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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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.

Staying in Touch

I love reunions. Even if only a few people show, like what happened today with our Teck Trek Scotland reunion.

I can’t believe it’s been a little over a year since I backpacked through Scotland with part of my incoming freshman class. I still believe it was a great experience, that I’ll never probably do again. (I solidified the opinion of not being so much of an outdoors person while on this trip.)

I’m most grateful for the relationships we built on this trip. I’m still very close with several of my fellow Scotty Squad, and some I don’t get to see often but always happy when I do. We still keep up our group chat whenever we’re reminded of our adventures which is nice, but it was especially great to see some faces in person today at our Waffle House breakfast reunion.

I love reunions because I’m quite a nostalgic person – no surprise there considering its a good part of why I manage to keep this blog up somehow…  I like reminiscing and catching up, and after seeing some old friends today it reminded me of other people I want to do a better job at staying in touch with.

I’m only 20 minutes from home at school, so there are a lot of people I’m close with who I’m also physically fairly close to and yet don’t see nearly as often as I’d like to. Some of my best friends live down the street and yet I have no idea what they’ve been up to lately now that we don’t have classes together. (Which is odd in itself since we’ve had almost all of our classes together since 7th grade.)

Perhaps it’s time I make a better effort to stay in touch.

Missing the Meal

There’s a lot of things that aren’t so great about being a freshman, and the even more upsetting thing is that you often don’t appreciate the great parts until you are no longer a freshman.

So far the thing I miss most about being a freshman is surprisingly being forced onto the Meal Plan. I say surprisingly because it isn’t that the meals were amazing. (Though I admit I’m still on a Meal Plan because I did appreciate having a wider variety of at least decent food that you don’t have to cook yourself.) No the reason I miss being forced onto the Meal Plan isn’t because of the food, it’s because of the meal.

The experience of having a meal was more than just the food. You’d accidentally bump into people you knew while you were there and catch up after not seeing people in a while. Or if you knew you’re schedule was similar to someone else you’d intentionally plan to have meals together knowing there were really only a couple of options of where to go. It forced you out of your room and into society. You struggled together running through the rain or scorching heat because if you wanted to eat you had to walk there.

Now living in an apartment, only partly on a Meal Plan while basically none of my friends have one, I feel as if I hardly see people anymore. We’ve started living more spread out. Our classes are more major specific. And we’re just busy in general. It’s easy to want to just stay in your apartment and work through lunch, or not bother walking late at night to a dinning hall when you can make pasta a few feet away.

I miss the meals I had with friends. Sure it’s only a week in, but the first week is an oddly good predictor of how the subsequent ones will go in terms of your routine schedule. We’re creatures of habit and I imagine if I’ve not really bumped into people yet, then there is a good chance I will not for a while without intentionally doing so. It’s not that I’m against intentionally planning to meet with people, but sometimes the spontaneous or necessary part of running into people is what makes it especially great; there’s no effort involved so it doesn’t feel like anything is being forced or like there is any pressure on that conversation needing to be particularly memorable because you don’t know when you’ll have another.

I wish I would’ve better cherished those Freshman meals.

The Editor

I’ve recently been giving a lot of feedback on senior’s college application essays. It’s been an interesting process helping with the editing of all of these essays.

First, I’ve realized just how lucky I was to have gone to a school with such an amazing college counseling program. So many of the kids I’ve talked with barely know their college counselor and don’t really get much time for feedback from them.

Second, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten so much better at giving feedback and mostly because of the amount I’ve learned to ask for feedback. It’s a pretty straightforward concept really: the more you get feedback, the better you become at giving feedback to others. I just had never thought about it before, but while talking with these seniors I even find myself quoting feedback that I’ve been given by other friends and mentors of mine.

Then again, I know some of my feedback is still probably much too wordy, though none-the-less I think the content of my feedback has been on point. I didn’t realize how much my skills as an editor have grown between giving feedback to people on their essays as well as my role in Trailblazers with helping with the editing of those stories.

In school we spend a lot of time trying to become good writers, but there’s a lot to be said of having a good editor. I cherish the people I ask to help edit my writing. They know me, my style, and help with the grammar skills I lack and organization skills I’m still developing.

Plus I think the more you practice editing someone else’s work, the better your writing can become. For example, I’ve gotten much better at noticing when people aren’t really answering the prompt directly in their work which has made me more cognitive of trying to stay focused during my own writing.

Yet I’ve realized, being a good editor is not a natural skill. It’s hard to figure out how to word feedback in ways that will inspire new ideas from a writer; giving constructive criticism while also proposing potential new approaches/suggestions for the work. Part of my role in Trailblazers has been helping with not only the editing process, but also giving feedback to the high schoolers about how to be an effective editor. These conversations involve discussing how to help with prompt creation, key things to look for in an article, and how to keep a writer motivated long enough to get a good end product. It hadn’t occurred to me before the past year that people don’t naturally have a sense about how to give feedback in this way; I only knew the role of an editor because I had worked with one a few times when I myself wrote for an e-magazine.

I wish in school we spent more time focusing on how to be a good editor not just a good writer, I think it could benefit everyone.

Don’t Forget to be Awesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.