Reflecting on 2.5 Years of Trailblazers

I’ve been slow to posting, but last week was a special one because we published our 5th issue of Trailblazers!!!

I’m still a little in shock to be quite honest. When we founded Trailblazers my senior year of high school, I’m not sure I fully believed we would still be running two and a half years later. Yet somehow we keep managing to pull through – even if we end up publishing a bit after our goal publish date…

It definitely hasn’t been easy though. Trying to manage any group that you only get to meet with a max of four times a year is hard enough, let alone considering the fact that the team you are working with are high schoolers who have to manage all sorts of other conflicts. I’d say a quarter of the year there was always at least one member who didn’t have access to technology, either from losing something, being grounded, or being in an area without service/in a different time zone. Imagine being on an online team where you didn’t have the ability to communicate online… It’s a bit challenging.

Not to mention, when working with high schoolers that means eventually students graduate, so there is a limited amount of time members stay on the team which puts us in a constant state of recruitment and onboarding. Each year we have new members we have to bring up to speed on our mission, values, and their specific roles and responsibilities which often includes a lot of training because these are roles most high schoolers haven’t taken on before.

The onboarding and training part of this journey has been particularly interesting to me as each year I try to get better at letting the high schoolers take more and more control the magazine. This semester I think got better with the team learning to schedule their own group meetings and make decisions without always needing me to direct the way through everything. I was always very pleasantly surprised when I would ask a question in our group chat to find out that the task had already been completed. There were still moments where I had to step in a bit – like in the final stretch weeks when senioritis and summer start to cloud work ethic – but we still got it done and that’s the key.

Recruitment has also been something Trailblazers continues to struggle with. I just finished my second year of college, which means at this point, there are fewer and fewer learners I consider myself to know well at the high school. Therefore, it no longer makes much sense for me to just go in and talk about joining the team or for me to reach out to individuals I think would be a good fit. So this has now become a new task for the high school team to take on and we’ve not yet found the best way to get new learners interested in joining our team.

I’m very aware of the struggles faced with Trailblazers, but that’s not to say I’m not extremely proud of where we are at. This year we published our 5th issue, created official branding, attended our first national education event as a team, got a production team application from a non-Innovation Diploma student, reached over 50 followers on social media, and had our first non-founding members graduate. It’s been a big year for Trailblazers, and I hope we continue to have big years and continue to learn from each semester about ways to improve as an organization and continue to be amazed by the stories and work of young learners.

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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.

Giving a S***: Design for a Better World (Final Report!)

Fall of my freshman year of college, I joined the Wish for WASH team at Georgia Tech. I showed up to the Engineers Without Boarders info session because I had remembered listening to one of the founders of Wish for WASH, Jasmine Burton, speak at my high school about the original design project she embarked on to create a low-cost toilet for a community in Zambia. When I heard that the team was going to be partnering with a local private school to lead a design thinking and sustainability class for high school students, I knew I needed to apply to be a part of this journey.

Joining this team was one of the best decisions I made all year!

I posted a lot about the process of creating and conducting this month-long “short-term” class at Paideia High School, and now I am excited to share our final report of the project!!! (As the lead for the education sub-team, I created a lot of the content for this write-up, so I’m overjoyed about how this turned out as well as the class itself! Also, I’m so grateful for all of the work the rest of the team put in– The class wouldn’t have been the same without everyone who helped along the way and I’ve never had a final report look so pretty!)

Overall I’m so proud of everything we accomplished and can’t wait for what adventures are in store for me next on this team.

(Click here to learn more about the Paideia class partnership, and other projects from Wish for WASH!)

W4W_2018Paideia_CourseReport

Living in the Chaos

Somehow I managed to forget to blog every night last week. Well I would typically remember, but not until it was almost 1am at which point I decided it just wasn’t going to happen.

It’s been kind of a crazy week looking back. I was at a wedding in North Carolina; ran a SlackChat for the Pioneering Education community (kind of like a Twitter chat, but on a project management platform called Slack); had my first test of the semester; performed an acro routine and had the kids I coach perform group routines I choreographed at what ended up being a huge event which ended up going well despite my stress on how they were looking up until the performance; had my first advanced tap class and got whiplash from the combo to a song from Hair the musical; joined an intermural ultimate frisbee team and won our first game; and that leads up to now pretty much.

Some weeks are just so busy you don’t always get the chance to stop and look back on all that was accomplished. There was an unusually large amount of stress and chaos last week, but looking back on it, I think everything turned out pretty well in the end.

In particular, I’m really proud of how the gymnastics performances went. The routines performed last Spring were not so great, especially compared to the year before, so I really wanted this show to be better. It was a challenge because we never really had everyone there on the same day many times between breaks and the Taylor Swift concert… So the girls maybe had 4-6 practices total with me and some were as short as under 30 minutes. Then to add to the chaos I found out on Tuesday that we had one of our top level girls hurt her arm the weekend before, so I had to fill in for her with one practice before show day to work out.

In the end, there were obviously parts that could have been more in synch (especially the endings) but the routines turned out really well under the circumstances and all of the parents and other members of the audience seemed to really enjoy them. It was also the first time in Jump Start Gym’s history that we had every team girl present at the same time for a show. It made my job so much nicer because I could choreograph for specific groups and kids without having to tweak things depending on who had to fill in from my original vision. Plus it meant we could have 4 different routines, and even though it made my life harder trying to divide my time between groups, it meant that we had a much more fulfilling show overall oppose to having to just do one routine and then basics which aren’t exciting to watch.

Sometimes the hardest expectations to live up to are your own. Not sure that these routines fully lived up to those expectations, but I was happy with how they turned out and proud of the performance from our gymnasts.

If you care to watch them, I’ve added the videos below:

Long Term Policy

These past few days have been a lot to handle. Gymnastics training in Tennessee, moving into my dorm, having a first assignment before classes started, and then today was our official first day of sophomore year at college.

I couldn’t blog with the horrible wifi at the camp this weekend, but I have lot’s to say on a later date about how much I learned at this training and how I was yet again hooked on gymnastics. However, today I thought I would post my first assignment which I was emailed about last night to be due at noon today. It’s for a public policy course that I’m probably dropping for a number of reasons. I signed up for the course because I thought having a policy course in my toolbox could be useful in the education world; however, the course was not as expected when I attended today and my lack of interest and already full workload lead me to think I should drop it since it’s just a free elective random class.

I realized that there is a reason I’m not a public policy major- I’m not very interested in it and could tell when I started getting distracted and overwhelmed in class. This also made me think about how while it may be nice to have a class like this, all about long-term policy decision making, it’s okay for me to not have everything in my toolkit and to let others bring those skills to the table.

Ironically my favorite part of the course was actually this first assignment which had stressed me out so much the last 24 hours. We were asked to write a creative narrative thinking about what the average day for a future student of Georgia Tech would look like in 2048. Besides being stressed about trying to finish, I enjoyed the process of future thinking about education and what changes might occur or will at least be protested. My vision I think is rather hopeful and positive compared to the more negative approach some of my peers seemed to believe in terms of how technology would affect our lives in the future. In fact, I think the hardest part of this assignment was trying to balance between dreaming about what I want the future to look like ideally and yet being realistic about the potential downfalls that could occur.

Without further ado, my first assignment of the year:

 

In the next thirty years, by 2048, the education system will have to go through an enormous change in order to keep up with the reality of life that kids in the 21st century are experiencing. Unfortunately, higher ed as a whole tends to struggle with change due to bureaucracy issues and traditionalist norms, but the world of k-12 education will have changed so immensely in the next thirty years that universities like Georgia Tech will have no choice but to change the ways they think about technology, culture, and core academics.

For a technical school, the growth of technology in the classroom seems to be a reasonable assumption to predict. From the use of self-driving cars to virtual reality entertainment, students will be accustomed to using technology is all aspects of life – for better or worse. Even in the classroom we will likely see changes in how students interact with technology. An average day will involve tablets synchronized with presentations for interactive lectures. First years already being apt at controlling power tools and CNC machines in makerspaces. Physical textbooks rare as e-books and online quiz and homework tools become more and more prevalent. We have already begun to see all of these changes with how students interact with current technology and there will only be more change as new technology is invented. There may even be virtual reality classes so students can be studying abroad while still taking a lab, and then who knows what’s next, but the role of technology will certainly become more prevalent in education.

As elements like the use of technology in the classroom begin to change, the culture of Georgia Tech is bound to shift. This shift will come in two-fold: the designer mindset and the value of the whole student. Already at Georgia Tech, we are seeing cultural shifts as more programs are established to give students opportunities to take on “wicked problems,” learn design thinking methodology and develop their own startups and businesses. This cultural belief that students can do great things today no matter their “expert level” and therefore, need real-world opportunities in order to grow as learners and leaders will continue to advance in the next thirty years with the growth of learner-centered education in the k-12 system. Already today, high school students are creating design thinking workshops for professionals, designing new prototypes for companies like Chick-fil-a, conducting empathy interviews and feedback for AT&T Foundry, running full businesses, and more. As high schoolers begin to expect more from their education, high ed will have to allow more spaces for this culture to grow beyond primary schooling. An average day at Tech will have college students learning skills like design thinking, no matter their major, which will encourage more mixed-major classes, capstone projects, and work studies for younger years.

While we experience the push for designers in all departments, simultaneously there will be a growing cultural movement to better acknowledge the “whole student.” This movement is even more likely to evolve than the push for designers because of growing rates of student mental health disorders and pushback from families, schools, and individuals alike to consider more than academics when admitting students to colleges/universities. Students will outright demand changes in how Georgia Tech handles mental health if the school doesn’t naturally place a greater emphasis on the well being of health at school. While it’s certain something will change, it is not as clear as to how. The likely scenario is that people will request more therapist on campus and easier access to health help, though seeing as this solution has been tried in some capacity with not a great impact, perhaps more creative solutions will come about. For example, perhaps upon discerning what the primary causes of mental health problems are, the causes could be altered to lessen the problems rather than just trying to pacify the end resulting student with medicine and therapy. Either way, by 2048, student mental health will either be improved or there will be campus-wide protests.

In tandem with cultural shifts, the core academics at Georgia Tech will, in theory, become more flexible if the university truly wants to implement more time for the designer and whole student. Disappointingly though, changes in the academics are arguably the least likely thing to change for a student in 2048 at Georgia Tech. The school has been set in its rather traditional ways for decades and the core of any school is its academics which is why it is often the last thing to change. In a hopeful world, there will become more flexible learning plans for each individual student depending on the specific areas they want to go into. Furthermore, credits will be able to be gained in ways other than sitting in a classroom; perhaps your internship or a private project like writing a book could give a student credit even for core courses. The underlying concept here is that the notion of “core classes” will have a lesser role in the academic experience because there will either be less specifically required classes or more creative ways to gain credit for these classes in place of taking them. This will allow students more time to focus on their specific interests and goals for their future work. If the ways in which credits, and furthermore, degrees are earned changes, likely the assessment process will change as well. There are ample reasons that 0-100 grading systems should change from practical notions of how “real world” assessment looks to the underlying principles of how grades are increasingly destroying the mental health of students. There are multiple prototypes of how the assessment process may change which are already being tested in k-12 schools and programs, thus it is likely high ed will adopt these methods once further testing and research on the outcomes have been conducted. If these changes do occur in places such as Georgia Tech, which the push from k-12 environments makes seem reasonable, they will likely be some of the newest changes of 2048 or perhaps still yet to be adopted; this advancement in education will be the most highly disputed and considered far-fetched to traditionalist which will slow change.

This outlook on the 2048 version of Georgia Tech is rather hopeful. Based primarily on the changes already occurring in k-12 schools and the way families are already speaking up against traditional norms in higher education, changes in the role of technology, culture, and core academics are inevitable. The speed in which these changes occur is what is most debatable due to the nature of how slowly changes come about at the university level, especially in regards to core academics; though in terms of the 21st Century, change happens relatively rapidly nowadays let alone by 2048. In this optimistic view, the average day will have technology being used to enhance classes in more interactive ways, culture inspiring collaboration on solving wicked problems while paying strong attention to the value and mental wellbeing of every student, and more flexible core requirements and learning plans for all learners. However, on the flip side, the lack of congruency in these changes could inspire discontent and outrage amongst the community at large from students, to parents, to faculty and staff which would make an average day much more social protest heavy. The next generation of learners coming out of innovative k-12 environments will have new needs and new expectations of schooling which are on path to the changes listed above in technology, culture, and core academics. If Georgia Tech wishes to continue to be considered an innovative, world-renowned school in 2048, it will need to keep up with the rapid education changes happening already nationwide.

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.

Off Again

It’s that time a year where people start going back to school, or off to a new school for those college freshmen out there. I still have another week before I start school, but several of my friends are starting to move back in already this weekend.

It’s hard to say goodbye again each year. One of the best parts of this summer has been reconnecting with old friends that I’ve not really gotten to see over the past year. Next year is going to be especially weird because now I also have friends who are studying abroad this semester. Some of my high school friends and I went to the lake this week as a last hurrah before we all go off to school again, and specifically before one of my best friends, who also goes to college with me, goes off to France for the fall. It’s crazy to think that it’s the longest I won’t see her since the 6th grade; as we all joke, “Who’s room will we have last minute study parties in?!?” (That may or may not have been a thing before every physics test we took last semester…)

At the same time, it’s been so odd to see my friends who are rising freshman starting to go off to college. I went to see the final performance of the 2 day Drama Bootcamp that MVPS hosted and I got the chance to see a lot of my younger friends, including a few who are recent grads themselves. Seeing the kids I remember as middle schoolers who we would pull into high school shows occasionally now as juniors and leaders in the theater troupe is kind of insane. Not to mention, see the recent grads was kind of a reminder that I’m now a sophomore. A whole year of college has gone by already, and now there are all sorts of new challenges ahead with year two. Starting off with living in an apartment instead of a dorm…

It was kind of a wake-up call these past few days of realizing that I have to be ready to move in next week and yet I’m nowhere near ready. Besides my mess of a room, I still have to try and change my schedule and get together with my roommates to figure out stuff for our apartment. It’s time to head off again and I’m curious for all the new challenges of another year in college.

Every year, no matter how old we get, presents new challenges and it’s good to remember to take time to consider how you will prepare for them. My first big challenge is move in and thus I’m off to clean my room and pack now.

Attached

I already struggle with getting rid of things. I’m a bit of a hoarder though not too extreme I just find myself getting sentimental about things and can’t throw things away.

With clothes, I especially have a hard time because I have the extra challenge of being short. Therefore, I never really “grow out” of clothes anymore. I haven’t grown since 8th grade so I still have clothes in my drawers literally from middle school.

Though I guess at some point in time age overcomes size because it finally got to that point where some things just looked too middle schoolerish to still have around. Today I spent a good amount of time going through my closet and finally deciding it was time to part with things. It’s hard though when you associate certain clothes with certain memories.

Like I parted with one dress today that I always think of as the dress I wore to one of my best friends’ 18th birthday party which was mascaraed themed. A few items were clothes that we took family pictures in at Capon, so it always seems odd to not keep those around. Another was a shirt I wore for like every winter for at least 5 years when I dressed up as an elf for “Coffee and Cringles” which was a craft market a bunch of Girl Scout troops participated in to sell homemade gifts.

Memories are weird in the way that they end up getting connected to certain items.