Paving a Path

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(This post is a little long, but that’s just because there were so many inspirational things to think about today!)

Everyone has something they are passionate about. Even if they haven’t discovered what that is quite yet, it still exists.

I couldn’t agree more with Kat’s interpretation on students finding their passions and the importance of a mentor that really cares about you outside of the class.

I find it ironic that she mentions are 9th grade history teacher because he recently posted a blog entry about “Where are you JamCam?” which was a song and video I created with the help of a few others at the end of last year. The song started as a joke because he was our mentor for our year long project last year (TDed as it was called, and it was on GMOs), but since he was a head person, he was often at meetings and we couldn’t find him.

One day Jacob started singing “Where are you JamCam” to the tune of “Where are you Christmas”, and after that I had decided that we needed to finish the song; so I did.

It wasn’t until the last week of school that I had gotten my best friend Dana to record the song after school on my computer, and I had asked a bunch of students to send me pictures of JamCam from his class or just pictures that he had sent us at some point by email. Then I went online and found a bunch of pictures he had posted of our class to also add to the iMovie. I was even working on finalizing the video during the last class we had with him, so I was really happy when I found out he had no idea we were going to present this video to him on the last day of school!

I couldn’t begin to explain how important his role was in getting me to be where I am today. It was in his class that I first started dreaming and imagining how much more there could be to what “school” means. Kat talks in her post about how, “Some of my favorite teachers of all time are the ones that got to know me beyond the class, learned what I liked, sent me random email with links to things to check out, encouraged me to just start doing things, like starting my blog or my Twitter account, and always being there to lend an ear when I wanted to vent about a problem I was having and helping me find a way to fix it.” Let me just say, this is sooooooooo true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This personal connection is what really sets apart a “teacher” versus a “mentor”.

Just today JamCam and I were Tweeting about a book he found in Barns and Noble about Einstein which he thought I would like, and then we talked about his blog post and the “Where are you JamCam” video.

I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t know how much I remember about World History from that class. (I’m sure I remember more than I think I do because when things come up I’ll be like, “oh ya we learned about that some last year”.) The thing is though, when I think back to all of last year, even outside of that class, what I learned isn’t what stands out to me, it is the fun, random moments of inspiration that you can’t plan for that I remember best.

For example here are my top memories from classes of last year:

1st period: Band

I have a lot of memories from band because we were always fooling around with music before and after class, and it is the one class I had already been in for multiple years and with the same teacher, so being in high school didn’t really change anything about that class. Last year I really started to mess around with stuff that I just wanted to play rather than just what our conductor gave us. I remember one day when no one else was playing because half of the band was gone (back when middle and high school band was together), but Marz, Dana, and I decided to take that opportunity to play some stuff with just us 3 flutes. We played songs from Little Shop of Horrors because we just did that musical. We played old songs from years past. We even hooked up my computer so we could play “Let it Go” with the instrumental in the background! We weren’t playing because we were told, we played because we wanted to experiment for ourselves.

2nd period: Latin

I’ll admit, Latin last year was ruff with that particular teacher. And the funny thing is, while we make fun of this particular day, I will never forget the day she had us all sit down on the floor in a circle and told us we were going to be kindergardeners and tell a story. Everyone was given a role and she told us the story of the golden fleece, and when a character would could come up she would point to whoever in the class was playing that character and act like it was them.

3rd period: Math

I’m a major math nerd, so it shouldn’t be surprising that my favorite math memory was when someone challenged me to a speed race to derive the quadratic formula from the standard formula. We had been working on this all unit, and I had even gotten a Student of the Month award for the communication mindset because I helped a bunch of people understand how to do it. It had been on our quizzes and our teacher had told us it would be on the test. So the day of the test while our teacher was printing the tests (I think, I know she wasn’t in the room quite yet) another kid challenged me to see who could derive it fastest on the whiteboard. (I won.) 🙂 It was really great to see our teachers face when she walked in and saw us all having fun playing with math! To this day I will still occasionally test myself with remembering how to derive that formula because there is this memory attached.

4th period: Biology

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This is one of my favorite stories! Last year in science there was one week where we had gotten super a head of the other period, so our teacher didn’t know exactly what we should do in class. So we suggested “let’s just go grab the prototyping stuff and make stuff!” He seemed hesitant, so we put on our thinking caps to think of a way to justify it. We decided that we were going to all pick animals and try to mash them together, essentially to make our very own GMO, which was not only what we were learning about in science at the time, but it was also the big topic for all of the 9th and 10th graders for their year long project. We explained how we were also demonstrating the mindsets: working in teams (collaborating), finding a problem we think could be solved with a new GMO not yet existing (solution seeker), thinking outside of the box to create these creatures (creative thinker), designing them with a  purpose in mind for these creatures (innovator), making sure our purpose was helpful to society and weighing the potential down sides (ethical decision maker),  and at the end explaining our ideas to everyone in a short to the point fashion that also pitched why we needed that particular GMO (communicator). We had him convinced! We did this little impromptu project and it was amazingly fun and entertaining because it was really random and took a lot of creative power even if there wasn’t a ton of fact involved. (Then a tour came in and we had to explain to them what we were doing and why, which was pretty historical.)

5th period: World History

 IMG_2003(The Question Tree)

I’ve already talked a bit about how much I enjoyed this class. My most memorable moment is the one that started it all in my opinion: The Big History Project. The original prompt was to find some topic with in that time period range we had discussed so far and to research and present about it in some way of your choice. Well I didn’t like this. I was being really frustrated about not knowing what to work on or what topic to pick because I didn’t want to just do a typical project where you research a bunch of random facts and then relay them to everyone. JamCam understood. After 3 days of struggling and experimental ideas with the class with writing passions on one note card and potential topics on another and trying to find the connections (this activity was mainly for me, but it still left me stuck), JamCam finally came to me and said, “I have an idea. I’ve been struggling with how to make our work more meaningful and I can’t figure it out. How would you like to make that your topic; HMW redesign projects?”

My response: Challenge accepted.

I think I did more work in that month then I ever had for any project. I was researching schools and techniques from around the world. I scheduled meetings with faculty members to learn about how we design our school schedules. I sent surveys to teachers, students, and parents. I worked intensely over Thanksgiving break because I wanted to get all of my ideas just right. I gave practice presentations to family members, students, and teachers. I stayed up until 2am one night pondering over ideas with my mom. I prototyped and drew up poster boards and created an entire 45 page slide deck.

I was so dedicated I asked to go last so I could have as much possible time prepping. Then on the last day of 1st semester I gave what ended up being a 45 minute presentation on HMW Redesign Projects, which ended up leading to so many other ideas like new schedules that allowed for subjects to work on trans-disciplinary projects with multiple teachers at once. There were even 3 people video taping the presentation, one of which was Mr. Adams who at the time I really did only know as the mysterious bow tie guy that came into class rooms to observe occasionally (little did I know back then how much our paths would cross).

It is hands down the project I am the most proud of ever, and like I said, “it started it all”; I don’t think I would ever have become so interested in education reform if it wasn’t for this project and the opportunity to go against what everyone else was doing for class. (This was no longer just for a class project, it was for me.)

Thanks again for that JamCam! 🙂

6th period: English

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I’ve said before that I didn’t really consider myself to be a writer before starting this blog over the summer, and this is very much true, so as you can imagine I’ve always had a love hate relationship with English classes. However, this particular class was amazing! The teacher and students just all clicked so perfectly as did many of my classes last year. I’m stuck between two memories from this class, but I think I have to go with the creation of “Feeds”. We were learning about dystopian societies at the time, which is probably my favorite style for some reason, and we were also suppose to be connecting class stuff to GMOs at the time. So we got in groups to create dystopian stories about GMOs.

I loved the way this teacher made the groups because it was a nice mixture of student picked and teacher picked. I don’t recall the exact questions, but she created a Google form with multiple choice questions where you could choose as many that apply, that asked things like “what type of project (medium) would you like to do?” “What skills do you bring to a team?” “Name 3 people you would like to work with.”

Then she took all of this information and created the groups herself, but kept everyone with at least one person from their list. (So if 2 people put each other they were basically always put in a group together.)

My group decided to do something interesting for our presentation which none of us had tried before. We took what was originally going to be a short story, then turned it into a script, and then recorded parts of it and left other parts to be acted out live. We had two narrators and then 2 of us playing all of the other roles, but some of them were pre recorded and one girl was working the tech stuff to start and stop the recordings. In the end we got it so we could be having a scene with ourselves and it was really cool the way it all worked out! It was also a ton of fun because we got to decide everything; the only parameter was it could be no longer than 15 minutes and had to be a dystopian story about GMOs. It was also neat because most of my class mates hadn’t seen me act before so they were really impressed and that is always nice to hear!

It was also fun to see all of the other productions. One group wrote a 30 page novel. A few did movies, and this one group did the most amazing school video of the year. The girl who edited it was really talented and their story line was pretty funny.

I had some great memories from 9th grade. I know everyone says the information is the important stuff, but is it really what we remember after the test? At the AATE conference last Friday, Mr. Edwards/Tedwards (my bio teacher from last year by the way) had said something about how students will relearn most of the “important” information again in college, and any student that wants to do well, will. Well how do we get students to want it? For me want and fun are pretty closely related.

I could list a ton of things I learned from these experiences, but the grades don’t matter a smidge  to me (most of them didn’t even have real grades, but I still learned and enjoyed the moments enormously.) These stories I shared were all moments were I had incredible joy and also felt incredibly proud of my work because I took part in the creation of the end product and felt connected to the outcome; a teacher hadn’t predesigned what would come from the experience.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense; if the teachers already have the path paved for the students, how will they ever learn to make their own path? 

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