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!

The Future is Here

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For the past four years, and even longer than that really, the year 2017 has been talked about as this mystical year in the future. This great year that we’ve worked so hard to get to. The year I turn 18. The year I graduate high school. The year I go to college. The year so much changes.

It’s always seemed so far away; a distant future. The end of the line and the beginning of a new era.

Now it’s only hours away.

2017, the year of my future is so close I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that I turn 18 in a mere two days and I graduate in a few months and I go to college in less than a year. So much is about to happen in my life, so much that has been talked about for all of the years of my existence.

Everything has always been “leading to 2017”- well now it’s here and not slowing down.

First semester has gone by so fast. Life has been crazy to say the least. Between home, school, work, and friends there has been a lot going on. (So much that I’ve not been able to blog nearly as much as I’ve wanted due to so many late nights…)

I’m told that second semester goes by even faster for seniors. After accounting for breaks, trips and events, and senior work days, there are hardly any school days left for seniors. Graduation is just around the corner and sometimes I feel incredibly ready, and other times I feel incredibly not.

But 2017 will come all the same. It is here. It is now. It is time. Image result for 2017

Time for 2016 to be over and time for things to start changing. The new year is here; class of 2017, good luck, because our future has arrived.

 

Blogging Helps with College

Image result for essay writingIt’s amazing how much blogging has made my life better. Not only has it made me a better writer, increased my network, allowed me to track my learning, helped me clarify thoughts in my head, and gotten incredible writing opportunities, but it’s also helped a lot in the college process.

Most students have a hard time writing about themselves because creative non-fiction is a genre of writing that is focused on hardly at all in grade school. However, my blog is entirely about myself in someway or another because it’s all about my thoughts on the world, and my actions, and my life in general. My blog has helped me find my voice- not just the voice I take on when trying to write for school- but my authentic internal voice, which is supposedly what colleges want to see.

I’ve had the opposite problem of most students when writing my college essay because most students don’t know what to say or where to begin. Meanwhile, I’ve grown so use to writing a story every single day, that I felt like I had a million stories I could potentially use for my Common App essay. I had 3 different drafts done by Senior BootCamp, and had many more stories I could’ve told. I then narrowed it down to two, but thought they both represented me well. Finally, after some help from my college councilor tonight, I was able to pick one for my Common App essay which has to do primarily with when I first gave my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer.

I can only wait until I start working on college specific essays and other supplement questions, because with my blog it’s so easy to just scroll through the past few years and remember not only things that I’ve done, but also how I felt and what I was thinking about the day they happened. It’s kind of the best!

 

I’m No Editor

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 8.34.31 PM.pngAn article of mine went live today on the e-magazine Pioneering: Education Reimagined!!!! I posted an early draft of this article on my blog around mid-summer but I’m much happier with this final draft, and very happy to have one more thing off of my plate!

The most interesting thing about this experiance was having an editor. I don’t have very good grammar. I’ve accepted this fact long ago. In fact I spelled grammar wrong writing that last sentence the first time. However, apparently my thoughts that I write about are at least interesting and well written enough for people to want to read them.

In school though this typically doesn’t matter much. I never saw myself as a writer for years because I never made all that great of grades in English class due to my poor grammar. If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that not all good writers are editors. Like wise, I know people who are good editors but not all that great at writing themselves. However, when good writers work with good editors, pretty epic stuff happens.

It was nice to be able to write something for a specific reason where I was more concerned with the ideas then the grammar for a change. Because I was able to work with other people who read over my work to help with grammar details, and it made my writing look better which was cool!

No one ever works entirely on their own. Even book authors. I wish in school we spent more time focusing on the different skills everyone has, and how people can work together to make something great. We don’t all need to be writers, or editors, or artists, or mathematicians, or historians, or scientists, etc, but we do need to know enough about different areas and about ourselves to know how our strengths can work with others to accomplish meaningful work.

2 Years of Blogging Later

images.jpgWhat started as just a fun challenge to create a blog and post for 100 days in a row has now become an integral part of my life. Blogging may not be for everyone, but for me it has helped me clarify some of my observations and thoughts on different parts of my daily life, and the best part is that I’m able to track and record my reflections, insights, and key learning moments throughout each year. With it being about the middle of summer now, and with the fact that I won’t have access to much internet or phone service for at least the next week, I find that it’s a great time for me to zoom out and reflect upon my key learning moments from the past year as a whole about myself, utilizing the design process, and the future of education.

This past year I have significantly expanded my understanding of these 5 ideas:

  1. The need for flexible schedules  
  2. The role of teachers
  3. Prototyping and launching
  4. Sense of self
  5. The future of student voice

In the “real world” people do not work on a bell schedule that has obscure periods of time that go from 10:15-11:05. This past year I have started to do even more “real world work” where I’ve found myself struggling to find times to meet with people due to my odd school schedule. However, within my project based learning time, I have wider chunks of time where I’m able to get ample work done. I’ve written a few times this past year about how we’re often just waiting for Thursdays when we have so much flexible time- the first half of the day- to really get deep into our work by going off campus, interviewing people, working on prototypes with tools, etc: “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.” — Waiting For Thursdays 

And imagine with the amount of work that can happen during half a day, when given a whole week I got the opportunity to travel with other members of the MVPS Innovation Diploma cohort to San Fransisco to work with Stanford students at the d.School on design thinking challenges: ID at the d.School If we hope for students to be doing work with companies within our communities, than we need to support this type of work by having school schedules that are more flexible to allow for meetings, and off campus work, and time to really get into a flow of working.

The biggest adventure of this year for me has to have been the AP Lang Collab Course which has allowed me to take ownership of my learning in a way never before experienced. This past year a partner and I created and participated in the first ever student designed AP course which we called the AP Lang Collab Course. We created this course because we wanted to challenge the education status quo, have the opportunity to test project ideas we’ve had over the years, and have the freedom to take control of our learning as we explore our interests through the lense of language. For this to work we had to be the student, teacher, facilitator, coach, mentor, everything all in one, and with this newfound ownership of our learning I developed a better understanding for how I envision a 21st century teacher. “I can teach, mentor, coach, and facilitate, but when I’m in a class I want someone who can bring their past experiance in to help constantly change between all 4 of these roles and more when needed. I want a guide in the classroom. Someone to teach me skills, and mentor me through stress, and coach me to be confident, and facilitate me and my peers around common challenges. Most importantly though, a guide occasionally let’s it’s followers explore the woods and decide what path to turn down. A guide helps students along the path they choose and points out the important landmarks along the way.”— Taking Ownership 

Another huge project for me this past year was my work with the ReSpIn Organization which strives to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change around 21st century sustainability. Our team was formed because we observed that while MVPS teachers, students, faculty, and parents all observe the importance of recycling and being an environmentally sustainable school, more can be done to make MVPS a leader of environmental sustainability. So we explored the question, “How might we make sustainability a part of our DNA at MVPS?”

The first product to come from the ReSpIn team is called the RISE Sustainability System. This system is a learning tool for teachers and students to use in order to help facilitate conversations and activities around sustainability. The product is a space saving waste and recycling bin in one made out of PVC, wood, and zip ties in a way that allows for anyone, of any age, to set up the RISE bin on their own. This clever design allows for classrooms to set up their own RISE bin and use that experience to jumpstart the learning on sustainability. For this project we created dozens of prototypes, and had many moments where we struggled with taking the RISE bin to the next level. This struggle though, is truly what happens in the “real world” with product designs; they take time and lots of prototypes and feedback. The most inspiring piece of feedback that we were given was from a little 5th grade girl who told me, “This is the best design challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”- RISE to New Levels. My work with the ReSpIn team isn’t complete yet, but after this year I’ve learned the true value of prototyping early and getting feedback from a myriad of people in order to push ideas forward.

Amongst the things that I’ve learned about school and design thinking, I’ve also learned a lot about myself over this past year. I’ve always been a person with countless interests, passions, and after school activities that have consumed my “free time.” I’ve often thought of this as a problem because I can’t make up my mind on how to spend my time because I get too interested in everything simply because I’m curious and love learning. Then I watched the Ted Talk, Why some of us don’t have one true calling, and it was possibly the most moving TED Talk I’ve watched yet, because Emilie Wapnick introduced me to a world of people just like me and helped talk about the positive side to being what she calls a “multipotentialite”:  

  • Idea Synthesis: bringing together seemingly different concepts together to find the intersections where great ideas come from.
  • Rapid Learning: getting deeply curious about one thing and learning a ton about it before moving on to the next thing to also learn a ton about.
  • Adaptability: being able to put on different hats in different situations where different roles are necessary.

I’ve been discovering a deeper sense of self which is an essential part of learning. I’m a person with many different interests, but I can also find the connections between these diverse topics easily which helps me to build project teams and relate things like gymnastics and education transformation.I’m A Multipotentialite 

Learning more about myself has also helped me learn more about ways that I can contribute to the movement to transform education. This year I served as an MVIFI (Mount Vernon Institute For Innovation) Fellow which opened up a number of opportunities for me where I would be leading all kinds of educators in conversations and challenges. In design thinking we highly value and work with our users. The main users of schools are the students. So it only makes sense that for us to re-design schools, we need to value and work with students. Not only is it helpful for students to provide feedback and be involved with ideating on projects, but it also is a huge confidence builder as a student to be talking with external mentors on “real world” issues such as education transformation—External Mentors Make Things Real 

All of these key learning moments from this past year have been made even greater in my mind because I was able to reflect upon them on my blog. Blogging has given me a place to share my story in a way where I can also easily look back and find trends and connections between my observations. Plus on top of everything, I’m constantly expanding my network and getting new opportunities. I know I’m not the best writer in the world, and I know it’s an area that I could most improve on, but since I’ve been blogging I’ve grown a new confidence and joy in my writing. Writing helps us think, reflecting helps us grow, sharing helps make the world a better place, and blogging is all 3 in one!

Documenting My Work

Happy belated 4th of July! I spent this weekend with family in Tennessee and accomplished several things I’ve been working on recently: I made good progress on my 5th book of the summer, I finished choreographing more routines for next year, finished an application essay for a weekend program at a college, and I finally got all of the spring showcase routines I choreographed onto youtube!

So now I can finally upload and thus document my work on my blog (The last 5 I am in! And I know one of them has a different background, that’s because I don’t have a recording of the routine done at this meet but it’s the same routine and I still only just got it on youtube recently.):

Share, Record, Network

imgres.jpgWith the amount that I talk to educators I’m often asked about why I started blogging and what advice I have on how to get other students to blog. So I thought tonight was a good night to finally put it in writing. First though I want to make something clear: The thing is, blogging is not for everyone and the key to why I blog is because I want to blog, so if you want your students to get all of the benefits of blogging, they have to want it as much as you want it for them.

I didn’t always want to blog. What few people know is that my blogging journey actually began as a freshman when I was required to write a blog post for every section of Hamlet that we read. The not so popular, asmithroman2017 site is where I first started blogging and I didn’t hate it, but I definitely didn’t care about it besides knowing I wanted to make a good post to get a good grade. There was one night where I had some fun because I wrote one of my entries entirely as a haiku for what my friends and I called “Haiku Monday” where we only communicated virtually in haikus. Even that night though I remember it being late and not having much desire to blog.

So when did the mind-shift happen? What made me enjoy blogging? Why did I even start a new blog?

Well it started with a game of bingo. At the end of my freshman year I was officially inaugurated into the first ever Innovation Diploma cohort, and for the summer we were all sent an “ID Bingo” document that had various ideas for things you could do over the summer to start thinking like an innovator. One square was about trying something for 100 days in a row and documenting your progress, and another was about starting a blog. I knew how to use wordpress due to my Hamlet assignments, and I couldn’t think of another thing to try for 100 days, so I thought “Why not mix the two squares and try them together?”

So in short, to be completely honest, I started blogging just because I’m the kind of person who likes a good challenge and a little competition and strives to accomplish goals I set for myself (even though I don’t remember even doing much with the bingo game after school started). I know I’m not really the average student though…

However, I know exactly why I continued to blog after achieving my goal, and I don’t think this was just because of my own personality. As I said in the post where I completed my challenge:

“Blogging everyday was definitely a challenge. There were days were I was not motivated at all to blog; I either had a bunch to do, or I was really tired, or I would have to use my phone to post within that day, or some other excuses I may have had. However, if I have learned anything from blogging, it is how I found that even when I couldn’t think of anything to write about, there was still something to write about, because there is always something to think about.

Blogging has helped encourage me to observe the world more closely, and I’ve really enjoyed the thoughts that have come from the observations. I’ve also enjoyed having a place to share my story. With all of the design thinking I’ve done, I’ve really become apparent of the importance of a story, but also the importance of sharing a story. If a story isn’t shared what can it really do?”

144,000 Minutes (100 days) Of Blogging; Challenge Accepted!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t think there was a light switch “ah-ha” moment. At least I couldn’t pin point it to you. I just know that the more I blogged the more I felt myself clarifying my own thoughts, and the more comments, likes, and re-tweets/posts that I got, the more confident I got that my work was valued and maybe even needed in the community. I couldn’t stop, and I still couldn’t if I wanted to. I notice even after a few days that my mind starts spinning with things that I just need to get out of my head because there is only so much room in there.

However, as much as I love blogging, that’s just me. Like I said at the beginning, “blogging is not for everyone,” and I think part of the reason it was successful for me is because it wasn’t forced on me. I chose to blog. My blog was mine. While I love feedback on my blog, I was never blogging for a specific person or people during those 100 days that hooked me on blogging. I was blogging for myself, to sort through my ideas, and share my story. I feel an odd sense of comfort blogging and to be honest when I’m asked to blog about something specific I feel weird about it because it made that post feel like it wasn’t completely mine. It’s one of those weird psychological things that’s hard to explain and I don’t completely understand what I’m trying to say, but I notice a difference when I’m asked to blog about something rather than when it’s something I just decide I want to write about when I sit down at my computer that night. It actually bugs me a little when someone says “oh this is what you should blog about today.” Like I said, I don’t know why, and often times the person is right that it’s something worth me blogging about, but it’s different when it’s not my own observation that I should blog about something.

A blog should be a place of freedom for observations, rants, stories of success as well as failure, a place that you feel proud to call your own. That’s what hooks people from my observations. When people see that something purely from their brain is making other people stop, read, think, and share is when they feel most empowered to blog.

And by a blog being a place of freedom, I’m essentially saying that it can’t be forced. It doesn’t matter if you see all of the great advantages of blogging, because it’s something the blogger must discover in order for them to be a committed blogger.

And I repeat, “blogging is not for everyone.” I keep repeating this because I feel like everyone (and I say this loosely) is on this big blogging kick where everyone is trying to get their students to blog. But I believe the secret is to think about why is it that we want to blog? I believe a blog is a place to share, record, and network. And the great part is that a blog is not the only way to accomplish these goals. Really any form of social media can accomplish these goals, if used to your advantage.

I don’t think students need to be pushed to blog, but I believe 100% is pushing some form of social media, though it should be the form of the students choice. I personally hate Facebook after a few rough times in the past trying to use it and finding it not user friendly. I’m sure it may not still be this way and if I would try again maybe I’d love it, but I can be stubborn and that’s just not my choice tool. However, some people love Facebook and they have millions of post, photos and contacts which allow them to share, record, and network their own learning adventures. Twitter, Instagram, even Snapchat I bet could be used to accomplish these goals if you really take advantage of the tools.

I hate how so often in society, especially school, social media is looked at as a negative thing. How many times a day do you hear someone say, “get off of Snapchat”? I don’t even have one, but I hear it all of the time. What if rather than focusing on the negative we focused on the positive? I’ve written on this topic before, so I don’t want to dwell on it; however, I just wanted to make it clear that blogging isn’t The Answer, it’s just an answer on how to share, record, and network your learning.

So to answer the question as to my advice on how to get other students hooked on blogging here are my 5 big thoughts:

  1. Don’t force it!– blogging needs to be “safe” and “free”
  2. Make it fun: maybe it’s a competition, a challenge, a contest, whatever motivates your students
  3. Help grow their confidence by sharing their work so they expand their network; comments from new people is super motivating
  4. Help create the “time for blogging” sometimes it’s hard to think of something to say when you first start out, or you think you don’t have the time, so help set a time for students. Maybe the last 20 minutes of the last class of the week is “blog time” where you can write about anything, but you have to make a habit of it otherwise you’ll always have an excuse to not blog.
  5. Embrace the why over the how: If blogging isn’t the right form of social media, find another, even if it’s out of your social media comfort zone, let it be the student’s choice because they need to use what they are most comfortable with, and embrace how the “why” -share, record, network- can be achieved in different ways