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

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Hamlet Then and Now

I love when I get the chance to see how much I’ve learned over time.

Freshman year of high school I read Hamlet for English class. In fact, part of how I ended up blogging was due to the fact that our homework for this class included creating a blog to post about scenes in Hamlet.

Now five years later, my coursework for my college English class is again to read Hamlet. It’s crazy to think it’s been five years already… In that time I also performed a fifteen-minute version of Hamlet for a one-act play competition and have read and seen much more Shakespeare in general. Needless to say, I’m much more confident in my reading comprehension in terms of Shakespeare. I also didn’t realize until this class just how much experience I’ve had with interpreting Shakespeare between reading, performing, and spectating shows over the years compared to most students. There are around nine shows I consider myself fairly familiar to extremely familiar with, which is still only a handful of his works, but most of my class only knows one or so shows and only kind of sort of at that.

I’ve only read Act 1 of Hamlet so far this time around but it’s kind of cool to get to reread something you read so long ago and notice how much easier it is to interpret what is going on. I also extremely enjoyed rereading my blog posts about Act 1 from my original blog. Honestly, I surprised myself by actually being intrigued by some of my thoughts as a freshman reading Hamlet; though I also did a great deal of laughing especially with how in these old posts I didn’t specify prompts, thus some of the posts when I speak as if I’m a character in the play sound quite odd in context.

I’m excited to continue reading and reflecting on Hamlet and my old blog posts about Hamlet because it’s really cool to literally be able to see change over time as I also have to post in my current class’ online forum. I so often find myself grateful for the Hamlet blogging assignment I was given so many years ago. A blog truly is a great way to capture and share learning progress.

Forwarding the Movement as an Outsider

I was asked to write this article/blog post over the summer for a fellow learner-centered practitioner, though I’ll admit I’m not really sure what happened with it; however, I was thinking about it today and figured I could at least post it on my own blog!

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I graduated in 2017 from a recently turned learner-centered environment where I was fortunate to be highly involved in the process of transforming the school, but unfortunately higher ed is not so learner-centered. That was one of the biggest shell shock moments for me about entering college: going from a normal day involving working with clients from the CDC, City of Sandy Springs, and Chick-Fil-A to name a few, to a normal day now becoming sitting in long lectures and taking multiple-choice tests that make up 80% of your grade. As a learner now out of the k-12 system and in a non-learner-centered environment, I sometimes find myself feeling like an outsider in the Education Transformation Movement; however, as time passes I have come to realize that there are ample ways to forward the movement even as an “outsider.”

Despite moving into a less learner-centered environment, I always knew that I wanted to stay involved with this movement to transform education. I didn’t want to go into education as a major though because I believe part of the problem with our current education system is that we’re still teaching new teachers how to teach in a traditional way. Therefore, I’m studying Business Administration with a concentration in Leading and Managing Human Capital. I believe that if we think of schools as an innovative business it will help with the paradigm shift. I hope to learn more about change theory, risk management, social entrepreneurship, 21st-century leadership, and more to then apply that knowledge to help consult with schools trying to transform to a more learner-centered model.

Apart from my studies, I believe any educator wanting to transform the education system has a responsibility to stay connected with the larger national conversations happening on this topic – myself included. Being in college, it is harder to find opportunities to create change in my personal learning environment, but through social media, conferences, and writing articles I can still help effect change in other learning environments around the country.

I continue to stay involved with the national community primarily through Twitter and Slack conversations, attending conferences, blogging almost daily, and being Editor-in-Chief of Trailblazers, a student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement. I believe as a young learner who graduated from a learner-centered environment, I, in particular, have a unique perspective that needs to be shared. A few years ago I stated in a blog post, “When teachers talk about learner-centered education people ask, ‘Where’s the evidence of this working?’ but when students talk about learner-centered education, we are the evidence. It is working.” – The Life of Pinya This quote has kind of served as my north star for the past few years. People want to know about the evidence, so I need to share my stories to prove just how much learner-centered education is bettering the lives of all kinds of students.

Since going to college, I have realized just how much more prepared I am for the world due to my k-12 experiences in a learner-centered environment. I have a deeper sense of self and can articulate my passions and goals in a comprehensive way. I have gotten feedback from professors about how impressed they were with my ability to send professional emails even as just a freshman. I have had the initiative to set up dozens of interviews with advisors to help me figure out my major. I sincerely believe I wouldn’t have had any of these important life skills if it wasn’t for my learner-centered high school; in my experience, traditional schools don’t spend a ton, if any, time on educating students about things like self-awareness, goal setting, professional communication, and taking initiative.

My life has been bettered immensely due to my participation in a learner-centered school and I hope one day that all students get the opportunity to learn under a more innovative model of education. I stay involved in the world of education for the future of those students – the ones who may not even know there are other options of schooling available. I’d love to see higher ed change their ways too, but for now I choose to focus my efforts on k-12 where I have the most background knowledge, even if I’m not in a k-12 environment. I hope other learners, of all ages, can come to realize that your environment doesn’t determine the level of participation you can have in the Education Transformation Movement. It’s always possible to effect change; start by sharing your story.

Even if it’s a Game…

There’s a recentish trend in education around trying to “gamify” certain lessons to make them more engaging to students.

Personally, I’m a fan of this concept, I even use the tool myself when teaching gymnastics sometimes by making conditioning into competitions or basics on beam into a repeat after me game as I did today. I think it can definitely be a useful tool for any teacher’s toolbag.

However, I also learned today that doing a poor job at gamify-ing actually makes things worse from a user end.

As part of my psych class requirements, I participated today in a research study. If it wasn’t giving me class credit I would say that it was the biggest waste of an hour and a half I’ve ever had; it still quite possibly could be. Some part of me hopes that the researchers can benefit from my involvement in the study, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be an outlier in their study.

The study description was:

The purpose of this study is to assess how information is valued when it comes at a cost and how time pressure influences information foraging. In this experiment, you will play a medical diagnosis game where you will select information to aid in your diagnostic decision-making. 

So I come in, sign my release form, and then I was put at a desk with a computer in a small room that had a divider between me and the other participant. When I read that this study was being conducted in the form of a game I got excited thinking it was going to be a fun mental challenge with interesting rewards system; you know- game like.

Turns out this was not a fun game. The game worked by a patient “coming in” and telling you their symptoms. Then you could see the results of different tests like an MRI or Cat scan, etc. There were four symptoms, four tests each with three possible outcomes, and four potential diagnoses. Upon correctly diagnosing a patient you’d get $1000/points. Then there were different rounds that added different factors like time and hidden information which were meant to help get at what the study was trying to test.

In theory, you would have to guess at the beginning of the game and then would slowly recognize patterns to help you make informed decisions on how to diagnose each patient. The problem for me was that I never learned anything. To be honest, I got really annoyed with myself because I could not figure out the correct connections. It didn’t help that half of the test results looked the same and I didn’t realize during the instructions would be the only time they tell you the difference between the “positive, neutral, and negative” test results looked like.

What I do know though is that my feeling of “failure” to learn what I was supposed to be learning lead to exactly what you’d expect: I stopped caring to try. I just continued to guess and honestly, it made things faster and I was still having decent success in my opinion, though I have nothing to compare my game score against. At that point, I really just wanted to get out of there but knew I had to finish the study for my credit (and for feeling like a decent person purposes and helping with their study despite being bored out of my mind).

I couldn’t even tell you how many times I almost fell asleep out of boredom. This “game” turned into my clicking a mouse twice in two spots then clicking the space bar. Repeat. Over and over again. I then got to that point where I felt jumpy from sitting in one place for so long and trying not to think about going to the bathroom because I was just wondering how long I would have to keep playing the stupid game.

I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of other students out there like me in this story and even more that may have not even tried as long as I did to figure out the learning lesson. Students where if they were in the situation of feeling like they were never going to learn something, they stop trying to learn it if no one gives them a new way to approach the topic. I think people intrinsically know when a certain style of teaching is not going to work for them, so why keep trying to put the square into the circular hole when you know it will never fit?

And this goes even for exercises that seem “fun” and “game like”; they still may not work for everyone, no matter how excited you are about a new activity for teaching a topic. There always needs to be options and adjustments if we want everyone to succeed; we talk about that all the time in gymnastics. When we teach a new drill, we say it, show it, have the kids try it, and still sometimes need to give a few kids a spot through it for a little; it doesn’t matter how they get the information, but they need to be able to all safely try on their own.

It was honestly a big MoVe moment (moment of visible empathy) for me walking out of that room realizing how some students may feel fairly often at school when they just aren’t getting it and don’t know what to do about it.

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.

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.

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.

Simply Lovely

Some nights you go have dinner with old friends and everything’s just great.

Doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how much we’ve changed over the years, we can always jump back into a conversation.

Tonight there’s no great moral lesson or new self-discovery; it was just a lovely night with people who make my life better.