Valued Learning Memories

Background

I am officially a week into my second semester of college. It’s truly a crazy thought to think that I’m theoretically an eighth of the way finished with undergrad already.

Ever since the end of my first semester in college, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Specifically, I started thinking about what things during high school most prepared me for my first semester in college. I was pondering what learning moments most stood out to me over those four years of my life, and not just specific to moments of learning actually during “school hours.” Then, I thought it would be really interesting to learn about what other members of my graduating class from Mount Vernon would include on their personal learning moment list. Thus began my mini research project.

I asked several other MVPS graduates of the class of 2017 to create their own list of memorable learning moments and send them to me. I received 12 responses (other than my own which are featured in the above image) and have spent a few hours comparing the results searching for trends in terms of actual events, skills learned, and ideas/concepts considered and am now excited to share what I found.

Defining My Purpose

Now before I begin to explain my findings, I must add the disclaimer that I know that obviously, this is a small sample size. Furthermore, while I tried to reach out to a semi-diverse group, there’s something to be said about the fact that these were all still students who were actually willing to respond to a random request from a former classmate of theirs even if they hadn’t talked to her in months in some cases. Finally, I must note that I acknowledge that every author has a bias, and I’m sure trends and conclusions that I noticed may have not been the same as others, but as much as I would’ve liked to discuss the responses with someone else, that was not the case this time.

Because of this bias, my conclusions about trends noticed can’t reasonably be said to apply to all 2017 MVPS graduates, but I still find them interesting for the sake of my little curiosity project. While I plan to include some of my own thoughts, I want to also clarify that my purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone of anything; I simply want to show some student perspective about what, after a semester into college, stands out as memorable and useful learning moments from high school. 

Trends

Trends in Events

Trends in events I define as the actual moments that people recalled learning something from that they found important enough to add to their list.

Top 5 Noted Events:

  1. iProject/Innovation Diploma
  2. Community/Team Work
  3. Extracurriculars (Sports and Arts related in particular)
  4. Travel
  5. Service

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that as much as students may have complained about iProject, the semester or year-long passion project all high schoolers at MVPS completed, it was hands down the most mentioned learning moment. Seven out of the eleven students found some iteration of iProject to be particularly valuable in their learning journey. For most, this was valuable because of the real world lessons they taught themselves when they became responsible for taking control of their learning, such as time management and communicating with community members you’ve never met in person.

Another undeniable trend was the role that the Mount Vernon community played in fostering great learning. Even if not explicitly stated, most students mentioned how much they valued the unity our grade had and how it helped push and grow them as individuals.  One learner specifically said, “I think it’s so great that I have a place to come back to that I can call ‘home.”

I believe that this role of a family like community also contributed to why so many students also mentioned theater, sports, debate, band, or some sort of extracurricular club. Communicating and working with teams is something that everyone seemed to really value, and I think the reasoning is pretty simple, “It’s cool to see everyone getting behind a common idea.” Not all learning moments need to seem grand and life-changing, but there is no questioning that learning patience and teamwork are very valuable skills in life.

On the flip side, some moments can be very memorable in a grand sort of way, but maybe not have the clearest learning outcomes. Almost everyone mentioned at least one time during high school where they traveled somewhere with friends. Whether this be a lake weekend or a trip to France, it’s not surprising that traveling is memorable. However, most students couldn’t provide as clear of a “this is what I learned from this experience” antidote with their traveling memories compared to other experiences, though learning about your peers is definitely a valuable lesson in my opinion.

In terms of the last major trend, I noticed that a significant number of people had listed something that involved helping others. Service proved to be a powerful way to engage students, as many mentioned activities from helping other students with classwork to partnering with a nonprofit.

Beyond some of those major trends, there were some little assignments that I noticed were important to multiple people. Research papers from sophomore year, the Mongols debate, and reading Madea were all classroom activities that appeared more than once. What was notable about what people learned from these activities was how one activity could have such a different take away for different students. From one perspective the Mongol debate was an example of the benefits of teamwork and preparation, while from another the debate represented a time when people were in fierce competition to the point of being mean. When thinking about why these three activities might have stood out amongst all of the assignments we had in high school, I found this comment to be particularly interesting in reference to the research paper specifically, but I think it applies to all of these assignments: “Realistic to the real world, but also just good practice in research and analysing stuff for ourselves that our teachers weren’t already ‘masters’ in that subject area (we had stuff to learn they didn’t know already.)”

Trends in Skills

Trends in skills refer to skills that students specifically talked about learning that have been significantly helpful to them. My new hypothesis is that perhaps activities, despite what they are, if they can help students attain these skills, can be worthwhile memorable learning moments. This is not a comprehensive list by no means, but these are skills that stood out in particular to the students I surveyed. In theory, these skills have clear steps or practices that can help one attain mastery in the given skill.

Top Noted Skills :

(In no particular order)

  • Public speaking: including how “it’s important and helpful to know how to bs your way through some things”
  • How to send a professional email
  • How to see an argument from different perspectives
  • Formal writing
  • Time management/scheduling
  • Organization
  • Maker skills (such as: CAD, 3D printing, designing, and developing stickers, etc.) some maker skills have more practical specific uses than others, but as one student noted, learning how to make stickers can be worthwhile because it reminds you, “to have fun along the way, because learning should be fun.”

Trends in Ideas/Concepts

Unlike skills, ideas/concepts are trends that I noticed students discussing in their reflections on why events were memorable, but they aren’t the kind of knowledge one can attain “mastery” in like how you could with a skill. Similarly to skills, I imagine that if these ideas/concepts were important enough for multiple students to acknowledge them in these reflections, then they may be topics worth purposefully making sure students get exposure to during high school.

Top noted Ideas/Concepts:

(In no particular order)

  • Controversy/Competition: while contemplating right vs wrong and different perspectives students learned things such as how, “Real heroes are flawed, the scale of goodness doesn’t operate on a binary 0% or 100% scale.” “Sometimes big controversies can lead to great things.” “Some people, regardless of evidence, will never change their opinions.”
  • Age equal Skill: students gain confidence when making the discovery that teachers don’t know everything, and even young learners can be experts at times; “I even got to teach some chief engineers about CAD; I have never felt smarter!” “… sometimes your teacher isn’t great at their job and you have to teach yourself and learn with your classmates to keep up.”
  • Trust in a Mentor: “I am capable of doing great things as long as I set my mind on them and have someone that believes in me”
  • Find/Share Your Voice: “Staying silent only boosts the presently flawed power structure.” “Speak up and challenge the status quo, even if that means questioning those in a position of authority.” “Tell your truth in all its tainted glory, you have the right to.”
  • #FailUp- Mistakes and Values: high school is about learning about yourself, and what better way than by making mistakes, a significant number of students all mentioned on their list at least one time they made a mistake and “failed” from it, but learned a good deal from it; “I was trying to figure myself, and with each mistake I made, I kind of figured myself out more and more.” “Life keeps moving forward, so you can’t sit in the past and dwell for too long.”
  • Grit: several students mentioned applications, jobs, internships, or long projects and how they learned from these experiences how to work hard to make something happen despite the obstacles: “Devote yourself even more to a goal that you are striving for, even if you get turned down along the way; if it means a lot to you, keep going.”
  • Learning can be Fun: (I was personally happy to see that many students came to this conclusion at some point during high school, though I imagine this isn’t the case for all sadly.) “Every Latin class ever helped me learn to appreciate school.” “Learn things you are interested in” “really fun time” “super unique and cool”

Final Thoughts

There was no assignment or “reason” for me to write this post beyond me just being curious, but I’m glad I did because it reminded me of a lot of lessons I appreciate learning over the years.

My initial wonder stemmed from being curious about if schools really place emphasis on the learning moments that later in life become most valuable; thus I first wanted to figure out what those “valuable learning moments” are based on the opinion of students.

Through this process, it’s become even more apparent to me that you can never know exactly what lessons people will take away from different activities. I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students. The fact that students acknowledged these lessons proves that I was correct in thinking that they are in fact valuable lessons to learn in high school for preparation for college and beyond.

I do still wonder though about the hundreds of other assignments and experiences that did not make these lists. How should we value those assignments?

Students over the years always manage to learn the valuable lessons in some capacity. But what I wonder is how as a society we can show that we value the learning of these lessons and skills more than just the number grade you get on the assignment itself.

As I said in the beginning, my primary purpose of this post was just to share my findings of what lessons students found to be most memorable and valuable from high school. While I’m not yet sure what will happen next, I’m glad to have some more clear data on what those lessons we should be striving to teach in education might look like.

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2 thoughts on “Valued Learning Memories

  1. “I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students.” That’s kind-of not-surprising to me, as it’s what your teachers designed this school to be, and most likely the educational valuses they communicated directly, if not all along the way, certainly in the upper levels as they connected you with @edReimagined, etc.

    It’s worth noting that this post does not reflect what most “ordinary” Americans value in a school. Certainly they’d like to see the things mentioned here. And certainly most would like high school to look very much different than it does. Yet they would not prefer it look like MVPS or similar schools. (Nor could most schools, even if they wanted).

    This is the challenge of remaking school: “model” schools like MVPS aren’t really useful models for 50-80% of the schools out there.

    So how do we change those schools?


    Best of luck this semester!

  2. It is interesting that you are curious, this early in your personal journey, about what quality learning models might entail. Ideas to consider further:
    -In today’s world, we should no longer expect teachers to be the experts imparting knowledge to students, but rather partners in the learning process.
    -Authentic assessment is critical to providing meaning for learning.
    -Grit and the ability to “fail forward” is a strong predictor in future success.
    -What are colleges doing to show they value the skills of creativity, problem solving and teamwork in their admissions process? Until a majority of higher education institutions change the admissions process, high schools will shy away from pushing for curriculum change.

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