Taking Ownership

Today was the official last day of school for everyone at MVPS, which also means that we have officially finished a full year of the first ever student designed AP course!!! The Collab Course adventure has come to an end in some ways, but in other ways our adventure has only just begun. So for my final assignment I have created the MoVe Talk (Moment of Visible Empathy) below to capture a snapshot of what I have taken away from this experiance. I didn’t get feedback on this talk (which is a rare and nerve racking thing for me to do), because I just wanted to share my personal raw thoughts about the opportunity to own my learning in a way unlike any other. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my reflection of this glimpse at the future of education:


Disaster Plan

85b8117b-ebb5-4470-8d4c-74063446e9ea.jpgToday was preview night for our winter show The 39 Steps and it went superbly!!! The entire cast was really happy with tonight’s performance and can’t wait to keep up the energy and fix those last few tweaks for our shows for the rest of this week.

You know you’ve put on a good comedy show when the audience is cracking up the whole time, and that’s exactly what happened tonight! Everyone said they loved it and it was a hilarious joy to watch.

This ensemble has been working so hard (and for only a month at most) to put on this show, and I’m so happy to be a part of the process because it’s just been such a pleasure!

Between theater and the gymnastics competition season starting up, I’ve made a recent observation about myself: I’m pretty decent at pre planning disaster plans. When ever I choreograph a routine or memorize for a new show, I always try to memorize everything correctly, but then I also think about a few scenarios about what could potentially go wrong to try and figure out what I would do in those situations. In both cases that means how can you best make up for what ever you missed by tweaking your normal flow a little.

So, maybe add a little more dance, or tweak a later line to make up for something important that was missed (by you or another stage mate), or shoving a prop into someone’s pocket in order to get it to the other side of the stage.

This is one of those random skills that I wouldn’t normally think of when thinking about  skills, but I’ve realized that this can be applied to other situations as well. Mainly when you give any presentation because you need to make sure you hit on everything that’s really important, so even if things don’t go in your exact planed order, make it happen; the show must go on!

Clearly you want to try to memorize and do things the intended way, but it’s kind of nice to practice some disaster plans because that way you are more prepared to think and act quick for when something inevitably doesn’t go exactly as planned.

It’s just a funny fail-up skill I’ve noticed this past week that I thought was worth sharing.

Not All at Once


I’ve been starting to notice this year how we have really been trying to incorporate aspects of design thinking into even the more “traditional” classes. Which is great! I mean it’s nice to know that teachers recognize the value of using design thinking as a tool and want to use it in their classes even if only portions at a time.

However, design challenges can really get intense; they are a lot of hard work and you are often exhausted when you finish one. Even just having Innovation Diploma time all Thursday morning can sometimes leave me pretty pooped afterwards because you build up and use a ton of energy mentally and even physically some of the time.

Now I’m that person that loves to get involved in tons of things; I’m a multipotentialite as I say. So it’s really easy for me to get curious and want to be involved in new design challenges when they come. (Just today in ID I was having to make a difficult decision as to what path I want to take for ID now that officially our design challenge module on healthy living  is over; however, I decided to continue working with a sub set of my design team on our challenge but now as an official coVenture.)

The problem is, that due to the nature of design challenges, you can’t work on a ton at once because each requires a great deal of focus and time commitment.

With this all said, I love how teachers are starting to incorporate design thinking and design challenges into their classrooms, but I’m also a little worried. If I was trying to work on a separate design challenge in each of my 7 periods, then none of them would really be all that great. It’s just not possible to spend the amount of time necessary to do a meaningful design challenge on that many different challenges at once.

So as we grow as a school and community of learners, I wonder how in the future classes might start to collaborate more so that students can maybe be working on 1 or 2 design challenges at once, but they explore aspects of their topic through the lens of different classes. Then students could focus their energies more specifically on challenges, and maybe it would also help teachers to have someone else to help plan with for facilitation purposes; I’ve rarely seen a design challenge facilitated by just one person.

A great example of something like this in action is a redesign the bike challenge created by 3 MVPS teachers combining the Engineering and Tech, AP Physics, and Algebra 2 classes. While I’m not in any of these classes myself, I’ve been reading some of the teachers blog posts about it and was a little more than jealous of the students that did get to participate. From what I’ve heard, there were definitely some struggles with it as expected with any first iteration, but it was a great start that I hope to see iterations on for the future that maybe even involve different classes for new challenges next time.

I wonder what the future of designing thinking in classrooms looks like. I imagine a future where one day there doesn’t even have to be the division of “classrooms”.

A 2nd Renaissance


I saw a musical today called Bullets Over Broadway. It was really good!!! It was a great cast and crew along with a great script. I was especially impressed with the dancing in the show. Often times the leads aren’t as talented in dance, which makes sense since they often have more training in the theater side of things, but even the leads in this show were able to hold their own in complex dance numbers.

This show made me start thinking about a few different things: 1. my work yesterday with some of my teachers on the humanities course brainstorm 2. the TEDTalk I watched on multipotentialites 3. my blog post on history being involved in everything we learn.

These different thoughts together made me think about the Renaissance. A time of rebirth, discovery, and exploration. A time known for great scholars, artists, and inventors. A time when science and art were considered to be foundational connected. A time when it was considered the norm to be trained in many different fields.

It’s often said that history repeats itself. If this is true, then I think that we are about to enter a new Renaissance period. I mean I almost feel like “education redesign” is more like going back to what it once was system wise, as in the Renaissance time, the difference is we now know more than we once did. By this I mean that people are realizing how closely connected courses are and how it’s becoming more desired for people to have experience in multiple fields in order to find connections and create innovations.

I love the time period of the Renaissance, and I’m excited and curious about the potential future Renaissance, that maybe we already entered even.

Forks and Spoons


I think I’m actually going to keep this post short for once.

Today in ID we had some discussions on design thinking based on the pieces we had read and watched over the past few days. In the discussion today we made the typical big point about what makes design thinking special: it’s all about empathizing with a user.

However, this idea was actually challenged by someone in the discussion which lead to an interesting moment where we discussed an important misnomer, in my opinion, about design thinking versus problem solving. They are related based on the square rectangle theorem as I call it, so all design thinking is a method of problem solving, but not all problem solving methods are design thinking.

This got me thinking, if design thinking has several generally accepted defined processes, do other types of problem solving have distinct processes? If not, why not? Would it be helpful to create distinct processes for different styles of problem solving to better understand each kind and when they should best be used?

All different methods of problem solving have their own time and place, just like a fork and a spoon: they are both silverware, but they are both distinctly different, and trying to eat soup with just a fork or spaghetti with just a spoon doesn’t work too well. Because we know how to use both, we know when it is better to use which type of silverware.

Starting a Design Sprint


Today was a pretty cool day for ID because we started our first big design sprint on “healthy living”. The idea of a design sprint is that you rapidly go through the entire design process in a limited time, typically just a few weeks. The best part? We have no idea what we will end up with!

Today we started with blog post observations that have been made in the past few weeks by various ID members. We did an “I See, I Think, I Wonder” activity to try and figure out what to make of these observations. My group specifically ended up exploring an abandoned garden on our campus behind the football field, and we came up with a ton of questions and list of people to interview to learn more about what the real problem even is.

We also had some people on campus today that were observing and interviewing us while we worked to learn more about what ID is and what it means to us. It was fun getting to talk to them, and I also enjoyed hearing more from the Jobs cohort today in general. It’s funny how much I can feel the beginner-ness. This isn’t a bad thing- everyone has to start somewhere- it’s just interesting to be in a new place this year in ID. In the groups we were broken up into, there was me and one other Disney cohort member and then 5 Jobs members, and I observed Margaret and I from the Disney group often helping to lead the Jobs cohort with how we should be tackling the challenge.

For example, one thing we tried to do was make sure the team wasn’t trying to jump to solutions too quickly. It is quite possible that the problem isn’t that we need to just build a new garden in the same place. We need to first start with users, real people, and discover what they actually need to discover what it is that we need to solve for.

I can’t wait for our work on this challenge to continue tomorrow because I think we got off to a great start with our questions about what use to be in the area and if the challenge is correlated to the way students take ownership of school spaces.

Debuting New Learning Adventures


Well it has come; the last true night of summer before I must be concerned with getting up the next morning at an annoyingly early hour.

It seems like the summer has just flown by. Fuse15, then Nerd Camp1 at Duke East for TIP, then acro camp, then Capon, then New York, then Yale, then soccer, and now school.

I spent today at school for my siblings orientations even though mine isn’t until tomorrow. I even got to see the new Studio(i) on the Lower School which is a fantastic new makers space! During the middle school orientation I almost just started laughing because they mentioned student led conferences and my first thought was “I was just reading about those for our new AP Lang course!!!”

For our collab-course, Kat and I will not be taking a final exam in the spring, and instead we will be doing what is sometimes referred to as a passage. We will be presenting to a panel of mentors about why we think we deserve to pass from this class into our senior year. It’s a neat concept we read about that really requires students to understand what the purpose of a class was and show how they met the learning outcomes. My hope is that by demonstrating our work in this way we will also be more proud of our “final exam” then if we were to just study and then sit down for a long test probably consisting of lots of multiple choice questions.

In the same article (sorry I don’t have the original still because I copied it so I could annotate it) that talked about passages, it also talked about student led conferences. The purpose of the conferences is similar to the purpose of the passage in the sense that the goal is for students to take ownership of their learning and be able to clearly articulate what they’ve been doing and learning at school. Rather than just parents coming in to talk to their child’s teacher about the child’s behavior and participation at school, the student is also present and serves as the person informing the parents with the teacher their for help and guidance if needed. From what I’ve read, it seems like this way of having a conference would be much more powerful to the parents because they’re getting to see for themselves how their child is growing as a learner. Not to mention this conferences hold teachers to a new standard because they also have to help make sure their students are prepared to lead a conference. Over all I’m really excited for both passages and student led conferences to be making their debut at MVPS this year!

Speaking of AP Lang, the course is still a go!!!! I can’t wait to get this syllabus sent off to the college board as soon as we can so we can make edits if need be! I’m even excited to start our first book during Chapter 2: The Art of Innovation, which to me almost feels like us going back to the start of ID when Kat and I read “The Falconer” because now we are going to read Grant Lichtman’s second book “#EdJourney”! I’m super excited to read what he has to say in this second book and can’t wait to start discussing the topics that he brings up!

I keep thinking about AP Lang because I was working on my summer project for it. To take it straight from our handy dandy syllabus, this is what the task we created for ourselves is:

Over the summer students will be required to find and read at least 10 articles of their choice. (Videos and podcast are also acceptable.) The students will then take these 10 sources and create a Hero’s Journey story board poster by finding connections between the different topics. When they get back to school the students will have a discussion based on what they learned from the articles, the struggles that they faced with creating a story with them, and the ideas they got from thinking about the cross pollination of ideas. In addition these articles will serve as the first pieces of writing for students to dig into in terms of style and rhetorical strategies. 

One of the big goals we are trying to achieve with our course is to take advantage of the work we already do and want to be doing and to showcase this learning in a way that demonstrates how we are meeting school standards as well as enjoying ourselves. We wanted summer to be no exception, so rather than reading a set book, we thought we would take advantage of the fact that we would be reading lots of articles and add in the idea of The Hero’s Journey while thinking like a designer about it by building connections between stories. It all just blends together to make a nice kick off to our year in this course!

I’m just so pumped to really get this ball rolling, and since I co-made the course, I also know that the work isn’t even close to over yet.

It’s the last night of summer, but I feel like I’ve barely left school, and somehow that feels ok. I’ve been realizing more and more that I really enjoy going to school because at MVPS we have some pretty cool stuff going on that you can’t find in most places, and from talking with so many other students, I know they’re jealous and think it’s awesome stuff too. 🙂

Conflict To Progress

I really wanted to blog last night, but then we had a team struggle where we really needed all hands on deck to work some stuff out. Our group conversation went on until 12:30 at which point I dropped out and went to sleep since we had to wake up at 5:45am, but there are always though few people in a group that don’t sleep and they finished off what needed to be done.

It was kind of interesting to see our team work through our last minute problem where we needed a new idea and summary written that night. I found even more interesting since what I was going to blog about was our leadership lecture last night titled “From Breakdown to Breakthrough!”

Based on a book written by Patrick Bencioni, there are 5 main causes for dysfunctions of a team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

We even talked about the fundamental question to all of this: “Why do we work in teams?” There are two main reasons we work in teams when you really condense things down: a) for more hands b) for more minds. I’d argue that the second one is more important. There are sometimes when you need a team simply because the project is too big for you alone and you need more man power, but more of the time we work in teams in order to get more opinions, ideas, and even sometimes just to have confirmation on plans. Pulling minds together is what makes a team unique and effective in my opinion.

However, when working with others, one of the things that helps most is to know what people need and how to identify conflict. People need comfort, support, to know they won’t be fired for failure (#failup), and room to risk take and innovate. (There were so many things in this lecture that just made me go, “Yup, there’s those MVPS Mindsets.”) These elements will all help eliminate the 5 main disfunction’s as well as the 4 horsemen of teams: contempt, criticism (including sarcasm which brought about an interesting conversation around joking sarcasm potentially still being negative), defensiveness, and stonewalling.

Now no one I know of can just decide “You know I’m not going to demonstrate any of these ideas anymore”– I’m decently sure it’s impossible actually. However, by knowing what to look out for it can help a team avoid breakdowns in which a team stops moving forward. The questions isn’t “How do we avoid conflict?”, but instead the question is, “How do we deal with and manage conflict to preserve relationships?” Conflict is pretty much inevitable, but conflict doesn’t have to lead to a breakdown. Sometimes conflict is exactly what is needed to move a project forward because conflict occurs when someone is brave enough to challenge an opinion, and when this happens it leads to a discussion that if handled correctly could potentially improve a product for the future.

To try and work though conflict productively, our lecture leader gave some tips. It helps to be specific with responsibilities upfront so everyone knows who is responsible for what. Then clarify what the terms are like who, when, where, how, and what if the worst happens, this way everyone is clear on the plan. A mentor of our leader had this great quote, “Most conflict happens in the absence of a good conversation.” If everything is discussed and understood at the beginning then imagine how much easier it would be to discuss problems when they occur? There could be an easier conversation about what went wrong with the plan, and then the team could start work at fixing it.

Conversations aren’t always easy though. A lot of times people just want to feel understood which is why showing empathy is so helpful. If you can start statements as “I statements” where you talk about how you are feeling rather than blaming others it may help others feel empathy for you as well. Our leader also brought up an interesting tip about scheduling times to talk (setting terms for the conversation), because sometimes the problem is that people get frustrated after a certain amount of time discussing a topic, but they know they need to have the conversation. If you can work out a more frequent but shorter time to have the conversation, then maybe it will help people avoid major conflict. And we talked about these ideas with all relationships between people, not just for teams working on a project, because everyone has a lot of relationships with people that are worth staying healthy.

I think one of the key things I left with was the idea of thanking someone when they express a contradictory view/concern compared to you, because when they give you feedback it means they think you can do better. It’s an interesting mindset that I think could help people avoid breakdowns.

Overall it was really a great lecture and I’ve loved all of our leadership lectures actually (as well as the engineering ones) because they just make you think.

Leading Animals


Today was super fun!!!

The challenge course was a little depressing though because it rained so we had to stay insight a bit longer, but luckily my TA group still stayed enthusiastic and demonstrated some good team working skills which makes me excited for the future as we move into our projects for the term.

We had our first lectures today and they were all really interesting and we had a good balance between engineering and leadership focused sessions.

First we got to hear about what are projects are going to be like. The cool thing is that everything we do can earn us points for the competition we’re having with all of the other engineering groups. Basically everyone gets points for all of the major activities with people in first place receiving the most and so on from there. There are also different point values for different activities. So our big projects, the sea perch and product pitch, are worth more points then things like our design plan for the sea perch. I think this added layer of competition is really going to help make people strive to do great things, and I’m ready for my team (currently known as “Team Team” until we decide on a different name) to kick butt! Later tonight we even got to start learning some engineering techniques like soldering and different diagrams we will have to create for our product pitch.

On the leadership side, we had our first Leadership Series Lecture on the personality matrix. Fairly early on in this lecture, everyone took a quick 10 question personality quiz that identified your dominant personality style as either an “analyzer owl” a “supporter koala” a “promoter peacock” or a “controller lion”. My dominant style ended up being a peacock, with lion in second, then owl, then koala. It was kind of cool actually because mine were fairly close with numbers of 34, 25, 21, and 20 on the quiz which was different from how most people had one clear winner and one that was in the teens at best. Amongst other things, some strengths of peacock are that we are creative, curious, expressive, enthusiastic, and involved; however, some weaknesses are that we often are bad at making decisions, get easily distracted, and can get too talkative.

The cool thing was that after discovering your lead animal, we broke up into groups based on our animals to actually discuss these strengths and weaknesses along with an ice cream flavor, vehicle, and song that described us. Meanwhile the TA’s were observing us to see how our actions reflected our personalities. For example the first thing my group did when we saw each other was high five everyone and then we immediately started talking, and fairly loudly. Then when someone came over to ask what we had decided we were like, “Well we’ve come up with a bunch of ideas but haven’t really picked anything specific. However, we did decide to combine the vehicle, song, and ice cream flavor all into one by having our symbol be an ice cream truck so we get all of the flavors and any music on the radio along with the slightly annoying but sometimes catchy jingle.” Even when it was time to present, we had people volunteer to go first and they really just improved most of it and took a while to really explain in detail.

After talking a lot about the different types though, our leader made sure to discuss how you don’t want to just label yourself as one thing or use that as an “excuse” for weaknesses. Everyone has moments in every mode. Like lion mode when you step up to delegate positions, or owl mode when you want to really focus on finding facts, or koala mode when you need to stop and think about how to help people emotionally. These are all just examples that go to say that we aren’t just an animal- we are humans. Humans have many different moods and character traits that make us each different and special. Even though we may not be fantastic at some skills, it is important to be aware of all different types of strengths and to know when you may need to think in a less dominate state of mind perhaps. We also learned an interesting study about how people often are more comfortable working with people within their dominate personality type, but groups are often more productive when they have a mix of the four types. Which makes sense, because then you can take advantage of everyone’s different skills if you work effectively.

After learning about all of this I stopped and considered some of my closet friends at school and realized that we have a pretty diverse mix from all of the groups based on my guess of what group people would be in (and I could very easily be wrong, but I do know them pretty well). I thought this was cool because it means science and statistics are kind of backing up the fact we already knew: we work well together. I don’t know why, but it always fascinates me when I discover little things like this where science is backing up something I’ve observed but couldn’t quite explain.

I don’t know about everyone else here, but I’m definitely just as excited to learn more about leadership and myself as I am to learn about engineering and doing both activities as well. I kind of feel like all of this is going to come back full circle with my iVenture somehow. It’s only day 2 but I feel like we’ve done so much!!

Day 1 with the Green Echo Squad



Another rocking day at fuse15!!!!!!!!!! I’m worn out from all of the great work, but I still can’t wait for tomorrow!

To start the day some of us student coaches lead a spark with everyone which is always fun, and that went well which is always nice! Then I had an awesome time meeting with my team for the first time and getting right to work trying to uncover the needs of our users for the green team.

My team was full of great listeners which was really helpful because everyone was really working to understand the process even when we pushed them out of their comfort zones, and the team was great and catching insights and accepting feedback which is pretty tricky to do. I think these behaviors will really help going into tomorrow when we keep iterating and preparing for that final pitch before DEEPed where we will have an un-conference around what the recruits want to know about design thinking in the classroom.

However, my team did suffer a little from the team dynamic where we are missing that decision making person. Trying to help push the team through decision making was definitely a coaching struggle for me today because that is the part of the process where I also struggle most, so like always it was a learning moment.

Our team was pretty good at flaring “what if” questions and identified a ton of HMWs, but then as we tried to narrow we got into that design cliff low moment of the process. This is typical of any design team, you often go through your really high moments where you are filled with creative energy, and then later you have a low moment where you just have no idea what you are doing or where to go next. Luckily Ms. Cureton came over and helped to reassure the team that where we were at was perfectly ok and suggested for us to just use the “safe bet” “long shot” dot sticker technique where everyone puts a dot by what they think is the more easily solvable HMW and then another by the one they think would be awesome but potentially harder to solve for.

Through out that next hour or so there was still a lot of reminding of, “We aren’t quite at the same step as others, but that’s ok because design thinking is a process and it is not linear so groups will often be at different stages at different times and that’s expected.” If every group was always moving at the exact same pace during a design thinking challenge, then the participants probably weren’t getting the most out of the experience, and I’d bet the ideas/solutions wouldn’t be as awesome, user centered, and applicable which would kind of take away the point of the process in the first place.

The dot voting helped us narrow to 2 HMWs, but we still couldn’t narrow to one, so instead we divided and ideating using a tool from our DEEP Playbook we call 6 Sketchy Circles. The tool is pretty straight forward: there are 6 circles and you sketch (not write, actually sketch!) one idea in each circle usually while on a quick time limit.

We still couldn’t narrow…

This is where sometimes the time crunch and mindset of “keep moving forward” really can come in handy. We were being pushed by our d.team commander to start prototyping, so we just made a quick decision to go with a very early idea and just start prototyping to see where it would go.

I found this very ironic because in my MoVe Talk last night I talked about how even when you won’t feel ready to take action, sometimes the best thing to do is just start prototyping. Well today my point was proven.

We started prototyping and I must admit I was definitely not really hooked on our solution just because I tend to stay away from the awareness like solutions. However, being a coach, I ran with it and and helped out where I could.

Then possibly the biggest win moment for me today was when our users came over to give us feedback and told us how much they really loved our idea! (Short version: We designed a logo for the collaborative group as well as some merchandize they could sell that ties to their believes around recycling and organic goods.)

After the feedback we got after round one of prototyping, we realized that we needed to go back and work on our story more. While we have tangible products that would eventually be sold, our prototype is almost experientially with the logo and name because it is serving as a connection between the 3 different organizations and helping to spread their believes into the public community.

The cool thing was that our ideas really came full circle during this new iteration because we realized that there was a whole separate layer to our prototype that actually solved for the need we observed with our 2nd HMW. The second HMW was more focused on the individual users of the organizations rather than the organizations themselves, and we realized we were helping another need because creating the products would offer a wide variety of job opportunities. (Remember back when we couldn’t decide on a HMW? Well we accidentally solved both which is just another cool part about design thinking! It’s all circular thinking not linear!!!!)

A general observation I also noted today was about how far those of us that are coaches have come with our storytelling/pitching skills to be able to give quality feedback to recruits. With my work on creating our collab-course for AP Lang I’ve been working a ton with the hero’s journey and seeing it applied EVERYWHERE, and with a good pitch really it’s all about having a good story. You have to have a good story to make people realize why your product/solution is needed and why this is one of the best solutions out there.

I know we will focus more on how to give a good pitch tomorrow, so I’m curious how the presentations for some groups will change after that more intensive work on that area of the challenge. Personally I think the pitch is one of the most important parts because you could have a great idea but not be able to communicate it so nothing happens to it while an ify idea with a really convincing pitch could go somewhere. I honestly wish we spent more time during school practicing story telling/presenting skills because it’s just as important to be able to communicate your ideas with people well verbally as it is to be able to write them.

Overall today was a great day of design thinking and I’ve particularly been so happy with how accepting recruits have been to the process because it can be pretty uncomfortable as a first timer for some, especially when teaming with people you may have just met. As tomorrow comes I’m excited to ideas come to life further and for DEEPed where some burning questions about design thinking in the class room will hopefully be answered.