Leaving with Action

Today was the last day of the International Seminar on Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership. It was a much more laid back and open space kind of day, which was honestly really great. It allowed everyone to make what they wanted out of the conference and have the conversations most meaningful to them.

During my first session, I ended up in an informal group that gathered together and started talking about the college application process. Two rising seniors were stressed about the process and therefore, myself and a few adults were giving tips about researching and applying to schools. This conversation made me realize I actually have a lot to share on the topic and reminded me that most students don’t have the amazing college councillors that I had who helped me navigate the process. Additionally, most students don’t have practice in talking about and essentially pitching themselves. Due to my blog writing, I had ample experience with talking about myself by the time I had to write those essays, but most students don’t have a blog and never really practice this skill in high school. Talking about yourself is a huge part of life because after college then comes job applications where it’s a similar process all over again. For that very reason, I wish more schools spent time talking about identifying key stories in your own life, and pitching your own story and knowing your strengths and skills that can be brought to the table in various situations.

These two students I was talking to come from learner-centered environments, and even there this process is stressful and these two believed they don’t have a story to tell. Let me tell you, these kids have incredible stories to tell and I only know parts of them, so it’s crazy for me to think that they don’t believe they have a story. It just goes to show that even great schools still have room to grow and that was a humbling experience today. Every student should feel like they have a story worth hearing and get the opportunity to practice telling it.

Later in the day I got to achieve my personal goal for this conference. I came to this conference really wanting to have a take away- an action step I could take in order to start moving beyond just talking and sharing with other communities and head towards working together on project work to advance the movement. Proud to say that I have my next project to start tackling. IMG_0930.JPG

Whenever I go to a conference there are multiple people who ask about how the community will stay connected. Then there end up being group chats and social media accounts created and they’re explosive with reflection for the first few weeks after the conference is over, but they fizzle out over time. Why? My assumption based on observation is that most forms of connection post-conference have been simply for the sake of connection/networking, but in order to sustain connections we must have a unified purpose that brings us back to the conversation wanting more.

I’m not yet sure what this purpose is; however, I’m excited to start working on figuring out how we can build upon the community by finding ways to connect with purpose. Three other young learners and I, started brainstorming potential designs for a website based on what menu items we wanted as possibilities for ways the community to connect. For example a blog to share out work in different environments, a directory to know who’s doing what kind of work, a jargon translator to serve as an explanation guide for all the different terms we like to use, a project space for people interested in partnering on projects, a monthly chat around essential topics, etc.

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Then we broke our work down into four areas: user feedback, research, “playing around”, and mission development. We hope to each spend the next month working in our areas to learn about what the community would want in a connection tool and figure out a game plan for the best tool to make these ideas a reality by playing with existing tools while experimenting with what building your own website would take resource wise.

IMG_7624.jpegThe key wonder I have right now though is: what already exists? There are a lot of groups that keep trying to create something very similar to this and yet don’t seem to be working for this or that reason, but why? I’m not sure entirely. I hope to find out and I have my assumptions based on personal experience. I’m happy to be leaving with a game plan but to help get further in our efforts, if you read this post and believe you know of sites or organization or groups or social media connections, etc that sound similar to this kind of work, I would love to see things in the comments to guide our upcoming research. (Even if I’m technically taking lead on user insight gathering, so I’d be happy to hear that too even before I get more focused questions to ask on the topic.)

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Old Ideas Brought to Life

I’m a proud advocate of taking time to acknowledge and celebrate the little wins in life. Today I had a double little win party.

First I discovered that I have officially written over 700 blog posts and am celebrating the beginning of my fifth year now of blogging! I mean five years is a pretty long time- it means I’ve been blogging for over a fourth of my entire life.

With the realization of this momentous anniversary, I decided it was time for an upgrade of sorts. Time for me to finally do something I’ve been talking about doing since only a short bit after I started blogging: create business cards.

I’ve been to a number amount of conferences and events in the past five years, and beyond that, I’ve run into dozens of people outside of event situations whom I’ve met and thought, “Well too bad I don’t have a business card to easily give this person all of my information…”

Thus I made it a goal of mine to prototype some business cards this weekend before heading off to the International Seminar in Vermont tomorrow.

I don’t think I realized how much I had been anticipating doing this over the years, but when I finally got them to print correctly I most certainly did a little happy dance and let out a little “YESSSSSS!”

Sometimes it takes a big realization to finally set in motion old ideas, but that doesn’t make those old ideas any less exciting when they finally come to life.

Trailblazers: Issue 3!

It’s finally here! Issue 3 of Trailblazers, our student-driven e-magazine about the Education Transformation Movement, is available for viewing now! Hope you enjoy these remarkable articles written by spotlight learners from around the country including one global perspective. Congrats to all involved with the process of creating this latest issue!!!

View Issue 3 

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Spotlight Learners:

Sophie Haugen – SMforSM: An Educational Partnership 

Bridges by Empathy and Friendship

Lucy Conover – Insπiration

Hannah Bertram – What Learner-Centered Education Did For Me

Innovation Diploma Update – SPARK: A Playground for Creative Thinkers

Piling Up

(Somehow this never posted yesterday…)

It’s amazing how work seems to just pile up sometimes. There was so much I had planned to accomplish today and yet it seems I hardly achieved any of my goals. I made progress which is at least somewhat of a success, but it’s never a great feeling going to bed knowing how much you didn’t get done today means you have to figure out when you’re trying to do it tomorrow…

I’m chaperoning my siblings’ dance retreat this Thursday-Sunday and when I return I’m only home for a day before flying off to Vermont and then all over the north-east for pretty much the rest of summer. It’s crazy how June has practically come and gone already. I don’t know where the time went, but I know the work didn’t go far.

Later this week I will be done with my history class, will have published Trailblazer’s Issue 3, and have posted my 700th blog post if all goes according to plan. Some big milestones are ahead, so hopefully work can stop piling up and I can get my scheduling and goals aligned in a productive way.

18 Days for Impact

For the past year, I have been working on the Georgia Tech Engineers Without Borders team called WISH for Wash.

“Wish for WASH is a social impact organization that seeks to bring innovation to sanitation through culturally-specific research, design, and education because #EVERYBODYPOOPS” – wishforwash.org

2.5 million people do not have access to basic sanitation needs which is the moment of visible empathy that WISH for Wash was founded on; however, it’s important to note that sanitation problems aren’t only a global issue. There are sanitation issues in our own backyard.

Here in Atlanta, we are running out of water and yet our population size is constantly growing. We need to find a way to reduce our water usage, and one place we use a lot of water is in our toilets.

This was the train of thought that a teacher at Paideia School had when he approached the leader of WISH for Wash curious about a collaboration between our two organizations.

This teacher has a five-year plan of developing a tiny home to be put up for rent that will be entirely sustainable; this home will be created by students in different phases over the course of these five years during various “Short Term classes” at Paideia.

Meanwhile, our WISH for Wash team is currently doing research on compositing in order to build our latest prototype of a composting toilet.

The trade-off: our WISH for Wash team is conducting composting research in Magnus’ backyard in exchange for us leading the first of several short-term classes contributing to this tiny home. This course, “Giving a S***: Design for a Better World,” is all about design thinking and sustainability with the goal of having two prototypes of a composting toilet by the end of the 18-day class. The key part of this design challenge is that the composting toilets the students’ design should be a toilet that a family in Decatur (potentially their own family) would be willing to use.

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This partnership is actually why I joined this team back in the fall in the first place; I love working on innovative education endeavors and this team needed someone who had experience with curriculum planning and facilitating design thinking.

Since joining the team, it’s been a crazy process because it’s the first time I’ve ever taken lead on developing a large-scale design thinking curriculum. I’ve helped with workshops and conferences, but I’ve always been working alongside very experienced facilitators. Going from that kind of advanced team to now leading a team who has had minimal design thinking experience has been a big change, to say the least.

We’ve come a long way since the fall though, between having Innovation Diploma members lead us through a Flashlab, creating multiple iterations of our outline, getting feedback from various DT facilitators and then today, leading our first day of the course!!!

To be honest I was low key terrified for today. The stakes are high on day one because if you can’t get kids hooked on day one then you’ve basically lost them already and it’s hard to get them back.

Luckily for us we ended day one on a very positive note! The seven students, four girls and three boys 9th-12th grade, admitted that most of them joined just because they thought the title of the course was amusing and the description seemed intriguing and different from other courses offered. (Different due to it being lead by Georgia Tech students and hinting at very interactive and interdisciplinary learning.) However, by the end of the day, we had everyone pumped about discussing toilets and excited that the work they will be doing is hands-on and has a larger purpose and impact. (They told us this themselves at the end of the day when we asked why everyone joined the class and what their expectations are after what they learned today, so this isn’t just me putting words in their mouths based on observations.)

To me, that means day one was a huge success because everyone is excited about our work moving forward, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

17 days left to go…

 

Just a Happy Moment

Sometimes we just need to celebrate the little moments in life. Today is one of those little moments for me because I have officially reached 500 followers on my blog!!!

Plus on top of that, I’m now all moved out of my dorm which means I’m officially on summer break before my sophomore year of college which means I’ve now been blogging for 4 years. In school terms, 4 years is kind of a big deal, so I’m having a pretty good day.

So congrats to everyone for all of those little happy moments in life that you just want to celebrate for a quick sec!

Take a Break

At the point when I started jamming to Aladdin songs silently to myself, I decided having gone over my test two full times was sufficient and I should turn it in and head to the bathroom. However, then I found a cockroach in the bathroom with spooked me and made me anxious because I DESPISE cockroaches. To the point where I found an entirely different bathroom to go into.

There-go, due to this immediate stress post-test, it wasn’t until I was walking back to my dorm that it finally hit me: I’m officially done with my first year of college…

After a week of traveling, performing, and studying, it was the most satisfying feeling to just take a breath and not have to worry about anything for a moment.

Now sure, this week is still crazy with shows coming up and the beginning of the class I’m teaching starting next week, but for the rest of tonight, it’s time to just take a break from thinking and working too hard; an amazing concept.

I sat at my desk for 8 hours today studying math. I got up for maybe 10 minutes total during that time. Then I spent 2 hours in a different chair also doing the same math. I’m very ready to take a break.

So now I’m going to post this blog, walk out of my dorm room and go enjoy some cookies with friends and let a new kind of crazy start tomorrow.

Another 100 Days…

I feel like I’ve been in a sad rut of writer’s block all year. Since starting college I have written 12 blog posts.

Only 12- that’s less than I wrote in 2 weeks back when I first started this blog.

I haven’t been blocked off mentally. I’ve had plenty of times where I’ll be lying in bed or walking to class where I start thinking and realize, “man this would be a great blog post.” But then I never get around to actually typing it out. So I suppose you could say I have “writing block” oppose to “writer’s block.”

I know I should write, but…

I keep making excuses for myself like “oh it’s too late,” or “oh I have homework,” or “oh I’ve done so much work today and now I just want to watch TV and have a mental break.” Some of the time these reasons are valid, but in reality, I know that most of the time I finish my homework early, and I go to bed late anyway doing less worthy things, and I’ve probably watched more online than I ever did in high school.

Maybe it’s been a fear of not having anything good enough to post or a fear of getting too ranty seeing as this year I’ve had a lot of new rants upon entering a whole new world of education bugs in higher ed. I’m not sure exactly what’s kept me from blogging besides a bunch of lame excuses when it boils down to it.

I started this blog heading into my sophomore year of high school with no clue what I was going to write about, but with the understanding that I would write about whatever just for the sake of. Somewhere along the way, I started discovering my passion for transformative education and my blog became more focused. I’m grateful for this discovery, though I think I’ve been stuck with this idea now that it’s only when I’m doing/thinking about something very related to this passion that it’s worth me taking the time to blog.

Well now, this has become a problem in my opinion, and not only in regards to my blog.

I’ve officially decided to start writing the book that some know I’ve been talking about for three years now. It’s going to be about why the education system needs to be transformed as told through a student’s narrative-including some of the stories we don’t always like to talk about. At this point, I’ve made an outline and an intro, but I’ve been stuck when it comes to actually starting to write the book. All of the thoughts are there, but I can’t seem to take the time to get them down.

I want to change this streak of “writing block”, so this is my way of trying to get back into the groove of writing: taking my own advice.

Back when I started blogging I was told that my overall writing got better, and when I finished my 100 days in a row, I found that I actually enjoyed writing and needed to keep writing. People would ask how I did it and say that they feel like they never have anything “good enough” to write about. My advice was always “Just write about whatever, don’t worry about what other people think, just start writing.”

I didn’t start blogging because I felt I had anything profound to say that society needed to read. I started because I gave myself the challenge to better my observation and writing skills by blogging for a 100 days in a row and just seeing how it went.

I want to get back to that time when the writing just flowed naturally. And it seems kind of fitting that now as I’m about to start the summer before my sophomore year of college, that I go back to my roots and try to write just for the sake of writing again. Who knows, maybe a few gems will come out of it.

Here’s to another 100 days…

Articulating Myself

I know myself well, and I believe my blog is evidence that I can also talk about myself comfortably. This is a skill I’ve come to greatly value and highly attribute to my decision to start a blog three and a half years ago.

Over the past semester thus far I’ve been struggling to determine my major. Struggling, because I have a good grasp of what I’m looking for and just can’t quite find the best fit at my school. To be honest I’ve considered more than once if I should be switching schools.

Don’t get me wrong, Georgia Tech is a great school, but I’ve always known it’s not the best fit for me personally. I’ll be the first to admit GT was never at the top of my list college wise, but it was still the right choice in the end. How can the right choice not be the best fit?- it’s complicated. There are a lot of factors that play into that decision. The point is, I’m not going to be transferring schools.

This begs the question of, what next?

Personally, I’ve had to be very proactive. I’ve been talking to as many people as possible and doing research on my own to try to figure out how to make do.

That may seem pessimistic and perhaps sad to use the term “make do,” but I don’t see it that way because I’ve realized that’s just the nature of higher education. Not everyone ends up at the perfect school for them and I don’t think we should pretend this is the case. What I’ve also realized is that the real key to happy success, (not just success in terms of making it out with some major, but actually being happy while you’re working towards graduation) is to know yourself well enough to make what you want exists even in an environment where it might not noticeably exist yet.

Now, this realization did make me sad.

From personal experience, I know that not every kid graduates high school with a good sense of their self. Yet it’s what I think should be a number one priority of primary education.

We spend so much time trying to learn about the world around us and where it came from and where it’s going, but I don’t believe we spend enough time being introspective. There are educators that have realized this, and there are some techniques that try to get implemented into the classroom to focus students on being introspective. However, I feel like the go-to attempt at solving this problem is telling students, “Write a reflection on your recent assignment.”

There are a couple of reasons I don’t think this is a sufficient way to try and help learners better know themselves.

First of all, not every student expresses themselves best in a written fashion; if this is the case, writing won’t help all students equally.

Furthermore, knowing yourself takes looking at the big picture, not just reflecting on how you worked on one specific assignment.

It’s really about asking the right questions that force learners to think deeper about themselves, then let them figure out how they want to express it in a way that other people can understand. (Being able to articulte to others about who you are is the real key to finding happy success.)

In high school, I wish I would’ve spent more specific facilitated time being questioned about what I really enjoy doing with my life in terms of personal things, activities, and work. What type of environment do I like to be in? How do I work best? What role do I often play on a team, and why? What career areas might interest me in the future based on what I’m doing now? What are different major options I might not know of but might interest me?

Some kids get lucky. They take a CS course in high school and fall in love and know that’s what they want to do in the future. But what if they teach themselves CS and don’t realize what they thought was a hobby could turn into a career? What if they could’ve been pushed to get to that point even earlier and starting doing work designing apps as a high schooler and never realized that was a possibility at their age? What if you have a student who doesn’t happen to fall in love just after taking a class and is very undecided about their future? -You don’t all of a sudden gain clarity without talking to people, and I see no reason why these conversations can’t happen during primary education. It’s never too early to think about what you enjoy and value in your life and how those elements can help give you ideas about future options.

You don’t need to leave high school knowing your career plan. That’s unrealistic and way too much to ask of 18-year-olds. However, I think it is a reasonable goal to say that by the end of high school, learners should know themselves well enough to know what specific options are out there that they want to explore. Beyond just getting to college, k-12 education should graduate students that have an idea of what they want to do when they get there- that takes advising that I believe is lacking for most students and it doesn’t magically appear in college.

How might we graduate high schoolers who have a strong sense of self?

Climbing Mountains

The last few weeks have been crazy and I really should be sleeping but it’s been far too long since I last blogged and I want to continue to make this a priority of mine.

I’m a college student… This is finally starting to really sink in now that I’ve officially completed my first week of classes. And I’ve had a pretty solid few weeks so far since orientation.

I backpacked in Scotland which was a crazy experience unlike anything I’ve ever done before! I can’t say I’ll necessarily go backpacking again for a while, and decided I’m really not a camping person, but it was an experience I’m glad I had. You grow close to people while hiking for a total of 52 miles in 4 days and 17,411 ft in elevation.

It was long and tiring and there were several moments where we all just wished we could stop and be in a hotel in the city with a nice non free dried meal and a hot shower. However, when you’re hiking up a mountain with the weight of a small child on your shoulders in 50 degree whether while it’s pouring down rain, there is only one way to go and that’s forward. We just had to keep climbing and working together as a team to make it through the hard times because there was nothing for us if we turned around and went back.

Instead of complaining, we developed a saying that kept us going, “I didn’t come here for nothing.” We knew at the top of the mountain there would be incredible views, and at the end of the hike there would be a bus taking us back to the city of Glasgow for a day and then there’d be a plane home. We all knew that we’d have to work hard for these rewards and we weren’t about to do all of the work to stop short of our goal.

Sadly there were the occasional false submits where were very depressing because we would think we were at the top of a mountain, and then discover there was just further to go. But that’s life for you, there is always another mountain to climb. It’s when we started setting smaller goals and celebrating when we reached them that we found ourselves keeping a better moral and making more distance.

The mountains really taught me just how important it is to set high goals but also set little goals along the way and I think that’s been a really positive reminder as I’ve started out here at Georgia Tech.

So far at GT I keep hearing, “You get in what you put out.” I know it won’t be easy to be successful (which I’ve already started to discover as we’ve started getting more homework with each new class), but I also know from all the upperclassmen I’ve talked to it’s very possible to achieve success if you really put your mind to it.

I’ve already started to feel at home here even. Between the friends that I came with and the new ones I’ve gained I’ve started to find a good group of people I feel like will support me through anything. Plus I’ve already gotten involved with theater and my first performance in the blackbox went really well with me playing Bottom from A Midsummer Nights Dream (again) in a 10 minute part of the DramaTech open house performance this past weekend. And I’m also really excited to continue my work with the Education Transformation Movement as I’ve found my team for Grand Challenges that wants to focus on education and I’ve started to network with people at GT  involved in the movement.

(I haven’t really blogged much about Grand Challenges, but it’s a very similar concept to the Innovation Diploma in the sense that we meet twice a week for an extended period in order to bring together learners with different backgrounds and use design thinking to try and solve wicked problems in the community.)

So yes I know there are a lot of mountains in front of me as I start my new journey into college, but in this moment after week one, I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m at. I didn’t come here for nothing, and I’m ready to keep climbing till I find my new path.