The Independent Project

The past few weeks I have been conversing with Mary and Cali Ragland, two seniors from Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania. These two are are currently taking an independent study course around the essential question: “How might we design an educational system that best meets the 21st learner’s needs by valuing curiosity?” They reached out to me after having been introduced by a teacher to some of my blog posts and learning about my work in the Education Transformation Movement. Furthermore, my work designing the AP Lang Collab Course last year, where I co-developed an AP Language and Composition course, was intriguing to them because they wanted to learn about how to push through the “dark night of the soul” in the life of an self-guided project.

These two have been doing some great work interviewing teachers and students and pulling away key insights about the role of curiosity in education. I especially love the quote that they describe as really encompassing what made them interested in education transformation:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats

I would definitely encourage reading more about their work on their blog:  Curiosity in Education. Personally, talking to these two has been great because it’s reminded me of how far I’ve come in the past few years, and reminded me how important it is for me to always go back to where I started- this blog.

Senior year has made blogging very difficult because I have spent most of my “non homework writing time” working on college essays and scholarship applications. Then when I kind of have “free time” (which basically just means I have finished homework and have no planed activities or meetings at the time) I find myself wanting to savor the moment to take a break from intense mindfulness. However, I know how important it is to blog to not only share my story with others, but to reflect for myself and capture my learning journey. After all, I started this blog for me -not because I wanted hundreds of followers or felt like my voice was something that just had to be heard by others- I started it because of what I thought was a silly challenge to observe and reflect on the world more intently.

In fact, I haven’t blogged in so long that I haven’t yet reflected on the fact that I was approved to embark on another curriculum creation opportunity by designing my own Independent Project!!

For my last semester of high school I am exploring the connection point between film, change theory, and education which will also apply towards my last needed half of a social sciences credit. Often times social science credits are just assumed to be a history course, whether it be world history, US history, economics, US government, etc. However, social sciences by definition are “social” meaning, about human society and social relationships and how they function, which does explicitly mean just IMG_6689.JPG“history.”

I say “just history” because I believe everything involves some understanding of history, because everything has a history and thus History is Everywhere. An essential question to all learning is, “How can we use the knowledge we have gathered over time (the past) in order to better understand and design for our present and future?”

So yes I believe you could call my course a “history course” because I’m definitely researching the past. However, for my particular project, I really wanted to explore society from the perspective of how we create change in society to then apply this knowledge in the world of education. The final product of this work will be a high quality documentary video focused on the Innovation Diploma and the moment that I call the “clicking moment”; that moment when students realize that the world is changing and education should be too, and they start to take ownership of their learning in order to make a difference now, not “when they are grown up.”

Now the main reason I haven’t mentioned this project yet is because it was a last minute project that got put into double time in order to come to life. At the end of last semester I knew I wanted to devote more time second semester to exploring and contributing to the education transformation movement. However, I’m always so busy and yet their is a finite amount of time in the day. I had to figure out what in my daily schedule could give a little time. What I realized is that what I wanted to work on would likely hit a lot of social science credits, so we thought, “What if this was my ‘history’ class?”

I worked on overdrive with my mentors in order to put together a document to pitch the idea of an Independent Project to our administration. The end of the semester though was a very crazy time for me both in and out of school, so I got approved with the intent of needing the first few weeks of second semester to still work on the planning details.

 

One of the first tasks I had was to figure out how I would devote my ID time, especially after the reMoVe10 design brief gained so much momentum after first semester. The design brief given to us by the Mayor of Sandy Springs, was designed to be a project we worked on during a single semester. However, our school admin, representatives from the Sandy Springs Council, and our new partners at Georgia Commute Options all got so fired up about the work we’ve been doing, that we realized this project needed to continue. 16387341_10154593513538277_4820722959124524604_n.jpg

Because of this decision to change the scope of the project, our team had to look back at our team roles and norms and decide how best to continue based on plans that were already set for second semester. I already had plans to work on my Independent Project work, and another team mate was already in the process of another design brief opportunity. Therefore, we added a new member to our team, and I used the month of January to waning out of my position as team leader to make a smoother transition for the new team. My plan is to continue to work with the reMoVe10 team, but more as a consultant for them to help give feedback and provide assistance at specific events.

{Small necessary tangent: This last month was honestly really hard for me, because I naturally find myself in a leadership role in the sense of “project manager,” so it was challenging to work on stepping back and being a leader by pushing others to take a leadership role. However, I think it was something important for me to work on because part of a leaders role should always be to coach others to lead.}

IMG_6691.JPGWhile continuing to work with the reMoVe10 team this past month, I used 4th period (my Independent Project time) to start further brainstorming what my video will look like, while getting a Film Course 101 tutorial from a mentor, and continuing to find ways I can discover and experiment with changes in education specifically in regards to the role of student voice. So far I’m diving deep into essential questions such as “What motivates people to learn?” “Where does ‘passion’ fit into education?” and “What gives students agency?” as my design drivers, though I believe as I start to interview people the story line will become even more clear.

I’ve learned that with documentaries one of the best things to do is to just press record and start filming. So now that I’ve officially had my last day full time with the reMoVe10 team (last Wednesday) I’ve been gearing up to dive all in on this Independent Project using my 8 hours and 40 minutes a week (between ID time and my new Independent Project specific time) to research, film, and synthesize information about the social science of education change. We pushed “purchase” on some new awesome film equipment yesterday, and now the fun (and intense) work is about to really start!

I’m No Editor

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.34.31 PM.pngAn article of mine went live today on the e-magazine Pioneering: Education Reimagined!!!! I posted an early draft of this article on my blog around mid-summer but I’m much happier with this final draft, and very happy to have one more thing off of my plate!

The most interesting thing about this experiance was having an editor. I don’t have very good grammar. I’ve accepted this fact long ago. In fact I spelled grammar wrong writing that last sentence the first time. However, apparently my thoughts that I write about are at least interesting and well written enough for people to want to read them.

In school though this typically doesn’t matter much. I never saw myself as a writer for years because I never made all that great of grades in English class due to my poor grammar. If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that not all good writers are editors. Like wise, I know people who are good editors but not all that great at writing themselves. However, when good writers work with good editors, pretty epic stuff happens.

It was nice to be able to write something for a specific reason where I was more concerned with the ideas then the grammar for a change. Because I was able to work with other people who read over my work to help with grammar details, and it made my writing look better which was cool!

No one ever works entirely on their own. Even book authors. I wish in school we spent more time focusing on the different skills everyone has, and how people can work together to make something great. We don’t all need to be writers, or editors, or artists, or mathematicians, or historians, or scientists, etc, but we do need to know enough about different areas and about ourselves to know how our strengths can work with others to accomplish meaningful work.

Taking Ownership

Today was the official last day of school for everyone at MVPS, which also means that we have officially finished a full year of the first ever student designed AP course!!! The Collab Course adventure has come to an end in some ways, but in other ways our adventure has only just begun. So for my final assignment I have created the MoVe Talk (Moment of Visible Empathy) below to capture a snapshot of what I have taken away from this experiance. I didn’t get feedback on this talk (which is a rare and nerve racking thing for me to do), because I just wanted to share my personal raw thoughts about the opportunity to own my learning in a way unlike any other. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my reflection of this glimpse at the future of education:

 

We Did It!!!!

(I guess this didn’t post yesterday…)

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We did it! We did it! We did it, ya! Ya, we did it!

We completed a year in our Collab Course– ya we did it! We did it! We did it! Hurray!

We learned a lot as students and teachers both- ya we did it! We did it! We did it! Yay!

Though at times we felt lost, we always pushed through. Then we took the exam and now I can’t believe we’re threw! We did it!

We did it! We did it!

Ya we did it!

 

Today was the official last class of the school year for mine and Kat’s AP Lang Collab Course, and I honestly can’t even believe this bus is finally coming home to get ready for a new adventure. It’s been a great year with lots of learning, and even though our school time may be over, we still have work to do. Kat and I will be recording our end of the year MoVe Talks soon which will be a much greater reflection for us about our take aways from this course. Then we will both also be speaking at workshops with Grant Lichtman over the summer about our work.

So like I said, the bus may stop, but just to get gas to go on a new hero’s journey. But for now, I just want to thank everyone who has worked with us along the way to make this crazy idea into a reality. This course has changed my life for the better because this experiance of truly take control of our learning will be unforgettable. We did more than survive another year; we thrived.

We did it. We actually did it.

Climbing Down the Mountain

winning-story-wars-hero-journeyToday was the big day; it was AP Lang exam day. We finally took the real thing- the test that so many are going to use to judge if Kat and I successfully did something unheard of before by teaching our own AP course.

I’ve been conflicted lately. On the one hand I feel accomplished that we actually felt prepared and decent about taking the exam and hope we did well. But on the other hand, I don’t want to judge our success just based on a number after all the work we have done in order to not have to have grades and numbers in order to validate our learning.

Yes, I would like to do well on the exam, but there is also so much more we have accomplished this year even if we don’t do outstanding on the exam-we’ve sparked conversations questioning the fundamental nature of school courses; however, who knows how other people will view the success of the course if we don’t do well… And yet at the same time I can’t help but feel a bit of regret almost. Maybe this is how some teachers feel at the end of the year when they realize they haven’t covered all of the lessons they hoped to teach, and didn’t get to do all of the projects they would have liked to because there is only so much time in the year. I just feel like something is missing.

The year isn’t over just with the exam, and Kat and I still have our final MoVe Talks to wrap up the year, but there are only 3 official classes we have left and I don’t feel the sense of closure yet. I don’t know how I expected to end the year, but the entire course was based on “The Hero’s Journey” and at the end of the journey the hero is suppose to take the road back and return home with the “boon.” I wouldn’t call myself a hero, but I’m definitely a protagonist of this particular story, and I haven’t quite figured out what the boon is. I know it’s there and I’m probably just not thinking clear enough to realize what it is we’ve accomplished. I guess I just feel like there is so much more we could have done and so much more we dreamed to do that simply wasn’t possible at this point in time and yet we were too naive to realize that this time last year.

I’m still working on what to give my MoVe Talk about, but I hope whatever it is helps me find closure to this chapter of my story. I literally just realized that I’ve never really had to have a true project closure before. Between AP Lang and RISE, one thing I’ve been struggling with is the fact that we’ve actually taken ventures all the way to produce this year, and the hard part is figuring out when it’s time to say goodbye and pack up your newly found tools to move on to new mountains to climb. When do you need to make that extra push to reach an even higher point on the mountain, and when should you let others continue up and accept that you can’t climb every mountain in the world and this one isn’t meant for you to go further on.

Saying goodbye to a team is a true real world skill, that as of this moment in history, I’ve yet to learn in any sort of traditional school setting.

Crossing Subjects: Engages and Entertains

images-1.jpgI love it when “class” stops being defined by what subject you are talking about.

Today in AP Lang Kat and I made an interesting choice. Rather than spending the period looking up old AP essays and spending a class analyzing and outlining one of them, we instead decided to join the Latin 3 class going on during the same period. But don’t get me wrong, I feel that we were still preparing for our exam next week in a very productive way.

We joined the Latin class because we knew that today they were giving speeches to defend Verres in a law suit where the great orator Cicero was the prosecutor. When the trial originally took place, Cicero’s speech was so amazing  that Verres’ lawyer, Quintus Hortensius who was one of the greatest lawyers of his time, told him to pleed guilty because there was no way they could win the case against Cicero and the defense speech was never given. Therefore, the Latin assignment was to write the unread speech to defend Verres.

The problem is, that Verres really did do some pretty awful things like crucifying Romans and stealing from sacred buildings, so writing a good speech comes entirely down to your use of rhetorical devices. (It’s at this point that a light bulb may be going off saying, “Oh here’s the connection back to AP Lang!”)

Yes, indeed, rather than looking up essays online, Kat and I listened in on about 5 different speeches and outlines/took notes on each of them as if we were going to write a rhetorical analysis essay about how the speaker used rhetorical devices to support their argument.

It was so much fun!!! We got to listen to some hysterical speeches while learning a little Latin and history, while participating in discussions with a larger group, while all the while practicing our rhetorical analysis skills. (Because like I said the case wasn’t one you’re meant to win, you are just meant to throw some crazy arguments together and try to make them sound good.)

Kat and I were even given a refresher on some devices that we had forgotten about because we hadn’t seen them used in a while. Plus I think joining the Latin class helped make us outline at a rapid fire pace because new people kept presenting, so I bet we had far more essay analysis done by the end then we would have otherwise; it’s just so easy to waste a little time here and there looking and deciding what to read or thinking about other big things coming up.

Overall today’s Latin-AP Lang mash up just reminded me how powerful learning can be when you cross disciplines and add a little layer of entertainment to your work.

External Mentors Make Things Real

I love getting feedback from new people. I’m glad I get to work in an environment where we are all constantly giving each other feedback (by this I mean Innovation Diploma), but it’s always nice to hear from someone you don’t talk to everyday just as a reassurance that you all aren’t just crazy (well we are but for good reasons). Plus so many great ideas can come out of conversations between people with different and new perspectives compared to the people you normally talk to.

Today felt like a great day of feedback for me. I got to spend my morning and lunch/enrichment people talking with teachers from the Watershed School in Colorado. As the MVIFI Fellow, I spent my morning talking with the Watershed team about my current iVenture work and getting feedback on new ideas I’ve been cooking up. Then over lunch a few of us in ID met with them to have more of a general discussion where they were asking us some questions about MVPS to get the student perspective on topics. 

Later, in AP Lang today, Kat and I recorded the spoken word pieces we’ve been working on around the “American Dream” to send it to people asking for feedback, including Mike Young, a professional spoken word artist who’s been mentoring us. Kat and I talked a lot about how ID has trained us so much about the value of prototyping and really preparing even early drafts of presentations. We’ve been muddling over different words and phrases for a few weeks and today was our due date (which we assigned ourselves) to have them finished so we could record them. However, “finished” in this sense doesn’t mean “time to turn it in for a grade,” but instead means that we’ve given ourselves and each other lots of feedback and now we are ready to start sharing them with others so that we can eventually perform the best spoken word piece to our current capabilities. We are hoping to have this performance next week though the details are still fuzzy as of now.

I’ve really enjoyed this project because we’ve gotten to not just focus on words, but how we can use words to literally say something in a hopefully powerful way. We’ve been having to not just work on grammar and  word choice, but also the rhetoric involved with saying something out loud and getting feedback on our delivery of the language. It’s been fun and I’m excited to hear what feedback we get because I’ve become really invested in this project and want it to be something more than just another piece of writing I’ve done.

With both of my big feedback moments today, I’ve been reminded of just how much I find working with external mentors beneficial to learning. Working with an external mentor reminds me that someone else is kind of expecting me to follow through, and they are also interested in the work I’m doing, even at school. This inspires me to really work hard because this isn’t just about some number, it is about me putting myself out there in the “real world”, and that to me is meaningful work.

Feedback, even cold feedback, always seems to make me happy because it means you’re doing something others care enough about to comment on and try to help you make it into your best.

 

 

Unrelated, but also exciting news for today: The paint finally settled so I got to use my whiteboard wall and desk today that I painted on Monday!!!!!!

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