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!

reMoVe10

After months of data collecting and interviewing, the reMoVe10 team finally had our big presentation to our City of Sandy Springs clients, representatives from Georgia Clean Commute, and a handful of MVPS admin!!

Background

Spark:

No one likes sitting in traffic. It waste time, energy, and money and it is only getting worse each year. Early September of 2016 representatives from the City of Sandy Spring
contacted the Innovation Diploma to partner with us as consultants in a Design Brief in order to achieve the city goal to decrease traffic in the city by 10%.

Goal:

Lead conversations and experiments at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School to decrease traffic in the school community by 10%. Then using MVPS as a small area case study group, develop traffic recommendations for schools in the Sandy Springs area and the city as a whole.

1101161046.jpgPartners:

  • City of Sandy Springs council (Client)
  • Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
  • Georgia Commute Options

Data Collection

The first phase of our work was to better understand our community by learning how and where from people commute to school. In order to do this, we compiled data from our school directory, manually counted cars coming into the school early in the morning, and observed traffic patterns during our morning and afternoon carpool. Screen Shot 2016-12-05 at 1.03.34 PM.png

After working with our school’s registrar, we were able to take information we had gathered and develop this visual of where our families come from.

 

unnamed-1.jpgWe also created this info-graphic which we sent out to the MVPS community to gain support and focus group partners for the movement. We learned that we currently have 662 cars coming into MVPS every morning. Based on estimates for the growth of our school, we should have around 770 cars by the year 2020 when our new high school building is finished being built. With this projected growth rate, it’s imperative that we act now to decrease traffic. If we successfully cut traffic down by 10% now, then we will be decreasing the number of future cars by 180 cars, decreasing pollution by 2,730 lbs of CO2, and saving 5,000 minutes of time commuting as a community (based on the average distances families currently travel from in order to get to MVPS).

Focus Group Insights

After collecting numerical data, the reMoVe10 team wanted to reach out to members of the MVPS community to better understand the MVPS carpool process from the primary users. After sending out our info-graphic, we gathered two parent/faculty focus groups to speak to where we discovered that the Lower School carpool line was more congested than the Upper School since less lower school students stay after school for sports and clubs. We then met with two fourth grade groups and two kindergarden groups in order to hear from the students about how they get to their cars in the afternoon.

Here were some of our take aways:

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Next Steps:

 

Removing traffic in an area doesn’t take a revolutionary idea. There are some rather simple things that we can do as a community to decrease traffic. The key is communication and everyone getting passionate and involved in the movement.

The reMoVe10 team is partnering with Georgia Commute Options, a government funded program that promotes taking cleaner routes to school and work by providing incentives and help with finding carpool partners. Our team plans to give presentations to parent and student drivers in the upcoming weeks to get them excited and signed up with the free Georgia Commute Options app that gives members access to these benefits. We then will work with the organization to see how traffic is effected based on the number of people with the app associated with the Mount Vernon community.

The team will also explore more ways to promote alternative travel options in order to decrease the number of cars on the road. We already have a hashtag (#reMoVe10) and several blog posts on our Innovation Diploma website, and will do a deeper dive into other forms of effective mass communication techniques.

Reflection

The reMoVe10 team has come a long way in the past few months (this link goes to my blog posts along the journey). As a team we had various struggles with communication along the way; people would be absent and not notify anyone as to why, people would wonder out of the work space without a reason, people would not answer texts, etc. While this was very frustrating in the moment, we grew a lot with being able to confront these situations. We had many “come to Jesus moments” where we would talk about these problems and establish a new plan, and by the end of the semester everyone was doing a much better job at communicating with only minor hiccups.

It’s really hard to call a fellow teammate out, but when doing real world work, it is a necessary uncomfortably moment. If problems aren’t addressed, then they will keep happening, and that creates an unhealthy work environment. I think one of the places I grew most as a leader on this team was by being able to facilitate these necessary conversations that no one really wanted to have.

Even in the last week leading up to our big presentation we were struggling to bring things together. We realized that there is a lot of empathy work that we could have done earlier in the process. Our focus group meetings happened back to back only a few weeks before our final deadline, and it was great that they happened, but we realized the insights we identified would have been valuable at an earlier point in time. Furthermore, there are more people that we would have liked to talk to and we should have observed carpool more often, and now we’re having to go back and make up for what we really should have done earlier in the process. The jump from researching to empathizing is often the hardest hurdle to get over in my opinion, and our team truly experienced this. It was most evident in our practice pitch we gave two days before the big presentation, that we had some gaps in our project. However, we were able to pull it all together in the final hours and shifted the focus of our presentation to highlight the great work we had done. In every project it’s easy to later identify things you wish you would have done, but that shouldn’t discredit what you did do, and I was really proud of the quality of the presentation we gave in the end. Our clients even said, “This is better that some of the presentations we hear from adults that we pay to do this kind of work!”

A big part of the purpose of our presentation was to just get the right people in the room to make connections between all of the partners we’ve been working with. We achieved this goal better than we could have planned for; there were people still talking about the possibilities our work has brought up for nearly an hour after we thanked people for coming and said we were finished with their time. These conversations made me really excited with where this project could go in the upcoming months.

Our team had originally planned on disbanding after this presentation and not working 100% on this project (though we would do monthly check ins to keep up with the work). However, after the success and momentum the reMoVe10 movement gained after this presentation, we realized that we can’t stop now. The team is still in the process of figuring out who and how everyone will  be involved  next year, but I can guarantee the project will not die with the end of a semester.

 

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.”

Kick it into Gear

IMG_6161.JPGThis Tuesday we have another client meeting with our partners from the City of Sandy Springs so it’s been a crazy week for our project team. The main things we’ve accomplished since our last meeting are as follows:

  1. added information with all of the Marta train routes onto our map
  2. added detail to our small area comprehensive plan
  3. developed an info-graphic describing the project which will be launched to the MVPS community November 2nd to gain awareness, support, and partners from parents especially (hopefully unless something changes between now and then)
  4. gained insights from several intercept interviews and observations of morning carpool
  5. have gotten into contact with people from the regional Travel Demand Management (TDM) department and have a meeting set up for November 10th to learn more about their work with traffic in Atlanta 

With our second client meeting coming up, I think it’s a good time for me to reflect on how I’ve been doing on a few of our standards of professional excellence that we have in the Innovation Diploma (ID). In ID we believe strongly in our motto “We are not a class. We’re a start up.” With this said, we do not have grades for ID; there is no number you can assign to our progress and performance in the program. However, like any business we have assessments (like our upcoming client meeting for example) and we gain feedback (from ourself, our team, and our facilitators), and we have standards of excellence so that everyone in ID knows what’s expected of them and how to be successful in the program.

Our collection of standards is based on five key skills we call the 5C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Craftsmanship.

I believe I’ve been preforming strongly in the area of Collaboration-Leadership and Initiative. I’ve consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of the teams work and vision, and have served as project manager to help clarify roles and responsibilities to my team members. Furthermore, I’ve been a spokesperson for all of ID during tour days for our school and have learned to clearly articulate the work we have done so far to people who know nothing about ID let alone the work my team specifically is doing.

That said, there is no perfect leader. There are always ways to improve, and I think it’s time that I start pushing myself even more about what it means to be a leader. A leader not only has a clear understanding of the teams work, but a great leader is able to also coach others to start becoming more of a leader. I’ve been starting to do this by slowly having other team members take over as the point of contact for certain external experts, but I’m sure there are more ways I can get better at stepping down sometimes; after all I graduate next year…

I also need to work on growing in the area of Creativity- Openness and Courage to Explore. As a team we’re starting to get into a rut where we’re too caught up on the data and research. We are having a hard time moving into the empathy phase of the design challenge which we need to get to in order to identify the true heart of the problem. I need to work on exploring ideas outside of just the general problem of “traffic” so we can figure out where this project is going. Right now we have lots of numbers and graphs of our population and times when traffic is bad, and I even got to school before 7:15 on Friday to take observational notes on carpool all morning from a haystack outside by drop off; however, we have yet to truly identify the problem as a team. We know traffic is bad, but why? I don’t think we know why yet which is a problem at this point in the game.

I’m excited about the work our team did in the last few weeks, but in the last few days I’ve realized that I don’t think we’re at the point in our project where we should be. We should have more user insights, which we talked about needing after the last client meeting, and the work we did was in hopes of developing focus groups, but we never actually created those meetings. We’ve been working hard on this info-graphic that will be sent out to parents so they learn about the project and hopefully agree to meet with us, but we misjudged the amount of time it would take us to make a high-quality product so those meetings are yet to happen. I am though, still proud of the info-graphic work and think it did need to be iterated since it’s our one big shot to send something out in the newsletter to the community. Looking back, what I would have done differently would be to find a different way to get the information we needed.

This didn’t hit me until a few days ago but now it makes me realize we need to kick it in gear and I don’t know how to communicate that to the rest of my team because I don’t think everyone feels this way.

I wonder if our clients will call us out on this because sometimes I find that adults get too caught up in the novelty of students doing this kind of work and don’t call us out the way they would with adults they may work with.

Dis-Connect

I made a promise to myself what feels like a long time ago to not only blog about the successful things in my life, but to also mention the un-successful moments.

If you only reflect on your successes, then you aren’t learning as much as you could be… You can’t just completely let go of un-successes because then you can’t use them to fuel better actions next time, but you also can’t dwell on them to the point of madness; it’s when you find the balance that you can learn.” – My Un-Success Reflection (The Life of Pinya) 

I wish to honor my previous promise to myself, so here is a story of an un-success of the past few weeks.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working with a team of Innovation Diploma members as consultants for the City of Sandy Springs to decreases traffic at MVPS by 10% (#reMoVe10). The hypothesis is that if we can develop a plan to decrease traffic at our school, then we could create a plan that could be replicated at other schools too. If enough schools decreased their own traffic, then the traffic in Sandy Springs during rush hour times would decrease as well. It’s a lofty goal, but I think we’re on a good path right now.

Our first client meeting went very well two weeks ago; however, the days leading up to that meeting were not so great. Our team has had some major communication problems lately. We’ve done a good job of dividing up responsibilities, but apparently we didn’t do a good job of checking in to make sure everyone was on the same page about why we were doing certain things.

One day I was meeting with a faculty member that has been acting as an external mentor to our team, and when I got back half of our team of 4 was missing. No one knew where they went. We were searching around the school and texting them and then finally we learned that they were out counting cars in the parking lot. We had discussed the value of taking observational data multiple times, so the idea was valid, but not at 10:15 when there isn’t any traffic in and out of the school… Somehow this idea wasn’t communicated well. Moreover, the reason they said they were out there is because they discovered they wouldn’t be able to get a piece of technology working in time for our meeting, so they didn’t know what to do and thought counting cars would be productive.

On the one hand I’m grateful to have a team where members are trying to take initiative and go out and do and observe things rather than always working on a computer; however, this was a major fail-up moment because the data they got from counting cars was information we could have concluded by just sending a quick email to find out how many teachers and students have on campus parking spots, so an entire day was just wasted by half of the team. Furthermore, when one member was asked questions by the facilitators, the member was not able to answer questions about why we were even having a client meeting later that week let alone answer questions about what we were going to talk to them about.

Overhearing this conversation was when it hit me that we really had a problem and part of this is on me.

The team has established that I’m project manager, so this un-success day made me realize that if that’s going to be my role, then I need to do a better job of helping to make sure that everyone understands not only what needs to be done and who needs to do it, but also understand why we are doing it.

I also felt bad because when I later talked to these members about why they thought it would be a good idea to wonder off to count cars without telling anyone, they said they were scared to tell me that they wouldn’t be able to have the tech devise working in time. They had underestimated how difficult the task would be, but they knew the importance of that task, so they were trying to at least get some number so they went out to manually count cars.

I don’t want people to be scared to tell me things, and I’m glad at least that they told me that they were. I tried explaining that I’d never be mad about them not being able to do something based on their skills as long as they were honest about their capabilities upfront so we can plan accordingly as a team. The issue was that they were the only ones with knowledge about the technology since they were working with it, so when they said they could have their experiment up and running by that day, we assumed it would be done. It was frustrating then when the task wasn’t done because for the past few weeks we had been reassured that the timeline was an accurate assessment of when we thought we could have things accomplished by. How do I make it so that people aren’t afraid to tell me when things are not going as planned? I’ve noticed this problem outside of ID too and don’t know what to do about it, because I don’t mean to come off as intimidating but know that I can sometimes according to others.

I’m not really sure if I’m explaining this situation very clearly which is kind of ironic since the whole problem had to do with poor communication between our team. However, at least I can say that we’ve grown some from these hiccups since we’ve learned and improved in some ways.

Our team was able to turn things around before our client meeting, and that went really well! The meeting helped our team we focus and gain clarity in our group understanding of our mission and next steps which was very helpful, plus we impressed our clients which is nice. I hope that my teammates are no longer or at least getting to be less scared to tell me when things aren’t going as planned because I know a team needs to have lots of trust in one another; I don’t know how to help with this yet though. I also think entire team now sees the real importance of being honest and upfront about each of our capabilities that way we don’t have another situation where we essentially waste an entire days worth of work…

At the same time though, we’ve still had a couple instances where teammates will wonder off without telling anyone and not come back for a while, so I know we still have a ways to grow as a team in our communication. This whole post has actually made me realize more-so that our team probably needs a good heart-to-heart conversation, but I’ve never been good about making that happen even when noticing that it needs to; it’s probably the area I most need to grow in terms of responsibilities of a project manager. In school typically the job of bringing a team together to acknowledge dis-connects is done by a teacher or some other adult, and it’s not something you ever get taught despite it being a crucial part of team work. Guess it’s time to learn.

Real Work Now

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I love a good productive day!!! (#ThursdaysRock) Today we had our first official client meeting for PB;J our project team in ID that is working with the City of Sandy Springs to decrease traffic.

For the past few weeks the team has been working on data collection and research, and today our goal was to present to our clients the information that we have gathered and make them aware of our next steps in the process. I’m pleased to report we blew them away!!! They even said:

“The work you guys have shown us is amazing is amazing despite the fact that you are students; it’s honestly better than some of the other work we’ve been presented with from adult consultants.”

The pictures above on this post show a map that I created that pin points where all of the 662 MVPS families live to help us figure out how people get to school and what roads get most congested. They were very impressed with this visual and found it very powerful, so powerful that they want us to take it even further so one of my next steps is going to be adding onto this map where the locations of different public transportation systems are.

This was a mutually beneficial meeting, because it helped everyone get clarity on the potential and path that this project is taking. We were able to define clear data that we’ve collected and also work with our clients to determine goals for our November meeting:

  1. further develop the map visual to include public transit
  2. identify some focus groups to get the community involved with ideating and getting on board with the importance of reducing traffic to gain early support
  3. continue to work on our digital tool for counting the number of cars coming in and out of MVPS on a daily basis
  4. reach out to specific external experts we’ve identified on the topic to help further our work

To be honest our team felt greatly un-prepared all week. We had to have some serious hard talks as a team about everyone not being on the same page and needing to really step up to be ready for today. Even this morning we were stressed out getting last minute things together. I think what was most helpful to our team was our quick feedback session we set to have with the full ID cohort about 45 minutes before our meeting. This session allowed us to get that last minute feedback we needed to feel more confident in our work and make sure we were communicating in the best way possible. Somehow our team pulled it together and I think this successful client meeting has helped to clarify our internal vision and set clear goals for us to work on in the coming weeks.

I’m so proud of our team, and still so pumped about how excited and impressed our clients were about the work we’ve been working on in ID!!! Students CAN do “real world” work NOW- and do it well!  

Introducing Public Buggy; Jam

IMG_6038.JPGNew year, new team, new venture.

The past two years in the Innovation Diploma I have been a part of a lot of projects driven by students observations that lead to ventures. For example the Co-Venture to re-design our iStudio space and last year’s ReSpIn team working on creating a recycling system in the middle school.

This year I’m moving into the world of Design Briefs.

In its inaugural year, iDiploma was incredibly successful in “consultivation” work (consult + innovation) where we invited members from the Mount Vernon community to bring a problem or opportunity to be workshopped in a 90 minute design thinking session. The partners we had for those sessions left with plausible and implementable solutions, and our learners became much more comfortable with their design thinking muscles. This year, we committed to incorporate even bigger and longer term projects via “Design Briefs” that IMG_6047.JPGanyone in the community can generate. Essentially, we’re creating a pool of potential projects that are not out of a textbook or dreamed up by a teacher, but instead projects that are generated out of need in the community.- MVIFI.org

Last year a team of ID cohort members worked on a Design Brief with Jeff Garrison, from S.J. Collins Enterprise, to design a pocket park in a new Whole Foods development which they named: Peachtree Station.  Last year’s Design Brief was so successful that this year, after a mini-internal Design Brief for practice, we have jumped right into 4 different Design Briefs scheduled to conclude around January at the latest. IMG_6049.JPG

I am a member of team PB;J which stands for Public Buggy Jam team. We are working with the mayor of Sandy Springs to reduce traffic in the city by a hopeful 10%. To start, we are
using Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (MVPS) as a test group because it is a controlled environment. Our goal is to create a traffic reduction plan for MVPS that could serve as an example for other schools in the area as well. The hypothesis is that if enough schools work on reducing their traffic, we will impact the overall Sandy Springs traffic problems as well.

This team was assembled almost two weeks ago now, and so far we have made great progress crafting team norms, goals, timelines, and essential questions.

Currently we have been working on:Trello PB;J.png

  • planning out our time line and learning to use Trello as a task management tool
  • researching what a professional Traffic Reduction Plan looks like and outlining what type of information we will need to provide
  •  learning how to use Raspberry Pi to gain experimental data where we count the number of cars entering and leaving MVPS and time-stamping each car
  • reaching out to MVPS admin to see what data already exists in terms of demographic questions we’ve had
  • set up some norms:the first 15 minutes on Monday’s we will discuss goals and duties for the week IMG_6045.JPG
    • the last 30 minutes on Monday we will spend with the entire ID cohort to make sure we keep everyone in the loop and have some community amongst the full team
    • PB;J team will write one blog post a week updating our progress and we will rotate who does the weekly blog (I was this week), and all of our posts will be archived on the Innovation Diploma website run by us high schoolers
    • and we decided to use the phrase “let’s tune in” if we notice that some of us are getting distracted and need to focus back in on our work

For only almost two weeks of school, I’m pretty happy with where we have come as a team and am excited to see where this venture goes.

 

Take Learning Outside Initiative

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Background

Some of the faculty of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School came to the Innovation Diploma Pixar Cohort (members in their 2nd or 3rd year of the program) with the challenge of: How might we gain more traffic and awareness for the two outdoor classrooms on campus? We then had two weeks to go through the process of human centered problem solving to then pitch to our clients various high res prototypes that have potential for immediate implementation.

Key skills developed

  • bias towards action
  • craftsmanship of prototypes and presentation
  • time management
  • impromptu short interviewing
  • communication

Project Details

Phase One: Discovery and Empathy

With only two weeks to interview, research, ideate, prototype, and pitch ideas to our client, the Pixar team had to work quickly and efficiently. After some initial discussion, we divided our team into four sub committees right off the back:

  1. Research Team: Why should we care about going outside?
  2. Interview Team: What are the needs/concerns of MVPS community members?
  3. Branding Team: How might we spread awareness about the spaces with well crafted branding strategies?
  4. Cleaning Team: How might we make the spaces inviting enough for people to want to come into it once we spread the word about it’s existence?

After a week working on these sub committees the team re-grouped to share powerful insights:

Research

  • A study performed by the University of Illinois found that students’ capacity to pay attention increased 13 percent if they had a green view outside their classroom window
  • The Hollywood elementary study found as much, as the number of on-task students increased when the education moved outside.
  • Studies have shown a 27% increase in science testing scores with plenty of time outside
(link to studies)

Interview

  • 57% of the 51 students interviewed have only been in the outdoor classroom once
    since starting high school at MVPS
  • Teachers are concerned with:
    • bugs/whether
    • logistics: taking attendance, time spent getting there and back to classroom, carrying stuff
    • a way to capture work: internet, white board, flip board, etc.
    • needing a table top
    • distractions: worried students will be distracted by the “newness” of outside
  • Several teacher concerns were assumption based:
    • internet does in fact work outside
    • it takes about 2 minutes to get outside from the third floor if the class chooses to meet in their room rather than right outside
  • More new teachers to the school were more curious, interested, and excited about using the outdoor space while a large amount of teachers at the school for even just a year were incline to say something to the extent of “I don’t think it will work for the type of class I teach”

Branding

  • the word “classroom” has a certain connotation to a type of learning environment
  • outside learning is a different kind of learning and therefore the space needs a new name

Cleaning

  • cleaned up lot’s of trash and power washed the amphitheater seating
  • discovered mold under the top layer of mulch and the wooden tables

Phase Two: Experiment and Produce

Based on these insights from week one, we spent week two creating new teams to develop a total of 7 prototypes, and a team of two worked to better craft our story and presentation for our pitch. The final prototypes were as followed:

  1. camping chairs in the area for more comfortable seating
  2. colorful signs to promote the space and creativity
  3. words of wisdom promoting the use of the outdoors written on communal white boards and chalk boards around the high school
  4. developed 2 different versions of digital signage to be showcased in the lobby of the building
  5. 3 different versions of a water bottle with a sticker and note encouraging and reminding teachers to take advantage of the outdoor space
  6. 2 large posters with quotes about the value of outdoor learning
  7. 3 different versions of a portable lap desk with a white board surface to meet the need of not having enough surfaces for writing on

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1RSzUNl4q0xmeITpOYiT-WM_Knd9wmjiAmnNae1u8T_E/pub?start=true&loop=true&delayms=5000


Reflection and Client Feedback

Team

Being the first design brief of the year, and many member’s first ever design brief, and having such a short time frame, I believe the Pixar team did remarkably well. Our clients found the level of quantity and quality of our prototypes remarkable, and everyone was ready to further implement the ideas which shows a great level of empathy and understanding of the problem.

At the beginning of the process, most of us, myself included, were not found of the idea of going outside for class. We found it cumbersome and not exceptionally beneficial, and thus we were not thrilled about working on this challenge that went against our own beliefs. However, I was proud that our team was able to go through a mind-shift and focus on the fact that despite our feelings towards the challenge, our clients asked something of us and we needed to put our feelings aside in order to deliver.

Once aside our feelings, we still had a lack of communication in terms of what our goal was for the end of the two weeks. Some members were ready to start digging up mulch and give the area a complete upgrade because they thought that was what needed to happen in order to get more people in the space by the end of two weeks. This bias towards action was incredible, but it actually had to be dialed back some because our goal, as we clarified about two days before our deadline, was just to have small prototypes and concepts with a strong pitch for our client who could then implement the ideas if proven necessary. Once this clarifier meeting took place, the team made great strides in the last 48 hours before the deadline; working like a well oiled machine to be ready before our final pitch.

In the future, it would have been great if this clarifying meeting happened earlier on so that we could have been as productive as we were in the last two days for the entire timeline of the project; however, sometimes you don’t know you need a large group meet up until you get far enough a long for clear confusion. Based on the insight from this design brief, in our next team we plan to establish early on a clear understanding of the goal, the timeline, and tasks that need to be completed, and who is responsible for each task.

Even though for this challenge success didn’t include changing mulch, the amount of bias towards action was phenomenal during this challenge. This is a huge improvement from when we started in the Innovation Diploma and would spend weeks discussing ideas and never really take action and get working in the real dirt. We would not have been able to develop 7 well crafted prototypes if it hadn’t been for the level of agency and craftsmanship the team had as a whole.

Personal

I typically have a hard time with having a bias towards action because I’m a person that really likes to try and think through all of the details, but for this project I think I improved some. During part one of the challenge I was on the interview team, and while normally we would spend a lot of time carefully choosing interviewees and crafting emails to schedule a chance to talk, for this project we only had two weeks so we didn’t have time to go through the longer more detailed process. None of our interviews were scheduled and instead I literally walked around looking for students and teachers that weren’t in class and asking them to have impromptu 5-10 minute interviews with me. I even successfully convinced one teacher to have one of their classes outside during my free time so that I could observe the process of the class going to the space and then capturing how they interacted with it.

Another mindset I’ve been trying to embrace is the idea of making my work visible. For this project I worked on that by getting everyone to create visual representations of the key insights taken away from each teacher interview. Then I helped lead the team in synthesizing our insights to create one composite user (also with a visual representation) which we used to share out with the full group at the start of week two. To accompany our composite teacher user, we also had graphs of the student data collected which shows how we’ve grown with our ability to think visibly and also our ability to use technology to make our work at a higher quality level.

Going along with the theme of higher quality of work, I was incredibly impressed mine and my co-presenter’s ability to put together a high caliber presentation in mainly just two hours. The presentation had limited words on slides, edited pictures for ascetic purposes, the entire slide deck had an evident theme to help with the flow between slides, and the work was well synthesized to pair down all of the research, insights, and prototyping work we had done into one pitch around 15 minutes. Typically I wish that we would have rehearsed the pitch better and had the prototype speakers more confident and clear in their role, but I am impressed with the work we presented in a limited timeframe and our clients had no expressed negative comments on the presentation its self.


Next Steps

The pitch was successful and prototypes are ready to be implemented, though technically our team has met our goal and deadline. Some prototypes remain in action such as the camping chairs and words of wisdom around the school, but some still need a little iterating and communicating with various people in order to have them implemented. Our team of 16 has completed this project, but a few may select to continue working with the client to finish the implementation process. I do not currently plan to continue with this team, though if that is where I am most needed in our start-up, then that is where I will continue to work.

RISE To New Levels

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ReSpIn’s journey through the prototypes at iFest 2016.

(I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been wanting to write this post, however I wanted to make sure I wrote it when I wasn’t paranoid about being up too late and still getting other things done. So finally, here it goes. )

For the past several months I have been one of four members of the ID cohort on the ReSpIn team- a team striving to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change so that sustainability becomes a part of the Mount Vernon community’s DNA.

Back in the fall, we observed that the middle school does not have recycling bins in their classrooms due to “not having the space.” Yet if we wish to have our students making conscious decisions about how they are affecting the environment, it’s important for us to provide the means like a recycling bin in order to make positive choices. This simple observation impelled a year long design challenge around how we could provide the middle school with a recycling bin that not only was a piece of furniture that people utilized properly, but also really made people think more about environmental sustainability.

Using the DEEP process as a kicking off point, we were able to create early prototypes that lead us to the overall concept of the RISE Sustainability System. (While not intentional, we recently realized that “RISE” could actually stand for, “Recycling in School Environments,” though I must admit that was not intentional for that reason.)

The system would have two elements:

  1. Part one is the RISE bin container which would serve as a shell for the current bins we have, but the shell would create more vertical and shelf space by providing a way to raise the recycling bin on top of the trash bin.
  2.  Part two is the accompanying classroom component meant to help teach students more about recycling.  We realized, after interviewing an external expert who is a venture capitalist, that trying to make sustainability a part of the MVPS DNA needs both a product and a social innovation; therefore, the classroom curriculum is meant to address the social component of this problem.

These two parts together are the entire “RISE Sustainability System.” However, we have focused primarily at this point on the physical product because it is what was most in front of us at the moment. (What good does it due for students to learn about why and how we properly recycle if they don’t actually have a way to recycle in their classroom?)

Through early empathy interviews, prototypes, experiments, and observations, we discerned that students take an interest in things they have ownership over. So the big question became,

“How might we have students take ownership of the RISE bin with the bin itself still being structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing?” 

Our solution: have the middle school students build and customize their own RISE bin as a class. Our first to scale prototype, which sat in two different middle school classrooms for a week, generated a lot of buzz about recycling, and we learned that the 5th graders in particular were really curious about the RISE. They were asking lots of questions and wanted people to use it correctly even though it was falling a part due to it’s design (being made out of foam and duct tape primarily). So our hypothesis was that if students got to build the RISE themselves they would take even more ownership over the bin and wanting people to use it correctly, which therefore means they’d have to recycle correctly.

IMG_5107.jpgThis new hypothesis brought a plethora of design constraints for us on the ReSpIn team. In particular we were struggling with figuring out the best materials to use, how to attach pieces together, and how to create a simple yet ascetically pleasing way to get the waste into the proper bins. This period of struggle included long discussions with the team, mentors, and experts, several prototypes of different magnitudes, and many hours outside of school declared “ID time” spent working to finish our product. (I now know all sorts of random fun facts about materials and machines, like how you can’t use Coroplast in a CNC machine because the rotation of the machine will just get caught in the threads and make a not so aesthetically pleasing hole. More than just fun facts, I’ve learned how to use a plethora of tools like Silhouette, Fusion360, and the laser cutter while also improving my innovators skills of associating, experimenting, questioning, networking, and observing.)

We were narrowing prototypes based on 8 design specifications and scoring with either a negative, a positive, or a neutral:

  • function- how well are people able to get trash into the trash bin and recycling into the recycling bin?
  • customers-how well can our users put the RISE together? how well can custodians take out the content of the bins?
  • materials- how hard is it for us to get the materials ready for our users to put it together? (“What machines can we use with this material?” was a large factor.)
  • environment- How environmentally friendly is the prototype? (this had to be positive)
  • size- does it take up minimal space?
  • safety- how safely can students put the prototype together with this version?
  • aesthetics- looking for a certain degree of professionalism since we are at school
  • cost- the goal is to make the RISE wide scale someday, so how costly would it be?
IMG_5078.JPG
ReSpIn team at GT’s lab learning about CNC machines and what materials work with what machines.

After a fair amount of time, we were finally able to decide upon a 2.0 full scale version of the RISE. This version is made out of PVC, MDF boards (wood), and  zip ties and has met all of our requirements.

By iFest (the day at MVPS where all high schoolers showcase project based learning work from the year) which was just three weeks ago, we were able to create one fully finished 2.0 prototype and most of one 2.1 prototype which we had high schoolers and teachers testing with our instructions book while trying to create the PVC skeleton of the 2.1 prototype. (There are only minor differences which we wanted to test such as how 2.1 is taller and has a front piece made out of a different wood which we stained.)  Then after iFest, after we finished up the rest of 2.1 and made edits to our instructions book, we were ready to get our latest prototypes tested by some actual middle schoolers.

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I’m happy to now announce that earlier this week we had a huge success for the ReSpIn team with our RISE Sustainability System! We were able to get our prototype into the classroom and officially test out the design with middle schoolers and it went really well!!!IMG_1763

As soon as I walked down the hall with a pile of supplies, 5th graders started looking at me and asking questions about what I was doing. I quickly assembled a group of 15 student volunteers to help with our test, and from the moment I gave them the instructions booklet they were deep in concentration over their work. I noticed a lot of teamwork skills being practiced with leaders emerging for different things such as the student holding and reading instructions, and the student taking lead with putting PVS pieces together, and the student telling others what they could do to help, and the student asking everyone questions to make sure they were doing things correctly.

From early on I was able to observe that there were still several students not actively participating in the process the entire time, so I changed the test a little by instruction them to split up into a teams. One group focused on the PVC part and another focused on prepping the wood pieces with zip ties for when they’d be attached. Based on this feedback our team is now editing our instructions book to say from the start for the class to break up into 3 teams with two of the teams working on a different section of the PVC and the third team working on wood. This will hopefully help more students stay actively engaged in the process and cut down on how long it takes to put the RISE together.

We also were able to get good feedback about how much people liked the pictures, but we need to adjust the way we talk about the wood pieces because that was hard for them to understand which piece was which. One girl also said, “These zip ties are hard to get in the holes,” and multiple others agreed, so I think we have some design work to make that easier as well. There were a few other wording confusions, but overall they were able to assemble the bin with only asking me a few questions about the wood pieces particularly and also when one PVC piece was not quite fitting in right.

However, the most inspiring piece of feedback of the test that we were given was from a little girl who told me, “This is the best idesign challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”

IMG_1762I’ve fallen in love with our users and I’m excited for the new edits and whatever comes next so that we can provide them with the best solution to this problem. Though, I don’t know exactly what our next steps are, because like the 5th grade girl said, “We’ve never gotten this far.” But all of the smiling faces, “thank you”s, and teacher comments about students asking more questions about recycling is how I know we are doing something right.

The Hump

imgres.jpgI don’t really understand the expression “moving in circles.” More often I feel like I’m moving in infinity loops. It seems like I’m being productive and making new choices to try and move forward, but in actuality I’m just moving infinitely many times in the same constant cycle.

The last couple of weeks have kind of felt like this. In ID, in theater, in acro, even with class work a little. It has been feeling like not much has positively changed. I wouldn’t say things are bad, but they are just annoyingly constant. I’m a person who enjoys being busy and working fast, and moving quickly to do seemingly impossible things. I get frustrated when it feels like I’ve been spending too long doing virtually the same thing, and yet that’s how things feel lately.

With my acro routines, my theater performance, and my team’s work trying to make the next level prototype of the RISE bin, with all of these things I’ve been working hard to make them better for the past few weeks. However, as much effort as our team has been putting into them, we just can’t seem to get over the hump. We still haven’t done an acro routine with out falling for my hardest group and we perform next week. We still haven’t done a full run through of Shrek (or had everyone off book, or had everyone show up, let alone still working in new props, tech, and costumes), and we perform next week. And after months working on a full sized next level prototype, we still are getting stuck with materials and number crunching with ReSpIn, and we have a presentation/performance/showcase/iFest next week as well!

Everything is next week, and going into next week I currently am a tad worried. Typically everything seems to work out in the end, and the show must go on despite how ready or not we feel, but that hasn’t been easing my thoughts.

We still have a long way to go and little time, and I wonder how in the world we can get over the various humps in our lives.