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.

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The Brain Myth

When you ask a random person to tell you what they know about the parts of the brain, often times they’ll say, “The right brain is the creative side and the left side is analytical.”

Well this is mostly true in terms of strengths, but the idea of people being “left or right brained” is kind of a myth… From what I’ve learned in psych class it seems that while the left and right brain do have dominant skills, both parts of the brain have to communicate and work together for virtually every task. Very few functions are restricted, “localized” as they say, to one specific part of the brain and people don’t actually use just one side of their brain unless they are a split-brain patient. In actuality, it’s mostly the media that has tried to make some of these discoveries about parts of the brain into overarching generalizations.

It’s always funny to me when you’re sitting in class and you just feel the whole room have a “Wait what? We’ve been lied to?” kind of moment. It wasn’t really that dramatic, and I had already vaguely known this, I just didn’t realize truly how much the media had skewed these findings.

This also had me thinking how it can be kind of problematic for people to try and label themselves as left or right brained. When people start to think like that they are inavertible limiting themselves by claiming they aren’t good at the functions dominant on one side of the brain compared to the other, and chalk it up to biology. In reality, though, the brain can constantly restructure itself throughout a lifetime in order to create new neuron streams and new brain cells. We truly never stop learning as long as we keep trying to.

I wish we more often embraced how both sides of the brain, both creative and analytical thinking, must be used to do really rich problem-solving.

Sportsmanship

I just don’t get people sometimes.

I simply can’t relate.

For example, people who are bad sports. Just why? Sure no one likes losing, but how is complaining and calling stupid penalties and yelling at the other team really going to help you win in the long run? Keep your act together, calm down, work as a team, and move on.

Especially playing in what’s supposed to be a low-stress environment I don’t understand why people get so worked up about things.

We had a late night ultimate frisbee game tonight due to fall break re-scheduling, and while we may have lost the game, at least our team was a good sport about it.

While we were up the other team started getting so frustrated and yelling at us and each other, and honestly, it only made their playing worse so I’m not sure why yell at all. Then they started calling all sorts of penalties which I personally was unaware of so I stayed out of that decision-making process, but it really just wasted more time than necessary. They way I saw it if any player is willing to take a dive onto concrete in a housing intramural league to catch a frisbee, let him have the point for commitment, don’t try to call that he didn’t fully have possession in bounds before the fall. You may say I’m biased because it was my team that ended up not getting that point, but honestly, I’d feel the same way if their team would’ve made that catch.

Also, I want to clarify that I’m not going to be up all night thinking about this call or anything like that. I didn’t even bother getting involved with the call during the game. I just find it funny how much other people care so much about protesting things like this. It’s intramural ultimate frisbee at a tech school… just help the guy up and tell him, “Great catch, how’s your knee?”

I’m probably making the situation sound worse than it was because in actuality the team at least was nice at the end of the game, and they were still better sports than some of the other teams we have played. I guess I’m just choosing to blog about this today because not this is our third ultimate game and pretty much every team has had bad sportsmanship qualities.

I learned today that sportsmanship can count towards overall ranking and was happy to hear that other teams were getting bumped down for that while our team has been doing well. I’m really glad that I’m on a team of good sports because it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to be playing if there were a bunch of people taking a fun month-long tournament so seriously and over dramatically.

And hey we’re officially in the playoffs even despite the loss, and we had fun playing, so as we like to say, “We won in our hearts,” and we’ll likely see this team again in the playoffs so hopefully we’ll win when it really matters.

From Fear to Greatness

Being a coach 100% makes me a better educator.

I understand the worry that comes along with the responsibility of teaching and training kids.

The wonder about if you’re good enough to be leading them. The confusion when you can’t put well to words what you want from them. The sadness that comes when you see a child that looks as if she is going to burst into tears over a comment you made when all you were doing was trying to give constructive feedback. The actual tears you see sometimes…

Then there is the ever-present challenge of keeping up with new times, new drills, and new standards of excellence. That moment when you learn a level has completely changed their expectations for an event and you get vexed beyond belief because for the past few years you’ve been leading the kids entering this level down an entirely different path. Then you try to throw in some new drills into your class and you’re thinking it’ll be great – just like how you saw it at that conference you attended!- but it never is. Instead, the kids try out your new drill and it just looks all wrong, so you try to make corrects but can’t tell if it’s even worth continuing with this new drill. Did I explain it poorly? Am I not remembering the technique right? Was it too advanced for their skill level? Did I push them too far too fast? Or do they just need to get in more repetitions? Well now we’ve used up all of our time on this event today and I don’t even know if I just wasted the last 45 minutes or am making progress in a great new area that we’ve not trained as effectively before.

Honestly, time is the worst. Do you spend a little time on every event today, or do the kids really need to focus on just one event they’re weak at? Do I even have this option? Is today’s schedule set in stone because there are too many different groups moving around or do I have flexibility with my time? How do we balance learning new skills while also practising their routines necessary for the next competition? When is there next competition anyway; are they really ready for it? Am I wasting time explaining so many directions? Should I be doing our normal warm-up for consistency and time effectiveness or mixing it up so different skills are worked? Does it take more time to set up these stations then they’re worth doing? How much time is left before we have to rotate? What happens when they come to this event with a different leader next time and the kids get confused with new directions and expectations? Are the kids progressing at a reasonable pace? Is anyone falling behind? Is anyone being held back?

So ya, I can empathize with teachers. I know all of those worries and concerns and feel them while maybe not daily, at least bi-weekly, but I’m often thinking about this work much more often than just while I’m in the gym. Half of the time I ride Marta I’m listening to potential gymnastics music or choreographing new routines based on the skills I know kids have/expect them to have come performance time.

While I understand and constantly am faced with these concerns, I also can respect the bigger picture. USA Gymnastics completely changed lower level vaulting progressions this year. It’s a pain in the butt because now we’re having to teach all of these new vaults to children and we feel less confident in how these new changes play into our personal philosophies. But at the same time, the changes are mostly good for the greater whole of trying to improve American gymnastics.

And fears of if you’re good enough to be a leader, while perhaps valid, are also in a way trivial. Whether you feel good enough or not, you’re what these kids got. So either step up or step down, either way, get out of the way because these kids are coming and have expectations of you. So make it up, make mistakes, make saves. Try something new, and give it adequate time in the experimenting phase before judging it’s worth as a drill or skill. When you’re stuck or need a second to catch your breath or even just help with setting up, let the kids lead- they’ll surprise you. Learn from those around you and don’t be afraid of a “double spot” or an extra hand to help out; we tell kids it’s okay if you need a little extra help getting a new skill, so it should be okay for us too.

Fears, nerves, and concerns can drive us to great things if we can accept their validity and then move on to push past them; sometimes it just takes time, creativity, and a little extra help every now and then.

 

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.

My Opinion on Online Classes

Online classes aren’t really a new thing, yet they seem to still get perceived as new which is odd to me. I officially got registered for the online version of a required CS class today and as I was walking with an upperclassman she asked me, “As a student with a passion for learner-centered education, I’m curious about your opinion on online classes.”

I guess this title is a bit of a misnomer because in actuality I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about online courses.

I use to very strongly be against them, but seeing as today I signed up for my 3rd ever online class, I realized that opinion clearly changed and now is more neutral.

I was against online classes because the depth of learning isn’t as powerful in an online class. I mean if you ask most students they’ll flat out say online courses are easier- that was at least a factor to my reasoning to register. Online classes may be interactive some, but the material is set and rigid and pretty surface level since there are no conversations where deeper questions can be posed and explored. The material is all given to you up front and you can finish as quickly as you would like/are able to; there is no “well the class seemed really interested on this topic so we pivoted the schedule to do a whole project unit where we came up with plans and prototypes and pitched to board members…”

You don’t sign up for an online course because of the content. I signed up for CS online course because the in-person course happened at a time I didn’t particularly like with the rest of my schedule. It meant I would have to rush from CS class across campus to Marta twice a week all semester and then uber to the gym to still be a bit late to coaching the practices I help with.

That’s really the big plus I see about online courses: time and location flexibility. That’s the reason I’ve now signed up for three different online classes since high school. It was always an issue of scheduling where I needed to take a class but didn’t have room in my busy schedule and the online option ended up being the perfect compromise.

So from the perspective of a student trying to get a credit out of the way and get a decent grade while doing other things, online classes are great. However, when I think about the quality of learning happening in most online classes, I find it to be sub-par.

It’s pretty easy to cut corners in online classes, and when you’re already not interested in the topic and just taking the course for credit sake, there’s little motivation to not want to just “get through it” as fast as possible.

Furthermore, I believe that a huge part of learning revolves around the social interactions and relationships built during the learning process. It’s really hard to successfully achieve those relationships in an online environment. Again, partially because there’s no real incentive to strive for that deeper level of learning. I consider myself to be an intrinsically motivated learner and a pretty good student, (yes, I believe those are different thing, but that is a different conversation), and even I don’t find myself caring to make the extra effort in an online course to really make it a remarkable learning experience; I just want the credit on my own time.

Obviously, this is all my own personal opinion, and some kids may, in fact, make that extra effort, though in my experience few do.

As I told the friend who asked me about my opinion, thus inspiring this post tonight, I believe that online courses are still a work in progress. I don’t have a strong opinion yet because I see the potential in them to be a great learning tool, though at this point I think they are just a great tool for the traditional system where learning has a more cut and dry vibe. The flexible time and space component to online courses is learner-centered in nature, though the context, course material, and assessment structure is still very much not.

Invite Curious Community

Today has been long and tiring. Starting at 4:50am after about three hours of sleep, my day consisted of first travelling to Vermont and then have the whole second half of the day engrossed in day 1 of the Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership International Seminar hosted by Up for Learning at the University of Vermont.

IMG_0910Like most first days, we started our conference getting to know our community which is always fun! I love networking with new people and reconnecting with those whose paths have crossed with mine before. We started the day with a poem activity where we were given a powerful piece by Margaret Wheatley (featured image) and then asked to pick out a sentence, phrase, and single word that stood out to us in regards to our conference. We then shared with our table and then did a “wave shareout” with our one word to the entire room. I found that if you took the most commonly chosen single words we got an interesting sentence to describe what this gathering is all about:

“We invite a curious community to trust in brave conversations.”

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Personally, I had some good “ah-ha” moments today that are going to frame the next two days for me:

  • Most students don’t just decide one day to researchabout innovative schools, and therefore, they remain unknowing that there is anything besides the traditional system even as a possibility for their education. Yet we know the movement will be strongest if learners are driving the change since, after all, learners are the largest population in a school community. So how might we engage students from traditional school systems who aren’t being supported in thinking about alternative education paths? How do we help these students know what their options are because from my experience when presented with the option of a traditional school versus a learner-centered school, learners almost always choose the later.IMG_0919-1.JPG
  • There is an interesting distinction between student voice, student agency, and student-adult partnership which I haven’t considered before. Students/learners can feel like they have a voice, but that doesn’t mean it’s being heard; students can have agency in their work, but not take ownership of the work. How might we achieve various levels of all of these distinctions of student worth in our everyday learning communities?
  • In education, we often are debating the semantics of what it is that we do in our learning environments. However, perhaps we need to spend more time focusing on why we do it then thinking about how we do it before we start to dive into what exactly it is. With this in mind, I believe I need to spend time with our production team taking a deeper dive into why we do what we do with Trailblazers in order to start exploring what the future may hold in terms of possibilities for growth.

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Old Ideas Brought to Life

I’m a proud advocate of taking time to acknowledge and celebrate the little wins in life. Today I had a double little win party.

First I discovered that I have officially written over 700 blog posts and am celebrating the beginning of my fifth year now of blogging! I mean five years is a pretty long time- it means I’ve been blogging for over a fourth of my entire life.

With the realization of this momentous anniversary, I decided it was time for an upgrade of sorts. Time for me to finally do something I’ve been talking about doing since only a short bit after I started blogging: create business cards.

I’ve been to a number amount of conferences and events in the past five years, and beyond that, I’ve run into dozens of people outside of event situations whom I’ve met and thought, “Well too bad I don’t have a business card to easily give this person all of my information…”

Thus I made it a goal of mine to prototype some business cards this weekend before heading off to the International Seminar in Vermont tomorrow.

I don’t think I realized how much I had been anticipating doing this over the years, but when I finally got them to print correctly I most certainly did a little happy dance and let out a little “YESSSSSS!”

Sometimes it takes a big realization to finally set in motion old ideas, but that doesn’t make those old ideas any less exciting when they finally come to life.

Improv and Show Tunes

I love theater people. Doesn’t matter the age, everyone kind of has the same dramatic vibe.

Today the dance troupe kids put on a performance between the junior troupe and senior troupe while the parents (and me) all watched. It was hilarious and impressive, yet not fully put together all at the same time. There was singing and dancing and lots of improv. Then we played charades Broadway-style which was fabulous even if some of the younger kids didn’t really get how to play… And to finish off the night we played “Heads Up” and “Name that Tune” with TV shows and 70s/80s/90s songs.

Life is always better with a little bit of improv and show tunes.