Finals are Here and I’m not an Engineer

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. download-2.jpg

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. download-1

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.

download.jpgSo 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.

 

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And with that, as tradition goes:

A merry finals to all,

And to all crammers,

Good luck and good night!

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Mind-Mapping Education

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. Education Hunches MindmapIMG_9392 2

Mental Health in Education

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

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Student story: We need mental health education in schools

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.

Clubs for Credit

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.)

Climbing Mountains

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.

fuse17 Here We Go!!!

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It’s finally Fuse17 week!!!! That means dozens of educators from around the country have gathered at our school to learn about design thinking and how it’s applicable in the real world, including/especially within education. Plus, unlike a normal conference (says the 18 year old…), we get the joy of working alongside of 3 non profits as we go through a lap of the design thinking process.

I’ve been waiting all year for this event and am so glad it’s finally here and that we have such an amazing group of people gathered!!!

Now I’m really tired and should probably sleep seeing as tonight’s only day 1 of the 3 day conference. However, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on my already uncontainable excitement from day one, so I’m going to try to make this short, which is a struggle of mine.

Today was a day of really gearing up for the Moonshot of the conference. Participants started the day in a lab either dt101-Flashlab or dt102-Consultivation; these labs allowed participants to get an extra lap through the design thinking process (at whatever level suited their past experience) under their belt before we head into the big design challenge working with our non-profit partners. Then the evening was really spent diving deep into MoVe Talks where we heard from the various non profit organizations (GA Farmers Markets, Beds 4 Kids, and Love Beyond Walls) as well as some MVPS speakers who focused on how we use DT at MVPS for all ages in various capacities.

What really stood out personally for me today was to see how far we- MVPS, MVIFI, Innovation Diploma, even fuse itself- have come in the past four years. (I guess when you graduate you can’t help but spend the summer reminiscing on how much things have changed over time because it seems to be a recent theme of mine.)

Hearing the MoVe Talks today from MVPS people made me realize how many more stories we have to share than four years ago and how we have so many people that could give a MoVe Talk if needed, students included. We have 6 total Innovation Diploma members at fuse17 which is a much greater turn out than the last two years where we had about 3 max, and I’ve already been hearing so many comments about people being impressed by the students they’re working with or hearing from. And projects that ID has worked on over the past few years came up myriad times over the course of the day, which just goes to show that we’ve done some pretty awesome noteworthy stuff in the past three years.

Furthermore, facilitating the Consultivation session allowed me to experience and feel how far we’ve come.

This may sound odd, but there was an almost physical vibe about how comfortable things felt in terms of the DT process/facilitation/coaching going smoothly. We’ve facilitated dozens of design challenges in the past four years- yes I say we, I may only be a recent grad, but I have done my fair share of facilitating- and we are still constantly prototyping new ideas on how to run them, but today just felt so organic and there weren’t a million questions about, “Wait I don’t understand this, how do I use this tool?” It was great! (Wow that was a run on sentence, but I’m just so empowered right now that I can’t help but think and type faster than my poor grammar can try to keep up!)

I’m going to cut this post shorter than my normal reflections because I need to get some rest, because these next few days are about to be full of hard purposeful work- so obviously it’s going to be too much fun to want to spoil by being sleep deprived!

I Am a Designer

IMG_7447What feels like a very long time ago, I had to start writing my Common App essay for college. Back when I did start brainstorming what to write about, I turned immediately to my blog; it’s been amazing to have a an entire collection of reflections from some of the most memorable things that have happened over the years. It only seemed right that now, now that I’m finally decided on a college and graduated high school, that I should officially post my Common App essay:

 

Common App Prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

I am a designer. Anyone can be a designer. You don’t need a fancy degree or a Mona Lisa to prove it. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.” This was the message I delivered to inspire creative confidence to a “young” audience of design thinkers. Let me set the stage.

The summer after sophomore year, I earned the opportunity to be one of four guest speakers at an annual summer conference called Fuse, facilitated by the Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation. This event gathers 110 educators, business leaders, social innovators, change agents and dreamers from around the world to make an impact while learning more deeply as design thinkers. A slide deck appears on stage and the attendees saw the peculiar twitter handle @Pinyabananas, then a single spot light illuminated me- a 16 year old girl with her hair in a scrunchie. As a speaker, I delivered a 10 minute presentation similar to a TEDTalk where I shared about “Thinking Like a Designer.” My role: to get the room full of educators excited and confident in their abilities to spend three days problem solving for four different non-profit organizations. As the only speaker under the age of 30, the one with the least formal schooling and lacking the series of credentials and accomplishments of the other speakers, I was nervous.

Being an actress, I’ve been up on stage dozens of times in front of audiences larger than 110 people. I’m comfortable with public speaking, but this experience was different. This time I was the only student; specifically chosen because the organization believes that I have a story and ideas that educators should hear. Typically, it’s assumed that anyone still in secondary schooling has much to learn and not much to teach. When asked to speak, I was tasked with representing not only myself, but all students– to prove that we can have insightful thoughts worth sharing in serious conversations about the future.

I got up on stage vulnerable yet confident, and shared what I believe to be a recipe for success: to have community involvement, work with a #fuse15 MoVe Talkpurpose, a mentor to guide you, a mindshift to turn problems into opportunities, and a bias towards action. I challenged the entire audience to say the opening lines of this essay with me: “I am a designer.” To my surprise, when I repeated this statement, a chorus joined me; 110 educators accepted the challenge proposed by a 16 year-old girl to think like designers.

Age doesn’t have to be a limiter in life. If I am willing to take action for a cause that I care deeply about, then anything is possible. After my talk I had a number of educators come up to me and say, “You are inspiring!,” “I can’t believe you’re only 16,” “Thank you for giving me the confidence to do this.” Later that night my phone was blowing up with the number of twitter notifications I was getting from people commenting, liking, and retweeting things about my talk; our head of school even said, “Sounds like the takeaway of the night was from @Pinyabananas ‘I am a designer.’” It was a crazy night for me; it’s hard to believe it really happened.

This talk has since been used at a number of other workshops, some of which I probably don’t even know about. I remember researching myself online one day and found a link to a presentation by a professor in England who used the video of my talk! I am still astonished to think that my work had such an impact, and have continued to use my digital presence through daily blogging and tweeting as a mouthpiece for students around the country who remain silent school consumers. Anyone can be a designer. You just have to be confident enough to say it, “I am a designer.”

The Unpaved Path

C_egitqXkAAEVE4In two days I graduate…. That’s crazy. I’m a very nostalgic person, and, therefore, I have been doing a lot of reminiscing by reading old blog posts, emails, and in general having conversations with friends about the past four years of our lives. So when we decided that we wanted our ID seniors to give MoVe Talks to the younger cohorts and some admin as a way to share our parting advice, it didn’t take long for me to come up with the story I wanted to share.

Towards the end of sophomore year I wrote a blog post reflecting on some of my favorite memories of freshman year. In this post I questioned the idea of students walking on an already paved path, well this thought has now come full circle as I’ve learned through my work in the Innovation Diploma that the path unpaved is a path worth taking.

Below is the script I used for my MoVe Talk which is as close as I have to the exact words I used to attempt to impart this idea on to the younger cohorts.

“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? “- Paving a Path; The Life of Pinya

Before I begin, I want everyone to close your eyes and imagine standing on a path in a forest. There is gravel and some large rocks, and it’s evident that people have walked this trail before. From where you stand you can clearly see the end of the trail.

Now turn to your left and right. There are trees everywhere and some flowers growing on the ground. There is no paved path in this part of the forest, but the unusual flowers and glimpses of multicolored light shining through the trees are intriguing. If you are pursuing innovative education practices, then you are in this unknown part of the forest and are pioneering a trail on the unpaved path.

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This is me back in middle school, and today I want to tell the story of how I got from there (point to screen) to here (tada) because I’ve taken a fairly unusual path.

Back in 8th grade when this picture was taken, I was honestly pretty much your stereotypical try hard, nerdy, rule following student. In fact I won the award for highest gpa at the end of the year. I say this not because I feel like this award was all that important or because I want to brag about myself- I mean, it’s middle school let’s be real all of that is trivial in that regard- but I say this so hopefully you can better understand where I was coming from when going into high school.

My understanding of a successful student was someone who made all As, got a few awards, and then eventually got into a good college with scholarship money, and if you could become Valedictorian then you were really set for life.

At this point in my life, I was playing the game of school well and thusly believed I was on this path to success, and I was perfectly content with just that.

It wasn’t until freshman year that I started to believe that maybe there could be more to school.

Big History.pngNow some of you may recognize this picture because it’s a picture from the moment I describe as my clicking moment. The moment where I realized success in school could be so much more than just good grades, and realized that school needs to change in order to meet these new standards of success.

After participating in the 2013 Council on Innovation, I learned that I as a freshman had the ability to give advice and pitch ideas to community leaders that they actually valued. That was huge and stuck with me into my classes. In particular, freshman world history.

Here is where I believe my unusual journey begins.

Everyone in the grade had been tasked with the assignment of creating a project about whatever we wanted and would then present for 5-10 minutes anyway we choose fit. I had chosen a topic, but after a few days of working on the assignment I was getting frustrated because I didn’t want to just give a presentation of facts that anyone could easily look up online for themselves if they really wanted to know about it.

I talked to my teacher and after a few more days we agreed I needed a new topic, so instead we had the idea for me to present a project on “hmw redesign projects?”

C_jWuzOXYAAtNSR.jpgLong story short, I took this 5-10 minute project and turned it into a 45 minute lecture complete with a slide deck, prototypes, and 3 videographers.

This wasn’t the “normal” thing to do for my ideal path to success, which just made me even more incredibly nervous that no one would like it and it all would have been a huge waste of time and I would just fail the entire project. And I couldn’t tell you now what grade I made on that assignment, but I can say that it ended up being one of the most empowering and fulfilling experiences of my high school career which meant more to me than any grade in that moment.

This all started with me questioning a teacher’s assignment. Now I’m not saying you should go off telling all of your teachers that you could make a better assignment than them, but I do believe one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you should never be afraid to ask a mentor for guidance if you feel like you have feedback that could help improve your school experience. Nothing will change that isn’t first questioned.C_jWuz8XYAAhWUT

As you can imagine, my path to graduation only got more unusual as I got older. For starters, I joined ID– a new vague program that promised to help nurture students into innovators. I jumped at the opportunity, but not everyone was quite as on board with the latest edition of Mount Vernon’s attempts to instill the mindsets in us.

To be honest, probably the hardest part of deciding to take an usual path was the social struggles I faced due to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you in here, especially the IDers who have been around for a little now, have at some point in time heard negative comments about ID, and maybe even felt like you were being offended because you are involved in the program. I know I did especially since I was around back during the dark ages when we really didn’t have much to show for ourselves and people tend to be skeptical of ideas without a proof of concept.

2014-09-12 14.49.57And this social tension around my path to graduation only grew when I got to junior year and made what many people believed to be an incredibly unusual decision for myself: I didn’t take all APs. (hu!!)

It is my belief that AP history courses are often trying to cover too much information in not enough time, and the content is a lot of reading and memorizing, and the writing is very dry and the AP doesn’t even require everything to be factual to get full credit. Thus I decided I would not take AP History because I didn’t feel interested in that kind of learning and would rather give myself more time to devote to attending education conferences, and working with community leaders, and talking to interested families about ID, and writing articles for magazines about education transformation, and all sorts of other projects that were truly meaningful to me because they beneficially impacted others.

However, this decision was still incredibly difficult for me because to me it symbolized taking myself out of the game.

Let me remind you that my vision of success basically meant the path to becoming valedictorian. Going into and early on in high school I truly thought that was what I wanted. But as many of you know, the class of 2017 is incredibly competitive when it comes to playing the traditional school game of grades, so by choosing to not take all APs, this also meant choosing to not be able to have as high of a GPA as my peers, and therefore I knew I would not be valedictorian despite originally being on this path if I made this choice.

DAH2mT5XsAAKMKvPeople, including some of my best friends, would tell me this was a bad idea for all sorts of reasons. They would say that I was too smart to not take all APs, or they would say that they didn’t get why I would take myself out of the running for val, or they would say that I was taking the easy option and I’d be less competitive to colleges, etc. etc.

And despite whether or not you are in the position to be the potential val of your grade, to some extent we can all relate to this struggle of wanting to maintain a good gpa for college and what not, but also wanting the time to work on things other than just grades.

I didn’t let the opinions of others influence me too much, and I’ve been very satisfied with my decision to drop AP History courses. And in general I have always loved and appreciated all of the opportunities I’ve had through ID, but I’m not gonna lie that I was often still nervous about what colleges would think of everything I’ve done because the scariest part about taking your own unpaved path is that you can’t possibly know how others will react to it.

How would they view a kid who didn’t take as many AP courses as others, who joined a new program with only two other graduates, who co-created her own non-traditional AP Lang class, and who took an independent study instead of the traditional economics course amongst other things?

But now I’m on the other side and I believe I’ve exceeded my original vision of a successful student.

I…

  • Presented a MoVe Talk in front of over a hundred educators
  • Facilitated hundreds through design thinking Flashlabs
  • Participated in a week long experience with the Stanford d.School#fuse15 MoVe Talk.jpg
  • written 611 blog posts in not even 3 years, and created a network of over 250 people
  • Co-created and attended the first ever AP Course (approved by the College Board and the admin of our school) with a syllabus created by teenagers
  • been commissioned to write a number of magazine articles and guest on two podcasts about education transformation
  • Worked with the Center for Disease Control and the mayor of Sandy Springs
  • Co-led sessions at faculty meetings on “day’s off”
  • Pitched business ideas in a 3-Day Startup Program
  • Re-designed a classroom into an innovation studio
  • Changed the way 23 freshman experienced World History by forming the Design Team
  • and many more…

And now I am about to graduate with two diplomas which means not only can I say that I had all of these incredibly unique and fulfilling experiences, but I also believe I’ve achieved many of the “traditional school goals” as well.

I have had all As throughout high school, will be attending a well respected school (Yup it’s official go Yellow Jackets because I’ll be at Georgia Tech next year!!), got into a selective honors program, and even got a full ride scholarship!

Again my point to all of this isn’t to brag about myself, but for years when I talk about all of the innovative work we’ve been doing in ID in order to transform the “norm” about education, people have been asking me “Well where’s the evidence that this works? How do colleges and the ‘real world’ respond to this kind of thing?”

WScreen Shot 2017-05-18 at 10.32.51 PM.pngell I’m proud to say that I- we- can finally answer them. Even after having two graduates last year, it didn’t seem like enough of a statistic. But we are now about to have 6 total graduates from the Innovation Diploma program who have been highly successful no matter how you look at it, and that to me is a huge win for all of us. We have always believed what we are doing is great, and every year even more believe it too.

I feel more than prepared for college because I feel like I’ve been exposed to the real world all ready due to the choices I made to put faith in things that had never been done before.

So, I hope all of you remember that yes the path we educator pioneers tend to walk on that’s untraditional, unknown, un-”approved” can be scary because you don’t know how others will receive it, but don’t be afraid to question and take action about things you believe in because the chances are that others will believe in them too.

And even the unpaved path can be very successful in the school game if you work hard at whatever path you choose.  And if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself more empowered, fulfilled, and prepared for the next chapter of your life than you ever would have found possible without the Innovation Diploma.

 

A Babies First Steps: “I’m Fine”

IMG_7409.JPGWith the end of senior year rapidly approaching, I can safely say I have not had senioritous hit me. I have been working like crazy to the point where I haven’t been able to blog. However, tonight I don’t care what I’m procrastinating by taking the time to write this post because I’m so happy to have just made it through the most stressful day of my entire high school experience!!!

A year ago I asked the 5 other Thespians in my grade if they would be interested in working on a senior theater project. Little did they know when they agreed that we would end up writing, directing, and performing our own hour length show and putting the entire production side of the show together in under two weeks.

First semester we met once every other week for under an hour to work on writing the script which we then did a live read through of at the semester to get feedback on our work so far. When second semester rolled around, we still only really met on Wednesdays for an hour, but we decided we needed to come in every week not just every other. Then, once our spring musical, The Addams Family, closed, we had 8 rehearsals to put together the set, tech, and blocking for our show. Furthermore, only 4 of these rehearsals really had every cast member present.

Then today was the big day…

To be honest, our show was a mess even just this afternoon. Lines weren’t fully memorized, and transitions were sloppy, and our techies were just recently pulled into the show because we realized we needed more help and convinced some non Thespian seniors to help out. We barely finished by 6 and then sprinted to cars in order to try and grab something to eat before our house opened at 6:30. We had a small turn out, but a turn out none the less, and our nerves were higher than they had ever been for anything.

IIMG_7386.JPGt’s really hard to spend a hundred hours working on an art piece on controversial mature topics to then put it out in front of an audience for the first time. This show is about so much more than our acting because it’s about everything we had to do to bring the show to life, and it’s our final theater production in high school which is a big deal to all of us. We want to go out with a bang to show the culmination of all of our dedicated time doing what we love. For those people that come to see our show, I’ll admit it’s probably not the best show you’ve ever seen, and I’m sure more time would’ve helped the acting quality and stage relationships; however, this show is about so much more than just the acting, which is why we were even more nervous than normal.

I’ve grown to love our show like a baby, and it’s exciting and a little scary to see your baby take it’s first steps.

But today was the day to stand up because whether we wanted it to be or not it was preview night which means we did an entire run through for a live audience of parents and teachers– Man was I proud of the work that happened on the MVPS black box stage tonight!!!

IMG_7309.JPGNone of us felt like it was the performance of a life time, and there are definitely things that can and hopefully will be improved upon tomorrow and Thursday for our opening and closing night. However, like I said before, this was about more than the acting. This run through was the moment of truth to see if all of our hard work would pay off: could we really pull this off?

I think we did.

By the time we got to the last few scenes we knew we were going to make it through and were trying to hold in our excitement like a kid in a toy store who’s told not to touch anything. We had to keep going out into the cafeteria just to do a little happy dance so that we wouldn’t be too noisy backstage during the show because we just couldn’t contain our excitement.

We did it. We made it through smoothly. People enjoyed it! We made people think!!

I can’t imagine a better team of people to have been working with, and I’m so glad to have been a part of this process. I found myself doing lots of things I never had before from writing a script to crafting all of the light cues to thinking through marketing logistics, I really learned a lot from this process and am happy we put up with the stress it took to get here.

I’m still a little stressed and nervous, as one should be putting on a show, and especially one that you’ve directed… However, now I’m finally at a more normal show stress level where I truly believe it’s going to be something amazing, but don’t want to get over confident and not stay on top of my game.

Now we have two more shows left to really pull all of the bells and whistles together and truly make this show a show to remember. As my acro coach says, “The first time is to make sure you don’t die, now it’s time to do it for real with all you got.”

 

Community of Learners

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It’s always such a relief to meet with an entire conference of learners who really see the world of possibilities that lies in the future of education! These past few days I have had the immense joy of attending the Pioneering Lab Training hosted by Education Reimagined here in Atlanta, Ga. I was blown away by the people in attendance so much that I needed to take a day before blogging to really process everything.

C10L7mtWEAIktyS.jpgIn my own words, the PioneeringLab is a gathering of educators (of all ages) from learner-centered environments that come together for inquiry sessions around major components of the education transformation movement. What I attended this past week was the training for this lab. The purpose of the training (also in my own words) is to prepare learners for the lab itself by establishing a common understanding of language to use within the learner-centered community.

Having common language is really important for a movement, because if I tell you “x” is a dog and another person tells you “x” is a giraffe, then you will end up just being confused as to what “x” really means. In the world of transformational education, there are lot’s of different words that get used, so the Pioneering Education community has done some intensive ontology and semantics work to create a lexicon which distinguishes key elements of a learner-centered environment. Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 11.24.14 PM.png

After the close to 24 hours I spent with the attendants of this training, I have come to realize there isn’t really a “short way” to distinguish what these words do and don’t mean in a way that feels satisfactory. While I could try (and have in fact practiced explaining to others during role playing exercises at the training itself), I would prefer to use this space to reflect on what I learned rather than just summarize it; however, here is a link to where you can read more about the context of these words in a learner-centered paradigm.

One of the important distinguishes I learned that I will discuss though, is about the differences between a network and a community. In a network people are connected through one to one relationships because each person has an interest in being connected to the other. A network is similar to a web in this case because not everyone in the network necessarily comes into contact with others. Jack might know John, and John might know Sally, but that doesn’t mean Jack knows Sally. A network is great for solving one time challenges/problems like finding a job based on who knows who; however, a network is not very helpful when trying to do something that requires a lot of people to accomplish a task that will have many little challenges arise throughout the process, like trying to build a house. -This is where a community is required.

1280x960.jpeg.jpgIn a community, individuals elect to contribute their gifts to some greater purpose/task/challenge. A community requires synchronization, timing, and nurturing from others in the community in order for a product to be created, but really the bonds formed amongst community members are just as important as the final product. A community can build a house.

This particular distinction really stuck with me because I know that I personally have used the words network and community interchangeably in the past because I had never found thought about the differences. After this training I now realize that these words have very different meanings.

I believe I have been involved in this movement since my sophomore year of high school in 2014. But I’ve really been involved on more of a network level. I’ve connected with people through Twitter and connections from my school. However, I think now I’m finally starting to feel a real part of the community outside of my school. Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 12.06.42 AM.pngI’ve been blogging, facilitating, and speaking with groups of people for the past three years; however, in this past year, since the summer really, I’ve begun to find myself working with more teams of people with an intent to make change outside of just my own school. I didn’t fully realize this until the last few days, but it’s crazy to think how much has changed since my sophomore year. Now I show up at conferences already knowing and working with some people!

Now to be a tad backwards and give some background context, I came to this training because I am passionate about the movement to transform education due to my own first hand experiences with how different forms of education can effect learners. I dream of the day where every student has the opportunity to experiance learner-centered education because I know it has changed me for the better. It has made me feel more confident in myself, passionate for those around me, and empowered to enact change now rather than waiting to get to the “real world” after graduating.

Furthermore, I came to this training because I believe it is vitally important to include student voice in this movement because students are one of the primary users of school.

When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, “Where’s the evidence of this working?” but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working. Everyday I feel like I know myself a little bit better and am improving my skills as a learner a little bit more due to the opportunities I have to take ownership of my learning and blur the lines between school and the real world. – The Life of Pinya; The Movement: Transforming Education

I was thrilled that out of the 70 some people at the training, there were about 14 young-learners in the room; I’m ready for even more! Sometimes when wanting student voice, adults gather a group of only young-learners to discuss education transformation topics. While I love speaking with a large group of young-learners, when adults are still in the room there is still this power struggle with the idea that the adults still have the superiority in the room. Something I loved most about this experiance was that everyone-no matter age- was treated the same. There was no separation of groups by age, there were no limits on talking either because C1vNnIzXAAAyjjq.jpgyoung-learners felt overpowered or because adult-learners were prohibited from talking, there wasn’t even the specific placement of more or less of one aged learner at a table. The balance is starting to become more equal, and it was extremely powerful! It was evident by the way conversations were held that no one felt limited by their age to participate or felt forced to hold the pressure of representing all of the student voice by their self.

I personally hope to continue to empower more young-learners to be involved in the movement, because it’s always helpful to have some smaller people in your community in order to hold up the part of the house wall that’s closer to the ground.