SparkHouse Preflection

SparkHouse 3 is finally here and I’m so excited!!!

When I think back to my first time at SparkHouse it’s amazing how much has changed. SparkHouse was where the first idea for Trailblazers came about. Now here I am two years and three e-magazine issues later as a Community Builder and a chaperone for 3 of high school members of the current Trailblazers production team!

Since SparkHouse I’ve also become so much more involved with Education Reimagined and the Education Transformation Movement at large. I’ve attended and mentored at several conferences around the country, participated in numerous calls/video/social media chats,  and even been able to teach a short-term high school course of my own. (Which was obviously un-traditional in nature.) Honestly, it wasn’t until talking to my roommate, who is a first-time learner at SparkHouse, that I realized the full extent of how many opportunities I’ve had since joining this community.

And now that I have become more involved, I’ve realized the importance of “preflecting” – reflecting before things being about my expectations, hopes, and goals for this experience – in order to have a greater take away after the gathering. So here it goes:

Expectations:

  • Great conversations around learner-centered education
  • A deeper connection to the language we use to describe the kind of work we do
  • Be inspired by the amazing work young learners are already doing and the new ideas they bring to the table

Hopes:

  • Members of Trailblazers will branch out and expand their networks
  • We’ll develop new ideas about ways that Trailblazers could contribute to the Education Transformation Movement
  • More young learners will step up and continue to grow their leadership capacities in this movement even beyond SparkHouse

Goals:

  • Have at least five new people sign up/express interest in contributing to Trailblazers
  • Reach 50 followers on Trailblazers social media
  • Find a new tool/activity/mindset that I can implement into my own leadership practices
  • Inspire other learners to become more involved in the community/movement to transform the education system
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Working with High Schoolers

I’m very excited right now because the Trailblazers team has gotten all of our info in for SparkHouse 2018!

Three years ago I attended the first SparkHouse held in Washington D.C. hosted by Education Reimagined. This gathering brought together learners from around the country for two and a half days of talking about learner-centered education. It was phenomenal and also the birthplace of the original idea for Trailblazers itself!

After a bit of work convincing parents and working out logistics, we have our flights booked and surveys sent in, and our team is ready for a new adventure!

I’m particularly excited about this because part of my dream for Trailblazers is for it to be more than just a magazine; it’s a platform for learners to grow their networks and develop business and design skills. I hope that the Trailblazers production team travels more often to expand the learner network and share learner voices to wide varieties of audiences.

It’s been challenging to lead a team of high schoolers and try to get them to take more ownership of their learning. We often struggle with communication and timeliness and what to do when things don’t go as planned. However, it’s been worthwhile as well when I get to see how proud they are with each new production we somehow manage to put together, or even the little accomplishments like getting our first draft of a production. I couldn’t be more excited to spend three days as their chaperone for our first conference appearance as a team!

Decreasing Choking Under Pressure

I love when homework is actually really interesting!

We didn’t have psych class today because our teacher was out to due to religious reasons, so instead she had us watch two videos on our own and write an essay about what we found interesting and do some critical thinking about the two. I found one of the videos pretty annoying, and honestly still a bit annoyed that all of this work took almost three times as much time as the class normally would’ve; however, the second video I actually really enjoyed.

It was called “Power of the Human Brain” and some of the video I had already learned about before, like the concept of using a “memory palace” to better remember long random lists which is a technique mental athletes use. But I also learned some new stuff that really closely ties in with learning and memory and education practices in general which I found particularly interesting.

For example, there was a study done to see if we can train our brain to be less likely to “choke” under pressure. Turns out, the emotional part of our brain is right next to the working memory part. So when we get overly anxious or stressed, the emotional part of our brain can literally cloud up the working memory by overwhelming it with too many signals that take up brain power. Therefore, the study had half of a class take 10 minutes to reflect before taking a test about how they were feeling and get all there worries out, and the other half of the class just sat there. The half of the class who did the pre-writing ended up on average outperforming the control group by half a letter grade. The theory is that the kids who did the writing essentially “out loaded” their worries onto the paper and therefore, lessened the space they were taking up in the brain which allowed for the working memory to work more optimally.

Now I didn’t spend the time to look any deeper into this study or others about this topic after watching the video, but I still think the findings are pretty awesome- especially as a kid who is not the best test taker compared to what I feel my understanding of information is. I’m definitely going to try this pre-writing technique out and believe teachers should really try implementing this practice in classrooms as well. Getting learners to practice reflecting, creating a less stressed out environment, and having better performance result; sounds like a lot of wins for so little work.

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.

Gift of Design

My sister and I watched a movie today that compared surfing to high-end fashion. How? Through the art of designing.

Overall the movie was super cheesy, but I loved the message of the importance of designers and how designing isn’t a term-limited to any one area.  I’ve always said, “Anyone can be a designer.” You don’t have to be good at drawing or crafting per say, it’s about visualizing an idea and bringing a concept to life; that’s really not even the best way to describe it maybe, but it’s how I’m thinking about it right now.

In the movie, they talked about how as a designer you kind of just feel the idea and see it in your head then it just happens. I seriously related to this way of thinking about how a designer works, because I’ve been designing a ton of gymnastics routines recently and that’s exactly how I feel about it. I listen to the music and then I just see the routine in my head with all of the different moving parts, then I just go to the gym floor and start experimenting around until something sticks. The girls I work with even know that half the time I make stuff up even while I’m working with them because of all of a sudden I visualize the dance as something slightly different.

My mom will always tell people to not try to understand the way my brain works. I’ve even had times where I’ll play a non-edited song to other coaches to get their opinion for routine music and they’ll respond, “I don’t know, but I’m sure I’m not hearing this the same way you are.”

I believe everyone has that one area where they’re an especially gifted designer. Where they see something differently than how most people see it. Like how some people can visualize a surfboard out of a piece of wood or see an entire outfit out of just a scrap of cloth. Some just need a little help discovering what that gifted area is.

In On the Joke

I once had an English teacher who told my class on the very first day, “The real reason that we read, and especially the reason we read old literature, is really just so that we can feel smart when we understand references at a cocktail party or other conversations.”

At first, we were all shocked that our English teacher wasn’t trying to give us some long speech about how brilliant old writers were and how we need to read them to understand our history and how it affects our future, yatta yatta, etcetera etcetera. After a moment though, and especially now that I look back on this statement, I have come to realize just how true it is. The best part of reading is feeling “in on the joke” when some obscure reference is made. And I noticed this especially true in terms of me spending time taking Latin as my foreign language.

Let’s be real, we all know few people in the world even speak Latin at this point, but the reason I took it is because it’s all about stories. All the myths and histories wrapped up and mixed into one. When we were in class we would be translating actual novels and texts from ancient times that get referenced all the time in modern literature. I find myself being more appreciative of this middle school decision of mine all the time.

Tonight was a great example of feeling “in on the joke” when I saw the new musical “Head Over Heels.” I’m having a hard time finding the right words to describe the show, so I think I’m just going to use the description provided online. (Which was all I knew about the show going into it because it’s still in previews, therefore, no reporters can comment yet.) :

“An inspired mash-up of posh and punk, Head Over Heels is an Elizabethan romp about a royal family that must prevent an oracle’s prophecy of doom. 

To save their kingdom, the family embarks on a journey where they are faced with mistaken identities, love triangles, sexual awakening and self-discovery.

Set to the iconic pop music of The Go-Go’sHead Over Heels delivers an experience unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” – tdf description 

The show was hilarious in itself, but I feel like I was really able to appreciate it that much more because I felt “in the know” when it came to certain references due to my background taking Latin. Now while I know I was never all that great at Latin, I did stick with it all through middle and high school and thus was quite amused with myself this evening for being able to pick up on the references in the show made to ancient works/general themes you just find funny for some reason after talking about them for years.

I just love witty writing and this show had a ton of that on top of the twists turns and dramatic gestures that come along with giving an ode to the olden times.

This whole post was a lot more fluent in my head while still at the theater, but I suppose everything is as it should be because I clearly saw a good show based on how my mind is now blown and dead with thoughts and challenges spirally around inside not knowing how to manifest themselves into coherency just yet.

Leaving with Action

Today was the last day of the International Seminar on Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership. It was a much more laid back and open space kind of day, which was honestly really great. It allowed everyone to make what they wanted out of the conference and have the conversations most meaningful to them.

During my first session, I ended up in an informal group that gathered together and started talking about the college application process. Two rising seniors were stressed about the process and therefore, myself and a few adults were giving tips about researching and applying to schools. This conversation made me realize I actually have a lot to share on the topic and reminded me that most students don’t have the amazing college councillors that I had who helped me navigate the process. Additionally, most students don’t have practice in talking about and essentially pitching themselves. Due to my blog writing, I had ample experience with talking about myself by the time I had to write those essays, but most students don’t have a blog and never really practice this skill in high school. Talking about yourself is a huge part of life because after college then comes job applications where it’s a similar process all over again. For that very reason, I wish more schools spent time talking about identifying key stories in your own life, and pitching your own story and knowing your strengths and skills that can be brought to the table in various situations.

These two students I was talking to come from learner-centered environments, and even there this process is stressful and these two believed they don’t have a story to tell. Let me tell you, these kids have incredible stories to tell and I only know parts of them, so it’s crazy for me to think that they don’t believe they have a story. It just goes to show that even great schools still have room to grow and that was a humbling experience today. Every student should feel like they have a story worth hearing and get the opportunity to practice telling it.

Later in the day I got to achieve my personal goal for this conference. I came to this conference really wanting to have a take away- an action step I could take in order to start moving beyond just talking and sharing with other communities and head towards working together on project work to advance the movement. Proud to say that I have my next project to start tackling. IMG_0930.JPG

Whenever I go to a conference there are multiple people who ask about how the community will stay connected. Then there end up being group chats and social media accounts created and they’re explosive with reflection for the first few weeks after the conference is over, but they fizzle out over time. Why? My assumption based on observation is that most forms of connection post-conference have been simply for the sake of connection/networking, but in order to sustain connections we must have a unified purpose that brings us back to the conversation wanting more.

I’m not yet sure what this purpose is; however, I’m excited to start working on figuring out how we can build upon the community by finding ways to connect with purpose. Three other young learners and I, started brainstorming potential designs for a website based on what menu items we wanted as possibilities for ways the community to connect. For example a blog to share out work in different environments, a directory to know who’s doing what kind of work, a jargon translator to serve as an explanation guide for all the different terms we like to use, a project space for people interested in partnering on projects, a monthly chat around essential topics, etc.

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Then we broke our work down into four areas: user feedback, research, “playing around”, and mission development. We hope to each spend the next month working in our areas to learn about what the community would want in a connection tool and figure out a game plan for the best tool to make these ideas a reality by playing with existing tools while experimenting with what building your own website would take resource wise.

IMG_7624.jpegThe key wonder I have right now though is: what already exists? There are a lot of groups that keep trying to create something very similar to this and yet don’t seem to be working for this or that reason, but why? I’m not sure entirely. I hope to find out and I have my assumptions based on personal experience. I’m happy to be leaving with a game plan but to help get further in our efforts, if you read this post and believe you know of sites or organization or groups or social media connections, etc that sound similar to this kind of work, I would love to see things in the comments to guide our upcoming research. (Even if I’m technically taking lead on user insight gathering, so I’d be happy to hear that too even before I get more focused questions to ask on the topic.)

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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External Expert Lectures

To build off of my post from last night, I had another instance of course material overlapping today.

In Grand Challenges today we had a guest lecturer. She is currently an Intellectual Property lawyer who graduated from GT as an engineer in 2001. Her entire talk was all about the process to receiving a patent/trademark/copyright (whatever fit the situation) and talking about things you would include in an application and important notes on timing of the process.

Well, it just so happens that my “legal aspects of business” class is currently on a chapter all about intellectual property… I literally had been reading in my textbook last night about this topic and one of the cases mentioned was then something the guest speaker specifically brought up. (The case was about Apple suing Samsung over a trademark with the design of their phones and how Apple won because you can in fact trademark the design of a product and Samsungs was too similar.)

So I literally only had two classes today which were both about the exact same thing… However, the big difference was that one was taught my an external expert. Technically our legal aspects professor also does research in this area and is probably considered an expert, but there is something extra compelling about bringing an outside person in to lead a discussion about work that is relevant to them daily.

Especially in high schools when teachers are often not experts in their particular subject in the sense of continuously doing research or work in that field (partially because high school subjects are so vague and broad that no one could truly be an expert on the entire subject we try to cram into a year, but that’s a topic for another time), it seems that bringing in external experts is such a logical idea. I can’t think of anything noteworthy that we learned in my legal aspects class/from the textbook, that we didn’t also cover while speaking with the external expert. Plus the class she was giving this talk to had nothing to do with legal stuff typically (she was asked to come in because the logical next step with developing innovative prototypes is to learn about how to protect your intellectual property) so it wasn’t like she was told “specifically cover these details and you can look at these pages of our textbook as reference.”

I just wish more schools would take advantage of bringing in external experts from time to time. Not only to give feedback on student work but sometimes just to lead a lecture. While I believe the current education paradigm needs to be transformed, I do not think the notions of lectures are a “bad” thing; they can sometimes be very engaging and helpful at times when you truly just need to gain information on a specific topic.