Safe to Challenge

There’s only so much that can be covered up with flashy lights and crazy tricks. Performers are storytellers and sometimes the artist can only take the story so far; at the end of the day, you also need to have a good story for the performance to truly be worthwhile.

Broadway right now has a lot of flashy shows with big fan followings and it just seems odd and almost a little sad to me. I want more original stories. Don’t get me wrong I saw Frozen in theaters 3 times and thought the musical version was a pretty good adaptation, and I’m still wanting really badly to see Mean Girls the Musical; however, I miss being surprised by a totally original story. No gimmicks, just good old fashion storytelling.

Today I saw SpongeBob the Musical, and somewhat to my expectation, it was a bit too gimmicky for me. The cast had some really impressive actors and vocalist who I appreciated very much for their efforts, but unfortunately, I don’t think the storyline did their talents justice. The set and costumes were also very intricate and fascinating to see, and I feel like I’d almost suggest seeing the show just for the sake of experiencing everything technical that somehow get’s pulled off. At the end of the day though, I just really wish there could have been more substance to the show. It was pretty one level the whole time and I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters or story, which you don’t always notice during the show with everything going on, but afterwards your like “eh,” and that’s never a great way to feel at the end of a performance.

I’m excited to see more shows that I don’t know that much about later this week and then when I’m back in town two weeks from now. I really appreciate how fortunate I am to get to see so many shows. I know I can be a little judgy sometimes when it comes to theater productions, especially with so much of my family being in this business, but it’s just because I value the art of storytelling and feel the need to give my honest opinions on the shows I see.

I was having a conversation with one of my aunts the other day about how someone tried saying, “Isn’t the theater suppose to be a safe place?” In actuality, though it’s almost the exact opposite. Theater that doesn’t challenge ideas, beliefs, and/or opinions is typically the boring kind. The theater is all about making big and bold statements that make you think and question; safe statements don’t tend to leave you thinking or questioning your core values. Theater is “safe to challenge,” it’s a safe bet that anything and everything might be said and you have to be okay with the fact that you might not always be comfortable; that’s the best part is when you leave with your mind blown.

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Different Pages

Day two at the International Seminar was a lot of fun (as expected) especially when you end the day with an Escape Room! (Even if we didn’t escape…) What I found particularly interesting about today though was that we broke off into stakeholder groups for a large chunk of today’s conversations. Therefore, I was in a room with all of other students/ young learners/ youth advocates/ whatever you want to call us (I think there were around 18 of us total).

I realized that this is the first conference I’ve been to where there are young learners in attendance that are not either from my learning environment and/or the SparkHouse community that has been developing over the past two years.

There are about 9 other SparkHouse members here, which is great because one of the main things that the SparkHouse has helped facilitate is more common language between learning environments. A common language is key because it allows us to move past the point of debating and distinguishing jargon and just get to the point faster about the why and how we currently do things and our hopes for the future. Not to mention even with our still existing gaps in communication, working with people you’ve met and worked with before typically makes working together again easier.

The complication is that not everyone is a part of SparkHouse currently, so half of the room is on much more of the same page than the other half which could in itself be on three different pages.

This wasn’t an overly complicated challenge but it struck me as an interesting dynamic today. It struck me because it made me realize that learners at a conference like this are often used to being the center of attention to some extent. They’re often leaders in their own community who are used to having one of the only student voices represented in a given convening and therefore, become a novelty of sorts who everyone wants to hear from. Now when you put 18 of these students in the same room who are used to having a prominent role in the conversation around education due to their student voice, all of sudden there is bound to be a power struggle because no one is a novelty anymore.

My hope is that one day this is the problem at a faculty meeting. No one is a novelty.

This is not to say that I hope there becomes a power struggle between students and adults, actually, I hope for just the opposite. One of the big points us students talked about today when discussing successes and challenges in our stakeholder group was the idea that there are a lot of adults who believe that giving students a voice/leadership/agency/power thereby means that power must be lost by another stakeholder group. What we strive for though is equal voice, equal representation, equal power. If either side of the equation is a novelty, then there will never be equal power and our education will be incomplete.

Timing is also key for this to be a reality. Giving students a voice doesn’t mean just give students a survey at the end of the term about giving teachers feedback; that’s just asking for student voice when convenient and wanting to confirm what’s already happened in class. The student voice we strive for is when students are brought in beforehand and are involved in the creation of school work, then sure you can get feedback in the end as well, but from both sides of the equation, students and adults alike, and discuss the outcomes and next steps together as well.

 

I’m going to be quite honest, at this point in writing this post I’m not super on the same page with where this train of thought was going… I’ve read it over and realized I’ve attempted to synthesise a lot of different highly debated topics into one train of thought and I’m not sure if I’m being all that coherent. So, therefore, I’m going to stop writing now. When you lose your train of thought, sometimes it’s best to just stop where you are and let the thoughts exist until maybe at a different time or with a different person the train reappears in a more insightful way. Until tomorrow then.

A Chance at Greatness

Earlier today I read this article about the application process to get into middle schools and high schools in New York. It’s crazy!!!

(I’d strongly encourage reading this article before reading the rest of my post because it provides helpful context.)

I remember applying to colleges all too vividly and it was stressful and tiresome and promoted all sorts of self-doubt amongst teens. For students applying to some schools, your shot all boils down to a bunch of numbers – that’s terrifying. From what I can tell, it seems like some kids go through this same process as early as when they’re 10-11 and only just about to enter 6th grade- that seems outright wrong.

Even looking past the equality debates and economic pull for a second (though very real issues as well), what 10-year-old should have to be thinking about how their grades will affect the rest of their life: the odds of getting into a good middle school leading to odds of going to a good high school leading to odds of being well prepared for college. Sure you may think, “Well the child probably isn’t worrying about all of the grades and applications and portfolios; the parents are the ones to really send stuff in,” but what is the likelihood parents don’t start pressuring their kids more and more with each year the academic game gets more competitive? Parents just want their kid to go to a good school, but what has to happen for them to get there?

And let’s keep in mind elementary school “grades” are basically assessing things like multiplication to the power of 12 and a few basic sentences written in a row.

I couldn’t read well until 2nd grade, does that mean I shouldn’t have gotten a chance at a good education?

This article honestly made me consider even beyond this apparent problem with New York City schools. I realized that there are often complaints about the ways that higher education admits students, but how often do we consider all of the k-12 schools who also have application processes? How do they work? How heavily are grades and standardized tests considered? Are children truly looked at holistically?

I’m just throwing out questions because I really don’t know how it works. I had never considered how lucky I am to have gone to the same school for middle and high school. A lot of kids go to a different school every four-ish years of their life because that’s just how neighbourhood schools tend to work. I, on the other hand, switched to a private school when I was going into 6th grade and then got to just stay at that school. I didn’t have to deal with applying to a new high school, or meeting new friends, or getting used to a new school system.

I vaguely remember the application process going into 6th grade. I’m sure my records were sent in and then I remember having an interview where they asked me to solve some basic math problems and take a few “creativity tests.” I only applied to one school. If I didn’t get in and didn’t get financial aid, I would’ve gone to our local middle school despite it being known as, “not a good school.” I was fortunate to make it in and to be on scholarship, but many don’t get that same chance.

My life would be completely different had I not switched schools in 6th grade. Completely and utterly so, I’m certain of it.

I hate that there even exists rumours of “not good schools.” Shouldn’t every child get to go to a great school? School is honestly one of the biggest parts of childhood. We spend 35+ hours a week in school for roughly 180 days a year. That amount of time spanning from age 5-18 (and some kids spend longer than that), adds up to an underestimate of about 16,380 hours spent in k-12 school during childhood. That’s a ton of time!

Obviously, this article I read is focused primarily on how the system to apply to schools is corrupt, but in my opinion, if the schools supposedly “not good” we just transformed to be better, then maybe the application system would self-fix to some extent. Every school has a different culture. Two schools can be entirely different and yet both equally great for the right child. The school application process should be about finding what culture of a school is best for each individual child, not about children competing to be admitted into the select few great schools.

School influences life; there is no questioning that anymore in the age we live in. Being okay with some schools just not being great is like saying not all kids deserve a chance at a great life.

We need all schools to be great.

Changes Are Coming

It used to be that every four years the USA gymnastics routines would change for compulsory levels. The last time routines changed was four years ago, however, an annoucement was made a few years back that for this set of routines we will be waiting eight years before changing routines.

The thing is, eight years is a long time to keep the same compulsory routines and policies for levels. Plus, like most things, once kids started actually performing the routines, the board realized things they’d like to change. So despite the fact that we have the current routines for four more years, some changes were put in place for certain levels.

Therefore, our level progressions (because there are some options so not every girl takes the same path to get to a certain point in their gymnatics career) have now been all turned around and wonky.

I feel bad for this first round of gymnasts having to be the first to experience these changes, the “guinea pig year” so to say. It’s always hard being the guinea pigs of new changes, but that’s how we learn is by shipping new ideas and seeing what happens. There never seems to be a perfect transition, but that’s life; it’s just a lot harder when you’re the coach versus the athlete because you have so much influence over how easy or hard that transition is for all the kids.

A Step Down

One of the comments people often make when talking about gymnastics is, “How do girls do all those flips so high up and on only a 4-inch beam?!”

The beam can be pretty scary for a lot of gymnasts, especially as they start to work on new skills. I’ve found that a lot of our younger girls noticeably have a fear of the beam even if they won’t voice their concerns.

It’s understandable really; most girls, if they haven’t themselves, have at least seen someone split the beam before, which in this case means they fall onto the beam with one leg on either side. Speaking from experience, it is not a good feeling… However, we like to say that you know you’re a true gymnast when you first split the beam. It means you were working hard and going all in for a skill that maybe just didn’t go right, but you will most definitely learn to not try doing whatever you did the same way again.

It’s hard though to help kids get over their fears. I have noticed though, that our kids like to fight harder to go for skills and stick them when they’re performing or competition. So today we did a lot of partner drills and some competitions on the low beams and I think it went rather well.

Sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a step back, or in this case, a step-down, and I never underestimate the power of friendly competition. Done right, a small competition can make things more fun and more performance-based, and some kids just do better when they feel like they’re performing.

Needing a Mix Up

I ended up falling asleep early last night while reading for my online course. I guess this month has just been wearing me out.

It’s weird because it’s summer, and yet my life is still very scheduled and repetitive, unlike other years: I get up around 9:30, eat breakfast, do school work for about an hour, get ready for the day, check to make sure I’m ready for teaching at Paideia, eat a quick lunch, drive to Paideia and do some design thinking, drive to the gym, coach gymnastics for a few hours (or do acro practice like today), then come home and help make dinner, do a little more work, maybe watch something with the fam, then go to bed and repeat.

I’ve never had a summer where I’ve been working so much. Typically I’m still in school till about this time of year, and then I have a few weeks before fuse and then I head off to camp or traveling of some kind and I typically hop around between family members and am maybe home a few or two all summer. I realized only the other day that this is probably my first summer being home for basically all of June since 6th grade; that’s crazy!!!!

So much has changed in this past year not only with college but apparently with summer too. I’ve been enjoying teaching and coaching more, but man it’s exhausting at the same time.

I want to challenge myself to mix it up a bit more and not get too stuck in this same schedule, because to me that’s what summer is all about; exploring new things and having time for the things all school year there doesn’t seem like time for.

Decisions Decisions

Narrowing ideas is always so hard.

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What ideas get cut? What’s worth keeping?

How do you make decisions? In general, teamwork can be so hard sometimes because it forces you to make a lot of tough decisions.

Today was the first day of narrowing ideas and we still have a good ways to go, but I’m very curious to see what the final designs end up as.

Design-Engineering

Over the years I’ve been exposed to a lot of different design thinking processes. They all have the same basic components just maybe with different wording or descriptions but at the end of the day, every design thinking process is just another way to visualize and work through human-centered problem-solving.

2250x1687.jpeg.fb397ed778a54598a13237c793491d20.jpgSomething I’ve found to be really cool about our course with Paideia and Wish For WASH is that there is no set design thinking process associated with our organization, so we don’t have to contain ourselves to one methodology. Instead, I get to pull from all sorts of different tools I’ve used to help coach our learners through the process.

I’ve used DEEPdt as the base because that’s what I’m most familiar with, and the DEEPdt playbook is a convenient way to facilitate newbies through the process. However, I’ve also pulled in tools or even just coaching ideas from the Stanford d.school process, the double diamond method we used in Grand Challenges, and some tools used in a mechanical engineering core class.

Today was one of the first days for me trying out one of the engineering tools which was suggested by another Innovation Diploma graduate who is also at Georgia Tech the year above me. The tool is called “The Function Tree” and I think it was a really good tool for our design challenge since it is product design oriented. The tool is about breaking down the different functions your design needs to be able to accomplish by getting more and more specific about what the sub-functions are that have to be accomplished first.  For example, a toilet must contain waste, well a composting toilet must first separate waste, which also means there needs to be a way to contain the waste, etc.

1136x852.jpeg.63bcfa55c7e34ff19ecdc62f218f960eI’m still learning how to best use and facilitate some of these tools that are newer to me, but I’ve really enjoyed the process of combining different methodologies; it’s helped me identify gaps, weaknesses, and strengths in different methods and tools.

Untapped Potential

This year, in particular, I’ve found myself getting more involved with different high schools around Atlanta that are working on making their school culture learner-centered. With each new connection, I make, I find it more and more odd that there aren’t more connections between different school that are close by to one another.

This isn’t just an Atlanta thing, I’ve heard people from other cities around the country also talk about the disconnect between schools in similar areas.

I wonder if there is some sort of competitive component to where different schools feel like they’re competing for the same kinds of students and families, but in theory, don’t we want to provide learner-centered education for everyone? Each learning environment is still different to meet the needs of different learners even if it the culture has similar values.

I wonder about the day when perhaps an exchange program will happen without needing to go over seas. From my perspective, there is so much untapped potential in terms of potential education partners practically in our backyard who we could learn a lot from.

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.