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?
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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.

“Day Off”

CbcJXqCUYAAGHN1.jpgA day off from school doesn’t mean a day off from learning. It doesn’t even have to mean a day out of the building for some of us.

A little over half of ID cohort members decided to spend our “day off” at school working on our ventures because we feel that strongly about their importance and want as much time as possible to work on them.

What was great about today was that we got to plan exactly how we wanted “school” to be run today. There were teachers around, because they all had to come in today, but there was no one telling us what to do, when to do it, or how to do it. I mean we even decided for ourselves when we thought was a good time to come in and leave, and it wasn’t like anyone was taking role saying “if you aren’t here there will be punishments later.” And yet everyone that agreed to come ahead of time was there. img_3989_720.jpg

My team came in at 10, and I felt more rested and ready for the day then I’ve felt in a while. I didn’t come in sleepy for the first hour or so because I actually got enough sleep that night (and I went to bed around the same time as a normal school day and got all of my homework for tomorrow done yesterday). We all showed up ready to work and that’s what we did.

We started the day by just discussing our game plan for what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to get there. Our goal: 2 full scale next level prototypes by the end of the day.

We then got to work diagraming on white boards and pieces of paper, 3D printing pieces we designed, cutting coroplast (the material used to create plastic signs for yards) to fit the dimensions of our laser cutter, and updating our CAD model with new dimensions.

Around 12:30 we took a quick break for lunch. Breaks are important and we made sure to take a few through out the day. Some were just us siting and needing to digest, others involved teachers walking by and getting us curious about 3D printed food, and still others involved talking to the other ID team and giving them advice/feedback on their work. (Small tangent, I had kind of a nerdy proud moment earlier today when members of the Design Sprint team asked me for advice on giving a pitch. It was just a cool thing to think about us a team having people becoming experts in various areas enough to ask each other for feedback and advice rather than always turning towards adults.)

Now I will say, we did not accomplish all of our original goals for the day. After having our materials all ready to send to the laser cutter, we had some communication problems that made it not possible for us to use the laser printer today. We did however attempt to use our brand new CNC machine that was set up today! No one really knows just how to use it yet, but we started working with some of our mentors to figure out how it works. So far we’ve learned more about orienting it, learned to not push the “Stop and Flush” button because it just sends the drill into the table, and learned that coroplast does not work with the CNC machine as predicted. Our theory is that because coroplast is made with threads and the CNC machine cuts things by spinning, the threads just get caught up in the machine which made a messy final product that would not work for trying to create anything sturdy. We also did successfully design our own handle that will work with a specific type of screw that we are using for our product!

So both the fail bell and the progress bell were rung today, and both represented important learning moments in our journey.

We finished the day by discussing how we want to proceed, because tomorrow we are having an internal with the rest of ID. We originally planned on using this time to test the building process of our product, but since the prototypes are not ready, we instead have decided to still have the internal but pivot the purpose of it. Tomorrow we will instead be showing some pictures, and the smaller prototypes and system flow which we do currently have. It’s important to share out with your full team every now and then so that they know what you have been learning and working on.

School was not in session today, but learning doesn’t start or stop with “school”. Today we were in the real world. We set our own goals, schedules, and breaks. We found help when we needed it. We used tools around us to support our learning. We had fun working with a clear purpose in mind: we are designing for a need in our community, and that is something worth going to school on our “day off” to keep working on solving.

 

Waiting for Thursdays

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I haven’t blogged in a while. Partially because I’ve been busy and already up too late, but also partially because I haven’t had anything happen that makes me think, “I have to blog about this,” and I didn’t feel like writing more posts about how I’ve been feeling this way for a little while now.

However, today was different. Today was exciting. Today was productive. Today was noteworthy. Today was a Thursday.

It seems that every week we have 3 days of more just planning, responding to emails, trying to organize meetings, then Thursday comes around where we have the first half of the day to work in ID and that’s when we really get to be productive. The last several Thursdays have ended in some kind of big success moment; using the laser cutter to design our logo, having feedback interviews with teachers, going to Georgia Tech to see their facilities and get feedback from a professional,  and then today when we made large strides in the process of having two full scale prototypes done by next Thursday. (Go figure, it’s another Thursday…)

This pattern isn’t just true of the ReSpIn team either. The other teams in ID also had really productive days. One team got pictures taken of everyone and started using makey makey to design a way to visually represent the strengths of every ID cohort member. Another team made huge head way on their design driver and sketch up model for their design brief venture working with  S.J. Collins enterprise to design a pocket park for the new Whole Foods being built in Chamblee.

By the end of the day, everyone was ringing our metaphorical progress bell (we had a physical one, but it always disappears and then shows up randomly). Also today, over half of us even decided that we will come in next Wednesday, when we don’t have school due to a conference day, just so that we can have time to work for a long period of time on our projects.

You know a program is successful when you have students planning for themselves to come in on a day off in order to keep working.

I just wish we there were more Thursday’s in a week. More days where we had large amounts of time to put towards our work. It seems every other day is just waiting for Thursday because that’s when we have the time to go off campus, or schedule meetings with people that don’t have the same schedule as us (Small tangent: it is amazing how hard it is to bridge the gap between school and the real world when the real world runs on such a different schedule. Everyone wants to make meeting appointments for hours and half hours, but most of the time that means we’re in the middle of a class or at the very end or beginning.), or use machines that take more than 50 minutes to get what you want from them.

Sometimes it feels like we’re just constantly waiting for Thursdays, because those are the days we always leave feeling like we actually were really productive and successful in making progress towards a bigger goal in our journey.

Needs of a Community

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Follow through. Follow through. Follow through!

I constantly remind myself that I need to work on following through with projects I get invested in. ReSpIn has always been as a struggle for me because it’s one of the few big things I’m working on that isn’t just because, “I’m curious and want to do this.” I’m working on this project because it meets the needs of our community, and I care about our community. So while it’s hard to always feel motivated, I’m determined to follow through.

ReSpIn is soooo close to making our physical, full scale, potentially final product. Over the last few weeks we’ve created our logo and learned how to use the laser printer to cut it out. We have had feedback meetings with teachers to develop how we will make our RISE Sustainability system a learning tool for teachers and students to use in order to help facilitate conversations and activities around sustainability.” We’ve made connections with people at Georgia Tech, and hopefully we’ll be going there to use there facilities soon! 

Our design is finished and in a CAD model, so now really we are just waiting to make sure our design works with the machine and then we can print and test if it works to fit it all together.

However, we also still haven’t quite finished figuring out how we are going to collect the data about recycling for once we put our system into action, and we still have to figure out how to aid teachers with making sustainability a richer part of our curriculum at MVPS.

One of the most valuable snippets from some of our recent teacher conversations was this idea of how our system will only work with a cultural change. We teach in the classroom that it’s important to recycle, but then at school events or even just walking in the hallways after school, we don’t typically have recycling bins or even think about recycling. If sustainability is a part of our DNA, that means we will instinctively be thinking about recycling and try to get others to recycle and preserve resources to. Anytime there is a trash can at school, there should also be a recycling bin.

Creating a cultural change takes more than a finished product.

We know have to do more, and we’ve been working on tackling the curriculum and data analysis challenges, but the hard part is working with other parties than just our immediate team. We keep finding ourselves waiting for an email, or waiting for a meeting, or taking time to change our goals for when things should be done by, or waiting for another Thursday so that we can schedule time to leave campus for long periods of time, or trying to line up schedules between high school and middle school.

While sometimes it feels like we’ve been making a ton of progress, it’s hard to keep up a positive, move forward attitude when we keep hitting little road bump delays.

 

Promoting or Doing?

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So recently I keep thinking about this hole I’ve been in while stuck on my procrastination train. I’ve had a few people recently tell me that this post was such perfect timing because they’ve been feeling the same way. Frankly I just keep wondering why this is.

I believe people are highly influenced by those around them in terms of what mood they are in. It seems that everyone is either having the best day ever or the darkest night of the soul. Then there are always those other days that are just kind of “eh,” not particularly good, but also not obviously bad; the days that are just there because time must pass.

I was talking out loud about my personal hole today and I’ve realized that part of why I’ve lost motivation is because I can’t seem to make up my mind on what to be motivated about. It seems that my biggest debate is about whether I want to be spending my time promoting or innovating.

I’ve been racking my head all day to try and remember where I’ve had this conversation before, and then I realized that it was during ID last year when I think we had this conversation. We were talking about how important it is to constantly capture and share your work; however, if you only spend your time sharing your work, then you aren’t doing any new work that is worth sharing.

It’s a challenging balance between working on new projects and presenting about old ones.

Recently I’ve been having a lot of ideas in terms of what to do with my Gold Award/iVenture/MViFi Fellow work/passion project/whatever other term you want to call it (all of which relate to “student voice in education re-design”). Specifically the ones I’ve been debating between following in terms of what to work on more presently than the others:

  • what if teachers had a system to help create flows in order to lead DT challenges in their classrooms?
  • what if there was a student designed and lead DT conference? (around what would still be up for debate, but it’s something I think would be fun and very different)
  • what if student/school government was re-designed to better match our country’s democracy?
  • what if there was a research study/paper about “what make a good student?”
  • then there is also always the option of just trying to find more attachment to my ReSpIn project (which is doing pretty well, we have a bunch of goals in place to accomplish before we leave for San Francisco as a cohort this spring)

I think all of these ideas are valid questions to be answered and explored, but that’s also kind of the problem, because it makes it hard to decide what to invest time in. Do I spend my time working on something like the DT conference or research study/paper that would be more of a promoting type endeavor where I’d be sharing the story of the importance of student voice and hopefully helping more students find their voice? Or do I spend my time working on something completely new that involves actually using design thinking myself like the teacher DT flow system or the student government redesign proposal?

Not to sound cocky, but I feel confident that if I set my mind to tackle one of these questions, it would be possible for me to get somewhere with it. I’ve talked to many others about various ones of these ideas and others have also said they think they are very doable– if I set aside the time. So that just leads me to wonder, what of these potential ventures would be most impactful on society today?

Especially with my Gold Award requirements, time is of the essence. Sure I still have all of high school and life hypothetically to work on these endeavors and could potentially get to all of them, but in order to get my Gold Award (well to put on my transcript) I have to “finish” by September of this year. (Finish is in quotes because I don’t believe what ever I work on will just be done in September, but in terms of the Gold Award it would mean I’ve met the goals I set out to complete by that day.)

So what wins top priority? I still don’t know where this leaves me, but I’d really love feedback from anyone at all about how I should proceed in trying to get out of my hole of confusion.

Start of Something New

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Last night was the 10th year anniversary of High School Musical, and you bet I watched the movie with the cast commentary last night on Disney Channel! It’s crazy to think that movie first played 10 years ago. It feels like it was only yesterday…

That movie, while extremely cheesy, makes me so happy. I mean it was a part of my child hood. (Even though technically I only started to like it after a little while of it being out.) I still know just about all of the words and several of the dances too.

One song that has been stuck in my head all day is “The Start of Something New”  (which is slightly ironic because I missed that part of the movie last night).

The song has seemed fitting today though because many new things have happened. I got my new piccolo!! (I had never played one before today and that was interesting, but I’m excited to learn!) Our ReSpIn team in ID worked with the laser cutter and made huge progress in terms of design concepts and connects. Kat and I have been working on planning a big discussion around the “American Dream” and success, which we made a lot of great progress on today in AP Lang.  And tomorrow is my first meeting with the MViFi team now that we’ve actually announced that I’m the first MViFi Fellow, and I’m so excited! (I finally put my shirt on today that we joke about being a bowling team shirt, and it’s kind of giant on me considering there are only guy sizes, but it makes me laugh in a happy way anyway.)

I don’t know why exactly, but it just feels like a lot of “new” is coming soon to my life. It hasn’t quite hit yet, but there’s something in the wondering air…

(I feel the need to explain the term “wondering air,” it basically means “breeze” but it became a joke in Latin today because when we translated a piece literally it said “wondering air” which we all found funny and I thought it was fit in this situation for some reason.)