Proof of Concept

One of my favorite parts of working on a project is that first moment when you truly see the whole piece coming together.

Today I got to experience that twice which was amazing!

First up on today’s adventures, I took a trip to Paideia high school due to my work with Engineers Without Borders where we are currently partnering with a teacher to create a design thinking and sustainability short-term course. In today’s meeting, I walked a group of teachers through the outline of our curriculum and we had a discussion around materials, logistics, and feedback on the curriculum itself. It was wonderful to see everyone so impressed and excited about the work our project team has been doing! Especially since the curriculum has primarily been my brain baby, this day was really important because it was a bit of a proof of concept that we’re making progress and that this course is really going to happen this May! (Just a few weeks away and I’m so nervous and excited at the same time to teaching this 18-day class!)

Then after a 30-minute car ride, I ended up at Mount Vernon for Aladdin rehearsal where I got another lovely moment of being able to see my work taking shape. Today I had all my acrobats in rehearsal and now that I’ve been there a few times we’re starting to get into a groove. My little street performers (grades 3-6) learned some new choreography pretty fast today and did a great job keeping up! But the best part of the rehearsal for me was seeing “A Whole New World” now that we finally have an ending to the song/silks routine that works really well!!!! It’s going to be such a great show I can’t wait to see the full run through tomorrow! Hard to believe that show week is less than two weeks away!

Today’s been a lot of running/driving back and forth between classes and meetings (literally from 9-9 today), but having these moments of proof of concept where you can visualize so fully the work coming to life is what makes it worth it every day!

The Sub-Story

I’m very fortunate to get to see a lot of professional theater due to my family’s love of the arts and various connections in the theater world. Sometimes I’m even lucky enough to get to see a show more than once.

Tonight I saw “Something Rotten” at the Fox after having seen it a year or so ago on Broadway.

It’s always interesting to revisit something, especially when its artist. There are always new elements or some elements that you may have just missed the first time. Getting a second chance to view something allows you to dive deeper and further explore all the sub-layers to a work. I realized tonight that there were a lot of jokes and references I hadn’t noticed the first time, which also made me appreciate how my own theater knowledge has grown over the past few years.

Furthermore, I found myself less judgy this time around. Typically when I see a show I always get asked about my opinion, and perhaps this makes me more judgy then the average viewer, but seeing a show again is like giving it a second chance. You know the major parts already so you can open up to all the undertones of the story and appreciate the subtleties.

Every now and then it’s great to revisit something random and take in a story in a whole new light.

Not the Same

Since starting college, I haven’t really kept up with acro. My tops/middle all quit before the spring of my senior year, and the new girl I had for that semester wasn’t nearly as committed. However, there is now a team girl who has expressed interest in doing acro so I agreed to start working with her.

Today was our second day practicing, but really the first day was only for 30 minutes so it hardly counted. We are trying to do a routine in the showcase in a few weeks, thus we’ve had to move pretty quickly. Even though she hasn’t done acro before, as a gymnast I knew she’d pick it up fast, and in the past, I’ve become about a level 8 in acro so I decided we’d start somewhere between level 7 and 8.

I’ve loved getting back into acro, but what I didn’t expect is that my new partner is not the one struggling in this pair…

It’s easy to forget sometimes that when we get out of the practice of something that we can’t just jump right in at the same level we left off at.

I’ve taken a year off and while I’ve done some silks and dance, no two things are exactly the same, so thus today doing skills like sliding to split while holding a girl above my head was a bit harder than expected. I’m gonna be very sore tomorrow, but eventually, I’ll get back with it, at least long enough to put on a good show!

I feel like this year has been similar also with design thinking, I’ve been more in practice then I have with acro, but all year I haven’t been nearly at the same level as high school. It’s been really sad to think about, but slowly I’ve been bringing more DT into new environments so that’s been promising. More to come on that at a later time.

Why Learn

Well, I’ve officially had the first hiccup of my challenge from forgetting to blog last night. Probably for the best though so I didn’t procrastinate studying physics any more than I already had by this point last night.

Though now that my final test before finals is over, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “study.”

Sometimes we use this word synonymously with “learn” but the more I think about it, I believe there is a difference.

Most frequently, studying refers to preparing for an assessment of some kind, but this can be done in a number of ways, not all of which require actual learning. To most students, more often than not, studying just means committing facts and equations to short-term memory in order to do well on a test. I myself am guilty of this.

Learning takes time that we don’t always have before an assessment. In theory, you learn along the way so by the time an assessment comes around, you already have learned what you need to know. But what if you didn’t learn what was necessary? After all, not everyone learns at the same pace, so if we’re expected to have learned certain things before an assessment, then why are we expected to take assessments at the same times?

The fact that we teach “study skills” is kind of funny in this regard, because part of this notion is implying that you don’t fully know the material you are going to be assessed on so you have to strategically study to make sure you know enough to pass. It seems reasonable that we shouldn’t be expected to fully know everything, but that begs the question of what qualifies as “enough”? Who determines what “enough” is? Should “enough” be the same metric for everyone?

Logically the next thing to talk about would be the notion of grades, but I feel like I’ve made my opinion on grades fairly clear in the past and don’t want to dwell on their problematic structure. However, I do wonder, if before going into surgery we saw our doctors report card, how would we perceive him/her?

Anyway, back on the notion of “learning,” I’ve realized that I often consider myself to have truly learned something if I’m able to teach it to someone else. And to be honest, I feel like if I take all of my education thus far, I don’t know how many things would fall into this category. I’ve done well in school, but I’m not sure if I was always learning. And this includes classes I considered to enjoy based on the subject or teacher.

And I’ve noted that in the education world, we like to talk about “teaching kids how to learn,” but pondering this today I wonder if really we should be trying to teach kids why to learn. I think most kids have a general understanding, even at a young age, that learning takes time and practice. Most of the time when we don’t learn, it’s because we don’t want to. We haven’t been convinced why it should be worth learning something.

The reasons why we learn really don’t need to be obvious or even relevant out of context. For example, as a bit of a tangent story, I believe, and if you ask 75% of my graduating class they’d agree, I learned my 7th-grade vocab words. I was motivated in this case by competition.

We played a game in English class called “Vocab Basketball” where at the end of each week our class would split into teams and be asked vocab questions if we got it right then we got a point for our team and the chance to try making a basket to gain a second point. However, there was more to this game. Each week if you used, read, or heard a vocab word used in a sentence then you could write down the word, how it was used, and what it means and put it in your class bucket. At the end of the week, whichever student in each individual class had the most words got a homework pass, and at the end of the year, whichever class had the most words got a party. First semester only one kid in my class really tried, so he got all of the homework passes. I didn’t really care about the homework passes, but it seemed silly to me that he should get all of them for barely trying at all, so I started trying. Sure enough, we ended up in steep competition, but it was also benefiting our class, so then kids from other classes started trying more in order to attempt to keep up with our class total. We may have been motivated to want to learn due to competition, but we definitely learned. The reason I have no doubts about having learned those words and their meanings is because to this day we will occasionally still point out and use words we recall being on one of our 7th-grade vocab lists. I can’t say the same about vocab words from other years.

Anyway, I got lost in my train of thought on that tangent, but I do wonder still, for the amount I’ve studied this year, how much have I really learned? How much do we learn any year for that matter? How do we choose what we learn? What motivates us to learn? How can we spend more time exploring why we learn certain things and not just how we learn them?

Watching the Years

Today was one of those days where I felt really old…

It’s easy to forget how time flies sometimes, but then something happens to annoying remind you of its existence. I spent pretty much all day at the gym today, and while I was there a meeting happened with all of the teens that will be helping with camp and potentially classes this year.

I felt old partially just because I didn’t need to be at this meeting, but I was okay with that, but I felt especially old because we now have girls who I’ve known since they were 5 and 6 when they use to be on our team and now they are working at the gym!

One of the weirdest and best parts of coaching/teaching is getting to watch kids grow up.

It’s crazy to me when I can have full conversations with coaches kids I still think of as being 3 running around the gym half naked. Or when I realize I’m 10 years older than a handful of our team girls. Or when I see kids I remember having to use three mats to reach some of the equipment now tower over me and have deeper voices and look all grown up.

I don’t think I’ll ever get use to watching kids grow up, but it is kind of amazing in a weird sort of way. I suppose it’s part of the reason some people become teachers- because they enjoy playing a role in that process.

Scaling Down

Today was the first day I worked with most of our team girls on the group routine. Turns out I may have been a little too ambitious with this choreography…

I was excited because our younger team girls are fairly advanced this year, so when we decided to have everyone in one routine, I left the same choreography that was intended for our upper-level gymnasts. I thought it would be fine because of our girls being advanced and whatnot, but I definitely fell into the trap of maybe dreaming a bit too big on this routine. Thus I was quickly reminded of the importance of testing and iterating on the fly.

Coaching today reminded me that while it’s great to be ambitious, dream big, and strive for crazy goals, you also need to keep in mind feasibility and sometimes scale down goals to build up to big ideas.

Luckily, I think the routine will all work out, but today definitely got me second guessing some decisions.

Habits of Mind

It’s officially been a week since I re-started my 100-day blogging challenge!!! It’s amazing how it’s already starting to feel more natural again to take the time each night to just get something written out.

People really are creatures of habit and it’s always funny to me when I realize this. It makes sense from a gymnastics perspective. We always tell kids they have to train the way they want to compete because it’s more likely that your body will go into muscle memory mode. I suppose our brain works a similar way (I mean it is basically a complex muscle).

If we train our brains to think a certain way or to be mindful of a certain practice, then over time it is easier to stick with that mindset. (Though it’s also noteworthy that even if you make a habit of something, it still takes time to actually get good at it. It’s been amusing to me how much some of these posts from the past week remind me of my early days; ones where they’re really pulled out of nothing and not what I’d consider my most insightful writing… First comes the habit, then comes the skill.)

As the summer comes around, I like to try and make goals for myself. This summer one of my goals is to be more aware of the habits I create for myself and to try to create a productive work schedule even within this supposal “break.”

“Finals” Count Down

With hardly more than a week left of classes, we’ve officially reached that point in the year.

Studying all day, sleeping little at night, and stress levels so high you’d think I’d been in a fight.

It’s the final countdown of my first year in college, and today that hit me hard. My final tests of the semester are all coming up in the next few days and it’s truly exhausting on top of homework, job work, and preparing for summer work.

I hate how this always happens where the schedules of classes line up to where there’s always that one week of the semester that feels like hell broke loose and everything’s happening at once in a crazy tiring mess.

Honestly the last days leading up to finals are often worse than finals themselves. During finals, we get a break from all the other work and we can just focus on the exams themselves, but the days leading up we’re trying to study for finals and take the last tests and still deal with all of the other “normal” stuff.

Plus on top of all that, it’s the make it or break it time for grades. I hate stressing about grades, but considering my scholarship is dependent on my ability to keep above a certain GPA, it’s hard not to. I despise that college grades are so heavily based on just a mere few tests, (especially since I’m not a great test taker) and today involved a lot of freaking out about where my grades are at this point and what I need on my last tests and finals if I hope to get the grades I want.

So close to a break…

External Expert Lectures

To build off of my post from last night, I had another instance of course material overlapping today.

In Grand Challenges today we had a guest lecturer. She is currently an Intellectual Property lawyer who graduated from GT as an engineer in 2001. Her entire talk was all about the process to receiving a patent/trademark/copyright (whatever fit the situation) and talking about things you would include in an application and important notes on timing of the process.

Well, it just so happens that my “legal aspects of business” class is currently on a chapter all about intellectual property… I literally had been reading in my textbook last night about this topic and one of the cases mentioned was then something the guest speaker specifically brought up. (The case was about Apple suing Samsung over a trademark with the design of their phones and how Apple won because you can in fact trademark the design of a product and Samsungs was too similar.)

So I literally only had two classes today which were both about the exact same thing… However, the big difference was that one was taught my an external expert. Technically our legal aspects professor also does research in this area and is probably considered an expert, but there is something extra compelling about bringing an outside person in to lead a discussion about work that is relevant to them daily.

Especially in high schools when teachers are often not experts in their particular subject in the sense of continuously doing research or work in that field (partially because high school subjects are so vague and broad that no one could truly be an expert on the entire subject we try to cram into a year, but that’s a topic for another time), it seems that bringing in external experts is such a logical idea. I can’t think of anything noteworthy that we learned in my legal aspects class/from the textbook, that we didn’t also cover while speaking with the external expert. Plus the class she was giving this talk to had nothing to do with legal stuff typically (she was asked to come in because the logical next step with developing innovative prototypes is to learn about how to protect your intellectual property) so it wasn’t like she was told “specifically cover these details and you can look at these pages of our textbook as reference.”

I just wish more schools would take advantage of bringing in external experts from time to time. Not only to give feedback on student work but sometimes just to lead a lecture. While I believe the current education paradigm needs to be transformed, I do not think the notions of lectures are a “bad” thing; they can sometimes be very engaging and helpful at times when you truly just need to gain information on a specific topic.

It’s a Cat!

Associate thinking is so cool. That moment when you can connect the dots with seemingly different topics is kind of mind-blowing.

This semester I’m in a special topics CS class. I would not consider myself a particular fan of CS or computers or coding or programming or any of that, however, our professor is an advisor of mine which is how I found out about the class and why I knew I had to take it. Sometimes I jokingly call it my fake CS class so that people don’t confuse it with one of the required CS course where we learn a coding language. In this special topics class though, it’s all about computer architecture and the current process, history, and structural components involved with trying to make faster computers.

Today our professor decided to let us just have a fun Q and A day where we could ask him any question we wanted to about computers and he would try to give his best answer. We ended up talking a lot about his research in particular, because we were all curious about what exactly he does, and it turns out he’s been a huge leader in the process of trying to fundamentally change computing.

Like I said, computers aren’t really my thing, but what made this class particularly interesting to me was the fact that I could relate it so multiple other conversations I’ve had at different points in my learning journey.

Turns out a lecturette on neuromorphic computing (essentially the computing involved with trying to model the brain which is the essential technology behind machine learning; self-driving cars and all that jazz) is shockingly similar to a leadership session about defining versus distinguishing while at a conference around shifting the current education paradigm. Both are about the fundamental elements of learning and how our brain or a computer brain model is taught to distinguish elements like a cat from a raccoon.

Then we started talking about quantum computers, and I realized that last time I really had an in-depth conversation about quantum computing was the summer after 10th grade while at nerd camp (Duke TIP) taking a course called spy 101. Yet even though it was a good few years ago, I remembered the basic concepts still because that class to this day has been one of my favorites that I ever took; this was because the course was entirely interdisciplinary. We talked about the mathematical side of different kinds of codes and how they work, and modular arithmetic (all math I’ve only started to even see in college), and on top of that we talked about the history of coding and it’s role in World War 2 and then also hypothesised and explored the future of computing with the science behind quantum computers.  It was an amazing course, and one I remember better than a lot of my high school classes in terms of content.

Interdisciplinary learning just makes so much logical sense to me. In my experience, it just makes learning more memorable and more relatable in general. Meanwhile, I have classes like today in linear algebra and physics where in my linear class we spent the whole time talking about a topic we learned week one in physics, and in physics, we talked about a topic we learned early on in linear. When I get stuck in classes like that I honestly tune out a great deal no matter how much I know I should pay attention because things just get boring when they’re too repetitive without a new spin or learning connection.

My big wish is that there would be more interdisciplinary courses for credit in the education system. There are starting to become a lot of classes available that are interdisciplinary in nature, but they still are only being allowed to count as a “free credit” or something to the extent that basically means the material you’re learning can’t actually keep you on track for graduation with helping you receive required credits. It’s really frustrating sometimes to be honest.