in their life when they were transformed in some way. What seems at first like a purely functional piece of prose—“Let me into your college!”—becomes a moving document of insight and self-reflection. Whether the writer has undertaken her education at home or in a school, this essay is an opportunity to reflect on her life so far—what she values and what she has learned.

Every couple of months we’ll feature an essay, beginning with Cassie’s meditation on how a county fair became a family heirloom. Cassie took our Fall 2014 College Admissions Essay class.

County Fair Heirlooms

By Cassie W.
Knox College, class of 2019

Stepping into the cinder block clubhouse near the first gate of the Prince William County Fair, I’m greeted with both a wave of nostalgia and friendly hellos. The old ladies—dressed in sweatpants and gingham aprons—step out from behind plastic folding tables heavy with aluminum warming dishes full of mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken, and lima beans. They smile at me and squeeze my arm and tell me how much I’ve grown up since last year, and I smile and say that it’s good to see them and I’m glad to be back. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember.

This year, my green volunteer t-shirt is sticking to my back, and my bangs are plastered to my forehead. I’ve been working in the Home Arts building for the past five hours—a tin-roofed barn where the exhibitions are held. I fill out paperwork, help with judging, and hang the exhibits—amateur photos of babies and animals, now decorated with blue, red, and white ribbons that flutter in the breeze of electric fans. Although it’s hard, hot, and tedious, I take more pride in my job than in any other work.

I grab a paper plate from the stack on the table and pile it with the creamy mashed potatoes, dousing the miniature potato mountain with gravy, and dipping the spoon into the mess of soft lima beans and melted butter for an extra helping.

Sure, I love the cotton candy, soft-serve ice cream and funnel cake of the carnival as much as anyone, but it’s the homemade food cooked up by the remaining members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary Fair Club that I love best. It’s the same sort of food my grandmother would make for me as a kid, which makes sense, seeing as she used to cook in the clubhouse kitchens. She worked hard for the fair for most of her life, like my grandfather, who helped found the fair over sixty years ago when he came back from World War II. I never knew my grandfather, but I have childhood memories of my grandma walking me around the fairground, smiling and waving at me while I rode the merry-go-round or the bumper cars, scolding me when I got lost in the crowd.

Grandma died the spring I turned fourteen, but for this week in August, when I spend every day at the fair, her legacy—and that of my grandfather—is palpable. The fair has always been deeply woven into the history of my mother’s side of the family, and we joke that the clubhouse is like more like Thanksgiving in August.

Every day, I walk the midway. I’m usually alone. There’s no one to scold me when I get lost in the crowd, so I let myself get lost: I ride the rides, the bare backs of my legs sticking to the vinyl seats. I scratch the oily heads of sheep and let cows lick my hands, pose proudly for pictures by my award-winning cookies or decorated potatoes, eat ice cream, and watch acrobats perform in the little circus ring behind the chicken barn. I strut at the fair, and my personality shifts: I am proud of every aspect of the place. A deep pride in my family, yes, but also a personal pride. I feel like the fair is mine, and I always have. It is something that has been handed down to me, like a gift.

I don’t have many heirlooms from my my maternal grandparents—my grandmother’s hand-stitched quilt, a set of china plates. I will treasure these things. But I also have the fair, the community, and the memories of humid summers, oily sunscreen, and my grandmother’s wrinkled hands that come with it.


Brave Writer’s 10 Tips for Writing Your College Essay