The Education Ecosystem


Remember those times in elementary school where you study ecosystems? “What’s at the top of the food chain? What provides nutrients to what? How does everything relate together? Do you see how we are creating a web not just one strict path?”

I remember in 3rd grade doing a project on the rain forest. The rain forest is one of the most biodiverse places on the Earth. There are thousands of species that all work together to create  beautiful and constantly evolving environment. I created a visual chart that showed just a snippet of some animals and plants living in this ecosystem and even with just the maybe 15 species I was able to fit on a poster board, I had created a web of lines between how these species interact with one another.

In 4th grade, I got the chance to actually visit a rain forest while in Puerto Rico. I first hand got to see how different species have adapted to continue surviving in this ecosystem. I remember seeing a tree that had fallen over, but it over time had curved up because the roots were still semi in the ground and therefore the tree still wanted sunlight to keep living. The branches all arched at weird angles to try and maximize the amount of sunlight it could absorb. The tree continued to live even after being pushed down by its surroundings.

Grant Lichtman, in Part 3 of his book #EdJourney talks about how education needs to change from an engineered system created by humans to resemble an assembly line, to a natural, self-evolving ecosystem of flowing ideas and knowledge. I personally love this metaphor and entirely agree that education needs to exist as an ecosystem.

Furthermore I love the distinction Mr. Lichtman makes with the role humans play in this ecosystem:

“True ecosystems share one critically important attribute: Ecosystems are not designed by humans. Instead humans exist within ecosystems. In my view, great learning and education do not ‘act like an ecosystem.’ Great education is an ecosystem. There is a big difference.” (p.224)

The conversation Kat and I had today during our 20/20, reminded me a lot of conversations I’ve been having around the ideas of assessment/measurement lately about how we need to have systems that are limitless. The next big change that needs to occur in education is creating an entire system, an ecosystem, that is able to constantly, and naturally evolve over time like how a periodic table can predict future elements. In the past we have a system, then we discover this system doesn’t work, so we put a bunch of effort into completely changing the system.

I don’t want to keep doing a complete change of the system every decade or so when we realize that our education system isn’t keeping up with a changing world culture. I want an education system that changes and evolves with our changing world culture.

The Wisdom of Justice


So I honestly don’t know where this 20/20 on Plato’s Book 1 of The Republic will go because to be honest, philosophy is hard to capture in words sometimes.

Book 1 ends in an “agree to disagree” situation between Socrates and several others while trying to decide on a definition of justice, and a “just man”. This conversation begins with a discussion about old age, and how someone makes the claim of old men being wise.

I like how Socrates describes that you can’t just become old and then instantaneously become wise, but instead your character as a person throughout your life time influences what you are like in old age.

But what makes someone wise?

How are wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and education related and yet different?

Well here are my thoughts.

Knowledge is knowing facts. Intelligence though, is being able to interpret and analyze these facts to make conclusions and actually put the knowledge you have to use in your life situation. Wisdom then, is the ability to learn from the experiences that occur in your life and to be able to teach the intelligence you’ve gained to others. Education finally, is the actual process of learning and teaching facts.

So you may notice that education leads back to knowledge once again, thus forming a lovely circle. (Because we all know life is full of circular thinking, and circles are pretty cool.)

But Plato is writing about justice, so how does wisdom connect to justice?

This is the question I am left still pondering, but I’m thinking that in order to be just you must use your wisdom. When you reach the point of being able to teach something to someone else, then you must know that thing well enough to help influence decisions that need to be made around a debate around that thing. (I feel that I may be getting a little “up in the clouds” as we say in Chemistry when we start speaking more conceptually, but again, philosophy is hard to articulate without some extent of confusion and with things left for interpretation.)

So I’m not going to attempt to define justice yet, but I am starting to conceptualize the relations between education, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, and justice. So hopefully, like the periodic table, once I have more background information I will be able to predict the future better and therefore better understand justice itself.

Justice is not a simple thing, it is a concept, defined by the definer, used to settle debates, created to shape governments. A just man is one that must try and decide that which is the just decision. This task is difficult and requires much wisdom.

Venturing Forward


It seems like it has been far too long since I’ve given just a general update about how things have been going in our Collab Course AP Lang class designed and run by Kat and myself.

Things have been going really well lately, and as we venture forward I just want to share some highlights of exciting things that have, are, and will be happening in this class.

We recently had our paper discussing solutions to The Creativity Crisis published on #Satchat Daily (under education) one of the biggest sources for education resources, as well as on the MViFi blog.

We’ve been reading Grant Lichtman’s book #EdJourney, and have been creating blog posts about our reflections on the book. These posts have also had their fair share of retweets and likes on Twitter! We’re also currently trying to work out a time where we can actually have a Google Hangout with Mr. Lichtman to get to discuss some of his book as well as how he went about the actual creation of the book since that is something Kat and I are both interested in.

In general, Kat and I have also started to get into a better flow as far as how we decide what to work on each day. For the most part, Mondays and Wednesdays are what we call “APLle Days” where we work on more of your typical AP Lang stuff like timed essays, multiple choice, vocab (both AP Lang terms to know as well as our running list that we each add 5 new words to a week that we read and think the other should also know), discussions, that kind of stuff that we know just has to be done to some extent still since this is an AP class. Then on Thursdays and Fridays we have “Explore Days” where the schedule is a little more open ended to allow time and space for our “normal” routine to be disrupted allowing for creativity and learning to flourish. Sometimes these days involve working on iVenture work that involves writing that we can use each other for feedback on. Other times we end up in deep discussions around forms of feedback and assessment and design thinking with some of our ID facilitators who often work close by. At times situations and opportunities could arise where we end up trying to decipher an instruction booklet with no words and put together a robotic hand. Sometimes it just means having meetings with mentors to work on ways to further enhance our skills as innovative learners and further develop our AP Lang program itself.

One of the recent programatic decisions that Kat and I made about a month or so ago was starting a new activity we call a “20/20“. Typically we do a 20/20 on Monday’s since it is our shortest class together each week, so over the weekend we will each read some piece. (Lately this has been a mixture of #EdJourney sections or pieces related to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.) Then on Monday in class we will spend 20 minutes discussing the reading piece, then we will spend 20 minutes writing a blog post reflection on the discussion. This gets us in the habit of enhancing our discussion skills while also getting us to practice having to organize and write down our thoughts in a short amount of time. So far these have been going really well and I’ve actually appreciated the time constraint since it has challenged me to try and be creative, articulate, and clear quickly.

I’ve already talked some about #EdJourney, but I would like to talk more about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. From the start of the creation of this course, both Kat and I knew we wanted to read The Allegory of the Cave no matter what. As sophomores the piece had come up a few times in discussions and it sounded really interesting to us since some of the main points have to do with education and what is the “truth”–two things we are both passionate about. After reading the piece even just once, we both absolutely loved it!! So we did some research on how other people responded to the piece and furthered our understanding of its meaning.

However, just reading Plato once doesn’t help get everything across. We were so inspired by the piece that we started talking with my Latin teacher about how we might do more with the piece. He too thinks the piece is great and even made an interesting comparison to the work we do with our class and how it’s like the prisoner in the story who is let out of the cave. Since then he has helped us pick other pieces of Plato’s work to read (actually we will have a 20/20 on book 1 of The Republic this Friday) and helped us figure out a big theme we want to focus on: status quo. What is the status quo? How is it defined? Why do cultures value the status quo? What does it mean to go against the status quo? What happens to the people who challenge the status quo? Why do they do it? Kat and I hope to read and discuss much more over the coming days before the end of first semester, and hopefully create a joint MoVe Talk to help express our findings while also tying in work we’ve done throughout the year.

A few other things that we hope to do before the end of the year are to revamp our blog sites to work on better organizing and capturing our work, and also to learn more about what a good portfolio looks like and go back through our work to pick out bright spots from our journey so far.

What I’ve really loved about our course is that we have truly had the freedom to explore while learning and doing meaningful work. When I write something for a class that then ends up getting published and talked about by people you don’t even know, I feel incredibly proud and motivated to continue writing and improving my skills. Getting to talk to a wide array of mentors has also been amazingly fun and helpful because it means we are getting feedback from a multitude of perspectives from a California student to educators we’ve never met in person to our own Latin teacher, which hopefully has made us more rounded with our writing.

Plus I can’t even begin to emphasize how amazing it feels to not have to stress about grades. I feel more courageous to take risks and try new things, plus I don’t find myself up late worrying about a quiz, but instead I find myself curious and researching to be prepared for a discussion and writing assignment that I’m happy to get feedback on. Without grades our feedback feels like it is more focused on really trying to help us improve as a reader and writer, and have end products that go somewhere and contribute to larger conversations. I even had a teacher comment on one of my posts about The Allegory of the Cave about how she wanted to share my work with her students who were learning about different perspectives.

While we still take the AP Lang exam at the end of the year, and even the same midterm as the traditional AP Lang course students will take, I am not going to be judging the value of this course based on how we score. Sure we want to score well, but even if we aren’t spectacular, I don’t want to judge a whole year off of two tests. Learning is so much more than that. I know I’ve been learning; with reading and writing, as well as many other skills like sending emails to people you haven’t met, and organizing class structures, and knowing when to pivot and how to manage the unexpected. I’ve seen my improvement. I’ve read and heard my feedback. I know I have room to grow, but I also know I’ve been growing, and that to me means success.

As this year goes on I can’t wait to see what else comes out of this course. It may only be two weeks until Thanksgiving break, but there is still so much learning ahead of us, and I’m excited for it!

Venturing Back to the Prison Cave


Today was another 20/20 Day: Allegory of the Cave part 2. 

Today Kat and I discussed Plato’s Allegory of the Cave again, because this is one of those pieces that you just have to reread since new insights come from it each time.

From the combination of multiple discussions, I think I am starting to have a more refined definition of “truth”. Truth is the agreed upon facts that a group decides upon. There are always multiple truths, and that doesn’t necessarily mean there is a “right” or “wrong” truth, it simply means they are different. This makes the line between truth and belief hard to define.

In the terms of the allegory, Plato says, “[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”Which seems to argue that the prisoners do not know the truth because they only see the shadows. However, later he says, “[Socrates] But then, if I am right, certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.” This new statement eludes to the idea that knowledge must build upon itself. After all, you can not do calculus without first understanding basic principles of geometry.

Therefore, if knowledge builds upon itself, and truth is built upon knowledge, then the prisoners must have some sort of known truth. Plato uses light as a metaphor for knowledge and understanding, so I find it interesting then that shadows can only be seen if there is some light. While the prisoners may not be able to full see the light source, they do have some knowledge and understanding; they just are not yet exposed to the full truth.

The prisoners know that there is more out there: “At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains.” While their curiosity pained them, Plato does not deny that the prisoners were curious and knowledgeable enough to know there must be something they can not see. This is a truth that the prisoners understand.

They might not know what is out there where they can’t see, but they hypothesize that there is something.

If the prisoners are ever expected to understand the truth, Plato claims that their guardians must venture back into the cave themselves: “[Socrates] I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the cave, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.” The guardians, if they wish to become teachers, must join their students, the prisoners, to understand what truths they understand in order to help guide them to a fuller understanding of the truth.

Teachers must invest themselves in the world of students, if they wish to truly challenge and grow their perspectives, beliefs, and understanding of the truth.

Knowing Your Brain


Kat and I had another AP Lang 20/20 (20 minute discussion, 20 minutes reflecting on it) on #EdJourney today. This time we were discussing part 2 of the book “Blazing the Trail: What Does Transformative Learning Look Like?”

I’ve really been enjoying this book as a whole, but one of the specific things that the book has made me ponder really deeply is thinking about “What would my ideal education system look like?”

Towards the end of Part 2 specifically, there is a section titled “mindfulness” on page 171. This portion talks about neuroscience and how teachers at the University of California, San Diego use what we know about neuroscience to dive deeper into how students learn and how they should be taught.

I found myself wishing that we as students were required to take neuroscience; even greater, a neuroscience/phycology transdiciplinary course.

Teachers often say they want to teach a certain grade based on where students are in their life during that particular moment in their schooling career. I still recall a moment during my freshman year where one of my teachers said that they loved teaching freshman because freshman year has a lot to do with self discovery, and that’s what this teacher wanted to help mentor students with figuring out.

I wish that we put even more emphasis on self discovery. Imagine if every student studied neuroscience and phycology and got to learn about how brains work, and specifically got to talk about why everyone learns differently. Then imagine if students were actually able to layout “These are my strengths, this is what influences me most, and this is how my skills work well with other people.”

As a junior, I still don’t think that I have a great grasp on how I learn or what my greatest strengths are, or why I am able to do the things that I do. Sometimes people talk about “great teachers” or “great students” and we can identify these people, but do we really know why? What makes a great teacher? What makes a great student?

Furthermore, how often do we reflect on these concepts while in school? There were several points in Part 2 where the idea of reflection came up. How some schools, such as Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, South Carolina, take about 20 minutes out of their daily schedule to actually be quiet, take a walk, and just ponder in thought and then share out if they want at the end.

This reminds me of retreats and camps I’ve gone on/to, but the section “Stopping” challenged some of my assumptions by posing the question of “Do reflection and deep talks have to be reserved for retreats?” What if we had this quite time imbedded into the day?

Now my school specifically, MVPS, has lots of blocked off time that’s “free time” for students to work on things. We have a 20 minute break on Monday’s, lunch and enrichment everyday, and a 20 minute club time on Fridays. However, personally, and I know it is the same for many others, I end up using most of this time for meetings.

I’d maybe like this break in the day to stop and reflect, but it is hard to do so on my own. I think it would be neat to have everyone stop, think, and wonder for times during the day.

Then maybe I could reflect and think during school rather than getting distracted while reading this great book that makes me rethink about everything. 🙂

Imagining the Unknown



That’s how I want to start, just with whoa.

Kat and I just had another 20/20 as we call it, where we discuss for 20 minutes, and now we will blog for 20 minutes on the discussion. The idea is that this gets us to practice discussion skills and prioritizing what information is truly worth bringing up and taking further, and also it gets us to practice writing and refining our thoughts in a short amount of time. Just keep this in mind while reading the continuation of my post, because discussing philosophy and responding to it in a short amount of time can make for some confusing thoughts.

Today’s discussion was on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, which we read on Monday, and then for homework we each read multiple different articles on how people responded to this piece of text. The allegory itself is about a cave with people chained in the cave that can only see one wall. However, people will walk by the cave and fire helps project shadow images onto the wall that the cave people can see. One person is then “shown the light” when he is taken outside of the cave for the first time to discover that his reality is not the only one, and in fact the shadows that they were seeing in the cave were not the true figures themselves. Furthermore, when the cave person that is let out comes back into the cave, the others don’t believe what he says about the “true reality”.

The responses that I read had common themes of relating Plato’s allegory to ideas around religion, truth, and education. An interesting assumption that Kat and I noted was that most people assume that the cave people are uneducated and don’t understand reality. However, the cave people do in fact have a reality, it is just different from those outside of the cave.

Truth is defined by those who discuss it.

However, the big question that Kat and I discussed, which I don’t know if I can fully answer myself yet, was “What do the cave people’s imaginations look like?” We have come to somewhat of an understanding that imagination is based off of experience and what you know. It is really hard to imagine something without using any information that you already know. Like when trying to imagine a new animal, I first would say “well to be an animal a thing must be alive”. This is a conceived fact that I know to be true based on the human world’s definition of truth.

Therefore, (this is going to be a sloppy transition I’m almost sure of it, but my brain is currently processing in an odd assortment of thoughts that aren’t necessarily logical conclusions for everyone…) if we imagine new ideas based on previous experiences and knowledge, doesn’t it make sense for education to be taught through continuously experiencing new things?

Like learning about commas for example. First you learn to read words and you may see a comma and thus ask and learn it’s name. Then you learn when you read a comma you must take a pause. Next you start to learn different times to use commas. Then you write your own sentences with commas. Finally, the original “exact” definition of what a comma is becomes distorted, but you still use commas.

After you learn about commas, then when you see a semi colon, you notice that it includes something that resembles a comma. You can then imagine, based on your understanding of a comma being a break in a sentence where you take a brief pause, that a semi colon also involves a break and pause in writing.

Learning builds on itself. You take what you know from past experiences to apply it to new ideas. So if we keep disrupting the norm and learning things in new ways, then we will be able to constantly increase our imagination and creativity capabilities.

Putting on a Leadership Hat


Today Kat and I had our first big discussion on #EdJourney after having finished “Part 1: Roadblocks: How Can We Overcome the Biggest Obstacles to School Reform”. Now to be honest, Kat and I both felt that the book is more written for an audience that is either a teacher or educator rather than a student, but that’s ok it just challenged us to change how we read. Personally I’ve been reading the book through the perspective of a leader.

We are trying to make this a timed writing piece so rather than going into depth on our discussion I would like to point out a few key insights I found through our reading and discussion today:

  • Teams and organizations need to break the mold of pyramid structured leadership if they wish to innovate and instead have a richer system of many levels and different people that can be trusted to lead.
  • Leaders must be challenged in order for improvement and innovation to occur. It is uncomfortable to ask teammates hard questions, but it is necessary. This is a cultural change that needs to take place.
  • Decision making should not all be done by one person; therefore, people need to be able to trust others with the responsibility involved in making decisions in order to innovate.
  • Giving people a title helps them feel more empowered as a leader that can be responsible in that area of work, and helps give others someone to go to other than a “top dog” on a traditional leadership pyramid.
  • I wonder when it is right to lead by example versus letting others experience and struggle with something on their own.
  • We wish there was a book like this exploring innovative colleges and universities are the country.
    • And it would be really cool if we could do this as high schoolers or college students… (including writing a book about the findings.)
  • We wonder what it would be like for high schoolers to have more opportunities like those of college students to go on long “breaks” for learning outside of school. Like building a school in the rainforest of Thailand. Or traveling the country talking to different educators. Or trying to find a solution to clean water. Or apprenticing artist for a few weeks. (We both went on college visits this weekend so study abroad, internships, and co-op  opportunities are on our minds.)