A Stormy Day

I only took one semester off from classes, and yet somehow I managed to forget just how awful midterms are. There is a reason GT students call it “hell week.”

Eating dinner at 11pm because you lost track of time working on a report all day. Getting way less sleep than you should because you wake up early in order to start working and then can’t go to bed with all the thought of what you still have to prepare for tomorrow. Making one-page study versions of your notes with writing so small that your hand cramps for hours. Watching Crash Course while making dinner and cleaning dishes because you realize how little your professor actually taught you. And the stress! The overhanging cloud of darkness containing all lists to be completed, deadlines to meet, and tests with timers in the corner of your screen counting down the seconds till mass destruction. And knowing that due to the pandemic and the syllabus changes, pretty much every midterm, be it a test or essay, is worth between 35-50% of my overall grade so that’s a bit daunting in it of itself.

It’s a rough time, to say the least… In high school, we would refer to these kinds of moments as “the dark night of the soul.”

Then to make things harder, there was an earthquake this morning that caused the power to go out on different parts of campus, and thus the wifi shut down for almost 4 hours in the middle of the day. But school is all online…

Literally, if it wasn’t for Google Drive having an “offline” function, there would have been nothing I could get done this afternoon. I missed my lecture on Zoom, my textbooks are all e-books, my assignments are all either test on our school website or typed assignments that require research which most of us get from the web.

I was honestly baffled by the lack I could get done. I had accepted school being online, but somehow I don’t think I realized how dependent this made me to the internet. Especially since I don’t have cell reception in New Zealand either (I could get a sim card, but I’ve been surviving this long with just wifi that it seems silly to complicate things with figuring out that whole situation) so I also couldn’t communicate with anyone or even see the announcement about why the internet went down which also included the estimated time it would be back. I debated leaving the building to try and find a cafe with wifi, but it was also raining today and I had no way to search what was open or where has wifi and the other times the wifi has gone down it usually came back pretty quickly so I didn’t want to leave in the rain if it was just going to be for a little. Especially since I was able to be a little productive at least with Google Docs offline.

And I did end up most completing the draft of my giant report for marketing since I had already done the majority of my research and outlined on paper/whiteboards, but I had to leave holes throughout the draft of research, citations, and visuals I couldn’t add without the internet. Also this made my weekly plans all sorts of turned around.

Then I made pasta for dinner and accidentally poured boiling water all over my hand while trying to drain the noodles. Now my hand is burnt and I’ve had an ice bag nearby, stopping throughout writing this post to rest my hand. A weirdly appropriate end to this stormy day.

And that’s what it’s like to be a student during midterms. I remember now.

 

Student’s Thoughts on Online Learning

As I explored ideas posted on the OpenIDEO platform about re-imagining learning during COVID-19, I noticed that there was a lack of student voice in the conversation, and yet students are the primary users of our education system. As a student myself, I’m very aware that at this time of year, when everyone is finishing up final exams and getting ready for relaxing in summer, most students aren’t keen to go on a site like OpenIDEO to continue discussing school right after they finished the year.

So I thought I would lower the entry barrier into this conversation by texting a bunch of my friends (7th graders-college juniors) 3 simple questions to get an idea about their opinions of online learning. I also set up a Zoom chat for those that wanted to go more in-depth on the conversation where we did a more personalized interview and also a brainstorming session in response to OpenIDEO’s three areas of remote learning, equity, and community. Then I analyzed all the responses, found some themes, and now wanted to share on the behalf of those 23 students who contributed.

 

Research Questions

The three questions I asked these learners to respond to are as followed:

1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

2. What’s your favorite part?

3. It would be better if…

 

Trends

The three greatest trends were students being:

1. Frustrated by their own lack of work ethic/motivation/focus

2. Enjoying the flexibility in terms of space and time offered by online education.

3 Wishing assignments and syllabi, in general, were more greatly altered to better match an online learning environment.

 

Analysis

As we analyze these trends a bit more carefully, it makes me think of these “How might we” statements for looking towards the future of education:

HMW internally motivate students to show up and participate in school? Teachers currently have less power dominance over students when not physically interacting; typical modes of enforcing attendance and participation such as threats of detention, silent lunch, suspension, etc aren’t feasible in an online environment. Now that these threats don’t exist, students are finding themselves less motivated which leads me to believe that the school work itself and the prospect of learning alone are not intrinsically motivating students. Wouldn’t it be great if students actually wanted to come to school and enjoyed participating in school work? The way to encourage life-long learning is to foster intrinsic motivation to learn – that would be a pretty novel purpose for school if you ask me.

HMW provide flexible learning opportunities post-pandemic? The mid-semester shift to a different learning environment on top of all of the other social-emotional priorities that have arisen due to the pandemic has been predominately challenging; however, the unquestionable best part has been the flexibility it has allowed students with regards to their education. Students have loved being able to wake up late and feel fully rested, knock out classwork while cozy in their beds, and then “get on with the rest of my day doing all the other things I want to do.” The ability to plan personalized schedules and work in a setting of choice has been amazing for so many learners, so now that we’ve seen how much students love this flexibility, how might we continue to provide it upon returning to our schools?

HMW effectively use technology in the classroom? The design for assignments to be better adjusted to an online structure was noted as a frustration, a positive element, and a wishful opportunity. So students loved the teachers that were adaptable and used going online as a way to incorporate new elements to their class in meaningful ways, and they were bored and/or frustrated with those who did not. The difficulties some teachers have had with adjusting to a new technological mode of communication raises an important question about how we can more effectively incorporate technology into our schooling even post-pandemic. What students warn us of though, is that technology can’t just be incorporated just for the sake of saying “I used technology!” It must be incorporated intentionally and meaningfully – there must be a true purpose for why the technology is further enhancing the learning experience.

Beyond the Main Trends

In addition to the primary trends, I found three key sub-trends that emerge when looking at how some of the trends interact with each other.

1. Re-thinking assessment (Responses on test cheating, not wanting tests, wanting more collaboration, and more project work.)

2. Maintain a sense of community (Want more socialization, interaction, and meaningful conversations with peers and teachers.)

3. Use a whole-child approach to education (Frustration with expectations not changing, eyes hurting from so much screen time, new challenges such as moving and schooling with family.)

 

Read More

If you want to read student’s full responses as well as my more in-depth analysis of the sub-trends, I have added two additional documents as attachments on my OpenIDEO post.

The Little Bugs

Throughout k-12 we learn about 5-paragraph essays. I understand why this format is used: it’s a simple way to be introduced to academic writing and when frequently writing timed essays throughout high school, there isn’t really enough time to adequately develop ideas past 5-paragraphs.

However, then you get to college and all of a sudden essays go from 600 words to 1500 words to 3500 words, and the 5-paragraph essay format just really doesn’t make sense to use at that point. But when are we expected to learn how to transition away from the 5-paragraph format? As a student it feels like this transition is just kind of thrown on you without much official guidance. It’s not even that you’re told not to use a 5-paragraph format, it’s just that it’s obvious that it doesn’t feel right when using that many words in an essay. So then everything you’ve learned about essay structure becomes warped. With a 5-paragraph essays we’re taught to introduce three main ideas in our introduction and those three ideas become the focus of each paragraph. Well, just because you’re writing more doesn’t it mean it makes sense to all of a sudden have 6 or 7 main points – then it becomes unclear what you’re saying. So how do you transition to writing multiple paragraphs about one key idea? It’s not really discussed, we’re just expected to start doing it based on gut feeling I guess…

Not to mention there is a whole other kind of academic writing that honestly hardly gets touched on at all in high school: reports. We talk about research reports and maybe look at one or two, we maybe even try to write one, but I remember even with the one time I was assigned to write a report in high school for AP Chem, the teacher’s instruction was, “look up examples online and base it on that.” So my peers and I kind of just winged it and I don’t remember getting much feedback on the matter. Yet we when we then were in college chemistry our first semester of freshman year, we’re all of a sudden assigned a research report every week after lab.

To be honest this isn’t a huge issue in the grand scheme of things that need to change with our education system, but sometimes it’s the little things that just really bother me. The little things show just how disconnected our k-12 and high ed programs are from each other. There are things like long essay and report writing that seem to never really get taught, and yet there are things like general US history that seem to be required every two years starting in 2nd grade and all the way into college… (I legitemently have a “US Consistitution requirement” in my online degree portal, and I took this course online and it was one of the easiest classes I’ve ever taken because I learned nothing new.) The little things on their own may seem insignificant, but they can be really bothersome for students especially when those little things start to add up.

Empathy Seeking

Online learning has been a wild ride… Personally, I’ve had moments where I’ve been frustrated, bored, and even, occasionally, pleasantly surprised by elements that come with school online. Because of this, I’ve partnered with OpenIDEO as a community coach on their current design challenge around reimagining learning during COVID-19. If you have any ideas (tested or half-baked), are looking for new ideas, or just want to express some problem points around our current learning situation I’d encourage taking a look at/contributing to the OpenIDEO site.
I’m trying to do a little of my own empathy seeking because I noticed an (unsurprising) lack of student voices shared on the platform, and yet student stories are some of the most insightful voices we need right now. So I’ve come up with these three quick questions that I’d love people (young learners especially, though I also welcome teachers, parents, parents on behalf of kids, etc) to respond to in the comment section. I’m hoping to take away some trends to be able to share with the rest of the OpenIDEO community to make sure we’re actually ideating for user needs:
  1. What’s your biggest frustration/what’s driving you crazy about online learning? 

  2. What’s your favorite part?

  3. It would be better if…

Furthermore, if you are a student and interested in joining a virtual collaborative discussion/brainstorm session to dive deeper into this topic, I’m hosting a student gathering this Sunday night, May 17th from 7-8pm EST. Use this form to sign up so I can send out the Zoom link.

Over-Planning

Last night, for the first time probably in the last year, I found myself up working past 11pm. And ever since I finished my original 100 days of blogging challenge, I have always given myself the rule that if I’m working past 11pm then I’m not going to try blogging at that point.

I easily could’ve had time last night, but I think the hardest thing for me with going into lockdown and then transitioning back to school has been trying to get used to all the changes to my daily routine.

When we went into lockdown, at first there was basically nothing productive that needed to be done. As long as it could be done in my apartment, I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could decide to stay in bed all day. I could decide in the middle of the afternoon to play flute for several hours. I could transition between random activities without worrying about not completing the previous project.

Now with school back in session, my environment is the same and, therefore, my external circumstances feel the same, so I have the desire to stay in bed, spend multiple hours on a hobby, and transition between activities whenever I’m urged to. However, I can’t really do any of these things now because I have actual deadlines again. Certain things have to be done at certain times and they have to be completed before I move on. So when I decide to spend two hours in the middle of the day playing the flute, it has the consequence of me then having to work past 11pm…

This has been a hard adjustment, especially since so little of the rest of my circumstances have changed. (As in I’m basically still in lockdown with everything being closed and me staying inside, it’s just that school started and there are conversations about things re-opening.) From the beginning, I decided to try to keep to what would’ve been my school schedule even though most of my classes are now pre-recorded so I could technically have any schedule I’d like. I thought this might help give me some consistency which would help make sure I actually watch the videos.

But then I have days like yesterday where my schedule gets all sorts of messed up because I was invited to a different virtual meeting that overlapped with a class, so I re-arranged my schedule because it was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. While I believe I made the right decision, and honestly it made me appreciate the flexibility of online-learning where I could prioritize a work opportunity over attending class live (this class was actually one of my 2 classes hosted on Zoom, but the video is posted later in the day so I was able to still watch the entire lecture), the decision definitely contributed to me getting all out of wack with getting work done yesterday. 

So today I decided to bring back an old habit of mine to help with prioritizing tasks; I’ve taken a homemade whiteboard (printer paper in a sheet protector) and listed out all of the things I need to get done in the next two weeks in the order I think I should do them and what day I should work on what. Perhaps this is over planning, but I think that maybe a little over-planning will help me re-adjust to the fact that I do now need to get back in the mindset of planning ahead.

If you’re also struggling with prioritizing work during quarantine, perhaps over planning and scheduling could help you too.

Too Much Choice

Today I realized a trend in my learning habits: I don’t do well with projects that give me too much choice.

You know, the projects that are super open-ended and students can pick “any topic” or, in my case with business classes, “any organization” to do their assignment on. I’m the kind of person that likes to weigh out all of my options before I make a decision. So when an assignment has hundreds of possible options to focus on, I just end up getting stressed and overwhelmed and usually end up procrastinating the decision until I inevitably have to make a last-minute decision I’m not happy with.

Clearly, this is a trend because when I think back to all of the assignments where I’ve had ample choice, every single one of them has caused me this stress and overwhelming feeling – the “Big History” project freshman year of high school, the civil rights project junior year of high school, my organizational behavior project last year, and right now my marketing assignment.

Now I’ll admit, I know not every student stresses these choices to the same extent I do. Some people are perfectly happy with just going along with the first thing they think of, but I also know I’m not alone in my frustration with these situations. And when I connected these dots, I also realized that my feelings actually correspond with what psychology tells us about choice: people tend to panic when given too many options. This is why any time you’re tasked with making a survey you’re told to not make too many questions or give too many answer choices. There’s a reason multiple-choice tests typically have 3-4 potential answers… The science says too many options and people won’t choose at all.

This makes me wonder, how might we find the balance between giving students choices in their learning without giving an overwhelming amount of choices to choose from?

Student choice is great, but it’s only great in moderation. We don’t want to paralyze students in effort to give them more choices in their learning.

For example with my marketing assignment that I’m currently working on, I would have loved if our professor said, “You are consulting for company X. You can choose any challenge/threat, target market, user need, etc. to focus on in your marketing strategy suggestions, but this is the company you are consulting for.” There is still plenty of room for choice and creativity in an assignment like this, but the slightly more focused prompt, just by giving the name of a company, would make this assignment feel so much less grand. Plus let’s face it, in the “real world” you get hired by a specific company, you don’t go around making up ideas for just any company you want – unless you have a very unique business model in your organization… I love this kind of project of identifying user needs and brainstorming ways to meet them, it’s essential design thinking just being called “marketing”, but I don’t get the purpose of working without first starting with a specific user. And we would still have to do plenty of research and problem identification work in order to respond to this assignment, but we wouldn’t have to waste time figuring out what company (user) we’re working for.

I urge teachers to consider the issue of giving too much choice when creating assignments because it’s such an unnecessary cause of school stress.

Creative Constraints

I realized today that while being stuck inside I’ve been doing a lot of repurposing: couch cushions become gymnastics mats, bags of rice become weights, tissue boxes become phone tripods.

Even in the kitchen, I’ve been doing a lot of repurposing. I only have a mini-fridge in my university apartment, but there is a little section on the top designed to be colder, so I thought I’d try buying mango sorbet and see if it could stay frozen. It didn’t… It’s a container of mango mush now. So instead, I took liquid sorbet and turned it into a mango chicken curry dish. I’m actually super impressed that it came out decent because I was really just winging it without a recipe and hoping it would maybe work.

There have been lots of challenges during this pandemic, but we have to remember that new constraints can also re-enforce a creative mindset; a lot of great ideas would not exist without having to have figured out a way to work around great challenges.

Mindset of a Historian

One of the more random projects I’ve found myself involved with while in isolation is finally organizing old gym videos. Jump Start is almost 9 years old now, so we have a significant number of old routines at this point. I’m trying to locate videos of all of these old routines and sort them based on level, song, and choreography (some times we may re-use identical routines or sometimes we just use old music but change choreography). This way in the future we have more options of old routines to recycle and also just more ideas for song selections.

This has been an annoyingly difficult process though, especially when there are videos that I know exist but I just can’t seem to find them anywhere between my computer, my mom’s Google photos, or old flash drives. For example, I somehow have old videos that are on my YouTube channel and yet I can’t find the original versions of these videos in order to save them to the Google folder we’re creating. Then on top of the videos I know exist but can’t find, I also know of at least a dozen routines girls competed, and yet I have no idea if we have videos of them. So I’m searching for something that might not even exist.

And I’m spending hours searching… How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when you’ve searched every possible option? How do you convince yourself that one more hour of searching won’t make the difference?

I even went as far as manually going through our records of all team kids we’ve ever had and emailing past families to see if they had old videos they’d be willing to share with us. I’m seriously doubting I’ll get any responses on that email, but I had to at least try in order to start to feel like I’ve explored all my options.

This must be what historians feel like – always searching through the past without knowing if anything will actually be found or if there even is anything left to be found. I’m glad I don’t plan on becoming a historian.

Missing Schedules

Today was one of those days where I feel like I did a lot and yet nothing at all.

I have found that sometimes the combo of extra time and being aware of so many things that need to be done just creates disfunction and lots of circling between different projects. Today I worked a bit on a research paper, a bit on school assignments, a bit on choreography, a bit on conditioning, a bit on organizing old videos, a bit on a graduation thing for my sister, and a bit on my global leadership program work, but while I know I dabbled in a lot I didn’t complete anything which makes it feel weirdly not productive of a day even though I did so much.

I’ve always had this issue. I think it’s because I’m a very associative thinker so I make connections between different projects I’m doing and then it makes me want to work on that other project while the new idea is fresh in my head. I struggle to find a balance between working on a lot and working intensely on one thing.

I think there is value in working a little bit on a lot sometimes because it helps keep me stay engaged in working in general when the topic and medium change, versus getting bored with working on something and then feeling too burnt out to work on anything else. However, there can also be value in just sitting down and finishing one thing, because then it’s not constantly looming over you as something that still needs to be done and energy and happiness can come from the achievement of completing a task that needs to be done.

I miss having a bit more of a schedule dictated by someone other than just me because schedules can help manage this balance since more often than not there is a specific time to work on a specific project. This is why I like working in teams and constantly stay busy and involved, because with teams/clubs we have to make specific meeting times for everyone to be together and then I have a designated time to make sure certain work gets done rather than letting my mind wander on its own.

I knew I always liked to stay busy, but I think isolation has helped me realize how a big part of why I like staying busy is because of the structure it provides to my everyday life. I mean I love time every now and then to just go off on mental tangents and work on the weird projects you wouldn’t usually think about, but now 3.5 weeks of mental wandering makes me miss schedules and structure.

Kia Ora

In the midst of my journey into the field of transformative education, there has been one country that just kept coming up as somewhere with some pretty cool stuff going on in education. Since high school, I’ve been hearing via Twitter, conference guest speakers, and other education blogs that New Zealand education is worth learning more about. And now I’m finally here to check it out for myself!

It’s been a week since I took off on my first of many planes to make it here to Wellington, New Zealand. I’d like to say the week has been glamours, but that would be a lie. Like all good adventures, there have already been some ups and downs. I almost missed every flight due to airport shenanigans. Renovations didn’t finish over the break on the house I’m supposed to be in so I’ve not been able to settle in yet as I wait to move out of my temporary flat. Oh! And the temporary residential hall I’m in had a fire in the common room on the second night, so we had to evacuate for several hours and only today have been allowed back in the room to collect our plates and forks we brought for the BBQ that was supposed to happen. (Everyone and everything is fine now.) I’m also not fully enrolled yet due to paperwork taking a long time to process, so I can’t log into the online portal to even just find out where my classes will be located next week which is very stressful. However, I’ve also met some awesome people, the school and campus seem amazing so far, and I’ve already done lots of exploring like hiking a mountain, interacting with museum exhibits, and training/looking for a job at a local gymnastics gym.

So overall I’d say I’m doing fine and rolling with the punches. I’m more than a little anxious about not being fully settled – from housing to enrollment – but I also know and have been reminding myself that I’ve done everything I’m supposed to and just need to be patient and wait at this point. (As hard and frustrating as that is…)

As the school year starts off I’m excited to see how NZ university compares to the US; so far one big difference just from orientation is the “party culture.” In the States, the idea of university kids partying tries to get ignored/ students are told “don’t do that”, but here it’s very much acknowledged in more of a “have fun, but be safe” kind of philosophy. Ie. orientation speakers (of all ages) will tell you Wellington has great bars and even mention a few favorites, but also remind you to go with friends you trust and take care of each other. During our first resident hall meeting, we were even told that the hall was hosting their own party where students are allowed to bring up to three drinks – that never happens in the States… Even as someone who is very much not a partier, it’s been interesting to see these little differences already just in orientation.

There has also been a huge emphasis on community which I love – not to say universities in the States don’t value community, but I think it’s been even more emphasized here then I remember from my days touring schools and attending orientation as a freshman. This entire week, “OWeek”, is packed full of social activities both for residential halls and the general student body with everything from hall chanting competitions, to city tours, to late-night concerts, to organized hikes, to Wellington themed movie nights. Plus the entire week, anytime someone has formally spoken, they have talked about getting to know the community in and outside of the university and encourage us to volunteer as a great way to be involved and give back.

I’m excited for studies to start, and I’m also excited to continue to explore this amazing, beautiful country. Some of my “bucket list” items so far include doing a night tour at Zealandia, seeing the glow worm cave, touring Hobbit Town, and doing site visits at a few innovative k-12 schools (I know – I’m a nerd for having this on my “bucket list” and I’m proud of it).

So one week out of thirty-six down and who knows what ups and downs will come next, but I’m looking forward to the adventures yet to come on this incredible journey! Kia ora New Zealand!