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.

 

Oh How Far We’ve Come

C4y7nuiWMAMPqgN.jpgI always love Thursdays because they feel so productive. Until 1:10 I get to spend my day working on Innovation Diploma related things, and with such a large chuck of time, I often have my most productive meetings, brainstorms, and build days on Thursdays. This past Thursday was a really interesting day because our newest members of the Innovation Diploma (the Gates Cohort) experienced what it was like to give a pitch to a client for the first time.

C4zAo-fWYAEiFFd.jpgThe Gates kids have been spending the last few weeks working on what we call an adVenture. An adVenture is a design challenge where someone in the immediate MVPS community is the one to initiate the problem being investigated. Based on my understanding, the Gates kids were tasked to come up with solutions for Mr. Edwards (Tedwards) to help better organize the HIVE (our maker space) and get more people into the space.

These teams of 3-4 people then gave their final pitch to Tedwards as well the 2nd and 3rd year ID kids (Pixar kids) last Thursday. They were far from perfect, but what amazed me is that they were lightyears ahead of what the inaugural cohort was doing the second semester of our first year.


screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-12-14-06-amIt was crazy to sit there and think about just how far the program has come in the past 3 years since the Innovation Diploma began. These newest members had slide decks, story lines, and prototypes that were just about at the professional level, and it was also satisfying to hear the quality feedback they received from the returning ID kids because there was a true sense of wisdom to it.

What really impacted me the most was when I realized the lessons that Gates kids were learning in an internal environment:

  • Pre-planning is mandatory: When you have a client coming, you have to think about more than just what you’re going to present. You also must consider: how you are going to set up the space? When you will get tech situated? How the client will check in? Who will meet the client at the front and take them to the space? What would you say when meeting the client? Etc. 
  • The story is key: Giving a good pitch is often more important than the quality of the prototype, and the way you give a good pitch is by taking the audience on a journey. You must explain what the problem is, what insights you discovered from users, how your prototype meets the needs of the users, why your prototype is the best answer, what the next steps are, and how you can help make the prototype come to life.
  • Take pictures throughout the process: The story is the most important part of the presentation, however, pictures and slide deck quality is what makes a good pitch into an incredible and professional looking pitch. To get these pictures, you really have to take pictures of everything along the way, otherwise you’ll start your slide deck and just realize everything you missed a great picture of.
  • Redefining “low res”: Every prototype has different stages. After a quick day long brainstorm you can expect a few prototypes made of construction paper and popsicle sticks; this is not the prototype you present to your clients. By using digital technology we can make relatively fast prototypes that have a much better quality appearance.
  • Always rehearse: The best pitch you will ever give will never be your first. The more you practice and receive feedback, the better a pitch will get. Teams often get feedback on their prototypes, but not always the presentation, but the presentation is critical as mentioned before. If you plan an internal practice pitch a few days before the actual pitch, you can receive game changing feedback that will take your presentation to the next level.

These are just a few of the lessons I heard the Gates kids discuss as takeaways from their first pitch. The crazy thing is though, that while the Gates kids discussed their takeaways, all of the Pixar kids just looked at each other in amazement because we had to C3xAbL6W8AEW556.jpglearn these lessons the hard way- while in front of an external client… It’s so incredible that now first year Innovation Diploma kids are learning these lessons. By the time they’ve had the experiance of a few years, who knows what these kids will be doing.

The program is getting better and better each year, and a lot of it is because of what we’ve learned through trial and error with past cohorts. As a member of the inaugural cohort I have faced a lot of challenges within the Innovation Diploma, as any pioneer must face when embarking on a new adventure; however, I wouldn’t trade the role I’ve gotten to play in the program in order to have been entering after some of those initial kinks have been prototyped for. By being a first year member I’ve worked through the hard times and learned so much from our fail-up experiences, and now I get the extreme pleasure of looking at these new members and seeing just how far we’ve come as a community. It’s incredible.C3xAbK4WQAALlIX.jpg

When I walked away from the pitch on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think about further feedback for the Gates kids, but I also couldn’t help but just smile for the past and the future of this incredible journey I’ve been on with the Innovation Diploma.  

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.

The Value of Design Briefs

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This year has marked yet another new chapter for the Innovation Diploma (ID), and as we have moved into our third year of the programs existence, we have started to work on projects that we call Design Briefs. In short a Design Brief is a project where someone in the community seeks out a team of ID members to help them with a problem they are facing in their work; either for money, resource, or time reasons the organization can not devote to working on the project and thus outsources the project to an ID consultant team.

After last year’s success with Design Briefs, this year all of our 2nd and 3rd year student cohort members have gotten the opportunity to work on a Design Brief and we have been deep in the process for the past 2 months or so.

This is my first time working on a Design Brief and I have had the pleasure to work with a team of 3 other ID members as we work with the City of Sandy Springs to decrease traffic by 10 percent. Working with an external client has been a big change for me because the last two years I’ve found myself working on projects that were primarily driven by student observations in our school community. While it’s been awesome to be in an environment where I’ve been supported to tackle problems that I helped identify, I’ve really enjoyed the experience of getting to work with a client this year.

My team has already had 2 client meeting check ins signifying that we are officially halfway to our big deadline date where we will be meeting with a council of members from the City of Sandy Springs. This being said, I felt like it was a good time for me to reflect on a few of the benefits I’ve identified since working on a Design Brief:

  • Time Management: We get to co-create deadlines, but have to be firm on meeting those deadlines because we can’t just email our clients the day before a meeting saying that we haven’t met our deliverables and need to push back a deadline. I’ve had to further develop my time management skills in order to create and meet deadlines for this project which has proven to be helpful in all aspects of my life.
  • Craftsmanship: When working with an actual organization there is a higher standard of work that we have to meet. Most organizations haven’t used students as a consultants before, therefore, we have to prove that we are worthy of being worked with. We want to present work to our clients that is at least as good as the work they would be getting from adult consultants. I’m happy to say that so far, our clients have consistently been beyond impressed with our work!
  • Confidence: It’s one thing for my parents or teachers to say that I did a good job on a piece of work that I presented, but they practically have to say that every now and then because they have a personal connection to me. But when a client from outside of the school says that my work was inspiring, that makes me feel more confident in my capabilities and makes me strive to constantly strive to take on bigger challenges.
  • Spreadsheets and Google Maps: I’ve learned a lot of very specific skills that I didn’t expect to learn while working on this project. I have been learning how to use Google Spreadsheets and Google Maps to help create visual representations of data we have. I’ve ended up creating a dozen of maps, graphs, and tables and have learned a lot about how to use these tools.
  • Communication: As project manager I have been the point of contact for all of our external experts ranging from our clients to parents in the community. This has required me to practice my communication skills in the form of email, twitter, and blogging amongst others. I’ve noticed especially with emailing that I’ve been able to draft emails that require less editing each time over the past few months which has been very tangible evidence of my growth.

I’ve grown a number of skills through this project work, but I think what I find to be most impactful about my Design Brief work is that I actually want to work on this project. Everyday I go into ID feeling excited and motivated to work because I know the work we are doing is actually going to make a difference in the lives of hopefully hundreds of people. That’s a huge deal, and more than I can say about most of my core classes. This Design Brief is meaningful work, and, therefore, I feel even more driven to do everything in my power to be successful in producing high quality work. I can’t wait for the day when it becomes the new normal for everyone to be doing this kind of “real world work” as their “school work.”

The Movement: Transforming Education

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For the past three days I got the honor and privilege to work along side some of the most inspiring students I’ve ever met from around the country. What did these students have in common? They are all proud, passionate leaders in the movement to transform education so that in the very near future everyone can have a learner-centered education. And to think that the attendees at this conference were just a small hand full of the learners involved in this movement is inspiring.

42 students and some smaller number of adults, were gathered from 15 different schools across 13 different states for a conference called SparkHouse hosted by Education Reimagined held in Washington D.C. The coolest part about this conference was that it was specifically designed so that there would be more students then adults. (But we made sure to clarify on multiple occasions that everyone in the room was a learner. I’m always saying that everyone can be a student, a teacher, and a mentor at different times in their lives because we are all life long learners.)

The last few days I’ve posted reflections about the day (Learner-Centered Commonalities and Inspiring Minds United At Last ), but today I’d like to really reflect on my take aways overall and next steps.  (I’ll admit, there is probably much more I could say on this topic and I’m sure I’m forgetting important things, but this is my best stab at it.)

Take aways:

  • Relationships are key in a learner-centered environment: between students, teachers, families, and the community; every student needs to have the feeling of being known, heard, and cared about at a personal level for the best learning to occur
  • Defining vs distinguishing: you can’t define something (such as “learner-centered”) with examples, but you can distinguish what does and what does not fall into a certain category by having conversations to establish a common understanding
  • We need more common language: every learner-centered school is a little bit different though we share the same values. The hard part about this is that because the programs are different we use different language to describe the experiences (this week alone I heard about design thinking, project based learning, masteries, cardinal academy, capstones, extended learning opportunities, etc…) the problem with this is that it gets very confusing to convince people to join a movement while constantly trying to describe all of these different words which essentially just become jargon.
    • How might we develop a glossary of common language so that we can distinguish between different types of experiences while still being able to provide clarity and unity for the movement?
  • Detecting the presence of leadership: There is a kind of speaking and listening (communicating) that causes people to be engaged and united around a common goal that is for “we” (not “me”) in a safe space; the people are then energized and feel a part of something bigger than anyone of us and it’s for everyone
  • Creative ways to get credit: I love the opportunities I’m given by being a student at MVPS however, there are many times where I feel like I’m facing a two worlds struggle because there simply isn’t enough time in the day to dive deeply into my project work and extra curricular activities which I’m passionate about while also spending the required amount of time in core classes to gain graduation credits. The interesting thing I realized while at this conference is that many schools are giving students core credits for their big scale project work that may even take place off campus. (Like getting credit for working in a Kroger and Bank run by the school, or getting credits for participating on the robotics team, or getting credits while being certified as a chef or nursing assistant, or getting credit for an internship that takes place a few times a week during the day.) There are a lot of interesting ideas about creative ways to give credit for large scale project work outside of just credit in the sense of acknowledgment that you’re doing something awesome and gaining skills that will make a cool story to talk about. It seems like a nice baby step in the right direction is to start finding new paths that students can take to gain credits for the learning done from large scale project work (such as Innovation Diploma work or even electives and clubs perhaps).
  • If not now, then when? If not you, then who?: I can’t remember what TEDTalk I watched that had this quote, but some of us from MVPS brought it up at the conference because it accurately describes the mood most of us felt once we were “done.” We gathered an incredible group of people together and that alone has been a huge takeaway. I now know more about so many interesting types of learner-centered models and we have also formed a powerful community of students that are ready to work together to push this movement forward. Every great moment in history starts with a gathering of people.

Next steps:

At the end of the conference the group came together to start discussing next steps and what we would like our role to be in this movement. I’m happy to say that we’ve already started to take action on a few ideas, and we’ve also been thinking about several others that may be a little over the mountains right now.

Next steps in progress:

  • GroupChat/Communications: first off, it’s important to us that we stay connected, so the team of learners at this conference established a group chat with everyone on it so that we can update, support, and ideate with each other as we go back to our respective schools
  • Student Voice Edition Magazine/Reflections: as of earlier today I challenged everyone to also write/draw/record a reflection about their experience with learner-centered education, how they felt about the past few days, what their most excited for next, what’s the biggest thing they’d like to change, etc. then the idea is to compile these reflections into a singular magazine to showcase this new unified student voice group that has been created over these past few days. Luckily a bunch of people were also interested, so I think we’ve officially gotten the ball rolling!
  • Video Re-cap: throughout the three days, a professional video team recorded us as we worked and had some interviews with people as well, and the plan is for everyone to share this video with other people to help spread the word about the work being done across the country already with at least these 15 schools
  • T-Shirt Word of Mouth: everyone who can has agreed to wear our #SparkHouse shirts this coming Monday as a conversation starter to talk about what we did while we were away from our typical school day

Over the mountain thinking:

  • Pitching at our school: everyone walked away from the conference with at least one new cool idea for their personal school based off of what other schools were doing, so an interesting next step would be for everyone to actually pitch to their admin about a new idea for their school to prototype with
  • Exchange program: we send teachers to learn from work being done by other schools, but what if we had an exchange program for students where students would spend a few days shadowing students from another school to learn about other learner-centered models; student voices are powerful, so imagine how powerful it would be if a student in Georgia could come back from 3 days (arbitrary number for now) spent at a school in New York and say that they found this other schools way of teaching to be really inspiring? That would say a lot. Plus it would be fun for us students interested in learning more about different types of education!
  • The glossary: I talked earlier about the need to develop more common language, so one idea I left the conference with is the idea of creating a learner-centered education glossary to help distinguish between different ways we classify models of education. If each student at this conference were to help make a glossary for their specific school, then we put those together, I’m sure we’d find some interesting overlaps and have interesting discussions about what’s worth distinguishing between and it could help provide clarity to the movement in theory.
  • Student run conference: everyone’s always saying that student voices are some of the most powerful ones, and I believe that every student at this conference has the leadership potential to facilitate a conference. So one over the mountain idea that I proposed was for every school group from the conference to facilitate their own conference similar to SparkHouse. We would use the event to get more learners involved in the movement from people that are already hooked to people who come from a traditional school and don’t know much about the new possibilities some schools are making possible.

 

Overall I was thrilled to take part in this event and have left being more inspired than ever. I’d like to believe that I’ve been involved in this movement for some time now with my blog and twitter presence in this world of education transformation; however, this experiance was amazing to me because it’s the first time I really felt like their were more student voices out there being heard. There are obviously students at my school and others that are supportive of this kind of learning, but not everyone is as passionate about really being involved in the behind the scenes promotion and development work alongside the adults, which is understandable. I’m also sure there are more student involved in the movement that I’ve yet to meet. But I now feel like more students are starting to get involved and I think that’s going to be game changing, especially now that I feel connected to a strong united community of the 42 students I just spent the last three days with. (Not to mention all of the adults that have been super supportive and instrumental in making these connections happen and successful).

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.

We as students have inherited a certain type of world, and we have something to say about it. The educational world has been the same for decades, but we are living in a new world so it’s time that education was reimagined, redesigned, and reinvented into a learner-centered model. I feel empowered as a learner to work to push the education transformation movement forward, and I’m excited about all of the possibilities of the future. I imagine a world where one day every student experiences learner-centered education each and everyday, and I believe this future is a very realistic world.

 

Learner-Centered Commonalities

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I don’t even know where to begin to describe how awesome today was!!! Learners from around the country gathered together talking about our unique learner-centered educations, and the conversations were mind blowing.

After sharing short presentations about our schools, we specifically focused today on what things are similar and different across the 15 different schools in order to get a clearer idea of how to describe learner-centered education by distinguishing traditional vs non-traditional (learner-centered) school aspects.

When trying to figure out what makes a learner-centered school my team came up with these commonalities:

  • hands on learning in the real world
  • self-paced learning
  • strong relationships between students and teachers
  • different forms of assessment then just a 0-100% scale
  • an emphasis on skills not just content learning
  • interacting and engaging with the community
  • students take ownership and are passionate about their work
  • flexible and interactive learning environments

However, I also noticed some big differences though between my school (MVPS) and some of the other schools here. The biggest one is that a lot of these other schools have a huge emphasis on the importance on internships and award graduation credits for internships as well as other specialty programs. For example, I heard of multiple schools were students can take a class offered at school where they actually get certified as a nursing assistant, or a chef, or coding languages and they not only get certifications and skills needed to go into these fields in the workforce, but they also get high school credit for it! It seems like a crazy idea, but in my opinion it’s just crazy awesome!

After we created lists similar to the one above in small groups, we came together as a full group and read through part of the document that Education Reimagined has been developing as somewhat of a north star to help share with others about this transformative movement. The quick summary of the main points is:

  1. each learner is unique
  2. learning is natural
  3. learning can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone

While I can’t find a link or picture to the rest of these three points, here is a link to more about how the Education Reimagined team has been envisioning this movement which we read before coming this week. Part of why we were gathered here this week has also been to help refine some of this thought process; thusly, there was a big discussion today the need for adding potentially two new points to more clearly address the relationships between who we often call students and teachers, and also to describe the culture of a learner-centered school. I was more participating then note-taking during this discussion, but there are some great quotes on twitter I’d encourage anyone interested to read.

I think a big takeaway from this discussion was the general notion that we all have insider language we use at our schools, but really they are all just different ways of naming similar types of ways to learn. The language is less important than the meanings of the words. To convince people that a new idea is a good idea, you need to expose them to stories and immerse them in situations where they experiance this new way of learning for themselves and observe the benefits.

I was really inspired today by all of the students who are clearly all motivated and driven learners doing awesome work. Everyone here just “get’s it” as we said in an actual conversation I had earlier. It’s as if all of us here have experienced being around other students that just go through school like it’s a chore and have had those classes stuck in a traditional mindset, and yet everyone here see’s the possibilities for the future and is working to make it a reality. We don’t have to convince each other that a change is needed, we just agree and talk about how we’ve worked to provide our voice.

I’m still just so grateful that Education Reimagined decided to have this conference for the first time with students, because it’s been wonderful getting to hear from more students out there that I can really relate to and talk to about transforming education.

Inspiring Minds United At Last

What happens when you take motivated students from unique schools across the east coast and bring them together for a conference? Mind-blowing awesomeness!!!!!

I’m currently in Washington D.C. for a 3 day conference called SparkHouse run by Education Reimagined. To be honest I don’t entirely know what’s going to happen these next few days, but today was the initial dinner meet up and it was fantastic!

Everyone here (students and teachers, and it’s mostly students on purpose) is just great and very open and clearly creative and passionate about how education needs to change. I feel like I’ve known these people forever because everyones so easy to talk and relate to. Plus everyone comes from a school doing awesome weird stuff, so it’s been super interesting learning about the different school styles. It’s actually become a joke that the way we introduce ourselves and our starting conversations are based on, “So why are you here? What does your school do that’s different?”

So far I’ve met people from Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky and I’ve heard all sorts of cool things. For example: students running a Kroger and a bank at school; students from 7th-12th grade having classes together; students spending each Friday doing crazy activities like mountain biking; students that have no grades or standardized tests; and I’m sure I’ll learn more in the days to come!

IMG_6200.JPGNone of the students really know what we are going to be working on quite exactly, but we’re excited to share our voice and have enjoyed playing games and talking together so far. I can’t wait to see what’s in store because we’ve gathered a pretty inspiring group of minds so I feel ready for anything right now!