Traditional but Good?

I finished reading “Whatever it Takes” and I found it truly fascinating because it challenged a lot of my thoughts on the education system. It’s hard to argue that the Promise Academy isn’t a wonderful thing: it’s educating children in poverty and helping them get into college by staying on grade level. However, Canada’s primary measurement of success is entirely based on standardized testing. Kids are drilled for the test. There are early morning classes and afterschool classes and even Saturday classes all aimed at further test prep. The book talks about how test prep during the school day started to squeeze out time meant for things like the arts and projects and physical activities and the biggest supporter of these programs, the first middle school principal, Terri Grey, was eventually fired because her priorities didn’t align with preparing students for the test. 

This method of schooling goes against pretty much everything I’ve come to believe about education. I think assessment is important – this is how we get feedback and measure progress – but, the traditional methods of school assessment, such as grades and standardized tests, are no longer measuring the right outcomes of schooling. To truly be prepared for college and beyond in today’s world, a student needs more than the ability to memorize information and control anxiety and focus long enough to take a four-hour long test. Students need to be critical and creative thinkers that know how to solve complex problems on diverse teams. They need to know how to network, present, research, listen, empathize, and take agency just as a start. These skills are not measured on standardized tests, so if you only teach to the test, how do you develop all of these other skills? I don’t think it’s possible. As Grey hinted at, these are two very different education paradigms that would be paradoxical to co-exist. 

Sure, soft skills were mentioned from time to time in “Whatever it Takes.” It seemed certain teachers tried to incorporate soft skills in their classroom, but these were often minor lessons about being polite and talking and listening in a professional manner, and these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of important soft skills to know. There was no mention of collaboration or giving presentations or complex problem-solving or anything to that caliber. 

Now I understand that, as a new charter school, Promise Academy had a duty to perform. They had to do well on standardized tests in order for the city to let them continue with their charter. Furthermore, while I don’t think standardized tests should be the ultimate measurement of success, I can’t deny that they do help measure basic knowledge (ignoring the elements of test anxiety and being distracted, etc). For the students in Harlem attending Promise Academy’s Middle School, the vast majority were below grade level. I can understand how it might be hard to think beyond, “We need these kids at grade level on these tests,” and going into testing bootcamp mode is one solution to this problem. It’s hard to spend time on projects and developing soft skills when there is the hugely apparent obstacle of kids lacking basic math and reading skills. I can empathize with this train of thinking, but I can’t accept that teaching to the test is the best method for preparing students for college and beyond even for kids who have “fallen behind.” But I also can’t deny that Canada was successful. His methods got underperforming kids up to standard and even off to college. 

That in itself is still pretty remarkable and that’s exactly why this book has been challenging for me to read. It’s made me wonder: how can a school that to me is focusing on all the wrong things, also be doing so much good? And while struggling with this question for past few days, I think I’ve finally come to an answer: it’s because traditional schooling is not inherently bad. Traditional schools can still help kids learn, be a safe environment, be supportive, help kids get to college and be a place alum are proud to come home to. Traditional schooling isn’t all bad, it’s just that it needs an update – the core principals of our education system haven’t changed in the past century since it’s founding, but we live in a very different world now. 

Our world requires more of employees now, like the soft skills previously mentioned. We’ve learned that our students can do more now, like contribute on community projects no matter how young they are. Our colleges expect more now, like participation in the arts, extra projects, and sports. “Whatever it takes” has made me realize that most of the time when I’ve thought about learner-centered education, I’ve a – mostly been discussing high school students, and b – not given a lot of thought to educating underperforming students. But most of all, this book has reminded me why it can be so hard to convince skeptics of learner-centered education; it’s because some traditional schools are in fact doing good for society, but the thing is, now it’s time to be doing even more.

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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.

Champions in the Making

I wasn’t able to blog this weekend because I was in Ohio watching the US Classics gymnastics competition then driving back home; kind of a crazy weekend honestly.

We went to the gymnastics meet because a friend of ours, who we’ve known basically all of her life, qualified for the Hopes Championship in the 12-13-year-old division of this meet. That might not mean much to non-gymnastics people, but basically, she qualified as one of the top eighteen 12-13-year-old gymnasts in the country which allowed her to compete in this championship meet.

While I loved getting to watch our friend compete, it was really cool to get to see the senior age division where I got to see some of the best gymnasts in the world compete!

I’m blown away daily by the amazing talents of young people. When I see the dedication and hard work of these gymnasts it just makes me wonder all of the other amazing things young people could do if they’re in an environment that fosters developing passions, setting goals, and finding creative ways to accomplish the improbable.

Most young gymnasts that are really dedicated to trying to go far in the sport end up homeschooling or going to part-time schools, like our friend at this meet does, from a pretty young age; typically around age 8 or 9. They homeschool in order to have more time when they can go into the gym to train more and more with each level they progress to. I know homeschooling or part-time schools are also common with other sports as well as young actors amongst others. I wonder what other kids could benefit from only spending part of their day/week in a school building, and then spending the rest of their time going into the environment they are interested in to actually do training in the area. What if “training in the gym ( or another environment)” was the norm in schools?

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.

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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Little and Humble

It’s been a long time since I last heard/saw the story of Charlotte’s Web. It’s really such a cute story though about friendship overcoming the odds.

My little brother performed in the jr. play version of this story all weekend and today I got the joy of watching it. The kids were pretty talented surprisingly. They only had 10 days to put on this performance and they’re all only like 3rd-8th grade. Not surprisingly there were some mistakes noticeable and everything wasn’t silky smooth transition and dance wise, to say the least, but overall it was a good show! It’s not always about the little things, sometimes it’s just about overall storytelling and I was very impressed with how these kids got me buying into this story.

To think, if a little spider and a humble pig can shake up an entire town, even changing the perspective of a traditional farmer, then it feels like there’s no stopping anyone of any age or size from making dreams into realities.

It was the perfect show to see before heading off to the International Seminar by UP For Learning on “Amplifying Student Voice and Partnership” this Tuesday morning for a few days. I’m so excited to team up with learners young and old from around the world to talk about the vital role students play in the process of transforming education!!!

There’s Always Theater

As much as I love it, I have never thought about a career in performing arts. It’s just never been something I could see myself doing. The realism in me knows it’s not the most stable or easy path to make it in, plus I have multiple family members in that business so I know what it’s really like. Not to mention, I just feel like there are other things I also want to do.

Despite all of this, I always seem to find myself in a theater as one of my mentors pointed out today. I’ve been to basically all of the productions my old school put on this year, performed in a few at college, and even just this weekend I’m helping with running the spotlight for my siblings’ dance show.

I just can’t seem to escape, and I don’t think I have a problem with that. The theater is great! You get to be crazy and serious, lyrical and sharp, witty and stupid, and everything in between. It’s a place to learn new skills and gain better practices for life, and the people you meet are often the most supportive and creative people who will push you beyond what you ever thought possible of yourself. It’s all just an amazing world that I’m glad to be able to stay a part of even as I grow older and move around more often.

Trailblazers Issue 2

What better way to kick off the new year than with another issue of Trailblazers, the student-driven magazine about the Education Transformation Movement! Hear from a new group of passionate learners about how they’re getting involved with the movement as we continue on our journey to provide student voices into the world of education with this second issue.

A Babies First Steps: “I’m Fine”

IMG_7409.JPGWith the end of senior year rapidly approaching, I can safely say I have not had senioritous hit me. I have been working like crazy to the point where I haven’t been able to blog. However, tonight I don’t care what I’m procrastinating by taking the time to write this post because I’m so happy to have just made it through the most stressful day of my entire high school experience!!!

A year ago I asked the 5 other Thespians in my grade if they would be interested in working on a senior theater project. Little did they know when they agreed that we would end up writing, directing, and performing our own hour length show and putting the entire production side of the show together in under two weeks.

First semester we met once every other week for under an hour to work on writing the script which we then did a live read through of at the semester to get feedback on our work so far. When second semester rolled around, we still only really met on Wednesdays for an hour, but we decided we needed to come in every week not just every other. Then, once our spring musical, The Addams Family, closed, we had 8 rehearsals to put together the set, tech, and blocking for our show. Furthermore, only 4 of these rehearsals really had every cast member present.

Then today was the big day…

To be honest, our show was a mess even just this afternoon. Lines weren’t fully memorized, and transitions were sloppy, and our techies were just recently pulled into the show because we realized we needed more help and convinced some non Thespian seniors to help out. We barely finished by 6 and then sprinted to cars in order to try and grab something to eat before our house opened at 6:30. We had a small turn out, but a turn out none the less, and our nerves were higher than they had ever been for anything.

IIMG_7386.JPGt’s really hard to spend a hundred hours working on an art piece on controversial mature topics to then put it out in front of an audience for the first time. This show is about so much more than our acting because it’s about everything we had to do to bring the show to life, and it’s our final theater production in high school which is a big deal to all of us. We want to go out with a bang to show the culmination of all of our dedicated time doing what we love. For those people that come to see our show, I’ll admit it’s probably not the best show you’ve ever seen, and I’m sure more time would’ve helped the acting quality and stage relationships; however, this show is about so much more than just the acting, which is why we were even more nervous than normal.

I’ve grown to love our show like a baby, and it’s exciting and a little scary to see your baby take it’s first steps.

But today was the day to stand up because whether we wanted it to be or not it was preview night which means we did an entire run through for a live audience of parents and teachers– Man was I proud of the work that happened on the MVPS black box stage tonight!!!

IMG_7309.JPGNone of us felt like it was the performance of a life time, and there are definitely things that can and hopefully will be improved upon tomorrow and Thursday for our opening and closing night. However, like I said before, this was about more than the acting. This run through was the moment of truth to see if all of our hard work would pay off: could we really pull this off?

I think we did.

By the time we got to the last few scenes we knew we were going to make it through and were trying to hold in our excitement like a kid in a toy store who’s told not to touch anything. We had to keep going out into the cafeteria just to do a little happy dance so that we wouldn’t be too noisy backstage during the show because we just couldn’t contain our excitement.

We did it. We made it through smoothly. People enjoyed it! We made people think!!

I can’t imagine a better team of people to have been working with, and I’m so glad to have been a part of this process. I found myself doing lots of things I never had before from writing a script to crafting all of the light cues to thinking through marketing logistics, I really learned a lot from this process and am happy we put up with the stress it took to get here.

I’m still a little stressed and nervous, as one should be putting on a show, and especially one that you’ve directed… However, now I’m finally at a more normal show stress level where I truly believe it’s going to be something amazing, but don’t want to get over confident and not stay on top of my game.

Now we have two more shows left to really pull all of the bells and whistles together and truly make this show a show to remember. As my acro coach says, “The first time is to make sure you don’t die, now it’s time to do it for real with all you got.”

 

The Independent Project

The past few weeks I have been conversing with Mary and Cali Ragland, two seniors from Perkiomen Valley High School in Pennsylvania. These two are are currently taking an independent study course around the essential question: “How might we design an educational system that best meets the 21st learner’s needs by valuing curiosity?” They reached out to me after having been introduced by a teacher to some of my blog posts and learning about my work in the Education Transformation Movement. Furthermore, my work designing the AP Lang Collab Course last year, where I co-developed an AP Language and Composition course, was intriguing to them because they wanted to learn about how to push through the “dark night of the soul” in the life of an self-guided project.

These two have been doing some great work interviewing teachers and students and pulling away key insights about the role of curiosity in education. I especially love the quote that they describe as really encompassing what made them interested in education transformation:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – W.B. Yeats

I would definitely encourage reading more about their work on their blog:  Curiosity in Education. Personally, talking to these two has been great because it’s reminded me of how far I’ve come in the past few years, and reminded me how important it is for me to always go back to where I started- this blog.

Senior year has made blogging very difficult because I have spent most of my “non homework writing time” working on college essays and scholarship applications. Then when I kind of have “free time” (which basically just means I have finished homework and have no planed activities or meetings at the time) I find myself wanting to savor the moment to take a break from intense mindfulness. However, I know how important it is to blog to not only share my story with others, but to reflect for myself and capture my learning journey. After all, I started this blog for me -not because I wanted hundreds of followers or felt like my voice was something that just had to be heard by others- I started it because of what I thought was a silly challenge to observe and reflect on the world more intently.

In fact, I haven’t blogged in so long that I haven’t yet reflected on the fact that I was approved to embark on another curriculum creation opportunity by designing my own Independent Project!!

For my last semester of high school I am exploring the connection point between film, change theory, and education which will also apply towards my last needed half of a social sciences credit. Often times social science credits are just assumed to be a history course, whether it be world history, US history, economics, US government, etc. However, social sciences by definition are “social” meaning, about human society and social relationships and how they function, which does explicitly mean just IMG_6689.JPG“history.”

I say “just history” because I believe everything involves some understanding of history, because everything has a history and thus History is Everywhere. An essential question to all learning is, “How can we use the knowledge we have gathered over time (the past) in order to better understand and design for our present and future?”

So yes I believe you could call my course a “history course” because I’m definitely researching the past. However, for my particular project, I really wanted to explore society from the perspective of how we create change in society to then apply this knowledge in the world of education. The final product of this work will be a high quality documentary video focused on the Innovation Diploma and the moment that I call the “clicking moment”; that moment when students realize that the world is changing and education should be too, and they start to take ownership of their learning in order to make a difference now, not “when they are grown up.”

Now the main reason I haven’t mentioned this project yet is because it was a last minute project that got put into double time in order to come to life. At the end of last semester I knew I wanted to devote more time second semester to exploring and contributing to the education transformation movement. However, I’m always so busy and yet their is a finite amount of time in the day. I had to figure out what in my daily schedule could give a little time. What I realized is that what I wanted to work on would likely hit a lot of social science credits, so we thought, “What if this was my ‘history’ class?”

I worked on overdrive with my mentors in order to put together a document to pitch the idea of an Independent Project to our administration. The end of the semester though was a very crazy time for me both in and out of school, so I got approved with the intent of needing the first few weeks of second semester to still work on the planning details.

 

One of the first tasks I had was to figure out how I would devote my ID time, especially after the reMoVe10 design brief gained so much momentum after first semester. The design brief given to us by the Mayor of Sandy Springs, was designed to be a project we worked on during a single semester. However, our school admin, representatives from the Sandy Springs Council, and our new partners at Georgia Commute Options all got so fired up about the work we’ve been doing, that we realized this project needed to continue. 16387341_10154593513538277_4820722959124524604_n.jpg

Because of this decision to change the scope of the project, our team had to look back at our team roles and norms and decide how best to continue based on plans that were already set for second semester. I already had plans to work on my Independent Project work, and another team mate was already in the process of another design brief opportunity. Therefore, we added a new member to our team, and I used the month of January to waning out of my position as team leader to make a smoother transition for the new team. My plan is to continue to work with the reMoVe10 team, but more as a consultant for them to help give feedback and provide assistance at specific events.

{Small necessary tangent: This last month was honestly really hard for me, because I naturally find myself in a leadership role in the sense of “project manager,” so it was challenging to work on stepping back and being a leader by pushing others to take a leadership role. However, I think it was something important for me to work on because part of a leaders role should always be to coach others to lead.}

IMG_6691.JPGWhile continuing to work with the reMoVe10 team this past month, I used 4th period (my Independent Project time) to start further brainstorming what my video will look like, while getting a Film Course 101 tutorial from a mentor, and continuing to find ways I can discover and experiment with changes in education specifically in regards to the role of student voice. So far I’m diving deep into essential questions such as “What motivates people to learn?” “Where does ‘passion’ fit into education?” and “What gives students agency?” as my design drivers, though I believe as I start to interview people the story line will become even more clear.

I’ve learned that with documentaries one of the best things to do is to just press record and start filming. So now that I’ve officially had my last day full time with the reMoVe10 team (last Wednesday) I’ve been gearing up to dive all in on this Independent Project using my 8 hours and 40 minutes a week (between ID time and my new Independent Project specific time) to research, film, and synthesize information about the social science of education change. We pushed “purchase” on some new awesome film equipment yesterday, and now the fun (and intense) work is about to really start!