Being Prepared for College

There’s always value in revisiting conversations. Today at SparkHouse I got the opportunity to re-experience a conversation around distinctions which I thoroughly enjoyed beause it’s one of my favorites. (This link actually connects to my post from Day 1 of SparkHouse 1 from two years ago, and it’s funny now looking back on that day compared to today and how many similar thoughts I had.)

I loved this conversation and many others of the day and was inspired as always by the energy of young learners gathered together to discuss what education could look like in a learner-centered paradigm.

However, what really stood out to me today, because it was unusual and disheartening, was when I heard a learner say they think their environment is too untraditional sometimes and should have more busy work in order to be prepared for college.

My heart was actually broken.

And I believe that the fact that a statement like this could come up at a gathering of learners from all learner-centered schools goes to show how we still have so much further to go in transforming the education system paradigm.

So despite it being 11:45pm after a long day of heavy thinking, high energy, and additionally having to do psych homework even while traveling, I needed to take time to reflect and respond to this comment because it’s been bugging me all day.

First off, I just have to ask, what does it say about our education system when students think college is all about busy work and doing busy work is what prepares you for college?

Second off, I don’t believe we should be conforming and confining k-12 education to doing things only based on what “colleges want.”

This comment was made innocently and honestly and while I don’t agree with the statement if you look deeper into what was being implied, the real problem being described is valid to address: learner-centered high schools and most colleges do not work off of the same paradigm. Therefore, this creates dissonance for everyone involved in our education system– students, parents, teachers, faculty, admissions reps, professors, etc. The proposed expectations, purpose, and methodology behind teaching in these two worlds (learner-centered high school and traditional college) are foundationally different, which can make communication and movement between the worlds challenging.

Moving from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard. I know because that’s my current reality. The thing is, the reason it isn’t easy has nothing to do with “being prepared.”

The number 1 question I have gotten asked since entering college is:

“Did you feel like your high school prepared you to do well in college?”

YES!!! – That’s my short answer.

The long answer is that I’ve felt more than prepared because of all of the skills I learned that are actually useful for life, unlike just learning how to be a really good test taker.

Because being prepared for college is about more than being ready to take tests.

Being prepared for college means that you are mature and responsible enough to live on your own and take ownership of your learning. Being prepared for college means you have a keen sense of self-awareness in order to make informed decisions about your future. Being prepared for college means you are able to clearly and strategically plan and articulate your goals and curiosities to advisors, professors, job interviewers, etc.

You would think it would be obvious that college is about more than just test taking, but apparently, it isn’t because that’s all I seem to get asked about. And yet, while actually in college, I have plenty of advisors telling me almost daily “GPA doesn’t really matter beyond getting your first job/internship- then it’s all about networking, experience, and selling yourself based on your skills.”

So when I say, “switching from a learner-centered high school to a traditional college is hard,” I say that because it’s hard to deal with the culture change. It’s hard to move into a reality where your voice is no longer heard, where you can’t easily pitch new ideas to leadership, where you get lectured at and talked down to constantly, where you are more frequently viewed as a statistic rather than as a holistic person. That’s hard.

It’s not hard to learn how to take tests. Plus every professor is typically a little bit different. For example, one of my current classes does pretty much all assessing online, so all you have to figure out is that the homework questions and practice problems are all potential test problems, then you’re pretty much guaranteed an A on every test. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some hard tests in college, but that’s just because it’s new material and challenging. The test wouldn’t be any easier if I had done more busy work and test taking during high school.

So back to this issue of the dissonance between learner-centered high schools and traditional colleges. Something that extends this challenge is that we too often try to silo our education system by looking at just k-12 or just higher education.

If we are going to “transform the education system” that takes the ENTIRE SYSTEM. 

We can’t ignore the fact that the education system doesn’t stop at high school graduation for the majority of learners.

So in order to bridge the gaps between the two worlds, one student today proposed, “We should have more busy work,” and I propose an alternative: Colleges also need to change their education system.

And I’d like to believe the alternative is the more likely option because it’s the more promising option. When I talk to college admissions reps, a student from a learner-centered high school is the ideal college candidate. They are mature and responsible. They have a keen sense of self-awareness. They can clearly and strategically plan and articulate their goals and curiosities. And they have all sorts of stories and evidence of their experiences that they can share to prove this learning.

However, as more and more learners start to graduate from learner-centered environments, I imagine there will be more and more pushback about why we have to then transition into a traditional college environment. Then these great, college and life ready learners will find alternative solutions of their own. They’ll attend the hand full of non-traditional colleges, or they’ll just continue on with internships from high school, or they’ll study in a different country, or something I’ve not even thought of. Colleges will have to change if they want these great learners in their learning environments.

That’s my hope/belief at least. I hope this process moves father than I anticipate, though unfortunately, bureaucracy and the fear of risks seem to be much more present struggles for colleges to overcome.

I could talk on and on about this struggle of learner-centered high school to traditional college, and to be honest I didn’t even go to one of the more unique high schools out there. There’s so much to be said about transcripts, assessment methods and “How do colleges interpret them?”, my advice to learners making the transition, my desire for a working compilation of non-traditional colleges, etc.

However, the important point here is that it is all a conversation. If you are aware of the two world struggle then you are already making the first step towards being able to respond to the struggle. But I want to make explicitly clear that I don’t, by any means, think the correct response is “Let’s be a little more traditional to prepare for college.”

Struggles are solved by compromise, not conformity.

I have felt beyond prepared for college because of my learner-centered experiences. And even now being in college and knowing what it’s like, I would never trade those experiences for the opportunity to have had more time to practice taking standardized tests to, “Get used to them for college.” Switching worlds is hard, but not because of the tests, it’s because of the culture.

Weirdly enough, upon further reflection, I’m actually glad that this comment was made about wanting busy work to be prepared for college. It brought up a very important question for education in terms of how we distinguish “college ready” from “not college ready” and definitely challenged me to think carefully about my own distinguishment for this topic and even on distinguishing “learner-centered education” as a whole.

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Punishment Paradigm in Education

In psych class, we are currently learning about “learning.” In particular, I was reading tonight about reinforcement and punishment.

I was really surprised by how much of what I was learning directly refuted the way our school system operates in regards to discipline.

The short summary of my reading is that punishment only really works if it occurs right after the undesired behavior. If it is delayed, then there could be mixed associations about what behavior caused the punishment. For example, if a child cheats and then days later admits to cheating and gets punished for it, then the kid is being encouraged to not admit to cheating in the future and instead lie because their goal always is to avoid punishment. The kid is not actually taught how to improve by being punished, instead, they are taught what not to do, and therefore, are basically just being taught to learn how to not get caught.

I can’t think of many times in education where punishment is not delayed from the time of the undesired behavior; therefore, punishment almost always is not going to do the best job at teaching a child to change the behavior.

Instead, psychology would suggest reinforcing desired behavior oppose to using punishment techniques. This can be hard to do because punishment is a more natural response, which my family has experienced while trying to use this technique to train our puppy… However, despite the challenges, it seems odd to me that I don’t see more prototypes of this technique being experimented with in schools. I’ve heard of a few ideas, like yoga instead of detention, but on the whole, it seems that most schools tend to stick with traditional punishments like missing recess, suspension, detention, busy work, etc.

Furthermore, only slightly related, but very interesting to me, the textbook also discussed the ineffectiveness of physical punishment; spanking being the primary focus of the material.

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We were provided with this visual of the locations where spanking has been made illegal in school and homes. What I found interesting is that if I was asked to name areas I consider to have better public school systems, there is a correlation to the extent which spanking is not tolerated. It was one of those things I read and thought, “Well I’m not surprised, but I can’t believe it!” The idea that in the US children can still be legally spanked in school just feels wrong… (Must be honest, I’ve not done further research on this fact and the study in our book was conducted 2015-16, so perhaps this is not up to date information, but still only two years ago feels crazy enough.)

We know so much about learning that it constantly baffles me when I discover more and more ways that our education system doesn’t incorporate concepts we know to be true.

 

Slow Down

The first week or so of a new school semester really sets the tone for the rest of the semester in my opinion. For me, there has been a bit of drama, a bit of stress, a bit of rescheduling, a bit of fun, a bit of gymnastics, a bit of emailing, but primarily a lot of trying to work ahead. This weekend is a long weekend, and a crazy one for me, and whenever there is a long weekend I try to get ahead on homework to have the least amount of work possible over the weekend.

Honestly, I’ve been pretty impressed with my ability to stay overly on top of things thus far and it’s been a pretty great feeling. Though at the same time, sometimes it can be information overload.

Like on days like today where I’ve been working intensely for the last few hours on some stats problems that were annoyingly worded and involved tedious steps. Now I’m just kind of mind numb and when I try to think about everything that happened today, I instead just see numbers and phrases scrambled up flying in every which way. It doesn’t help that I really should be sleeping more then I have thus far…

It’s days like today where I wonder if it’s really best for me to have classes where I’m given almost all of my assignments for the semester up front. In a way it almost makes me more anxious because I never get that feeling of being done when I always know there’s something else I could be working on. Meanwhile, when only given a few assignments at a time, then when I finish those, I have to be finished because there is nothing else I know to do.

It’s really a trade-off. I enjoy the freedom to work ahead and therefore get more of a say in how I distribute my time, but I also constantly feel the need to be working. I’ve gotten better at giving myself breaks though, like when I had a cookie dough and Netflix party a few days ago as a celebration for getting more done then I expected to that day. I think tonight will also be a break day because I’m not sure if I can handle much more after that Stats homework; it was much more laborsome then my first two Stats assignments.

Even if you can keep working, that doesn’t always mean you should; slowly learning that despite my occasional work anxiety…

The Outline of the Future

I hate being assigned to write an outline. Most of the time they are graded which I find ridiculous since it’s basically grading a brainstorm… Plus every teacher always wants a different level of thoroughness in the outline, so you never know how much or how little to write. For some teachers, an outline is literally just a bullet-pointed list of a few words, but for others, it seems like we write enough to where we basically have the entire essay minus a few words.

What I especially dislike most of all about assigned outlines is that it always feels like we are formatting it for the teacher and not for ourselves even though the entire point of doing an outline is to better organize YOUR thoughts. You should be able to organize your thoughts any way you choose that works best for you.

For example, I am much more of a visual/kinesthetic learner, and therefore, I gravitate towards making storyboards/story-archs as my prefered method of essay brainstorming. I take a bunch of different colored sticky notes and jot down ideas that I continue to move around and maybe add side notes to until I feel like I have a solid story that I can then just type out. Since I’ve started this method I have found the pre-writing process so much more successful: I’m faster at generating good ideas and faster at organizing them.

Wouldn’t it be cool if when assigned to turn in an outline we could just turn in a picture or physical copy of a story board? I can’t wait for the day that simple ideas like outlines have more options for different kinds of learners.

Don’t Forget to be Awesome

Sometimes you have to remind people that they’re awesome. Furthermore, sometimes you have to remind people that they need to remind themselves that they’re awesome.

Today I made a girl yell out loud that she was awesome because who knows how the rest of her day was going but by the time she got to practice she was having some serious self-doubt going on. I don’t feel that self-doubt is something that just get’s better with age either because a similar situation came up with some Tech kids as we’ve begun our first week of school. There was a big conversation I more witnessed and listened than partook in literally after day 1 of school complete with yelling and tears that was essentially all about self-doubt with school, friends, and life in general.

It seems that mental health problems have started hitting kids younger and younger nowadays. I don’t know if the general pressures of life have really gotten that much more stressful or what it is, but I notice more and more kids of all ages doubting themselves daily. I know the feeling and admit it’s one thing to give advice and an entirely different thing to take even your own advice; there’s no simple fix so I’m not going to try to propose one at this point in time.

It’s just hard to see people constantly blaming themselves and not thinking they’re good enough. Since I’ve come to college it seems to just be a norm though, and now that I coach gymnastics more often, I’ve started noticing signs of self-doubt at even younger ages which is even harder to see.

I wish more was being done to combat this. I can’t help but feel the best place to make a difference would be in schools where kids spend the majority of their day-to-day lives. Yet the opposite seems to be happening. We’re always pushing kids to be perfect; to get a “perfect score” specifically. There’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness, but no matter how many teachers try to say “it’s okay to fail because we learn from our mistakes,” at the end of the day I never truly see this mindset in practice. I don’t think we ever will as long as we have grades, standardized tests, and college applications so heavily based on all of the numbers. How often do we just teach kids to love themselves the way they are and that striving for greatness is a personal mission to be the greatest “you” you can be for the world, not a competitive mission to be the best singular thing compared to everyone else?

The competitive nature that comes along with the numbers is inevitable and detrimental. Wheather intentional or not, kids end up comparing and competing in terms of grades. It always happens and it only makes it that much worse when someone slips up. It doesn’t feel good to be “beaten,” and this competitive nature, whether it means vying for valedictorian or messing around with friends about the little participation grades, until the foundational systematic approach to schooling is altered I don’t imagine mental health in society improving anytime soon.

Watch a 10-year-old beat herself up over forgetting two poses in a 3-minute long routine she learned in less than three hours and tell me that mental health isn’t an issue amongst young learners.

Little Changes Creating Chaos

It’s amazing how the littlest things can sometimes make you so frustrated.

Tomorrow I’m going to a gymnastics coaches training at a camp in Tennessee. It was supposed to start tomorrow afternoon and end Saturday afternoon. This was going to be great because then we’d be back by Saturday night and I’d have time for last minute packing and getting stuff together before moving in on Saturday into my apartment for the school year.

Now the schedule has changed and the event goes through Saturday night and we won’t be leaving until Sunday, which I only just learned about 30 minutes ago! Right now this is just making me beyond stressed and upset.

We’re leaving later in the day tomorrow so I’ll still have the few hours I would’ve had on Saturday to get ready, but it’s more that this change is disrupting my train of thought. I prepared myself that I would get stuff done tomorrow and then have a last go at things Saturday night and Sunday morning and throughout the week I could still be thinking about stuff even if not actually at home to pack. Now I’ve lost that time and right now I in no way feel prepared to be ready to move in by tomorrow afternoon.

Yet I’m sitting here blogging and mentally panicking oppose to doing anything to fix the situation. So ya I’m a hypocrite, but sometimes when you have a last minute freak out you just need to freak out and trying to be productive would only make things worse.

Hopefully, your night isn’t as stressful as mine feels in this moment. Now I’m about to go distract myself further by making cookies because the last thing I wanted to do before moving in was to make homemade cookies and apparently this will be my last chance.

Technological Chaos

Signing up for classes is one of the most stressful things.

It’s chaos online between trying to hunt down what classes you need to take, what classes are open, trying to schedule enough time to run between buildings while still not being totally spaced out.

Personally, I still am yet to get into an English 2 class, a class normally taken by freshman in the spring. I couldn’t get off of a waitlist in the spring, then I signed up during phase 1 registration only to have my class get cancelled over the summer, and now most of the classes are full and the online program is saying I’m too old to sign up for the few free spots. I’ve sent three emails to different people that could potentially help in this situation, but so far haven’t received a response. I’m not super surprised since the emails were sent today, but I guess I’m weirdly used to people responding fairly timely to emails; just another way higher ed is different from k-12 I guess…

It makes me crazy how difficult online systems can be sometimes. Technology is supposed to make lives easier, but sometimes it just drives lives more insane.

Writing Beyond Authoring

My brother is entering the 7th grade, and today at dinner he said, “I don’t understand why we have to take English and grammar class; I’m not going to ever be an author of a book.” This comment gave me a mixture of feelings.

On the one hand, I was impressed with his willingness to question the nature of things. Part of me also could relate to him; I was never gifted in grammar and any teacher who I ever wrote for would testify to that. At his age, I would’ve probably made a similar statement about how I’d never write a book, but here I am years later with an outline and introduction to the book I keep saying I’m going to write… You never know what will happen, he may write a book one day, but even if he doesn’t we all tried to explain at dinner how important writing is to every job out there.

This made me realize two things:

  1. As a rising seventh grader, how is it that my brother doesn’t understand the importance of writing? I asked myself this question, but I’m not even sure if I understood the importance of writing in eighth grade for that matter. I don’t know if I ever understood the importance of writing until I became a part of the Innovation Diploma and had to write emails, scripts for conference talks, professional write-ups, and started my blog which lead to a few articles for magazines. I was writing on a daily basis, but it wasn’t ever five paragraph essays or eleven sentence paragraphs which is what I remember being shoved into my head as “the way to write” in years leading up to me joining the Innovation Diploma. When do we teach why we learn to write? When do we teach how to enjoy writing?
  2. Realizing the moment when I came to appreciate writing made me realize a second observation: why don’t we spend more time learning the different ways we need to know how to write? School spends a lot of time about writing essays, and in high school that turns into more specifically: how to write essays that AP graders and college admissions will like. We write narratives sometimes as the “fun creative writing time,” and we learn about what persuasive writing is, we even read and attempt to write poetry or plays from time to time. But most of my peers in college still don’t know how to write an email. Lab reports were always something English teachers expect you to learn in science classes and science teachers typically just tell you to “look up a template online,” so who really knows how well I ever learned how to do that… I’m now working on a team wanting to write a professional documentation of our recent project to potentially try publishing and as I’ve started to write it I’m feeling like my closest experience to ever doing something like this is the way I reflect about projects on my blog; this seems like the kind of writing most people will do so it would be nice to have more practice and feedback in school. I could even imagine a project of buying a bunch of random items and having kids test them out and write reviews for them, learning to write feedback on a product is a huge skill for so many professions. It just seems like in education we talk about a lot of styles of writing, like persuasive, narrative, expository, etc, but I don’t recall talking much about different forms of writing like emails, essays, write-ups, surveys, talks, product feedback, notices, articles, memos, etc.

I by no means think English class is irrelevant as my brother seems to believe, but especially after our dinner conversation, I do wonder about ways English classes could foster a better understanding of the importance of writing perhaps by having a wider variety of types of writing taught. I’m sure one day my brother will learn the importance of writing, but it just seems like by the time a kid enters seventh grade they could have already learned this.

Stumped on a Song

One of my summers jobs is finding and editing floor music for all of our gymnasts for the next competition season; then I go on to choreograph the routines for most of the girls and start teaching them when I get back from travelling.

One of the things I find most interesting about this job is how every gymnast has their own style. I never took music theory or anything like that, so I’m actually pretty horrible at trying to describe types/styles/genres of music, but somehow I’m able to watch a gymnast and listen to different pieces of music and connect the dots. It’s one of those weird skills you can’t really describe how you learned it but somehow over the years, you pick it up from being in the environment long enough.

I can typically predict the kind of music gymnasts will have (when they eventually get to the level where they have unique routines) by the time they reach our second lowest level. I don’t usually need to figure music out that early, so I don’t waste time thinking about it often, but occasionally we have girls we know will progress fast so I have to work fast to figure out their style to keep up. Occasionally though, I get stumped.

I spent today working on my goal for the week: editing all the music for next season. I successfully have finished all of the editing (including for one girl I learned a few hours ago is actually quitting so that was frustrating…) except for one gymnast. This girl has had me stumped for years now, in fact even when she was at our second-lowest level I was stumped with who to partner her with for their floor routine. She’s a talented gymnast and a pretty solid dancer that could honestly do a lot of different styles if she wanted to, but I always struggle every year with figuring out the best fit for her. I know what things don’t work/what she doesn’t like, but it’s hard to look for songs based just on what you know what won’t work.

It’s been a frustrating process because every time I let myself go on the hunt for a song, I find myself an hour later not really anywhere closer to figuring out my puzzle. I’ve tried using my design thinking practices of doing empathy interviews- I talked to this gymnasts and others about what they like and dislike based on their style of gymnastics, and I’ve talked with other coaches as well. These interviews didn’t really get me any closer to success and basically only solidified my assumptions based on watching their gymnastics.

So maybe I should just try experimenting. I’m thinking now (as in literally in this moment because blogging for me is really just me talking through my own thoughts in real time) I could try just playing different kinds of music and seeing if the girls can improv to different songs and see what happens. I’ve vaguely thought about this before, but my worry is the kids will shy away or get overly goofy about it because improv isn’t something gymnasts typically do. However, at this point, I guess it could be worth a try until I think of some other way to get unstumped or somehow that perfect song comes up in my constant searching.

Tired of Magicians

I’ve found that as I get older I discover random strong opinions that I didn’t realize were developing over the years. For example, I don’t like magicians.

Today we saw an illusionist’ magic show off-Broadway and as we watched I realized how bored I was, which made me realize how I always get bored at magic shows. It’s kind of unfortunate because I’m impressed to some degree by what magicians do and the time and effort it takes to get good at what they do; however, something about knowing that it’s really all a bunch of logic and mind tricks makes not enjoy the tricks much. I spend more time trying to figure out tricks then I care about the coolness of the tricks; then I get bored.

Honestly, I’d rather a show of someone showing me how they came up with weird illusions because we all know it’s fake anyway and it would be far more impressive in my mind to see the trick and then know how it works. I mean I’ve always thought it would be fun to be around while magicians help make theater and movie tech become really epic; that’s probably the best job a magician could have in my opinion but it involves sharing the secretes to tricks.

I realized also that I’ve been to a lot of professional magic shows which I didn’t think was abnormal until today when I stopped to think about it. Perhaps if I had seen less magic shows in my life I would find them more engaging because they would have more of a unique quality to them.

It’s an odd thing to have such a strong opinion on, but despite not liking magicians, I’m at least grateful for tonight’s illusionist amusing me with myself and my new self-discovery. Learn something new every day, and sometimes it’s about yourself.