Broadway Karaoke Night!

IMG_6648.PNGThis past week in general has been not so great but there was a light at the end of the tunnel: Broadway Karaoke Night! On a few occasions over the past year or so, I’ve had conversations with people about how fun it would be to have an event where we just sing a bunch of Broadway songs, but it had never happened. After winter break though, I decided this was my senior year, I’m president of the Thespian Society, and I wanted to make something happen, so this idea needed to be brought to life.

IMG_6645.PNGSo I met with various members of the performing arts team and pitched the idea to have a Broadway Karaoke night. The pitch was approved! Then we had three weeks to get this event together because we decided it would be good to make it happen sooner than later in case we wanted to make this a recurring event.

FullSizeRender-1.jpgI really wanted to make this a community event to bring together theater fans of all ages. So I reached way back into the alumni information we had to email theater people from long since, some whom I never even knew. Plus I invited lower schoolers, middle schoolers, and faculty that I know love singing Broadway because they have been in past upper school productions. Theater is a community no matter the age, we all gather together to perform the art we love. That’s one of the things I love about drama- you might have never met a person, but if you meet in the theater you immediately have something to bond over.

IMG_6644.PNGWe successfully had around 25 people come to Broadway Karaoke night!!! Including a 4th grader, a 5th grader, 3 seventh graders, 3 alumni, 1 former mustang, 4 faculty members, and a dozen or so high schoolers! The night was tons of fun as we ate Willy’s (a show week traditional meal) while watching some rehearsed and some clearly not rehearsed performances from some Broadway favorites like Wicked and Hamilton.We even had a few props and choreographed pieces thrown into the mix! It felt like a great success of a night, and knowing we didn’t sing so many great Broadway numbers and many people were sick, I think it only makes sense that we have another Broadway Karaoke night in the future!

 

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Best of Both Worlds

Days until the first day of school: four. Days until senior bootcamp: three. Level of craziness happening in my head right now: threw the roof.

I feel as if I have so much to do still before school starts. I only got back into Atlanta on Tuesday and I’ve been busy every second of the day. This week I’m finally taking my in car driving lessons; most people that know me know this is a big deal because I’m always hitchhiking rides with friends since I just hadn’t really taken the time to learn how to drive within my two years of having a permit…

Meanwhile, I’ve also been helping move stuff in my sister’s room (including setting up an IKEA loft bed), coaching camp, going through old school supplies and preparing new ones, trying to finish editing the article I’ve written for an e-magazine, working on finishing at least one of my 3 college essay drafts (I only need 1 but I can’t decide on an approach I like best), finishing up summer math (2 topics to go!), finishing up my AP Latin summer reading, and going to both of my siblings orientations since one is at camp and the other needs an adult figure. So basically there’s a lot to be done in the next 3-4 days.

However, at the same time I am excited for parts of school to begin. I am super excited that my study hall finally is the same time as band so I can actually practice with the high school band some without missing a core class! I also can’t wait for theater to start especially after talking to my director today and learning more about our awesome set and one act play competition plans. (Plus my next show makes me the record holder for most high school shows with a total of 12!) With knowing my schedule it also means that I already know which classes I’ll have with some of my friends and there are some that we’re just all really excited for because we know that when we’re in class together it’s always a good class. Innovation Diploma will also be welcoming our 3rd cohort, the Gates Cohort, starting Tuesday and I’m deeply curious as to what the future holds for us there. And as much as I am not thrilled with ending senior year, there will definitely be a lot of fun senior moments in the future which I’m also excited for!

I love how in the summer I have the freedom to travel and create my own schedule, but I also love how the school year has so many opportunities due to resources and the benefits of collaboration. If only there was a way to have the best of both worlds, because that would be wall shattering, mind blowing, and game changing in the most awesome way!

Stories are the Magic

imgres-1.jpgI’M IN NYC!!!!!! I love New York. There’s always something new to do, and somewhere new to explore, and it’s so easy to get around!

As tired, and often frustrated, I get from a day of traveling I always pleasantly amuse myself with people watching and talking to new people.

Today I realized that I shared pretty much the same portion of my story to 4 different people. I was talking about Innovation Diploma, my MoVe Talk, my recent travels, college plans, education transformation in general, and my blog.

I don’t know why that amused me, but by the 4th time talking about relatively recent events in my life I realized how fun it is talking to new people and trading stories. Stories really are everything. Stories are our past, our present, and will be our future.

Stories are the purest magic this world has.

The Outlier

imgres.pngEvery now and then someone reminds me that what I’ve done on this blog isn’t as normal as it’s come to be in my life. It isn’t “normal” for most 15 year olds to just decide one day that they are going to start a blog and write everyday for 100 days, and then decide to continue the challenge for over 2 years. But for me it is “normal,” because it’s the reality of my life as I’ve come to know it.

What was it inside of me that urged me to take on this challenge? Why was/am I not “normal”?

I have nothing against being the outlier, but I’m just deeply curious as to what it is about me that makes me this way.

People will say things to me about being extraordinary, and wanting to clone me, and asking how to find more kids like me, etc. But to me, this is just me. I don’t have any answer as to why I’m this way, though I would like to know.

I’m really not trying to narcotic or pompous or anything like that, so I really hope it isn’t coming off that way. I’m just generally curious as to why I, and others like me such as my friends Kat and Marz who have been on many adventures with me, tend to act in desired ways that are very different from the average teenager. Creating and often posting to our own blogs is just one of these ways.

What is it about us that makes us this way? And what about kids that are not so motivated to just decide to do things like constantly write, how might they gain the same skills in communication, self-confidence, and empathy without that same motivation to take action on their own? Is there really a way to teach motivation? I have no idea.

To this day I remember in freshman English class when a student asked, “How do you get a good work ethic?” The student was genuinely curious because he knew he didn’t have one, though he also understood the importance of having one. Everyone in the room was stumped as to the answer to the question.

It can’t possibly be some trait that some people are born with and others are not. I also refuse to believe that self-motivation and a good work ethic are something that you either have or don’t have by a certain age and that’s that. Skills can always be built and improved upon just as there may come a time when an old house has to be renovated to keep from falling apart, and yet I have no idea how to build these skills.

Sometime I wish someone would pick my brain harder to help me grapple with why I’ve turned out the way I am. There is only so much questioning I can can ask myself. Sometimes questions are best answered when someone else does the questioning. I don’t know why I’m the way I am, but I’d love to find out and hopefully somehow use that knowledge to inform ideas on teaching and education.

Time for Random

Image result for crazy ideasOne of the things I love most about the summer is that people think of so many crazy ideas, and half of the time actually follow through with them because they have time!

Everyday I find myself reading texts from people with ideas about wanting to start a new club, or learning a new instrument, or writing their own music, or getting a group together to do all the parts of a Hamilton song, or trying to get a new skill in a sport, or wanting to take a day trip to some weird new place, and the list goes on and on! Summer is such a time of opportunity because besides a few books and math problems, time is all our own and we can use it however we choose.

It’s amazing how many interesting ideas come from when people have time to just sit and think. My friends can tell when I get a crazy idea because they’ll see me start staring off into space just pondering for a while; then I’ll shake out of it and start talking quickly for a long period of time about what ever I was thinking about.

I believe strongly that the less stressed we are the more ideas freely flow. When you are stressed you are too distracted by whatever’s stressing you to just think about random things in life, and yet random things are so much fun to discuss!

I never want to live a life where I’m stressed too often to have time to think about random things every now and then.

Power of Story-Typing

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That’s a wrap! Fuse16 is officially over after a jam packed week of design thinking, everyone has started to head back to where ever they traveled from around the world. In my opinion this year was the best one yet with prototypes and pitches that were clear, creatively, implementable, and meeting the user needs with flying colors!

What I think really made this year so great was the intentional focus on story-typing: prototyping the story. Story telling is at the heart of design thinking because it’s how we share empathy to a wide number of people! A good pitch needs to tell the audience about your user and why their needs are important enough to design for while also telling the story of your idea and showing why it’s a great solution to help your user. Everything is a story!

This year we made it really clear that the story is the most important part of your idea by giving teams ample specific time to craft and perfect the story component of their idea. This made for final pitches that blew us all away, especially the users! When a user asks if they can share their email with you to literally implement your idea as soon as possible, you know you’ve had a successful pitch– a successful story.

A good story can change the world, so it’s worth spending a lot of time crafting the best story you can. This final day of fuse16 proved that story-typing makes for some kick butt final pitches even for a group of mainly first time DTers! And I know that after fuse16, everyone will have some great stories to bring back home and truly change the world by transforming education for a better tomorrow.

Glad to be Exhausted

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Wow I’m exhausted after today. I always forget how tiring design thinking can be until I spend a day going through a challenge and then stop, only to find myself drifting off to sleep.

The reason I find it so exhausting is because design thinking requires so much constant energy and brain power. You are constantly trying to keep moving forward and observing, analyzing, empathizing, synthesizing, prototyping, iterating, interviewing, pitching, storytelling, etc. (Not in any particular order.) Not to mention the entire time you are working with several other people that you’re trying to learn more about in order to best work together and keep the whole team on track and moving in a positive direction; which sometimes means pivoting your idea and going back 5 steps in order to move forward 10.

At the end of day 2 of fuse16 today, I looked around and you could see how tired everyone was. Everyone was excited about their prototypes and empowered by the users, and that just makes it all the more tiring, because when you’re invested in a project you give it your all and that is what makes design thinking tiring. At least we’re tired for a good cause though, so it’s like a good tired. Like when you just played an intense game of soccer with no subs, so you feel as if you’re about to pass out; however, your team won because you stayed in the entire time so at the same time you’re on cloud 9 by the end of the game because you accomplished what seemed impossible!

I always say, even half a day of design thinking makes me more tired at the end of the day then just a normal day of classes. However, I wouldn’t trade that half of a day to not be tired, because the feeling I get from seeing my work impact my user is worth every minute of stretching our brain muscles to the max.

So I’m glad that I can barely hold my eyes open right now, because that means we had a great day of meaningful working.

The First Step to 21st Century Education

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I’ve had a a fantastic week at the beach with my friends on the lovely island of Sanibel. Even despite the tropical storm that came in, we had a lot of fun on the beach, in the pool, biking around, playing games, reading, and just hanging out and talking together.

I was reading Future Wise over this vacation and thus thinking more about the future of education– yes, even while on vacation these are the things I think about, I know I’m weird that way. I have realized that even though it is summer I find myself constantly thinking about school. I find myself not always being “productive” over the summer which is odd to me because I typically am very consumed with school work, self selected work, meetings, clubs, theater, acro, band, etc. What I’ve noticed is that I am very fond of school.

This isn’t really surprising to me because I’ve always rather enjoyed school. When I was younger I would say I love school without a second of hesitation. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself more annoyed with school and always waiting for the next holiday break or even just the weekend during the school year. So really I guess what I miss isn’t quite school, but really I miss the company of fellow learners working, discussing, and creating new ideas together; I don’t miss all of school as I use to back in elementary school.

This made me wonder: “Why is it that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less fond of school is so many ways?” My hypothesis is that I don’t like school as much as I use to because school is no longer just about the fun and wonder of learning, but now it has become a stressful climb for “success”- however we might define that.

Thinking like the designer I believe myself to be, I decided to test my hypothesis about how stressful school is to older students.

I send a text to 13 students currently in high school and 2 in college from a total of 7 different schools across 3 different states asking this question: “What are specific examples of things that make you stressed, and why do you think they make you stressed?” Then I waited to see if their answer would have something to do with school, even though I specifically did not ask, “What makes you stressed at school?”

I did not provide any explanation as to why I was asking the question until after they had answered, if they asked, because I did not want to influence their answers in any way. Though in honesty, I did not get responses from everyone (it is summer after all and people are concerned with other things as expected though I only missed a few), the results to my small test were overwhelmingly inline with my hypothesis.

Most students responded with something having to do with school being the cause of their stress. The results varied between stress when teachers all assign big things due on the same day causing students to loose sleep, and when core classes and extra curricular events battle for time priority, and having pressure intentionally or unintentionally placed on them to get certain grades, and a myriad of answers about the struggles of figuring out where to go to college (these responses in particular often had many layers to them with everything from researching, to financial problems, to parental influence, to feeling confused, to fears about the general future of their existence riding on this one major decision- you get the idea).

Now I will say that there were other things that came up in my conversations about stress. Not everyone mentioned school at first at least, but as soon as I explained my hypothesis about school stress, 100% of those students acknowledged that school stress is a major problem and gave ample examples to support the claim.

I know this was a small little test with not the most scientific report, but I’m confident that if I was to expand my pool of users, I would find that a majority of upper level students get overwhelmingly stressed about school.

This is a problem.

Why do we let stress overwhelm school students? How can we expect students to become life long learners when they associate learning, which is most closely associated with school, to their primary source of stress? How might we make learning fun again?

One of my good friends from Nerd Camp whom I asked this question to, discussed for a while with me about how much we both love learning and yet how school has taken away from that love a little more every year. When I asked her why she thinks that is she gave a response that I believe to be sadly accurate:

“Learning isn’t really encouraged in school, success is.”

However, as another one of my Nerd Camp friends pointed out,

“And a lot of the time you can succeed in school without learning anything.”

As we have grown older school has become about getting good grades, so we can get into a good college, so we can get a good job, so we can have a good life; the idea of going to school because we love to learn and explore and wonder and just have fun being curious has been lost.

I know that these feelings and goals are not in any school’s motto, learning plan, or mission statement, but if this is what students’ are feeling then does it really matter what’s written on paper or proclaimed to audiences?

In my opinion, any school’s true goal is to create life long learners by preparing them with “lifeworthy” and “lifeready” knowledge, skills, and wisdom. But what distinguishes a lifelong learner from just another student at a school, is that a lifelong learner continues to seek out new knowledge and skills and wisdom even after primary education is complete, because lifelong learners find unwavering joy in learning. 

Stress can easily shatter joy; if we wish to guide students to find joy in learning, then we must find ways to eliminate some of the stress found in school- no matter the school you attend. That is the first step that needs to be taken on the path to 21st century education.

 

Senior Theater Project

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“Hey guys, so I’ve now talked to all of you about this idea to do a senior theater project next year where the 6 of us put on a show, and everyone seems to be on board! Between the various conversations I’ve had with you guys, it seems that everyone, to some level at least, is interested in the idea of us writing our own script.

Considering this is obviously going to take some time to put on, I figured it might be a good idea for us to all meet to at least start talking about how we want to go about all of this. Any chance we’re all available Monday during enrichment and lunch to start throwing out some ideas and figuring out how we’re going to make this happen?

-πnya Smith “
It was almost exactly 3 months ago that I first sent this email to my fellow soon to be senior thespians. It was in this moment that the Senior Theater Project of 2016-17 was born.
I had been talking here and there with the other thespians for at least a week about this crazy idea I had for just the 6 seniors to put on our own production, but this email signified the true begining of a what promises to be a great ride.
We have met and discussed a few times since this first meeting, but today was the first time we felt ready to start bringing in more people such as our theater director and head of fine arts to start figuring out next steps to make this idea a reality.
So far we’ve established roles and started coming up with some knows and need to knows. We know so far that we want to create our own one act show which we will work on in 3 segments: 1. Summer-gathering inspiration through interviews 2. Script- script table read by the end of first semester 3. Show- end of 2nd semester have the stage performance ready.
And most importantly we know that we want our show to be something that makes a statement. Theater is meant to be entertaining, but it is also meant to be so much more. Good theater entertains, but great theater entertains while challenging everything you know, and taking what you might try to ignore and sticking it in center stage for all to see in it’s full light. We know that we want to craft a piece that impacts an audience of all ages, and we know that we have a perspective different from most writers because we are students. Now we need to know how we get this show on the road to the stage.
Step 1- find the story.
So far the general theme we want to explore is the sense of identity because it’s something that anyone can relate to, but it is especially relevant to high schoolers. With social media we now have the ability to develop so many different identities for ourselves, and the dissonance between self-identity and perception is something we want to examine; we have a hunch that there’s a story there just waiting to be told.
We got much of this inspiration from a video one of our teachers sent us after overhearing one of our early brainstorms were we discussed identity. But I got further convinced that there is something to this hunch when I saw this quote from writer and star of Broadway’s hit musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda:
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Theater is a place where all stories are shared, and after years of performing on stage, I feel ready to do more than just share stories others believe need to be told- I want to have a hand in finding the stories. I do not want us to just create a script that plays to the strengths of those of us in the cast and has our “usual characters” in it- I want to create a script that shows the characters that an audience needs to hear from. This is why, like any true design project, we have chosen to start with empathy- to start our story by listening to the stories of others. We don’t have an outline, or a sketch, or even a narrowed down concept yet for this show, but we know our next step is to come up with a set of questions that relate to “identity” which we will use to interview as many people as we can to help us find the story that needs to be told. Then we will move from there.
Theater is sharing stories, and the Senior Theater Project is going to be a story to look out for.

External Mentors Make Things Real

I love getting feedback from new people. I’m glad I get to work in an environment where we are all constantly giving each other feedback (by this I mean Innovation Diploma), but it’s always nice to hear from someone you don’t talk to everyday just as a reassurance that you all aren’t just crazy (well we are but for good reasons). Plus so many great ideas can come out of conversations between people with different and new perspectives compared to the people you normally talk to.

Today felt like a great day of feedback for me. I got to spend my morning and lunch/enrichment people talking with teachers from the Watershed School in Colorado. As the MVIFI Fellow, I spent my morning talking with the Watershed team about my current iVenture work and getting feedback on new ideas I’ve been cooking up. Then over lunch a few of us in ID met with them to have more of a general discussion where they were asking us some questions about MVPS to get the student perspective on topics. 

Later, in AP Lang today, Kat and I recorded the spoken word pieces we’ve been working on around the “American Dream” to send it to people asking for feedback, including Mike Young, a professional spoken word artist who’s been mentoring us. Kat and I talked a lot about how ID has trained us so much about the value of prototyping and really preparing even early drafts of presentations. We’ve been muddling over different words and phrases for a few weeks and today was our due date (which we assigned ourselves) to have them finished so we could record them. However, “finished” in this sense doesn’t mean “time to turn it in for a grade,” but instead means that we’ve given ourselves and each other lots of feedback and now we are ready to start sharing them with others so that we can eventually perform the best spoken word piece to our current capabilities. We are hoping to have this performance next week though the details are still fuzzy as of now.

I’ve really enjoyed this project because we’ve gotten to not just focus on words, but how we can use words to literally say something in a hopefully powerful way. We’ve been having to not just work on grammar and  word choice, but also the rhetoric involved with saying something out loud and getting feedback on our delivery of the language. It’s been fun and I’m excited to hear what feedback we get because I’ve become really invested in this project and want it to be something more than just another piece of writing I’ve done.

With both of my big feedback moments today, I’ve been reminded of just how much I find working with external mentors beneficial to learning. Working with an external mentor reminds me that someone else is kind of expecting me to follow through, and they are also interested in the work I’m doing, even at school. This inspires me to really work hard because this isn’t just about some number, it is about me putting myself out there in the “real world”, and that to me is meaningful work.

Feedback, even cold feedback, always seems to make me happy because it means you’re doing something others care enough about to comment on and try to help you make it into your best.

 

 

Unrelated, but also exciting news for today: The paint finally settled so I got to use my whiteboard wall and desk today that I painted on Monday!!!!!!

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