Valued Learning Memories


I am officially a week into my second semester of college. It’s truly a crazy thought to think that I’m theoretically an eighth of the way finished with undergrad already.

Ever since the end of my first semester in college, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Specifically, I started thinking about what things during high school most prepared me for my first semester in college. I was pondering what learning moments most stood out to me over those four years of my life, and not just specific to moments of learning actually during “school hours.” Then, I thought it would be really interesting to learn about what other members of my graduating class from Mount Vernon would include on their personal learning moment list. Thus began my mini research project.

I asked several other MVPS graduates of the class of 2017 to create their own list of memorable learning moments and send them to me. I received 12 responses (other than my own which are featured in the above image) and have spent a few hours comparing the results searching for trends in terms of actual events, skills learned, and ideas/concepts considered and am now excited to share what I found.

Defining My Purpose

Now before I begin to explain my findings, I must add the disclaimer that I know that obviously, this is a small sample size. Furthermore, while I tried to reach out to a semi-diverse group, there’s something to be said about the fact that these were all still students who were actually willing to respond to a random request from a former classmate of theirs even if they hadn’t talked to her in months in some cases. Finally, I must note that I acknowledge that every author has a bias, and I’m sure trends and conclusions that I noticed may have not been the same as others, but as much as I would’ve liked to discuss the responses with someone else, that was not the case this time.

Because of this bias, my conclusions about trends noticed can’t reasonably be said to apply to all 2017 MVPS graduates, but I still find them interesting for the sake of my little curiosity project. While I plan to include some of my own thoughts, I want to also clarify that my purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone of anything; I simply want to show some student perspective about what, after a semester into college, stands out as memorable and useful learning moments from high school. 


Trends in Events

Trends in events I define as the actual moments that people recalled learning something from that they found important enough to add to their list.

Top 5 Noted Events:

  1. iProject/Innovation Diploma
  2. Community/Team Work
  3. Extracurriculars (Sports and Arts related in particular)
  4. Travel
  5. Service

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that as much as students may have complained about iProject, the semester or year-long passion project all high schoolers at MVPS completed, it was hands down the most mentioned learning moment. Seven out of the eleven students found some iteration of iProject to be particularly valuable in their learning journey. For most, this was valuable because of the real world lessons they taught themselves when they became responsible for taking control of their learning, such as time management and communicating with community members you’ve never met in person.

Another undeniable trend was the role that the Mount Vernon community played in fostering great learning. Even if not explicitly stated, most students mentioned how much they valued the unity our grade had and how it helped push and grow them as individuals.  One learner specifically said, “I think it’s so great that I have a place to come back to that I can call ‘home.”

I believe that this role of a family like community also contributed to why so many students also mentioned theater, sports, debate, band, or some sort of extracurricular club. Communicating and working with teams is something that everyone seemed to really value, and I think the reasoning is pretty simple, “It’s cool to see everyone getting behind a common idea.” Not all learning moments need to seem grand and life-changing, but there is no questioning that learning patience and teamwork are very valuable skills in life.

On the flip side, some moments can be very memorable in a grand sort of way, but maybe not have the clearest learning outcomes. Almost everyone mentioned at least one time during high school where they traveled somewhere with friends. Whether this be a lake weekend or a trip to France, it’s not surprising that traveling is memorable. However, most students couldn’t provide as clear of a “this is what I learned from this experience” antidote with their traveling memories compared to other experiences, though learning about your peers is definitely a valuable lesson in my opinion.

In terms of the last major trend, I noticed that a significant number of people had listed something that involved helping others. Service proved to be a powerful way to engage students, as many mentioned activities from helping other students with classwork to partnering with a nonprofit.

Beyond some of those major trends, there were some little assignments that I noticed were important to multiple people. Research papers from sophomore year, the Mongols debate, and reading Madea were all classroom activities that appeared more than once. What was notable about what people learned from these activities was how one activity could have such a different take away for different students. From one perspective the Mongol debate was an example of the benefits of teamwork and preparation, while from another the debate represented a time when people were in fierce competition to the point of being mean. When thinking about why these three activities might have stood out amongst all of the assignments we had in high school, I found this comment to be particularly interesting in reference to the research paper specifically, but I think it applies to all of these assignments: “Realistic to the real world, but also just good practice in research and analysing stuff for ourselves that our teachers weren’t already ‘masters’ in that subject area (we had stuff to learn they didn’t know already.)”

Trends in Skills

Trends in skills refer to skills that students specifically talked about learning that have been significantly helpful to them. My new hypothesis is that perhaps activities, despite what they are, if they can help students attain these skills, can be worthwhile memorable learning moments. This is not a comprehensive list by no means, but these are skills that stood out in particular to the students I surveyed. In theory, these skills have clear steps or practices that can help one attain mastery in the given skill.

Top Noted Skills :

(In no particular order)

  • Public speaking: including how “it’s important and helpful to know how to bs your way through some things”
  • How to send a professional email
  • How to see an argument from different perspectives
  • Formal writing
  • Time management/scheduling
  • Organization
  • Maker skills (such as: CAD, 3D printing, designing, and developing stickers, etc.) some maker skills have more practical specific uses than others, but as one student noted, learning how to make stickers can be worthwhile because it reminds you, “to have fun along the way, because learning should be fun.”

Trends in Ideas/Concepts

Unlike skills, ideas/concepts are trends that I noticed students discussing in their reflections on why events were memorable, but they aren’t the kind of knowledge one can attain “mastery” in like how you could with a skill. Similarly to skills, I imagine that if these ideas/concepts were important enough for multiple students to acknowledge them in these reflections, then they may be topics worth purposefully making sure students get exposure to during high school.

Top noted Ideas/Concepts:

(In no particular order)

  • Controversy/Competition: while contemplating right vs wrong and different perspectives students learned things such as how, “Real heroes are flawed, the scale of goodness doesn’t operate on a binary 0% or 100% scale.” “Sometimes big controversies can lead to great things.” “Some people, regardless of evidence, will never change their opinions.”
  • Age equal Skill: students gain confidence when making the discovery that teachers don’t know everything, and even young learners can be experts at times; “I even got to teach some chief engineers about CAD; I have never felt smarter!” “… sometimes your teacher isn’t great at their job and you have to teach yourself and learn with your classmates to keep up.”
  • Trust in a Mentor: “I am capable of doing great things as long as I set my mind on them and have someone that believes in me”
  • Find/Share Your Voice: “Staying silent only boosts the presently flawed power structure.” “Speak up and challenge the status quo, even if that means questioning those in a position of authority.” “Tell your truth in all its tainted glory, you have the right to.”
  • #FailUp- Mistakes and Values: high school is about learning about yourself, and what better way than by making mistakes, a significant number of students all mentioned on their list at least one time they made a mistake and “failed” from it, but learned a good deal from it; “I was trying to figure myself, and with each mistake I made, I kind of figured myself out more and more.” “Life keeps moving forward, so you can’t sit in the past and dwell for too long.”
  • Grit: several students mentioned applications, jobs, internships, or long projects and how they learned from these experiences how to work hard to make something happen despite the obstacles: “Devote yourself even more to a goal that you are striving for, even if you get turned down along the way; if it means a lot to you, keep going.”
  • Learning can be Fun: (I was personally happy to see that many students came to this conclusion at some point during high school, though I imagine this isn’t the case for all sadly.) “Every Latin class ever helped me learn to appreciate school.” “Learn things you are interested in” “really fun time” “super unique and cool”

Final Thoughts

There was no assignment or “reason” for me to write this post beyond me just being curious, but I’m glad I did because it reminded me of a lot of lessons I appreciate learning over the years.

My initial wonder stemmed from being curious about if schools really place emphasis on the learning moments that later in life become most valuable; thus I first wanted to figure out what those “valuable learning moments” are based on the opinion of students.

Through this process, it’s become even more apparent to me that you can never know exactly what lessons people will take away from different activities. I was pleasantly surprised that the lessons and skills that students seemed to learn actually align with what I hope schools should be teaching students. The fact that students acknowledged these lessons proves that I was correct in thinking that they are in fact valuable lessons to learn in high school for preparation for college and beyond.

I do still wonder though about the hundreds of other assignments and experiences that did not make these lists. How should we value those assignments?

Students over the years always manage to learn the valuable lessons in some capacity. But what I wonder is how as a society we can show that we value the learning of these lessons and skills more than just the number grade you get on the assignment itself.

As I said in the beginning, my primary purpose of this post was just to share my findings of what lessons students found to be most memorable and valuable from high school. While I’m not yet sure what will happen next, I’m glad to have some more clear data on what those lessons we should be striving to teach in education might look like.


What I Learned From the Class of 2017


It’s officially been a little over a week since I graduated high school and it’s still just barely sinking in for me. It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t actually gone an entire week without being at the school. Between picking up my siblings and attending meetings for various Innovation Diploma projects that I haven’t stoped even though I have the diploma now- still not use to saying that- I’ve kept myself busy around MVPS.

However, even though I can’t quite imagine it yet, I know that next year I won’t be waking up in my room on the first day of school and heading back to MVPS to see all of my same friends and teachers. And going through old pictures for my mom while at the lake this weekend has gotten me reminiscent of all of the great times I’ve had over the years with some amazing people.

(The 7 members of the GT Squad! Go Yellow Jackets!!!)

On more than one occasion the class of 2017 has been called the “greatest class yet,” as I’m sure all of the years before us have been told. Despite whether or not our class really will be harder to beat than the years before us, I believe that there is something “great” about our class and I’ve been trying to figure out just what that is and I haven’t been able to narrow it down to one thing. So I wanted to share the top 5 things that I’ve been most grateful to learn from the class of 2017:

  1. Motivation from Healthy Competition
  2. Collaboration is a Necessity of Life 
  3. How to Dream Big and Make Dreams Come True 
  4. Question Everything and Ask for Help 
  5. The Importance of Giving Back 

1. Motivation from Healthy Competition

Any teacher who has ever taught the class of 2017 knows that we have always been a highly competitive class. It’s not particularly “normal” for a group of students to turn a simple history debate project into a full blown mock trial complete with costumes and an audience of students and teachers from other classes, but this Mongol trial is still one of my personal favorite projects to talk about because the competitive nature we had made the project more enjoyable and helped me better learn the material. We’ve even called ourselves the Mongol Grade because we learned to love that period of history so much and believe we are often “the exception” to many school norms.IMG_1875.JPG

While this kind of competition has undoubtedly caused some tension at times, healthy competition has helped make learning fun for me over the years. My peers have pushed me to work harder and strive to do my personal best. I’m never going to lie and say that I have found 100% of my schooling thus far to always be fun and engaging- I may be an odd nerdy kid who enjoys learning but school has yet to get to that great a level even for me yet- however, when I wasn’t the most engaged, having my peers pushing me helped make school more enjoyable for me.

2. Collaboration is a Necessity of Life

While competition has helped me try my personal hardest in school, collaboration is what allowed me to do constantly improve “my best.” The class of 2017 has been more than just a group of students working to get through k-12, we’ve been a family to one another. I remember when Google Docs first started to take off as a classroom tool, our grade took full advantage of the sharing capabilities. Back when everyone took pretty much the same classes, we would create study guides that practically the entire grade would help collaborate on in order to prepare for assessments. Our opinion was that everyone would have to study the same stuff, so if we all worked together to compile the information, it would make everyone’s life easier- and it did!CrDzAPtVYAAIVCE.jpg

This collaborative nature is evident not just in our school work, but also how we’ve bonded as a grade. During our Baccalaureate one of the speakers mentioned how there is no clear divide between “jocks” or “nerds” or “actors” etc, and that’s because everyone tends to get along with each other and help each other out. Members of other grades have often said that they were jealous of how close our grade has bonded over the years. This year we even maintained a group chat with the entire grade on it all year without anyone just spamming it into oblivion, which is an impressive feat for that large of a group of teenagers. It’s because of this kind of bonding that I know the class of 2017 will always be my family and though we may be moving far away from each other, I can count on these people to be there if I really need them.

3. How to Dream Big and Make Dreams Come True

I’ve had some pretty crazy ideas over the years, and while some people may be tempted to just say “Well that’ll never happen,” my peers have always been supportive to help make my crazy ideas into reality. For example, since freshman year I had been talking about how cool it would be to write an original show, and everyone always said it would be hard and take a lot of time, but no one ever said it was impossible to make happen. Sure enough, while freshman year might not have been the right time, I graduated having helped to write, direct, and perform an original show which wouldn’t have been possible if the idea wasn’t encouraged even back when I was just an ambitious, semi-clueless freshman.IMG_7671

This kind of positive spirit just makes life more enjoyable, and sure enough, we’ve been able to pull of some incredible things because of this “can do” attitude! The first step to doing the impossible is to dream of the impossible, which is truly impossible to do without supportive people by your side letting you know that anything is possible if you try hard enough. The class of 2017 has truly taught me to never let go of the childhood nature of dreaming like anything is possible, and that’s why we’ve been able to accomplish so many amazing things that get talked about as part of what makes us “great.”

4. Question Everything and Ask for Help 

The world is changing every single day and changes don’t happen without something first being questioned. Even schools are finally changing because of the people that are unafraid to question the norm. The class of 2017 is constantly questioning the norm and that’s why our class has been a part of making so many changes happen at our school. Members of our class participated in the first Council on Innovation where the Innovation Diploma started to further take shape. Members of our class were the ones to pioneer founding a student designed AP course. Member of our class helped prototype the maker space on campus. And I’m sure there are a number of other things that not only am I not mentioning, but somethings I probably don’t even know about that members of our class helped play an important role in.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 11.52.08 PM.png

Furthermore, we know that when you have a lot of questions about life, you need good mentors to ask your questions to. I’ve truly learned how important it is to not just ask questions, but to find someone who really is good at listening to questions. I have formed some incredible bonds with some of my teachers and peers whom I’ve had the privilege of calling mentors to me over the course of my years in high school, and I know others can say the same. I’ve learned when in life you truly just need to ask for help and thankfully I’ve found people that know how to listen and give advice, with the understanding that when they need advice, I can be that ear for them to rant to. Part of what I love about the class of 2017 is that we aren’t afraid of sharing the stuff that’s hard to talk about and it’s allowed us to form bonds with each other as well as people all around the school that will last long beyond the past 4 years; this is a big part of why I’ll miss my years of high school so much, and I imagine it’s a big part of why other students and teachers say they will miss us.

5. The Importance of Giving Back 

Last but not least, I’m so grateful that the class of 2017 has taught me how to really show how much people have meant to us. I can’t even count the number of times we have thrown parties for various teachers for birthdays, holidays, and farewells. We’ve gotten the nickname of “the stalker grade” over the years because we care enough to do some deep digging to figure out just the right gifts for people. Whether that means a video of pictures and an original song, a homemade grandmother’s recipe birthday cake, a signed copy of a favorite book, a video of a play we saw in France, a custom ordered hand sticked college bag, or a framed collage of inside jokes in the form of stickers, we have managed to put together some pretty great gifts for teachers where a bunch of us chip in to make it happen. I can confidently say they’ve been great because of the expressions on our teachers faces when they realize what we’ve done and it’s always wonderful to see someone you appreciate so much completely filled of joy.IMG_7509.jpg

Even our senior prank was so fitting of our grade because we were a tad annoying while also helping the community. We bought close to 300 cans at least and used them to block off the front entrances to the building, so while it was hard to get into the building that one day, our school went on to beat the all time record for the amount of cans donated to the Community Action Center by the end of the can food drive week. The class of 2017 has taught me how important it is to thank those that have meant a lot to you, and that’s why I never think I’ll be able to thank the class of 2017 enough for everything they’ve taught and done for me.

Thank you class of 2017 for being the greatest class a girl could ask to graduate with! You have all taught me so much, and while our time together may have come to a close, memories last a life time and I will never forget all we have learned together.


(And now for some of my favorite photos of high school…)

Performance Bonanza

Level 4 and up group routine to “We Built This City” ending pose. (video of full routine coming soon)


This past week was endless. All of last week I was working like crazy to prepare over 50 kids for various routines to perform at our spring showcase yesterday. Then Saturday was crunch time, trying to get in last minute practices, but only up until one of the girls had her Bat Mitzvah. And if you’ve ever been to a Bat Mitzvah then you would know they last all night long… Then Sunday was the big day and I was at the gym working for 12 hours straight, but it was worth it to see all of the smiling faces of kids and impressed parents.

I always say the most exciting part of a show is what happens backstage, but it’s typically not viewed as entertaining until after the show is over. I’m glad the audience mostly though everything ran smoothly because in the back room it was crazy. There were girls changing leos and getting hair done while some people were stretching and warming up skills. Then there were last minute order changes in the program. And what was most stressful was that I had to change all 4 of the huge routines about 20-1 minute before each show because so many people just didn’t show up… I had to re-block two routines slightly, teach a level 4 boy a routine to fill in for someone, and I even ended up having to be in one routine because I was the only other person that knew it and could do the acro skill with a girl.

Level 4 and 5 team pose.

However, thankfully everything went still went surprisingly well and I was so proud of all of the girls. I even had a couple people say they were close to tears during some of the routines because the choreography was so good, which of course made me want to do a little happy dance!

I’m sure there were some mistakes, and I know there were more last minute “oops” moments, but the show must go on and I was very happy with all of the team and acro kids.

Then today my acro tops started asking “what are we going to do now in acro; are we going level 9?” We aren’t ready for level 9 yet, and I told them how we still need to work on improving and advancing our level 8 skills first. However, we did start working on learning new skills today which everyone was excited for. It made me think about how in school it’s also the end of the year, but in school if you repeat a level that’s like taboo even if you are

Hot Shots (ages 4-6 soon to be on team) final pose after their group routine to “Little Bitty Pretty One.”
working on more advanced skills. Furthermore, in school there isn’t the same excitement about it being summer time and that meaning you get to work on a bunch of new skills and try different things than normal.

I wonder how we can bring the excitement of getting to learning something new back into school.


Ends and Beginnings

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This weekend was crazy fun!!! So much was going on that I didn’t even get a chance to blog. The Council on Innovation (COI) happened Friday and was a great success, then we had our drama one act play competition which was super fun and exciting, then my friends and I went to the lake, and then my girl scout troop had a mini Halloween party tonight!

In my opinion, the coolest part about COI this year was getting to watch all of the light bulb moments that council members were having. You could visibly see people thinking about how schools should be starting to find ways to further develop and showcase  EQ and CQ instead of just IQ, and how students can add great value to conversations.

I personally had a really fun time getting to talk with the council members and hear potential areas for future Design Briefs, where ID cohort members will work for extended amounts of time to help solve problems faced by people in their work. Design Briefs are our version 2.0 of last year’s Consultivations the biggest change being the idea of working on a project for an “extended amount of time” rather than just 90 minutes.

Working on Friday with business leaders just made me even more excited for the day when there is no difference between “school” and the “real world”, and it is just the norm for businesses and students to working along side each other, to not only learn, but also to positively affect the world around them. I hope the council members walked away from Friday feeling that this future isn’t impossible, and in fact has already begun with steps we are piloting with MVPS and MViFi.

I’d like to think the MVAllstars positively affected people all week, and especially Saturday morning for our one act play competition with our show Lions in Illryia. I had so much fun putting on the performance and then getting to watch other actors put on their shows too, plus all of the drama people there were so nice and fun to talk to. Plus we walked away with 2nd place overall, best ensemble, best supporting actor, and 3 all star cast awards!!!!!! (I was pretty psyched to get an all star cast award even as a musician!) It was a great day of fun, and lot’s of talk about “yes and” and working as a team with your fellow actors which I think are great lessons for life even out of theater.

With all of the work I had been putting into these 2 big events for the past few weeks, and especially last week, it was nice to then just hang out with friends some this weekend.

And now I’m super excited for this week because all week are auditions for our winter show The 39 Steps and our spring musical Shrek, the Musical!! Plus tomorrow is our arts concert where I’ll be performing with both the middle and high school bands, and also our a cappella club will have our debut performance at MVPS!!!

It’s sad when things end, but it’s exciting when it springboards something else to take off for the first time!


Putting on a Leadership Hat


Today Kat and I had our first big discussion on #EdJourney after having finished “Part 1: Roadblocks: How Can We Overcome the Biggest Obstacles to School Reform”. Now to be honest, Kat and I both felt that the book is more written for an audience that is either a teacher or educator rather than a student, but that’s ok it just challenged us to change how we read. Personally I’ve been reading the book through the perspective of a leader.

We are trying to make this a timed writing piece so rather than going into depth on our discussion I would like to point out a few key insights I found through our reading and discussion today:

  • Teams and organizations need to break the mold of pyramid structured leadership if they wish to innovate and instead have a richer system of many levels and different people that can be trusted to lead.
  • Leaders must be challenged in order for improvement and innovation to occur. It is uncomfortable to ask teammates hard questions, but it is necessary. This is a cultural change that needs to take place.
  • Decision making should not all be done by one person; therefore, people need to be able to trust others with the responsibility involved in making decisions in order to innovate.
  • Giving people a title helps them feel more empowered as a leader that can be responsible in that area of work, and helps give others someone to go to other than a “top dog” on a traditional leadership pyramid.
  • I wonder when it is right to lead by example versus letting others experience and struggle with something on their own.
  • We wish there was a book like this exploring innovative colleges and universities are the country.
    • And it would be really cool if we could do this as high schoolers or college students… (including writing a book about the findings.)
  • We wonder what it would be like for high schoolers to have more opportunities like those of college students to go on long “breaks” for learning outside of school. Like building a school in the rainforest of Thailand. Or traveling the country talking to different educators. Or trying to find a solution to clean water. Or apprenticing artist for a few weeks. (We both went on college visits this weekend so study abroad, internships, and co-op  opportunities are on our minds.)

Life = Humanities “and” STEM not “or”


MVPS is on fall break currently so we have a long weekend with no school today. It was such a great day!!!

And I spent half my day at school by choice. 🙂

While the students had today off, teachers had a planning day. While I haven’t been to a planning day before, I do know that this was not the normal planning day because it was run by MViFi and set up like a conference. Teachers seemed to really enjoy being able to have the choice of what sessions they attended and also being able to do a lot of hands on work.

The reason I was at the planning day was because I was offered the opportunity to co-facilitate one of the sessions, specifically the recycling session. This was a great and fun opportunity to lead and share our work in ID with teachers from across divisions. After years of talking about recycling problems that need to be solved for, I’m excited with the conversations that have been started and can’t wait to see how things continue. It’s also always nice when people get excited about your prototype. (Which is officially done and in place in a middle school classroom collecting data!!!!)

However, what I think I enjoyed most about today actually was my second session on designing a humanities course that will be launched for freshman to take for 2016-2017. It was a great group and a great challenge that sparked great conversation!

One of the big take away thoughts that I had was around the idea of fun work versus meaningful work.

My table had a conversation about how the humanities are about humans, which also has a lot to do with struggle. (By the way also there was an important distinction with “humanities” not just meaning English and history classes, but also arts and language and being more about culture than just being a combo of subjects.) Both analyzing and communicating the struggles of others, and having to struggle yourself to get work done. The truth is that there is a lot of struggle in life. I might not have the years of experience to really be able to say this, but I’d like to think, while I may not be able to empathize, I can at least understand on some level.

Sometimes you will have work that you simply don’t want to do, but you still have to get it done. In life you don’t always get to do what you want. It’s not always fun. That’s ok thought.

We talked about how you can do really hard work, that might not be the most fun while you’re working on it, but afterwards it can feel so rewarding. Rewarding to the point where students even comment by saying, “This was really hard, but I loved it! I feel like I really learned something.” One of the teachers mentioned our past show “Beast on the Moon”, and how it obviously was not a very up lifting comedy kind of show. The show was very serious, with lots of emotions and moving pieces constantly changing, and in general it was a tough drama, not to mention the amount of lines to memorize. However, after the show, we were thrilled with what we had just pulled off. It was rewarding to know we went through all of the hard work and then could put on a show that truly moved people.

However, the interesting question/struggle comes with how to make the hard work then feel rewarding at the end. In my opinion, this requires for students to be given the opportunity to do meaningful work.

Meaningful work can be fun. Feeling happy about learning something I think is pretty meaningful– being happy is important to a healthy life.

However, meaningful work can also be hard. It can be tiring and stressful and time consuming and still be meaningful.

In AP Lang we’ve been working on our Creativity Crisis papers (in fact I was going to officially share mine today, but I was much too passionate about today’s adventures to not talk about them). Now while we were still writing a paper, and staying up late to meet deadlines, and getting specific feedback that wasn’t always positive, we have been ok with all of it because we know that we have to go through all of that hard work in order to share something valuable with a wider audience. That is how we are choosing to try and make the work we do meaningful in this situation.

Teachers can’t just make work meaningful because for work to be meaningful, students have to find that meaning. However, it is possible for the work to not be given the chance to be meaningful. When this happens, this is when work feels tedious on top of being tiring and stressful and time consuming.

I feel like there is a common assumption that students (especially those of us helping more significantly with shaping our own learning experience) think we should only do work we find to be fun work. Another assumption being that your typical “STEM student” (a bubble to which I find myself often included) thinks everything should be about brainstorming and creating a product.

I’d like to dispel these beliefs at least a little because I don’t believe either of these assumptions to be true.

In fact I don’t want to ever only be doing fun work because after a while it stops being fun if it isn’t also challenging. While “fun stuff” is needed to help relieve stress and keep high energy levels to be able to work on harder stuff, overcoming challenges often feels more rewarding then just doing the fun stuff.

Also I find it interesting, because while I do love STEM and will likely go into a STEM field, I have found myself in a lot of humanities conversations lately. Sometimes it is important to just have a conversation. To not be focused on trying to make an end product, but to just sit and have a deep talk. However, you can’t always just sit and talk because eventually it will start to feel like you are having an empty conversation because it’s the same type of conversation you’ve had before but nothing is changing.

STEM and the Humanities need each other. Humanities, understanding humans, is at the basis of any thing you are trying to design, and you need the STEM skills to then actually design it to help provoke change which then leads to new conversations.

I feel like my thoughts have been all over the place tonight. (Probably doesn’t help with it being so late and my flight to Ohio being such chaos tonight.) I think part of the disjointedness to this writing tonight is because I have so many thoughts about this idea of Humanities and STEM; it feels like they are always working in competition with one another rather than collaboration with one another.

My big thought I guess is that great learning is about overcoming challenges that leads to something where you are able to feel happy and proud about what you’ve accomplished at the end. If you aren’t happy and proud at the end, then why did you do it?


Hello October


Today I really felt like school was back. The reason being because I had one of my first days this school year where I had a ton of different things to do and people to talk to during my “free time”.

The funny thing is that this feeling made me a little exited actually. Being busy makes me feel productive and helpful which I enjoy. Sometimes it’s just a pain to have so much to do and so little time, but this was different because it was the first time.

October in general is a busy month for me. We have our drama performance and competition, a band concert, auditions for the winter play and spring musical, people start touring MVPS, I’m going to Ohio this weekend to tour Case Western and visit my grandparents, the Council on Innovation happens, I’m helping facilitate a few other things, we have a design challenge coming to an “end”, Halloween, pre-Halloween laser tag in our costumes with Girl Scouts, and this isn’t even including school work…

October is just a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun. So many great things are in the works and I can’t wait for every one of them!


From Camp to School


Wow it feels like it’s been forever since I last blogged because so much was going on with so many late nights. I’m officially back at home now for the rest of the summer (which is basically just a week that is flying by). I’m also now in my new house as of 12:30am last night/this morning.

I must say it’s pretty weird coming home to a new home where you can’t even find everything yet.

My last few nights at Yale were great too! The last full day we had all of our big projects coming to an end in the moment of truths. First up was our sea perch competition. We had designed both a surface and underwater robot that had to be able to collect tennis balls as well as ping pong balls for the surface one. These robots were made out of pvc pipes, zip ties, limited duck tape (which had to last all 10 days for every project by the way), a wooden dowel, some netting, and then everything that went with the 6 motors and control box (6 total so we split them 3 on each robot).

Our design did not work out very well… We got some balls on the top, but none underwater because the robot itself flipped upside down a few times and I also don’t know if we had made the best decisions for who was controlling them. It really stunk that we weren’t able to test while building and also we didn’t even get to test ours in the kiddy pool the night before because our motors hadn’t finished drying onto the sea perches fast enough. The experience reminded me of the value of prototyping and testing as well as how to be creative when given limited supplies.

Later that day we also had our product pitch presentation where we pitched “The All-Year-Lawn Mower”. This machine would act similarly to a roomba but for the outdoors. It would be 2.5-1.5 ft wide and would use ultrasonic sensor technology to complete one of 5 tasks at a time: mow your lawn (mow mode), blow snow off of your driveway (snow mode), fertilize your lawn (grow mode), weed spray your lawn (no-no grow mode), or salt your driveway (no-no snow mode).

In my opinion this was the biggest project we did since we had to also create a design document and presentation (as well as a commercial) for our product. For us this project was a lot more challenging then the sea perch because it was more complicated and harder for us to make decisions since there were so many more possibilities about what we wanted to design. In the end we pulled it together and gave a pretty solid presentation. Our product was probably the most complicated and I think that was more evident when people started to question us. (It’s amazing how much harsher your peers like to be then the judges  because everyone wants to win.)

At the end of the night we had a leadership session called “What I Discovered”. We walked in semi-silently because we didn’t quite realize that we were suppose to be silent and our instructor then told us how interesting it was that people so naturally want to resist silence but that’s often when we can further understand ourselves.

After that he pretty much just opened up the floor for anyone to speak. It was interesting for me because I think often times in small groups I’m fairly quick to step up at least after a little if not first. However, this night I didn’t step up to speak, but the important thing was that I was okay with that decision. Our instructor talked about how often people that got up didn’t think they said what they meant, and sometimes those that didn’t then regret what they said, but sometimes you may be just ok with whatever choice you made.

On this particular night I was quite aware of what I was thinking and feeling and I quite honestly couldn’t think of anything to say. NSLC was a fantastic experience and I learned a lot about engineering, but I didn’t really feel like I “discovered” anything significant. I was reminded of some past ideas, but nothing was super new to me. Which I guess was kind of a discovery in itself because I realized how well exposed in leadership I’ve been becoming lately which is pretty cool, but I hadn’t even thought of that until just now. In that moment I was perfectly okay with the silence which was kind of something new for me so it stood out in an interesting kind of way.

On our last day we finally got to discover who won which events from our full competition that was taking place throughout our stay. We knew we had won some of the smaller more team oriented events like minute to win it and mission impossible, but we also knew we lost some big ones like trebuchets and probably sea perch and weren’t sure about others. We ended up coming in last for sea perch (which we expected based on the what the other teams said about how they did), and we came in second on our product pitch which was a big one. Overall we came in second which may not be first, but it still means we beat two other teams so that’s pretty good still!

There was absolutely no prize for coming in any position, but it’s amazing how hard the teams worked to try and win. In the right situations a little competition really can do a lot to motivate kids and I’m always wondering how we could better use this human instinct in the class room without it being detrimental to anyones feelings in the long run.

NSLC was a fantastic experience and I’m really glad I got to go because it really helped give me a better understanding of engineering and introduced me to a lot of important engineering skills. While no where close to TIP emotional level for me, it was sad to say good bye to such great friends and TAs. We had a random group of people show up from all over the country for this event, and yet we bonded so closely so quickly. Many people said they felt more comfortable there then back at school, but it doesn’t have to be that way. School is practically a random group of people as well, so who is to say that the underlying level of trust and comfort with your peers can’t be the same? Why do connections form so easily at camp? I think it may be because there is focus on more than just gaining task oriented skills, but also a focus on creating bonds through leadership sessions and just general moments dedicated to fun.

What if school was more like camp? Both are experiences where students learn and work as a team with others, but what if school had more moments dedicated to just fun? Moments where students could let go of the stress of the classroom and focus on being a kid creating trusting relationships with there peers and dare I say, “their team”. Would students feel more comfortable and  trusting of their peers? Who knows until someone’s brave enough to try?


Trusting Your Team Inspires a Team


(This was actually my team and our design for the wind turbine competition.)

It’s amazing what you can get done when you work as a team. I’ve loved how my team (Team Team) has been bonding so well these past few days!

Tonight we even won the Minute to Win It challenge so now we’ve made an impressive lead for ourselves after winning several challenges now. 🙂

We actually had another challenge today as well where we were building wind turbines. However this challenge was a little different because rather than working with our TA groups we were paired randomly amongst all of the engineering kids. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy that very much. I love my TA group and we’re so close now and have bonded like family which has made us an even better team. However, these people I just met and there was no specific reason as to why we were together. I’m pretty sure actually that all of them were the same personality type which happens to be an owl which also happens to be the type that is most opposite to my major personality type. I mean yes people consist of a lot of different attributes so I in no way mean to label people purely that way, but I found it interesting how quickly I noticed similar characteristics amongst them and felt myself getting bothered by some traits. Without the balance of all different personalities though, it made it harder for our team to productively work and we ended up not doing so great in the competition.

Luckily 2 people from my TA group were on the winning team, and we had one person on the 2nd and 3rd place teams as well, so we still got a good amount of points during that challenge.

We also had a full 4 hours back to back of project development time which was really nice because we were able to make a ton of progress on our 2 major projects. Our team showed great collaboration skills again during this time with quickly splitting into groups to divide and concur tasks. I think one of the best parts about being at a nerd camp is how I think we all feel more trustworthy of each other to get their share of work done well than perhaps some of our actual class members at school. This trust really allows us to get a lot done because jobs can be assigned and everyone feels confident that they will get done in a timely fashion.

I’m so excited to see how things keep playing out for Team Team, and it’s sad to think it’s almost time to leave these awesome people!


Same Process New Way


Today I was totally in my zone because we did a ton of brainstorming! Now that we know about all of the projects, today we started brainstorming ideas for our sea perch designs and our product pitch. However, the designs are top secret so I’m not going to reveal anything until things go public, but I will discuss the process.

It’s always kind of weird to brainstorm with a new group of people because everyone has slightly different methods that work best for them. Plus I feel like I do so much brainstorming with ID that I’ve gotten use to having a really some sort of plan and method to brainstorming typically with time limits, but the average person’s instinct is to just all kind of start thinking and talking with people. I discovered quickly that trying to be super organized wasn’t going to be how this team operated for now at least.

We ended up naturally splitting into two groups and deciding which group would work on the surface robot and which would work on the under water one. Then we brain stormed ideas with out groups by drawing on the chalkboard then expanding our groups a little. Then finally we talked to the other team about their design to give feedback and discussed how we would split up the limited materials we have. We went back and forth at this step a few times, but then my team finally felt confident to go a head and start working on building our design (which we had already confirmed with the other group on).

I must say that it bugged me some that we could get our materials until like 40 minutes in because it was hard to brainstorm ideas without being fully aware of what we had besides a list of objects without dimensions or descriptions. I also don’t know if our end design will really win in the innovative category because to me it seems rather simple, which you know may be okay if it ends up working the best. It made me wonder if we could have taken more time trying to think of innovative solutions rather than just starting with productive solutions. I wonder how what task you start with effects the end results.

Later in the night we were brainstorming product ideas (that could literally be any idea for a product). I’m use to starting with finding problems then getting sticky notes and brainstorming creative solutions. Here we were given free range to just think of any solution and I must say I found it harder to brainstorm good ideas while thinking this way. This time we were lead by our TA’s and had 45 minutes to come up with 100 ideas (which to be honest seemed long compared to some time limits I’ve been given, and yet we went over time to come up with a full 100). I also noticed we had a lot of ideas shut down which was odd. Most of the time they were shut down because the idea already existed, but I feel like that hasn’t stopped a brainstorm of mine in the past. It was just odd…

I mean I still had a lot of fun and we came up with some good ideas (but we don’t really decide until tomorrow), but it was just interesting to go through a familiar process a different way. I guess you just have to do whatever works best for the team, and today our team kicked butt during our Mission Impossible game and came in first place scoring the first 100 points for the engineering challenge this term!!! I think I love our team spirit and bond the most of anything because it makes being around each other really fun as well as productive because we listen to each other well.