Long Term Policy

These past few days have been a lot to handle. Gymnastics training in Tennessee, moving into my dorm, having a first assignment before classes started, and then today was our official first day of sophomore year at college.

I couldn’t blog with the horrible wifi at the camp this weekend, but I have lot’s to say on a later date about how much I learned at this training and how I was yet again hooked on gymnastics. However, today I thought I would post my first assignment which I was emailed about last night to be due at noon today. It’s for a public policy course that I’m probably dropping for a number of reasons. I signed up for the course because I thought having a policy course in my toolbox could be useful in the education world; however, the course was not as expected when I attended today and my lack of interest and already full workload lead me to think I should drop it since it’s just a free elective random class.

I realized that there is a reason I’m not a public policy major- I’m not very interested in it and could tell when I started getting distracted and overwhelmed in class. This also made me think about how while it may be nice to have a class like this, all about long-term policy decision making, it’s okay for me to not have everything in my toolkit and to let others bring those skills to the table.

Ironically my favorite part of the course was actually this first assignment which had stressed me out so much the last 24 hours. We were asked to write a creative narrative thinking about what the average day for a future student of Georgia Tech would look like in 2048. Besides being stressed about trying to finish, I enjoyed the process of future thinking about education and what changes might occur or will at least be protested. My vision I think is rather hopeful and positive compared to the more negative approach some of my peers seemed to believe in terms of how technology would affect our lives in the future. In fact, I think the hardest part of this assignment was trying to balance between dreaming about what I want the future to look like ideally and yet being realistic about the potential downfalls that could occur.

Without further ado, my first assignment of the year:

 

In the next thirty years, by 2048, the education system will have to go through an enormous change in order to keep up with the reality of life that kids in the 21st century are experiencing. Unfortunately, higher ed as a whole tends to struggle with change due to bureaucracy issues and traditionalist norms, but the world of k-12 education will have changed so immensely in the next thirty years that universities like Georgia Tech will have no choice but to change the ways they think about technology, culture, and core academics.

For a technical school, the growth of technology in the classroom seems to be a reasonable assumption to predict. From the use of self-driving cars to virtual reality entertainment, students will be accustomed to using technology is all aspects of life – for better or worse. Even in the classroom we will likely see changes in how students interact with technology. An average day will involve tablets synchronized with presentations for interactive lectures. First years already being apt at controlling power tools and CNC machines in makerspaces. Physical textbooks rare as e-books and online quiz and homework tools become more and more prevalent. We have already begun to see all of these changes with how students interact with current technology and there will only be more change as new technology is invented. There may even be virtual reality classes so students can be studying abroad while still taking a lab, and then who knows what’s next, but the role of technology will certainly become more prevalent in education.

As elements like the use of technology in the classroom begin to change, the culture of Georgia Tech is bound to shift. This shift will come in two-fold: the designer mindset and the value of the whole student. Already at Georgia Tech, we are seeing cultural shifts as more programs are established to give students opportunities to take on “wicked problems,” learn design thinking methodology and develop their own startups and businesses. This cultural belief that students can do great things today no matter their “expert level” and therefore, need real-world opportunities in order to grow as learners and leaders will continue to advance in the next thirty years with the growth of learner-centered education in the k-12 system. Already today, high school students are creating design thinking workshops for professionals, designing new prototypes for companies like Chick-fil-a, conducting empathy interviews and feedback for AT&T Foundry, running full businesses, and more. As high schoolers begin to expect more from their education, high ed will have to allow more spaces for this culture to grow beyond primary schooling. An average day at Tech will have college students learning skills like design thinking, no matter their major, which will encourage more mixed-major classes, capstone projects, and work studies for younger years.

While we experience the push for designers in all departments, simultaneously there will be a growing cultural movement to better acknowledge the “whole student.” This movement is even more likely to evolve than the push for designers because of growing rates of student mental health disorders and pushback from families, schools, and individuals alike to consider more than academics when admitting students to colleges/universities. Students will outright demand changes in how Georgia Tech handles mental health if the school doesn’t naturally place a greater emphasis on the well being of health at school. While it’s certain something will change, it is not as clear as to how. The likely scenario is that people will request more therapist on campus and easier access to health help, though seeing as this solution has been tried in some capacity with not a great impact, perhaps more creative solutions will come about. For example, perhaps upon discerning what the primary causes of mental health problems are, the causes could be altered to lessen the problems rather than just trying to pacify the end resulting student with medicine and therapy. Either way, by 2048, student mental health will either be improved or there will be campus-wide protests.

In tandem with cultural shifts, the core academics at Georgia Tech will, in theory, become more flexible if the university truly wants to implement more time for the designer and whole student. Disappointingly though, changes in the academics are arguably the least likely thing to change for a student in 2048 at Georgia Tech. The school has been set in its rather traditional ways for decades and the core of any school is its academics which is why it is often the last thing to change. In a hopeful world, there will become more flexible learning plans for each individual student depending on the specific areas they want to go into. Furthermore, credits will be able to be gained in ways other than sitting in a classroom; perhaps your internship or a private project like writing a book could give a student credit even for core courses. The underlying concept here is that the notion of “core classes” will have a lesser role in the academic experience because there will either be less specifically required classes or more creative ways to gain credit for these classes in place of taking them. This will allow students more time to focus on their specific interests and goals for their future work. If the ways in which credits, and furthermore, degrees are earned changes, likely the assessment process will change as well. There are ample reasons that 0-100 grading systems should change from practical notions of how “real world” assessment looks to the underlying principles of how grades are increasingly destroying the mental health of students. There are multiple prototypes of how the assessment process may change which are already being tested in k-12 schools and programs, thus it is likely high ed will adopt these methods once further testing and research on the outcomes have been conducted. If these changes do occur in places such as Georgia Tech, which the push from k-12 environments makes seem reasonable, they will likely be some of the newest changes of 2048 or perhaps still yet to be adopted; this advancement in education will be the most highly disputed and considered far-fetched to traditionalist which will slow change.

This outlook on the 2048 version of Georgia Tech is rather hopeful. Based primarily on the changes already occurring in k-12 schools and the way families are already speaking up against traditional norms in higher education, changes in the role of technology, culture, and core academics are inevitable. The speed in which these changes occur is what is most debatable due to the nature of how slowly changes come about at the university level, especially in regards to core academics; though in terms of the 21st Century, change happens relatively rapidly nowadays let alone by 2048. In this optimistic view, the average day will have technology being used to enhance classes in more interactive ways, culture inspiring collaboration on solving wicked problems while paying strong attention to the value and mental wellbeing of every student, and more flexible core requirements and learning plans for all learners. However, on the flip side, the lack of congruency in these changes could inspire discontent and outrage amongst the community at large from students, to parents, to faculty and staff which would make an average day much more social protest heavy. The next generation of learners coming out of innovative k-12 environments will have new needs and new expectations of schooling which are on path to the changes listed above in technology, culture, and core academics. If Georgia Tech wishes to continue to be considered an innovative, world-renowned school in 2048, it will need to keep up with the rapid education changes happening already nationwide.

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Different Pages

Day two at the International Seminar was a lot of fun (as expected) especially when you end the day with an Escape Room! (Even if we didn’t escape…) What I found particularly interesting about today though was that we broke off into stakeholder groups for a large chunk of today’s conversations. Therefore, I was in a room with all of other students/ young learners/ youth advocates/ whatever you want to call us (I think there were around 18 of us total).

I realized that this is the first conference I’ve been to where there are young learners in attendance that are not either from my learning environment and/or the SparkHouse community that has been developing over the past two years.

There are about 9 other SparkHouse members here, which is great because one of the main things that the SparkHouse has helped facilitate is more common language between learning environments. A common language is key because it allows us to move past the point of debating and distinguishing jargon and just get to the point faster about the why and how we currently do things and our hopes for the future. Not to mention even with our still existing gaps in communication, working with people you’ve met and worked with before typically makes working together again easier.

The complication is that not everyone is a part of SparkHouse currently, so half of the room is on much more of the same page than the other half which could in itself be on three different pages.

This wasn’t an overly complicated challenge but it struck me as an interesting dynamic today. It struck me because it made me realize that learners at a conference like this are often used to being the center of attention to some extent. They’re often leaders in their own community who are used to having one of the only student voices represented in a given convening and therefore, become a novelty of sorts who everyone wants to hear from. Now when you put 18 of these students in the same room who are used to having a prominent role in the conversation around education due to their student voice, all of sudden there is bound to be a power struggle because no one is a novelty anymore.

My hope is that one day this is the problem at a faculty meeting. No one is a novelty.

This is not to say that I hope there becomes a power struggle between students and adults, actually, I hope for just the opposite. One of the big points us students talked about today when discussing successes and challenges in our stakeholder group was the idea that there are a lot of adults who believe that giving students a voice/leadership/agency/power thereby means that power must be lost by another stakeholder group. What we strive for though is equal voice, equal representation, equal power. If either side of the equation is a novelty, then there will never be equal power and our education will be incomplete.

Timing is also key for this to be a reality. Giving students a voice doesn’t mean just give students a survey at the end of the term about giving teachers feedback; that’s just asking for student voice when convenient and wanting to confirm what’s already happened in class. The student voice we strive for is when students are brought in beforehand and are involved in the creation of school work, then sure you can get feedback in the end as well, but from both sides of the equation, students and adults alike, and discuss the outcomes and next steps together as well.

 

I’m going to be quite honest, at this point in writing this post I’m not super on the same page with where this train of thought was going… I’ve read it over and realized I’ve attempted to synthesise a lot of different highly debated topics into one train of thought and I’m not sure if I’m being all that coherent. So, therefore, I’m going to stop writing now. When you lose your train of thought, sometimes it’s best to just stop where you are and let the thoughts exist until maybe at a different time or with a different person the train reappears in a more insightful way. Until tomorrow then.

A Chance at Greatness

Earlier today I read this article about the application process to get into middle schools and high schools in New York. It’s crazy!!!

(I’d strongly encourage reading this article before reading the rest of my post because it provides helpful context.)

I remember applying to colleges all too vividly and it was stressful and tiresome and promoted all sorts of self-doubt amongst teens. For students applying to some schools, your shot all boils down to a bunch of numbers – that’s terrifying. From what I can tell, it seems like some kids go through this same process as early as when they’re 10-11 and only just about to enter 6th grade- that seems outright wrong.

Even looking past the equality debates and economic pull for a second (though very real issues as well), what 10-year-old should have to be thinking about how their grades will affect the rest of their life: the odds of getting into a good middle school leading to odds of going to a good high school leading to odds of being well prepared for college. Sure you may think, “Well the child probably isn’t worrying about all of the grades and applications and portfolios; the parents are the ones to really send stuff in,” but what is the likelihood parents don’t start pressuring their kids more and more with each year the academic game gets more competitive? Parents just want their kid to go to a good school, but what has to happen for them to get there?

And let’s keep in mind elementary school “grades” are basically assessing things like multiplication to the power of 12 and a few basic sentences written in a row.

I couldn’t read well until 2nd grade, does that mean I shouldn’t have gotten a chance at a good education?

This article honestly made me consider even beyond this apparent problem with New York City schools. I realized that there are often complaints about the ways that higher education admits students, but how often do we consider all of the k-12 schools who also have application processes? How do they work? How heavily are grades and standardized tests considered? Are children truly looked at holistically?

I’m just throwing out questions because I really don’t know how it works. I had never considered how lucky I am to have gone to the same school for middle and high school. A lot of kids go to a different school every four-ish years of their life because that’s just how neighbourhood schools tend to work. I, on the other hand, switched to a private school when I was going into 6th grade and then got to just stay at that school. I didn’t have to deal with applying to a new high school, or meeting new friends, or getting used to a new school system.

I vaguely remember the application process going into 6th grade. I’m sure my records were sent in and then I remember having an interview where they asked me to solve some basic math problems and take a few “creativity tests.” I only applied to one school. If I didn’t get in and didn’t get financial aid, I would’ve gone to our local middle school despite it being known as, “not a good school.” I was fortunate to make it in and to be on scholarship, but many don’t get that same chance.

My life would be completely different had I not switched schools in 6th grade. Completely and utterly so, I’m certain of it.

I hate that there even exists rumours of “not good schools.” Shouldn’t every child get to go to a great school? School is honestly one of the biggest parts of childhood. We spend 35+ hours a week in school for roughly 180 days a year. That amount of time spanning from age 5-18 (and some kids spend longer than that), adds up to an underestimate of about 16,380 hours spent in k-12 school during childhood. That’s a ton of time!

Obviously, this article I read is focused primarily on how the system to apply to schools is corrupt, but in my opinion, if the schools supposedly “not good” we just transformed to be better, then maybe the application system would self-fix to some extent. Every school has a different culture. Two schools can be entirely different and yet both equally great for the right child. The school application process should be about finding what culture of a school is best for each individual child, not about children competing to be admitted into the select few great schools.

School influences life; there is no questioning that anymore in the age we live in. Being okay with some schools just not being great is like saying not all kids deserve a chance at a great life.

We need all schools to be great.

Learning the Game

Sometimes you can forget about generation gaps in knowledge. Things that are normal for you to experience growing up are just completely foreign concepts to others.

That’s essentially what it was like playing Mario Kart with my grandma earlier tonight. She has never played a video game before and playing with her and my siblings was pretty amusing, to say the least. There was a lot of supportive coaching while simultaneously trash talking and getting mad at the computer players.

My grandma may have never come in higher than 12th place (which if you know Mario Kart, you know that is last…), but she said it was a fun game and she personally improved her speed a little each time.

It’s not always about winning. Sometimes it’s just about learning the game and getting a little better each time.

“Right” versus “Next”

Having been a member of the Education Reimagined community for a couple of years now, some of the presentions at this Lab Training I’ve heard a few times before; however, each time I learn something new.

This time, I believe I’ve really enhanced my understanding of a paradigm shift and what that looks like.

Particularly, over the past few months since the last training I attended, I’ve started to realize the necessity to explain to skeptics of the learner-centered education paradigm that I do not believe even the learner-centered model is perfect. Perfect in this sense inferring that it is the 100%, undoubtedly, “right” way to think about education.

For one thing, it’s funny to even talk about the “learner-centered model” because part of the ideology is that there is no single perfect way to run a school; but there are elements of different school systems and models that make it learner-centered.

Then on an additional point, there is a distinction to be made between the words “right” versus “next.”

The way we think about aspects of life is constantly changing. The example we discussed today is how once upon a time we used to firmly believe that bleeding people was the way to treat illness. We may laugh at this notion now, but humans practiced this for hundreds of years before finally realizing that they needed to change the way they think about treating illness; thus the world of healthcare went through a paradigm shift and now we have modern-day medicine.

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Education is at this point in time where we as a community have started to question the current industrial age traditional paradigm (ie. way to think about education). One of our activities today was actually listing out some of the anomalies in our current education system- things that in theory should be happening a certain way based on how the model predicts outcomes, but for some reason, it doesn’t always happen this way. (My table’s list is shown to the right.)

It’s conversations like this where we have identified that there is something fundamentally flawed about the idea of teaching learners of the 21st century, information age with the same ideals and practices of the industrial age paradigm. We simply aren’t living in the same time; things are different now and the education system needs to reflect the new values and requirements of society.

This old paradigm is over and now it needs to be replaced. Thus the question becomes, “What’s the next paradigm?”

Learner-centered education may not be the “right”/”best” model for education- there’s really no way to know. Like everything, there are pros and cons and many unknowns that could be either or. However, I, as well as many other educators, do believe that learner-centered could very well be the “next” paradigm in the world of education.

This is an important distinction because I want people to understand that I haven’t been brainwashed to think that learner-centered schools are flawless. I acknowledge that every school still has their weaknesses, and in that regard, not every aspect of the old traditional paradigm is this terrible beast we must burn at the stake.

However, as a mindset, I do believe that the traditional paradigm is not meeting the needs of all students, parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders, therefore, it must be replaced by a new paradigm. The learner-centered education paradigm is just the next step in the direction towards trying to find that perfect education system we all like to dream of existing.

Clubs for Credit

I did 17 theater productions in high school, so it’s no surprise that once getting to college I immediately found out how I could get involved in theater. It turns out that there are lots of different ways to get involved with DramaTech because the blackbox is pretty much completely student run, everything from acting, directing (sometimes), lights, sound, set, costumes, makeup, marketing, even choosing which shows to do for upcoming seasons is decided by groups of students.

I’ve been debating joining the group that reads the plays in order to pick upcoming seasons, and I remember thinking, “Wow that sounds like a lot of work, I don’t know if I can make that time commitment on top of other things.”

Then yesterday, I was walking across campus heading from math to English and I was just thinking about how we are required to take classes for English credit if we didn’t come in with AP credit. I started thinking about how my English class at a tech school is very untraditional; it’s all about sound and listening and hearing. Then I was thinking, “Well the play reading group may not be a class, but they probably do as much work as any English class.” Now I’m not in the club, so I don’t know exactly how it functions; however, I imagine that they read at least a dozen plays and have multiple meetings where they have discussions about the shows and their themes and messages, etc. And I’m sure they have to take a lot of notes so that when they go to meetings they remember the show, and for the future at the end of the year they can remember older plays they read.

So they read pieces of work, annotate and take notes while reading, then use these notes to have analytical discussions, and finally have a final task of putting together the next years season as a culmination of their hard work. This sounds like an English course to me… Can you imagine if it counted as one?

Honestly though there are all sorts of clubs in both college and high school that I feel like could count as credit hours and it’s too bad that they don’t.

I even if you could take it a step further and what if there was a high school course that was similar to this play reading club where not only did they receive credit, but what if they were then also given the option to take the AP Lit exam at the end of the year and potentially get AP credit?!? I mean really what’s so different between the club and an AP Lit course? They both do a lot of reading, analyzing, and discussing, but one probably does a lot more multiple choice tests… Meanwhile in the other assessment is pretty straight forward- if you didn’t read the book you can’t productively contribute to the conversation/debate about if it should be included in the next season.

I love the idea of being challenged and learning at a level that is naturally more vigorous, but I truly wish AP courses would disappear or that at the very least the notion behind them would change. There are so many creative and engaging ways to learn and I wish more teachers would start to explore what they can do even within the boundaries of “AP classes,” because I’ll admit, it stinks to have to re-take a class you feel competent in already from high school so APs are great for getting college credit. (I speak from experience being one of those people who bombed the short answer in AP Calc BC and now must re-take calc 2…)

I wonder with the future of education how we might take the concept of APs- more challenging courses for learners who want to push themselves and could potentially get exempt from into college courses- and yet still have classes, or maybe even specialized clubs for credit if they meet certain standards, that are unique and support using the idea of using what you learn for a greater purpose.

I suppose this is the constant struggle and really I may not even be coherent at this point because I started this post one day and then picked up when today even though my mind is not in the same place as when I started, but those are my thoughts.

I wish clubs, in which members truly do a significant amount of work related to a specific subject area, could actually receive credit for required high school or college graduation requirements. (I bet some schools do already, now the rest of us just have to catch up.)

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!

I’m Not a Professional

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Today was one of the rare occasion this year where I actually left school at the normal time because I was not needed in rehearsal or for anything else at school today.

So while I was waiting to get picked up I went and watched soccer for a little, and even though the girls team was only stretching while I was there, it made me miss soccer a lot. I haven’t played in forever! This is like the longest I’ve gone without playing since I was 3 I think and it’s just weird. I didn’t notice how much I missed it until I went outside on a nice day like this and was imagining, “aw it would feel so great to run around and play some…”

I know I’d get exhausted and sweaty and practice would be a butt with my throat in its current state of potentially sick and a bit of allergies, but I still would like to play again.

It’s annoying because I love soccer and want to play but in seems that anything you participate in during high school is expected to be like professional level commitment. I’m interested in a lot of different things, and I love just trying stuff out and having fun exploring curiosities; however, I do not have the time to participate in all of my curiosities at a professional level.

I hear schools around the world talk about “having room to fail” or “having the space to explore curiosities” or “having built out time in the day for relaxing time.” However sometimes I question how much these phrases are put into practice. My best friend put it great when she said,

“It feels like we have to involve ourselves in everything so deeply in high school and nothing is just for kicks anymore.”

We aren’t professionals, and not all of us want to be professionals. For those of us that don’t know, how do we start figuring it out if we don’t have times to just try out new things.

During our “free time” a lot of people have meetings or make up quizzes or tutorials to get to. We had to discuss in a cappella today about how we plan on continuing since we never have everyone there and it just reminded me of how busy we are, but those of us that truly care find the time. Even during our break/club time on Monday’s and Friday’s most of us just get ready for the next class and talk a little, which is fun, but I wonder what it would be like if we had to go outside- like in middle school.

Personally I feel like I never see the sun anymore because I’m in the school building from 7:30am-6pm just about everyday. Today was so pretty outside and I would have missed it. I don’t want to miss it but I struggle to get myself out there.

Among other things, I wish we had intramural sports teams. A place for people that want to try something new or just want to have some fun doing something they love without giving it a full time commitment. I don’t have the time for soccer every day for 3 hours after school, but I’d love if we had little scrimmages maybe on a Saturday or around 6 once a weeknight.

Not everything you do has to be all about winning. Why can’t some things just be for fun? I happen to know several girls quit the soccer team this year because they noticed from the start that it was more intense then they wanted. I respect deeply those players that want to get really good at honing their skills so they can win some games and maybe go to the playoffs, but I also know there are some girls who don’t make the team or who simply don’t want the same things from the sport and I wish there was space for us to still have fun doing something we love.

The natural thing I think to myself after rereading this post, as if it wasn’t me who wrote it, would be to say “Well that’s going to take extra people and organizing and equipment, but why don’t you try to start?” The thing is, I don’t have the time to do work on that endeavor, so for now I just get to be a little upset and through out my ideas on my blog. Story of my life.

Product vs. Social Innovation

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Finals time gets really hectic and I was so happy about AP Lang last Thursday at the end of the day, that I almost forgot to blog about how great a day it was for my coVenture ReSpIn (#mvrecycles) team!

(As a disclaimer, I have not included much background to this venture because I have several past posts about it. If you have not been keeping up with my past posts about the RISE Sustainability System and our are team, ReSpIn, then I would strongly encourage you to read some of the posts in the link above because I fear I use a bit too much insider language. I’ve done this though because I expect this post to be long without all of the background.)

While talking to Mr. Jones one day, a MVPS parent that also works as a venture investor, Mr. Edwards noticed a connection between my team’s work and one of the projects Mr. Jones has become invested in. (I don’t know how much I’m actually allowed to say about that project so I’m just not going to say specifics. The important part is just that this is how we made the connection with Mr. Jones.)

Through this connection we were able to schedule a meeting with Mr. Jones for last Thursday and it was really helpful in moving our work forward.

For the past week our team has been working on our half scale model of our product using cardboard as our new material due to our purposeful pivot about 2 weeks ago. The prototype isn’t quite complete yet because what we ended up realizing is that it is a lot harder and time consuming to put together a working prototype when you have to do everything manually; luckily the full scale version will be more precise and faster because we will use a CNC machine (as of now this is the plan at least). However, our RISE Sustainability System has been put together enough to the point where we were able to show Mr. Jones how it will work and explain what the need is for our system.

“…there are similar products to ours in existence, but what is different about our product is that we want it to be more than just a space saving waste system. We want our product to actually be part of a system that inspires conversations and learning around recycling and if we are able to make it out of cardboard it will be the most sustainable, portable, and easiest for a class of any age to assemble; plus there isn’t yet one out there made of cardboard to our knowledge.” – Purposeful Pivoting (The Life of Pinya)

Mr. Jones seemed to really love our concept, especially with how we hope to find a way to incorporate the building of the RISE into different classes curriculums. A key component to our system is that we want our system to help foster and support learning about recycling by having a class interact with it, we do not want teachers feeling like it is a burden and time waster to put it together as a class. How this will look is still in early modes of brainstorming though.

Mr. Jones also had a lot of great feedback for us that has helped our team discover our next steps. I learned so much that I think it’s best to first high light my biggest take aways from this meeting:

  • our product is more of a social innovation than a product innovation
  • it’s okay to not do all of the work inside of the core team, just know your assets and how to use them to your advantage then figure out what/who else you need to accomplish your goal
  • key components of a business plan

In ID for the past month at least, we have been broken up into 3 main groups: design brief team, product innovation team, and then us the ReSpIn team. (To learn more about the module set up, one of my facilitators Meg Cureton has a nice post about it this current module.)

My team, ReSpIn, has been kind of on our own, but we’ve been more closely involved with the product innovation team learning about how products get innovated by first being copied, then transformed, then combined together. No ideas are original in today’s 21st century, but ideas can be improved upon and remixed to create a new useful and innovative tool for people to use.
Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.19.08 AM.pngWe’ve been with this group because up until a few days before last Thursday, we have thought that our project was under the category of product innovation since at first it started with us just re-designing the waste bin. But in the past week or so we’ve been realizing that the problem we truly want to solve for is actually more of a social innovation, requiring us to help change a cultural mindset around recycling.

After talking with Mr. Jones, our team all agreed that our problem requires a social innovation; however, the first problem still stands that the middle schooler (our primary/initial users) do not actually have recycling bins and the reason is partially because they take up too much space. Therefore, some sort of product innovation is needed to solve the overarching problem of making sustainability a part of our DNA at MVPS, so our work has not been in vain, there is just much more to be done.

Once it was determined that we are working on both a product and social innovation, we started talking about how our team has recognized our own knowledge gaps on the product innovation side of things. We still do not fully know how to work the machines we would need, we have limited computer science knowledge, and we only have one team member that’s really good  with CAD which has made the process slower.

However, we’ve been realizing something important: it is okay to not do all of the work on a project, sometimes we have to outsource work to get the job done best. I know that personally this is something I’ve always struggled with; it seems like when we do a project, we have to be the only one’s to work on the project. This isn’t true though, nor is it practical. Not everyone is good at everything, so if you are able to acknowledge what your team is good at, then you can use your skills and figure out who else you could get to help with the parts of the project you aren’t as skilled in.

Our team has a lot of experience with social innovation. Working with people, gaining empathy, discovering needs, figuring out ways to hack a culture, discovering little insights to lead to a big change- this is the stuff we strive with in my opinion. Now not to say the product design isn’t important, but we’ve spent most of this year working at that side of things and feel that we are now in a position to acknowledge that maybe someone else would be more apt to continue this side of the work.

Continuing forward, we hope to partner with Mr. Edward’s Technology, Engineering, and Design (TED) class and have them help us develop the product design for the RISE. The cool thing about this partnership is that it will basically be the opposite role to what the Design Brief ID team is working on currently; we will be the clients rather than the hired consultants. (This is still barely developed though, so one of our first next steps is figuring out how this partnership will work.)

Meanwhile, when the TED class takes over more of the product design, the core ReSpIn team hopes to continue more of the social innovation side of things. We plan to talk to more students, teachers, custodians, and external companies to work on how we might have the RISE Sustainability System incorporate into class curriculum and how we might gain further support and funding to eventually market the product (assuming all goes well). Mr. Jones gave us some great starting points with companies to research and the team has agreed to look into those more over the winter break.

Mr. Jones also told us how most companies would expect a business plan when being pitched an idea like this. To be honest we haven’t learned much about formal business plans in the past, so it was really informative when he helped go through what would be in a typical business plan:

  • who the target market is
  • what the need is for the product/system
  • description about what it is/how it works
  • how you are going to get what you don’t have (money, supplies, skills, tools, etc…)
  • what is the plan to actually role this out onto market
    • (he also gave us great advice about how no project ever goes according to plan, but you still need some starting plan with how  you are going to test the product and who you will talk to for feedback on the product, etc…)
  • financial direction
    • for commercial products: what is the cost compared to revenue
    • for social products: what is the goal and how will it be measured? how is the end social impact justifying the need for the cost to implement it?
      • tips for figuring out cost:
        • know what you think it will cost you
        • discover what the average user will actually pay for a product like yours
        • then find a way to make sure there is a large gap between these two prices where it costs you less then they will buy it for

When Mr. Jones talked about these key components to a business plan, our team was happy to realize that we know a lot of this information already, but now we need to actually compile it together into a more formal write up. Mr. Jones also brought up a good point to us about how one of our key assets is that we are a team of students and companies are always trying to reach the next generation, so by partnering with us they could potentially reach a larger audience. I thought this was nice to hear because sometimes we always expect that we will get turned away because we are students, but that isn’t always the case; if you can make a convincing argument for why your idea is needed and why you need to work on it, someone will support you despite your age.

I think the last two weeks especially has provided our coVenture team with a lot of valuable insights about product innovation versus social innovation, the value of knowing what skills your team possesses, and how to partner with others to get more done faster. I’m excited for what the future holds next!