Understanding History’s Impact

It’s crazy when history comes to life. Traveling in Prague and Vienna the last few weeks has made me really think about on my world history classes from high school and realize just how real the stories we learn about are.

I don’t know how else to describe it other than a story coming to life. In America, it’s pretty standard to talk about the World Wars and communism and empires rising and falling, but to be honest, it always feels so “long ago, in a country far far away.” But it wasn’t that long ago, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that far away. That never seemed to really hit home for me before though.

It’s one thing to talk about Hitler, and it’s another to stand in the street below where he made his speech upon occupying Austria and hear from a native how Austria was actually fairly happy to be joint with Germany. Never before had I considered this perspective. Our tour guide described how after the first World War the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was divided up, and during this division, Austria lost a lot of their resources both agricultural and industrial, so the economy was really struggling. Thus the idea of Germany, a big country doing well for itself, taking over, sounded quite appealing to many Austrians. That’s not something we talk about in a classroom.

Furthermore, in terms of the “long ago” aspect, I think American schooling really puts too much of an emphasis on the idea that these things happened in the past and doesn’t talk enough about how the past is actually influencing the present and future.

As someone who has always had some issues with history classes (Summary version of this rant for those who don’t know me or haven’t read past blogs about this: I like history, I often have issues with how it’s taught, and I’ve had several favorite teachers be history teachers so it’s not on them either just really about the curriculum and how we try to chunk so much information into so little time.), I think this is a key feature missing from lots of history classes. The “why” behind history classes, in my opinion, is because we need to learn about the past in order to understand the present and make educated decisions about the future. However, this “why” often is only skimmed on and instead I feel like history often just feels like a series of facts we are told we need to know just for the sake of knowing. It’s more than a series of facts and stories from the past though.

European countries are still in a post-communism era; it truly wasn’t that long ago. Almost everyone we’ve met here in Europe thus far grew up under communist rule. It took talking to people here and hearing about their stories of coming into freedom for this to really sink in for me that the past is very much still present.

I wonder how this ah-ha moment can be better baked into high school history classes because it makes history so much more valuable when you attach this missing link of the implications history has on today: knowing why we study history and understanding why are different.

Perhaps it comes with better intwining current events into class, but not in a separated “here is a random current event.” What if, when we learned about the past, there was a specific current event relating how what we are learning about the past is affecting the present. Or maybe the key is bringing in more guest speakers to help remember the past wasn’t so long ago. Or maybe a solution is more field trips. Not every class can just take a trip to Europe, but there are always local places related to history, or maybe it could be a Skype field trip experience to bring Europe into the classroom.

Those are just a few ideas, thought up without much time, collaboration, or empathy, so I am sure there are better ideas out there, but I hate to propose problems without anything resembling a potential new direction, so that’s my bug and those are my thoughts for next steps. I’d love to hear about how someone else is/plans to run with that train of thinking.

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Be Humble, Curious, and Ask Questions

The anticipation of knowing your life is about to change is incomparable. 

I am a rising third-year business major concentrating in Leading and Managing Human Capital while also getting a certificate in social psychology. I hope to go into the field of transformative education which is why I wanted to participate in the Leadership for Social Good Study Abroad Program because I believe social entrepreneurship is the key to re-imagining our education system. 

It’s been one week since the program began and I’ve already had my expectations surpassed beyond what I could have imagined. And we haven’t even gone abroad yet!

We’ve spent this week on the Georgia Tech campus as sort of a prolonged orientation and introduction to social entrepreneurship, and I’m actually really grateful that we’ve had this time pre-traveling to Eastern Europe. This past week we have gotten a chance to discover more about what social entrepreneurship really means and have some heavy discussions around the social sector, nonprofits vs for profits, and what to expect while living in Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary for 8 weeks to study and then intern with a nonprofit in Budapest. This past week has also been a great opportunity for us to meet our cohort and start getting to know each other and work together some before dealing with all the craziness of actually being in a different country. 

At this point in the program, we have already had multiple guest speakers, been on a site visit (with another coming up on our last day in Atlanta), watched numerous TED Talks (by Dan PallottaMelinda French GatesHans RoslingErnesto SirolliMichael PorterRobert RedfordJessica Jackley, and others), had numerous stimulating conversations and debates, completed a few group activities, and explored a dozen or so articles and websites to further enrich our learning about the social sector. Honestly, as a student and someone passionate about transformative education, I could not have asked for a more engaging week. I’ve been extremely satisfied with how the three classes we are taking have been facilitated thus far and I’ve especially loved how all of the classes tie into each other seamlessly to create an overarching experience tying together business fundamentals of social enterprises, innovation and leadership, and nonprofit internship work. And the lessons we’ve been learning I truly believe should be fundamental to everyone’s education experience. 

Some of the key principles we’ve talked about include: 

  • humility is key: never assume you are the smartest in the room or you will always be wrong
  • be curious: seek out new information and explore connections to make new discoveries
  • ask questions and then more questions: really get to know the community you’re working with so that you can work together to maximize assets and change the status quo of deficits 

These aren’t just business principles, these are life principles that everyone should be exposed to during their education experience. I was fortunate to have been exposed to these ideas in high school and now get the joy of diving deeper into them, but as I witness all of the ah-ha moments happening daily for my peers, I have realized how few other learners can say the same thing. I can only imagine how many students have and will graduate college without ever thinking about the importance of humility, curiosity, and questioning – the work that happens before brainstorming “the next big thing” – and this seems unacceptable. Every project needs team members to embrace these principles and it should be necessary for the education system to teach this lesson to all learners, not just those (primarily business majors) who self-select to take time to study social impact once in college. 

Requiring all learners to think about their social impact could also help de-stigmatize ideas around working in the social sector – which absolutely needs to happen. 

First off, a big misconception is that nonprofit workers don’t make money, which is not accurate. The nonprofit sector brings in over 2 trillion dollars in revenue annually, and employees can still live very comfortable lives even in the nonprofit industry. Several of our guest speakers have made it very clear that even though they could probably make more money working in a for-profit business, they are by no means struggling and actually higher up employees are making within the upper 5% of all Americans. 

Furthermore, you don’t have to go into the nonprofit industry to create social impact. There are for-profits with corporate social responsibility platforms, and socially responsible corporations, and social enterprises. It’s become more and more popular for businesses to take an interest in supporting societal issues and in some ways having a for-profit model can sometimes be more helpful in creating sustainable change, as we discussed with the case study of Toms shoes because for-profits typically have more consistent income.       

So far I think what has been most striking to me is just acknowledging that even nonprofits are a business. They still need to market, manage, and create an income just like for-profit businesses in order to be sustainable as an organization. The big difference is just that no one person owns a nonprofit, the community does, and income gets circulated back into the business in order to continue to support the social impact mission. However, despite the fact that nonprofits are also businesses, the public tends to think differently about how a nonprofit should function. 

We’ve in-depth discussed how donators will often place restrictions on how their money can be used, and this restricted money hardly ever goes towards paying the staff members or managing overhead cost like marketing. There is this idea that these kind of expenses are not “worthy” and for some reason “aren’t contributing to the cause.” On our site visit to Global Growers, the co-founder told us that as a nonprofit, getting told funds are restricted is one of the most challenging things. Even if you had millions of dollars to support a new project, you still need money to support the manpower required to actually make the project happen or else the money won’t help anyone. 

Perhaps the biggest misconception though is how we envision “in need communities.” So often we focus on problems and what needs to be “fixed.” Jessica Jackley, the founder of Kiva, mentioned in her TED talk how we are taught as children through school and religion to help the poor, and that there will always be poor people, and we should feel guilty for not helping. So Jessica created Kiva as a way to focus not on the fact that people are poor, but the fact that there are great stories of people with great ideas who just need a little money to help support their families and make their dreams a reality. It’s a shift in perspective that requires respect and acknowledging that everyone should have the right to feel dignified in their place in life. We should be working with communities, not for communities. We have to learn about their traditions, values, and customs. Hear their stories. Embrace their assets not dwell on the deficits. 


We have to be humble, curious, and ask questions. 

I hope to do all of these things as I experience a myriad of new communities and cultures in the following weeks to come. I’m excited for the new discoveries, nervous for what I can’t expect, and encouraged by the week spent in Atlanta that I’m in a community of passionate and open-minded learners who will help me through it all. Moreover, I’m convinced that our lives are about to change and I can’t wait to see how. 


If you’d like to read more about our cohort’s journey, this is the link to our program blog where you can read from other learners on the Leadership for Social Good Study Abroad program. I’m also very thankful to have received the Munchak/Cowan-Turner Scholarship, the Mary E. and William T. Naramore International Study Abroad Scholarship, and Stamps Enrichment Funds which have allowed me to participate in this incredible program and would like to thank these families for their support in my learning journey!

 

Giving a S***: Design for a Better World (Final Report!)

Fall of my freshman year of college, I joined the Wish for WASH team at Georgia Tech. I showed up to the Engineers Without Boarders info session because I had remembered listening to one of the founders of Wish for WASH, Jasmine Burton, speak at my high school about the original design project she embarked on to create a low-cost toilet for a community in Zambia. When I heard that the team was going to be partnering with a local private school to lead a design thinking and sustainability class for high school students, I knew I needed to apply to be a part of this journey.

Joining this team was one of the best decisions I made all year!

I posted a lot about the process of creating and conducting this month-long “short-term” class at Paideia High School, and now I am excited to share our final report of the project!!! (As the lead for the education sub-team, I created a lot of the content for this write-up, so I’m overjoyed about how this turned out as well as the class itself! Also, I’m so grateful for all of the work the rest of the team put in– The class wouldn’t have been the same without everyone who helped along the way and I’ve never had a final report look so pretty!)

Overall I’m so proud of everything we accomplished and can’t wait for what adventures are in store for me next on this team.

(Click here to learn more about the Paideia class partnership, and other projects from Wish for WASH!)

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My Opinion on Online Classes

Online classes aren’t really a new thing, yet they seem to still get perceived as new which is odd to me. I officially got registered for the online version of a required CS class today and as I was walking with an upperclassman she asked me, “As a student with a passion for learner-centered education, I’m curious about your opinion on online classes.”

I guess this title is a bit of a misnomer because in actuality I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about online courses.

I use to very strongly be against them, but seeing as today I signed up for my 3rd ever online class, I realized that opinion clearly changed and now is more neutral.

I was against online classes because the depth of learning isn’t as powerful in an online class. I mean if you ask most students they’ll flat out say online courses are easier- that was at least a factor to my reasoning to register. Online classes may be interactive some, but the material is set and rigid and pretty surface level since there are no conversations where deeper questions can be posed and explored. The material is all given to you up front and you can finish as quickly as you would like/are able to; there is no “well the class seemed really interested on this topic so we pivoted the schedule to do a whole project unit where we came up with plans and prototypes and pitched to board members…”

You don’t sign up for an online course because of the content. I signed up for CS online course because the in-person course happened at a time I didn’t particularly like with the rest of my schedule. It meant I would have to rush from CS class across campus to Marta twice a week all semester and then uber to the gym to still be a bit late to coaching the practices I help with.

That’s really the big plus I see about online courses: time and location flexibility. That’s the reason I’ve now signed up for three different online classes since high school. It was always an issue of scheduling where I needed to take a class but didn’t have room in my busy schedule and the online option ended up being the perfect compromise.

So from the perspective of a student trying to get a credit out of the way and get a decent grade while doing other things, online classes are great. However, when I think about the quality of learning happening in most online classes, I find it to be sub-par.

It’s pretty easy to cut corners in online classes, and when you’re already not interested in the topic and just taking the course for credit sake, there’s little motivation to not want to just “get through it” as fast as possible.

Furthermore, I believe that a huge part of learning revolves around the social interactions and relationships built during the learning process. It’s really hard to successfully achieve those relationships in an online environment. Again, partially because there’s no real incentive to strive for that deeper level of learning. I consider myself to be an intrinsically motivated learner and a pretty good student, (yes, I believe those are different thing, but that is a different conversation), and even I don’t find myself caring to make the extra effort in an online course to really make it a remarkable learning experience; I just want the credit on my own time.

Obviously, this is all my own personal opinion, and some kids may, in fact, make that extra effort, though in my experience few do.

As I told the friend who asked me about my opinion, thus inspiring this post tonight, I believe that online courses are still a work in progress. I don’t have a strong opinion yet because I see the potential in them to be a great learning tool, though at this point I think they are just a great tool for the traditional system where learning has a more cut and dry vibe. The flexible time and space component to online courses is learner-centered in nature, though the context, course material, and assessment structure is still very much not.

Trailblazers: Issue 3!

It’s finally here! Issue 3 of Trailblazers, our student-driven e-magazine about the Education Transformation Movement, is available for viewing now! Hope you enjoy these remarkable articles written by spotlight learners from around the country including one global perspective. Congrats to all involved with the process of creating this latest issue!!!

View Issue 3 

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Spotlight Learners:

Sophie Haugen – SMforSM: An Educational Partnership 

Bridges by Empathy and Friendship

Lucy Conover – Insπiration

Hannah Bertram – What Learner-Centered Education Did For Me

Innovation Diploma Update – SPARK: A Playground for Creative Thinkers

Inspiring Perspiration

Yesterday was a crazy day ending with a gym sleepover I worked for 50 some kids ages 5-15, so sadly I couldn’t blog until tonight.

It was the last full day of two big events I was working: the Olympic Gymnastics Camp (OGC) and the DT/sustainability course I was co-teaching at Paideia high school.
Last days can often only be described as being “happy-sad.” I was so proud of how far all of the kids came, but it was also sad to think our time together is over now. The OGC kids I may see again next year at camp, or at gymnastics meets throughout the year, but for the Paideia kids, who knows if I’ll ever see them again.
After 18 days working at Paideia, we successfully ended the course with each team having a prototype of a composting toilet and a deeper understanding of design thinking!!! I had to miss a few days during the last week due to working OGC, but I’m so glad I made it to their final pitches because they turned out really well for first-time design thinkers.
While we obviously had a schedule planned out before the course started, I was still a little nervous about if we would really be able to get all the way through a design challenge with newbies in only 18 days of about an hour and a half meeting each day. I was even more worried when we didn’t have full attendance until day 4… But we powered through!
Internally, I think we did a great job of really inspiring the kids early on and making sure to get everyone connected with each other to feel more comfortable before tackling some uncomfortable topics and situations- like talking about toilet habits.
Honestly, that’s probably one of the greatest takeaways I’ve had from this course: to have perspiration you need inspiration, and with the right inspiration, anything is possible.
I am planning to do a follow-up blog post after my Wish for WASH team who taught the class gets together to have our internal reflection meeting about the course. There are things I would change if we were to do it again, things I would like to further explore, and things that I was surprised about, etc, but I’ve not had a good chance to sort through all of my opinions just yet.
For now I just want to think about how crazy it is to believe we are finished, and how proud I am of the high school learners and of our Wish For WASH team for accomplishing our big goals: the learners built their own composting toilet prototypes that a panel of experts were interested in and they demonstrated a deeper understanding of design thinking and sustainability topics through their final pitches and reflection surveys.
#ProgressBell !!!!

Leader of the Day

If we were to replicate the course we are currently running at Paideia, one of the big things I think we need to spend more time on is team roles. I think I forgot that most students haven’t worked on design teams before and aren’t quite use to the unique dynamics of this kind of work.

I remember before I was introduced to design thinking, and even afterward sometimes, if I was working on a project with a bad team, I would just make sure everything got done in the end. Maybe I would talk to the teacher at some point, but overall the norm would be to just work with the people actually working.

However, in a design team, we try to encourage the ideology that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and is a valuable member of the team. With that, we want project leaders who not only lead by example with getting work done but also try to pull in their distracted team members to include them in the work.

Today we made a point of sharing about this kind of leadership because we had a 3D printed “trophy” we were giving out at the end of class. I think making this point helped a lot because today both teams really made an effort of keeping everyone involved in finishing up our toilet prototypes.

It was great to watch!

More Sticky Notes

Today was a big day for our Paideia students because today was the day we interviewed users!

It seemed as if we might not even have any users to come in to be interviewed with the amount we had to search to find people interested in tiny houses and sustainability who were also available to meet today during the class time. However, somehow we managed to get 4 interviewees, one of which was virtual, who came in today for 15-minute interviews with each of our two teams.

I was incredibly impressed with how far these kids have come with their ability to ask questions. On day 2 during our Flashlab, we were a bit worried because there were a lot of yes or no questions and short, often changing, conversations happening. However, after just a week and a bit they have grown so much! 1334x1000.jpeg.f4cd3a6a28024abe9c5c51eb31c06aec.jpg

Today the interviewees left commenting on how much they liked the teams’ questions and we were having to cut off deep conversations happening due to timing, which was hard to do because it was so wonderful to overhear!

Honestly, what I’ve enjoyed most about teaching this course is seeing how design thinking really affects the lives of students.

Most of these kids didn’t know each other before the class and now we know all sorts of random things about each other; from how we got our names to stories about sibling tensions when the whole family got food poising and were sharing a bathroom.

Plus, Sparks have become a daily norm where we all laugh at how confused the neighboring classrooms must be when they hear us chanting “Jump in, Jump out” or reciting different ice cream flavors, or announcing our superhero names.

1334x1000.jpeg.05f3a73409e1486cbad36c70939e688d.jpgOn the way out of the classroom we’re always told thank you and “can’t wait to see you tomorrow” and one student when doing I Like, I Wish, I Wonder feedback said, “I wish we had more than 18 days in this class!”

They have become learners who question everything, even the challenging topics like “Can you vomit in a composting toilet, and would it be a solid or liquid when separating it into a compartment?”

And they can take those questions and turn them into insights, such as realizing how a toddler might actually be the most receptive family member to adopting a composting toilet because of how the mother said the toddler loves helping out and the ability to take ownership of a process.

I can’t wait to see what insights are found during our unpacking session tomorrow, but first, we need to get more sticky notes- we ran out today…

 

First HW Assignment

Last night, in an attempt to get closer to becoming composting toilet experts, we gave our first “homework assignment” for the Paideia class.

We had every individual pick a different composting toilet brand and label all of the different parts and functions of that particular toilet. Additionally, they were asked to create a pros con list for their toilet. This information we then used today as a springboard to discuss what are necessary pieces required in a composting toilet versus where are areas we can brainstorm creative new ideas for.

When I announced the assignment I was expecting detesting remarks about how they were getting homework after not having it so far in the course.

Surprisingly though, no one even questioned the assignment. I couldn’t believe how calm everyone was because honestly, I was nervous about announcing it. Especially since it was a day-of-pivot we made because we thought it would be helpful for the students to more deeply explore different composting toilets currently available after hearing an external expert talk about a few different toilets.

I suppose they also all understood the purpose behind the homework and knew it would be beneficial to their teams and maybe that was why no one was shocked or annoyed with our ask of them. Sure I’ve only known these kids for a week or so now and maybe this is how they always respond, but maybe it just goes to show how when work has a clear and meaningful purpose, it’s less likely to cause tension and complaints.

Design-Engineering

Over the years I’ve been exposed to a lot of different design thinking processes. They all have the same basic components just maybe with different wording or descriptions but at the end of the day, every design thinking process is just another way to visualize and work through human-centered problem-solving.

2250x1687.jpeg.fb397ed778a54598a13237c793491d20.jpgSomething I’ve found to be really cool about our course with Paideia and Wish For WASH is that there is no set design thinking process associated with our organization, so we don’t have to contain ourselves to one methodology. Instead, I get to pull from all sorts of different tools I’ve used to help coach our learners through the process.

I’ve used DEEPdt as the base because that’s what I’m most familiar with, and the DEEPdt playbook is a convenient way to facilitate newbies through the process. However, I’ve also pulled in tools or even just coaching ideas from the Stanford d.school process, the double diamond method we used in Grand Challenges, and some tools used in a mechanical engineering core class.

Today was one of the first days for me trying out one of the engineering tools which was suggested by another Innovation Diploma graduate who is also at Georgia Tech the year above me. The tool is called “The Function Tree” and I think it was a really good tool for our design challenge since it is product design oriented. The tool is about breaking down the different functions your design needs to be able to accomplish by getting more and more specific about what the sub-functions are that have to be accomplished first.  For example, a toilet must contain waste, well a composting toilet must first separate waste, which also means there needs to be a way to contain the waste, etc.

1136x852.jpeg.63bcfa55c7e34ff19ecdc62f218f960eI’m still learning how to best use and facilitate some of these tools that are newer to me, but I’ve really enjoyed the process of combining different methodologies; it’s helped me identify gaps, weaknesses, and strengths in different methods and tools.