How to Survive in QUANTA

QUANTA is Daytona State College’s premier learning community. It is interdisciplinary, meaning it merges multiple subjects into a cohesive framework. Instead of taking three courses in separate buildings with different professors and students, you get to stay with the same students and professors through six courses taught over two semesters.

I was in QUANTA 24 in the 2007-2008 school year, and I can tell you it is a hard set of courses. A lot is expected of you. You must have above-average ACT, SAT, or CPT scores to qualify. You are expected to have a firm grasp of history and the rules of English, and you will write over 20,000 words if you stay through both semesters. You must develop good habits and study techniques. You must manage your time well. Though QUANTA is based on creativity and flexibility, all your essays must make solid arguments citing other academic works. You must follow formal grammar and citation rules. This is a point-by-point guide to surviving in QUANTA.

Basics

How does QUANTA work? In the fall semester, it consists of English I by Professor Frank Gunshanan, Humanities I by Dr. Casey Blanton, and Introduction to Sociology by Dr. Michael Flota. Students who continue into the spring will learn English II, Humanities II, and American Political & Economic Issues from the same professors. Both semesters follow the same format but the spring semester is heavier. Though more advanced, we get more of the same from Frank and Casey in the spring, while Flota takes off with his analysis of the world economy, banking, and the evolution of American politics. I imagine his course will be even more interesting this year, what with the Obama administration, socialized health care, and the raiding of the U.S. treasury.

QUANTA is taught from 9:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday over two fifteen week semesters. It used to be taught from 9 A.M. to Noon over two sixteen week semesters, but the schedule has changed.

There is a heavy focus on community involvement. On your second day you are divided into nine home groups of six students each, and you are thrust into the campus on a scavenger hunt to find key information about Daytona State College. Working as a team, you must go to different buildings and ask questions, find the swimming pool, discover President Sharple’s office, and more, marking all your findings down on a question and answer sheet. The race is on, because whichever group comes back to QUANTA first with all the answers gets a secret prize. When I started in the fall of 2007, I was in group 3-C and we were first. We got a box of Twinkies. It’s an exciting way to start the class.

Later on, you’ll be doing essays and study questions in class with your group, in addition to many solo assignments. There will be large presentations at the end of the semesters including in-class plays, costumes, props, speeches, and group presentations. Often each group can choose what to present and what format to use.

This guide applies mainly to QUANTA’s solo assignments. The group projects are easier because most of them are in class and you can combine your ideas.

Triage

There are three courses in QUANTA, all with separate grades. Each set of study questions counts for one course—this will be listed in your handbook. If you’re getting 70s in English but 90s in Humanities, prioritize English! Spend eight hours on those English study questions and three hours on the Humanities set. You’ll get an A in English and a B or C in Humanities, but that’s fine if your average is 97 in Humanities.

In disasters, triage is all about helping the sickest person first. In QUANTA, you want to work on your sickest course first. Don’t play favorites! Work on your weaknesses, not your strengths.

Some assignments count for all three courses, such as group presentations and the final essays. These are the most important projects—the big rocks. Put the bulk of your energy into the big rocks.

Time Management

When I was in QUANTA, I’d put everything off till the last minute, sometimes completing essays at 2 A.M. the morning before class. I still got good grades on everything, but what if my hard drive crashed and I lost an essay? What if an emergency came up? I would’ve failed those essays. At best, I’d make a late submission and lose many points.

The only exception I made was in the first semester, where Casey required us to see a play and write a review. I did it right away, even though we had until the end of the semester. In December, I heard many people complaining that they had to see a play on top of all the final projects and essays. I was glad to not be one of them.

Do projects early! Get it done now! When you start writing an essay, DO NOT stop until the pages are rolling off your printer. Delay a project and you will lose focus. You will forget all the good ideas you had. Don’t disrupt your flow. Unplug the phone, print out your sources, and complete projects all at once. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it will serve you well for the rest of your life.

You have the time to do all the QUANTA assignments and two or three other courses. You can even fit a part-time job in. It only works if you manage your time effectively. Take care of the most important work first. Do NOT put your favorite work first. Be pragmatic, be ruthless, get it done. Sometimes you will want to write a sub-par essay, shooting for a B instead of an A. It is not worth your time to give every project your all, because if you are going to pass with an A anyway, the extra effort may be wasted. This only becomes applicable toward the end of the semester, when many of your grades are in place.

SHOW, Don’t Tell

You CANNOT make claims without citing a source. You must use parenthetical citations in your essay with a Works Cited page at the end. Read the MLA guidebook you should’ve purchased, or look up the MLA formatting rules online. Sometimes I borrow ideas from sources without citing them, but only if I modify the idea. There is a thin line between borrowing and plagiarism. When in doubt, cite.

ANALYZE. If you are writing an essay about Indigo children, don’t state that these children are more intuitive, able to absorb more information, and better at solving problems. Tell us why they are. I believe that we have always had children like this, but now that everyone has access to Wikipedia, a surprisingly accurate, publicly edited, online encyclopedia, Indigo children can spend countless hours in their playground: the world of information. At the same time, I would contrast them with other children who use the Internet for Facebook and MySpace while never learning anything. If I was writing a QUANTA essay, I would not say “I believe.” Instead, I would find a reputable source that confirms my belief and I would cite it. Your beliefs rarely come into play in college writing assignments.

Avoid Definitive and Weasel Words

Be very careful using the words “always,” “never,” “absolutely,” and several others. If you are not 100% sure, you cannot use definitive terms in scholarly writing.

Your essays are not opinion pieces. You can only use “I” in the personal essay and the QUANTA essays at the end.

You must also avoid weasel terms like “some people,” “in certain cases,” “possibly,” and “back in the day.” Instead of writing “some people,” spend ten minutes finding a poll or study that offers an exact percentage. Cite it. You will get a higher grade for backing yourself with research.

Study Questions

There will be about ten sets of study questions each semester, split as evenly as possible between the three courses. Each set is worth fifty points. You will read a piece of major literature and then answer one to ten questions about it. Your answers must be long and thorough. You must quote from the work many times in support of your conclusions. Seven sentences per answer is standard. Some of my study question answers total 2000 words.

Fortunately, you don’t need to cite outside sources. However, it can be very helpful to read the CliffsNotes and SparkNotes summaries online, especially if you have a hard time understanding what you read. I did this for every study question set and it gave me a new perspective on each piece. Don’t lift passages from CliffsNotes. Just use summaries as a guide.

The first set of study questions in the fall semester encompass The Epic of Gilgamesh. This is the hardest set in the whole semester, because the book is over sixty pages and there are ten involved questions. I’m surprised the QUANTA professors put the most difficult assignment first. I spent fourteen hours on those questions. Don’t worry: it gets easier.

Sadly I’ve only published four of my study question sets. I lost the original questions for the others and I can’t make sense of them. Here are the four: Critical Analysis: “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, Freedom vs. Human Nature: The Battle of Hobbes, Locke, Jefferson, and Smith, Cannibalism and Slavery: An Analysis of Equiano, Swift, and Rousseau, and Oleanna Role-Playing. The last one was considered a study question assignment but was really a role-playing essay from the play Oleanna. Note that I’ve given them titles and refined the questions; you’ll have to deduce what they correspond to in class.

If you come to class without your study question responses on the day they are due, you will be required to write and submit them on the spot in the QUANTA lounge. There will be a “book review” worth ten points that day, which is a roundtable discussion of the book or short story you read. At this point, the dividers will be used to separate you into three class groups, with one professor assigned to each. If you haven’t completed your study questions, you will lose those ten points permanently. DO THE STUDY QUESTIONS ON TIME.

Points and Bonuses

When I was in QUANTA 24, there were about 1100 points per class in the fall and 1600 in the spring. There were more assignments in the spring and the assignment values were inflated.

Your main shot at extra credit is the attendance bonus. If you miss no more than two class days throughout the semester, you will get a fifty point bonus in each class at the end of the semester, added right on top of your final score. Obviously, this is worth more in the fall, because each point is worth more. In the fall, it will push an 86% grade (946/1100) up to 90.5% (996/1100). In the spring, it will push an 86% grade (1376/1600) up to 89.1% (1426/1600). It can be the difference between a B+ and an A. You need to get that bonus in the fall. Shoot for it in the spring too. Don’t miss any days.

There may also be extra credit activities and assignments. In the Spring of 2008, students who went to see Matthew Shepard’s mother speak at Stetson University got twenty bonus points in all three courses. There were going to be no bonus points, but Casey decided to add them after the event. I don’t think she does this often, but it may be good to attend events even if there are no bonus points involved, in case they are added later.

Of course, I and many other students couldn’t make it there. We would’ve tried harder if the bonus points were announced in advance.

In the Fall 2007, students could donate a couple canned goods to the poor for five bonus points in all three courses. I got an 85 on one essay. This effectively pushed that grade up to an A.

Take advantage of all the bonus opportunities. There won’t be many. The attendance bonus is a QUANTA tradition and it is always the most important.

Active Reading

The QUANTA professors encourage active reading. When you read, you should be writing ideas, notes, praise, and criticism in the margins of the books. I never did this in books I bought, even though the professors encouraged it. I should have gotten out the pen and forgotten about selling them back. It would have helped my reading comprehension greatly.

Most students including myself were fine with writing in the QUANTA reading handbook, because it is provided free in the course. Some of the pages in that book had more of my writing than the author’s. This helps you to understand the author’s intention. Often, I’d find myself crossing out extraneous words like “often” and “actually,” criticizing grammar, pointing out punctuation errors, and basically doing Frank’s job. This helped my writing skills.

If you are dead set on not marking your books up but still want to read actively, make your notes in a separate notebook. It isn’t the same, though.

Active reading is a powerful technique not mentioned in most English courses. I’m glad QUANTA supports it. I wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise.

C’s on exams are OK

I got B’s on most of the sociology and humanities exams. Even a couple C’s. But I still passed with an A in every course in both semesters. Why? I got 100% on most of the study questions. I got the 50 point bonus for attendance. Group projects got A’s. This is more than enough to make up for low grades on the tests. Do not despair if you are getting merely passing grades on the exams. The exams do not matter much.

QUANTA professors historically give study questions higher grades than essays. You won’t get a 100 on any of Frank’s three English essays, but you will get a few 50/50’s on your sets of study questions, as long as you are thorough. (All study question sets are worth fifty points each.)

Details Matter

If your essay only cites one work, title your citations page “Work Cited.” “Works Cited” is only acceptable when you are making two or more citations. Frank will make a point of this in class.

Commas and periods must be included within quotations. Semicolons appear outside quotations. Parenthetical citations must include the author’s last name followed by the page number(s) with no comma. Every paragraph must be indented, including the first. Indent in your text editor using the TAB key. Serial commas are preferred. All essays must be double-spaced with Times New Roman 12-pt. font and one-inch margins. It is not acceptable to leave a blank line between paragraphs. All sentences must be followed by two spaces. This is a relic from the era of fixed-width fonts, but the QUANTA professors still adhere to it. Book and movie titles should be underlined. Songs should be put in quotes. Never use contractions. All whole numbers under 100 should be written out.

There are many more rules you will learn and follow.

Get Along

There will be disagreements in your group and among the class. You must be able to understand the positions of other people and present your opinions without being insulting, patronizing, or condescending. If someone is insulting toward you, it may be unintentional. Don’t get into fights and don’t wage vendettas.

Often it will be necessary for your home group to come to a consensus. Many writing assignments are done by each group under a time limit. You cannot spend all your time on question one while ignoring questions two through six. If you can’t reach a decision, vote and choose a path quickly.

I was often the sole dissenting voice in my home group. Sometimes it’s right to dissent. It happens on the Supreme Court all the time, and the dissenting opinions are often right. Other times you should fall in line. The rest of the group may know better than you. Develop the wisdom to know the difference.

Pick a Leader

Every home group needs a leader: someone who will write down all the answers, evaluate ideas, turn papers in, coordinate meetings, send out emails, suggest topics and presentations, provide equipment, and draft outlines. This leader should change from project to project. Just as Casey, Frank, and Michael lead the class, someone needs to lead your group. Otherwise, you can easily do a lot of talking but no working.

In the early group activities, the most natural leader should step forward. Later, as the shy students become more daring, they can take the leadership role.

Improve Your Immune System

There are forty-three class days in the Fall 2009 semester. You can’t miss more than two of them. Don’t get sick! Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Take multi-vitamins and the Airborne supplement, which contains vitamin C and zinc to prevent you from catching a cold. If you want to become a vegetarian, this is a great time to do it. The meat industry is the primary human cause of global warming. Eating eight pounds of grain is better for the environment than eating one pound of steak. Your immune system will improve when you are not putting dead flesh in your body.

If you’re too thin, gain twenty pounds. If you’re too fat like I am, lose twenty pounds. When you are very thin or very heavy, you are more likely to get sick.

If you do get a cold, go to class anyway if it is mild. If it’s the flu, try not to miss more than one class day. You don’t want to miss that second day, because then you HAVE to get to class every day for the rest of the semester.

Tell your professors if you know you’ll be missing class. They might not count it against the attendance bonus. If you don’t ask, you’ll get nothing.

Most students will come to class when they are sick. You need to keep your immune system up so you won’t catch their germs. If your immune system is strong, you can hang out with sick people all day. If your immune system is weak, you may get sick every month in QUANTA.

Be Early

If you’re twenty minutes late for class, for the purpose of the fifty point bonus, it counts as an absence! Do NOT be late for class ever. If you live 10 minutes away, get on the road at 9:10 A.M. You’ll be ten minutes early, but that is an insurance policy. Besides, those ten minutes are a great time to converse with your professors and other students. You will also prove yourself to be a timely person, so the QUANTA trio will assume the best about you.

Be Consistent

QUANTA embraces creativity and flexibility, but remember that you are still in high-level college courses governed by rigid rules. It is NOT okay to be creative with MLA formatting. Your parenthetical citations must be correct. You must not plagiarize. You must not make an argument without giving evidence to support that argument.

Often on Flota’s tests, there will be two or three questions that depend on each other. If you don’t know the answer for the first one, you’ll get the next two wrong, but if you know the answer, you’ll get all three right. If you are not sure, DO NOT hedge your bets by giving contradictory answers on different questions. Remember that Flota lets you write an explanation for each question on a separate sheet of paper. Write about the questions you are least sure of. You will likely get partial credit. However you will get no credit if you give contradictory answers, because that proves you have no idea what you’re talking about. Pick a direction and STICK WITH IT.

There is not enough time to write explanations for all twenty-five questions on a Flota test. Pick the five you are most unsure of and write about those only.

Ask for Help

While you cannot collaborate with your group on most writing assignments, you can go to the Academic Support Center and ask an English tutor to help you with your essay. After you’ve finished your essay, you can even drop in on your teacher during office hours for advice. You can get Frank to skim your English essay and give you pointers on it before you even submit it! Only a few QUANTA students do this, so your professors are happy to help.

If you miss a deadline, ask if you can turn in an assignment late. Group activities can never be made up, but study questions and essays can. Expect to get a twenty percent deduction for being late, but don’t accept a zero.

Depending on how the class does, Frank may allow you to rewrite major essays for a higher score. If you got anything less than a B, take advantage of this opportunity.

Ask and you shall receive.

Read Old QUANTA Essays

While some of the assignments have been changed, I posted several of my essays and study questions from QUANTA 24 (2007-2008) to the Scholarly Essays section of my blog. Most of them received A grades from Casey, Frank, or Michael. The lowest I got on any of those essays was an 85. They should all be good writing. Nevertheless Frank spotted many flaws, but with experience, you will also notice my mistakes.

While you cannot lift paragraphs from my essays, you can use them for guidance and you can even cite them in your essays, if it is okay to use non-reputable sources (I have no college degree yet). At the beginning of each essay, I link to a printable PDF version. At the end of that version, I include a sample MLA citation of that essay. You will want to use the printable versions I provide so that you can cite specific page numbers of my essays.

Create a Zero-Sum Grade Sheet

Keep up with the grade sheet in your handbook, but create a separate sheet in your notebook. List each project and make a box for each grade. If you get a 100, write “-0” in the box. If you get an 85, write “-15” in the box. Calculate how many points you can lose to pass with an A. Write that number in pencil at the bottom of the sheet and update it as needed. If you are a good student, assume you will get the 50 point bonus. If you are a bad student, don’t consider the bonus, even if you are trying to get it.

In the middle of the term, lightly in pencil, write your target scores for the remaining assignments in the QUANTA handbook. If you’ve gotten 470 of 500 and there are 1000 points, you can afford to lose 70 more points to pass with an A. So for a 100 point future assignment, pencil in 86. Your average has been 94% in the first half of the semester, so it can be 86% in the last half. You will likely score higher, but this will remind you that you are doing well. It’s called positive reinforcement.

Buy a Monochrome Laser Printer

You will be doing a lot of printing. Frank required us to print all of our sources for our third essay in the Fall of 2007. I used many online articles, so I had to print 120 pages. This would use up a $15 ink cartridge on a low-end inkjet printer, but on my monochrome laser (black and white), it used up 2% of my toner which cost me $2. Monochrome laser printers are THE workhorse for school and business. There is nothing better.

I recycle many ink cartridges at Office Depot for $3 in credit each (I bought them in bulk). Every 3 months I get a gift card. I bought a Lexmark E260d for $130 last month. It’s a good printer that has received good reviews, but I found out that replacing the toner costs $100. There are no third-party cartridges. After I print 1500 pages the printer is worthless.

Do not make this mistake. Buy a laser printer that has cheap toner. No printers do, so you will be looking for a printer which has readily avilable refilled or remanufactured cartridges. These will be much cheaper than the official units. They will print the same number of pages at a slightly lower quality.

This week, I ordered a Brother HL-2140 monochrome laser printer from OfficeMax for $54 with shipping and tax. It prints 1500 pages. After the starter cartridge is spent, you can buy two replacement cartridges for $45 shipped, which will print 5200 more pages. This is much better than any inkjet printer.

Monochrome laser printers are not good for color or even black and white imagery. There is only black toner, and these printers aren’t good at gradations. We’re talking text only. Monochrome laser printers excel at printing walls of text, and that is all you’ll be doing in QUANTA.

Do NOT Use Contractions

I use contractions because my writing is informal. Frank does not want to see any contractions in any of your essays, and Casey and Flota are following suit. Write “are not,” not “aren’t.” “It is,” not “it’s.” It seems silly, but don’t challenge them on this point. Just do it and you will get used to it.

Casey is the Leader

Dr. Casey Blanton co-founded QUANTA in 1984. Dr. Michael Flota and Professor Frank Gunshanan replaced two professors who retired in 2007. All QUANTA decisions and inquiries go through Casey. If you are having trouble with an assignment that is part of the Sociology or English coursework, go to Flota or Frank. Otherwise, ask Casey.

If you are going to dispute a grade, go to the professor of the course that assignment belongs to. If it belongs to all three courses, go to Casey. Note that if you formally challenge your professor, you will likely make enemies for the rest of the course. Stay friends with your professors to get help, referrals, and the most fair grading. While professors are required to be unbiased, all people are prone to negative bias against people they do not like and positive bias against people they like. The bias may be unconscious.

If you get a low grade on a test or essay, don’t complain. Just move on.

Frank Likes Colons

The colon is the new em dash: Frank often prefers colons to dashes or semicolons. It is always a safe choice, and it produces unique sentences. Never use three periods (…), as those are only acceptable in informal writing. Three periods separated by spaces (. . .) is called an ellipse and is acceptable when you are cutting text out of a quote.

Colons can prepare the reader for a list or create a complex-compound sentence. An example: “I like these fruits: bananas, oranges, apples, and watermelons.” Notice that I also used a colon before the example sentence. I created a complex-compound sentence.

In QUANTA, colons should always be followed by two spaces.

Casey’s Exams

Casey’s exams vary widely. There will be a mix of multiple choice, true or false, fill-in-the-blank, free-form answers, and essays. The main complaint in the Spring of 2008 was that Casey’s exams became shockingly difficult compared to the fall semester. Students wanted a word bank on the fill-in-the-blank questions. Many students froze up when asked to write a multi-page essay with no notes. Casey continued this practice through all four exams, but she allowed slow writers an extra hour in the break room to finish their essays. I don’t know what she is doing in QUANTA 26, but I doubt she is changing the format much.

Casey’s exams are the hardest.

Flota’s Exams

Flota’s exams are all multiple-choice with some true or false questions. During the exam period, you can write an explanation for any question you are unsure of on a separate sheet of paper. All the questions have one right answer, but if Flota thinks your explanation has merit, you may receive full or partial credit.

If you know which answer he wants, do NOT pick another answer and explain yourself, even if you think your answer is better. This is no time to be a martyr.

Flota’s tests are challenging. If you don’t follow the exam reviews closely, you may find yourself not knowing the answers to half of the questions. Often the questions have tricky wording, like “Which of these are not examples of confirmation bias?”

After the exam, you get to take the whole exam over as a group. This portion accounts for 25% of the exam grade while the solo portion accounts for 75%. You may find that you have gotten many answers wrong, but there is nothing you can do about it. Just make sure your group gets all the questions right. Usually the group gets an A. Sometimes there will be in-fighting, but you are not allowed to check your notes or ask other groups until the group exam is turned in. Reach a majority consensus if unanimity is impossible.

Note that Frank has no exams: only formal essays. You will have to do a lot of research, cite many sources, and write essays up to seven pages in length.

Know Your Professors’ Titles

Currently, Casey and Michael have doctorates whereas Frank has only a master’s degree. Address them as “Dr. Blanton,” “Dr. Flota,” and “Professor Gunshanan,” unless they give their okay on less formal titles. While I call them by their first names in this article, do not assume that is okay in class.

In essays and projects, I always use “Professor” as the title. It’s easier and more consistent.

Informally, Dr. Flota is called Flota more often than Michael. It’s just a great name.

In Conclusion

Don’t ever say “in conclusion” in an essay. I break this rule, just as I break the numbers rule and I use contractions, but I wouldn’t do this in a formal essay.

QUANTA is a great place to learn and make friends. You might even find love. There have been no fewer than ten QUANTA marriages over the program’s twenty-five years.

However, QUANTA is no picnic. Sure, you get to have a couple picnics, but the rest of the semester is hard work. Much more is expected of you than in regular English or Humanities, but at the same time, QUANTA focuses on quality over quantity. Many assignments apply to all three courses, so the program may require no more time than separate courses. You will push your limits further and you will produce less, more powerful content. You will also get to make speeches, give presentations, collaborate, and even teach the class, if you continue into the spring semester. It is far more exciting than whatever your non-QUANTA friends are doing.

If you didn’t sign up for QUANTA this semester, you can join in the spring semester or wait until next year. QUANTA is a one-year program intended for new Daytona State College students. If you’ve already taken English 101 or any of the other courses, you have missed the boat unless you do not mind retaking them.

If you want to try QUANTA, do it soon before Casey retires. She might continue another ten years—I don’t know. But I do know that the program will go downhill when she leaves.

QUANTA is a phenomenal program which receives consistently high enrollment. I enjoyed my year in QUANTA and I look back upon it with fond memories. I hope you enjoy it too.

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