Having been a member of the Education Reimagined community for a couple of years now, some of the presentions at this Lab Training I’ve heard a few times before; however, each time I learn something… More
What better way to kick off the new year than with another issue of Trailblazers, the student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement! Hear from a new group of passionate learners about how they’re getting involved with the movement as we continue on our journey to provide student voices into the world of education with this second issue.
Earlier today I received my first official email from the Scheller College of Business. That’s right, I’ve finally declared a major, and it isn’t what most people expected.
Since I started really thinking about where I wanted to go to college (so basically since junior year of high school), I have kind of avoided the question of what I wanted to major in. People would tell me, “oh you’re good at STEM and like problem-solving, you should be an engineer!” I figured, why not. I didn’t have much of a better idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to continue doing design thinking, and I knew education was at the very least a passion of mine. I firmly believe that design thinking is a mode of thought pertaining to every discipline and major, but I’ve observed that higher education doesn’t seem to apply this notion to degree curriculum plans where it seems that only a few majors really dive deep into principles of design thinking.
I realize now that at the end of my high school career I spent far more time looking at colleges then I really spent learning about different majors offered. It’s said that it doesn’t matter what major you choose, and that’s fair, all majors are “good majors” and each is “hard” in their own way- that’s not how you should choose a major. It’s said, “a lot of the first few semesters is the same for everyone”, and I’ve found this to be true too, there are a lot of core requirements that all first years take. It’s also said that it’s fine to come into college as an undecided major- this is the one I have some problems with.
I entered college in undecided engineering, so I say all this from the perspective of someone is living out the life of an undecided major. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it makes sense that an 18-year-old doesn’t have their life completely together yet, which is what they tell you when you think you’re going to apply as undecided. However, once you get to college you have way less time to try and contemplate what major you want to go into. And sure people say you have time to decide on a major, but really what they mean is, “We want you to decide by the spring, that way at least you’re in something. Then we can deal with you changing your major later if that’s what you need to do.” (This isn’t me implying, I’ve been told multiple times that even though most classes are practically the same for the first few semesters, they still want you to pick a major by the end of spring.)
The other hard thing is that I like to talk to people to learn about the different majors. However advisors are figured out by major, and undecided engineering majors are just clumped with mechanical engineers because it’s the “most general engineering.” So my experience was that all of the advisings was really just focused on mechanical which wasn’t very helpful when looking to just learn more about different majors before making a decision. Thus I also tried talking to other advisors, but some advisors only speak to their specific major (including business…).
The big thing that I realized throughout this process, and in general since being in college, is that working in the realm of innovative education is more than just a passion of mine. I think I’d really like to continue working on forwarding the Education Transformation Movement as at least an initial career.
It’s when I made this realization that I finally started to question if engineering was right for me. I started thinking instead about what’s kind of become a motto of mine, “could not should.”
When I applied to MVPS at the end of 5th grade, I was given a creativity question during my interview. The question asked, “List all the things you could do with a pencil.” So I did: write, use as a bookmarker, keep a locker open, hair piece, stab someone,… When I was telling my mom this story afterward this is the point she stopped me and said, “ANYA PLEASE TELL ME YOU DIDN’T SAY YOU COULD STAB SOMEONE WITH A PENCIL!!!” My response was, “It asked what you could do not what you would or should do.”
I got into the school, so as my mom and I like to think, we guess they accepted that I was taking the question very literal for the sake of creativity. But despite what my interviewer thought, my friends and family have never let me forget this story, and I’m kind of grateful because it’s become a good motto.
I’m not one to lack confidence, and I truly believe that if I wanted to, I have the brain power and persistence to where I could become an engineer. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I should just because I could. As I started to think about this possibility I realized that I’ve never been one to particularly love activities closely associated with being an engineer, like creating CAD models, or using power tools, or running data analysis on experiments. I’ve never hated these activities when given the chance to work on them, but in a team setting, for example, someone else is always the “engineer” role.
So I’ve switched to business because I want to be a social entrepreneur and oppose to spending my time learning about thermal dynamics, I’d rather focus more on leadership studies, risk management, startup and entrepreneurial culture, change theory, etc. And I’m excited about how the business school is really focused on real-world applications and has extra advising specifically for looking at career paths and getting all students to have an internship/co-op/study abroad experience before graduation. In particular, I’m currently looking to do a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital and get a certificate in Social/Personality Psychology, and I hope to also do an exchange in New Zealand to take some education courses and/or maybe do research there. I’m excited to plan more of what’s ahead as I start to meet with my new advior soon.
This was a hard choice, especially since there is a big stigma around business majors at GT. Students consider it the “easy major” and try to claim the students in business aren’t as smart as other majors. But I know some amazingly smart people in business, and we all got into GT just the same, and I’m not transferring because I thought engineering was going to be “too hard.” It’s all just relative. So I’m proud of myself for finally submitting my form and making the choice to go all in. If I end up changing again, so be it, but now that first semester classes are over, I’m feeling pretty good going into finals tomorrow having a bit more of a direction with my college path.
And with that, as tradition goes:
A merry finals to all,
And to all crammers,
Good luck and good night!
I know myself well, and I believe my blog is evidence that I can also talk about myself comfortably. This is a skill I’ve come to greatly value and highly attribute to my decision to start a blog three and a half years ago.
Over the past semester thus far I’ve been struggling to determine my major. Struggling, because I have a good grasp of what I’m looking for and just can’t quite find the best fit at my school. To be honest I’ve considered more than once if I should be switching schools.
Don’t get me wrong, Georgia Tech is a great school, but I’ve always known it’s not the best fit for me personally. I’ll be the first to admit GT was never at the top of my list college wise, but it was still the right choice in the end. How can the right choice not be the best fit?- it’s complicated. There are a lot of factors that play into that decision. The point is, I’m not going to be transferring schools.
This begs the question of, what next?
Personally, I’ve had to be very proactive. I’ve been talking to as many people as possible and doing research on my own to try to figure out how to make do.
That may seem pessimistic and perhaps sad to use the term “make do,” but I don’t see it that way because I’ve realized that’s just the nature of higher education. Not everyone ends up at the perfect school for them and I don’t think we should pretend this is the case. What I’ve also realized is that the real key to happy success, (not just success in terms of making it out with some major, but actually being happy while you’re working towards graduation) is to know yourself well enough to make what you want exists even in an environment where it might not noticeably exist yet.
Now, this realization did make me sad.
From personal experience, I know that not every kid graduates high school with a good sense of their self. Yet it’s what I think should be a number one priority of primary education.
We spend so much time trying to learn about the world around us and where it came from and where it’s going, but I don’t believe we spend enough time being introspective. There are educators that have realized this, and there are some techniques that try to get implemented into the classroom to focus students on being introspective. However, I feel like the go-to attempt at solving this problem is telling students, “Write a reflection on your recent assignment.”
There are a couple of reasons I don’t think this is a sufficient way to try and help learners better know themselves.
First of all, not every student expresses themselves best in a written fashion; if this is the case, writing won’t help all students equally.
Furthermore, knowing yourself takes looking at the big picture, not just reflecting on how you worked on one specific assignment.
It’s really about asking the right questions that force learners to think deeper about themselves, then let them figure out how they want to express it in a way that other people can understand. (Being able to articulte to others about who you are is the real key to finding happy success.)
In high school, I wish I would’ve spent more specific facilitated time being questioned about what I really enjoy doing with my life in terms of personal things, activities, and work. What type of environment do I like to be in? How do I work best? What role do I often play on a team, and why? What career areas might interest me in the future based on what I’m doing now? What are different major options I might not know of but might interest me?
Some kids get lucky. They take a CS course in high school and fall in love and know that’s what they want to do in the future. But what if they teach themselves CS and don’t realize what they thought was a hobby could turn into a career? What if they could’ve been pushed to get to that point even earlier and starting doing work designing apps as a high schooler and never realized that was a possibility at their age? What if you have a student who doesn’t happen to fall in love just after taking a class and is very undecided about their future? -You don’t all of a sudden gain clarity without talking to people, and I see no reason why these conversations can’t happen during primary education. It’s never too early to think about what you enjoy and value in your life and how those elements can help give you ideas about future options.
You don’t need to leave high school knowing your career plan. That’s unrealistic and way too much to ask of 18-year-olds. However, I think it is a reasonable goal to say that by the end of high school, learners should know themselves well enough to know what specific options are out there that they want to explore. Beyond just getting to college, k-12 education should graduate students that have an idea of what they want to do when they get there- that takes advising that I believe is lacking for most students and it doesn’t magically appear in college.
How might we graduate high schoolers who have a strong sense of self?
One of the weirdest parts about the transition to college for me has been the fact that old jokes and traditions are no longer relevant.
Because my high school was so small, pretty much everyone at least knew of each other, and groups of students tended to have a lot of the same classes together. Thus, when you see the same people in almost every class almost every day, you end up making a lot of inside jokes. We could practically have full conversations that were just fragments of statements, but we would understand each other perfectly because everything would relate to some inside joke.
However, now I keep finding myself in that situation where I go to say something that is hilarious to me, but then I realize no one else gets it…
The same thing started to happen my senior year in theater. I would reference an old show only to discover that no one else was in that show- that was already weird. Now in college theater is where I notice it the most because shows tend to remind you of other shows and other theater stories, but now every story is completely new and a bit less relevant and more out of context.
As tonight is opening night of my first full-length college production, I’ve really been getting nostalgic about how so many of my old traditions have somewhat come to an end. One of my traditions was that every show we did I would create a “cheat sheet” which was essentially a break down of each scene, who was in it, what needed to happen during transitions, what props were used, and any important lines that were hard to remember. On this list, I would also come up with a weird name for each scene in order to remember it by.
My sophomore year I was working on a show called Mort (actually my favorite production of high school). One of the scenes in this show was particularly long and had only 3 actors in it, but a ton of props and complex blocking, so it took the actors days before it was done being blocked. (For non-theater nerds, blocking is essentially the process in rehearsals of figuring out where to stand or what to move when.) Thus when naming this scene I called it “The Big Long Poo Scene.” The name stuck, and then we realized that every show has that one scene that’s just a pain in the butt to get and takes forever to finally finish correctly. From then on, every show had a “Big Long Poo Scene”- it was a tradition.
Now in college, I still made my “cheat sheet” because it was very much needed for transitions so everyone knew what they were moving when;
however, I didn’t label a “Big Long Poo Scene.” It just didn’t feel right because no one would understand the significance.
I know that I’ll make new inside jokes and traditions with new people here, I already have some, but it’s sad to realize the end of an era. Sad to think we won’t be going to our traditional pre-show dinner places.
Sad to think there won’t be a post-show elevator ride.
Sad to think that tonight will come and I won’t be standing in a circle holding hands with my cast, crew, and director and waiting for the day I’m a senior and get to stand next to the director; in fact, my director won’t even be at opening night because of personal family reasons.
It’s just sad.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m also happy. There’s so much to come and tonight’s still opening night which is always stressful and exciting, and I love my new drama family here at Tech.
Though I know when I do my pre-show warm-up shakedown tonight, my theater family will be in my heart right there with me, because I’m missing them a lot right now especially knowing this is also their show night and I’m not there.
This week in Grand Challenges we finally started working on the topics we formed our teams around. It’s probably not surprising that I’m on a team that wants to focus on education. The goal of this week was to start exploring the problem space, and since I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the field of education and the Education Transformation Movement.
Because I find this more interesting to think about than homework, I ended up spending some quality productive procrastination time developing a quick mind-map around k-12 education. This mind-map highlights some big questions I’ve thought about, hunches I have based on experience and observations, and the start of some potential ideas that could stem from these thoughts. It’s not all encompassing, but it’s a start.
Just thought I’d add it to the conversation.
If you ask a random Yellow Jacket to describe the last two weeks on campus, the majority would most likely respond with, “extended hell week.”
On the one hand, there was the academic side of hell week: first midterms in multiple classes on top of lab reports and extra curricular’s starting to pick up. It was tough, but everyone here chose to be somewhere where we can be academically challenged.
But then you have the emotional side of hell week… Many people know that GT has been on the news a lot recently. And not in a positive way. There was Irma, then a shooting, then a riot, then a fellow scholar died from an illness, and I recently heard that there may have been a few robbery’s as well (though don’t quote me on that one). Not to make light of any of these things, but I list them for the sake to say that our campus has not been getting the greatest press in the past few weeks, and I thought now that I’ve made it through hell week, I should take some time to reflect.
Thus I come back to my blog because it seems this is where my best reflections come out. (Even though they typically are written in about an hour with me just word vomiting onto a page, so who knows where this will go because I surely don’t right now. )
Anyway, as I was saying, it all started with Irma. The first wave of the storm. It feels so long ago, but then again so does the start of the school year, and yet we’re really it’s hardly been more than a month. I went home for the hurricane and got lucky that our power didn’t even go out, and GT wasn’t in too bad of a situation either so we got back in school by the Wednesday after with seemingly no problems jumping back into things.
Then there was the shot hear around the campus. I’ve been told it was the first time in GT police history that a gun was fired by a police officer on campus. I didn’t know Scout, but like everyone at Tech, I’ve been wishing for the best for Scout’s family and friends. And the peaceful vigil turned protest just seemed to come out of no where to me, because as I told friends who reached out to me around that time, it’s the kind of thing you hear about happening on college campuses but never really expect it to happen when you’re there. I was lucky enough to be in my dorm room at the time, and thankfully everyone I knew also stayed safe.
As for the death of Tessa Powers, I don’t know how public this was even made. All we were told was that she was sick and it was a sudden and unexpected death. I have friends who saw her two days prior at a coffee house I was invited to but couldn’t make it to. I can’t say I knew her well, though she was a member of one of my programs, and thus I knew several people who were close with her and her loss was felt deeply by the community.
To be honest, I maybe wasn’t worried enough about these potentially emotionally scaring events. I felt removed in some weird way, maybe because I was distracted by midterms and am also just not the most emotional person for better or worse. What I will say bothered me though, was that the protest was started by non GT students. Outsiders came onto our campus, caused a bunch of problems, and then GT is now has to deal with the bad press.
I don’t really follow the news as well as I should, but here on campus there was a lot of talk about that and it was making a significant number of students upset to see our school community being judged so much for a lot of things that just kind of happened to be on our campus. In times of struggle it’s at least nice to see a community come together, and I’d just like to acknowledge that tech did a great job of always alerting us when things happened on campus (I got at least 5 notifications telling me to seek safe shelter and then reporting when everything was under control). Furthermore, there have been lots of emails and announcements about events for people to pay their respects to Scout and Tessa and their families, and there has been lots of talk about mental health on campus with many resources for those in need of counseling.
Mental health actually has been a huge topic of discussion since I’ve gotten to Tech
because my Grand Challenges problem is all about the evident stress problem on campus. And if feels like yesterday, though it was two years ago, that I was looking at this same problem at the Stanford d.School with the Innovation Diploma for interim. It seems that college campuses and mental health problems are becoming more and more of a conversation these days. I wonder why.
I haven’t done enough actual research to make a big statement at the moment, but my hypothesis is that it has a lot more to do with academic pressure from grades then schools would like to admit. The past two weeks have been very emotional for a lot of people and a lot of professors made the call to change schedules some because of that. Tests were pushed back in freshman chemistry. A few classes were canceled. Some classes became more of a discussion around the events of the past few weeks and were used as check ins to make sure everyone was doing relatively okay. Etc. That was great; I know it helped a lot of people.
Though I know some people still aren’t doing better. There are people on campus still overwhelmed with the events of hell week and can’t seem to find themselves taking time for themselves. Are we just going to be in this constant loop of people getting worked up, then something bad happening and then we address things, and then the cycle repeats? I’m curious as to what will actually change.
I know some people are advocating for more mental health services, though personally I have to wonder if people who really need help will take the time to utilize them. But I’m sure that will help lots of people who can’t seem to get off the wait list because their problems aren’t “urgent enough.” – yes, I had a girl tell me that.
Personally, my education oriented mind believes this is yet another example of why education needs to change specifically in regards to how we assess students. Assessment is a good and needed thing, that doesn’t mean number grades are the only way to assess knowledge and capabilities. I don’t have the answer for the “best system,” to be honest I don’t even know at the moment what I would suggest, but I know that students get too stressed over grades and these past two weeks have made me even more annoyed about it.
IT’S TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY WE ASSESS!
How might we get authentic feedback and assessment? The kind that truly allows us to have a safe space to fail and then learn and grow from our mistakes, without this looming fear of a few bad grades recking our future? What does a number really tell us? If people keep saying grades don’t matter after you get your first job and gain some credibility for yourself, then why do we keep grades at all?
I could go on, but I may just start sounding repetitive because I can feel myself verging into rant mode because this truly makes me deeply upset. I’m more than a number; and I want work that I feel is meaningful enough to work on for a reason better than just because “I want a good grade.” Isn’t that the real reason we still have grades? – because once they’re gone it will require us to give students different kinds of work which leads to a lot of new systems we need to prototype and explore?
It seems that the fact that people keep asking me, “how was your first hell week?” is reason enough to believe that this mentally and emotionally stressful environment wasn’t just because of the unfortunate and unpredictable situations of the last few weeks. If this is an inevitable unhealthy environment, that also means we should be able to prototype and test ways to avoid it, and I personally think that with some creative thinking there are a lot more options worth pursing than just increasing the number of counseling resources. (Counseling is still a great cause to fund, but there is always more than one way to solve a problem, and it seems like this is the only way being talked much about so far.) My vote is to rethink assessment since from interviews I’ve conducted and observations I’ve made, it seems to be a clear cause of a significant portion of stress and is something very controllable by schools, but it’s not the only way to tackle this challenge.
So what’s going to be our experiment to improve mental health in education?- and I’m not just talking about at Tech, because this problem is by no means isolated to GT, or Georgia, or even just higher ed.
I did 17 theater productions in high school, so it’s no surprise that once getting to college I immediately found out how I could get involved in theater. It turns out that there are lots of different ways to get involved with DramaTech because the blackbox is pretty much completely student run, everything from acting, directing (sometimes), lights, sound, set, costumes, makeup, marketing, even choosing which shows to do for upcoming seasons is decided by groups of students.
I’ve been debating joining the group that reads the plays in order to pick upcoming seasons, and I remember thinking, “Wow that sounds like a lot of work, I don’t know if I can make that time commitment on top of other things.”
Then yesterday, I was walking across campus heading from math to English and I was just thinking about how we are required to take classes for English credit if we didn’t come in with AP credit. I started thinking about how my English class at a tech school is very untraditional; it’s all about sound and listening and hearing. Then I was thinking, “Well the play reading group may not be a class, but they probably do as much work as any English class.” Now I’m not in the club, so I don’t know exactly how it functions; however, I imagine that they read at least a dozen plays and have multiple meetings where they have discussions about the shows and their themes and messages, etc. And I’m sure they have to take a lot of notes so that when they go to meetings they remember the show, and for the future at the end of the year they can remember older plays they read.
So they read pieces of work, annotate and take notes while reading, then use these notes to have analytical discussions, and finally have a final task of putting together the next years season as a culmination of their hard work. This sounds like an English course to me… Can you imagine if it counted as one?
Honestly though there are all sorts of clubs in both college and high school that I feel like could count as credit hours and it’s too bad that they don’t.
I even if you could take it a step further and what if there was a high school course that was similar to this play reading club where not only did they receive credit, but what if they were then also given the option to take the AP Lit exam at the end of the year and potentially get AP credit?!? I mean really what’s so different between the club and an AP Lit course? They both do a lot of reading, analyzing, and discussing, but one probably does a lot more multiple choice tests… Meanwhile in the other assessment is pretty straight forward- if you didn’t read the book you can’t productively contribute to the conversation/debate about if it should be included in the next season.
I love the idea of being challenged and learning at a level that is naturally more vigorous, but I truly wish AP courses would disappear or that at the very least the notion behind them would change. There are so many creative and engaging ways to learn and I wish more teachers would start to explore what they can do even within the boundaries of “AP classes,” because I’ll admit, it stinks to have to re-take a class you feel competent in already from high school so APs are great for getting college credit. (I speak from experience being one of those people who bombed the short answer in AP Calc BC and now must re-take calc 2…)
I wonder with the future of education how we might take the concept of APs- more challenging courses for learners who want to push themselves and could potentially get exempt from into college courses- and yet still have classes, or maybe even specialized clubs for credit if they meet certain standards, that are unique and support using the idea of using what you learn for a greater purpose.
I suppose this is the constant struggle and really I may not even be coherent at this point because I started this post one day and then picked up when today even though my mind is not in the same place as when I started, but those are my thoughts.
I wish clubs, in which members truly do a significant amount of work related to a specific subject area, could actually receive credit for required high school or college graduation requirements. (I bet some schools do already, now the rest of us just have to catch up.)
The last few weeks have been crazy and I really should be sleeping but it’s been far too long since I last blogged and I want to continue to make this a priority of mine.
I’m a college student… This is finally starting to really sink in now that I’ve officially completed my first week of classes. And I’ve had a pretty solid few weeks so far since orientation.
I backpacked in Scotland which was a crazy experience unlike anything I’ve ever done before! I can’t say I’ll necessarily go backpacking again for a while, and decided I’m really not a camping person, but it was an experience I’m glad I had. You grow close to people while hiking for a total of 52 miles in 4 days and 17,411 ft in elevation.
It was long and tiring and there were several moments where we all just wished we could stop and be in a hotel in the city with a nice non free dried meal and a hot shower. However, when you’re hiking up a mountain with the weight of a small child on your shoulders in 50 degree whether while it’s pouring down rain, there is only one way to go and that’s forward. We just had to keep climbing and working together as a team to make it through the hard times because there was nothing for us if we turned around and went back.
Instead of complaining, we developed a saying that kept us going, “I didn’t come here for nothing.” We knew at the top of the mountain there would be incredible views, and at the end of the hike there would be a bus taking us back to the city of Glasgow for a day and then there’d be a plane home. We all knew that we’d have to work hard for these rewards and we weren’t about to do all of the work to stop short of our goal.
Sadly there were the occasional false submits where were very depressing because we would think we were at the top of a mountain, and then discover there was just further to go. But that’s life for you, there is always another mountain to climb. It’s when we started setting smaller goals and celebrating when we reached them that we found ourselves keeping a better moral and making more distance.
The mountains really taught me just how important it is to set high goals but also set little goals along the way and I think that’s been a really positive reminder as I’ve started out here at Georgia Tech.
So far at GT I keep hearing, “You get in what you put out.” I know it won’t be easy to be successful (which I’ve already started to discover as we’ve started getting more homework with each new class), but I also know from all the upperclassmen I’ve talked to it’s very possible to achieve success if you really put your mind to it.
I’ve already started to feel at home here even. Between the friends that I came with and the new ones I’ve gained I’ve started to find a good group of people I feel like will support me through anything. Plus I’ve already gotten involved with theater and my first performance in the blackbox went really well with me playing Bottom from A Midsummer Nights Dream (again) in a 10 minute part of the DramaTech open house performance this past weekend. And I’m also really excited to continue my work with the Education Transformation Movement as I’ve found my team for Grand Challenges that wants to focus on education and I’ve started to network with people at GT involved in the movement.
(I haven’t really blogged much about Grand Challenges, but it’s a very similar concept to the Innovation Diploma in the sense that we meet twice a week for an extended period in order to bring together learners with different backgrounds and use design thinking to try and solve wicked problems in the community.)
So yes I know there are a lot of mountains in front of me as I start my new journey into college, but in this moment after week one, I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m at. I didn’t come here for nothing, and I’m ready to keep climbing till I find my new path.
As my grandparents mentioned to me yesterday, “These will be your last few days of just being able to relax for the next 8-9 years.” This feels even more true as I get ready to finally head home tomorrow morning for the first time in 6 weeks.
Starting tomorrow, my life will start to get crazy again with constant activities and work, but to my own surprise, I actually feel ready for it. I’ve never been one to really get homesick, but as a great author wrote in his book, The Light Fantastic,
“The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you’ve got to go somewhere afterward where you can remember them, you see? You’ve got to stop. You haven’t really been anywhere until you’ve got back home.” -Terry Pratchett
I finished reading this book a few days ago and when I read this line I knew it was time for me to go back home. Time to see old friends again before we part ways once more. Time to pack and get ready for new adventures.
Monday morning I head to school for orientation and then I’m gone again to Scotland with 9 of my fellow Stamps Scholars to kick off the school year. Then I’m only back home for a day before moving in, so I really won’t be home for long at all. So I guess I’ll just have to especially cherish these next couple of days. #EndOfNormal